Virtual assistants replace the office secretary


Business is full of trends that come and go, but there’s one that looks like it’s here to stay: more small business owners are bringing virtual assistants on board.

The VA industry is going from strength to strength. A survey conducted by the Australian chapter of the Alliance for Virtual Businesses (A4VB) found that over 47 per cent of respondents have been in business for just two years or less.

Liz Pulo, who’s been with The Virtual Assistant since early 2012 and took over the business in December, believes SMBs are looking to virtual assistants as they realise the various cost benefits.

“Employing someone is hard. Finding a good administrator in the current market is difficult, and the talented ones are worth a lot more than what a standard small business can afford. It makes economic sense to use a virtual assistant instead. You only pay for the time worked, you don’t have to worry about taxes, superannuation or leave and you don’t have to keep them occupied if you don’t have anything on,” Pulo said.

While the industry is growing, Pulo said some SMB owners are still hesitant about handing over a share of their work to someone else.

“We work with small business owners almost exclusively, and when you’ve been the only person in your business it is so hard to hand over responsibility to someone else, especially when you have no documentation of what it is you do,” she said.

As a result, Pulo believes it’s important for a small business owner to set out exactly what it is they want from a potential VA before hiring.

“The first thing that we do is work out what the small business owner needs, and that may not be what they think they need. From there, we go about documenting the procedure with the business owner, if it’s not already, and setting up a basic responsibilities list, much like a job description,” she said.

“This gives the business owner and the VA a clear starting point. It’s clear who is responsible for what, and the way the tasks are to be completed,” Pulo added.

Kathie Thomas, head of the Virtual Assistants Association of Australia, said the role of the virtual assistant is continually expanding. For example, whereas VA tasks were once dominated by transcription services, the tide is now shifting towards social media support.

“A lot of clients know they need to have a presence on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, but they don’t know how they work – they don’t know how often they should be posting, or what they should be doing. So a VA will often set the accounts up, and teach clients how to use these tools,” Thomas said.

Despite the growth of the industry, there are still challenges virtual assistants face. For Pulo, the greatest is busting the myths behind what a VA is and what they can and can’t do.

The A4VB survey found that almost 90 per cent of virtual assistants have extensive on-the-job experience or training in employment. Some 81 per cent even decide to start their own business to gain greater flexibility in working hours.

“Virtual assistants in Australia are highly skilled, and usually come from high-responsibility jobs and are looking for a change of pace,” Pulo said, adding a client could be working with anyone from an ex-communications manager to an ex-executive assistant to a CEO.

  • Great article Gina! Liz & Kathie are both great ambassadors for the Virtual Assistant Industry in Australia. Having met both of them I can honestly say that they both are very passionate about helping other Virtual Assistants make their businesses work. The VA community in Australia is a tight knit group and one I love belonging to.

  • I’m just starting the thinking around starting my own VA business – as you mentioned, I have a great deal of experience in HR & Comms & Social media but I’m desperate for a change of pace, with 2 young kids. I’m really excited about this career/lifestyle change and look forward to engaging with other similar-minded VAs! Loved the article (and I’ve come across Liz at Problogger – she’s an amazing go-getting livewire, oh yes!)

  • Great article and quotes! Business owners seem very relieved when they hear that they can have a professional business support provider support them remotely. Virtual Assistants are really blossoming in Australia and are helping businesses get their lives back!

  • Indeed, virtual assistants help small and medium businesses save costs. For example, online assistants or outsourced accountants support day-to-day activities in the office at less than 50% of the cost compared to hiring an in-house staff.