Open Thread: Do You Use a Virtual Assistant?


ScreenshotWe’ve written about the benefits of outsourcing your chores, and we’ve covered the expanding field of virtual assistants. But though I’ve employed office staff in the past, I’m reaching the point where a VA might make sense. The problem is that I’m having trouble identifying chunks of work that it would make sense for me to outsource.

I hope that some of you WWD readers have stories of your own in this area to inspire me. So – if you use a VA of your own, how is it working out? How did you find your assistant? What sorts of things do you hand over to be done? And if you’re a virtual assistant, we’d welcome your perspective as well: where do you find you can help your clients the most?

Image credit: stock.xchng user anshustock



I must respectfully, but *strongly* disagree with the notion that “a virtual assistant is just like any other employee” and should be treated and managed the “just the same” – in fact the whole point is that VAs are not employees at all!

Not being am employee means that business owners are not responsible for taxes, benefits, equipment, office space, etc.

VAs being independent business owners themselves, means that we “get” what our clients are going through and can ease their pain. Yes, I am “into the business” of running my practice – that means that I work to create a business that sustains me intellectually and financially and in the process of doing that, my clients get great value from my support. Yes, I have an agreement that clients sign – it protects both of us in our working relationship and clearly outlines expectations for both of us because clear, direct communication is essential to our success.

Whether you are an entrepreneur seeking administrative support or a virtual assistant seeking to add clients to your practice, please remember that the connection you make – the fit – is the most important factor in deciding to work together.

Also, as Linda mentioned, head on over to There aren’t thousands of VAs there, but the ones you will find are screened and trained more thoroughly than anywhere else.


A virtual assistant is just like any other employee. You should treat and manage them just the same. Typically there is a learning curve in terms of communication with your virtual assistant.

But once you find a virtual assistant or employee that works for you, things will get SO much better.

Some people I know, myself included, would not have been nearly as productive in our professional or personal lives without the added value a professional va brings.

Recently, we created a free social network for virtual assistants and employees to join. Membership is free.

It’s a great place to get your feet wet as a consumer.

We give you the ability to read va profiles and chat with them on our site so you can get to know several v.a’s at once. We’re hoping this speeds up the process in terms of people getting more comfortable with virtual talent.

Thanks for the opportunity to comment!


Linda M

This is a great discussion! I agree with April and Denise did a great job of describing the value of the collaborative relationship.

In all of this commenting about VAs, I’m surprised that no-one has mentioned AssistU. AssistU (or Assist University) was started in 1997 by Stacy Brice, who had worked as a virtual assistant for several years before that. AssistU trains VAs, and also is a great place to connect with a VA.

Are you are tired of paying excess taxes for employees, and paying for breaks and lunches and down time? Do you want a partner for your success? Are you interested in connecting with some of the best VAs anywhere? If so, try

If you have great skills as an administrative assistant, and you love what you do, but want to break away from the corporate box, again visit

I am fairly new to the world of Virtual Assistance. I graduated from AssistU in June of this year, but started my practice before I even heard of AssistU. What I have found in my year and a half practice is:

**Virtual Assistance works best, in my opinion, when there is an ongoing collaborative relationship between the VA and the client. I have done some project work, but that never seems as satisfying to me as when I have invested my skills and ideas in a client’s life and business.

**Communication is key. I get to know my clients and they get to know me through almost daily contact of one kind or another. All communication is done virtually – either by phone, by e-mail, IM, or online collaboration tools, such as Groove.

**My clients pay only for time that I have actually worked. Breaks, lunches, and vacations are not charged to them.

**I get to choose my clients. Yes, they choose me, too, but that is the point. We don’t work together unless we both have a sense that we are a good fit.

**My clients are great. We have formed relationships which are built around the success of their businesses.

Keep the comments coming. It is a good discussion.


Kirk Hylan

We have had tremendous success with . They found a college educated American with solid business experience in the US but now lives in a foreign country. They assisted us with getting the virtual office set up and some training. The results were so positive that we flushed out the concept further and now employ all of our Client Care Specialists virtually. We consider the quality of personnel to be superior and cost-savings are substantial.


