With as many as 50 percent of small businesses failing in the first five years, making smart decisions and leveraging the best technology is essential for survival. Digital transformation is key to success, and this means making the best use of the new technologies available. This may mean choosing to outsource tasks that can be taken on by external staff. Both of these can lead to financial savings and improved efficiency, freeing up company staff to focus on the business core and drive future growth. One tool that can potentially provide these benefits is the virtual assistant.
What is a virtual assistant?
Since the nineties, virtual assistants have provided support services to businesses. Along with many other tasks that can be performed remotely, virtual assistants offer the benefits of cost cutting, streamlining business functions and increasing efficiency, along with other advantages. In addition to the various tasks outsourced by large corporations, SMEs benefit from utilising an external IT support company, specialists in social media marketing, human resources or payroll.
Virtual assistants can perform administrative tasks, but they can also take on many of the roles of support staff such as bookkeeping, marketing or web design. Individual virtual assistants can specialise in certain areas or industries, such as a real estate virtual assistant.
As a growing industry, virtual assistants run their own businesses or use freelance sites, such as Upwork. They may be full human and able to offer communication and functions at a human level, or they may be fully automated and provide assistant services with the help of advanced machine learning, and at a much lower cost. Another option is concierge hybrid, in which human performance is digitally augmented.
Considerations in choosing a VA will probably come down to the price of the plans, the types of services and specialisations offered, and the particular features provided. Location may be a factor, although many virtual assistant services provide round-the-clock coverage, seven days a week.
Belay is a US-based virtual assistant company that matches clients with university educated professionals. It’s aimed at a variety of businesses based in North America and has a simple application process for new clients. Services include social media marketing, email management, scheduling, editing and proofreading, and client and team member coordination. For a minimum of 10 hours per week and a maximum of 40, pricing ranges between $38 and $43 per hour.
Based in India, MyTasker is aimed at businesses of all sizes and offers skilled 24/7 virtual assistants. Each VA offers different services in administration, digital marketing, web development, writing and editing, or IT support. Task progress can be tracked within a special portal. MyTasker has a minimum of 10 hours, which is priced at $140 per month.
Task Firm is a London-based VA company that provides on-demand services in administration, finance, marketing and sales. It’s aimed at micro-businesses and entrepreneurs, the bulk of which are currently tech startups. Task Firm is ideal for providing efficient support as and when it’s needed. Packages start from five hours for £89 or 10 hours for £159.
Another US-based VA company, Prialto is focussed on providing support for executives. Support is team based and includes a team project manager, as well as being highly specialised and educated. Services include email management, travel arrangements, scheduling, expense reporting, CRM and customer service. Pricing starts from $1,200 per month.
With university educated and experienced professional virtual assistants, Time Etc is UK and US-based, mainly serving clients in these two countries. Assistants are matched for clients and best for long-term relationships. Services provided are in administration, customer service, marketing, sales, accounting, bookkeeping and recruiting. Pricing ranges from between $22 and $26 per hour, or $78 per month for three hours.
24/7 Virtual Assistant
With offices in both Atlanta, Georgia and India, 24/7 Virtual Assistant is aimed at small businesses around the world. With a range of services that include web research, human resources and real estate, the company provides for the specific needs of businesses in various fields. Plans start from $359 for 20 hours per month.
For those looking for assistant services on a limited budget, Google Assistant can run on various devices in the office. Services include answering queries on locations, the weather or flight status, and providing translation services. Schedules, reservations and reminders can be managed. It can also control lighting, thermostats, and play music at your command. Google Assistant comes free with a smart speaker, with Nest Mini priced at $49.99.
The digital personal assistant from Microsoft is Cortana, and works across various devices, such as Cortana Home or Cortana Notebook. Cortana provides personalised assistance, calendar, reminders that can be activated by specific times, locations or photos, web search and video games.
Mycroft AI provides natural language processing, as well as speech-to-text and text-to-speech technology. This results in a unique conversational experience, which can also be customised to specific requirements. The AI platform is open-source software that can be applied to an unlimited range of devices. The technology can be used to collaborate or share ideas for projects, as well as providing recording, messaging and reminder functions.
Nina is an intelligent, automated virtual assistant used for customer self-service for businesses. It enables conversations that come very close to human interaction. Complex queries can be understood and natural conversations can be held. Nina is an app that can be integrated into customer service platforms, and it can process all customer data in order to deliver a consistent message for the company.
In addition to cutting costs and improving efficiency and productivity, virtual assistants can enhance the overall quality of business functions by improving accuracy and removing the possibility of error. Whether human or digital, outsourced VAs can provide a range of specialised services that can be efficiently managed. For businesses of all types and sizes, a virtual assistant service could make a significant difference to the bottom line.