What does the term virtual assistant (VA) mean to you? If you’re a little confused, look no further. I’ve prepared a quick guide for those who are interested in learning about hiring, becoming, or evaluating virtual assistants.

What is a virtual assistant and when do you need one?

Virtual assistants usually handle general administrative and office duties for businesses (though I’ve found it’s not uncommon for VAs to specialize in other areas, like email marketing and blog management).

They are employed remotely, meaning they are able to work from home instead of in-office. They may or may not have a college degree. Some companies hire full-time or part-time VAs, while others prefer to contract them on a month-to-month basis.

According to Tanya Lamont, CEO of Conversational, whether or not to hire a VA depends on your company’s needs:

“Ask yourself–are you missing calls and sales opportunities because you don’t have enough time to handle these tasks? Are you skimping on time with family because work has you stretched thin? These are the traits we see in companies and entrepreneurs who need a virtual assistant yesterday.”

How does someone become a virtual assistant?

There are several avenues to becoming a VA. Some people enjoy working through agencies, which makes finding clients a breeze, but cuts down on your ability to deviate from a set plan. Others go at it alone, using their past work experience and skills to begin offering their services directly to small businesses. Some answer online job advertisements and join an office as a full-time VA.

Virtual assistants don’t have to have a college degree, but it’s definitely easier to land clients if you have one. If you don’t have a degree, make sure to highlight your relevant skills and experience in your resume and cover letter.

How would I hire a virtual assistant?

First, consider your budget and the scope of the work you’ll need done. Why do you want to hire an assistant? Do you have enough capital to pay a quality virtual assistant? Keep in mind that US-based VAs start at around $15/hr, while VAs overseas run closer to $5/hr.

Now that you’re sure of your budget and know what kind of assistant you want, it’s time to explore your options. If you’re looking for a simple, guided process, try a virtual receptionist company like Conversational. If you’d like to be more involved in the process and choose an independent freelancer, start by searching freelancers and posting your available job on a site like Elance-oDesk, CloudPeeps, or LocalSolo.

Expert tips

  • Know what you need done, and know how to delegate it to your VA.
  • Manage expectations by communicating clearly with your VA.
  • Look into apps that allow you to stay in touch with remote employees, like Slack.
  • Make sure you know how you’ll evaluate your VA’s performance, whether it’s through metrics and analytics, number of tasks completed, or hours worked.

Working from home is one way this generation is working differently, and that’s why virtual assistants are on the rise. I love the flexibility of this career option! Do you employ a virtual assistant, or do you work as one? What’s the experience like? We want to hear your stories in the comments!

Note: This post was originally published on The Huffington Post