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Virtual Assistants: The Growing Trend Of Outsourced Assistance For Entrepreneurs You could hire someone to come and work for you to manage your administrative tasks; however, there are a number of benefits that come from outsourcing this service.

By Fiona Swaffield

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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Being an entrepreneur can be difficult- it does, after all, come with a lot of challenges. The benefits of independence, flexibility and control, plus the chance to build your dream tend to offset the struggles more often than not, but it's certainly no walk in the park.

A lot of the problems that startups face can be attributed, at least in part, to the fact that one person is trying to tackle multiple roles– some of which they may not have the time, skills, knowledge or experience to handle effectively.

As an entrepreneur, you want to put your time and effort into developing your idea, analyzing research around your market and product, and reaching out to contacts to help develop and grow your business. Issues start to arise when your time is pulled away from these areas to go and collect checks, write invoices and proposals, conduct online research, build databases, develop social media content, write up reports and meeting notes, confirm appointments as well as all the emailing and phone calls in between. All of these tasks are time consuming and they distract your focus and dilute your passion– two key ingredients for a successful entrepreneur.

As a result of the above, more and more startups and small businesses are outsourcing services: these range from skilled resources to cover skill/knowledge gaps such as graphic designers and web developers, to experienced personal assistants (PA) who help provide an extra pair of hands and ultimately give time back. The popularity of the latter was given an extra boost in the last decade from the recommendation in the bestselling business book The Four Hour Work Week. In the book, the author, Tim Ferriss, encourages others to use virtual assistants (VA) to do the administrative tasks on their to-do lists, so as to allow them to focus on the high-value tasks that only they can do.

But what is a VA or outsourced PA? A virtual or outsourced personal assistant is a highly skilled professional who offers business support services. This can consist of an individual or a team, who are located offsite and work remotely. You could, of course, hire someone to come and work for you to manage your administrative tasks; however, there are a number of benefits that come from outsourcing this service.

1. Streamline and lower business costs

This is the number one reason that businesses hire virtual assistants. It has been estimated that hiring a virtual assistant over a full-time employee can save up to 78% in operating costs per year. This is because you don't have to pay out additional benefits, allocate rental space for work, subscribe to higher Internet bandwidth or an extra phone line or mobile device, or incur incremental expenses in utilities, nor do you have to spend time or money on advertising, interviewing and training a new employee.

Related: Seven Rules To Keep Startup Costs In Order

2. Increase productivity

Hiring an outsourced assistant has a massive impact on achieving profitability, because not only does this strategy lower business costs, but it also increases productivity. This is because it affords you more time to focus or attend to core functions that demand your expertise. Getting a personal assistant from a recommended agency can ensure the caliber and professionalism that ensure you can completely rely on them, and that there is back up if and when the assistant is sick or away.

3. Increase flexibility and work-life balance

Your assistant can help you achieve balance simply by affording you the benefit of time. With trusted assistants in place, you can be like Tim Ferris and explore the world, while the business continues to run. On the back of this, it is often the case that when you find time for the things that matter most in life, you become more productive.

Image credit: Shutterstock.

The Delegation Dilemma

The problem with outsourcing is deciding what to delegate and having the confidence and faith to let go. When it comes to your own business, you want to have control over everything and it can be very hard to pass responsibility on to anyone else. The best advice is to start small, find simple tasks that you can outsource. Do them yourself first, so that you can give explicit detail about the process and you know roughly how long the task will take.

Do an analysis of your business activities over the course of a week, writing down the minor tasks that are taking up time. As the boundaries between personal and professional are increasingly blurred, think about all the tasks across both parts of your life. These might include:

1. Administration. A good assistant can help manage company email, schedule and confirm appointments, manage business correspondence, enter data, attend meetings and take minutes, and assist with bookkeeping and invoicing.

2. Customer service. For a busy entrepreneur, customer service is a great task to outsource to an assistant. You can forward calls to your assistant, and they can become a virtual call center designated specifically for your business. Additionally, an assistant can handle any follow-up calls as needed.

3. Marketing. Personal assistants can help launch marketing campaigns and track their success. They can help with email campaigns by updating databases and checking for errors, segmenting the lists and/or sourcing them. They can help implement and track the analytics of the email campaign itself. They can also promote blogs and handle social media, which is a very time-consuming task. They can plan and schedule social media content across your business social media pages. They can research content, monitor and engage users, and assist in building your network.

4. Delivery. By using a local agency, you can take advantage of a driver service. The driver is not branded and can collect checks, post and deliveries. He can pay checks directly into the bank account, drop off deliveries and samples and take jobs to the printers, as well as buying those essential office supplies when you run out.

5. Personal organization. Assistants can help organize those time consuming telephone tasks such as calling for quotes for insurance, repairs, making doctor and dentist appointments, researching and booking travel arrangements and hotels, taking shoes to be re-heeled and managing dry cleaning, buying home and office supplies. They can also take the car for registration or service, pay DEWA bills, and even buy birthday gifts if necessary.

Having a personal assistant to support yourself and your business helps put processes in place for continued growth and scalability in the future. Ensuring that they are locally outsourced means that you have physical bodies for driving tasks, attending meetings and scanning physical content. It also means that you can build a relationship with the assistant more effectively and that they are aware of local culture and ways of working.

Still unsure if you could delegate? Just think about what could you do with an extra few hours a week…!

Related: Getting Started As An Entrepreneur: Launching A Business While Still Employed

Fiona Swaffield

Managing Partner, My PA

Originally from the UK, Fiona Swaffield has a proven track record in event organization and business management. Starting her career in restaurant management in Oxford, England, Fiona soon moved on to London’s club scene, where she spent many years as an after dark entrepreneur managing live music venues and nightlife hotspots.

In 2000, Fiona moved to Dubai, bringing her diverse experience and effervescent personality to the international hospitality and events industry, initially working for Le Meridien Mina Seyahi hotel, but soon taking the plunge to co-create her own highly successful events agency, Siren Events, which she continues to run now as event director and managing partner.

After more than a decade in the region, Fiona had identified a gap in the market for the provision of premium quality driven business and lifestyle management services, becoming managing partner of My PA in 2014. This new venture sees Fiona manage a handpicked team of dedicated and personable consultants who bring the efficiency, insight and focus that she prides herself on, to every business the company works with.
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