As a virtual assistant, the issue of not knowing exactly what to outsource is one of the main concerns of business persons. I offer a free e-booklet that lists 100 ways to utilize a virtual assistant that could be of help. It’s not a comprehensive list by all means, since virtual assistants are varied and have many different skills, but it could help you to find items that you could delegate. You can get it here:
I think if you do decide to work with a VA, the crucial part is finding the one that ‘fits’ with your work style. When you do, you’ll wonder why you waited so long.
Best of Luck,
~Tina Hilton
Clerical Advantage Virtual Assistance Services


We run a Wealth Management firm in the San Francisco Bay Area. I am a big fan of my virtual assistants. We have two from a company called Secretary in Israel.

This company hires all American college educated assistants who are living in Israel. Because the economy is not so great over there for those who do not speak the language, this company has been able to find an incredible group of assistants. All have local US phone #s, through VOIP and my clients do not even know where she is calling from. I love the time difference. Both my assistants work late into their nights. So I have coverage in CA until 3:00PM and when I give them projects in the evening my time, it is their morning – so they are done when I wake up.

My one assistant used to be the Personal Assistant for one of the top guys at Goldman Sachs and my other used to be an accountant at Deloitee & Touche. They have been able to give me the ability to work on only those things that I can do.

DELEGATE DELEGATE DELEGATE – is the key to running a more efficient and profitable business. I need to be spending my time in front of clients and prospects. Since I have had a VA I my calendar has filled up with meetings. You do not know the value a VA will add to your life and business until you get one.

Remember the important thing is finding a company with quality assistants. That is why I am so glad I found Secretary in Israel. No way in hell, could I get the quality of work that I receive from my VAs if I went with a company whose VAs where not American college educated. And remember – VAs only work for you when you need them to work. If I hired a real assistant – I would be paying them for all the hours that I didn’t need them for. Going virtual for this part of your business is a no-brainer.

Feel free to e-mail me with questions about Secretary in Israel. I am a big fan because it has changed my business.


I wanted two things, i.e. Save some money on work that I knew could be done elsewhere thru the net and I wanted someone with good work ethics.
This guy has been able to deliver and you could check him out – the charge is way less than $5 an hour but he and his team has worked well for me.

Deanne Verrall | Net Secretary

Another great place to find professional VA’s is – this is a worldwide directory.

I am based in Australia but I have clients all over the world. My US clients love the time difference – I can complete their work ‘overnight’. The types of things I do for them include transcription, proofreading, submitting articles and press releases, website updating, emailing their clients, following up information and compiling into a spreadsheet, internet research – the list goes on.

Write down a list of the tasks you do and then sort out what you hate doing (and doesn’t make you money) and outsource that to a VA. We become your business partner and work to understand your business.

Deanne Verrall
Net Secretary


I am a work at home Mom and use Virtual Assistants for a variety of things. Sometimes it’s stuff I don’t know how to do (graphic design) or things I don’t like to do or don’t directly earn me money (editing ebooks and a bunch of other tasks).

I meet VAs through my online networks and wouldn’t hire one I didn’t “know” through a recommendation from another wahm I know.


This article really caught my eye, not just because I am a confidential virtual assistant but because some of the things that are posted in the comments as well as the original post are things that I so often run into. Many people are just unsure what they can delegate to a VA and the advice that was given here by Dave is very good advice but I also want to take it a step further, if you find a VA that you may be interested in but you are still unsure of what you can delegate, call them up and ask them. Nobody understands what a VA does more than the VA themselves. They should be able to help you troubleshoot the areas where you are wasting money by doing it yourself or find where they could be a great match for your team.

Another thing that you have to consider is there are a lot of VA’s out there that have no idea what it’s like to run a business, they are VAs because they have the basic skills, they get to stay home with family, and it’s one of the easiest businesses to set up. When you have a bad experience with one VA, it looks bad on all VAs. Just as in any industry, you will have VAs that just do not care, only want the paycheck and don’t care about what their clients’ need.

For those of you who don’t fully understand how to work with or what to expect when you work with a VA, you can find step by step from both a VA point of view as well as a consumer point of view instructions here:

Just remember, don’t be afraid to call a VA and see what you can delegate to them and also just because you had a bad experience with one VA, it doesn’t mean that all VAs are as unprofessional.


Ruth Martin, Maplewood Virtual Assistance

What an interesting post and comments! Being a virtual assistant I can affirm that some working relationships will work better than others just as some plumbers, mechanics, doctors, and others in service professions are better matches to your style, personality, and skillset needs than others.

