Virtual Assistants Versus Personal Assistants: What You Need to Know

virtual assistant vs personal assistant

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Deciding whether to hire a personal assistant (PA) or contract a virtual assistant (VA) is something many leaders agonize over. Making the wrong choice can have a significant impact on your goals, organization, and bottom line, as your assistant will be the backbone of your day-to-day activities — your right hand. The best starting place is to understand the difference between a personal assistant vs a virtual assistant.

Personal Assistant vs Virtual Assistant: The Basics

Whereas personal assistants have been around for what seems like forever, virtual assistants are a product of our fast-paced digital world and a more recent addition to big business success. Let’s start by exploring the main similarities and differences between virtual assistants and personal assistants.

What does a personal assistant do?

Personal assistants are supposed to lighten the menial workload of executives and company managers. Leaders should be spending their time on vital tasks only they can do — personal assistants help them with all the time-consuming tasks that don’t require their leadership expertise.

Unfortunately, many execs use their personal assistants get them coffee or pick up their dry cleaning. Whereas this does save them time, it isn’t always profitable when a skilled assistant can do so much more.

If you need in-person support, such as for picking up mail, making copies, and running errands that require a physical presence, a personal assistant may be the way to go. However, if you need an assistant who can handle business tasks and keep your workload manageable, freeing you up for projects that need your attention, a virtual assistant is the way to go.

What does a virtual assistant do?

The famed author of “The 4-Hour Workweek,” Tim Ferriss, says that virtual assistants allow you to work smarter (not harder), while scaling your business.

Whereas virtual assistants may not be able to hand deliver a soy latte macchiato, they can place orders with a local delivery service. They can also coordinate meetings with your virtual and in-person teams, book travel arrangements, manage your inbox, and organize your calendar.

Beyond these basics, virtual assistants can also help you complete reports, prepare presentations, and help with prospecting. In addition to receptionist and secretarial skills, many virtual assistants specialize in a particular area, such as graphic design, bookkeeping, or digital marketing. A virtual assistant can quickly become a vital member of your organization.

How Much Does Hiring An Assistant Cost?

Assistants charge a wide range of prices. There are several considerations to bear in mind when calculating the cost of an assistant — and these are different according to whether you want a virtual or a personal assistant.

The cost of hiring a personal assistant

A personal assistant earns a mean hourly wage of $28.56 in the United States. Hourly wages range from $17 per hour to $41 per hour. However, it’s essential that you take into account the additional costs. Most in-person assistants are employees rather than contractors, which means you’ll need to pay social security, medicare, unemployment, and worker’s compensation.

If you hire an employee, you’ll also need to take into consideration paid time off, such as vacation and sick days. Plus, there are the added costs of any additional benefits you may want to provide to be a competitive employer, such as a retirement matching program and healthcare.

In-person executive and administrative assistants also require a place to work and equipment. You’ll need to set up an office or, at a minimum, a desk space. That includes paying for furniture, lighting, a phone, a computer, and more. Depending on your budget, the costs of a personal assistant may not be prohibitive, but they are considerable.

The cost of hiring a virtual assistant

Virtual assistants tend to work as independent contractors, which decreases the cost considerably. You can skip legally mandated payments to social security, unemployment, and workers comp. VAs also work from their own office and have their own electronics. At most, you’ll need to provide specialist software necessary for the job.

In addition, the overhead for virtual assistants is extremely low. Hourly rates in the United States range from $15 to $50 per hour. However, VAs often work for much less than a personal assistant with the same skill set. It’s also worth noting that, on average, less than three hours of every eight hours worked are actually productive when it comes to in-person, office-based personal assistants. Virtual assistants only charge for hours worked, which adds up to a 78 percent savings on yearly operating costs.

The Pros and Cons of Hiring an Assistant

There is so much to consider when it comes to hiring an assistant, it can seem overwhelming. Let’s look at the details side by side to highlight the differences.

Pros and cons of hiring a personal assistant

When hiring a personal assistant, a barrier to consider is training and human resources. You can contract a virtual assistant through an agency that specializes in finding the perfect match for you. Personal assistants, however, require significant dollar and time investment in the job search.

