A Guide to the Most Productive Virtual Assistants

Functions
June 21, 2021
7
min to read
Michele Cantos

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Most of us knowledge workers wish we had an assistant to delegate tasks to. We read and answer superfluous emails (which can take up to 28 percent of our workday). We manage calendar invitations. We scour LinkedIn for sales leads and update spreadsheets. These monotonous, non-ROI generating tasks steal our focus from teams, clients, and products. We know that a virtual assistant could be a force multiplier for our productivity if only we could find the right one.

Our instincts aren't wrong.

The world’s most productive teams are already powered by virtual assistants, whether human, technological, or both. Meanwhile, virtual assistant use is trending upwards and growing more efficient and cheaper. By 2023, at least 50 percent of knowledge workers will use a virtual assistant in their daily work (compared to two percent in 2019). Business Assistants can perform a growing range of sophisticated tasks for entire teams.  And companies can save as much as 78 percent in payroll costs by employing virtual assistants. 

This guide will provide a comprehensive overview of the most productive virtual assistants, including service functionality, price, and high potential workflows. Our goal is to help teams find virtual assistants that can own, automate, and accelerate their workflows.

It talks through types of virtual assistants, including software that feels like having a virtual assistant, how the most productive leaders get things done, and why you might consider trying the most productive virtual assistant service out there. (Spoiler: it's ours.)

Types of Virtual Assistants


A Virtual Assistant (VA) is an outsourced, human, digital assistant who can manage administrative tasks such as scheduling meetings, fielding calls, sorting correspondence, planning events, etc. Not to be confused with intelligent virtual assistants like Apple's Siri or Amazon's Alexa which is software that can respond to queries but cannot own tasks. 


The majority of VAs fall into one of the following categories: General Assistant, Specialist Assistant, Executive Assistant, or Assistant Services. These offer a wide range of experience, levels, and pricing.

The General Virtual Assistant

General VAs assist with assigned, general administrative tasks. Their knowledge, skills, and abilities at a similar level to student interns and other seasonal staff. Clear expectations are a prerequisite to their success. They can operate independently but only once they have a list of tasks, instructions, company protocols, and deadlines. General VAs are leveraged as support staff, not as strategists or innovators.


Tasks

General VAs can perform a variety of standard processes used across all industries (Real Estate, Accounting, Law, Healthcare, Government, etc.). These include:


- Email/Correspondence management

- Answering phone calls

- Schedule management

- Data entry

- Bookkeeping

- Research

- Travel planning

- Ordering supplies

- (Lite) Client relationship management


Pricing

General VA costs can range from as low as $1 to $50 per hour. At FancyHands, a US virtual assistant service, costs range from $10 to $20 an hour. Meanwhile, larger freelance service marketplaces like Fiverr offer quotes as low as $1 and up to 50 dollars an hour. Price will vary depending on the VAs location (i.e. the US vs. abroad), time commitment (full-time vs. part-time), and workload. 


Specialist Virtual Assistant


Specialist VAs assist with tasks and projects requiring expertise in niche fields (i.e. Russian translation, graphic design, branding, etc.) outside of the team's skill set and the company's scope of work. Their knowledge, skills, and abilities are at above or similar level to full-time professionals in the specified field. Many are seasoned professionals and experts who opt for freelance work to support their lifestyle design (i.e. schedule, salary, location flexibility). Companies of all stripes employ specialist VAs for short-term projects and tasks requiring ongoing support. Specialist VAs serve as expert consultants and strategists.


Tasks

Specialist VAs are highly-educated, in-demand professionals producing high-value outputs. Their niche services often carry a technical--or tech-adjacent--component which, once again, means they are tapped across all industries.


- Copywriting

- Graphic design

- Website development

- Film and photography

- Photoshop

- Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

- Language Translation 

- Branding

- Deck designing (presentation decks on Keynote, PowerPoint, etc.)

- Cartoon illustrations (comedic, political, etc)

- Infographics


Pricing

Specialist VAs on Upwork, a freelance service marketplaces comparable to Fiverr, offer quotes as low as $20 to $125 per hour. Like general VAs, Specialist VAs hourly rates can depend on location, time commitment, and project scope. However, there will be notable differences depending on the field of expertise. The average freelance web developer's hourly rates range from $61 to 80 dollars, while the average Russian language translator's hourly rates fall at $22. 



