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As a small business grows, so do the daily tasks that keep the business running smoothly. But these tasks can be tedious and time-consuming for business owners and existing employees who may already be wearing many hats. This is why hiring a virtual assistant (VA) may be a smart staffing choice.

VAs can work from anywhere, perform specific tasks based on the business’s needs, and work under a flexible contract. Read on to learn what a virtual assistant is, what types of services they provide, how to hire virtual assistants, and the pros and cons for business owners.

What Are Virtual Assistants?

A virtual assistant is an employee or independent contractor who works remotely, usually from a home office, and usually on a part-time basis. You can hire a VA to provide administrative support, like data entry, bookkeeping, and marketing, as well as administrative tasks, like scheduling phone calls and appointments, and making travel arrangements.

There are also specialized virtual assistants who can handle work with social media, graphic design, writing blog articles, and more. The specific duties vary based on the needs of the business and the VA’s professional skills and experience.

A virtual assistant can be an independent contractor or an employee. If you decide to take the independent contractor route, you do not have to provide benefits or pay the same taxes that you would for an employee.

Also, because VA jobs are conducted off-site, these administrative assistants are responsible for providing their own workspace and equipment, including having a computer, internet service, and the software and tools needed to perform their tasks.

If you opt to hire virtual assistants as employees, your business may need to provide the necessary equipment to perform their daily tasks, in addition to the other state and local requirements of having employees. 

What Platforms Can You Use to Hire Virtual Assistants?

With the rise of the gig economy, there’s also been an increase in web-based services that act as intermediaries between employers and independent contractors. Sites like Upwork, Fiverr, and Indeed connect companies with virtual assistants from around the globe who offer a wide range of services.

For a fee, companies can post details on the administrative tasks they need to have performed and what they are willing to pay. Prospective workers can apply for virtual assistant jobs that interest them and share their experience and work samples.

Alternatively, prospective virtual assistants can have their own profiles on these sites, and businesses can seek them out. Once the hiring business and the VA applicant connect, they can schedule a phone call or video call to discuss the position and the VA’s qualifications to determine if there is a fit. If it is a good match, then the parties can enter into a contract.

A significant advantage of hiring a virtual assistant is the flexibility to contract for the specific services needed, with an arrangement that works for both parties. For instance, some virtual assistants are paid an hourly rate, while others may be paid per task. 

Compare this with a traditional employee paid for a fixed number of hours per day. This is why hiring a VA can help small business owners save big on staffing costs.

Pros and Cons of Hiring Virtual Assistants

Below are the pros of hiring virtual assistants and some cons to keep in mind.


  • As a small business owner, delegating tasks to a VA gives you more time to focus on running your business and generating revenue.
  • It can be more cost-effective to outsource time-consuming tasks to someone who is skilled at them.
  • An experienced VA can efficiently handle a diverse range of administrative tasks.
  • You can contract with a VA on an as-needed basis and assign work only when required, rather than hiring a full-time employee and having to pay a salary and benefits.
  • You don’t have the overhead expenses tied to having staff work in your office if you don’t want to.
  • Whether your company is just starting up or has been in operation for years, a virtual assistant can come onboard at any stage of the business.


  • A VA is not in the office with you, which may present challenges, particularly when they are onboarding to new tasks. 
  • If the VA is located in a different time zone, there can be delays in communication and receiving critical updates.
  • While hiring a VA who lives overseas can be a less expensive option, there may be language or cultural barriers to overcome.
  • Training a VA is done online instead of in person, so business owners will need to create detailed instructions or a training manual to mitigate misunderstandings that can occur when working remotely.
  • Communication issues can happen, so setting clear expectations with your VA, letting them know your preferred working style, and establishing communication protocols from the start is essential. 

Considerations for Hiring Virtual Assistants

1. Know what qualities you’re looking for.

You want to hire someone qualified for the job, so make sure your interview process covers their prior work experience and how they would handle specific situations. You can do this by implementing The STAR Method

The STAR Method provides behavioral-based interview questions that require the applicant to describe a specific Situation, Task, Action, and Result from a prior job. This method can provide valuable insight into how they may contribute to running your business, how they would handle certain situations, and whether they can take ownership of their mistakes.

2. Know what skills are needed.

Whether you are hiring a specialized virtual assistant to handle your business’s social media, manage content creation, provide customer support, or perform tasks in another area, it’s essential to have a clear understanding of what skills your virtual assistant must possess. Also, ask them to provide prior samples of their work relevant to the job you are hiring them for.

3. Determine payment method and frequency.

If your virtual assistant is a contractor, you’ll need to verify payment terms and how they will invoice. Also, will you make payments via check or through a secure online service like PayPal or Venmo? You may want to set a budget beforehand and, if needed, put a cap on the VA’s time to ensure that costs don’t get out of hand.

4. Choose a communications channel.

Communication is key when someone is working for you in a remote job. It’s best to pick a platform and process and stick with it. Will you and your assistant have a daily or weekly Zoom call? Will you message them through traditional email, phone calls, or another channel, like Slack?

Also consider how you will assign and track tasks. Using a platform such as Asana, Trello, or Wrike for project management can be highly effective, especially in a remote work environment.

Finding, hiring, and retaining the right talent plays an important role in the success of any small business. For more tips, check out our blog on Best Hiring Practices and Interview Questions. The Oregon SBDC Network is here to support small business owners at every stage, including hiring. Locate the SBDC closest to you to access the resources you need by visiting OregonSBDC.org.

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