How Virtual Assistants Can Save Time and Help Grow Your Architecture or Contracting Business
Virtual assistants are contractors and freelancers who work remotely.
They can take several online jobs—from organizing your calendar, to answering potential clients queries, to writing blog articles, and posting on social media.
They can either have a specialized skill set (i.e. Facebook ads) or can be a general virtual assistant: a “jack/jane-of-all-trades”, meaning they can help you with just about any online task that you can train them in.
It can be tough to identify when you should transition from doing everything yourself to hiring a virtual assistant, so before you keep reading this article—let’s assess whether a virtual assistant would be helpful to you and your business.
Answer: Yes or no?
- Do you work long hours on a regular basis?
- Are you losing clients and potential leads because you can’t respond to emails in a timely manner?
- Do you feel overwhelmed by the amount you have to do at times?
- Are there things you are not doing, that you should be doing?
- Do you need more leisure time to create a better work/life balance?
- Do you spend more than 10 hours a week on tasks that could be categorized as “admin”?
- Do you spend over an hour a week doing repetitive tasks?
- Do you feel like you end up doing tasks you don’t really like to do?
If you answered “yes” to any of the questions above? You should consider getting some help.
Who are VAs and How Can They Help?
When you think about a virtual assistant, what do you imagine?
It is tough to define precisely who virtual assistants are, because they come from all walks of life, from all different countries, and have an expansive breadth of experience.
Take these 3 examples:
- Claudette went to school to be an architect, but couldn’t finish her studies, because her mother got sick and she had to return home to take care of her. Now, she cares for her mother, and also has a lot of free time at home. She has a superb working knowledge of the architecture industry, and has the related skills, yet needs to be able to work remotely with flexibility in case there is an emergency.
- Pat was a contractor for 15 years, but after a work accident injured his back, he is now unable to continue working on job sites. He has a ton of industry knowledge and know-how, with an excellent eye for detail, yet needs to be at home because of his injury.
- Alya lives in the Philippines with her husband and her parents. She has been working for the past 4 years as an executive virtual assistant for an entrepreneur in Portland, Oregon and has learned how to do everything from project management, to ordering merchandise and supplies, to managing the updates for 3 websites. Recently, the entrepreneur has decided to retire, and now Alya is ready to find something new.
Don’t be restricted by thinking that VAs are basic or have limited skills.
You could find someone who can essentially do the work of an architect, or contractor, or non-virtual assistant, however for whatever reason; they need to to be able to work from home or remotely.
5 ways virtual assistants can help you build your business
1. Manage your time better
Spend less time doing repetitive admin tasks you don’t like, and more time doing the tasks that are essential for building your business.
Virtual assistants can help you organize your day-to-day and take care of all the non-essential tasks so you can focus on the bigger picture.
More time will also help you manage your work/life balance, giving you more time to spend with family and friends, while still growing your business successfully.
2. Reduce your costs
Let’s say you spend 10 hours each week on emailing, bookkeeping, and sending and requesting quotes.
If your rate is $65, this works out to $650 a week you are spending on these tasks.
Now, say you find a great virtual assistant for $10/hr, and they take over the tasks, and it costs you $100 a week. It will save you $550 a week, or a massive $28,600 a year.
Plus, you’ll be saving an arm and a leg in taxes and benefits. As the VAs are general freelancers—their benefits and taxes are their responsibility. Eliminating these costs can drastically reduce your overheads and increase your profitability.
3. Utilize your skills better
As an architect or contractor, you have a set of highly specialized skills. Why are you wasting hours each weeks sending emails and invoices?
If it is not essential and does not require your specific set of skills—you shouldn’t be doing it.
It is your company. It would be best if you were making sure that you are adding value to the business in a way that only you can. Admin work can be delegated, whereas your specific skills and creativity? That’s non-transferable.
4. Offer better customer service
The moment you start losing a potential client because you couldn’t keep up with your email, you need to hire help. Losing potential clients and exasperating existing clients isn’t an option if you want to grow your business.
What if you could promise each client and potential client that you will always get back to them within 24hrs? It shows you are dependable, organized, and have their needs at the forefront of your mind.
If a potential client emails you and doesn’t hear back for a week, because you have just been slammed with a hundred other things to do, it makes you look bad. Virtual assistants can make sure that you are serving your clients in a timely way that leaves a positive impression.
5. Work on projects with their specialized expertise
You can hire virtual assistants who have complementary skill sets your business is lacking.
Imagine you’d like to add a new process to your business.
For example, you are going to start running some Google AdSense advertisements.
Now—let’s say you don’t actually know anything about Google AdSense, which is complicated at best. You have to have a pretty good working knowledge of how to use keywords, create custom audiences, and how to re-target your unique audiences.
You could spend 3 months teaching yourself Google AdSense: there are plenty of free resources, yet once again, we come down to the time factor.
Hiring someone who already has this skill set and experience will save you hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars, while allowing you to focus on areas that you already have skills in and enjoy more.
