Updated: Feb 5, 2020
It’s a question I get asked often, usually after a blank stare… and in truth there is no simple way to answer it. Well there is, but it doesn’t really cover the full extent of the term.
The simple answer is just as it sounds - an assistant who works virtually or online. But actually a VA can be so many things and in fact the term is used to cover so many Freelancers and Service Providers.
Why don’t I start with, what a VA is not? A VA is not an employee. One Executive when I attempted to explain what a VA was then asked me, “but how would you make my coffee?” Obviously it was too much for his small mind to comprehend (and he probably has an EA who he refers to as his “Secretary”).
There are pros and cons to having an employee versus a VA, and it all comes down to business needs. An agreement with a VA - I’m talking a written contract - is a mutual agreement for both, there is no employee/manager, it needs to work for both of you. A VA does not get annual, sick, long service leave, super...or any other entitlements - they are simply paid an hourly rate, a package or a retainer. Generally they work from their own home office and supply their own tools (computer, internet, insurances etc).
I think the greatest thing about a VA from a business owners perspective is our ability to scale up and down. Every business has busy periods and slower times. An employee gets paid regardless of these slower periods, whereas a VA is paid for the work they do or time you have agreed in the contract. If your office shuts over Christmas, that's fine. Quiet through winter? No problem. Having a promotion and need someone to help for a solid 3 weeks? All of this can be arranged with a VA.
There are generalist VAs and there are specialist VAs. Think of them like doctors - you may need a little check up, perhaps a prescription to get you back to full health so you would see a GP...so to you may need someone to take a look at your inbox, set up some systems and help you stay on top of the emails - a general VA could help.
However, as a business owner, if you have a specific problem that you do not have the skills to fix, or time, or just don't want to do it then you may need to work with a specialist VA. This is where the term VA gets blurry - technical VAs to help create/manage your website or any tech really; copywriting VAs to help you write punchy sales copy, web pages, email marketing (this alone is a MASSIVE area); social media VAs to help with your Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn etc; design VAs to work their magic on your branding look….
There is virtually a VA for every service offering nowadays! And many of us wear a few different VA hats too! If there is a task that you need done and it doesn't need to be completed in your office, why not consider hiring a VA?