Virtual assistance

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Virtual assistance (or VA) is the professional service of remote administrative office and other specialized support by an independent contractor called a virtual assistant who works with clients in an ongoing, collaborative professional relationship. The profession was formalized in 1997 by Stacy Brice when she created her company, AssistU - the first organization of any sort for Virtual Assistants.


Job description

Virtual assistants own their own businesses (called practices), work from their own offices and utilize today's technology to deliver their services and communicate with clients.

A virtual assistant's core practice consists of administrative or clerical tasks. However, many virtual assistants offer additional specialties that fall under various other categories, such as marketing, website development or maintenance, creative and technical services, etc. In addition, many VA’s have target niches, and those include real estate, coaching, and writers to name a few prominent ones.

Virtual assistants come from a variety of business backgrounds, but most have several years administrative experience earned in the real (non-virtual) business world working in occupations such as administrative assistant, executive assistant, secretary, legal assistant, paralegal, legal secretary, real estate assistant, office manager, etc..

There are several organizations that train individuals to become virtual assistants, including AssistU [1], the Virtual Assistance Training Program [2], and Red Deer College[3].

In popular culture

Virtual assistants were an integral part of the 2007 bestselling book The 4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss.[4] Ferriss claimed to have hired virtual assistants to check his email, pay his bills and run parts of his company.[5] He specifically recommended classified-type services like Elance where employers and employees solicit and hire on demand.[6], and the company that formalized the Virtual Assistance profession, AssistU, where clients are mutually matched with VAs.

Differences between a VA and an Employee or Temp

Virtual assistants are independent contractors, not employees, who structure their own rates and operating standards and policies, pay their own self-employment taxes, and control management of the work and how it is carried out. While many self-employed people specialize in one area—for example, they are bookkeepers or web development specialists who work from home—a true virtual assistant provides across-the-board administrative (and other) services.

Employees are managed and directed by the employer they work for. They are paid a salary with employment taxes deducted by the employer. Work is directed, managed and supervised by the employer.

Temps are employees of a staffing agency who go on-site or work virtually for an employer customer. They are paid by the staffing agency they work for, while their on-site or virtual work and activities are managed, directed and supervised by the employer customer of the staffing agency.

Virtual Assistance vs. Secretarial or Business Support Services

Secretarial and business support service businesses predate the Virtual Assistance industry. The core differences are:

1. BSS provider: Focus on one-off, task-based projects and piecework.

  • Virtual Assistant: Work with clients on needs across the board, long term, and their assistance hinges upon relationships.

2. BSS provider: Any client will do; often has to "chase" the work because there's rarely continuity.

  • Virtual Assistant: Works with a small group of hand-picked clients, long term.

3. BSS provider: Fees are often set per project.

  • Virtual Assistant: Charges per hour; clients are often on a monthly retainer.

4. BSS providers: No need to understand a client's business to accomplish tasks.

  • Virtual Assistant: Understanding is key to collaboration

Since 1997 when the VA industry was formalized, many BSS providers have taken on the moniker of VA, although many of them still work within their established work model.


  1. [1]
  2. VATP
  3. Red Deer College | Academic Calendar 2008/2009 | Virtual Assistant Certificate
  4. Ferriss, Timothy The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich' Crown (2007)
  5. Maney, Kevin (October 7, 2007). "Tim Ferriss Wants You To Get a Life". Portfolio. Retrieved 2008-03-21.  "..if you have a virtual assistant, let them go through your email and respond when necessary"
  6. Tim Ferriss explains how Elance works video

External links

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