For busy startup teams and small businesses, the name of the game — today more than ever — is productivity.
FitStars CEO and co-founder Mike Maser sums it up perfectly: “When you’re building a vision, a team, and a product all at once, time is your ultimate currency. Every day presents both the opportunity to break ground and the risk of losing ground. At the end of the day, I’d trade anything for an extra hour to ensure we’ve taken a step forward.” And when you’re a startup, or small business, working at the breakneck speed of startups, it’s only natural that things start falling through the cracks. Social media gets neglected, correspondence goes unresponded-to, and light bookkeeping is left for later. Every startup has a laundry list of items they should be doing but aren’t — or things they are doing but could be doing a lot better.
Augmenting Limited Resources
There’s a very simple reason for that: startup teams are not an unlimited resource. There are only so many hours, so many people on your team, and so much energy and focus. And, of course, the bank account. Startups have to be very strategic when it comes to when and how they’re spending their money on their own business.
If you’re like 99.99% of startup teams out there, that stuff you leave by the wayside drives you nuts.
That feeling — the feeling of working ceaselessly and yet somehow still not making the progress you want to be making, still watching opportunities slip through your fingers and important tasks fall through the cracks — that’s the feeling that’s telling you that it’s time to get a virtual assistant for your own business.
Virtual Assistant companies like Zirtual are a great way to add some additional, high-quality bandwidth to your team—without breaking the bank. A good virtual assistant does more than buy your groceries or calendar management: they become a seamless member of your team and help drive your company toward its goals.
_“Like every other team member, our VA plays a specific role in our efforts and remains an important piece of the puzzle.” _
— Mike del Ponte, CEO & Co-founder, Soma Water
A Secret Weapon for Growth
More startups are using virtual assistants as secret weapons to achieve goals. Plenty of attention has been paid to how VAs help busy professionals in their personal lives, there’s been less discussion they drive actual results for the company.
In this article, we’re going to look at how virtual assistants become virtual team members and move the needle for startups.
What Is A Startup Virtual Assistant
“Far too many people see VAs as just people to do grunt work like data entry. But if you can spend the time to train them properly, they can reap far more benefits.”
—Sol Orwell, Director of Strategy, Examine.com
Let’s dispense a misconception right: a virtual assistant is not just a personal assistant.
As a startup, you’re in the business of solving problems. Virtual assistant services too: they solve problems for their clients. Big problems, little problems: point a virtual assistant at a problem, they’ll solve it.
Tiny tasks eat major time.
The things hindering team productivity are often small tasks. But, they add up. Executive assistants are pros at small tasks, freeing you for projects requiring your full attention.
“There is simply too much administrative work for one person to do in my business — I could not operate without VAs! I would never sleep or be able to deliver value to my audience… some of the tasks I’ve taken off my plate so that I can continue creating valuable products and services and generating more revenue in the business include: answering common types of emails I get, helpdesk, signups and unplugs/suspensions in Paypal for community members and course students having tech issues, mailing list management, social media marketing tasks, newsletter writing, blog editing, video editing, community forum moderation, communicating with an independent contractor and more.”
—Carol Tice, Independent Contractor, Freelance Writer, Blogger, Journalist, and Writing Mentor
Divide, Delegate, and Conquer
In startups and small business, often everybody on the team is doing the work of at least two people. Everyone has their core responsibility, but then pick up four or five tasks that simply haven’t found a home. That in-between stuff that doesn’t fit within a full-time employee’s human resources job description tends to be exactly the tasks most virtual assistants can take on. An executive assistant can pick up the slack wherever needed, including personal tasks.
Spending time where it matters most, matters most.
“Virtual assistants have proven to be an incredibly valuable resource for the growth and development of Mallard Creatives. We’ve employed VAs to do everything from scheduling company travel, to helping us edit and review robust business proposals. They’re efficient, cost-effective, and capable of handling a wide variety of tasks. If you haven’t tried working with a virtual assistant already, give it a shot. I promise you won’t regret it.”
—Mike Rossi, President, Mallard Creatives Web Development
More capacity, more capability.
One misconception is that people only use virtual assistants for basic tasks and scheduling appointments because that’s the limit of their skill set. They are actually a highly educated, highly talented workforce. Often, their skills have fallen perfectly into areas where you and your team of full-time employees may not be as strong or need trained backup.
The power of delegating administrative tasks
Drake Media President Tom Drake knows firsthand how valuable a virtual assistant’s skills can be to augment his own as a service provider.
“I’ve used VAs to handle administrative tasks that are not my strengths, allowing me to focus on what I’m good at and scale the rest,” he says. “For example, CreateHype.com is targeted towards female entrepreneurs, especially those that sell on Etsy. So… I hired VAs to act as community coordinators – writing some posts and also handling the publishing schedule and affiliates we work with.”
