Pros and Cons of Virtual Assistants

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A virtual assistant (VA) isn’t a robot or an Amazon Alexa and Echo; it’s an actual person who can help you with “virtually” any work you might have. What are the pros and cons of having a VA, and how can it help your tax practice?

First, a story. I am involved in a Vistage group chaired by a friend, Becky, someone I’ve known for quite a long time. She has a VA, a woman located in another state, who helps her with a number of administrative matters. When I asked Becky how effective her VA is, she told me that she never, for a moment, believed the relationship would actually work out. In fact, she was against it at the start, thinking she needed a person in her office. However, she put her judgment aside in order to see if it was going to work.

To her amazement, Becky’s efficiency increased, thanks to her VA. The reason? The VA is trained to anticipate Becky’s needs before she even realizes she actually needs something.

Once Becky told me this story, I began to think that having a VA would be something a tax professional might want to pursue, so I began my research.

Pros to Having a Virtual Assistant

The pros and cons vary for VAs, based on the scope of your practice or business, of course, but a VA can do the following:

  • Schedule appointments and meetings. No one I know wants to spend time on countless emails going back and forth with clients to schedule a meeting. If you give the VA access to your email, the VA can determine, and schedule, your calls, meetings and other appointments. The VA would also have access to your calendar to determine your availability, and sends a calendar invite to all parties. In addition, there are a number of web-based calendar programs, including Calendly and Google Calendar.
  • Handle administrative work. This may seem like a given, but you have to be trustful that the VA will do the work, not only efficiently, but also in the manner you, yourself, would do it. We all may define admin work differently, but I tend to think of it as time I could spend working on my business, instead of mired in busywork. Certainly, you could ask the VA to help with more technical tax work, but that changes the administrative scenario to more of a professional tax assistant.
  • Maximize the cloud’s capabilities. No longer do you need to share files; you can work in the cloud on any number of applications. The most common set includes Google Docs and Spreadsheets, accessible anywhere you can get an internet connection.
  • No physical office space needed. You may run your practice out of your home, or even have an office elsewhere, but you don’t need to buy furniture, computer equipment and other supplies for a VA. And, it’s understood that the VA has his or her own computer equipment, so you don’t need to offer to buy a PC or Mac to get the job done. Chances are, you’re not the only VA’s client.
  • Bail you out of a jam. While a tax practitioner may not have very many last-minute crises, there will, inevitably, be that one matter that comes out of nowhere. Depending on how you negotiate the VA’s workday, you could set up an emergency parachute so that the VA is available anytime, even in the middle of the night.

Cons of Having a Virtual Assistant

  • The VA isn’t there in person. This issue is related to trust. If the VA isn’t in your office, or nearby, to meet with you to understand and/or get the work, then you may feel as if the work may not actually get done. In fact, the VA may even be several states away. If you feel more comfortable knowing you’ll actually see the VA, then this may not work for you.
  • Email may be too personal to share. Again, this gets back to trust. While not planned, all of us may receive an email that is private, or just downright embarrassing. You have to live with a second set of eyes seeing your correspondence. Even if you set up a domain-based email separate from a Gmail address, for example, some suspect email may still slip through.

Advice to Get Started

If a VA sounds like something you want to pursue, what I’ve found from talking to colleagues is to start with one project – something you can do yourself but want to outsource to a VA – then see how it goes. If the VA refuses to do the work in lieu of setting up a contract, then look elsewhere. After all, when you hire someone to work on your team, you’ll often agree to work on a trial basis, just to be sure the relationship is a good fit. Having a VA is no different.

One question you may have is what to pay the person, and whether the person is a 1099 or W-2 employee. First, the VA would be a 1099; he or she isn’t physically present in your office and isn’t an actual employee. Second, ask the VA what he or she expects in an hourly wage; it could range from $15/hour to $25/hour, or even more. The good news is that you’ll only pay for what you get, so you can add this to the “pro” column above.

If you have a VA, I’d be interested in knowing how it’s working for you and what kind of work the VA does; leave a comment below and let me know.

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