Tuesday, April 16, 2024

The Pros and Cons of Virtual Assistants

When a certain virtual assistant applied for work with Crystal Smalldon’s company, at the time it seemed like a good fit.

He came armed with two reference letters and a can-do attitude, and was given a two-month web content contract for a legal office.

Though he worked on his own in a remote locale, with no one directly supervising him, Smalldon made sure now and again to check his work.

Unfortunately, the scrutiny wasn’t close enough, or often enough, to catch outright plagiarism – from another legal website.

It’s something she didn’t ever expect would happen, and now has vowed to increase checking efforts of her virtual assistants.

It’s a cautionary tale that Smalldon, of Not Just Soccer Moms, tells to those seeking to hire virtual assistants (VAs).

Her company employs more than two hundred VAs who engage in dozens of tasks, including writing, billing, scheduling, research, and contacting government officials.

“It was a nightmare,” she said of the incident. “We could have been in a lot of legal trouble, and it was all hands on deck for two days straight to fix it. Not something I’d ever want to happen again. It’s my reputation on the line, and ultimately my fault if something goes wrong.”

Many offices are now turning to hire a VA – someone who can complete short term tasks, who do not require actual on-site office space, and are often cheaper than hiring a temp worker.

Smalldon suggests to those wishing to hire a VA to ask for multiple references. “You really have to check out these people; two references are easy to fake, but five or more, and people aren’t going to put that much effort into it. You really have to be careful to look at credentials.”

She advises the VA to get a reference after each job or employer. “It’s a big deal. If you have lots of them, people will hire you.”

For those eyeing a career or a side income as a VA, there are simple, but important rules to know:

“Are you really qualified? Be prepared to meet tight deadlines. Be very organized. Get a clear contract, with hours and wages.”

And just because no one’s physically breathing down the VA’s neck, employers like Smalldon now use tracking software, such as Time Doctor, that takes screen captures of what the VA is doing throughout the day. That means the employer will see Facebook, Twitter, email, YouTube, or whatever else is used as a vehicle for procrastination.

Crystal Smalldon
Crystal Smalldon, Not Just Soccer Moms

Someone who has been a VA, and hired them, is Vered Lerner, CEO of Toronto-based BizStance Services. She had been a VA for dozens of clients, over the course of twenty years.

Her work had included marketing, calendars, job postings and resume filtering, travel arrangements, events management, and draft contracts.

“Before you start a project, you need to know exactly what they need, and have the experience to do it,” she warns. “They won’t pay you if it’s not what they wanted.”

Today, she not only runs her own consulting company, but also coaches people on how to be a VA.

To the potential employer, her advice is simple: due diligence.

“You get what you pay for; if you’re paying five dollars for something, you’ll get five dollars worth of quality. Using those online services (like Fiverr or Guru), you don’t know who’s on the other side. You need to be able to trust them and they have to know what they’re doing. If you have to babysit a VA, you should really hire someone else,” cautions Lerner. “They should take the stress off your workload and be your back up.”

Vered Katzav-Lerner
Vered Lerner, CEO, BizStances Services

Meanwhile, Adam Aptowitzer of Ottawa-based Drache Aptowitzer LLP, had been using an Israel-based VA for seven years, with much success.

She helped with the website, bill collections, transcriptions, client emails and preparing legal paperwork. “The work started off slow and piecemeal, and over time the work grew,” he notes.

“I didn’t have to pay for office space; I paid her in sheqels on credit card, and ended up getting points for doing so. When the Canadian dollar strengthened, the amount I ended up paying was less.”

Eventually, she was sent a phone of her own, so the extension could be transferred to an office staffer.

“The (seven hour behind) time zone wasn’t a problem, due to her comfort level of doing work at any time. I could send her dictation at night, and it would be already in my inbox first thing in the morning.”

Still, there are always going to be things that need to be done on-site, says Aptowitzer, such as signing for, and accepting incoming packages – that’s someone an office may need to hire, when an office grows, and other staff are occupied.

Overall, his experience has been quite positive. “For my small business, I rely on VAs,” Aptowitzer notes.

Adam Aptowitzer
Adam Aptowitzer, Drache Aptowitzer LLP


Feature image source: William Iven


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Dave Gordon
Dave Gordon
Dave Gordon is a Toronto-based freelance writer whose work has appeared in more than a hundred publications globally, over the course of twenty years. More about him can be found at DaveGordonWrites.com