What is a 'Virtual Assistant'

A virtual assistant is an independent contractor who provides administrative services to clients while operating outside of the client's office. A virtual assistant typically operates from a home office, but is able to access the necessary planning documents, such as shared calendars, remotely. People employed as virtual assistants typically have several years of secretarial or office management experience.

Breaking Down 'Virtual Assistant'

Virtual assistants have become more prominent as businesses increase their use of the Internet for daily operations. Because a virtual assistant is a contractor, a business does not have to provide the same benefits that it would for a full-time employee. In addition, since the virtual assistant works offsite, there is no need for a desk or other workspace at the company's office.

Virtual Assistant: How to Hire One

With the increasing number of freelance contractors who work from home, the employment market has seen a proliferation of Web-based companies that serve as intermediaries between prospective employers and contractors. Some freelancer sites have enormous work pools made up of individuals across the globe with a wide range of experience and expertise.

On these sites, clients can post details about the type of tasks they need the virtual assistant to perform and the maximum rate they are willing to pay. Freelance workers may then bid on the job and give the client samples of their work for review. In some cases, the client can set up a video conference to interview the applicants and to more thoroughly assess their qualifications.

For the client, one advantage of hiring a virtual assistant is the flexibility to contract for just the services they need. Depending on the terms of the agreement, some virtual assistants may be paid by the task rather than by the hour. In contrast, employees in a traditional office setting usually must be paid for a fixed number of hours per day.

Virtual Assistant Duties

The specific duties of a virtual assistant vary according to the needs of the client and the terms of the contract. Some virtual assistants handle clerical and bookkeeping duties, while others may post regular updates to social media or write articles for a blog. A well-rounded virtual assistant may also handle travel arrangements, appointment scheduling, data entry and online file storage.

Before hiring a virtual assistant, the client can ensure a smoother working relationship by creating detailed instructions about tasks they need performed. A written manual reduces the risk of misunderstandings that can occur in a remote working relationship.

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