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Best-selling books such as Timothy Ferriss’ The 4-Hour Workweek tout hiring a virtual assistant as a necessity for the modern professional. He and other proponents of “lifestyle design” say by outsourcing as much of your life as you can, you can work less, earn more and live a more fulfilled life, instead of devoting it to tasks more efficiently performed by others.
While hiring a virtual assistant is a growing trend nationally, it’s catching on slower in Oklahoma, as metro-area virtual assistants Lynn Dye and Emily Ginn discovered when they began their businesses. Dye started Extreme Virtual Support four years ago after several years as an executive assistant, while Ginn launched Creatively Simple Solutions in 2010.
“When I tell people what I do, I still get that blank stare,” Ginn says. “They want to know what it is, what exactly I do, and so I have to explain it more often than not.”
Through extensive networking, Ginn found several clients in-state, and says as she continues to educate the business community on the benefits of hiring a VA, she’s seeing local demand grow.
VAs often take on the tasks business owners either don’t know how to do or don’t have the time to do, Ginn says. While they frequently perform basic administrative and secretarial skills, VAs also perform more specialized tasks such as bookkeeping, customer relationship management, and graphic or web design.
For example, Dye recently branched into website design.
She found many of her local clients simply by asking businesses she frequents if they needed someone to update their sites.
VAs also may verify information on employment applications, send invoices, conduct research, handle email and other correspondence, and confirm or set appointments.
One of Ginn’s clients is metro-area executive coach Donna Lawrence, who started using VAs about three years ago on a per-project basis. Lawrence had no need for a full-time assistant, or even consistent part-time help, but often found herself doing things that took her away from her primary duties. Since hiring a VA, her efficiency and productivity have increased significantly, she says.
“I used to spend a lot of time doing administrative tasks myself, knowing it was not a good use of my time, but not knowing another option,” says Lawrence, owner of Success Redesign. “I now send my virtual assistant my administrative work that bogged me down in the past.”
Ginn says many of her clients are authors, speakers, real estate agents or other small-business owners or self-employed professionals — in other words, the kind of clients who have neither the space nor the workload for a full-time assistant. Hiring a virtual one gives them the flexibility to contract only for needed services at an affordable budget.
“It’s flexible, as far as how many hours I work with her, and if I can’t afford it one month, I just don’t use it,” says Tina Jacobson, owner of B & B Media Group in Corsicana, Texas.
Jacobson hired Dye in 2007 after several years of working with traditional full-time assistants. An advantage of VAs, Jacobson says, is that they’re professionals offering a specialized and often extensive skill set.
“Once virtual assistants get the hang of your system, they become an extension of you,” she says.
Dye and Jacobson say a primary benefit of working with VAs is the understanding they develop for their clients’ needs and challenges. Dye, for example, only works on retainer, preferring to form long-term collaborative relationships with her clients.
“Even though they hire me, really, we’re working together,” she says. “I’m not their employee; we’re both independent business owners.”
Photo by Mark Hancock