Actually, the term is Virtual Assistants, but that works too!
What is it, and why do you care?
This is probably one of those words some geek cooked up when he got bored. Wasn't me, honest!
A "Virtual Assistant" is a person you hire, for a small job, or a series of tasks usually, that you don't have time to do yourself. That part seems like a regular assistant, right? The "virtual" part, is that while they are a "real" person, they're usually not "really there" in the sense of taking up valuable space in your world.
Lets say you want a website. You could put on your shoes and go find a website store, if such a thing existed! Or you could go on the internet and find a place there that sells websites. Then you'd either do all the code monkey work yourself, or you'd go put your shoes on again, and go out in the cold to find some out of work homeless computer tech who lost his job in the last market crash. They're out there.
OR, you could keep your slippers on, and do some quick Googling and find your very own code monkey who was more than happy to do all your webby work for you, from where ever he happened to be.
It could be in India. I met a guy a couple years ago, who actually paid for a generator and had it shipped to India, so his Virtual Assistant could have more reliable power, to get the project done on time. He said, compared to hiring a US or Canada based website programmer, for what was a very big project, he bought this generator, had it shipped, and had a whole TEAM of very happy people, working 2 or 3 shifts, to get his project done early, under budget, and he got some good Karma out of the deal too.
There are now large organizations that specialize in taking care of small tasks for you. One person I know, Bob "The Teacher" Jenkins, told us about an organization called Work At Home Moms that was pretty good place to get stuff done. So, what kind of stuff? Bob was talking about some of the ladies had been professionals, like lawyers, accountants, nurses, etc. So if you needed some law questions answered, or papers drawn up, or help filing your taxes, that might be a good place to look.
Many Virtual Assistants are or were working professionals in their field. Then for what ever reason, they decided to get out of the work place, even though they liked the work. Or they have started a new business, and are looking to take on some part time clients to help ends meet.
That's kind of where I am right now, actually. I have been talking to some other local businesses today, and in just a couple hours, I've met a few who say they either have started their website, or someone else started it for them, then it just kind of stopped. And they were going to get it finished, eventually, but they don't have time to do it. Lets face it, web sites are not really complicated. Most people could do them, if they didn't have anything else to do!
This was Bob's point in the first place. Sure, as a business owner or professional, you "COULD" do many of these tasks yourself. But if you're really good at what ever your business is based on, shouldn't you spend more of your time doing that, and let an assistant take care of some of your other, less glamorous stuff?
So, with that in mind, what tasks are you doing now, that don't need your expert skills? And could you see passing them off to someone else to do? Maybe you have a pile of customer contacts and business cards you meant to enter into your database, but you don't want to type them in, one at a time. Or you have a website that has virtual tumble weeds and spiderwebs, that still talks about Y2K. Or you need some specific training to get the most out of your new computer. Or you have a problem that you can't solve, and you think its probably an easy one, if you could only find the right person.
What about ... RESEARCH. Oh, does that make your head hurt just reading that? There are people who specialize in internet research. You have a question, and they can help you find a solution. I've had several business clients over the years that would ask me to find stuff for them. Often I could have their answer in a couple hours. They could have done it themselves, but this let them focus on something else. Or go to the beach, even!
See, everyone is good at something. The trick is finding someone who is good at what you're not good at, when you need them. I might be kind of an oddball, in that I have so much experience in lots of fields. I grew up on a farm, so I can figure out how to drive most anything. I was an aircraft mechanic in the Navy, I learned sheet metal work, aircraft painting, fiberglass repair, hydraulics, electrical stuff. And they taught me advanced first aid, and also how to make people need first aid. Then I got into computers, both sales and service. Then I started mucking around with websites. Been teaching myself copywriting (basically taking sales skills and writing a story that makes people want to buy stuff...)
Where I find myself, is kind of as a gate keeper. Or a translator maybe. Or a Guide to the Digital Frontier! Hey, I like that one! I know enough stuff, that even though I may not be an expert in it, I know enough to help the person with the problem find a better solution.
Example - I have made some websites that used a database to store info. Wrote my own software, that was just for my own use. While I probably wouldn't try to sell that skill myself, I know some of the ins and outs, so if I had a customer who wanted a custom software package created, I could help them talk to the egg head who was going to do the code wrangling. See, most of the people who are really gifted at programming databases, aren't very good at talking to people. They think in Syntax and Queries and Exceptions and Binary Stuff. Eeek!
Maybe something simpler. Its time for you to buy a computer for home. Which one do you buy? Well, if you walk into Staples or OfficeSuperStore or what ever, well, crap, look at all the shiny things! Do you really need the $1500 one, or is the $300 one probably good enough? How do you know your Gigabytes from your BluRay and should you get the one that matches your decor? I can probably help you out there. Hint... get the $300 one, and use the left over $1200 to take a weekend in Vegas or something :) And you're probably better off painting the room to match your computer. Call my brother Kevin, he's a great painter. But his spare time is pretty expensive. Worth it though. Just saying!
Wow, 1137 words. Sorry, this was going to be a short post!
Thanks for reading! If you have any questions, either email me (the Contact Me link at the top of the page), or leave some comments. And by all means, if you have any ideas for future posts, let me know!