A comprehensive list of tasks you could delegate to a virtual assistant:
Small administration tasks can end up eating a ton of time.
If you spend 10 minutes on a task each day, by the end of the year you will spend roughly 43 hours on that task—that’s an entire work week on that one task.
While it needs to be done, if it is not essential for you to do them, hire a VA.
Here are some examples of how a VA can help with administrative tasks:
Meetings with contractors. Site visits with potential clients. Local networking events. Skype calls with collaborators and partners. Catch up meetings with the team. Your great Aunt Edna’s 93rd birthday. Keeping your calendar organized is essential.
If there are places you need be and people that you need to call, it’s best that these things do not overlap, and that you know where you are supposed to be when.
- Schedule and confirm appointments
- Book lunch/dinner reservations as needed
- Respond to emails about upcoming meetings
- Set up calls and take meeting notes
- Make travel arrangements on your behalf
- Remind you what is happening daily
Recording bills, invoices, and payments, logging receipts, and filing your taxes: bookkeeping is a time-consuming chore. Much like payroll, it is an area where you can’t afford to rush it or make mistakes.
The level which your VA can help will most likely be reliant on their experience. If this is a task you are going to want a lot of help with, look for someone who has accounting experience and knowledge of your local laws.
Either way, most VAs can help with:
- Sending and following up on invoices
- Paying invoices
- Cost tracking
- Updating income/outgoing expenses into your financial program/platform or spreadsheets
Has a client just hired you to build a new office in Berlin? Attending the Chicago Architecture Biennial Conference? Offering a talk in about Green Architecture to a group of students from the University of Toronto?
While travelling for work is exciting and fantastic for building your brand and credibility, it can be a hassle to plan. You need to make sure you have the best price on a flight, that your Airbnb or hotel has WiFi, that there is a shuttle to and from the airport, or that you will be able to pick up and drop off your rental car easily in accordance to your flight times. It can add up to hours of planning.
VAs can help:
- Research the cheapest flight for the date and times you need, and keep checking back in for price drops
- Book hotels or Airbnbs that are near the location which meet all your requirements
- Adhere to budgets for your bookings
- Check for transportation options, book shuttles or rental cars
- Update your calendar, and remind you about travel times and relevant information (like meeting or conference addresses and times) before you leave
- Log your expenses
There are so many little tasks and projects that can end up eating your time when you run your own architecture business—from ordering more drafting paper and lightbulbs to keeping your files organized in your Google Drive, DropBox or iCloud.
If there is a task that you have to do repetitively, and it takes longer than 10 minutes to do, consider hiring a VA.
Here are some ideas:
- Order office supplies (including snacks and coffee)
- Organize mail out packages and arrange for specific postal pickups and delivery times
- Maintain a digital design library of architectural samples
- Create, update and run reports and tracking logs
- Manage the internal office and project-related online filing systems, such as documents on your cloud platform (e.g. Google Drive)
Imagine you are working on a new design for a client. You are just getting into the flow of ideas. Then, all of a sudden your smartphone pings. It’s an email from a client. You open it up, and think “Oh, I will quickly answer this.” It ends up taking you 30 minutes, and by then you’ve lost your flow.
You can’t afford to simply ignore the emails and calls. At the same time, what you wouldn’t give for a few hours of quiet, uninterrupted focus!
You could turn your smartphone off for a few hours, although this could make you look unresponsive to your clients. Asking a VA to manage your communication is a win-win. You look ultra-responsive and have the quiet, uninterrupted time you need to get creative.
Have your VA handle all of your emails. Instead of you getting interrupted, everything goes to your VA, and if there is something incredibly urgent, they will let you know. On a daily basis, they can flag urgent items, prioritize which emails as essential for you to answer, then answer anything that is not essential. Even having someone delete the spam or endless newsletters from your inbox will shave minutes off each day and hours each month.
- Prioritize your inbox and let you know what is urgent/essential
- Answer client queries and frequently asked questions
- Add meeting dates and deadlines in your calendar
- Keep your inbox organized: deleting unessential emails, filing emails into folders, and keeping the inbox clean and orderly
Answering the phone
Have calls forwarded to your VA. There is a reason many professionals have secretaries and assistants—answering every call can be time-consuming and draw your focus away from the tasks at hand.
Have you ever been to a meeting on-site with a client who gets a new call every few minutes?
Each time, she says, “Hold on, just let me get this.” The 20-minute meeting you were supposed to have has just turned into an hour. It can come off feeling like they are unfocused and disrespectful of your time.
Your clients likely feel the same way.
You could turn off your phone, but what if there is an emergency? The VA can help catch all the calls and pull you in only when it’s essential.
- Answer all your calls
- Patch them through to you when it is an emergency or essential
- Take messages for you and prioritize your callbacks
- Offer customer service to clients and potential clients
From looking up different supplier’s material prices to staying on top of current architecture trends, the amount of time spent online reading can be drastically reduced with the help of a VA.
