Since starting my Virtual Assistance practice, and after 24 years in corporate America, I keep coming back to the question: Why doesn’t Virtual Assistance also work for larger corporations? I don’t have an answer to that question, but I have come up with several reasons for large companies to take a serious look at how Virtual Assistance can help them.
Virtual Assistance is a strategic alternative to downsizing: Too many large companies today have embraced downsizing as a way to reduce overhead costs and become more operationally efficient. A large number of downsized positions are targeted for the administrative staff because companies believe technology will be a more efficient, cost-effective solution to human support and that managers and senior leaders can assume the maintenance of these tasks. This belief is misguided simply because technology cannot replace human expertise, intuition or interaction. The assumption that administrative tasks such as calendaring, data/information management, meeting planning or research will be better managed with technology and leadership oversight is a plan for disaster.
Okay, I know I’m being harsh here… but when administrative staff is downsized they take with them the detailed knowledge of administrivia. In other words, expecting the managers or senior leaders who relied on administrative support to assume these “simple” tasks with the help of technology is like asking an executive chef to release her prep cook and sous chef for mechanized preparation. It just doesn’t work.
Managers and senior executives are very good at what they do – strategizing, business development, analyzing, and decision-making. But, the countless details of these functions are so varied that they require the diverse skills that only administrative experts can bring to the role. The old corporate adage – time is money – still holds true when administrative functions are heaped upon already overworked leaders who are at their best strategizing, developing, analyzing and making decisions.
Virtual Assistants are the strategic alternative to downsizing because they are able to assume some – or all – of the administrative tasks that busy managers and executives simply don’t have time to do. And, in most cases VAs already have the technology and other tools available to them, so communications remain smooth, efficient and productive.
Administrative support is a specialized profession similar to lawyers, accountants or subject matter experts. All of these specialties have had their share of downsizing, but are always in demand. Which brings me to…
Virtual Assistants are less expensive than employees: Employees cost money; and lots of it when it comes to larger companies. Here’s a quick-and-dirty breakdown:
- Benefits (Medical and Life Insurance, LTD, STD, etc.)
- Vacation and sick time, holiday pay
- Employer-paid taxes (FICA, FUTA, Medicare, SUTA, Workers Comp)
- Equipment (PC, phone, desk, supplies)
- Downtime when workloads are slow
Virtual Assistants work as independent contractors. This means companies are not paying for benefits, time off, taxes, training, space, equipment or downtime. Virtual Assistants work from their own office, use and maintain their own equipment, schedule and manage their time to ensure client needs are met, pay their own taxes, maintain their own professional training/certifications, and work with other clients so downtime is not an issue.Virtual Assistance is a realistic solution to hiring temporary help – for many reasons:
Training Downtime: Temporary employment agencies are a good solution if the assignment requires general administrative support… answering phones, copying, faxing and other front-office tasks. And, the key term here is general because they fall short when a company requires specialized support for assisting senior executives or project managers. These are skill sets that can only be acquired through years of experience working in these specialized roles; and too many temporary agencies are hard pressed to recruit temporary help at this level. Therefore, the company must free internal resources to train a temporary employee, taking up more man-hours and decreasing productivity before the temp employee can be of any real assistance.
Virtual Assistants come into their roles after years of experience and training in a variety of roles – from administrative assistant to executive assistant to project manager to administrative supervisor. Their skill sets are already highly polished – no training required; and they can almost seamlessly assume the responsibility of executive assistant or project assistant because they come to the role as a seasoned professional who knows how to manage their time, prioritize their work, support their clients, and meet the expectations of the company.
Mystery Staffing: Temporary employment agencies cannot guarantee a company will be able to get the same person they had on the last assignment. It’s almost impossible because one of their goals is to ensure their talent pool stays as busy as they desire. This is especially true if the temp employee has more advanced skill sets and is in demand by more than one company.
Virtual Assistants work on retainer plans, project plans and pay-as-you-go (PAYG) plans. The client company is assured of their availability and can relax because they are already aware of the VA’s knowledge, skills and abilities. This is a huge relief when a client company has an important deadline or requires very specialized skills and a developed understanding of the expected outcome.
Cost: Temporary employment agencies make their money by charging employers a recruiting fee – typically between 10% and 20% – of the total compensation paid to the temp employee for the duration of the assignment. Extensions to the assignment require additional recruiting fees; and, in some cases recruiting fees are not refunded if the assignment is cut short. The employer must also usually pay taxes on the full contract amount – including the recruiting fee.
A Virtual Assistant, as I said earlier, works with clients through retainer agreements, project agreements, or PAYG plans. The agreements are created after an initial – usually free – consultation, and once the Virtual Assistant has gathered enough detailed information about the nature of the work, variety of skills and accessibility to the client. While it’s true that retainer agreements generally contain non-refund clauses that encourage companies to use the entire amount of retained hours, the estimate is based on a simple formula that accurately reflects the nature and amount of work.
Virtual Assistance project agreements are similar to retainer agreements and also contain clauses for reimbursement of non-standard supplies as well as changes in scope of the project plan. PAYG agreements are fairly basic – the company pays for the amount of time the VA spends working with them and usually requires a 50% deposit in advance.
Virtual Assistance is a cost-effective alternative to permanent floaters: Many large companies keep a full-time administrative floating staff – staff that fills in for short or long-term administrative vacancies due to illness, leave of absence or until an empty permanent position is filled. While this may be plausible in a few cases, the costs associated with keeping permanent floating staff are extremely high. Full-time employees earn their salary whether they are productive or not, need supervision and management when they are not working in a vacant area, and require ongoing training to acquire all of the skills needed to effectively fill more senior floating roles. All of these costs are absorbed by the employer.
Virtual Assistants are cost-effective alternatives to permanent floaters because they work with client companies only when work is available, do not require supervision because they are not employees rather they are administrative experts who own and operate their practices, and constantly upgrade their skills and acquire new ones, at their expense, to remain at the forefront of their profession.