If you’ve been running your freelance business for a while, you probably have some skills that set you apart. For instance, if you’re a freelance opera singer, you can probably shatter wine glasses at 20 paces, hold a piercing note longer than epoxy can stick and call in your dog when he’s three neighborhoods away. But you’re busy: Who has time to order all those specialty throat gargles off the internet, or send out your two-horned helmet and breastplate for regular cleaning? That’s where virtual assistants come in.
Virtual assistants are your outsourced help. They’re the people you hire to do the tasks that drain away time from your primary — and income-generating — pursuits. Check out this Time Doctor post on the range of VA possibilities for your business. From research and billing to handling email overload and plotting out your calendar for the months ahead, VAs can handle a broad range of responsibilities and save you hours upon hours of billable time — giving you more time to do the work that gets you up in the morning.
Some freelancers employ VAs on long-term contracts: They work a set number of hours per week or month on assignments like business accounting, sending invoices, processing payments, dealing with P&L statements and preparing your taxes. Others might do one-off projects. For instance, I’ve done phone interviews for magazine and newspaper articles for years, recording the interviews and transcribing them later to excerpt the best bits for the piece.
Keep Your Mental-Energy Batteries Charged
Transcribing interviews — while I concede that the software and devices have greatly improved over time — is tedious and aggravating work, however. Stop the recording, start the recording, stop, start, type furiously, type incorrectly, start again — wait, what did the interviewee say? But in the past couple of years, I started using a VA to transcribe my interviews. That process is like this: Upload an audio file to Dropbox, get a well-transcribed Word document quickly sent back to me, pay a reasonable fee. Almost makes me want to burst out in operatic song.
Sue Canfield, who has linked up businesspeople with VAs since 2005, says there are significant benefits for freelancers working with VAs: “Offloading tasks that don’t require the freelancer’s expertise [allows] them to focus on tasks that do. The right VA or online business manager will manage tasks with minimal supervision, freeing up not just the freelancer’s time but their mental energy as well.”
Canfield runs Ausoma, which provides social media marketing for authors so they can write more and tweet less. She suggests freelancers do some due diligence before starting a project with a VA. “Besides the expected discussion regarding business references, background and experience, it’s important to discuss communication style. Most of us prefer either phone or email, and a mismatch here creates problems. Any areas of specialty or expertise should be identified. Pricing, time commitments and how both will be tracked are important considerations. And all this should be included in a written agreement,” she says.
VAs Turn Your Work Trials Into Treats
I liked the last point of an article by Louie Beaupre that lists the many things virtual assistants can do for you: “Anything you hate doing or can’t do.” That’s clear and simple.
It doesn’t make sense for freelancers who have a high hourly or project rate to waste their time doing tasks for which they are ill-suited — especially when a talented, hyper-efficient virtual assistant can do it better. Many freelancers try to be their own accountant, bookkeeper, website coder and even office painter and maintenance person. Jobbing out these tasks can save you money. Better yet, it can save you from headaches and frustration.
Remembering the screeches and strings of sharp profanity that came out of my innocent mouth as I tried to transcribe interviews in the past certifies that jobbing that process out to a VA turned a trial into a treat. Though now that I think about it, those wailings and gnashings of teeth might have been good practice for going into the opera trade later.