No matter how small your business, it’s often impossible to do everything yourself. This is especially true in our age of “multi”:
- Multi-channel marketing on social media, mobile devices, and the web;
- Multi-channel, two-way communications via phones, texts, online forms, and social media, and;
- Multi-income streams that utilize point-of-sales apps and devices, online ecommerce, and yes, even checks and cash.
With all this activity, it’s hard to focus on the most important aspect of your business: serving your clients and customers. How can you devote your energy to that service without dropping the ball on the other stuff? By hiring virtual assistants.
Why Your Business Needs Virtual Assistants
If you’re looking to de-clutter your business life so you can focus on serving your clients and customers, then virtual assistants are the perfect solution. They excel at the everyday tasks that keep your business up and running and can also handle the more complex tasks that you’re ready to hand off to someone else.
If you’re not sure which tasks to outsource, you should take a close look at the following types of activities that make up your workday including:
- Repetitive tasks;
- Specialized tasks; and
- Expert tasks.
If you don’t like working alongside other people, you can even look at the many digital assistants available today including online and mobile applications as well as chatbots and agents. These “virtual” virtual assistants typically focus on doing one thing well and, in some cases, they can even provide a real competitive advantage.
With all the options, it’s can be hard to navigate the complex virtual assistant landscape. This guide will:
- Show you how to hire and manage human virtual assistants; and
- Introduce you to features and functionality of the growing number of digital virtual assistants.
Science fiction and future speculation aside, nothing can currently replace a human virtual assistant. This is especially true for complex tasks that cross many areas of expertise and complexity.
The reason these folks are called “virtual” assistants is due to the fact that many of them work remotely from you, either at their own office or from home. They are typically hired on a freelance, contract basis and are not full employees of your business. This trend has been growing for years and, if demand is any indication, has proven to be a huge success for both virtual assistants and the small businesses that hire them.
Hiring Virtual Assistants
Before hiring a virtual assistant, think about what you need them to do and make sure you know what you’re looking for in terms of personal traits, skills, and knowledge.
Once you’ve got a good idea of your perfect virtual assistant, you can look for them in one (or all) of three places:
- Online freelance sites;
- Virtual staffing services; and
- Via references and referrals from others.
Managing Virtual Assistants
When you fist bring a virtual assistant on board, you want to assure that they know what to do right away. To create a process, consider these tips for onboarding freelancers that apply here as well.
Day-to-day, you need to manage your virtual assistant much the same way as an employee. Here are some tips for doing so, both for all types of virtual assistants and for tech-oriented virtual assistants in general.
Sometimes things don’t work out. If you need to end a relationship with a personal assistant, don’t let it prevent you from hiring another. The initial problem, lack of focus due to too much activity, still exists and you still need help.
In addition, both before and after hiring a virtual assistant consider these rules to follow to learn from each experience so that the next one is even better.
Digital Virtual Assistants
Recent years have seen the rise of a new kind of virtual assistant, the digital virtual assistant.
Take one part machine learning and one part natural language processing and you get something that feels eerily close to artificial intelligence. Digital virtual assistants live on company servers, mobile devices, and the web and can handle many routine tasks along with a growing number of not so routine tasks.
At their inception, these digital assistants primarily consisted of the almost universally disliked yet ubiquitous automated call answering systems. Today, these virtual phone services have developed a robust set of features that becomes more natural to use everyday.
However, the first digital virtual assistant that most people identify with is Siri, the iPhone’s built-in personal assistant that almost seemed like a gimmick when it premiered. Over the years however, Siri has grown, adding features and functionality that make the digital assistant truly useful.
Not long after Siri launched, a number of Siri look-alikes appeared some of which have already come andgone.
Today, the advancement of machine learning technology is leading us towards a future where digital virtual assistants will fit seamlessly into our daily workflow. Let’s take a look at some examples.
Cortana is Microsoft’s version of Siri and, like it’s counterpart, it has evolved and become more useful to small business owners.
A digital assistant integrated into the Messenger app, Facebook M, an app similar to Siri and Cortana, is not yet available everywhere
Amazon Echo’s digital virtual assistant is named Alexa and like it’s counterparts, it’s features continue to evolve.
Other Digital Virtual Assistants
The digital virtual assistant market continues to expand and includes newcomers such as:
- Snips – an app that helps manage all the interactions between your connected devices;
- ai – an app that can handle all your scheduling communications;
- Redbooth + Cisco Spark – a project management assistant; and
- Robotbase – a virtual butler and business secretary rolled into one.
The Rise of Chatbots
A guide about virtual assistants would not be complete without including chatbots.
Chatbots have been around for decades however the advance of technology has turned these digital virtual assistants into truly useful business tools.
As digital virtual assistants, chatbots can be used for:
- Customer service;
- Publishing content;
- Market your business;
- Streamline your online marketing funnel;
- Increase online conversions;
- Facilitate sales processes; and
- Even act as a traditional virtual assistant.
If you’re worried about all this technology, then check out PullString for a “no-tech-required” chatbot creator.
Whether you opt to go human or digital, virtual assistants are a valuable component of small business success. They help you get past the busywork so you can focus on the most important part of your business, your clients and customers.
VA Illustration via Shutterstock
Voice Search Photo via Shutterstock