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Summary:

Moving from the well-oiled corporate environment of personal assistants and friction-free expense accounts to arranging my own travel and doing my own accounts was jarring; I’ve long toyed with the idea of engaging a virtual or remote executive assistant to help with administrative tasks.

Moving from the well-oiled corporate environment of personal assistants and friction-free expense accounts to arranging my own travel and doing my own accounts was jarring; I’ve long toyed with the idea of engaging a virtual or remote executive assistant to help with administrative tasks. However, the pioneers in this field — Indian companies such as Brickwork, YourManInIndia and Get Friday — all seemed a little too expensive, requiring a commitment to buying large regular blocks of time. Essentially, what I needed was a virtual assistant provider with pay-as-you-go billing rather than subscription plans — which is why I was interested to see the offering from TimeSvr.

TimeSvr allows you to purchase the time of a dedicated “aide” for $85-350 (ten to fifty hours) or a flat rate of $69/month for a shared aide.

To create a task, you simply pull up the “dashboard view” and describe what you need in a few sentences; clicking “Do It” sets the task in motion with your TimeSvr aide.

I spent an hour or so queuing up a trio of tasks for the TimeSvr aides to work though on my behalf. The company CEO, Zaki Mahomed, was CC’d on my tasks, without the aides knowing that their work was under review. Here’s how they did.

Task 1:Could you identify the best venues to hold a 2-day, 200 delegate conference in the city of Leeds (UK)

TimeSvr aide Irfan found the city’s official bureau for conference venues and suggested Hillside and Weetwood Hall as candidate locations.  The task was completed quickly, but the suggestions lacked range and depth. This could perhaps have been mitigated by a little back-and-forth conversation between myself and Irfan to narrow down my requirements.

Task 2: “What would be the total cost of flights, hotels & registration for me to attend this year’s SxSW Interactive Festival in Austin, Texas. The festival takes place March 12-16 and I’ll be traveling from Manchester, UK, and I’ll also need accommodation near the Austin Convention Centre”

Ammar provided me with a pretty comprehensive a range of flight options from $600-700, along with a table of all SxSW registration packages and details for three hotels. Sadly, the hotels all seem to be quite far out and seemingly not drawn from the festival’s own hotel finder. What I was really looking for was a ballpark figure, so I could make a decision about attending; perhaps something I should have been more explicit about.

Task 3: “Other than Knight Foundation, are there any other funding bodies for journalism ventures in the United Kingdom or overseas?”

Ammar also picked up this task and did well to identify three organisations, one of which appears to be a great lead.

On the whole, I was impressed with the clean user experience and task submission interface, which felt almost Twitter-esque in its simplicity. Where I was specific and detailed with a request (as in Task 2) I got satisfactory results; where I wasn’t as specific, the responses were less useful.

Responses are delivered via email, but strangely aren’t displayed next to the “Previous Tasks” view in the application interface, making it difficult to gauge how long a task took and to keep tasks connected with their outcomes. Tasks are also flagged as completed by the aide, rather than the requester, so the opportunity to create an ongoing conversation or dialogue around a request is limited. Completed tasks do have  “feedback” and “response” options, but they seems to be articulated with an assumption that a task is closed, rather than being an ongoing dialogue.

Overall, I certainly got the feeling of being looked after and that the aides themselves communicated well. They’re fast, but perhaps taking a little more time with a task would give better outcomes. I’d really liked to have seen a little more initiative from the aides, and perhaps a preamble conversation before they attempted to tackle the tasks.

A great assistant can take initiative, anticipating their employer’s needs; such initiative perhaps only comes with time as aides and employers build a rapport and learn to read each other. With that in mind, my experience with my aides Ammar and Irfan was pretty good, and I’m sold on experimenting further with a personal plan.

Have you used TimeSvr, or a similar service? How did it work out for you?

  1. oDesk is a great tool for this. Takes a while to find the right person, but once you do it is significantly cheaper.

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  2. Don’t forget that there are plenty of ‘real’ virtual assistants in the UK who can forward think and don’t need to be micro-managed. They run their own businesses as remote secretaries and are only a phone call away.

