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Virtual Assistant Vs. Employee: Which Is Best For Your Small Business?

Barnaby

Barnaby Lashbrooke

Founder and CEO of Time etc, author of The Hard Work Myth

10 minute read

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There comes a time in every business owner's life when you realize you can't do it all alone.

Whether it's to reduce the stress of an overwhelming workload, scale up your operations, or be able to take on exciting new projects, an extra set of hands could be all that stands in the way between you and your goals.

Plus, hiring employees is often seen as a badge of honor. It signals to others that your business is “legit”, and has reached a certain level of success to be able to expand.

However, in today's digital age, in-house employees are not the only option for small businesses. The rise of remote work has made it easier than ever to connect with professionals with the specific skill set they need, no matter where they're based.

But without carefully considering these options, the decision to hire could end up causing more problems than you were hoping to solve.

So to avoid any potential headaches and hassles down the line, let's take a deep dive into hiring virtual assistants (VAs) and in-house employees, and what it could mean for your business.

What is an employee?

A full-time employee is a permanent member of staff that works for your business on a regular basis. They are typically contracted for a minimum of 35 hours per week to perform specific tasks and duties that support business operations, and will traditionally be physically present in the workplace during some or all of their working hours.

As well as set working hours, they are paid a set monthly or hourly rate. Full-time employees are also usually entitled to benefits such as health insurance, vacation days, and other incentives.

What is a virtual assistant?

A virtual assistant (VA) is a remote professional who provides administrative, executive, or personal support to business owners to help them save time and focus on core tasks that lead to growth. Similar to an in-house assistant, VAs can provide a wide range of services such as managing calendars and emails, editing and formatting documents, travel planning, research, data entry, customer service, and social media management.

As virtual assistants are independent contractors that work from home, they are able to work to a more flexible schedule without the overhead expenses associated with hiring an employee.

The benefits of hiring in-house

Let's start by exploring some of the benefits of hiring full-time team members for your business.

Familiarity

Working full-time hours in your business means a high level of exposure to all its inner workings. As a result, you can expect these employees will gain a deeper knowledge and understanding of your company's culture, procedures, and policies.

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Visibility

A business generally has a greater level of control over work that is done by in-house employees than it would over an external contractor. It’s easier to monitor task progress with employees you see every day in the office or communicate with regularly.

The challenges of hiring in-house

Expanding your team can be an exciting prospect for any business owner, but the truth is the complexity, cost, and commitment that comes with hiring an employee is often much higher than we anticipated.

Here’s everything I wish I’d known before taking the plunge.

Complexity

Although it seems like more hands on deck to support you should make life easier, it can take up a lot more time and effort than you’d expect. Not to mention, open the door to a whole host of new stresses that you might not have had previously.

When you bring people into your business, your role will have to evolve to accommodate this change. You may need to take on different responsibilities and develop new skills so you can manage, motivate, and meet the needs of others. You'll need to make sure you have the right strategies in place for helping your team reach their highest potential and achieve your shared goals.

With only so many hours in a day and a full laundry list of other responsibilities as the head of your business, it’s a tricky balancing act to make sure you’re giving everything and everyone the attention they need.

Cost

Hiring full-time employees in a small business can be an expensive decision to make.

Before they even step through the front door on their first day, you have to make sure you provide them with everything they need. This usually includes equipment, supplies, and, of course, suitable space for them to work—the latter being the second-largest overall expense and the single-largest fixed cost your business will accrue over time.

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And of course, we can’t forget salaries. Or health insurance. Or paid vacation time.

While your revenue may fluctuate from month to month, these overheads remain consistent. Salaries, bills, and rent still need to be paid even if sales dry up. And in the words of best-selling author Simon Sinek, “Leaders eat last”.

Commitment

Of course, full-time positions in your business mean that you’re in it for the long haul.

The time and effort it takes to make sure each new recruit is sufficiently trained, properly integrated into your company's culture, and has everything they need to perform their job to a high standard isn’t just an initial upfront investment, it’s a never-ending process.

Just as overhead costs need to be paid each month, you need to make sure your employees have a well-balanced workload to fill their contracted hours. Another issue that many business owners face with quiet periods is the challenge of coming up with creative ways to keep their team busy when business is slow. Having staff wait around for something to do is not only unproductive, but it's also a huge waste of resources.

The benefits of hiring a virtual assistant

Next, let's explore the advantages of hiring virtual assistants.

Cost-effective

It goes without saying that to run a lasting, profitable venture, you need to keep your overhead costs low.

Many small business owners find it difficult to justify the expense of hiring an extra set of hands, especially when they don’t need that much support. And they’re not wrong. If you're hiring someone for eight hours a day, that's a significant chunk of your budget that you'll need to consider.

So when you compare the hourly rates of a virtual assistant and a full-time employee, at first glance it looks like you’d fork out less by hiring an employee. But the difference is that you only pay for a VA’s productive time completing your tasks, as little or as much as you need.

Using the example from recent reports that the average full-time employee is productive for 2 hours and 58 minutes each day, what could set you back around $200 to pay a full-time assistant would only cost you $106.92 for the same amount of productive time with a VA.

And remember, it's not just salary costs you save on. When you include the costs of recruitment, employee benefits, office supplies, and equipment, hiring a virtual assistant could be up to 90% cheaper than a full-time employee.

