What is a Virtual Assistant?
Although they make up a rapidly-growing global industry, the concept of a Virtual Assistant is still relatively unknown to some business owners and professionals.
A Virtual Assistant (simply as a “VA”) is usually someone who is self-employed and works remotely, from their home or their own office. Most VAs specialise in offering PA support, but others also offer skills such as social media management or web design (Virtalent offers an extensive range of skills).
VAs are based all over the world, however many clients prefer to work with someone in the same country as themselves. This removes the common problems associated with working with offshore providers (in places like the Philippines) – time zones, differences in culture, language barriers, questions over data security and a lack of professional insurance cover.
Today’s technology, with many people now using cloud-based tools such as Skype and MS Office Online, means an increasing number of people are working remotely. In fact, even in 2011, 56% of UK companies had already incorporated some form of remote working into their business. This opens up a fantastic opportunity to expand your team, as and when needed, without the need to take on your own permanent staff and pay for an office to house them!
Growth of the VA Industry
Most of the demand for Virtual Assistant services is met by the USA, but the UK is quickly catching up.
It is predicted that by 2018, online working across the globe will be worth $5 billion as the demand for outsourcing continues to grow. With the UK still in the process of recovering from one of the worst financial crisis on record, businesses and startups are now keen to focus on saving costs and streamlining their business processes more than ever before. This means that Virtual Assistants are high in demand, hence the expected growth of the industry.
The flexibility and ease of employing a Virtual Assistant on a casual basis, greatly outweighs hiring either a temporary or full-time member of staff, who for the most part, will often not have enough tasks to occupy themselves with, and in effect, will not earn the wage they work for.
Alternatives to a Virtual Assistant
In the mid 2000s there was a surge in the creation of online task marketplaces such as oDesk, PeoplePerHour and Fiverr, as UK and US businesses looked to take advantage of a revolution in outsourcing. This went hand-in-hand with the creation of technologies such as Skype and mass adoption of fast broadband internet.
It was a great starting point for the industry, but businesses quickly realised that the quality of these marketplaces left a lot to be desired. They were looking for a long-term solution which they could rely on. This gave rise to the domestic Virtual Assistant industry in the UK and USA, which took advantage of remote working but improved the quality of the experience significantly.
Today, the Virtual Assistant industry itself is also evolving and improving, with a number of UK VA agencies beginning to expand to the US market (and vice versa).