    They offer options of PAYG or monthly retainers, for those who want an assistant on a slightly more permanent basis.

    They may be a little more expensive than those in the third-world sector but they are more likely to be on the same wave length as you because of residing in the same country.

    A good website to start from is http://www.societyofvirtualassistants.co.uk

    Dawn Lane
    Your Office Online

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  3. I used Timesvr as part of the admin team at my online business. I think they’re probably the best bang for the buck when it comes to a assistants of the virtual variety. They managed invoicing and order fulfillment for us. I think this was part of their Dedicated option, though. Heard good things about the Personal package as well.

    I’d use them again if things pick up, for sure.

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  4. Thanks Scot, Dawn, Ray :)

    A quick self-correction: the company is not Malaysian, but based in Singapore.

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    1. I’ve deleted the erroneous location from the post.

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  5. Hi, Imran -

    If I might say, really? You think Indian virtual assistant providers are the pioneers in this field? The term ‘virtual assistant’ was coined by Thomas Leonard, founder of Coach University and the International Coach Federation, in the late 90′s, in the U.S.

    Indian providers came on the scene much later. I like the results of your research in that it makes it obvious that these off-shore providers are not worth the ‘cheap’ prices they offer.

    Obviously, professional virtual assistants in the U.S. and UK would have been much better choices for your needs, but they charge prices based upon the cost-of-living in their areas, which differs greatly from countries such as India and Malaysia.

    While I would agree there is talent to be found there, the language barriers, and the additional time you have to expend in getting your needs handled properly need to be added to your costs…I’m thinking your rates are probably higher than your off-shore options, and even those of a VA in the US or UK, who could much more quickly and easily have provided the exact information you needed.

    While I am always looking for the best price possible, I also try not to be penny-wise and pound-foolish. You deserve the best quality results; try utilizing virtual assistants in the U.S., UK, Europe and Australia. I believe you’ll find that the tasks are handled much more professionally, and in much less time, with that initiative you seem to be looking for.

    Wishing you all the best,
    Jeannine Clontz
    Virtual Assistant

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    1. Hi Jeanine, as Virtual Assistants we see this sort of thing all the time.In fact, we were recently discussing something similar last week on a forum I frequent over at VAClassroom.com. My take on the whole thing is this: if someone wants to hire someone for that sort of money, they do it with the knowledge that the skills offered by these aides are basic and minimal at best. I think Imran understands this.

      They can’t get someone with top skills such a producing webinars, teleseminars, podcasting, project management or managing their social media presence for that sort of price and you certainly can’t hire a virtual assistant that you can bounce ideas off of or have an understanding or an affinity with your culture for that price.

      Also, Jeannine, there are great VAs to be found in the Caribbean as well. Our rates are in line with what US,UK and European VAs charge because out skills are as top rate as theirs. I know, because I live in the Caribbean for most of the year!

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      1. Thanks, Carlana – that’s great to know (about Carribbean VAs) – you might want to consider joining the premier VA association, The International Virtual Assistants Association (www.ivaa.org) – it’s a great place to rub elbows and to let other savvy VAs know about your availability.

        And my apologies, I didn’t mean to exclude any global professional VA option out, just wanted to mention some of the ones I am most connected to – nice to ‘virtually’ meet you.

        Wishing you all the best of continued success! ;)

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    2. On the one hand you state “…off-shore providers are not worth the ‘cheap’ prices they offer.”

      Then go on to mention “…try utilizing virtual assistants in the U.S., UK, Europe and Australia. I believe you’ll find that the tasks are handled much more professionally…”

      Then you go on to welcome the VA from the Caribbean and Canada.

      Surely some of those people are offshore, as far as your concerned? So who is it you have a problem with exactly?

      To suggest that only ‘Westernised’ countries can offer a professional service is quite prejudiced.

      Wishing you all the best, Tarique Naseem (NOT a Virtual Assistant).

