What does 'virtual assistant' mean?
All this really means is that instead of an employee sitting at a desk in a business that he/she has usually had to commute to, being paid a salary, with unemployment insurance, tax, paid holidays, and so on, the same person works from their own premises and offers their particular service or services, from wherever they happen to be, via the internet in some form or another. This is not a new thing as people all over the world and throughout history have run businesses from their own premises. It is only the technology that has changed, allowing people to do business / offer business services globally.
Virtual services offered range from typing to writing to translation and so on, and far from being failed typists and secretaries, as is unkindly suggested by some, most of the people who offer these services to you are people with very varied interests, backgrounds and careers who, for one reason or another, have elected to offer their wealth of experience in journalism, media, marketing, legal, medical, administration, bookkeeping, sales, commerce and industry to you, the client, wherever in the world you happen to be. They come from all walks of life, have years of experience and knowledge, and offer services that can easily be to the benefit of someone requiring a once off service right through to a large corporate with global presence who requires ongoing services.
Another thing to remember is that this person is not your employee, anymore than the man who works on your car, your accountant or someone who comes to paint your house.
The VA/Freelancer offers a service for a financial consideration, whilst the customer pays for that service. This is a big distinction. You are two entities who are building a win / win relationship. There should be respect on both sides.
When it comes to transcription it should be noted that this is not an easy,'just typing' job. If you should ever doubt what I say in this regard have a go at typing up someone else's recorded material, on a subject other than your own, and preferably a file that has several people talking and poor sound / recording! The average person speaks seven times faster than the average person can type. Yes, we all know there are those who have worked for the same company for years and can type at great speed, often because they can almost pre-empt what the person is dictating; or who claim to type at a really fast speed.
But transcription is not dictation or straight copy typing, and further, very often trying to hear correctly from a poorly recorded file with noises, talking, coughing, sneezing, mobile phone interference, people laughing or talking over the top of one another, people whispering in front of the speakers, different accents, pencils and pens tapping, paper shuffling, stapling, tea cups chinking, doors banging - you name it! Some interviewers and interviewees even feel they have to whisper! I have even transcribed an academic interview that was conducted in a canteen with both respondents whispering amid the usual noises heard in a noisy canteen with regular influxes of students.
The people who feel that transcriptionists should be cheap are very often the same people who would not dream of working cheaply themselves, and who hold the view that this is 'just typing'. Try transcribing a particularly crackly and fuzzy telephonic interview! Let me assure you it is not 'just typing'! Unfortunately I have read a lot of nonsense posts on the subject of transcriptionists and VA's in general.
When it comes to claims that it only takes, on average, four hours to do transcription of an hour long file, you need to bear in mind that that is in an ideal world, and does not take into consideration proofreading, which should ideally be done twice. Further, it is highly likely that that company / person does not do complicated transcription such as focus groups - they probably mean for clear dictation and one on one clear files. Either way, professionally I can tell you it takes 4- 6 hours minimum. Even the universities around the world who use transcription services understand this and in some cases even mention it on their websites.
Transcriptionists are varied in the type of work they prefer, the clients they prefer, their specialist areas, their experience and knowledge base; another point to take into consideration when deciding on who to use. Whilst we can understand that you have a budget, cheapness does not always equate to good work.
The Benefit to You
The downturn in the world economy means that the services offered by virtual workers are of huge importance.
With many people losing their jobs and having to look at other ways of making a living there are many entrepreneurial one or two man businesses springing up and these can rarely entertain the idea of a full time person to help them out. You may be a translator who needs to translate documents and have them transcribed from your dictation, you may be an author who needs your book typing up, proofreading or editing; you may be a market researcher needing to have your research interviews transcribed, you may even be finishing a degree and need your dissertation typed up or your interviews transcribed; or you may be a fledgling lawyer who needs documents typed accurately, a doctor / specialist who requires regular typing of dictated medical notes, but whatever business activity you are involved in it is a safe bet that there is someone who can help you who is as near and as available as your internet connection.
The benefit to you is that that person can help you on an ad hoc basis or on a regular basis - and all you have to pay for is the time and expertise. No salary, no holiday pay, no unemployment insurance, no hassles with the tax man over employee tax deductions, no expense of providing a desk, PC, phone and whatever else an employee requires of you, the employer, including the provision of toilet facilities, coffee and tea, rubbish disposal, waste paper and paper clips, private use of your communication facilities, to name but a few. No employee hassles - allowing you to get on with the business of doing business.
This works for small, medium and large businesses. Many small businesses may be fine and only need help occasionally, the same goes for some medium size companies, but larger organisations are cutting costs in many parts of their businesses, such as flying employees to various parts of the globe for meetings. These meetings are now very often held via teleconferencing with a moderator and these require recording and then transcribing into text format for actioning, distribution nationally and internationally, and follow up to meetings. Transcription, for example, is time consuming and requires absolute and uninterrupted concentration, taking valuable time away from employees whose days are already overwhelming. How much easier and convenient then to have a trusted Virtual to take on your work?
And if you are ecologically concerned, think of the tiny carbon footprint using a Virtual. You are still helping to create employment but without the waste of energy created by someone having to commute!
Oh, and one other thing! It takes guts to work for yourself, to not be comfortably employed with a set monthly salary coming in, so next time you are tempted to think that people who work from a 'home' base office, indeed anyone who works for themselves, are failures, think again. Do you consider yourself a 'failure' because you work for yourself? Doubtful. As my sky diving instructor said, there are plenty out there who will say, 'Oh, I could do that, it's nothing.' The difference is that you have done it; they have not! Take pride in that.
I take pride in working for myself.
We transcribe dictations recorded using Express Dictate dictation recording software!