How Virtual Assistants Can Benefit Startup Leaders


According to venture capitalist Bill Trenchard of First Round Capital, the average startup founder “works about 300 days a year, 14 hours a day.” He should know. Trenchard cofounded and led three companies and, as a VC, advises hundreds of startups.

“Looking at the schedule of a typical CEO, a full 70 percent of that time is suboptimal,” Trenchard said. “Nearly 30 percent of that time gets sunk into email. Another third gets spent in meetings — and studies show that half of those hours are completely wasted.”

Leaders are buried in admin work

A study by Asana found that managers spend 58 percent of their time on busy work. Where does the time go? Much of it goes to administrative tasks:

Consider these numbers:

Executives spend three hours a day on email.
It takes 25 minutes to schedule a business meeting.
It takes 12 hours to plan a door-to-door business trip.
It takes 30 minutes to complete an expense report.

Wearing too many hats

If you are doing these tasks yourself, you might want to reconsider. Paying yourself to be your administrative assistant is financially and temporally inefficient. There are better uses for your time and money. Doing everything yourself is also a recipe for burnout.

Also, if you do everything yourself, your business will not grow beyond the time you can spend on it. “One of the biggest reasons why entrepreneurs nowadays struggle to grow their businesses is because they are simply wearing too many hats,” said Chris Ducker, author of “Rise of the Youpreneur.” “They do everything in their business. They ARE business!!!”

“Every founder struggles to delegate,” said Bill Green, serial entrepreneur and author of “All In.” Green remembers when someone first challenged him about his time management. A colleague found Green in his office processing piles of purchase orders and said, “with all due respect, you should be delegating that stuff so you can be the president of the company.”

Startups turn to virtual assistants

“Anyone that has ever visited my blog before will know that I am a huge advocate of outsourcing and working with all the different types of virtual assistants available, right now, at your arsenal,” Ducker said. “It’s just plain smart to leverage your time with talented workers on your team than try and do it all yourself.”

Trenchard agrees. “Technology is great at making us more productive, but it has its limits,” he said. “It’s worth growing a relationship with an assistant, either in-office or remotely, to help you.”

The virtual assistant market is booming, growing 41 percent in 2020. The shift to all-remote work made more people comfortable with off-site teammates, and a renewed emphasis on work-life balance pushed many startup executives to reconsider how to spend their time. Also, traditional executive assistants are hard to find—the United States shed 2 million administrative assistant jobs over the past 20 years, and the latest Lensa Index said it is the third most challenging position to fill.

You could say that all the productivity apps designed to make executives self-sufficient and led to the dismissal of armies of admins have had the opposite effect.

To Grow Your Company, Prioritize Productivity Over Being ‘Busy’

What is a virtual executive assistant?

There is some confusion around the term “virtual assistant.” The phrase describes voice assistants like Siri and human assistants that work off-site. As Ducker said, there are many kinds of virtual human assistants. Some use “virtual assistant” to describe anyone completing tasks from an offshore location—graphic designers, web developers and software coders.

Virtual executive assistants are people working offshore in areas of the world where college-educated, English-speaking talent is plentiful, but opportunities for meaningful work are scarce. The assistants perform the administrative tasks that eat up so much of entrepreneurs’ time.

What can a virtual executive assistant do?

Most virtual executive assistants learn the traditional administrative tasks that take up so much of your time:

Email organization: creating folders and prioritizing your inbox.

Calendar management: scheduling meetings, resolving conflicts, confirming appointments.

Travel planning: booking trips, handling cancelations during trips, and booking appointments at destinations.

Expense accounts: finding and reconciling receipts.

Contact management: entering contacts and cleaning up your CRM.

Research: building lists of investors, partners, and leads based on your criteria.

Light bookkeeping: invoicing and payment processing.

You can delegate any task you can do online, which is a repeatable workflow.

What can’t a virtual executive assistant do?

“A founder should always focus on things that can’t be delegated: strong leadership, networking, big picture growth, etc.,” Green said. A virtual executive assistant cannot do tasks that require your judgment, experience, leadership or accountability. They free you up for the work that you can and should do:

Defining and amplifying your vision and mission.
Business strategy and planning.
Hiring the key executives.
One-on-one meetings with direct reports.
Meeting with investors, partners, and key accounts.
Board meetings and reports.
Product definition and roadmap.
Sales strategy.
Go to market strategy.

How do you find a virtual executive assistant?

The review site Clutch lists more than 4,000 virtual assistant companies. There are also legions of freelancers available on job boards and gig marketplaces. There are three broad categories for engaging a remote executive assistant:

Directly hire a freelancer or employee.
Hire an independent contractor through a virtual assistant agency.
Engage a managed virtual assistant service.

Hiring a freelance virtual executive assistant

You can find virtual executive assistants on job boards like Indeed or gig marketplaces like Upwork. These sites usually offer the lowest hourly rates, and the tradeoff is that the risk of a bad hire is much greater. Also, it is on you to train and manage the assistant, including quality control of their work.

Hiring an independent contractor virtual executive assistant

Hundreds of agencies will match you with an independent contractor virtual assistant—onshore or offshore. The upside of this model is that most agencies do some vetting of the contractors they work with, which reduces the risk of a bad fit. The cost is higher, especially for U.S.-based assistants. Once you choose your assistant, you are responsible for training, performance management, and quality control.

Hiring a virtual executive assistant managed service provider

With a managed virtual executive assistant service, you hire a company, not an individual. The service provider hires, trains, supervises, and performs quality control of your assistant’s work. Most of the risk is on the service provider, and the services work best for long-term partnerships. You get a dedicated virtual assistant, a trained backup, and a consulting manager that helps you define processes, document workflows, and optimize the service.

Finding the right solution

No single virtual executive assistant model is suitable for all entrepreneurs or businesses. If you know exactly what you want in an assistant and want to manage the person and their work, a freelancer or independent contractor can work. If you are unsure how or don’t want to train and manage your assistant, a managed service takes those functions off your plate. Review sites like Investopedia and The Balance SMB provide helpful guidance for finding the right solution to ensure you do not fall behind the growth curve in 2022.

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