Executive Assistant (EA)


Executive Assistants (EAs) can support administrative, client-facing, and long-term projects at the board level. Their knowledge, skills, and abilities vary but trend towards advanced. They're the ‘Rolls Royces’ of assistants. Many have advanced education degrees. Many are also specialists in core business functions like HR, Finance, or Operations. Unlike generals and specialists, EAs understand and manage their executive responsibilities. Their most in-demand skills include:


- Anticipating executive needs

- Being resourceful and adaptable

- Reflecting executive’s values

- Supporting building company culture

- Being tech-savvy 

- Taking on special projects


This high exposure, high trust role makes EAs strategists, gatekeepers, and force multipliers for a company’s most valuable players. 


Tasks

While EA tasks will vary greatly depending on company size and trust gained over time, they all often filter and rank executives’ (and their teams') tasks to ensure follow-through and meet tight competing deadlines. As well as standing in for executives when appropriate. Their most common tasks include:


- Schedule Management

- Office Management

- Communication Liaison

- Information Preparation

- Records Management

- Pricing

- Data Analysis

- Discretion


Pricing

A large number of EAs are salaried employees, even when they're virtual, remote workers. In New York City, an EAs annual salary can range between $60,000 to $100,000. However, executive assistant services like Athena charge between $45 to $50 an hour for part-time EAs. 



Virtual Assistant Services


On freelance marketplaces like Fiverr or Upwork businesses are responsible for conducting due diligence (reading reviews, ratings, asking for recommendations) even before meeting the VA. Instead, virtual assistant services help companies outsource the task of recruiting, interviewing, hiring, and training a virtual assistant. Saving you time and ensuring safety and efficacy.


Here is an overview of the most popular VA services, their functions, and pricing:

Virtual Assistant Services Overview

Software That Feels Like a Virtual Assistant 


Productivity software (mobile and web applications) is a great first step for resource-strapped teams to begin cataloging their time-consuming processes and learning to delegate parts of their workflow. Most of us already use affordable solutions like Boomerang to process email, Trello to manage projects, or smart personal assistants like 24me that can schedule meetings, manage to-do lists, and notes. Combined, the applications your team uses become a powerful tech stack that can often like you have there is a real assistant supporting you behind the scenes. 


Tasks

Like human VAs, this software can offer generalist and specialist support. Generalist software can manage simple, repetitive tasks such as sorting email, scheduling, and note-taking, and dictation. Specialist software can manage parts of your workflow in areas like content management, social media management, team management, etc. Software's most popular productivity use-cases include:

Productivity Efficiency Software Tools Overview


The Business Assistant

How the most productive CEOs get things done


The world’s most successful and powerful individuals do not rely upon a single, intern, or software. The most successful leaders and powerful individuals have set up entire ecosystems to manage their professional and personal efforts. One such example is the Family Office model used by the world’s most ultra-high-net-worth individuals. 


These offices offer a total outsourced solution (a back-office) to managing an affluent individual or family that may include budgeting, insurance, charitable giving, family-owned business, wealth transfer, and tax services. Depending on the client, they may also offer support with areas of home management as simple as troubleshooting internet connectivity issues at a faraway mansion.


This particular model is rare, with only about 1700 offices worldwide with as little a dozen and as many as hundreds of staff. However, modern examples like Invisible's Business Assistant and custom tech-stacks are creating similar productivity ecosystems to support those of us who are not billionaires (yet!).

How the most productive VCs get things done

Venture Capitalists’ (VCs) approach to private equity financing focuses on startups, early-stage, and emerging companies that purported to have high growth potential or demonstrated high growth. This market is brutal and most deals are flops. Unless they are among the U.S. venture-backed companies that have raised $156 billion in funding, translating to a rate of about 30 startups, raising a total of $427 million across the country daily. To compete, VC firms like Kima Ventures (which invests in up to 3 startups per week) invests significant resources into custom development of technology tools and software. Prominent examples in their tech stack include:


  • A Dealflow watcher to manage approximately 200 daily new deal flow opportunities. Supporting team members must go through every single one.
  • A Payment and digital signature tool.
  • An Accounting tool that allows the firm to update the 700+ companies in its portfolio.
  • Companies are onboarded on a Custom portfolio management tool named “Kima forward”.
  • A networking and community tool, akin to Slack
  • Kima’s status, a tool to allow applicant startups to track their applications in real-time.


