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Picture a virtual assistant (VA). What comes to mind?
If you answered data entry, admin tasks and general grunt work, you’re not alone — most entrepreneurs hire their VAs to help with those tasks. Beyond that, VAs are synonymous with outsourcing to lower labor costs, as they typically live in Eastern Europe, the Philippines, India and other countries.
Some reports predict the $221.5 billion business process outsourcing (BPO) industry retained $22.2-$66.45 billion of incremental revenue in 2021, which was gained due to the 41% increase in VA hiring as companies laid off full-time employees in favor of cost-effective , temporary contractors.
Although the opacity of the VA industry makes accurate sourcing of data challenging (indeed many companies and executives are reluctant to admit they even use the services of VAs), I’m inclined to believe the number is closer to the higher end, as more and more companies have realized how much productive, mission-critical work can be accomplished by VAs.
Indeed, the shift to VAs can be viewed through a lens of inclusive globalization, a phenomenon by which people from all regions of the world are enabled to do their best work, and jobs are allocated in an increasingly meritocratic manner rather than solely based on an individual’s location.
From first-hand experience, I’ve seen how VAs can produce results equivalent to an entry-level employee, and in some scenarios a mid-career full-time employee (FTE), for approximately 2% of an average FTE’s salary. In other words, I can generate the same results, with no lapse in quality, with a cost savings of 98%.
With that type of potential ROI, it’s little wonder that many companies are shifting towards VAs and the BPO industry is exploding, but it’s important to avoid the pitfalls that come with the territory of hiring VAs for your business. Let’s investigate three key ways you might be setting your VAs — and by extension yourself and your company — up for failure.
Related: 4 Steps to Prepare to Grow Your Business With Virtual Assistants
Prioritizing cost as the determining factor
Given the cost-savings outlined above (and the general pre-existing perception of outsourcing), it’s little wonder that price, or in this instance salary, is a strong driver of the decision-making behind hiring a VA. However, as with an FTE, if the salary is the sole reason you hire someone, then it can be the sole 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, I had a VA who was disengaged at work and subsequently quit. When I dug deeper, it turned out he’d taken our employment offer in the first place purely for monetary reasons — and he left for a job that gave him a $1/hr pay rise. Regardless of the motivation, the lesson is clear: If money is the only reason a VA is working for your company, watch out — it doesn’t take much for a VA to leave.
Related: 3 Ways to Use a Virtual Assistant to Grow Your Online Presence (and Sales)
Not caring about team culture
Given the time zones that many VAs operate in, building bridges between them and the rest of the team can be challenging — but ignore VA team culture integration at your peril. Regular meetings with your VAs at hours that are more convenient for them might be challenging to you (think 7 am wake-ups), but they demonstrate a huge amount of compassion for your VAs — compassion that is repaid tenfold.
Team camaraderie is also important, and here I tell another story: a long-term VA had served our company well but had been struggling with morale. He was located in India, somewhat on an island given the rest of the team was in the Americas. Bandwidth dictated a new VA hire, so we specifically sought out a VA in the same city as him.
Once the second VA started, the difference was palpable. The two VAs started tag-teaming tasks, completing assignments in one day that used to take a week. What’s more, the infectiously positive energy these two started bringing to our weekly team syncs was incredible. VAs want to be a 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 VAs’ professional development
Professional development should not be only reserved for your FTEs — you should also implement it for your VAs. VA tasks can be viewed as grunt work, but you should not ignore the fact that VAs have professional aspirations too. Investing in those aspirations can create immense loyalty and productivity improvements, and here I share my final story.
I was chatting about career progression 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 extremely grateful, but he also started devising many novel applications to improve his productivity. The risk of investment was if the VA decided to leave. Three years later, he’s still with my company.
Avoiding these three pitfalls puts you ahead of the game and allows your company to effectively tap into the enormous value that can be generated from VAs. Having worked with many talented VAs around the globe, I can safely say they can be some of your most dedicated, loyal and productive employees. You just need to give them the chance to prove it.
Related: How Remote Care Combats the Medical-Staff Burnout Crisis