The future is here. It’s just not widely distributed yet.”

[William Gibson, author of Neuromancer – coined the term “cyberspace” in 1984]


And the future, it seems, is filled with virtual assistants. According to Australia-based online job website, there has been a 95 per cent increase in demand for virtual assistants in the last three years. Globally there has been a 156 percent increase in jobs being posted since 2010.

I first read about outsourcing in Tim Ferriss’ Four Hour Work Week in which he relays the experience and story of AJ Jacobs, the Editor-at-Large of Esquire Magazine.

As a writer and editor working from home in his penguin-themed pajama bottoms, Jacobs decided it was time to outsource his life. Why should Fortune 500 firms have all the fun, he asked? Enter Honey: a remote executive assistant sourced through Brickwork – a company in Bangalore, India – to respond to emails, attend to his ever-increasing administrative tasks and work while he sleeps.

It’s appealing isn’t it? Whether you’re a small business or a sole practitioner trying to wear ten different hats, the idea that a person can check and respond to your emails, attend to the daily admin drudgery, buy concert tickets or research the most affordable stroller online brings a sense of relief, especially when you’re so busy you’ve decided to it might just be time to cut out sleep for a while.

So with the burgeoning rise of the VA, how do you know if you need one and where do you find a great one?

What is a Virtual Assistant?

According to the Australian Virtual Assistant Association, a VA is a self-employed business operator providing business services, in particular, administrative, secretarial, technical and creative via remote means, usually from their home office, utilising the internet as well as the phone, fax and other means. VAs often service multiple clients and are not employees.

The range of services that can be completed by VAs are endless, including CRM and database management, emails, bookkeeping, accounting, IT, research, and all sorts of tasks from admin and design to social media, email marketing and video editing.

VAs - the way of the future.

VAs – the way of the future.

The Virtues of a Virtual Assistant

The key to any “remote” relationship is communication and respect.

One of the most amusing (and impressive) aspects of Jacobs’ anecdotes about his remote assistants is the polite deference and efficiency with which he is treated by his offshore team. Jacobs recalls that upon engaging the outsourced firm, he receives an email from his new assistant:

Dear Jacobs,

My name is Honey K. Balani. I would be assisting you in your editorial and personal job…. I would try to adapt myself as per your requirements that would lead to desired satisfaction.

Jacobs concludes that the graduates of the future are up against a “hungry, polite, Excel-proficient Indian army”:

“Desired satisfaction. This is great. Back when I worked at an office, I had assistants, but there was never any talk of desired satisfaction. In fact, if anyone ever used the phrase “desired satisfaction,” we’d all end up in a solemn meeting with HR.”

So, the desire to create satisfaction aside, what specific skills does an outstanding virtual assistant require?

According to HR Admin Services, the key skills and traits necessary are:

  •      personality: hire for personality and train for skills,
  •      similar values to you (in business and in life),
  •      compatible working styles, and
  •      similar communication style.

Of course it will probably also help if your VA has solid (3 to 5 years) real world administrative experience, a strong business sense and the ability to think independently and critically.

To avoid a revolving door when it comes to VAs, look for the right attitude, personality and values and you’ll be well placed to establish a decent rapport with your assistant, provide training to suit your business practices and make your workflow more efficient.

Always a juggling act.

Always a juggling act.

Where do You Find a VA and What Does it Cost?

Opting for Brickwork India, Tim Ferriss recommends that you hire a VA firm or VAs with backup teams instead of sole operators, so you can rely on a group structure to provide a pool of talent that allows you to assign multiple tasks without bothering to find a new person with the qualifications.

“Besides simple disaster avoidance. I don’t like calling and coordinating multiple people. I want one-stop shopping and am willing to pay 10% more to have it. I encourage you to be similarly pound-wise and penny-foolish,” says Tim.

In Australia, there are plenty of options to choose from with many companies offering remote assistants and other outsourced services at low prices, including Virtually Yours and A Clayton’s Secretary. Australian VA services are contracted at an hourly rate, or for a package of services, from $25 – $80 (or more) per hour depending on the person’s level of skill.

There are also a range of offshore options. Virtual Coworker cites VA rates starting at $6 to $8. Remote Staff has access to over 5000 Filipino staff with a mid-level VA costing AUS $5.79 per hour or an expert VA at a rate of AUS $6.98 per hour. Not bad if you’re trying to run your new business as a lean operation!

Another Australian provider, Satellite Office, says it offers at least 60 to 70% savings per employee with the daily rate dependent on the type of work and assistant required. US-based Zirtual offers dedicated VAs for entrepreneurs, professionals and small teams to perform administrative and organisational tasks, travel bookings and and reservations and online research.

Sites like Freelancer, ODesk or Airtasker provide online workplaces, where you can advertise and bid on jobs and services. On ODesk, there are currently 52,805 virtual assistant listings ready for the taking, at various rates so you can find the best option to suit your requirements and budget. You can also find a whole range of Indian VA services at Virtual Assistant Assistant.

So if you’re caught up in the admin grind and you really need someone to hold your hand, a VA is only a click away. Your ‘Honey’ could be right around the corner at a very competitive price.

Do you have a great VA story or recommendation? We’d love to hear from you.

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