Many VAs offer a free consultation to discuss a plan of action for handling the projects that a business will require. In addition to that other VAs will offer to “test drive” their services with one to two hours of free service.

I’d recommend a visit the the website and click on the tab “For Clients.” You’ll find a helpful FREE ebook outlining what a client should look for in a working with a VA. This ebook incudes a handy checklist to assist in choosing the VA that best complements your business and working style. The ebook also provides suggested questions that a client can ask the VA to gauge the VA’s knowledge and skill level before assigning a project.

~Ruth Martin
Maplewood Virtual Assistance

Sherra Scott ~ Virtual Assistant

As a professional virtual assistant, I recommend submitting an RFP (request for proposal) on sites such as or (International Virtual Assistants Association). These two sites have THOUSANDS of professional virtual assistants that can respond to your request – not all will respond because many already have a full practice or do not offer the services you may need, but be prepared to receive several dozen responses. Those sites also have listings of VAs that you can browse through and contact VAs directly if you wanted.

Like many of the others, I’ve discovered that sites like Guru and Elance are more geared toward getting the cheapest labor, and not necessarily the best quality.


I’m surprised and glad to see to no VAs advertising there services, but it is useful to have the links of directories Virtual Assistants. Personally I am considering developing a business of mine as a VA and the advice and opinion of people who have used one is helpful.


I periodically decide I want a virtual assistant, but it has been hard to find someone who seems to be at home in my 100% online world of site analytics, Freshbooks, Highrise, and blogging.

I’ve interviewed several. They all got their experience in traditional office settings, and they offer useful skills that unfortunately aren’t useful to me, like brochure design or setting up real-world seminars.

I’ve had much better luck farming out one-time tasks to specialists like graphic designers and coders.


If anyone is a virtual assistant, or needs a VA for projects, there’s a category marketplace on ki work devoted to this area:

posting projects and making yourself available is free. there are also opportunities to become experts or a leader of this field, getting extra status and visibility.

hope this helps, Jim


Hi Mike,

First I wanted to say I really enjoy WWD and even though I subscribe to your feed, I don’t think I’ve ever commented before. But I also wanted to thank you for encouraging an open dialogue about VAs because one of the biggest obstacles VAs are facing is the lack of a clear definition of what exactly a VA is or does.

I just wanted to reiterate some points that have already been made and add a few of my own.

Regarding the $5/hr VAs, it is true that you get what you pay for. If all you need is a one-time data entry project, great. Pay $5/hr for a data entry clerk which is NOT a VA. But if you want a good quality job done on a variety of tasks and are hoping to form a long-term working relationship with a VA, you’re better off with an actual VA and not some one scrounging around for odd jobs on freelance websites.

A true Virtual Assistant is someone who has years of experience as a “bricks and mortar” assistant and is capable of, at the very least, several general administrative duties. And because they are business owners themselves, they understand what it takes to run a business. Think of them as an office manager and you’ll have a better idea of what they can do.

Most VAs have some sort of specialty, based on either their work experience or training they’ve had. It may be writing, marketing, web design, legal support services, real estate or bookkeeping. If someone offers ONLY one service is not a VA. They are an online bookkeeper, web designer, copywriter, etc.

As far as what kind of work you can delegate to your VA, any kind of tasks that will free up your time and that you are comfortable trusting to another person can be given to them. I’ve done everything from setting up someone’s blog to writing press releases to researching potential customers.

Your best bet is to do your research and treat as you would any other business investment. Check some VA directories and forums. If you find a potential VA, ask for a consultation. Most of us do offer a free consultation and there is a lot of support amongst VAs so if you find one but she/he isn’t skilled to handle the tasks you need, some of them can direct you to someone who is. And if you’re still unsure, try hiring them for a quick project before committing to a monthly retainer, like you would a “temp-to-hire” assistant.

And this is honestly not a sales pitch because, even though I always appreciate getting new clients, I also enjoy seeing more people become familiar with VAs and eventually hiring their own, but if anyone has any questions, please feel free to email me. Its good to see people asking questions because not only does it help VA clients but it helps the VA industry as well.

April Jones
Advantage Virtual Assistant


VA’s have not worked out for me. The learning curve is tough and I need more of a relationship with the people who do work for me. The VA’s, I have worked with are very into running their business with lengthy contracts and policies. This is great if you also bring to the table the ability to “just do what works.”

