This year I’ve started using 3 remote personal/executive assistants for my work projects. Our remote assistants have been awesome and super useful, so I thought it would be useful to try and write a guide to help others get started with using remote assistants.

If working with a remote assistant doesn’t work out for you I think you’ll lose around £300 and 12 hours of your time in 1 month. But if it does work well, then I think you have a lot to gain - my estimate is my assistants save me around 20-30 hours a month.

Ways in which my remote assistants have helped me

  • We have a remote assistant who does all our events logistics work, including sourcing and booking venues, booking transport and catering, and handling comms with participants and venues.
  • Our assistant handles paying our bills and invoices, and sending out invoices
  • Doing one-off tasks for the team e.g. booking appointments, making purchases, booking travel, finding accommodation for our interns

Where to find a remote assistant

  • If you’re based in the UK or in Europe (and communicate in English), I recommend https://virtalent.com/ which is the company I use.
  • I haven’t used a US-based virtual assistant before, but you could try timeetc.com. There are some other suggestions here.

Some tips for working with a remote assistant for the first time

  • Be prepared to invest time in explaining the task and process well for your assistant. I think it’s worth spending 10 minutes explaining a task that will take 60 minutes - that will feel like a long 10 minutes and it might feel frustrating, but it’s worth it.
  • Use loom.com to make video tutorials of how to do a process, instead of describing it in text
  • Bring your remote assistant into Slack to be able to DM them quickly
  • Invest in the relationship with your assistant from the beginning - take the time to call them once a week and message them each day to check in on how things are going because it’s easy as a remote person to feel disconnected. More communication is better.

Tips on how to delegate well

Taking next steps

  • Most remote assistant setups have very flexible monthly plans. You can start with just a few hours a week and scale up from there.
  • I think it’s worth just giving it a go; there’s a lot of info value in trying to get a remote assistant, and if it doesn’t work well then you can always just stop using the service.
  • Book a free consultation call with Virtalent UK or Timeetc USA

Happy to answer any questions that people have, or DM for more info.

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11 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 3:12 PM

Thanks so much for writing this! 

I just went through the process of trying to hire an executive assistant in the US so I thought I'd contribute a bit. My sample size is relatively low (I only tried 1-2 executive assistants from ~3 services), but here are some things I found helpful: 

* In my experience additional cost --> additional quality. Boldly (the firm we will likely end up using - $50 / hour) seemed to have higher service quality than places like Time Etc. ($30 / hour)

* I tried a series of 'work tests'. Here are the two I found most predictive: 
a) I'm trying to [find an Airbnb here, find a conference center, ship my bags using a remote service -- example]. Could you help me figure out the lowest cost provider that has good client reviews? Here are some other criteria that are important (X, Y). 
This allowed me to see presentation of information, accuracy, and reasoning. 

b) I'm interested in services from [X company]. Could you write an email inquiry about whether they are taking new clients & price? It would be great to try to find a personal email for a staff member. 
This allowed me to see basic email composition skills, spelling, and resourcefulness online. 

* I found it helpful to test out two companies in parallel for a month, that way I could have a direct head to head comparison. I would ask both executive assistants to perform the work tests above. I would then ask for a new executive assistant from the firm that was performing to a lower quality standard, and keep using the one that was performing well on one off tasks to get more data. I think this particularly worked in my situation because we had some lead time. 

Has anyone got good leads for US-timezone friendly VAs?

Check out Pineapple Operations list for part time and virtual PAs: 

 https://pineappleoperations.org 

Thanks, Lee!

Currently ~half of the PAs we list publicly or suggest privately are in the US and every one is open to working remotely.

The main differentiators from standard VA services are currently that:

  • almost all of our PAs are existing members of the EA community (some thoughts on the value of EA vs non-EA assistants here)
  • many are open to in-person work, with some even open to relocating
  • most lack PA experience
  • it's a 'matchmaking' rather than an agency model - users hire the PAs directly

[Edit: The following aren't exactly "good leads," but I thought it would still be useful to share some of the comments I've heard on options people in this community have tried.]

 

Fancy Hands

"Fancy Hands is a team of US-based virtual assistants".

Comments I've heard on them from a couple of EAs:

I used various assistants over a couple of months for in total maybe 30 tasks, each about 20 minutes long (their limit per one credit). I would say that the quality varied a lot and most of the time, they did not save me any time if included coordination cost, etc. If it was a straightforward task that could be done in 20 min, they performed okay, but even in that case I still found it to be large time-saving. I know one EA who likes it and uses it somewhat regularly. Maybe I just didn't figure out a way to utilize them well. Feel free to share it with other people under "an EA told me"

And then I wasn't sure if this EA has actually used Fancy Hands, but they summarised it thus:

FancyHands function almost as a platform, where they remain in the middle and take a cut. It's easy to use a small # of hours/per week, the provider will swap you out with other assistants relatively quickly, and the people you work with are relatively junior.

