It’s 3:08pm on Wednesday afternoon. You’re 9 phone calls, 36 emails, and 3 coffees into the day — but there’s no end in sight.
First there was an 8:00am meeting, where you gave an energetic (if rushed) presentation on policy changes for employees. It was basically well-received, but you forgot to add that final slide to the PowerPoint presentation.
Mental note to add that missing slide with the webpage info!
Then it was a quick 5 minutes scrolling through emails on your phone on the way to your office. No time to respond right now— just need an idea if there’s anything urgent… Okay, answer those three emails first.
After reviewing the sales numbers for the last week — interrupted twice with questions about the new promotion you launched yesterday — you finally open your email on the computer.
Okay, need to get to those two urgent emails. Wait— were there two, or three? Where’d the third one go?
…It’s buried under 10 new messages.
By 11:00am you’ve stuck a dozen Post-It notes on your desk (and lost three of them). By noon you posted your latest blog on your website (win!), but it’s two weeks behind schedule (kind of a fail). In two hours, this month’s newsletter needs to be sent (because it should have gone out yesterday). And you still have two client appointments before the end of the day (have you prepped for them yet?).
Can I push anything off until tomorrow… again? I’m going to have to invest in a bigger coffee mug.
And now your email count is over 42, and you’re wondering — as you stare at your to-do list and try to remember something about a PowerPoint presentation — how you can find a fast solution to any of the issues in front of you.
The fast solution you’re looking for is as simple as two words: Virtual Assistant.
If you’re unfamiliar with virtual assistants, or you’ve decided against using one in the past, it’s time to make hiring a virtual assistant a top priority. Why? Because if you can relate to any of the story details above, you may actually be sabotaging your small business growth by taking on too much and trying to control too many small details that could be delegated to someone else… like your virtual assistant!
By definition, virtual assistants are independent contractors who offer their clients (like small business owners) administrative, creative, and technical support. They work from remote locations, and can be hired for ongoing assistance, specialized projects, or occasional help. Where they may have once been few and far between (probably somewhere around the dawn of the Internet age), the virtual assistance industry is well on its way to booming, with online working, including virtual assistant service, projected to be a $5 billion industry by 2018.
Gone are the days when bookkeeping, data entry, customer service, and other office-related tasks actually had to be done inside an office.
Despite the climbing numbers of virtual assistants across the world, you may still be wondering how a VA is relevant to you, your small business, and your success. There are any number of ways you can incorporate a VA into your business, but the main purpose is so that you don’t have to exhaust yourself 24/7 by micromanaging every piece of your business. If you’ve been late to dance recitals because you had too much work to do, or you spend your kids’ soccer games looking at phone messages and not the field, you’re probably focusing too much on working in your business instead of working on your business.
If you’re working on your business, you should be spending at least 20% of your time networking, strategizing, and marketing. If you’re struggling just to keep up with the day to day processes of working in your business— running the register, taking calls, filling out forms— it’s highly unlikely you’re getting in your 20% per day of concentrated growth time.
How much more time could you give back to yourself if you had someone else schedule all of your appointments, or fill out all your supply orders? How much more energy would you have if you didn’t spend your evenings responding to emails, or putting your presentation materials together? That’s time and energy you can pour into improving customer relations, being in appointments with paying clients, or brainstorming new product ideas.
As a small business owner, you are first and foremost the foundation of your enterprise. That foundation should be strong in order to grow. However, you will crumble if you are being pulled in a million different directions for an extended period of time. By delegating tasks to a virtual assistant, you can experience an immediate impact on your own productivity and peace of mind. To help lighten your heavy workload, a professional VA can:
Communicate with your clients/customers: Do you currently answer and return most of your customers’ phone calls— even if all they need to know is your store hours or what discounts you’re offering this week? Do you book every single engagement yourself, and handle event promotions? Do you send all follow-up emails and create your monthly company newsletter yourself? Sure, you are completely capable of doing all these things on your own. It’s not your abilities that are in question, but rather what’s really the best use of your time as a business leader? While you (rightly) want to support your own brand by being as customer-friendly as possible, you can be customer-friendly in other ways— like using your time to develop better services or implement new policies and programs. In giving tasks like these to a virtual assistant, you can focus your attention on bigger goals.
