What is a virtual assistant (and what do they do)

Learn what a virtual assistant is, and the tasks they can do for your business

Running a business on your own isn’t easy. Mountains of time-consuming, hidden tasks soon overshadow your business dream. You end up jumping from task to task, feeling overwhelmed, and losing focus on what really matters: growing your business. 

When you first start, you might make it a few months or even years managing everything on your own. But not everyone is good at every business task or enjoys doing every type of work. You can grow your business faster and focus your precious time on your business’s most important facets by hiring a virtual assistant. 

Virtual assistants are remote workers who help with a selection of business tasks and services. They may do administrative work, bookkeeping, or even marketing tasks. Regardless of what you need help with, virtual assistants are a cost-effective way to alleviate the pressures you face as a business owner and keep your focus on growing your business. 

Knowing that you need help and deciding to hire a virtual assistant is the first step to business growth. In this guide, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know about virtual assistants, and what they can do for your business. 

Virtual Assistant

  • 1. What is a virtual assistant?
  • 2. What does a virtual assistant do?
  • 3. Benefits of a virtual assistant
  • 4. Cons of hiring a virtual assistant
  • 5. How to hire a virtual assistant
  • 6. How to work with a virtual assistant

1. What is a virtual assistant?

A virtual assistant is a self-employed worker, either a freelancer or an independent contractor who based on the skill set offers administrative, marketing, or business tasks that take up valuable time you could be spending focusing on your business growth.

Sometimes also known as virtual office assistants, they can help you with just a few tasks per month or be highly involved in your business’s day-to-day activities. Virtual assistants may be experts in specific fields or certain types of tasks, such as accounting or marketing, or may offer broader, more generalized services. They work with you remotely, so that you can hire a virtual assistant from anywhere in the world, provided their schedule and availability aligns with your needs. All you’ll need to communicate with them is a computer and an internet connection. 

2. What does a virtual assistant do?

Virtual assistants can do many different jobs, but they typically focus on administrative or maintenance tasks that don’t require specialized knowledge of your business. Here is a list of some of the many things that they can do for you and your business:

  • Conduct online research
  • Manage your email inbox
  • Manage your calendar
  • Schedule and manage your social media
  • Offer IT support
  • Conduct administrative tasks
  • Help with customer service
  • Conduct marketing analysis
  • Create presentations
  • Organize your accounting

Some online personal assistants may also offer highly skilled services like graphic design or website development. While this may seem like an added benefit, we recommend hiring freelancers who work exclusively on these specialized tasks when you need them. Your virtual assistant can even help you hire and manage those freelancers when the time comes.

No matter what tasks are on your to-do list to help your business reach the next stage of growth, hiring a virtual assistant will free up your time and attention to focus on what really matters. Here are just some of the ways a virtual assistant will help your business grow.  

  • Optimize your calendar. Take something off your mind by letting your assistant tell you when and where to be. Have them block off “do not disturb” times, too, so you can make more headway on your work. 
  • Answer customer queries. A virtual assistant can provide solutions to routine customer questions without extensive training. Having quick responses makes customers happier, so they’re more likely to trust your brand enough to make a purchase. 
  • Research new products or strategies. If you’re trying to make a decision, whether it be for new software, a new marketing strategy, or a new product line, let your online assistant do the fundamental research. They can present you with initial findings to make a decision or do in-depth analysis more quickly, leading to faster growth.
Find a customer service virtual assistant for hire
Find a customer service virtual assistant for hire Ndiwano

3. Benefits of a virtual assistant

Hiring a virtual assistant has the direct advantage of helping you take care of tasks you don’t have time for, or aren’t proficient in. As we mentioned above, they help you keep your business running in the day-to-day and free up more of your time to generate more income and keep the business growing. Here are some other benefits of hiring a virtual assistant:

  • They work remotely. Online assistants don’t need to come and work next to you at home or in your office. They are fully remote and can be anywhere in the world, at any time, saving you money and logistical considerations. 
  • They’re more cost-effective than a full-time employee. Hiring on a freelance basis has a lower cost than bringing someone on your payroll. While rates may vary depending on where your assistant is working from, their hourly wages can be quite affordable.
  • If needed, they can work in your off-hours. Perhaps you want someone who can answer customer service emails during your off-hours or someone to complete tasks while you’re asleep, so they’re ready for you the next day. You can hire an assistant with the exact availability you require, even if it’s during non-standard hours.
  • You can hire multiple assistants, so someone is always available. With more than one virtual assistant on your roster, you can always get help exactly when you need it—even more so than a regular employee.

