Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Virtual Assistants 101

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. This means many are forced to spend hours each day on the administrative duties required to keep their practice in business, taking away from more productive activities of networking and client development and even personal time. While some may enjoy having total control, there is only so much time in any day and working 16-18 hour days every day takes it’s toll. Fortunately, a better solution is available in a little known industry which is taking the real estate business world by storm: virtual assistants.

What is a VA?

Virtual Assistants or VAs are business owners who provide administrative and other services virtually -- through the use of electronic communications (the internet, telephone, e-mail, fax and instant messaging, couriers and even US mail). Professional VAs accomplish assigned tasks from their own well equipped office, have years of experience in their chosen field, and are considered contract vendors and not employees thereby eliminating the expense, hidden costs and headaches inherent in the employer/employee relationship. And, since they are virtual, you don’t even need to supply space, let alone equipment, software licenses or training to work with a VA.

While you can locate a VA for almost any service imaginable, common administrative duties performed by VAs include word processing, desktop publishing, contact and calendar management, accounting/billing, reception and travel arrangements. Internet based services include real estate listing management and digital transcription.

Where Can I Find a VA?

There are several VA industry organizations which maintain directories of VAs based on certifications, skill sets and specialties. One such organization is the International Virtual Assistants Association (http://www.ivaa.org/). The IVAA maintains a free RFP (Request For Proposal) service for business owners to post their needs and receive responses from eligible members via e-mail.

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 $25 to $100 per hour or more based on the services provided and experience of your VA. A review of the VA’s website should give you a good indication of services available and should provide a little information about the VA too.

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. This will give you a framework to decide what you wish to keep on your to do list and what you wish to outsource to your VA.

VAs are more than just sole practitioners themselves and many have developed networks to help a certain industry, such as real estate, or provide a particular service, such as digital transcription. Whether working with a single VA or an established network, always look for industry certifications, experience within your industry, type of work and/or software/technology used.

You should also get referrals/testimonials of existing clients, where possible. 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 by providing 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 or Terms of Service, specifying the nature of the relationship, types of services to be provided, deadlines/project parameters, costs, billing procedures and any other details. This is to avoid potential misunderstandings, as well as confirm that the relationship is of an independent contractor nature.

Just Do It

In short, if you are tired of taking care of the administrative aspect of your practice, want to explore taking your company’s business processes to the next level or simply could use a hand with a specialty or large project, consider partnering with a VA.

***

Andrea Cannavina, Master Virtual Assistant and President/CEO of LegalTypist, Inc., helps sole practitioners, law firms and companies which service the legal industry upgrade their dictation processes to digital in order to get more done with less (employees, equipment and expense). To learn more visit: www.legaltypist.com. While there, subscribe to The Legal Connection, a quarterly newsletter, full of how to’s, reviews and insights to working virtually.

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