If you’re an executive or a business owner that’s interested in hiring a virtual assistant (VA), some of the first questions you may seek to answer are: What can a VA do for you? What are some tasks and projects you can outsource?
However, an equally important question is what should you outsource to a virtual assistant?
VA freelancers and virtual assistant service companies cumulatively list hundreds of tasks that they can do for clients. But that doesn’t mean they’re a good fit or the right choice for all of those diverse tasks.
In fact, depending on what business functions and tasks you want help with, there are many cases in which utilizing a VA is likely to lead to poor outcomes—and alternatives like specialized freelancers, agencies, or remote executive assistant services would be a better option.
In this article, we’re going to help you answer both questions: What services VAs offer and what you should hire a VA to do. We’ll also discuss alternatives to consider when a VA isn’t a good fit for your needs.
Below, we’ll cover:
- The types of services VAs offer
- Why VAs are often a poor fit for many of these services
- When a specialized or remote executive assistant service makes more sense to use
- How our remote executive assistant service works
Note: If you’ve been wanting a virtual assistant and you’d like to work with someone who can take on more than just administrative tasks, click here to get started. You can try one of our remote executive assistants for a month or two and see how you like it. For testimonials from our clients, check out our homepage.
Virtual assistants offer hundreds of services. But which tasks are they actually a good fit for?
A quick online search will reveal an incredibly wide range of tasks that can be outsourced to VAs. For example, here are some of the most commonly cited in the top results of Google:
Now, having spent the last 4 years providing remote executive assistant services, we’ve learned a lot about the virtual assistant business. We’ve spoken with hundreds of executives and heard about past experiences with VAs. And we’ve studied the market to understand how VAs are hired, what they’re qualified for, and when it makes sense to use them.
We’ve found that VAs are best utilized for recurring tasks that don’t require a high level of responsibility or skill to complete. For example, straightforward but time consuming tasks like recurring data entry and spreadsheet management can be appropriate for outsourcing to a VA.
If this is the primary type of support you’re seeking, hiring a part-time virtual assistant could be a reasonable solution for you. However, this is really the only category of tasks that we recommend hiring VAs for.
Why is this? There are several key reasons.
3 Factors That Make VAs a Poor Fit for Many of the Services They Offer
To understand why VAs often are a poor fit for many of the services they offer, you first need to consider some of the common characteristics of VAs. Namely:
- VAs are part-time contractors
- VAs are generalists (i.e. they aren’t usually specialized in any specific area)
- VAs generally are not thoroughly vetted
Let’s look at each of these factors and how they influence what VAs are and aren’t a good fit for.
1. VAs Are Part-Time Contractors
There’s nothing inherently wrong with hiring a part-time assistant. But some of the top services offered by VAs and VA companies are much better suited for full-time assistants who work closely with you on a daily basis.
For example, email and calendar management are some of the first services listed as common VA responsibilities. To many executives, these are attractive things to pass off to an assistant. However, passing off something as intimate and important as email and scheduling isn’t something that should be taken lightly—and it isn’t something that should be passed off to a random, part-time VA.
While email and calendar management often seem trivial to us, they’re at the heart of our most important business relationships and they determine how we spend our most valuable, nonrenewable resource: time.
Managing these key business functions requires trust (i.e. an assistant who’s been thoroughly vetted) and a deep understanding of executive preferences, priorities, and relationships. As such, it’s too big a responsibility to outsource to a part-time VA who won’t usually have the level of trust, experience, or knowledge of the organization that it takes to do these things well.
2. VAs Are Generalists (Not Specialists)
Like administrative and executive assistants, VAs are generalists: assistants who can (theoretically) be assigned to manage a wide range of tasks, but who aren’t specialized in a specific area.
This is important to understand because many of the services offered by VAs are things that often require technical or specialized skill sets (e.g. digital marketing services like SEO or content creation).
By definition, generalist VAs typically won’t have well developed skill sets in more specialized areas. So depending on which VA services you’re most interested in, there are cases in which specialized freelancers or services would be a better fit for you. We’ll discuss this more below.
3. VAs Aren’t Usually Vetted Thoroughly
Of the two common paths for hiring virtual assistants—hiring via freelance marketplaces or virtual assistant service companies—neither option tends to have thorough vetting processes that test and qualify VAs to ensure a consistent level of competency and capability.
Sites like Upwork have some light restrictions to offering freelance services, but still almost anyone can create a profile online and call themselves a VA. And through our research and conversations with execs who’ve used virtual assistant services in the past, VA companies don’t typically have thorough vetting procedures either.
The implications of this are that the competency and capabilities of VAs are highly inconsistent, and it’s rare to find VAs at the talent-level of someone who can competently perform the wide range of tasks they claim to offer.
For all of these reasons, the safest bet when using VAs is to do so only for simple, repetitive tasks. For tasks that require more complexity, specialization, or advanced knowledge of an executive and their business, specialized services or remote executive assistants can be more effective solutions.
When does a Specialized Assistant or Remote Executive Assistant make more sense?
If a highly competent generalist assistant—a talented individual who can handle a wide range of tasks with varying levels of complexity (including sensitive things like email and calendar management)—is what appeals to you most, then a remote executive assistant would likely be the best solution for you.
When EAs are vetted thoroughly and assessed for the right qualities and traits, they can actually deliver the range of services that VAs and VA businesses offer (but rarely deliver on). In fact, due to our in-depth hiring methodology at Persona (which we’ll explain below), our remote EAs have performed most of the types of tasks listed in the chart above.
