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The Virtual Assistant: A Startup's Secret Weapon Don't have the money to hire a full-time employee yet? You might want to consider the VA.

By Renée Warren Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

The biggest secret of highly productive people isn't in any way ground breaking, but it is most often forgotten: They don't try and do everything themselves. In theory, delegating work sounds like a fairly easy mantra, but in reality it's a huge challenge for heads of startups and small businesses.

For starters, it's difficult relenting control at such a crucial phase in a company's growth. That's why burnout due to extreme multitasking is such a common misstep with entrepreneurs. Entrepreneur recently published an article on lessons for early entrepreneurs -- and the first one? "Say no to stuff that won't move the needle." The key point here is that effective delegation is about placing your focus where it matters most, and letting others take care of tasks you shouldn't be doing.

However, startups and small businesses face another unique challenge: cash flow. As an entrepreneur or small business owner, even if you are on board with getting help, you often don't have the time, space or resources available to hire that additional employee you desperately need. That's why so many successful business people have turned their attention to virtual assistants (VA's). VA's not only save you time and money, but they are also an affordable and experienced investment in the growth of your company.

Related: Do These 3 Things Before Hiring a Virtual Assistant

The rise of the virtual assistant

Virtual work has become increasingly popular among employees and employers. From 2005 to 2012, the number of telecommuting employees in the U.S. grew by 79.7 percent. And the number of self-employed workers is growing too -- freelancers now account for over 34 percent of the total U.S. workforce.

You can understand the reasoning behind this trend. Technology has allowed for workers to have more flexibility in their schedule and complete a wide range of tasks that don't require them to be physically present in an office. It also allows for businesses to access a huge talent pool that may not be readily available in their neighborhood.

The number of VA's is growing rapidly. They range from contract workers to freelancers who focus on administrative tasks in different sectors. Agencies that specialize in managing contract workers have thousands of listings for VA's, and companies like Worldwide101 are dedicated entirely to managing the relationship between VA's and employers.

Despite Zirtual's recent financial stumble, there's massive growth in this industry. Other VA platforms like eaHELP and Upwork are all on the rise, providing a means for fruitful and diverse work opportunities.

When you should hire a virtual assistant

A virtual assistant is a worthwhile investment for your startup or small business if you know how they can (and should) be utilized. If you fall into any of these categories, it might be time to consider a VA:

  1. You don't need and can't afford a full-time employee.
  2. You're having trouble completing your most important tasks.
  3. You need work done that doesn't require an office presence.
  4. You travel a lot and need someone who likes working virtually.
  5. You spend more time organizing rather than executing.
  6. You know what tasks need to be done but you don't have the manpower.

As with hiring any employee, finding a good fit is about addressing your individual business culture and goals. But if you know you need help with administrative tasks and you've got the flexibility to hire someone who can work remotely, it's definitely something worthwhile to consider.

Related: 5 Common Pitfalls to Avoid When Hiring a Virtual Assistant

What a virtual assistant can do for startups and small businesses

Virtual assistants aren't just for executives anymore. For many startups and small business owners, VA's offer an obvious benefit. They are a big time saver during a phase in a company's growth where it may not be viable to have a full-time employee. For example, numerous successful startup founders from the Young Entrepreneur Council discuss why they hired VA's and how that's helped with their productivity, happiness and work-life balance.

Don't limit your scope to just personal assistant tasks -- startups and small businesses use VA's for things like bookkeeping, social media, design, web development, email management, marketing administration and so much more.

Effective employee management is still up to you.

You shouldn't think of a virtual assistant any differently than you would a telecommuting employee. You still need to understand and provide direction on exactly what kinds of tasks you need done, and you need to ensure that you hire the right fit for the work at hand.

You're also expected to provide some level of training, whether you start with small tasks and then build up the responsibility, or provide more direction at the beginning and allow them to feel comfortable before you take a step back. In any working relationship (virtual or not), you're better off to focus on the long-term and build trust over time.

Get your productivity back by letting go.

Knowing and understanding how to scale your business effectively is key to your productivity and your business's success. If it doesn't make sense to hire a full-time employee, but having an extra hand on projects is essential to your growth, it's probably time to hire a virtual assistant.

Related: Stop Multitasking! 3 Tips to Help You Focus on the Big Picture.
Renée Warren

Founder of We Wild Women

Renée Warren is an award-winning entrepreneur, a speaker, author, and the founder of We Wild Women, a business dedicated to helping women launch their dream business. She's a mom to Irish Twins, a drummer, and host of the Into The Wild podcast.

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