Virtual Assistants are a relatively new service on the market which, however, is becoming more and more popular every week. One of our clients is the company BrandAssist, which brings together virtual assistants. We had a very interesting interview with Pola Sobczyk, who opened a company from scratch and placed the new service on the market. How does it all look like backstage? Find out! Maybe you too will use a virtual assistant someday?
First I have to ask you what exactly a virtual assistant is?
A year ago I would say that a virtual assistant is a person who works remotely, as a sole proprietor and her task base is primarily administration, customer service or specialisation, which she has pursued so far. But today a virtual assistant is slowly becoming established as a project manager or task coordinator, sometimes even a coach. It is certainly a person who is able to perform different tasks.
Where did you get the idea to create a company that would associate virtual assistants?
I admit that this resulted from my observations of the needs of my closest friends who had companies and a more and more difficult employee market. Unfortunately most of my friends could not – In particular at the initial stage – afford to employ an employee due to ever higher taxes and financial requirements of the candidates. Hence, trainees were employed who usually not only did not develop the brand but also wasted time.
Another solution was to employ people on contracts, who after few months moved to larger companies and corporations. In this situation, the cycle of implementing a next person became looped. My friends complained about high financial expectations and low competences of their employees and also about too high costs to keep them in the office.
On the other hand, I noticed that I tended to work more effectively at home. I also worked for a few different companies at once, not only for the one in which I was employed. This is how my adventure started. At the time I was convinced that I discovered something completely new.
Do you remember the beginning of BrandAssist? How did you manage to enter the market and convince the clients?
This was definitely a hard time. A lot of mistakes, lack of humility and this juvenile pride of the type: “nobody knows what is good” are behind us. We entered the market thanks to overcoming the notion that others are wrong. It happened exactly when I myself started to understand what problems are actually solved by a virtual assistant.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of the service in comparison to the traditional assistant?
I do not like comparing the virtual assistant to a real person who sits in the office. I am not against employment under contracts of employment. Thus, I also recommend stationary employees. Such a person in always available when in the office and many entrepreneurs feel better when they have “control” over what a given person is doing.
The basic advantage of the virtual assistant is the cost. She issues VAT invoices, so no contracts are necessary. People who work remotely are now more often more creative and better trained. Nay! They train themselves because they have to improve their competences to keep getting new clients.
When I was an employee I liked trainings but with the thought of leaving the company someday. Moreover, every person who works this way will notice that her work becomes more planned and organised. After all, delegating tasks is also a form of organising working time. Such an approach definitely increases productivity. In the office, there is usually no motivation.
You mentioned that the work of a virtual assistant has to be planned and organised. Given that such an assistant probably works with several clients and has a lot of tasks to do, how do you deal with the organisation of work?
You know, I still use paper and pen but at the current stage I would not be able to manage without proper software, especially one for project management and cooperation with my clients. Currently in BrandAssist we work on IC Project and Trello.
Earlier I tested a lot and looked for a proper solution. I worked on such software as Podio, Jira, Asana, Nozbe or Basecamp, so it really took me some time to find the best ones. I think that obviously you can stop using such programs and still work on e-mail messages, but this would very much slow down the implementation of tasks and would bring a huge mess into work organisation.
In the labyrinth of systems, you mentioned IC Project for instance. How did this tool improve work in your company?
This system primarily improved the coordination of tasks for our clients. A simple CRM, efficient support in Polish, ease of checking different reports or the Kanban method to manage tasks (I am a huge fan of this method of work!). We also improved communication within specific tasks. We still use Slack (programme for internal communication in the team), but the inbuilt communicator in ICP and ability to add comments made our work much faster and – most importantly – It minimised the risk of making a mistake during cooperation with the Client.
What the virtual assistant service stand out on the market the most?
I think that it is multitasking. You can find a virtual assistant who is more versatile than a several-person team and you can also find an assistant who is specialised in a given field. Apart from that, entrepreneurs are not interested in holidays or sick leaves. Such people are very loyal towards their clients. I can safely say that we have created a community (of women mainly) that work 200% and definitely like their job.
How many virtual assistants does BrandAssist associate and what is their workload?
Currently we have a ten-people team. Soon there will be twelve of us. To answer your question honestly, we need to separate an individual virtual assistant from the agency. Such an individual mostly aims to work full-time. For agencies, this depends. We cooperate with girls who are available from 8:00 to 18:00, but I do not check every hour whether they look at the computer screen or not. The work effects can be also seen in deadlines and BrandAssist is doing very well in this.
Finally, a forward-looking question. Are virtual assistants a service that will dominate the market in the next few years, in your opinion?
I am convinced that this is already happening. Continuous search for cost optimisation of the company will be the basis for staying on the market, and virtual assistants simply entail a lot of savings.