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Virtual Assistant Vs. Executive Assistant: Who Should You Hire To Help You Achieve More?


Barnaby Lashbrooke

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

12 minute read

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Running a business is a complex process. It's no wonder that just 25% of startups survive beyond 15 years. Having the right people in your corner is key to staying successful over time. One especially important role you need to fill is that of an assistant, who can help manage some of your day-to-day operations so you can focus on the big picture.

But which type of assistant should you hire—a virtual assistant or a traditional executive assistant? Here, we'll look into the main differences between each, as well as their respective benefits and considerations to make before making your decision.

Let's delve right in!

What Is A Virtual Assistant?

A virtual assistant (or VA for short) is an independent contractor providing professional support to clients from a remote location.

In an era where remote work is becoming more and more common, the VA profession has seen explosive growth in recent years. Currently, there are at least 40 million VAs globally, and the number will only keep growing as businesses discover the potential benefits of hiring this type of contractor.

What Is An Executive Assistant?

An executive assistant (EA) is an in-house professional typically hired by a company leader or C-suite executive to provide administrative and clerical support and streamline their daily operations.

While similar to positions such as administrative assistant and personal assistant, the support provided by executive assistants often includes a greater degree of tactical thinking and problem-solving abilities. Aside from being more experienced in comparison to these other roles, they are expected to take the initiative and display greater proactivity in resolving difficult situations.

What Does A Virtual Assistant Do?

Hiring virtual assistants can be a great way to free up more time for entrepreneurs struggling with the daily minutiae of running a business.

Handing over the more time-consuming and repetitive admin tasks from your workload gives you more opportunities to focus on more meaningful work that will help your business grow.

  • Email and inbox management - On average, around 28% of our workweek is spent reading and responding to emails, yet only 38% of emails in the average inbox are important or relevant. So that's at least 13 hours every week (or 81 full working days per year!) spent on completely reactive, low-value work. While email isn’t something you can completely eliminate from your day, a virtual assistant can review and tidy your inbox, flag and forward important emails, and even carry out actions or respond on your behalf with the right guidance.

  • Scheduling and calendar management - If you're finding it difficult to keep track of all the important dates in your business, a virtual assistant could be a huge help. They can manage your calendar, schedule appointments, and even organize your daily to-do list to make sure you don't miss any important deadlines.

  • Financial admin - Managing bills, expenses, invoices, and receipts is one of the most important parts of the day-to-day running of any business. It also, however, can be one of the most time-consuming. Virtual assistants can help save you the time, energy, and stress of keeping on top of it all yourself and ensuring that nothing falls through the cracks.

  • Data entry - According to recent surveys, knowledge workers can waste over 40% of their time on manual digital admin processes, and 76% of workers spend 1-3 hours per week simply moving data from one place to another. Handing these tasks over to a VA is one of the simplest ways to save yourself a good chunk of time (and frustration!) each week.
  • Research - No matter your industry, several important tasks will require some sort of research—from article writing, proposal drafting, and pitching services to clients, to analyzing your competition and creating new products. There’s no denying this needs to be done, but it doesn’t need to be done by you. Simply provide your virtual assistant with some criteria and guidelines and they can do the rest.

  • Social media management - Your assistant can also help with social media management by creating posts, scheduling posts, responding to messages or comments from followers, and more, ensuring that no opportunities are missed and that your business always remains visible in the digital world.

  • Email marketing - From writing copy and designing visual elements to preparing the email and scheduling it to be sent to your subscribers, a virtual assistant can take care of all the nitty-gritty details so you can focus on more important tasks. Not only that, but they can also manage your databases, create segments, and remove inactive subscribers, making sure your email list is always up-to-date.

  • Content creation - The importance of quality content for businesses cannot be overstated. Whether it's website copy, blog posts, or marketing materials, a skilled virtual assistant can help you create consistently compelling content. Some businesses also hire VAs to manage their websites, ensuring that all the content is up-to-date and accurate.

  • Customer service support - With competition in today's market being fierce, it is vital for businesses to prioritize customer service. Unfortunately, business owners don't always have the time to respond to customer inquiries or address any issues that may arise. Your VA can help by responding to customer emails, handling complaints, and providing support whenever needed.

What Does An Executive Assistant Do?

While many of their common tasks are similar to what a VA may perform, an executive assistant typically handles responsibilities such as:

  • Scheduling meetings and managing calendars - For any business owner or senior leader, time is your most valuable resource, and how you manage it can make or break your success. An executive assistant will essentially serve as the gatekeeper of your schedule, managing all aspects of how and where you spend your time each day to maximize your productivity as much as possible. Executive assistants may also coordinate the meetings and take minutes.

  • Screening incoming phone calls, visitors, and correspondence - Similar to managing your schedule, an executive assistant is often the first point of contact for anyone wishing to get in touch with you—helping you to avoid unnecessary interruptions and distractions.

  • Preparing documents and presentations - Rather than spend valuable time that could be spent on more impactful work, executive assistants can take charge of all the different elements involved with creating documents and presentations—collecting and analyzing information, transcribing, formatting, editing, inputting graphics, and more.

  • Managing general office admin - An executive assistant can help your office run smoothly by keeping track of office supplies, researching potential new products that may be beneficial for you and your team, placing orders as necessary, and ensuring all bills and expenses are stored efficiently.