Let’s say you have a potential client who would like to see a proposal for a new bus terminal for an emerging small town 3 states over. You could ask your VA to create a report which includes information about the town, site information, insights about the population, and new transportation trends. You could take that information and design a proposal that fits the needs of the client specifically, instead of just winging it.
Projects VAs can help research:
- Price comparisons for supplies and services
- Potential new client leads
- What your direct competitors are doing, from prices to social media activity.
- Industry trends
- Research for blog articles you want to write
- Social media content you can share with your audience (e.g. new articles, funny memes, industry developments)
4. Marketing and online presence
Marketing is an area which either:
a) takes up a lot of time
b) doesn’t get done
Neither are superb options for your architecture business.
Marketing is essential for gaining potential client leads and building the credibility up for your architecture business. However, often it gets put on the backburner or is a focus for a short time, and then gets forgotten about.
For example, let’s say you read our recent article “Architects and contractors: How content marketing can help you get new clients” and decide that you would start a blog. In the first two weeks, you wrote 4 articles and were gung ho on creating great content for future clients.
Then a big project came along, and monopolized the majority of your time. You haven’t posted anything in two weeks, let alone logged on to social media to try and connect with your audience and share your articles.
Wouldn’t it be ideal if you could work on it when you had the time, and then when you got busy, someone else could manage it?
Guess what I am going to say next….VAs to the rescue!
Blog posting can be time-consuming. Researching, writing, formatting, finding and uploading photos, posting to your website, and answering comments, can end up taking a few hours.
Now, what if you could cut that by a fraction of the time? And post more frequently?
VAs can help:
- Research the content for the article
- Add introductions and conclusions to the article
- Find, create, or format the appropriate images
- Format the article with headings and bulleted lists
- Post the article on the website and make sure the SEO is strong
- Respond to comments on the articles
Social media management
From handling comments and questions, to regularly sharing photo updates on your project’s progression, to posting your blog articles, to sharing funny memes and industry articles from around the web—your VA can manage the day-to-day, and you can swoop in when you’ve got some spare time.
While it is best to have a clear overarching strategy, VAs can post content that you’ve created, create graphics to go along with posts, interact with your audience by replying to comments and messages, and research external content to share.
VAs can help:
- Check and reply to online reviews of your company
- Post photos of how your latest project is progressing
- Post before and after photos
- Share new and older articles from your blog
- Posts great content, like recent articles, industry trends and reports, videos and memes from around the web
- Reply to comments and DMs, or prioritize them for you to reply to
5. Advanced Tasks
You can hire VAs with specialized skills to help you with some of the more advanced tasks that take up a lot of time, here are two examples:
Updating your websites require some expertise, and can be very time consuming if you are not an expert on web design or development. Having a VA either maintain the website for you, or take on the project of hiring and managing a professional, can take a lot of the weight off of your shoulders, while making sure that when a potential client clicks on your website, they see you at your best.
Things like logo creation, social media images, pamphlets and portfolios can also be assigned to a VA with design skills. You could even hire a VA with more advanced skills, they can even help you with your architecture projects.
Take for example furniture design. While you work on the room, they can research specific local materials, designer furniture suppliers, or even create the furniture designs themselves.
Even if they only help you with one or two of the above tasks, imagine how much time you will save each week. That is time you could spend thinking about your business on a higher level, working on new projects, or taking some much needed time with friends and family.
Ready to Hire a VA?
Once you find the right VA who meets your business’ needs, they can transform how you work and save you loads of time, making your work easier and more enjoyable.
But how do you go about hiring one?
How much should you spend on VA?
What are the best online platforms for to finding and hiring VAs?
Are there specific questions to ask them in the interview?
What are the red flags you should watch out for?
The idea of hiring a VA for the first time might make you nervous—so we’ve created a full guide on how to hire a VA which will answer all of the above questions.
Not Sure You Are Ready Yet?
If you are not sure you are ready yet—that’s ok too. Each business grow at a different rate, and maybe your business simply isn’t there yet.
That being said, there are a lot of ways you can bring in some extra help on a temporary basis. You can hire one-off contractors and freelancers to help periodically with different projects and tasks.
We’d suggest trying out hiring a freelancer for a one-off, small scale project, such as hiring an SEO analyst to create a report about the online presence of your business, or a researcher to help you come up with a list of potential leads in your area.
Once you begin to see how hiring outside freelancers can help, it will open you up to new ideas of how to grow your business.
To sum up
Virtual assistants can help you manage your time better, improve your customer service, reduce your costs, help you with specific projects where you lack the skill set, and free up your time so you can focus on the big picture.
While you likely have the skills to do the administrative and specialized tasks from the list above—hiring a VA is more about saving you time so you can scale your business.
At some point in your business’ growth, it will become essential to start working smarter rather than more. Investing in a VA can be the perfect transition from running a solo or very small team, into a growing, thriving, large-scale business.
Additional articles on Saving Time and Scaling your Business
- 11 Tips that made me an Insanely Productive Person
- Work ON your business, not IN your business
- Stop Managing and Learn How to Delegate
- Done is better than perfect – also for architects!
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