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  6. Carolyn B Meyer Thursday, February 4, 2010

    Hi Imran,

    You get out of a working relationship what you put it; cheap = little. Wait a minute, what you had was not a relationship, was it.

    That is the key, Imran. Virtual Assistants work in a supportive professional relationship with their clients. VAs learn about you as you work together, and come to anticipate your needs. This leads to less time spent on both your part and your VAs part – you save time & money and get great value. There is no “Throw your request into a barrel and see who comes up and out with results that may or may not be helpful.”

    You expressed it quite well in your comment, “the suggestions lacked range and depth. This could perhaps have been mitigated by a little back-and-forth conversation between myself and Irfan to narrow down my requirements.”

    Best wishes for your success,
    Carolyn Baker Meyer, Virtual Assistant, USA

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  7. There are many Virtual Assistants out there all over the world, even in Canada.

    As stated by someone else VAs establish long-term business relationships with their clients. An on-going relationship leads to understanding of a client’s needs. It’s the same relationship that you would have with an Administrative Assistant if you working with that individual in the office. You can’t expect them to understand your needs and requirements if you don’t work with them on a regular basis.

    I’ve worked in both the corporate world and on my own as a Virtual Assistant and continue to do so. Most of my clients have been with me since day one. This is the one thing that was missing from the message. Do you continue to use the same individuals with the service provider? Or each time you make a request are you starting with someone new?

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    1. Right on, Francesca – and another area I failed to include – there are lots of very talented and established Canadian VAs – keep doing what you’re doing, and I know you’ll continue to be successful.

      Wishing you all the best…

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  8. Thanks for your comments everyone and great to see the subject is attracting some debate.

    Though TimeSvr’s based in Singapore, it’s not clear where aides are located; they may indeed be distributed across the globe. So, it’s unfair to make assumptions about relative geographic issues – this didn’t figure in my assessment of their work, though it maybe a factor in the quality.

    Like any industry – the reality for VAs in Europe and North America is that they have to compete with literate, educated and largely cheaper South Asian and Chinese workforces. Indeed, I’m fluent in Urdu and English, so cultural barriers are less acute for me.

    I don’t accept that European or North American VAs are automatically ‘better’, but that it’s up to each company or VA to demonstrate their value to their clients.

    That said, I’m looking at another company that draws attention to its US-based aides; it’ll be interesting to compare, but I’m also wary of making sweeping cultural judgements on the relationship between nationality and quality!

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  9. Great topic of discussion! First of all, from a one web entrepreneur to another, I think the Timesvr solution is very innovative and well laid out and I always appreciate businesses who think “outside the box” with regards to practical outsourcing solutions.

    With that being said, I think the tasks you provided were quite elementary and even the packages displayed on the TimeSvr site referenced “Unlimited SIMPLE Tasks”.

    Now, if you are looking for a VA to set-up and design a Facebook Fan Page, help set-up, manage and optimize your social media presence, or set-up a You Tube channel to syndicate your videos or create an Auto-responder series in Aweber, or set-up a WordPress Blog, the skills, knowledge and experience will likely need to be at a much higher level than what you would receive via Timesvr (in my humble opinion). As a result, you will naturally pay a higher rate to receive these types of specialized services.

    Our Marketplace at VAClassroom is full of multi-dimensional Virtual Assistants who have tapped into many “in-demand” niches and offering specialized services that so many entrepreneurs desperately need.

    I personally think a distinction needs to be made here between a personal assistant (as offered by TimeSVR.com) and a Virtual Assistant or Virtual Marketing Assistant that brings another degree for skills and specializations to the table.

    Just a few thoughts – great post!

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  10. I tend to think that the term “virtual assistant” is pretty broad and encompasses a very wide variety of services – to the point where it’s now comparing apples and oranges … and broccoli. :-)

    I think TimeSvr is probably a great service for those who just need the occasional task completed. Will they be invested in your success? No. You will just get the task that you requested completed. There is a role for that. I’m sure they do a great job and that they have happy clients.

    It’s not better, worse – just an entirely different service than what many VAs and VBMs do.

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