Are you bogged down by your work-at-home business tasks and seeking help? Alternately, are you not sure what a VA (virtual assistant) is and exactly what VAs do? Either way, you’re not alone.

Enter the VA (virtual assistant)

Virtual assistants, or VAs, are usually contractors who perform administrative, marketing, project management, database entry, programming, research, transcription, etc. services for other contractors, including those contractors who have work at home jobs.

Typically, VAs are trained in one or more specialty areas and may even be certified in a particular skill like language translation or AP style writing. Some VAs work directly with their clients while others employ additional VAs to help them complete all their tasks.

Where to find VAs

Traditionally, VAs “live” on freelance hiring sites like oDesk, eLance, Craigslist and While these sites often offer VAs at great value (i.e., low cost), you risk ending up with a generalist who lacks in-depth knowledge about your specific task.

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Overall, it’s better to search sites geared specifically towards recruiting and showcasing VAs, including the International Virtual Assistants Association (IVAA) and the Alliance for Virtual Businesses. There are also VA forum sites that feature VA directories. On all these sites, VAs are listed by their specialty, experience ad even geographic location. Many of these VAs have their own business websites where they provide references and samples of their past work.

How much do VAs cost?

According to data provided by the Virtual Business Alliance, which is a kind of a global association of VA organizations, the average yearly earnings for a full-time virtual assistant are just under $40K. This translates to an hourly wage of about $20.

Does $20/hour seem like a lot of money? It can be, especially if you have a spouse or cousin who could do the task for free. This is also why many freelancers and entrepreneurs hesitate to hire a VA. However, if you have a regular task that can’t be constantly outsourced to a well-meaning family member, using the services of a VA may be a better long-term solution.

For example, if you regularly generate recorded interviews that must then be transcribed, you might be better off hiring a VA for 2-3 hours than spending all day listening to your digital recorder and scribbling down notes. Likewise, hiring a VA to quickly update your WordPress website or generate a Facebook page may be more cost efficient in the long run than doing that task yourself.

Time versus money

Many freelancers hesitate to hire a VA because they worry that the costs will negatively impact their bottom line. This is probably true for freelancers just starting out in their work-at-home business, where the real issue is simply finding enough clients to generate a living wage.

However, even at this point in time, having a VA help with marketing and networking efforts may be worthwhile in terms of finding new clients quickly. After all, many VAs come with backgrounds in marketing and human resources and can actually go a long way towards launching your at-home business. In some respects, your VA could even act in the capacity of a business partner/adviser, helping you take the next steps towards improving and growing your at-home business.

And speaking of taking your at-home business to new levels…consider that video you were planning to launch or that logo you wanted to make but had no time or the necessary skills to do. Many VAs are quite adept at graphic and website design and video editing, amongst other things.

Sure, you could take the time and become proficient at these tasks too, but then you’re not really running your business. In other words, in order to be a successful entrepreneur, you need to start valuing your own time as well as money.

It’s so hard to find good help these days…

If you’re a Type A personality like me, you may have other hesitations when it comes to hiring a VA. In my case, I had a hard time simply letting go of a portion of my project and letting someone else take the reins. No one can do it as well as I can, I thought.

It took some time and concerted effort for me to learn to manage another person, including providing a sufficient amount of directions (because no VA, no matter how talented, is a mind-reader). I also had to realize that, just like when an employee is hired, there is a learning curve for both parties involved. On the positive side of things, you never know your own project and goals quite as well as when you are forced to explain them to another person.

For those of you out there who are also Type A personalities and have trouble letting go, my advice for you is to start slow. Give your VA control over one aspect of your business that isn’t completely critical and see how she does. Then, start increasing her responsibilities.

My potential VA keeps asking for specs- help!

As mentioned above, no VA is a mind-reader. Your VA and you will best work together if the two of you communicate often and openly. If you don’t know what to tell your VA, just be honest and admit that you’ve never worked with a VA before. Then, tell him where you are in your at-home business and what you’d like to achieve.

If you’re lucky, your VA will adapt to your thought patterns and maybe even make suggestions that you yourself would’ve thought of a year or two down the line.

Do I really need a Virtual Assistant?

Despite everything above, there are two instances when you should not hire a VA:

1. You really want to learn something.

If it’s been one of your life goals to learn graphic design or coding, then by all means, get out there and learn! There’s no reason for you to outsource a skill you really want to pick up.

2. You really love doing something.

I’ve yet to pass a single content creation task onto a VA because I truly enjoy writing. To me, it’s not drudgery in the least to write about tax codes or school boards or the latest car wrap scam. If you truly love doing something, far be it from me to tell you to outsource what you love.

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Join the Discussion

  • Sabriga

    “Sure, you could take the time and become proficient at these tasks too, but then you’re not really running your business. In other words, in order to be a successful entrepreneur, you need to start valuing your own time as well as money.”

    This hit me where I live, for sure. I’m not Type A, but I do hate having to re-do other people’s work so prefer to do everything myself. But your point is really well-taken: being a business owner means managing, not doing, the multiple parts a business entails.

    Thanks for the good links – I’m storing them for my next transcription job.

  • Chris

    A very comprehensive post with great resources. Thanks for providing all of this information.

  • Lori Mauger
    Lori Mauger

    Productivity is key for freelancers, and if a VA can tackle the mundane stuff for a reasonable cost ($20 seems very reasonable), then it’s at least worth a try!

  • Katie

    I am definitely a Type A personality like you, so the idea of hiring a VA even for a small task is a bit frightening! But because my marketing experience is limited, I do think I could benefit immensely by having a VA with a marketing background help me out for even just a few hours a week. Definitely something to consider!

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