If you are trying to grow your business, and you are doing it alone, eventually you are going to hit a wide, massive plateau. It’s going to look like something from a National Geographic magazine — flatness for miles, especially from your viewpoint — which will be you standing on top, scratching your head.
You can’t do everything that you need to do on your own. It’s impossible. There are not enough hours in a day. And as a business owner, your main focus should be on your clients and customers, how to obtain more of them and networking so you have a growing list of leads to nurture and eventually convert to future clients and customers.
Using a virtual assistant can shave hours from your workweek, but knowing which tasks to delegate can be tricky, whether you’re starting or growing a business. Most virtual assistants are contract or freelance workers who do their jobs from home or remote office and focus on administrative tasks that are similar to those of an executive assistant or secretary.
With the number of virtual assistants are growing, their expertise now runs the gamut, making it easier to find someone who fits your organization, says Jaleh Bisharat, vice president of marketing at oDesk.com, which is based in Redwood City, Calif. Entrepreneurs can use virtual assistants for everything from making vendor or customer service calls to sending out thank you cards to prospective clients. It’s important to build trust, just as you would with a permanent employee. “They become a team member who just happens to work remotely,” Bisharat says.
Not sure where to start? Here are 10 ways you can use a virtual assistant to improve your business.
Online Research: You can easily farm out Internet research to virtual assistants. Common requests include finding information on corporate websites, exploring new products and vetting potential employees or business contacts.
Database entries: Whether it’s a slew of new business cards picked up at a conference or updated information for existing contacts, keeping databases current is a suitable task for virtual assistants.
Data presentations: Turning raw data into a clear PowerPoint presentation or summarizing research findings in a Word document can be a huge timesaver when prepping for meetings.
Managing email: To keep you from wasting time in your email inbox, some virtual assistants will filter your most important emails and respond to the rest on your behalf. Such email management is easy to do remotely, but you need to provide guidance on how to pick out key emails and ask the assistant to copy you before sending out any responses to reduce the risk of errors.
Social tasks: Virtual assistants can be a good bet to handle tasks such as writing holiday cards or sending thank you notes as social chores have become a very common assignment. Such tasks can become “all consuming” for business executives but a good virtual assistant can take care of all of it.
Scheduling: Because many scheduling tools are available online, virtual assistants are managing the calendars of many clients. Tasks include dealing with meeting invitations from others, scheduling appointments with clients and helping to plan events. It’s about being comfortable and letting go of that calendar to a non-staff person working remotely.
Chasing business: Prioritizing potential business opportunities can be challenging, but virtual assistants can help with the process. When deciding what to sell on eBay, for example, O’Brien asks his virtual assistant to look around for products that can be profitable to resell.
Industry knowledge prep: With limited time to keep up with industry news, some small businesses have turned to virtual assistants to keep tabs on the most important happenings. Many executives then use the industry information to update their Twitter feed or bring up interesting developments in conversation with customers and prospects.
Travel Research: Virtual assistants are a great resource for finding hotels, booking airfares and mapping out trip itineraries both for business and pleasure. The assistants can take advantage of the growing number of travel research tools and review sites on the Web. They can also deal with the hassle of navigating time zones when booking or researching international travel options by phone.
Whether you’re the overworked entrepreneur or the office worker longing for more control over your time, the solution may be a virtual office assistant.