4. Cons of hiring a virtual assistant

We’ve looked at all the pros, but it’s also important to evaluate the cons of a virtual assistant so you can be sure you’re making the best decision for your business. Overall, we think the benefits outweigh the disadvantages—but it’s crucial to know what lies ahead so your relationship with your assistant can be successful from the start. 

  • Training: You’ll need to get your online assistant up to speed with your business and the tasks they’ll need to complete. To minimize this hassle, only assign them tasks that take minimal training, like data entry, and leave the more specific tasks for yourself or other employees. 
  • Time zone differences: If you don’t properly vet for location and availability, you may end up with an assistant who is not available when you need them. Be sure to think through when you want them to work and specifically ask if they’re able to work during those hours.  
  • Language barriers: If you’re hiring a virtual assistant from another country, be sure they can communicate professionally in the language you conduct business in. 
  • Work queues: If busy, they may prioritize tasks as they are assigned, so if another client gets there first, you may have to wait for them to be available. This could cause delays in your work if items are not completed on time. 

5. How to hire a virtual assistant

Now that you’ve decided to hire a virtual assistant, the first step is to analyze what you need or want to outsource.

Ready? let’s go

Step 1. Decide what tasks to outsource

Part of delegating tasks is knowing what tasks are most urgent and what you need the most help with. Here are a couple of ways to help you figure out what to outsource:

Create a master to-do list. Start by writing down everything you need to do for your business on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. You can do this in a document or spreadsheet to start. Then, organize your tasks into groups. You can do this by type of task (e.g., administrative, marketing, customer service) or simply by whether you can and want to do it yourself or prefer to outsource it. If you like, you can add these tasks to a project management tool like ClickUp or Asana and assign them to your assistant. If you don’t have a project management tool, consider asking your virtual assistant to set it up for you as one of their first tasks. 

Use a time tracker. If you aren’t sure which of your tasks are good candidates to outsource, try using a time tracker. These apps track how much time you spend on specific sites, programs, or software, or follow and track specific tasks when you start and stop a timer. Spend a day or week tracking your time for each (or most) task on your master to-do list. Tracking will help you figure out where you are spending the most time and energy. Often, but not always, extremely time-consuming tasks are good candidates for assigning to a virtual assistant. If you are struggling to think of tasks that could be outsourced, look back at the list of possible tasks in the “What does a virtual assistant do?” section above to spark ideas.

Step 2. Determine who to hire

Now it’s time to choose the right person for your needs. Here’s what you need to do: 

Define the must-have qualities of your virtual assistant. The first step is to write down the must-have qualities you need your virtual assistant to have. Determining those characteristics will help you narrow down your choices. They should be based on logistical, professional, and technical qualities. Below you’ll find some of the most important skills to consider. Logistical considerations include:

  • The languages they can speak
  • A time zone that fits with your schedule
  • An accessible price range that fits your budget

On a professional level, you’ll want to ensure they are:

  • Reliable
  • Resourceful
  • Flexible
  • Proactive
  • Organized
  • Collaborative
  • Communicative

In addition, you’ll want to think through any unique needs or considerations you may have, such as experience in your industry or knowledge of specific software or tools your business uses. Candidates should also be able to provide excellent references or reviews that speak to their abilities. 

Step 3. Assess their skills and abilities

As you’re talking to your potential online assistant, you’ll want to ask them a few questions to assess their skills and abilities and determine if they’re a good match for your personality and communication style. Here are some sample questions you can ask a candidate:

What are your main skillsets? It’s good to know just how many types of work they are comfortable with. You can expand on this and ask how many programs they know how to use and which ones they are an expert in. 

What do you consider to be your strengths and weaknesses as a virtual assistant? This is a great question to find out if they will match your personality and communication style. Listen to the level of honesty and candor in their answers.

What are your working hours? You need to know when they are working and if it matches your own hours. Some people want to work alongside them in terms of time availability. Others prefer to send them tasks at the end of the day to be finished as you sleep.

Have you ever had a client whose instructions were complicated or difficult to understand? How did you handle it? Listen to their answer and decide if you think they did the right thing or not. Don’t be judgmental either way, simply listen. If you don’t agree with their resolution, then they might not be the candidate for you.