Manage billing and bookkeeping: Bills and employees have to get paid! While you’re the source of payment in each case, you don’t have to physically do the paying. Are you currently your own payroll administrator, in addition to your other business owner duties? Maybe you’re really good at payroll. That’s great! But if it’s a choice between cutting checks and meeting with a prospective client, which would you rather be doing for your business? What would your business rather have you doing? Using a VA who specializes in bookkeeping alleviates the needs for you to spend precious time wading through transactions and timecards. You may even diminish your margin for error, because while your attention is spread thin over your multiple responsibilities, your VA’s focus is only on the job you’ve hired them to do.
Staffing solution option for peak or slow times: Having a business whose performance is determined by what season it is can be a balancing act when it comes to workload and number of employees. In your on-season, you may not have enough hands to meet the demands of your customers and still keep up with daily tasks. Conversely, in your off-season you may find business stagnant enough to call for layoffs. But in either case, there are still things that need to be done every day to keep your business moving forward. And in either case, a virtual assistant is the solution. During peak times, you can plug in a VA to tend to administrative work, process billing, and book appointments, so you and the rest of your staff are available to onboard new clients or focus on your business plan. When business is slow, use a VA to order office supplies, send mailings, or fulfill AP/AR duties. VAs come at a lower cost than an in-house employee because they work from their own office and typically have no overhead costs — saving you both the money it would take to pay in-house employees and the time it would take you to do all these tasks yourself.
Do all the “busywork”: Busywork encompasses just about anything that’s keeping you busy but still leaving you feeling unproductive at the end of the day. Maybe you use a blog to share valuable insights or new products with your customers. You spend two hours writing several posts. You’re satisfied with what you created and it was a great use of time! But now you need to post each separate blog to your website. And find an accompanying image for each entry. And share each blog link on your business’s three social media accounts, with a fun call-to-action to actually get someone to read the blogs. Suddenly a few productive hours have turned into a long afternoon caught in time-sink of formatting, scheduling, and more writing. Why? Just because you didn’t delegate. Simple tasks like postings blogs, updating web pages, creating PowerPoint presentations, and scheduling social media posts are well within a virtual assistant’s portfolio.
You already have a lot on your plate. With smart options like virtual assistants available — who will cost you less than paying a full-time employee with benefits — there’s no need to overfill your plate with responsibilities someone else can effectively perform. Although you can do anything, you can’t do everything. Micromanaging or trying to control too tightly will only sabotage the business growth you’re trying to achieve. Overextending yourself isn’t conducive to building a sustainable foundation. By employing your own virtual assistant, you can free up your time, focus your attention, and be more productive than ever before.
It’s 3:08pm on Wednesday afternoon. You’ve had 3 client meetings, and just hung up from a sales call. After your 8:00am staff meeting, your virtual assistant emailed your PowerPoint presentation to all employees so they could reference the new webpage info on the last slide. When you reviewed your email this morning, you found 6 inquiries that could easily be answered by your staff, so you forwarded them to your VA to respond. You also reviewed the latest sales numbers, and finished fifteen minutes sooner than usual because incoming phone calls were intercepted by your VA. Now you’re working on an article for next month’s newsletter; this month’s content was already sent by your virtual assistant, on time, and the corresponding blog posted online. Instead of counting how many emails you’ll have to return from home this evening, you’re looking forward to heading out to your daughter’s first soccer game of the season. You no longer measure time by how many coffees you’ve consumed. And as you leave your office a little after 5:00pm, you wonder how you and your business ever made it through the day without a virtual assistant.
Lindsay Merkel is a freelance writer and introvert extraordinaire. The native Pennsylvanian also enjoys outdoor exploration, has a penchant for extreme organizing, and can always be found with a book in at least one hand. Follow her on Twitter (but don’t interrupt her while she’s reading).