The payoff for this kind of strategic delegation through virtual assistant services, as Tom points out, is huge: “With tasks like these (and more) being handled by someone more capable, I’m better able to focus on building my online business.”
How To Use Virtual Assistants for More Than Basic Administrative Tasks
There are many ways for a startup to use a VA service provider, but several themes always emerge, and some go well beyond administrative tasks. Hire a virtual assistant to help:
- Free up time
- Stay organized
- Discover opportunities
- Stay connected with customers
- Augment your full-time team’s skill set
With those in mind, let’s look at examples of how real startups are using a virtual assistant service —and getting results.
Tackle Inbox Anarchy with email management
Ah, the email inbox — where startup productivity goes to die, and small business owners cry. We have all done a “quick” inbox check first thing on a Monday and looked up three hours later, wasting valuable time.
Email management is an easy task to pass off when you hire a virtual assistant. The risks are minimal, and the trade-off in time is huge.
Deputizing an executive assistant for inbox hygiene is not just about time management: it has a real impact on your business. Take Dave, a CEO for an up-and-coming startup, inbox crammed with spam. Buried among all the sales pitches and job interview requests were nuggets of business gold: interview requests, partner lunch invitations, bizdev opportunities. Emails that could lead to important opportunities for the business. But, Dave never gets to them fast enough. Dave has missed opportunities simply because an email got buried in his inbox.
Then Dave hired a virtual assistant. The executive assistant brought much-needed law and order to Dave’s inbox in the form of rules, filters, and folders. She also became exceptionally talented at recognizing emails that needed action now and alerting Dave. The result: no more hours or communications lost.
“Our Zirtual assistant has played a critical role in helping me in my role as CEO interface with our enterprise clients. Whether it’s scheduling calls, traveling to the east coast for meetings, or attending conferences and events, our assistant has played a critical role in making sure I’m able to build relationships with our customers and prospective clients.”
—Eric Jackson, CEO, Caplinked
Schedule management is a task you think you should be able to handle on your own with all the calendar apps out there. But if you’re a busy startup founder, you’ve likely had many situations where you’ve lost track of things — and valuable opportunities as a result.
Startups.com Founder and CEO Wil Schroter learned firsthand just how crucial schedule management can be when he started splitting his time between San Francisco and Startups.com headquarters in Columbus, Ohio, and the need to schedule appointments in both locations, for business and personal life.
“All of a sudden, I was straddling two time zones, and schedule management became a lot more complicated,” Wil says. “Calls with the team back home had to be arranged across time differences, San Francisco meetings had to be planned around flights to and fro. “
Wil would be the first to tell you that navigating it without the help of VA services was impossible. “Not only does she keep me on time and on task — which, if you know me, you know is not a small thing — she makes sure I make the most of my time in either city.”
Keep Track of Meeting Takeaways
Does this sound familiar? At the end of a Zoom call, you dive into your next activity. Hours later, when you’re ready to circle back the tasks from the call, you’ve completely forgotten them.
Meeting notes, action items, deadlines, questions needing follow-up — a virtual assistant can capture them all, so you can get straight to work.
“I love simplifying complexity through tools, templates, and systems. My VA has been so outstanding to work with — a total game-changer. My VA immediately became an integral part of my business operations (and peace of mind) and I’m just sorry that I didn’t sign up years ago.”
—Jenny Blake, Co-Founder & Director of Operations and Communications, Lucent App
A virtual assistant can be an awesome resource to help sniff out inefficiencies and come up with potential solutions that can save your company time and money.
Startups.com co-founder and Chief Marketing Officer Ryan Rutan learned that firsthand when Startups.com acquired Zirtual. As the acquisition happened, Ryan and his team were revamping Startups.com’s professional service division. There were tools to research, processes to map, and client data to transfer. “None of it was getting done, though,” Ryan says, “because the members of the team were too busy actually working with clients.” Then Startups.com acquired Zirtual and an army of dedicated, solution-focused virtual assistants. “Our VAs got straight to work testing project management tools, researching call scheduling software, hacking Google Sheets spreadsheets,” Ryan remembers. “Within a month, the new systems were all up and running, and our process was running smoother than we ever knew it could.”
Help With Process Documentation and Scaling
The lightning bolt moment for any startup is the moment you have your first success. But where the rubber really hits the road is when you prove you can take that success and scale it.
LeadChat co-founder and CEO Gary Tramer remembers how valuable their virtual assistant was when LeadChat came to that crucial inflection point. “When we started LeadChat, we had our sales experts perform live chat for our internal sites,” he says. “Once we’d cracked the formula of generating 4-8x more leads via live chat, we used our virtual assistant to map and build the process, documentation, and training plan so we could start scaling.” 10 countries and hundreds of clients later, Gary is quick to give credit to VAs for their help in paving the way. “Without our VA to assist in the early days, it wouldn’t have been possible to grow so quickly.”