Do you know how to work with my productivity tool?  If you work with a productivity or collaboration tool, you need to know if they know their way around it. If they don’t know, determine if you want to take the time to teach them. Most virtual assistants will be happy to learn to better help you. 

Step 4. Come up with small sample tasks

Once you’ve selected your favorite rite candidates, you can ask them to do a few small test tasks. Make sure that the test tasks match what you want them to do. For example:

  • If you need calendar scheduling, ask them to create an event and invite you to it.
  • If you need data entry, ask them to input 30 rows.
  • If you need an email organization, ask them to organize one page of your inbox.

Giving them small sample tasks is a way for you to see if they genuinely know what they are doing. Even if the task is new to them, they should be able to investigate and figure it out.

Find a virtual assistant for hire
Find a virtual assistant for hire Ndiwano

6. How to work with a virtual assistant

It’s crucial to start off on the right foot to have an impactful working relationship with your assistants. They’ll need all the instructions and resources necessary to complete any assigned tasks and access any relevant documents or tools. Preparing ahead of time will help the entire process go more smoothly, so your new virtual assistant can jump in immediately. As you prepare and continue to work with your assistant, be sure to do these things: 

Give clear instructions: Giving easy-to-understand instructions is key to getting the work done right the first time. The more particular you are about a task or a process, the more specific your instructions should be. In general, you should be assigning your assistant tasks that require minimal or basic instructions. If you are open to new ways of completing a task, feel free to let your online assistant do it however they see fit. They may have a different process that is more efficient or resourceful than what you have been doing—just another example of how they can help your business grow. 

Set goals and deadlines: Regardless of how detailed your instructions are, you should always provide your virtual assistant with two things: the overall goal of the task you have assigned them and a deadline for completing that task. The overall goal helps them stay on track, even if they are using their own process. Deadlines ensure things are completed in a timely manner. When setting deadlines, try to build in a day or two of buffer time for yourself in case your assistant runs into any delays. 

Setting goals and deadlines is important because it gives your online assistant the opportunity to ask questions and clarify expectations ahead of time, meaning work gets done correctly and quickly every time. 

Set them up in your collaboration tool: If you use tools like Asana, Trello, or ClickUp, give your virtual assistants access. You can set their permissions only to see the tasks you need them to do. You can make a board or project specifically for them, so they only see what’s relevant to them. Use all the functionalities of the tool to organize tasks, add deadlines, and even track time so you can pay your assistant properly. 

Ask for regular updates: If a task is ongoing or takes a long time to complete, be sure your virtual assistant provides regular updates so you can monitor progress and provide feedback along the way. To reduce your mental load, set an expectation at the beginning of a project that they will provide updates on a daily or weekly basis, or whenever a problem arises. 

Be clear with your feedback and expectations: When it’s time to give feedback on your assistant’s work, be honest and direct. Give constructive criticism, not judgmental criticism. You must always be clear about what you expect from them. Provide actionable steps that let your assistant know what went wrong and what to do differently in the future. When giving constructive criticism, pay attention to the way they react. Are they gracious and helpful? Or do they answer with annoyed commentaries? Those who accept feedback gracefully are the ones you want to work with long-term.  

Give more work to the ones that you feel comfortable with: When you find a virtual assistant that understands you easily and works quickly, that’s one to hang on to. Send them more work as soon as you have it. Alternatively, hire them out for a set number of hours per week so you can have a dedicated assistant who will regularly handle certain tasks. This will make your business run more smoothly and grow more quickly, all with a happy working relationship. 


If you’ve been feeling overwhelmed with business tasks and unable to get to the projects that will grow your business, it may be time to hire a virtual assistant. These online workers can take on routine tasks or to-do list items that you don’t have the bandwidth or skill to complete. They free up more time for you to do things that will grow your business more quickly.  

You can hire a virtual assistant on Ndiwano, where the gig profiles will list each candidate’s skills and experience, as well as reviews from previous clients. Use this information, as well as your own interview with the potential assistant, to see if they have the skills and working style to work successfully with you. By hiring through Ndiwano, you’ll save time you previously spent on all-consuming tasks, and you’ll also save money—hiring virtually is less expensive than hiring an in-office assistant. 

As you work with your online assistant regularly, you’ll develop clear processes for giving instructions, setting deadlines, and offering feedback. Once you establish a smooth relationship with them, you’ll be amazed at how much more you can accomplish—and how fast your business will grow. 

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