Since I’ve had this site for like forever, I’d keep getting queries about what really a virtual assistant is, what does a VA do and other very basic queries. So this next few days, I will devote my entries to responding to this questions. Of course, for readers who already know and follow the tips I put in here, don’t worry. You’re getting a fair share of my time as well.
OK, now. What is a virtual assistant?
A virtual assistant is an employee who does assigned functions via the internet. More popularly known as a VA, the employee provides various services and support to big and small companies alike. There are VAs who work for professionals like doctors and lawyers, online businesses and a whole lot of other private entities.
Today, VAs are considered independent contractors who render administrative work, creative inputs and technical services. Their employment could be on contractual basis or per-project basis, and is usually based on their area of expertise, education and experience, and often, their potentials. Most virtual assistants today find clients via the internet. There are also VAs who belong to groups or are affiliated with a geographic organization of VAs. For the most part, they get their jobs as assigned by their group or organization. Some VAs, particularly newbies, contract jobs from online job sites such as oDesk, Guru, Elance, Freelancer and Craigslist.
Virtual assistants work right at home, or anywhere apart from their clients “real” office, and could have employers within their locality or as far as another continent. It is the internet that gets the VA connected to their clients or employers; it is also the internet where they are going to get their work done. With flexibility of time, great financial rewards and the comfortable work space right at home, virtual assistants find their career much more fulfilling.
There are always new challenges ahead, like learning new tools, how to contribute to their employers’ businesses and, yes, making sure that they are growing as well as individuals with an online career.
How is a Virtual Assistant different from telecommuters and freelancers?
A telecommuter is someone who works solely and regularly for one company right out of their own homes. Today, most telecommuters are IT professionals, administrative assistants, marketing associates, consultants or assistants, and function solely on one job details. Hence, a software engineer can only function as such and nothing else.
Most telecommuters work in sync with other company employees, meaning, they have a full eight hours straight. Unlike VAs then, telecommuters cannot choose their own number of hours to work or when they want to get tasks completed.
On the other hand, a freelancer can either be a telecommuter or could opt to work at the company’s site. Usually working per contract, they are not a part of the organizational or company structure, and freelancers are hired only when their services are required.
Most of the freelancers are on the creative field and in administrative support, and work mostly to have extra income. While there are freelancers who deliver a specific expertise, e.g. web design, editing, etc., there are also those who could have diverse experiences. Most website management freelancers can go into both the technical and creative fields of their expertise. At the same time, there are really good freelance writers who fare well in marketing and promotions, as well as proofreading and basic customer support.
Now, telecommuters and freelancers are largely similar to virtual assistants as they all work right from home or another place other than their company’s office. Most VAs are paid on per hour basis at the start, but there are clients who pay on per project as well as monthly basis like what they would with freelancers and telecommuters. But a virtual assistant does more than what their field of expertise.
In particular, VAs are required to provide administrative support that ranges from support desk, accounting clerk, marketing assistance and many others. So it’s not new to find a VA who is an online writer and does customer support and email marketing, or an accounting clerk who does billing and collections along with contact management.
Personally, I’d like to think that virtual assistants are active contributors to the company’s growth and a reliable collaborator. In particular, many VAs today have degrees and extensive experience in their expertise; there are many professional VAs who are actually filled with untapped ideas and energy that could totally push their employers’ success faster and to greater heights. Suffice it to say that the right VA working with the right company could mean a growing partnership, as opposed to a long-standing employee-employer relationship.