What Is A Virtual Assistant?

On my Virtual Assistant Break Up? post I’ve received some very excellent comments.   In fact one theme has emerged and I’d like to devote a new thread specific to this important subject.

The issue is this:   There are different opinions of what the term “Virtual Assistant” does and will eventually mean.   I use the term very generically, basically anyone that is providing services to me that is remote and not an employee (the term employee can even be wildly interpreted).   Others see the term “Virtual Assistant” to be more specific, to be used only for people with the proper credentials.

In internet years the term is pretty old, but with books like “The World Is Flat” and “Four Hour Work Week” pumping up attention to the concept it has become more difficult to pin down an exact definition.   It will be interesting to see how the VA industry develops.  I’d love to have all of the people that commented on the Virtual Assistant Break Up thread to reply to this post with their thoughts on the following:

As the profession / industry develops and becomes more regulated and governed what do you think will happen with the term Virtual Assistant?

Do you think that:

1)  The term “Virtual Assistant” will become generic and new terms or co-terms will be used to differentiate certified providers from those that simply have a computer and an Internet connection.
2)  The term “Virtual Assistant” will become the identifier of certified / licenced professionals and other terms will be used to refer to people that, based on some of the comments above, should not be classified as “Virtual Assistants”

I believe that regardless of the certification and terminology used there will always be demand for low wage, lessor skilled providers.  For now I think 99% of the world is calling these people “virtual assistants” and it will be a long time, if ever, that the term “Virtual Assistant” only applies to certified providers with 5 years of personal assistant, office manager experience.

To those of you that consider yourselves associated with the traditional Virtual Assistant industry, what would you suggest we call these people that work remotely and independently at hourly rates but have never worked as a PA / office manager and are not certified or licensed?

You Need How Many Hours?

One of my blogs needed a few simple changes to the WordPress theme.  The theme was already in excellent form but I wanted some basic modifications.  I’m by no means a theme designer, but I’ve hacked enough themes to know approximately how long the project would take… maybe 3 – 5 hours of work max for someone with a decent background with WordPress theme design and no more than 10 hours for someone with only a little experience.

In my previous postings on ::oDesk(“a”):: for designers and virtual assistants I had become acquainted with a few companies that manage a plethora of providers with diverse skill sets.   Each company said they would provide me with contact info for designers with WordPress experience.  After a few back and forth emails with the providers I decided to zip up the theme and email it to them along with the list the 3 simple changes I needed made.  Two different individual quoted me for outrageous amounts of time.  One guy said 40 hours and another, get this, said it would take him 3 weeks of full time work!!!

I sent each of them emails saying, “I believe there is a miscommunication here.  Do you understand this project is for edits to an EXISTING theme… not the design of a new theme from scratch?  This project shouldn’t take over 5 hours to complete.”

… I didn’t hear back from either of them.

So, I’m either totally off my rocker and am confused at how tricky it is to move a column in a WordPress theme, or I’m experiencing the problem many buyers seen in this space:   Providers come into hourly based systems (like ::oDesk(“a”)::) and quote really low hourly rates.  Unfortunately they end up taking extremely longer to complete the task and the total cost of project ends up way higher than it should have been.

So, is this happening because providers are intentionally taking advantage of the hourly system or because some low rate providers just don’t know what they are doing and therefore the project takes exponentially longer?

Virtual Assistant Break Up?

You hopefully read about my virtual assistant love… well, we’re at a weird point in our relationship.  I just receive the following from my beloved outsourced VA:

“Hope you are fine.I would like to know whether you have any work for me. I may be troubling you, but sorry to say that i am without any work and wasting time.  I have not taken any other buyer because i was engaged with your projects.  But now i am sitting idle and hours are wasted without any earnings. If you think, you cannot provide me with projects everyday, can i take other assignments and reduce the time i work with your project?  But if i take another buyer, i may not be able to commit many hours/day if anything urgent come up, though i will try to find time for your work if anything urgent come up from your side. Sorry if i sound harsh.But since last week i am sitting idle without much work wasting time”


I went through all 5 Stages of Grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance) in about 58 seconds.    When I got to acceptance I realized she was right, I had been so busy with so much other stuff I hadn’t given her enough projects to keep her busy.  I needed to act fast to find a solution so I wouldn’t loose her.   Back to bargaining!!!

My proposal to her:

I did some more thinking and I’d like to propose something to you:  Would it be possible to reserve you one day a week for 4 hours of guaranteed work?   Here is what I propose:

  1. You choose a day of the week that you can always provide me with 4 hours of work.
  2. I will try to always have things for you to do.
  3. If I don’t have work for you to do, you can spend those 4 hours doing anything you want and you can still bill me for the time!
  4. You can still work with other buyers the rest of the time you have available.

Basically I am trying to find a way to keep her engaged with me until I had some solid work for her, but at the same time I wanted to be compelled to find work for her.   The thought of paying someone even if they didn’t work will hopefully be enough to keep me focused on finding important stuff for her to do.

So, to you my reader… help me discover work for my virtual assistant.   Breaking up is hard to do!!!