 

[Edit: Athena 

Athena set you up with full-time Philippines-based PAs. One EA said the PAs nevertheless work to US timezones; another said that being in the Philippines was a problem when their colleague used Athena. Some other comments from EAs:

A couple people I know have been using them recently and seem happyish with them.

 

We have used them previously but found the person was too junior to be helpful - not sure if this is the norm of if we were paired with the wrong person.

 

I think there was an initial $1500 signing fee for equipment and now we pay $2500 per month [~£10/h]. If there are not enough tasks you can share a PA with multiple people, but ideally only one person would be coordinating and assigning them tasks.

My PA is good, but not super excellent. I'd recommend them for tasks such as:
- booking travel insurance, travel, and accommodation
- calling doctors/Covid centers, making appointments
- researching flight regulations
- transcribing messages (but not really drafting them from scratch (at least not with EA context and slang)
- sending out presents/gifts
- scheduling things (if all preferences are clear and it's not a high stakes meeting)
- researching things such as: "What is the newest HP laptop model with xyz features" -- needs to be pretty specific
- accountability things...

I'd recommend it for people who just don't like doing these things themselves. But you probably won't get a person who actively has your back, thinks about deadlines and is super proactive.

That being said, [another EA] also had an assistant from Athena but decided to switch to another assistant (also from Athena), because she made a bunch of smaller mistakes and was not able to do tasks.

 

I...talked to a few EAs who've used it and found they've had widely-ranging experiences

 

I'm trialing a full-time assistant via AthenaGo who has been pretty helpful, but I don't have a great reference point, since this is my first time around.


Another EA told me that they've found Athena to be "medium-y" so far.

And then in a phone call with another EA in March 2022, I was told that Athena is good but there's a waitlist, and that the first assistant they tried wasn't good enough, the second was good, and the third was okay.]

 

Upwork

When I was doing more PA work for EAs myself, I briefly tried experimenting with re-delegating anonymised tasks to Upwork, but I couldn't find any takers for the first task I tried. Another EA I know uses them for PA tasks though.

 

Assistant headhunters

One EA recommended US-based Pocketbook Agency...

https://www.pocketbookagency.com has been good to work with...it's low-commitment (paid on contingency, so you'll just fwd your description and do a 30m call and they send you candidates)

...and another EA said...

I’ve tried to use a domestic staffing agency in the Bay Area before but didn’t have much luck and they weren’t great to deal with.

Mati Roy is an EA with some US-timezone friendly VAs: https://bit.ly/PantaskServices (on the website it says "We hire mainly in North America and Europe" but I think they still generally prefer to share the Google doc).

[Edit: And before anyone wastes time on CampusPA - another EA-run PA agency that I sometimes hear mentioned - while their website is still up, the CEO's LinkedIn says "I closed CampusPA in February of 2022."]

Fully agree! Our university group uses a virtual assistant for ~20 hours/month, which saves us ~10 hours/month (it does take some time to explain stuff, and our assistant takes slightly longer to do the same tasks). I expect our time savings to increase substantially when classes resume and our group is a lot more active.

Do you use Virtalent UK?

I also recommend https://www.athenago.com for full time remote executive assistants

So pleased that you've started this conversation, james! I'm really keen to see more EAs publicly sharing their experiences with various PA services.

I’ve started using 3 remote personal/executive assistants for my work projects. Our remote assistants have been awesome and super useful...Happy to answer any questions

Do you know if these 3 have more capacity and if Virtalent UK allows clients to request specific VAs? (You're the only person I've come across so far who's given a completely positive review of a VA service - reviews tend to be pretty mixed and mildly positive/negative overall. Maybe Virtalent UK is just generally excellent or maybe you've found some especially great VAs - if it's the latter, it would be awesome if others in the community could hire them!)

If working with a remote assistant doesn’t work out for you I think you’ll lose around £300 and 12 hours of your time in 1 month....Most remote assistant setups have very flexible monthly plans. You can start with just a few hours a week and scale up from there.

I just want to highlight to everyone that with Virtalent UK, the minimum you need to pay to try it out is indeed only £270 for 10 hours (I'd previously thought it was 10 hours a week i.e. more like £1150 and I think I told a few people as much - sorry!)

I don't think my particular VAs have more capacity, but I believe Virtalent has other VAs ready to match with clients.

It is unclear to me whether I’ve just gotten lucky. But with Virtalent you can switch VA and the minimum commitment is very low, which is why I think the best strategy is just to try