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Virtual assistants have grown in popularity, and why not? They allow qualified executive assistants to work from home, with all the flexibility that type of arrangement provides, while businesspeople get the advantage of having a dedicated part-time employee without the hassle and expense of hiring locally, paying benefits or providing equipment. Millions of entrepreneurs and executives depend on their virtual assistant for everything from handling their basic administrative work to finding a good dentist for their child.

How Much Does a Virtual Assistant Cost?

Virtual assistants can run $5 an hour to $75 an hour or more. Some work by project; others, such as those with a virtual assistant service, charge a minimum per month for a specific number of hours. They handle their own taxes, Social Security and overhead expenses, don't charge for vacation time and work only the hours you need. That can result in a major cost savings.

Hiring a virtual assistant may seem as easy as doing an internet search and paying a fee, but the process is a little more complex than that, and there are some costs in time and effort to consider.

Hiring: There are plenty of freelance services available, from Fiverr to Upwork, where you can hire virtual assistants by the project or the hour. If you use a freelance service, you will need to check qualifications, do background checks and examine samples or references to make sure you hire a virtual assistant who is qualified. Virtual assistant services will do the initial vetting for you, but they select the assistant for you. Therefore, you should still have the chance to speak to the person before agreeing to work with them.

Communication Software: The internet has made communication easy, but things can still get messy when trying to coordinate a project or even day-to-day tasks with someone from another state or country. While email and cloud-based services like Google Drive can make sharing information and documents easier, you may want to opt for more powerful project management systems that include file storage and texting capabilities organized under projects. Task management systems provide similar functions but more cheaply and with fewer features. Virtual assistant services may provide the software, which could mean you have to learn a new system or have to connect the systems.

Taxes: Virtual assistants are essentially independent contractors, which means you don't have to pay Social Security or taxes on them, but you still have paperwork. You must provide them with a Form W9, and issue them a 1099 by January 31 if you paid them more than $600 in the previous calendar year. Learn more on the IRS's website. If you use a service, discuss with your accountant how to log those expenses.

Preparation & Training: Your virtual assistant may already have the education and skills for the job, but you still need to train them to your way of doing things. That might include scripts for sales calls or teaching them to use the company's proprietary programs. Naturally, you'd have to do similar training for any employee, but with a virtual assistant, you lack the advantage of face-to-face communication or over-the-shoulder supervision. This could result in more of your time being spent upfront in quality checking work and answering questions – and time is money.

Security: You would trust an in-house administrative assistant with much of your personal information, including address, Social Security number and account passwords. A virtual assistant needs the same information, but while you may trust her or him personally, you are still dealing with the internet. Therefore, you may want to invest in password programs, antivirus programs or encryption software for personal or proprietary information.

Most of these hidden costs are minimal compared to what you would handle with an employee, but knowing them ahead of time can make hiring your virtual assistant easier so you can have a smooth start that leads to a productive working relationship.

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