What’s a VA? Let’s get it right!

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On 10 November 2007 the Spectrum section of the Sydney Morning Herald re-ran an article by UK-based Sandy Mitchell (which also ran in the London Telegraph) titled “With a Virtual Assistant You Can Outsource Your Life“.This misrepresentation of virtual assistants prompted a letter from me to the Editor of the SMH which has not as yet been published, but I have included a copy for information of readers:

Dear Editor,

I was alerted to an article appearing in the SMH on 10 November in the Spectrum Section titled “With a virtual assistant you can outsource your life” which was reproduced from the London Telegraph.

I am a virtual assistant and have been in private practice since February 2000. I have clients across Australia, in the UK and on both coasts of the USA. I am Australia’s first certified Master Virtual Assistant, an EthicsChecked VA, Accredited Secretary Online and Certified Australian Virtual Business. I was a 2006 Thomas Leonard International VA of Distinction award nominee and winner of the 2007 Quest Business Achievers Award in the Professional Services Category. I am on the steering committee for the Online International Virtual Assistant Convention which takes place in May each year, and also on an international committee looking at standards for the Virtual Assistant Industry.

Why am I telling you all this? To give credibility to my assertion that the writer’s use of the term ‘virtual assistant’ is misleading to say the least.

It should be noted that the organisations the writer refers to are NOT virtual assistants but companies located in cheap labour rate countries like India and the Philippines. A Virtual Assistant is an independent business owner who has transitioned years of experience in corporate settings in personal assistant or executive assistant roles, and who brings to the business relationship exceptional skills in software use, technical savvy and business acumen. They contract with clients around the world utilising latest technology to meet client outcomes.

Secondly, the article does not point out that the medical profession in the UK utilised the services of Indian transcription companies who put themselves forward as professional virtual assistants and wound up facing legal issues when patients were being prescribed incorrect medications and incorrect dosages of medications because of the difficulty with the language the transcriptionists had.

Third, guru.com is generally not where you’ll find professional virtual assistants, but what are referred to as “newbies” – people who are in the very early stages of starting their practice and are looking to “cut their teeth” on people just like Sandy Mitchell – or students who are looking to earn a bit of extra income while they’re studying. That is fine for the type of work he is talking about but to present it as a place where you’ll find professional VAs is misguided. There are very few professional virtual assistants who find their work on guru.com.

If businesses wish to partner with a professional virtual assistant, there are many of them right here in Australia who can provide profound cost savings over hiring temp staff or even of employing on-site staff. (See attached articles) It’s not going to cost them $5/hour but they can be assured of getting their work completed professionally, on time, and right the first time without the need to have a second person proof work for accuracy. It is also important to note that when dealing with a professional virtual assistant the client does not set the rate. The VA does. They are after all a contractor not an employee – you don’t hire a plumber then tell them how much you intend to pay them to fix your leaking taps.

The Australian Virtual Business Network (www.avbn.com.au) has members who have been pre-screened and skills-tested to ensure that they meet certain levels of skill, professionalism and ethics and is Australia’s only source of prequalified virtual businesses.

It may well be fine for someone like Sandy Mitchell who is outsourcing his PRIVATE tasks to Bangalore-based companies, but anyone considering a virtual assistant for their business should make sure that they source a professional who fits the criteria for being a Virtual Assistant. There are many benefits to be had – and lots of clients around the country and around the world are finding out about these benefits every day – but for businesses serious about outsourcing work to a VA, my advice is to look closer to home where we have high quality, professional VAs who will save your business money but still provide high-level, professional service – and whose business it is to make you look good.

If you are interested in further information on virtual assistants – or would like to perhaps run an article on what Australia has to offer – I would be pleased to speak to a journalist and can be contacted on the numbers below or via email.

Warm regards
Lyn Prowse-Bishop, MVA, ASO, CAVB
Executive Stress Office Support (eSOS)

It is so important that any business planning on partnering with a virtual assistant understand exactly what a VA is (as defined above). These sorts of articles do nothing to promote professional VAs.

©Lyn Prowse-Bishop, http://www.execstress.com

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