I’ve known about the concept of a virtual assistant for a while, but for some reason, I put off trying one for long time. Recently reading Timothy Ferriss’s book The 4-Hour Workweek inspired me to change my course of inaction. I decided to create an account at oDesk, a site I had read great things about. I posted a job to outline a technical document for a course that I teach.

Within hours, six VAs had bid on the job. I hired the one that seemed like the best fit (an undergrad biomedical student). The finished outline was in my inbox the next morning. Encouraged, I gave him a small raise and three more similar jobs. He finished those within the next day.

I’m so pleased with my experience that I’m actually a little pissed. Why haven’t I tried this before? The cost of the VA is just a minuscule fraction of the revenue I receive for teaching the course. What’s more, he saved me at least two weeks since I only do this particular “job” part time.

By not outsourcing work that someone else could do much more cheaply and efficiently, I had grossly misallocated my own resources.

Why VAs really make sense

As long as that red circle exists and you can cheaply outsource things outside of it, you should strongly consider outsourcing those things to a VA. Why? Because:

  • It maximizes the attention you give to tasks things that really need your attention
  • There are people that can do certain things better than you (for less). Don’t sulk about this; use it to your advantage.
  • You can create and customize a tiny or large “workforce” quickly
  • Your project gets done faster and more efficiently
  • You get better at identifying opportunities for delegation
  • You shed the ankle weights of a DIY-only attitude
  • It creates work for people willing to do the work

Best of all: You get better at understanding your own personal value. Delegating work to a VA forces you to think in terms of your value per hour. That’s a useful perspective whether you’re a corporate cubicle worker or high-dollar consultant.

What can a VA do for me?

From web and software development to administrative support to marketing, there’s a VA for just about anything you can imagine that doesn’t require someone being physically present. That’s a lot these days. Probably more than you realize.

Even if you aren't doing this for "work" reasons...

You can profit from hiring a VA even if you're not working a project that generates revenue. For example, you could hire a VA to research travel deals for your next summer vacation.  He or she could cheaply work by the hour to hunt deals using using search engines, calling hotels, searching Twitter, reading message boards, and more while you're at your day job, home with family, or sleeping.

Suppose you end up paying a VA $50 to find you a deal that saves you $1000 or more on your next big trip? A penny saved, folks.

Getting starting with VAs

These are some good resources:

Can you be a VA?

Sure. I can’t think of a better way to get your foot in the door as a contractor. If you do something well and want to sell your services, then just jump in. If you look through contractor listings at any major VA site, you'll see people from all kinds of backgrounds.

Feel free to share your own experiences hiring a VA or working as one.