‘For our business, the service is a must-have,’ he says. ‘Every call to the company is answered and an email is sent so I can prioritise who I want to get back to.’
Smithson says he doesn’t have premises on which to base a secretary: ‘I’m no longer on the whip end of the phone and there has been a marked increase in revenue from the moment that we started [using the service]. That’s down to greater productivity and the better customer service that we can offer.’
Business owners often lack the time for administrative tasks and hiring a full-time assistant can be costly and time consuming in itself. If you only need a PA intermittently, using this kind of service will be more cost effective than retaining a full-time employee because you only pay for the time you use. Most will charge per hour, starting at around £10 for word processing, but the cost of hiring a virtual PA will depend on their level of experience, knowledge of your sector and the tasks you set them.
Pattie Mason, founder of One Hour PA, explains: ‘As well as picking up calls, virtual PAs can manage online diaries and do everything an assistant would, like booking travel and typing out documents.’
Increasingly, personal assistance firms are willing to take on bigger projects. Anya Portnik runs Virtual Blue Bird, which specialises in providing a service that goes further than telephone answering. She says: ‘Some of our clients are salespeople who spend a lot of time out of the office and don’t have time to spend cold calling and setting up sales meetings. We do that for them, so they need us to have an interest in maintaining relationships with their customers, rather than just filling up their diary or dealing with incoming calls.’