Rising fuel costs. Interest rates going up. Returns on investments going down. Dire warnings about the economy sliding into recession. It’s clear that there has been an abrupt slowdown in the Australian economy over the last year.

In the current economic climate many business owners begin ...Rising fuel costs. Interest rates going up. Returns on investments going down. Dire warnings about the economy sliding into recession. It’s clear that there has been an abrupt slowdown in the Australian economy over the last year.

In the current economic climate many business owners begin to worry how they’re going to survive this slowing economy. Generally there are two options: cut expenses or increase your revenue.

Many business owners choose the first option and begin to rethink their expenses. If you’re going to stay in business the best way is to reduce your overheads. Makes sense: reduce the amount of money going out whilst maintaining the amount coming in.

The biggest overhead for many businesses is the cost of staff. But how can you stay in business if you don’t have adequate staff?

One solution is to outsource your non-core administrative tasks to a virtual assistant - or remote secretary.

Virtual Assistants (VAs) are independent business owners who provide secretarial and administrative services to clients, usually from a home-based office. They are contractors, and will charge an hourly rate or per project rate, invoiced at regular intervals - the cost of which is fully tax deductible. Additionally, since the VA is not an employee, clients are not responsible for the traditional staff on-costs of superannuation, leave loading, time in lieu, worker’s compensation, payroll tax and so on. So whilst the hourly rate of a professional, experienced VA will appear quite high at first sight, it can actually end up costing the business significantly less than on-site staff when the above on-costs are factored in. In addition, the VA will only work when required, so clients pay only for time on task - and not for time taken for cigarette breaks, lunch or chatting with office colleagues.

If the economic climate is really biting hard and you have to relocate to smaller premises, a VA is a great solution because you don’t need to provide them with equipment. Working from their own office, there is also no need for you to provide space, lighting, power, and telephone.

By rethinking the way your business handles its administration there may be an opportunity to retain a core team of administration staff, and outsource the remainder to a VA - or even more than one - saving the associated on-costs. In this way, you can keep your business running through the difficult times until things pick up again, at which time you can either continue the VA partnership, or build your staff levels again.

The alternative to cutting back on staff is to increase their productivity. A VA can help you in this regard too. Personal assistants are required to do more than just type letters and make coffee. Many are instrumental in the running of the business: scheduling appointments; arranging sales calls; fielding customer complaints; arranging travel; juggling multiple diaries. Outsourcing those tasks your PA doesn’t have time for - dictation, document formatting, mail outs, report preparation, presentations, emails - can free him or her up for helping track down new business, researching leads and other revenue-generating activities, whilst still enabling the day-to-day work flow to proceed.

A VA can handle a great deal of the projects in-house staff would normally look after. Many VAs assist their clients with bookkeeping, internet research, corporate travel, looking after customer mailing lists and mail outs, website maintenance, marketing activities like gift purchases for clients, arranging holiday cards/gifts, handling customer orders including shipment - as well as personal tasks like booking holidays, researching better insurance deals and reminding clients of important dates.

If you have sales staff on the road, you can increase their productivity by having them utilise the services of a VA. Instead of waiting until they return to the office and inputting data themselves, the sales team can be dictating follow up notes ‘on the fly’ using either a dial in system or digital voice recorder, for transfer to the VA who can then input the information directly into an online database or customer relationship management program like Act!

By utilising the services of a professional VA your business stands a good chance of surviving in difficult or uncertain economic times, without the need to lay off all your staff, overload existing staff or wind up doing all the work yourself.

Author's Bio: 

Award-winning virtual assistant, Lyn Prowse-Bishop, MVA ASO CAVB PVAA is owner/manager of Executive Stress Office Support (eSOS), specialising in medico-legal digital transcription, virtual author support and executive personal assistant services for clients around the world.

One of Queensland’s most respected and well known virtual assistants, Lyn is also founder of the Australian Virtual Business Network, serves as Australian representative on international committees looking at standards and certification for the VA industry, and is a foundation steering committee member of the annual Online International Virtual Assistants Convention. She hosts Australia’s first internet radio show/podcast for the VA industry – Virtual Business Show – and is Queensland representative on the Board of Independent Contractors Australia.

How can you spend less time in the office and more enjoying life? Visit her site or email lyn@execstress.com to find out.