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Tue 27 Jun 2017 09:40 AM

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Tested: Does a 'virtual' personal assistant work?

Getting help doesn’t have to cost a lot.

Tested: Does a 'virtual' personal assistant work?
Even kilometres away, a virtual assistant could be a timesaver.

Richard Branson has one. Mohammed Alabbar has one. And Elon Musk has two. What do some of the wealthiest and most productive people on the planet have in common? Their lives are carefully managed by a personal assistant, someone who looks after their schedule, screens their communications and takes care of the little things – leaving them free to concentrate on the bigger picture.

Having a personal assistant is partially what makes the business elite so good at what they do. Minus the small time-hungry tasks, like replying to emails, scheduling meetings or incessantly answering the phone, these corporate bigwigs gain the most powerful resource of all: time. And lest we not forget, time is money.

But having a dedicated member of staff looking after you 24/7 doesn’t come cheap. Professional executive assistants – the really good ones – cost upwards of $55,000 per year, and that’s because they’re far more than just a simple secretary.

A good PA handles everything, personal life included. Need a last-minute reservation at a top restaurant? They’ll contact the manager for you. Forgotten your anniversary? They’ve already sent flowers to your other half.

Most people think this charmed existence is reserved solely for the super wealthy. But they’d be wrong. There’s a new breed of online start-ups that seeks to connect regular workers with their very own personal assistants, albeit of the virtual kind.

One service – GetFriday (so named after man-servant Friday, in Robinson Crusoe - https://www.getfriday.com/) – pairs busy workers with a team of virtual assistants based in India. “GetFriday can undertake any task, business or personal, that does not require our physical presence” the company advertises. And so, looking to send some of the more run-of-the-mill parts of my job offshore, I happily obliged them.

I fired off an email via their website, and almost immediately received a phone call from GetFriday’s Bangalore offices. One of its senior managers then asked me a series of questions - the nature of my job, what sort of tasks I find most repetitive, what times I like to work (so no one bothers me after hours), and how I would like to talk with my VA. I was then told my very own personal assistant would be in touch within 24-hours via Skype (my chosen method of communication).

There are a variety of packages to choose from, depending on the number of hours you require each month. Basic plans start at $65 for five hours’ assistance and go up to $1,110 (160 hours).

Not really knowing how many hours my monotonous tasks account for, I went for a 10-hour package (additional hours come at extra cost, but they also roll-over to the next month). I didn’t have to wait long before Pallavika – the VA assigned to me – introduced herself on Skype.

According to Pallavika’s CV, she has expertise in B2B sales with a background in healthcare industry consulting. She also has an MBA in marketing. More importantly, she was looking forward to assisting me anyway she could.

The first task I set her was basic scheduling. Many interviews each month require days of back-and-forth emailing to find a suitable time for both parties, so I gave her access to my calendar and told her to handle it. Next, I had her do some basic research on green energy - the subject of a future article - and transcribe two meetings from the week prior.

Finally, I needed to send a gift to my father who lives in Australia. I asked her for gift ideas between $130-270 and to send me links to the online stores that ship to Perth. The following week I talked to my VA twice on Skype to confirm interview times and whether or not my father enjoys watching rugby. I also had my VA book dinner one evening and to confirm what time my friends would arrive.

One week after being introduced to Pallavika, all the assigned tasks were complete. I’d say that Pallavika and GetFriday delivered on their original promise. Anything that didn’t require me being in the room was handled by them and, most importantly, didn’t require constant micromanaging on my part. What’s more, it certainly freed up more time for what I do best, writing and researching stories.

While it’s not quite the same as having a real person at your beck and call 24/7, it really is the next best thing. And my challenge next month is to see what else she and GetFriday can handle. Heck, next time I may even have Pallavika write these types of reviews. Or maybe I already did…

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Evelyn Priess 3 years ago

Why you have gone so far? I am a VPA in the UAE and I am also member of the International Virtual Assistant Association. I live and work in the UAE. Its just that not many people know that we do exist!