Executive Assistant vs. Virtual Assistant: Which is Right for You?

executive assistant v virtual assistant

It’s taken years for the virtual assistant concept to reach the masses, and we’re still not quite there yet. I find myself over-explaining what Don’t Panic Management does when sometimes it seems like the easiest explanation is, “We’re an assistant service that works remotely.”

The challenge, however, is that the word “assistant” conjures up ideas of running errands, getting coffee, and filing documents. And that’s really not the role of a virtual assistant at all.

While we know lots of companies embrace and understand the idea of what a virtual assistant can do, we understand that a virtual solution isn’t right for everyone. Perhaps you need the availability of a full-time employee, or maybe you simply communicate better in person. Some business owners have come to us in search of a VA because they just can’t find anyone local who’s qualified to help them, but that doesn’t necessarily mean a virtual solution will be the best fit either.

So, what’s a talented business owner or manager like you to do? Should you pursue hiring a virtual assistant, or is an in-house executive assistant your best option?

You may already have an idea, or you may not have a clue. Either way, I’ve set out a list of five questions that you need to ask yourself and answer, very honestly, to get to the bottom of it—plus some ideas for what to do once you’ve decided.

1. Will I need any in-person support?

This is the biggest question you need to ask yourself, as it’s an obvious make-or-break requirement. If your task list includes things like going to bank, picking up the mail, and making copies, then an executive or personal assistant is going to be the best fit for you. But if you’re looking for things that can be done online from anywhere, a virtual assistant will fit the bill.

Some common virtual assistant tasks include scheduling meetings (both online and in-person), booking travel, researching content for writing projects, sending invoices, tracking expenses, and creating and/or formatting documents. A more advanced assistant can also help with more involved bookkeeping, marketing activities, researching and booking speaking engagements, media/content production, and lots more.

But if the errands around town are crucial to your assistant’s job description, you’ll need to find someone nearby.

2. What’s my preferred communication style?

Is looking someone in the eye important to you? Do you want to be able to see your assistant’s every move? Or are you just as comfortable getting email updates and having a weekly phone or video call?

Everyone communicates differently and values different aspects of their communications with staff. Depending on the nature of your business, you may be perfectly comfortable communicating exclusively via email and chat (or maybe a text message or call here and there). But there are many businesses and structures that do best with in-person communications, especially if the nature of your business involves more sensitive communications or very timely projects.

Consider how you like to communicate to someone, plus how you prefer to be communicated with. Both are important in determining whether a virtual or executive assistant is right for you.

3. Is it my way or the highway?

There’s nothing wrong with wanting things done a certain way. However, it’s easier to train and monitor work processes when you have someone sitting right near you.

If you’re more concerned with the outcome than the process, a virtual assistant is a great solution because they often have experiences from other clients or projects that they can implement to get things done quickly and successfully for you.

4. How timely are my projects?

Do you expect an email to be answered within 15 minutes? An hour? Same day? Are projects expected to be done within one business day?

It’s important to evaluate the urgency of your tasks and projects in order to determine expectations of timeliness. If you expect someone to do something the second they are handed the task, you may want to do just that: physically hand them a task. But if you’re more of a long-term planner than a last-minute taskmaster, you can count on a virtual assistant to complete their tasks within your specified reasonable time frame.

5. How do I feel about assistant-sharing?

When you hire a virtual assistant, there’s a good chance they are working in a part-time contractor capacity. This means they are likely to have other clients. Oftentimes those clients are using them for the same purpose that you would use them for.

Are you okay with that? Does it make you uncomfortable having someone who is working with other people in a similar capacity?

If the answer is yes, you may be better off having someone in-house and as more of an employee status as opposed to a contractor. That gives you more control over their schedule as well as the projects they can and cannot take. If you’re sitting here thinking, “Hey, that’s awesome! I’d love to have someone who has the experience of working with others so we can all share ideas and best practices,” then the VA relationship will be no problem for you.

A Combination Approach

If you know you want a virtual assistant but also have some analog needs to take care of, there are a few solutions for you. One way to get the benefits of a more qualified and trained assistant while also getting your in-person errands done is to hire a part-time virtual assistant and a part-time executive assistant or intern. You can clearly delineate the tasks that each should do, and keep the two roles completely separate. It’s more effort to manage in terms of personnel of course, but it can be a great solution for the people who need a hands-on solution but are having trouble finding someone local.

You can also try using a service like Task Rabbit to take care of your one-off errands or in-house projects. They’re an affordable solution that exists in most cities.

Ultimately, I believe the choice comes down to control and how much of it you want to have. So remember, as you’re answering these questions, don’t think about what you “should” do or how you “should” operate. You need to be extremely honest with yourself about your needs. It’s okay to want things done quickly. It’s okay to be a micromanager. But you have to know yourself and your business, be extremely aware of your needs, and be realistic about your expectations so that you can find the right person to fit the role.

Get tasks off your plate faster with the VA Starter Kit!

Jess Tyson, CEO & Director of Calm

Jess is the founder and proud Director of Calm at Don’t Panic Management. (And yes, she invented that title because that’s what you do when you’re the boss!) She wrote the book on how building a successful relationship with a virtual assistant can make all the difference in helping business owners get to the next level. Her life is often a whirlwind of wrangling her toddler, speaking at conferences (virtual and beyond!), researching productivity hacks, and meticulously making matches between overworked entrepreneurs and focused virtual assistants. Jess's first book, Panic Proof: How the Right Virtual Assistant Can Save Your Sanity and Grow Your Business is available now: panicproofbook.com

  • Current location: Redding, CT
  • Go-to Karaoke song: “Hand in My Pocket” by Alanis Morissette
  • Favorite kind of cheese: Aged Goat Gouda
  • Beverage of choice: Champagne
  • Pronouns: She/Her/Hers
  • Superpower: Delivering miracles, especially when all hope is lost.

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