Keep Tabs on Trends
A virtual assistant helps you stay current in your industry and the startup world at large. Your VA can create curated lists of articles, outlining major takeaways. The result: you get the insight — without the legwork.
Compile Marketing Research Data & Market Research Statistics
In building your business, you lean on intuition to tell you what’s important. Sometimes, though, you need a more statistical approach — and that’s where your VA can help.
Heading into an investor meeting and need statistics showing how big of a problem you’ll solve? A virtual assistant can dive into the data and pull relevant statistics, helping you make your case.
“My VA is an extension of me. I do not see her just as an assistant, but almost as a disciple – someone I train all the time. She understands CRO and SEO and influencer marketing and so forth. So when I tell her “tell me about X person” she knows exactly what I’m looking for.”
—Sol Orwell, Director of Strategy, Examine.com
Scout for Talent
When you’re a startup running, HR and recruiting are often afterthoughts. Then when you need a new team member, you lose hours scrolling LinkedIn.
Basic talent scouting is a task where leveraging the research of a virtual assistant pays off. In the market for a new backend developer? Your virtual assistant can list potential candidates that match your specifications. Then you make decisions and let your virtual assistant schedule the interviews.
Help Out with Lead Generation
Lead Generation is another area where virtual assistants can save startups hours of valuable time in developing new business.
Startups.com co-founder and COO Elliot Schneier was losing time researching leads for sales calls when he realized that, with some guidance, his VA could take care of that for him. She started researching potential clients via LinkedIn and sending out emails to connect them with Elliot. The results were immediate. “By the time I was on the phone, I could skip over the exploration and get straight to what was most important, because she had already enlightened me,” Elliot says. “Her hard work meant I focused on creating the relationship, rather than digging through data.”
Grow with Social Media Management
Your social sites are like your inbox: they can take over your life. But, if you neglect your social media presence, you’re neglecting an important contact point.
The Social media skills of personal assistants are very valuable. A VA can track trending topics and influencers, draft and schedule posts and utilize the graphic design team. They look for opportunities to bring your company into the conversation and growth for your company.
Ryan Farley, co-founder of Lawnstarter, uses VAs to engage with Twitter followers.
“We use VAs to find customers on Twitter, then download the accounts they follow. Then, they check to see which common accounts are that our customers follow, and we make sure to promote content to those accounts. Our VAs handle all of that.”
Monitor User Conversation
Whether it comes in the form of tweets or Facebook comments or threads on Reddit, people talk about your company.
Monitoring buzz about your company is another one of those things that could eat up all your time. A virtual assistant is an ideal resource to monitor customer buzz about your company.
Support Your Crowdfund
Running a crowdfunding campaign is more than putting a profile up. It takes time and effort to run that most startups don’t have.
It is a great project for a virtual assistant. A virtual assistant can field inquiries, update the page, and help execute a social media and PR strategy to gain visibility.
“Well before the start of our Kickstarter campaign, throughout it, and still today, our VA is an integral part of the Soma team. We created a detailed plan before the launch and incorporated our VA’s help. As we crafted each step we decided how our executive assistant would fit in. Like every other team member, our VA played a specific role in our efforts and remains an important piece of the puzzle.
—Mike del Ponte CEO & Co-founder, Soma Water
Ghostwriting / Content Creation
Well-written content about your industry is no longer an option — it’s an imperative. But not every startup founder can churn out a 1,000-word think piece on a whim.
Writing is among the most common skills for a virtual assistant. From blog posts and articles to newsletters and social posts, an executive assistant can help get your marketing materials or press releases out.
It may come as a surprise to learn that one of the most important productivity hacks out there for busy startups is actually good old-fashioned people-power provided by VA companies, without the cost of a full-time employee.
We shed light on some of the most common ways startups use virtual assistants and the many specialized services from virtual assistants. The best way to find out how your virtual assistant can help your company is by asking them. The longer your VA works with you and your company the better they can offer specialized services.
How to find the right virtual assistant services
Don’t leave finding the right virtual assistant(s) up to chance. Ensure that you’re getting VA services fit by partnering with Zirtual. Virtual Assistant Companies like Zirtual match you with a virtual assistant, and get you to the point where you’re saying, as so many entrepreneurs do when you ask them about their dedicated virtual assistant, “I don’t know how we did it without our Virtual Assistant.”
A long term focus
Many virtual assistant companies have low pay and high turnover. At Zirtual, we’re focused on long-term relationships with our Virtual Assistants, and long-term relationships with the clients we serve. Our service packages appeal to startups and small businesses. Our remote services appeal to potential customers due to the flexibility and quality of our managed service at a great hourly rate.