These types of talented generalists are out there. They just require a more sophisticated strategy to find than what freelance marketplaces and VA companies have.
Alternatively, if there are specific, specialized services that you imagine having an assistant spend most of their time on, like digital marketing for example, then it’s possible that an agency or freelancer that specializes in that would be the best fit.
To make this more concrete, let’s look at a couple of examples of services and whether a remote EA or a specialized service would be a better fit.
Example #1: Content Writing
What a specialist is good for: If you want someone that will spend a significant portion of their time writing or creating original content for you, you should hire someone who specializes in that.
What an EA is good for: If you want someone who can manage the proofreading and publishing of that content (e.g. uploading it to WordPress) and the posting of that content on your social media accounts—in addition to your email and calendar and a bunch of other things—a smart EA can absolutely handle this.
Example #2: Graphic Design
What a specialist is good for: If you want someone to be your leading brand designer, developing and determining the direction of the look and feel of your brand in all of your marketing materials, you should hire a freelancer or agency that specializes in that.
What an EA is good for: If you want someone to periodically create graphics on Canva for social media or email marketing—again, doing this as just one of many other types of jobs—then a talented EA can effectively manage this. (Our EAs often do this sort of thing for our clients).
Hopefully these examples help clarify for you whether a generalist assistant or a specialist service would be the best fit for your business. It comes down to what you want your assistant to focus on, and whether you want them to spend most of their time on specialized or generalist tasks.
Now, for those who think a talented generalist is what they’re looking for, in the next section we’re going to describe our remote executive assistant service, what makes it different from other services on the market, and what our assistants manage for our clients.
When does a Specialized Assistant or Remote Executive Assistant make more sense?
We’ve developed a service for providing world-class executive assistants to startup founders, entrepreneurs, and executives who want to work with highly reliable and competent generalists.
As we mentioned earlier, our assistants are capable of managing many of the tasks listed in the VA services chart above. Presently, they manage varying combinations of the following for our clients:
- Communications: Manage email, communicate on an executive’s behalf and alongside them with company staff members and key stakeholders, draft company memos, etc.
- Scheduling and time management: Manage an executive’s monthly calendar, schedule meetings, schedule appointments, resolve scheduling issues, balance personal appointments with work meetings.
- Project management: Manage the CEO’s to-dos, ensure they stay up to date and on track with their key projects.
- Business operations: Help create, organize, and improve on internal business processes and standard operating procedures.
- Social media marketing and management: Create and schedule social media posts, monitor engagement metrics, respond to comments, help grow overall online presence.
- People operations: Manage employee onboarding, assist in the employee recruitment process (e.g. reviewing resumes and cover letters for certain criteria), manage payroll, etc.
- Strategic planning: Work with the company leaders to define and come up with plans for new products, initiatives, and services. Project manage some or all of these new company programs.
- Client services: Handle important interactions with clients. Provide ideas and feedback about how to improve systems and processes.
- Special projects: Manage a wide variety of unique projects depending on what your executive needs. For example, our EAs have worked on things like web design, video editing, workflow design, building data sets, and more.
Fundamentally, what makes our service different from others on the market is our in-depth hiring methodology. When we started Persona, we applied our backgrounds in behavioral science and assessment design to create a new and more effective way of assessing people on generalist capabilities and talent.
Our methodology is designed to assess candidates on 4 key areas that have been found to predict success in a remote assistant role:
- Problem Solving Ability: How smart are they? Can they figure things out in new and complex situations?
- Key Character and Behavioral Traits: Are they organized, reliable, trustworthy, detail-oriented, etc.?
- Communication Ability: How well do they write and communicate? Can they communicate on your behalf or alongside you with key stakeholders (executive team members, board members, investors, etc.)?
- Tech Savvy-ness: How comfortable are they with learning new technologies and software? How quickly can they pick up and learn the programs that modern companies use to run their businesses?
Whereas most assistant service companies rely on an ineffective traditional method of resume review and interviews, we take a more comprehensive approach to assessing candidates on these qualities. Specifically, each candidate is assessed in the following ways:
- Quantitative assessments: Tests that allow us to evaluate candidates accurately on key generalist abilities.
- Structured interviews: A strategic interview process to cross-compare candidates on the qualities and abilities that matter.
- Work sample projects: Mock projects to see the quality of their work, based on the types of tasks they’re likely to do in a VA role.
- Communication exercises: Exercises to evaluate candidates on key communication skills such as email etiquette.
- Reference and background checks: A structured approach to interviewing candidates’ references.
As a result of our rigorous vetting process, we’re able to consistently deliver top talent that exceeds the expectations of our clients and exceeds what most remote or virtual assistant services can offer.
How Our Remote Executive Assistant Service Works
We provide executive support for all types of industries, including tech startups, non-profits, real estate, professional services, and more.
If you’re a founder, entrepreneur, small business owner, or senior executive of any kind, you can try one for a month or two and see how you like it. We don’t require long term commitments.
Here’s how to get started with us:
- Step 1: Complete our form to let us know your needs.
- Step 2: If you’re a good fit, we’ll set up a call to discuss our service with you.
- Step 3: Our team will hand pick an assistant who we think will be a great fit for you based on your needs.
- Step 4: Our talent team will guide you through the onboarding process over 2-3 weeks.
- Step 5: For a flat monthly rate, you get a world-class assistant that equates to a full-time employee (40 hours of remote work per week, with no long-term commitment needed).