To find the right personal assistant, you’ll need to post a job listing, which often incurs a fee. You’ll also need to sift through resumes, conduct interviews, and check references. Plus, there’s another dollar investment for background checks.

You’ve hired a personal assistant, you’ll likely need to offer some training to familiarize the PA with your office, operations, and processes. Sometimes, companies end up hiring two or more times before they find the right fit.

You eliminate all this fuss entirely when you contract a virtual assistant through an agency.

Additional considerations include:

  • Working with someone in-person can build trust more quickly.
  • There are additional fees and a greater time investment due to the hiring and training process.
  • A PA will be available during normal working hours.
  • It is more costly to have a PA because of the added expenses.
  • PAs are often motivated by promotion opportunities.
  • Your PA can be available to everyone on your team.
  • A personal assistant can do more in-person tasks such as running personal errands.
  • When PAs take a sick day, they are completely unavailable.
  • Personal assistants often come to understand their job deeply, but they don’t tend to gain additional skills, such as bookkeeping and graphic design, with training from you.

Pros and cons of hiring a virtual assistant

One common concern when contracting a virtual assistant is a fear of the unknown. When you meet with someone in person, it feels ‘real.’ You can see a personal assistant is working and check progress as needed. Meeting with someone in a virtual space, in contrast, can feel less personable. You may worry that the worker is unreliable.

There are a few ways to overcome this: virtual assistants often work with a time tracker that records what they are doing and automatically stops if their computers become idle. Trust is more difficult, however top virtual assistants work hard to maintain open lines of communication. In addition, you can use icebreakers and trust-building exercises with your entire team to build powerful, productive working relationships.

Other Benefits

A few more benefits of virtual assistants include that they:

  • Will often set their own hours but can be available as needed, if you ask in advance.
  • Have chosen to become virtual assistants as a career move and will be available to offer quality work, even without the promise of advancement.
  • Can be available to your whole team.
  • Can do just about all the tasks of a personal assistant. It’s often possible to find creative solutions to handle personal errands remotely.
  • Tend to take fewer sick days because they work from home.
  • Will be more cost effective because they only bill for hours worked, rather than accruing paid hours throughout the workday, including during breaks and when they have nothing to do.
  • Will often build additional skill sets over time, such as technical skills, graphic design, digital marketing, and more. Plus, you can also contract several VAs to do several jobs instead of hiring employees.

Which option is right for you?

By now, you should have a good understanding of the differences between VAs and PAs and of what to take into consideration when choosing the right option for you. However, if you need a little extra help, ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I need in-person support? Or would one or more virtual assistant be capable of handling everything?
  • Do I need to speak with my assistant face to face? Or is video chat sufficient?
  • Are there specific hours I need my assistant to work?
  • What types of deadlines do I tend to enforce? Do I need work completed in minutes, hours, or days? Minutes might mean a PA is best. If deadlines tend to be hours, a VA will most likely be fine.
  • What is my budget and how much am I willing to invest in my assistant?

You now have the information you need to make an educated decision about what is best for you and your company. Remember, though, that a good assistant will get the work completed, whereas a great assistant is indispensable and will support your organization in innumerable ways. If you want a great virtual assistant, choose MYVA360. Schedule your consultation and receive 10-percent off all our services.

Jelena Mijajlovic

Jelena Mijajlovic is the founder and CEO of MYVA360, a virtual assistant agency filled with guardians of our ‘time bank,’ and genuinely versatile talent that help people increase productivity and get more hours out of the day. As an entrepreneur, business owner, and a full-time mom, she has developed a knack for identifying work gaps and filling them with the right people.

Jelena Mijajlovic

Jelena Mijajlovic is the founder and CEO of MYVA360, a virtual assistant agency filled with guardians of our ‘time bank,’ and genuinely versatile talent that help people increase productivity and get more hours out of the day. As an entrepreneur, business owner, and a full-time mom, she has developed a knack for identifying work gaps and filling them with the right people.


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