The most productive leaders understand when they can leverage human VAs or technology, and when they need to build their productivity tools and models. In this case, using existing tools built for other industries would not have addressed the breakneck pace and unique needs of the VC industry. 

The all-in-one Business Assistant: More than a Virtual Assistant


Invisible Technologies is a business process automation platform that takes care of our partner's repetitive digital work by managing and outsourcing recurring tasks to human agents. From our client’s perspective, we are a virtual business assistant combining the capabilities of humans and automation technology to help teams with a growing range of tasks spanning across functions. Unlike assistant for hire platforms, Invisible offers a subscription model providing unlimited assistant support (which can scale up or down, depending on need) powered by a global team of human agents and custom software tools that can deliver on chains of complex and simple tasks. A trustworthy business (process) assistant.

Agents and Leads


Clients delegate tasks to a single bot (I named mine Gatsby) via email. Behind Gatsby, there are hundreds of agents, who carry out and complete your delegations. Here’s a quick rundown of how we handle your delegation:


  • You delegate a task to your bot by emailing Gatsby
  • A Lead, who manages agents, will assign the task to an agent with relevant experience
  • If the task is custom or complex, it will be built for the agent with our process builder by a Lead. Automation will occur where applicable
  • The delegation is carried out by an agent best suited to the task
  • The work of the agent goes through a Quality Assurance step before finally being delivered back to you.
  • Bonus: You will be notified when an Agent or Lead notices a new workflow that can be improved through the process, making you more efficient over time.


Unlike a traditional VA, Invisible’s Business Assistant becomes an extension of your team, rather than an external hire billed by the hour. One of our users, Eva Sadej, CEO of Flossbar, a mobile dentistry company, explains it best:


“Invisible is an extended tech, data, and research team. It’s awesome to have those endless resources at your fingertips. The biggest challenge I’ve had is to scale the organization, hiring a ton of people. They screen our candidates, set up the phone calls, ensure we follow up and track candidates, so our hiring pipe has been running flawlessly. It’s amazing, I can actually let go of something. My (business) assistant, Bucky, is my favorite person.” 



Pricing


There are three, flexible pricing plans, but before we get into those we need to break down how we approach costs. Invisible doesn’t give you a limited number of tasks to delegate, or a fixed monthly payment, but rather charges for the amount of time spent on your delegations. According to our process benchmark, your delegations will be assigned to the most fitting agent who can complete it most effectively. A fixed unit price will be allocated to the delegation, based on the best benchmark for the task. You don’t pay for any slow work, Invisible does.


Now back to those flexible pricing plans. The pricing model was shaped to align Invisible as our client’s partners, not providers. It’s transparent and deflationary. All plans have the option to add hours if so needed. Please see the summary of our three plans:

Pricing for Invisible Technologies Subscription Packages


How a Business Assistant halved a VC’s VA costs


Last year, a 10-person venture capital firm in the UK, Backed VC, asked for Invisible’s help. They were beginning to scale their product but did not have the resources to scale their team yet. Their aptly named Invisible Business Assistant, Indiana Jones, stepped in to manage a wide range of tasks including sales, marketing, finance, and research tasks. Some of these tasks included:


  • One-off twitter tasks and advertising management.
  • Quarterly reporting of for their sales numbers and overall growth
  • In-house and customer data transformation
  • Hiring pipeline and deal analytics
  • Customer demographic reporting to support them in finding target candidates.


All in all, Indiana Jones supported the firm’s Head of Network, Head of Venture, Vice President of Finance, and Marketing Lead. Nearly everyone on their growing team. Providing individual support to team members and maximizing collective productivity. Invisible spent nearly 480 hours updating their universal CRM at roughly half the cost it would take otherwise.


Beyond the notable costs savings, BackedVC felt like they had a competent, always available, non-volatile intern whose small salary was easily justified since even their VP of Finance was reaping the rewards of Indiana Jones's work. 

Why Teams need a business assistant


Today's digital work has shaken the foundation of organizational structures. We have shifted from the traditional functional hierarchy of power to a network of teams. Organizations are also redefining and transforming their employees’ key performance indicators and reward systems. And the role of leaders is changing, too, from solo strategist to team champion. These changes make everyone, not just leaders, more directly responsible for business outcomes.