  • Managing projects - Completing important projects on time is a necessity for success, and an executive assistant can help create well-structured timelines for your teams to follow, as well as ensure communication and work flow seamlessly between teams and provide updates on project progress as required.

  • Planning travel - As the gatekeeper of your schedule, an EA’s management of your time doesn’t begin and end at your office doors. As well as arranging flights, transport, and accommodation, an executive assistant can create a detailed itinerary so you always know where and when to be at any given time during your trip.

  • Planning and coordinating events - EAs can also help with the wide array of tasks that go into corporate event planning and coordination. This includes booking venues, ordering catering, managing guest lists, setting up decorations, and other services related to the event's success. They can also follow up with attendees after the event to thank them for attending.

What Are the Differences Between a VA and an Executive Assistant?

Given that so much of the task support offered by virtual assistant services is also offered by executive assistants, you may wonder which of the two is right for you. The best way to determine this is to examine the key differences between the two.

Consider the following:

1. Location

As the name suggests, virtual assistants offer their services remotely. That means when you outsource to a virtual assistant, it’s unlikely that you’ll ever meet in person. On the other hand, executive assistants typically spend their working hours on-site in close proximity to their employer, although it is possible to hire a remote executive assistant.

The remote nature of their work can be particularly beneficial when it comes to finding the right VA for your needs. You gain access to a much larger talent pool. That means you can find top-notch professionals without too much hassle, especially when you let a premium virtual assistant service handle it for you.

With an EA, however, you’ll be more likely to have to source and interview qualified candidates from those available in your company’s local area, which may reduce your options significantly.

2. Cost

Another significant difference between executive and virtual assistants is the cost to bring them on board.

According to Payscale, the average annual salary of a CEO’s executive assistant currently stands at $66,838, or roughly $32 per hour. When you consider the hourly rate of a virtual assistant ($36 per hour at Time etc), it would seem that an executive assistant would be the most cost-effective option.

However, the average annual cost of working with a VA is $7,224—around 90% less than what you’d have to pay for an EA’s salary.

How is this possible?

The answer 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 that the average full-time employee is productive for 2 hours and 58 minutes each day, what would set you back $257 to pay an executive assistant would only cost $106.92 for the same amount of productive time with a virtual assistant.

And it’s not just salary costs you can save on. Working with a VA means you don’t have to worry about any costs associated with health insurance, vacation days, office space and equipment, or any other employee benefits.

3. Scope of Work

While there is considerable overlap between the tasks that virtual and executive assistants can perform, you’re more likely to find that virtual assistants can handle a more general range of tasks, whereas most executive assistants’ responsibilities are centered around communication and organization.

For almost any back-office professional task that doesn’t require your specific expertise and already has established processes in place, you’re bound to find an experienced VA who can handle it. This can include social media management and blog writing, which an executive assistant may not be skilled or experienced in.

Furthermore, because EAs spend all their working hours being your full-time assistant, they are more likely to develop a broader knowledge and understanding of your business and its operations. With this in mind, EAs can be expected to undertake more complex tasks involving a greater degree of strategic planning, problem-solving, and decision-making within an organization.

4. Flexibility

For any growing business, hiring a full-time, in-house assistant can be a big commitment—especially when the needs and demands of any organization can change significantly month-on-month and year-on-year.

One of the main advantages of hiring VAs through a fully-managed service is that their support is provided through monthly packages or subscriptions based on how much support you need.

Not only that, but let’s say you hired a VA for a specific purpose, like scheduling and email management, and you soon found yourself needing to offload other specialized tasks (invoicing, for example) to save even more time. The good news is that with services like Time etc, you can add additional assistants to your virtual team at no extra cost. Many business owners find that hiring a portion of someone’s full skill set to match specific tasks is usually more effective than hiring the full package (of a full-time employee) for the same task, where the rest of their skill set may not be put to use.

And if full-time employees at larger companies take time off work it’s usually no big deal as their coworkers can cover for them until they return. But for more fledgling companies or businesses with smaller teams, even a few days without cover could have a big impact on productivity. So if your VA takes a vacation, the Time etc team will arrange for another suitable assistant to fill in for them during their absence. This way, your tasks are always covered and nothing falls behind.

5. Communication

Given that they work remotely, VAs rely heavily on technology such as email and video conferencing to keep in touch and coordinate their work.

On the other hand, there is usually much more frequent communication between in-house EAs and those they support, and more opportunities to speak face-to-face. Whether it’s in person in the office or through Slack or Microsoft Teams when working remotely, full-time team members are likely to always be on hand whenever the situation calls for it.

Who Should You Hire For Your Business?

Individuals with hectic and more intense schedules, more immediate and ad-hoc tasks in their workloads, and prefer a more direct approach to communication may benefit more from the full-time support of an executive assistant.

But when considering the costs involved in bringing a new member of staff on board, many business owners will find it difficult to justify such an investment for what may only be a few hours of support each week (and rightly so). For those who are in need of a more budget-friendly and flexible option, virtual assistant services could be just what you need.

Time To Take Your Business To The Next Level?

If you’re ready to start getting more done each day without compromising on the things that matter, Time etc is here for you. Our mission is to help hardworking and ambitious entrepreneurs take back control of their time by matching them with the best virtual assistants for their needs.

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 our expert team will 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 professional that’s ready to tackle those tedious and time-consuming tasks that are holding you back.

Or try a skilled virtual assistant for free today!

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About the author

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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