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Flexibility

The needs and demands of a business can change considerably month-on-month and year-on-year, especially during periods of growth.

Hiring VAs through a fully-managed service usually means their services are provided through monthly packages or subscriptions, which are based on the amount of support that's needed. If you're having a busy month, you can easily scale up. If you're going through a quiet month and work is thinner on the ground than usual, you can easily reduce your monthly support. Or alternatively, services like Time etc offer plans that allow your unused hours to roll over into the following month so you don't lose out—which could come in handy when business picks up again!

Initially, you may hire a virtual assistant for a specific purpose, like scheduling and email management. But if you reach the point where you need to offload more tasks (expenses and invoicing, for example) to reclaim more time, you can add additional assistants to your team at no extra cost.

At larger companies, employees taking time off work is no big deal. Other team members can cover for each other until they return, and typically everything runs smoothly. However, for more fledgling companies or businesses with smaller teams, this may be easier said than done. Even a few days without cover could have a big impact.

But hiring a virtual assistant through a fully-managed service means you’ll never have to worry about this again. You'll have a dedicated account manager who will make sure your tasks are always covered, so in the event that your virtual assistant takes a vacation, arrangements will be made for another suitable assistant to fill in for them during their absence.

Access to a wider talent pool

Recruiting for a full-time, in-house position usually requires making a decision based on the talent that’s currently available within a commutable distance from your business. And depending on your location or industry, this may shrink your options down even further.

But due to their remote nature, hiring a virtual assistant means you don’t have to be limited by your location when it comes to finding the most suitable candidate. You have access to a much greater pool of skilled candidates, which means you’ll be more likely to find the best fit for your needs.

The challenges of hiring virtual assistants

If you're looking to dive in head first and take advantage of all the benefits that virtual assistants offer, you'll need to be mindful of all the factors that could seriously hamper your experience.

Here are the main issues that you might run into if you don't consider your options carefully.

Communication

When all they need is an internet connection, you can hire a virtual assistant from pretty much anywhere in the world. To reduce costs even further, many business owners turn to the competitively-priced Asian markets for their outsourcing needs, as you can expect to pay between $3-$10 per hour for VAs in countries such as the Philippines, India, and Malaysia.

However, many find that these cheaper prices can come at the cost of effective communication—both in terms of language barriers and time zone differences. Delayed responses can affect project progress, and misunderstandings can impact the quality of work delivered.

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Quality assurance

There are a number of online platforms with vast global communities of remote-working professionals available for short or long-term work, which means you'll never be short of options.

The unfortunate reality is that quantity doesn't always mean quality, as some platforms will have tighter screening processes than others. Not only that, but the competitive nature of these online marketplaces means that it’s common for these remote workers to mass-apply for multiple jobs per day using the same generic template and without reading the job description. This can make it tough, not to mention time-consuming, to separate the wheat from the chaff and find a suitable candidate.


The good news, however, is that premium, fully-managed virtual assistance services can help you avoid both of these challenges. These services are very selective regarding the assistants they bring on board, so you can be confident that any assistant you work with meets their high standards of skills, experience, and professionalism. Plus, they take the most time-consuming elements of the hiring process off your plate, so you can focus on growing your business instead of trawling through stacks of resumes and searching through endless pages of listings.


Virtual assistant vs. employee: Making your choice

There’s certainly no denying that hiring full-time staff is inevitable for most businesses, and being able to provide talented people with a great place to work and a fulfilling career is one of the hugely rewarding aspects of being a business owner.

But before taking such a significant step in your business, it's crucial to remember that finding suitable, qualified individuals to hire is only part of the equation. With a competitive job market and the increasing costs of benefits, salaries, and office space, you need to be absolutely sure you're prepared to take on such a large responsibility. Not just financially, but mentally, too.

In today's digital age, there are many alternatives to traditional in-house employees that can give you the support you need while keeping costs down.

It's also worth bearing in mind that the two options are not mutually exclusive—hiring one doesn't mean you have to forsake the other. In fact, many business owners benefit from having both in-person and virtual support (myself included!).

For example, if you or your team are stretched thin but you can't justify bringing another full-time member on board, a virtual assistant can take on almost any recurring tasks that don’t require their physical presence. This flexible support could be the perfect solution for a less stressed and more productive workforce.

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Ready to get started?

If you’re ready to start getting more done each day without compromising on the things that matter, Time etc is here for you.

With over 15 years of experience in helping over 22,000 business owners reclaim valuable time, a vast talent pool of virtual professionals, and a lifetime happiness guarantee for all our users, we're committed to helping you reach your goals and unlock your full potential.

We know your time is precious, which is why you won’t need to do any of the heavy lifting. Our virtual assistants must pass a rigorous 10-stage process to join us, and we carefully match you with an assistant based on the skills, experience, and even personality traits you need.

Speak to our team to get started, and we'll set you up with a dedicated virtual assistant to help you achieve more, do more, and earn more in your business.

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About the author

Barnaby
Barnaby Lashbrooke is the founder and CEO of Virtual Assistant service Time etc as well as the author of The Hard Work Myth, recently recommended by Sir Richard Branson. Barnaby is a Forbes Columnist on productivity and is also an accomplished entrepreneur, selling more than $35 million worth of services.

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