Enter the Brave New World of Virtual Assistants

Older guy virtual assisting

The economy is changing and it is doing so at an unprecedented pace. As the globe becomes smaller and more interconnected, and technology continues to transform old industries and create entirely new ones, it's important for IT professionals and job seekers alike to be aware of burgeoning fields and emerging occupations.


Rapid advances in communications technology coupled with the already decades-long trend towards outsourcing has created an entirely new, intriguing occupation that's colloquially known as the "virtual assistant." Let's take a look at what virtual assistants do, what kind of skills they have to possess to acquire employment, and what job prospects look like for this burgeoning occupation.


What is a Virtual Assistant (VA)?


A virtual assistant is essentially someone who provides professional creative, technical, or administrative services to businesses and organizations from a remote location. Whether it's managing client relations management databases, performing secretarial duties, handling bookkeeping, or managing social media accounts, virtual assistants do anything and everything that can be done from a remote location with an internet connection.  


While VAs can be hired to perform pretty much any internet-based task, they generally are highly sought after to work in six major administrative and technical categories.


Writing virtual assistants generate content and communications material for businesses and organizations. Rather than hire in-house staff to maintain a company blog or e-mail newsletter, companies often hire virtual assistants to remotely create digital content for them. To be a writing virtual assistant, all you'll need is a solid internet connection and access to writing software. Freelancing platforms such as Guru and Upwork enable individuals interested in becoming a writing virtual assistant to readily find work.


Personal virtual assistants handle pretty much everything that a traditional personal assistant would do, except they do it remotely. This includes scheduling meetings, answering emails, writing thank you notes for clients and so on. Most personal virtual assistants use a Client Relations Management tool (CRM) to keep track of their clients and the tasks they need to perform for them. Popular CRMs include Fresh Desk and Zoho, although using just an email address will suffice; additionally, you'll need Skype or a similar virtual messaging software so that you can communicate remotely with your clients.


Research virtual assistants are hired by companies looking to obtain information on new markets, products, and competitors. Because so much data these days is available digitally, hiring virtual research assistants has become a popular way of getting information while saving on costs and expenditures.


Data Entry virtual assistants are responsible for managing and maintaining the databases and client relations management tools of the businesses and organizations they are hired by. Whether there's a spreadsheet that needs regular maintenance or a whole slew of data that needs to be entered into a database, data entry VAs help companies save plenty of time and money in fulfilling their database management needs.


Apart from having access to and knowledge of popular tools such as Excel, many virtual assistants also use data entry software such as Forms and AccuMail Frameworks to expedite their work.


Young woman virtual assisting

Social media virtual assistants are hired by companies that want a robust digital presence without having to dedicate in house staff to focus on managing the business's social media accounts. If you have the skills needed to run a quality social media account, becoming a social media virtual assistant can be a great way to earn a living.


Social media virtual assistants should have a robust knowledge of all of the major social media platforms (Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter etc.) and should look into obtaining social media management tools like Hootsuite or Buffer to help them manage multiple social media accounts simultaneously.


Bookkeeping virtual assistants fulfill the basic accounting needs of individuals and small businesses remotely. Hiring accountants can be prohibitively expensive for startups and small businesses which means that there's plenty of opportunity for virtual assistants with basic financial skills to sell their remote services. Many virtual assistants use online accounting software such as Quickbooks to fulfill their clients' bookkeeping needs effectively.


The VA Job Market


Virtual assistants have a broad range of skills that depend entirely on the specific type of assistance they're looking to provide. Common to all VAs, however, is the ability to work independently with minimal supervision, flexibility in their schedule, computer skills, and the ability to meet tight deadlines. Additionally, because virtual assistants are often responsible for acquiring their own clients, having the drive to seek out and serve clients is also essential.


In terms of the VA job market, there is plenty of work to be had. Websites such as Guru, UpWork, and People per Hour have thousands of VA work postings available at any given time. It is worth noting, however, that competition for VA work is global in scale and is thus extremely competitive, both in terms of prices employers are willing to pay as well as the number of applicants per opening.


Virtual assistant work is ideal for individuals who enjoy working remotely and are looking for a flexible way to supplement their income and work on their own schedule (within reason). There are also "premium" VA firms that will hire virtual assistants for full time work and provide them with clients to work for.


To help sell yourself as a VA, it's an advantage to be able to list that you are certified in certain skilled areas such as accounting, SEO, MS Office, and so forth. You can even earn a VA certification through the International Virtual Assistants Association, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the professional education and development of member VAs.


As the job market continues to evolve, virtual assistance is becoming a staple line of work for thousands of people across the globe. Whether you're looking for some VA work to pad your resume or you want to make virtual assistance a full time career, it's worth taking a serious look at the profession and whether it's right for you.


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About the Author
Nenad Dumanovic NEW

Nenad Dumanovic is the founder and principal of Impressify, a PR company that specializes in delivering PR, content marketing, and business writing services for startups, entrepreneurs, and not-for-profits. He is editor-in-chief of Konstantine News, a digital politics magazine launching in April 2016.