The global COVID-19 pandemic further accelerated these changes. Most notably in the shift to remote and hybrid models of work, with large swaths of employees leaving major cities to remote locations (many abroad). Staying productive and connected as a team is contingent on the intentional and efficient use of asynchronous tools. Email, Slack, and every project management board and ecosystem. And of, course, the non-dreaded zoom meetings reserved for pressing matters requiring live input. This has made the case for virtual assistants ever more compelling.


NanoGlobals reported on the explosive growth of the Virtual Assistant Industry growth since the start of the pandemic, citing:


  • The hiring of virtual assistants through offshore agencies increased by 41% in 2020, as companies sadly laid off full-time US staff during Covid-19 economic restriction periods.
  • Inbound inquiries to offshore VA’s from US companies increased in correspondence with Covid-19 lockdown periods, with an initial surge of inquiries in the 2nd quarter of 2020, and the second surge of inquiries in the 4th quarter.
  • Solo VA’s operating on freelancer platforms added an average hourly workload increase of 16% between the second and fourth quarters of 2020.
  • VAs interviewed reported that more than half of inbound leads were companies outsourcing work that was formerly completed by in-house staff.
  • Inbound inquiry volume to both agencies and solo operators was highest in the 4th quarter, even as the US unemployment rate improved to under 7%, suggesting that demand for offshore VA’s will remain high as the practice of offshoring admin tasks becomes normalized for US companies that previously had not adapted to the global contractor market.


And with good reason. Most, if not all, employees and teams now want low-cost assistance beyond office management. And fast. HR Departments want to optimize and speed up hiring processes. Marketing teams want to leverage transformed customer data. Research teams want automated google ads analysis. Finance teams want accurate projection reports.


These new models force employees across the organization to adapt to ever-evolving job roles, rethink traditional careers, and emphasize skills and learning as keys to excellent performance. In the era of knowledge work, there is little tolerance for rote, non-ROI generating work. We all want to unlock superhuman levels of productivity and efficiency. 

Summary and Next Steps

We have taken you through a crash course on the different types of virtual assistants available, price points, general and specialized capabilities, and how some of the most productive leaders leverage virtual assistants and software tools to gain a competitive edge. 


Your next step is to shift your attention back to your team’s needs to figure out what type of VA can help leverage your team’s true talents (which are the most ROI-generating activities, not the admin work) and maximize your collective productivity. Saving you time, money, and grey hairs.


Here is an aerial view of the information you’ve read today:


Types of Virtual Assistants:


General Virtual Assistant

The entry-level assistant for general administrative duties. They can manage your calendar, CRM systems, and arrange your flight itinerary.


Specialist Virtual Assistant

Higher-level assistants with deeper experience in specific fields. These include content writing, graphic designing, web development, and language translation. And just about every other niche activity.


Executive Assistant

The ‘Rolls Royces’ of assistants. They operate at the board level as an extension of the Executive. They have a keen understanding of core business objectives and are an important client-facing point of contact. 


Virtual Assistant Services

Marketplaces like Fiverr and Upwork acting as an access portal to Virtual Assistants. No middle man, and no red tape. Most Marketplaces vet the assistants, but it remains important to be vigilant when hiring any new staff. Even a part-time, remote assistant. 


Software That Feels Like a Virtual Assistant

Some applications resemble a Virtual Assistant. Limited, but useful apps that can sort messages, act as a virtual voice assistant to acquire information, or assist you in scheduling. When combined, they create a powerful tech stack that will save you time, money, and effort. As well as help you map areas for automation and delegation that future VAs can step in to support once you've scaled.


The Business Assistant

A Business Assistant is an extension of your team. It provides an unlimited number of users in a business access to a human-tech-powered assistant that maximizes individual and collective productivity. 


  • With these different alternatives available, ask yourself (and your team) the following questions:
  • Which of my process pain points could a VA own?
  • Which of my process pain points could a VA not own? (Write them down anyway, a Business Assistant may create a custom solution).
  • What VA-like tools do I already have in my tech stack?


Burnout is now a globally recognized job hazard, and the trend is progressing. Knowledge workers are juggling too much, and tech not enough (or doing so poorly). With this information, you can begin to imagine what your team’s collective impact might look like when a VA or BA steps in to own your rote processes. 


The value of a Virtual Assistant is undeniable. Most of your competitors are likely already engaging in such services. As we settle into a new reality of work, productivity, and technology, how do you want to empower your team?


We have reached a point of inflection where overworked, stressed, and discouraged teams need a better way to work. 



Hayley Darden Marketing Invisible Technologies
Michele Cantos

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