Small businesses are tightening their belts and cutting expenses where they can, which means laying off non-essential employees. However, they still need support as they get through this economic crisis the country is in and look forward to better days. Stay-at-home moms who need to help support their families, need flexible hours, and have the tools and experience to help small businesses are providing much-needed support at a fraction of the cost of an in-house employee by offering virtual support services. It’s a win-win.

I am one of those moms who started my business, 80/20 Virtual Services out of necessity and now with the down economy small businesses are realizing they need services like hers out of necessity as well. The problem is that they don’t know that services like mine exist or where they can find a reliable and trustworthy virtual support person without going through staffing services that charge a premium. But if you take the time to do a little research, you can find a virtual assistant that can be absolutely invaluable when it comes to saving you time and money.

I often get the question, ‘What is a virtual assistant?’ Well, a Virtual Assistant (VA) is a person who provides administrative, technical, and personal assistance to clients virtually from a home office. Virtual assistants can literally help anyone from anywhere in the world, since the tools of our trade are basically a computer and a phone. The primary form of communication and delivery of VA services is through email and conference calls. The clients are usually small businesses, but anyone can use a virtual assistant. Busy professionals, doctors, lawyers, writers, and sole proprietors can benefit from the services of a VA.

Essentially, VAs are Jill of all trades. I say that because virtual assistants are typically women who can handle a wide range of tasks, from research, writing, proofreading and editing, programming, data entry, janitorial services, to website design, accounting and billing, and project management. I would hire a VA if you need help managing your workflow, need support moving ideas and projects forward, hate doing administrative tasks, or are simply challenged by the never-ending TO-DO LIST and need support to get things done more efficiently and effectively.

Time is money. If business owners can transfer non-money tasks to someone else for a fraction of the cost of what their own time is valued at, then they are more than willing to do just that, so they can focus on their core business and which will directly add to their profitability. This really boils down to the Pareto Principle, the 80/20 Rule, the law of the vital few that states that of the things you do throughout the day, only 20 percent really matter. Those 20 percent produce 80 percent of your results. My suggestion is that even if you don’t use a VA, let the 80/20 Rule serve as a daily reminder to focus 80 percent of your time and energy on the 20 percent of your work that really matters. Don’t just work smart, work smart on the right things.

Another major benefit of hiring a virtual assistant is that you don’t incur all of the overhead costs associated with an in-house employee, such as office space, health insurance, and lost productivity costs. Unlike full-time employees, where employers pay for sick days, vacations, bathroom breaks, as well as time spent on personal phone calls, web browsing, and water cooler gossip, with Virtual Assistant services you only pay for hours actually worked on a task or project.

A perfect combination. The best way to hire a Virtual Assistant is through word of mouth. Regardless of a glowing reference, however, I recommend testing the compatibility of working with a particular VA by setting realistic expectations and then assigning a short-term project that can be evaluated against predetermined standards. The goal is to enjoy a long-term collaborative partnership with someone you can trust. So do your due diligence to find the right match.

On the change sign, I also suggest virtual assistants decide what their ideal customer is like and be willing to walk away from a potential customer they don’t connect with because at the end of the day the relationship has to work for both the customer and the assistant.

Good help comes at a price (but it’s worth it). Virtual assistants charge from $10 per hour at the lowest level to $75 per hour at the highest level. You can probably best view the range as: you get what you pay for. You do see some VAs overprice as well as some underprice their services and capabilities, but most virtual assistants set realistic rates and charge a down payment, in the range of $20 to $35 per hour. If they’re charging much more than that, they really should be providing services that require a highly specialized skill set or have the years of experience that warrants a higher fee. Also note that if you use a service that the VA subcontracts for, you will pay a premium for that service. There are many good freelance virtual assistants out there who provide superior service because, as fellow entrepreneurs, they can relate to your challenges and genuinely want to add value to your business.

Simply put, if you make over a hundred dollars an hour, don’t you think it’s worth paying someone $20 an hour to do tasks that don’t make you money so you can focus on the ones that do? It really is about economics of the simplest kind. I quote the author of, The 4 hour work week, Tim Ferris, who said: “Ultimately, time is the most valuable non-renewable resource we have.” My suggestion: outsource and then use your time wisely, building and maintaining your business.

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