However, I have had great luck finding wonderful people who do things well and offering to pay them to do those things for me. The difference for me is that they are not into the “business” of being a virtual assistant. i found my proof reader on the Ask Liz Ryan list–she wrote a post asking if it was rude to contact people about spelling errors on their web sites. I contacted her and while she had never proofed professionally.


While I have never used a virtual assistant, the few times in my life I have been assigned a non-virtual assistant I have always had to work hard to keep that person busy and working productively toward the goal (not lost in a mess of poor definition).

I suspect that this boils down to whether you have ever delegated any of your work. If so, this should work well (assuming a good VA). If not you will have a struggle.

Denise Aday

Hi Mike,

WWD has been a long time daily read for me – love it! So am thrilled at the opportunity to comment in this thread.

As a virtual assistant with over 18 years’ experience in various industries, I’m somewhat of a generalist and provide a range of administrative, marketing, and personal support services to my clients.

Each one has a unique set of tasks that I accomplish for them. However, the common threads and probably most valuable things I bring to them are:

Caring – dedication to them and partnership toward their success.

Being Proactive – anticipating problems, proposing solutions, and looking for opportunities.

Consistency – in responsiveness as well as delivery of top quality on-time work so they don’t have to worry.

Project/Task Management – coordinating, keeping things and people on track and updated, following up, closing open loops.

Discretion and Tact – being the consummate professional in dealing with them and their own clients, colleagues, friends and families.

To sum it up, I would say that it’s being an executive level assistant – as opposed to simply an admin or clerk – that is most important to those clients who are looking for a truly collaborative ongoing relationship.

Here’s a handy resource I ran across for those trying to figure out just what to outsource to a virtual provider or team. Great checklist & worksheet in free chapter of The Power of The Virtual Team (not an affiliate link) It is helping a client of mine get back in the delegation groove.

I hope this helps someone, and thanks for asking!

~ Denise


We use virtual assistants for all kinds of things, but the key is to clearly define the work in question.

My quick rules would be:

1. Write down everything you do over the course of a typical day (or week) that’s work related.

2. Circle the things that make you money (directly or indirectly, like selling or writing a proposal).

3. Of the things remaining, figure out which ones might make sense for someone else to handle. For us, things like bookkeeping, managing a newsletter, updating documentation, and certain marketing tasks were good candidates. Some VAs also do graphic design and other more technical services.

4. Find a reputable virtual assistant, and expect to pay accordingly (I’m not a big fan of the $5/hour VA, I think you tend to get what you pay for). Some good places to look might be the VA organizations like

5. Start with a small task – you want to get to know your VA and how you work together. Be clear about expectations and timeframes

6. Lead your project – like with any outsourcing, you can’t just dump it on someone and expect them to read your mind. Check in periodically (most good VAs will update you without your asking, anyway), and if things are off-course, adjust.

It’s worked out quite well for us, and it’s a great way to free up time for revenue generating activities.


I am currently testing out a soon to go public VA company. In my opinion it is absolutely necessary to clearly describe the tasks that you hand over to a VA.

I am quite happy with the service and see a great benefit in it. It saves me a couple of hours a week. So far I have used it for tasks like:

– give me a three page overview of this new technology from leading sources on the internet and other sources.
– I am planning a conference visit. Draw up a complete budget for this trip.
– Call company X to cancel my membership.



I have used one during the better part of the summer. It was a new experience for both of us. While it did take a lot more of my time than I thought to plan things out enough to have another person do them, once we got the hang of it, it worked well. You can’t simply throw things over the wall or you won’t get the results you want. Oh, and you have to have an open line of communication – email, IM, phone, in person, doesn’t matter. Getting a quick status check allowed me to stop tangents early, saving time and money.


I used an outsourced typing service to keyboard 30 pages of faxed and refaxed documents. I was pretty happy with the results, but I would hardly call this a virtual assistant.


I used one from and it just did not work out for me.

Admittedly, I did not make sufficient time to plan his activities but I found that it was an uphill struggle getting him to use some initiative on tasks rather than requiring detailed instruction every time.


I read all these blog posts about virtual assistants, but I can’t say I’ve ever ran into someone who actually contracts/employs one. Hopefully someone will reply with some insight and how they utilize their VA?

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