Virtual assistants are a dream for getting work done as you sleep
If you're serious about growing your business, you may need to look for outside help, writes Katie Roche
"MANY business tasks are time-consuming and they earn you no money, but they are important on the path to earning money," says James Cahill of Irish sales and marketing company Costa Rica Invest which specialises in a series of developments in Costa Rica. The company has two offices in Costa Rica, one in Dublin, and the rest of the business is entirely virtual.
Using virtual assistants means Cahill's business tasks are done on another continent in a different time zone and for lower costs. There's no social security, employee's benefits and contributions to pay. The idea has become popular since it was expounded in Tim Ferriss's runaway success, 'The 4-Hour Work Week'.
Cahill uses virtual assistants from a firm called GetFriday based in India. It's a cost-saving strategy that's working well.
"It's the primary reason why we looked into using virtual assistants. We had highly paid sales consultants doing tasks that did not earn any money. We decided to reduce our overheads by farming out tasks."
Companies like GetFriday, YourManinIndia, and Task Everyday offer skilled virtual assistants for under €10 an hour, and there are bigger companies like Brickwork and AskSunday that are more suit-and-tie operations starting from €14 an hour.
Companies based in the US and Canada are popular because clients pay in dollars. Virtual assistants can also be found on freelance websites such as oDesk. In 2008, almost 2,500 virtual assistant jobs were posted on oDesk; that number topped 28,000 in 2012 – a reflection of how the trend is growing.
But never mind the stats, the important question is how skilled are these assistants?
Assistants can also be skilled in many areas: web developers, SEO specialists, business plan developers, researchers, and content writers. In order to be part of the Administrative Consultants Association, another virtual assistant company (except the owner likes to call them 'administrative consultants'), they must go through a screening.
Serial entrepreneur Ronan O'Brien, who runs a number of online businesses such as The Costume Shop and The Mobility Shop has used virtual assistants in the past. O'Brien was nominated for the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year in 2012. "The key advantage for me is that the work never stops and there's always somebody producing results," says O'Brien.
O'Brien used virtual assistants as an aid when he was starting to grow his businesses and before he began employing staff in Ireland, and he recommends using them "only if it's relevant".
He thinks people can get caught up in outsourcing and think it's a great way to cut costs, but then they spend more time trying to cut costs when it ends up a negative return. "If you find you need to work 24 hours a day, it's helpful", he says.
"But you could find a better person in Ireland to do it – especially in the recession. It's not as much as a cost-saving thing as it was a few years ago."
Now, O'Brien mainly outsources projects to freelancers through sites like Guru, Freelancer, Elance, Task Army, and oDesk.
Eamonn O'Brien who runs The Reluctant Speaker, a business helping people conquer their fear of public speaking, recently hired a copy editor on Elance for his new book. After much research in Ireland, he only found one or two Irish copy editors. He received over 40 responses. From these he found a perfect match in the UK with an impressive portfolio. He saved as much as a third on costs because he paid for it in dollars.
"I'd recommend it", he says, "but do check out their portfolio of work, the number of people who've hired them and customer ratings."
"I think it has huge potential," says entrepreneur Ronan O'Brien, "big companies have been outsourcing for a while, that always filters down to smaller companies."
So, if you're finding you need a few extra hands, perhaps your business could also be a virtual success. Budget and time-wise, outsourcing is not just for wealthy entrepreneurs – it seems it can be a good investment for anyone.