In his 2012 State of the Nation Address, President Barack Obama declared Small Businesses as “engines of job creation” and crucial in boosting the US economy. To support Small Businesses, the Obama Administration passed 18 tax cuts including capital gains on key investments, incentives for hiring and access to capital they need for expansion. 99.7% of all businesses with employees that registered in the US are considered Small Business.

Small Businesses are defined by the US Small Business Association or USSBA as privately owned entities with less than 500 employees. Small Businesses are characterized as not “dominant” in their industry and as having scarce resources. The challenge facing Small Businesses is how to efficiently manage their costs without affecting revenue-generating programs and sustain the life of the enterprise.

One of the proven strategies adopted by Small Business owners is to outsource support or administrative work to Virtual Assistants or VA’s. Outsourcing support services to Virtual Assistants allows the Small Business to focus more time and resources on functions that directly contribute to his or her stream of revenues. Second, it keeps his or her business costs within acceptable parameters.

Maximising the Use of Virtual Assistants for Small Business Owners
A common mistake made by Small Businesses hiring Virtual Assistants for the first time is undermining the value of support services for their enterprise. Support services are like the roots of a tree. You don’t see them but they are responsible for providing nutrients to the tree. For Small Business owners, it is absolutely crucial to fortify support services in order to keep their business well-organized and efficient. But because of their limited resources, Small Business owners tend to qualify and select Virtual Assistants on cost rather than merit.

Before deciding on acquiring the services of a Virtual Assistant, the Small Business owner needs to firm up the answers to these questions:

What are the objectives of my business?
How do I plan to meet these objectives?
Who do I need to help meet these objectives?
How do I protect my business from unforeseen circumstances?
Where do I see my business in the next 3 months?
To give you an example on how these questions can be used as a frame of reference in building a virtual management team, let us suppose the Small Business owner runs a boutique insurance company.

1. What are the objectives of my business? As an owner of a small sized insurance company, objectives may include to expand the portfolio of clientele or focus on a specific type of insurance coverage like retirement plans.

2. How do I plan to meet these objectives? In order to expand his portfolio of clientele, the business owner needs to have appointments with prospects everyday of the week. The more appointments the better to increase the probability of closing a sale. These new appointments will require more allocation of business hours and thus, more organization in the weekly schedule of activities.

3. Who do I need to help meet these objectives? The business owner would need a Virtual Assistant with exceptional phone handling and organizational skills. The VA must have a disposition that is complimentary to the region he or she is calling. New Yorkers are more frank and value the direct approach than those in California who are more accommodating and casual in attitude.

4. How do I protect my business from unforeseen circumstances? If the job requires eight (8) hours of work from Monday to Friday, the business owner would be better off recruiting two (2) Virtual Assistants instead of one. Each VA shall work in four (4) hour shifts, five days a week. Keeping work hours to only four ensures sustained productivity especially if the shift enters graveyard hours. Second, having a second VA guarantees uninterrupted service should the other get sick or becomes unavailable. Third, a second VA gives you a benchmark on their performance.

5. Where do I see my business in the next three (3) months? Contracts for virtual assistance work are limited in tenure usually for a month or until the project is completed. But it takes time even for an experienced Virtual Assistant to be proficient at an appreciable level in the scope of work. If the VA’s performance is at par or exceeds expectation, it would be advisable to hire one who is open to long-term engagements.

Having a Virtual Assistant is valuable in helping Small Business owners take their company to the next level. The key is for the Small Business owner to first understand and firm up his or her goals, objectives and methodologies so he or she can find the best fit VA to support the enterprise.