Friday, July 22, 2005

Virtual Assistance: What Every Sole Practitioner Should Know

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Ever increasing numbers of attorneys hanging out their own shingle are in dire need of administrative assistance, but do not have the space, equipment or even workload to warrant hiring an employee. Many are forced to spend hours each day on the administrative duties required to keep their practice in business, taking away from the income generating tasks of actual client work and effectively networking a practice. Fortunately, the internet and technology are adding to the options available to all business, including law firms, by the industry known as virtual assistance.
Virtual Assistants or VAs are business owners who provide administrative and other services virtually -- through the use of electronic communications (telephone, e-mail, fax and instant messaging, specialized software, etc). VAs accomplish assigned tasks from various clients using their own well equipped office and are considered contract vendors and not employees thereby eliminating the expense, hidden costs and headaches inherent in the employer/employee relationship.
While you can locate a VA for almost any service imaginable, common administrative duties performed by VAs include word processing/transcription, desktop publishing, contact and calendar management, marketing, accounting/billing, travel arrangements and web site and presence consulting. There are several industry organizations which provide certification and accrediation for virtual assistants. As with any profesional you hire, you will want to make sure your VA is qualified, and certifications assure you that they take their business as seriously as they will yours!
Where Can I Find a VA? There are several VA industry organizations which maintain directories of VAs based on certifications, skill sets and specialties. Two such organizations are the International Virtual Assistans Association (www.ivaa.com) and the Alliance for Virtual Business (http://www.allianceforvirtualbiz.com/meetvas.html). The IVAA maintains a free RFP (Request For Proposal) service for business owners to post their needs and receive responses directly from eligible members via e-mail.
The Devil is in the Details: Before deciding on a VA, you need to determine what you want them to do. Start with a list of duties you do not like doing, you are not properly trained to do, or projects you never seem to be able to get to. Better still, write down on your calendar or in a separate pad, each duty you perform for one week. This will give you a framework to decide what you wish to keep in house (i.e., accounting) and what you wish to outsource (i.e., typing) and then you can begin your search for a VA based on the dutes you wish them to do.
Since every VA is an independent business owner the methods for transfer of work, availability of services, and costs vary. Rates range from as little as $40 to $100+ per hour and is generally based on the services provided and experience of your VA. Do not let what appears to be a high rate deter you – a good VA has systems in place to help their niche market and therefore, gets things done fast! Additionally, since you are only charged for the time spent actively working on your projects, an experienced VA is very cost effective.
In many instances a VA becomes a strategic partner of their client’s business, offering suggestions for improvement of processes, methodologies for workflow, options for increasing revenue as well as proving their clients with access to their own network of contacts within the growing VA industry itself.
Once you have found a VA to work with, it is imperative that you sign a contract specifying that the nature of the relationship, types of services to be provided, deadlines/project parameters, costs, and any other details. This is to avoid potential misunderstandings, as well as confirm that the relationship is of an independent contractor nature.
In short, if you are tired of taking care of the administrative aspect of your practice, want to explore taking your business to the next level or simply could use a hand on occasion with a large or specialty project, consider hiring a VA.

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