Hiring Virtual Assistants Versus Personal Assistants: What You Need to Know

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.

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

Understanding all that is involved in bringing a new assistant of any kind onboard is crucial. Here is a helpful guide to get you started.

Virtual Assistant vs. Personal Assistant: The Basics

While in-person assistants, or 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 explore a few basic similarities and differences when considering a virtual assistant versus a personal assistant to reduce uncertainty and help you find your footing as you make this crucial hiring decision.

What does a personal assistant do?

If this is your first time, you may be asking, “what does a personal assistant do?”. Assistants are meant to lighten the menial workload of executives and company managers. Company leaders need to spend their time on vital tasks only they can do. Personal assistants help them with all the other time-consuming tasks that don’t require their leadership expertise. An assistant can save managers time, which frees them up for more profitable endeavors.

Unfortunately, many execs will fall back on having their personal assistants get them coffee or pick up their dry cleaning. Sure, this saves them time, but it isn’t always profitable when a skilled assistant can do so much more.

If you definitely need in-person support, such as picking up mail, making copies, and going to the bank, then a personal assistant may be the way to go. If you need an assistant who can be at the ready to handle business tasks, alleviating you from the very real workload challenges that are distracting you from the projects that really need your attention, a virtual assistant might be the way to go.

What does a virtual assistant do?

It’s well-known that famed author of “The Four-Hour Workweek,” Tim Ferriss credits virtual assistants with the ability to work smarter, not harder, while scaling your business.

Asking, “What does a virtual assistant do?” places you among the majority or hiring managers who are also exploring options. While a virtual assistant may not be able to hand-deliver a soy latte, they could place an order with a local delivery service to have your caffeine fix delivered to you at the perfect time. They can also coordinate meetings with your virtual and in-person teams, book travel arrangements, and manage your inbox and calendar.

Beyond those basics, virtual assistants can also help you complete various reports, prepare presentations, and help with prospecting. Beyond receptions and secretarial duties, many virtual assistants have specialties, such as graphic design, bookkeeping, and digital marketing. A virtual assistant can quickly become a vital member of the organization.


How Much Does Hiring An Assistant Cost?

While there is always variation, there are several considerations when calculating the cost of hiring an assistant. They are different when comparing virtual and personal assistants.

The cost of hiring a personal assistant

A personal assistant earns a mean hourly wage of $28.56 in the United States. Their hourly wages range from $17 per hour up to $41 per hour. It’s essential that you take into account the additional cost of an in-person assistant.

Most in-person personal assistants are employees rather than contractors. That means employers have added costs outside of employee compensation. This includes paying into 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 days 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 to work on. That means you’ll need to set up an office, or at a minimum, desk space. That means furniture, lighting, phone, computer, and more. Depending on your budget, the costs of a personal assistant may not be prohibitive, but there are considerable costs to take into account.

The cost of hiring a virtual assistant

Virtual assistants often 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, significantly alleviating the need for you to provide furnished space. They’ll have their own electronics, so at most, you’ll provide any special software that may be required.

While virtual assistants have their own office and equipment, their overhead is extremely low. Hourly rates in the United States can range from $15-50 per hour. However, they 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, on the other hand, only charge for hours worked. That math adds up to a 78% 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 help make the information more consumable.

Pros and cons of hiring a personal assistant

When hiring a personal assistant, a barrier to consider is training and human resources. Virtual assistants can be hired through agencies that specialize 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 the job, which often comes with fees to get it seen in the right circles. It takes time to sift through resumes, conduct interviews, and check references. Plus, there is a dollar investment when doing background checks.

They are once hired, personal assistants will often require some training to familiarize them with the office, operations, and best practices. Sometimes, companies will have to go through two or more people before they find the right fit. All of this and more is taken off your hands when hiring a virtual assistant through the right agency.

Additional considerations include:

  • Working with someone in-person can often increase trust more quickly.
  • Added fees and time investment during the hiring and training process.
  • Will be available during normal working hours.
  • More costly because they have the added expenses of employees.
  • Typically look for promotion opportunities for motivation.
  • Will be available to everyone on the team to coordinate and collaborate.
  • Can do more in-person tasks such as running personal errands.
  • If they have a sick day, they will be completely unavailable.
  • They’ll be available to you because they are working on-site.
  • Personal assistants will often grow to understand their job deeply but usually won’t gain additional skills, such as bookkeeping, graphic design, and adjacent careers.

Pros and cons of hiring a virtual assistant

One of the common concerns when hiring a virtual assistant is less about the work and more about a fear of the unknown. When you meet with someone in person, it feels ‘real’ and can leave the impression that work is being completed. Having them right around the corner can also mean you check in on them as needed.

Meeting with someone in a virtual space can often feel less personable and can lead to worry that the worker may not be reliable. There are a few ways to overcome this. Virtual assistants will often work with an hourly clock that will stop when their computer becomes idle or goes to sleep. There are also other software options to help track work completed.

One of the more significant considerations is trust. Virtual assistants will work hard to ensure communication is sound, and trust is built. If you have to have someone nearby to trust them, there are hiring practices that can help build trust from the beginning. There are also a number of icebreakers and trust-building exercises you can implement with the entire team to build trust and powerful, productive working relationships.

Additional considerations include:

  • If you aren’t confident in your hiring practices, it can take a little extra time to build trust.
  • Low overhead. VAs will have their own offices and equipment.
  • Will often set their own hours but can be available as needed, if asked in advance.
  • They are often more affordable because they work as contractors, rather than employees.
  • Have chosen virtual assistants as their career, and will be available to offer quality work, even without the promise of advancement.
  • Can be available to the team, but because of his or her remote work, they’ll be better able to focus and prioritize tasks.
  • Can do just about all the tasks of a personal assistant. Can also often get creative about remotely handling a number of personal errands from a distance.
  • Often have fewer sick days when they are entirely unavailable because they often work from home.
  • Will be more productive because they only bill for time worked, rather than accruing paid hours, even when on break or during slow periods where there may be less work.
  • Virtual assistants will often build additional skill sets over time, such as technical skills, graphic design, digital marketing, and more. In fact, you can hire several VAs to do many jobs without having to fill their time. Companies will typically hire one PA and try to use them to wear many hats, which can cause burnout.

Which option is right for you?

If you have been wondering about hiring a personal assistant versus a virtual assistant, you now have a good sense of the differences between the two and what to take into consideration.

VAs have many benefits but do tend to cost more when it comes to money and time. While it may take time to build trust in a virtual assistant if you aren’t used to working digitally, they do tend to be more productive and affordable.

A few questions worth asking when thinking about the best choice would be:

  • Will I need the in-person support? Or can I get everything important completed with one or more virtual assistants?
  • Do I prefer to speak with my assistant face-to-face? Or will video chat fill that need?
  • Are there specific hours I need this person to work? Or can I assign tasks and work out timely arrangements with my assistant.
  • 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 do I want to invest in my assistant

Taking all of this into consideration can seem overwhelming. Still, you now have the information you need to make an educated decision that is best for you, the company, and your new assistant. A good assistant will get the work completed. A great assistant will become indispensable and will be the backbone of your organization in innumerable ways.

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