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Imagine a virtual assistant (VA). What comes to mind?
If you’ve answered data entry, administrative tasks, and general grunt work, you’re not alone — most business owners hire their VAs to help with those tasks. In addition, VAs are synonymous with outsourcing to reduce labor costs as they typically reside in Eastern Europe, the Philippines, India, and other countries.
Some reports predict that the business process outsourcing (BPO) industry will retain $221.5 billion $22.2-$66.45 billion in incremental revenue in 2021, which was met by the 41% increase in VA hiring as companies laid off full-time employees in favor of cost-effective, temporary contractors.
While the opacity of the VA industry makes accurate sourcing of data a challenge (indeed many companies and executives are reluctant to admit they even use the services of VAs), I tend to believe that the number is closer to the higher end as more and more companies have realized how much productive, mission-critical work can be done by VAs.
Indeed, the shift to VAs can be viewed through a lens of inclusive globalization, a phenomenon that allows people from all regions of the world to do their best work, and jobs are allocated in an increasingly meritocratic manner rather than just on the basis of a location of the person.
From my own experience, I’ve seen how VAs can deliver results equivalent to a entry-level employee, and in some scenarios, a mid-career full-time employee (FTE), for about 2% of the average FTE salary. In other words, I can generate the same results, without loss of quality, with a cost saving of 98%.
With that kind of potential ROI, it’s no wonder many companies are moving to VAs and the BPO industry is exploding, but it’s important to avoid the pitfalls associated with hiring VAs for your business. Let’s take a look at three main ways you could fail your VAs — and by extension yourself and your company.
Related: 4 Steps to Prepare Your Business with Virtual Assistants
Prioritize costs as the determinant
Given the cost savings outlined above (and the general pre-existing perception of outsourcing), it’s no wonder that price, or in this case salary, is a strong driver of decision making behind hiring a VA. However, as with a FTE, if salary is the only reason you hire someone, it could be the only reason you lose that same person, and this can be even more pronounced with VAs.
Here I share a cautionary tale. Once upon a time there was a VA who got knocked out at work and then stopped. When I dug deeper, it turned out that he took our job offer purely for monetary reasons in the first place — and he left for a job that paid him a $1 an hour pay raise. Regardless of the motivation, the lesson is clear: If money is the only reason a VA works for your company, beware — it doesn’t take much for a VA to leave.
Related: 3 Ways to Use a Virtual Assistant to Increase Your Online Presence (and Sales)
Don’t worry about team culture
Given the time zones in which many VAs operate, it can be challenging to build bridges between them and the rest of the team, but ignore the integration of the VA team culture at your peril. Regular meetings with your VAs at hours more convenient for them can be challenging for you (think waking up at 7am), but they show a tremendous amount of compassion for your VAs — compassion that pays off tenfold.
Team camaraderie is also important, and here I am telling another story: A longtime VA would have served our company well, but struggled with morale. He was in India, kind of on an island, as the rest of the team was in America. Bandwidth dictated a new VA rental, so we specifically sought a VA in the same city as him.
Once the second VA started, the difference was palpable. The two VAs started tag teaming tasks and completed assignments in one day that used to take a week. Plus, the infectious positive energy these two started to bring to our weekly team syncs was incredible. VAs want to be part of something bigger than themselves and make an impact – just like any other FTE.
Related: 14 Easy Ways to Make Extra Money at Home
Neglecting the professional development of VAs
Professional development should not only be reserved for your FTEs, you should also implement it for your VAs. VA jobs can be seen as grunt work, but you should not ignore the fact that VAs also have professional aspirations. Investing in those ambitions can deliver huge loyalty and productivity gains, and this is where I share my latest story.
I was talking about career development with a VA, and he mentioned a desire to learn Python. It was a reasonable desire, so we paid for him to attend a Python bootcamp. Not only was this VA very grateful, but he also started to come up with many new applications to improve his productivity. The investment risk was if the VA decided to leave. Three years later, he is still with my company.
Avoiding these three pitfalls will put you ahead of the curve and allow your business to effectively capitalize on the tremendous value that can be generated from VAs. Having worked with many talented VAs around the world, I can safely say that they can be some of your most dedicated, loyal and productive employees. You just have to give them a chance to prove it.
Related: How Remote Care Combats Medical Staff Burnout Crisis