Business

Office assistants go virtual

BY SHAMILLE SCOTT Business reporter

Wednesday, July 18, 2012    

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TECHNOLOGY has yet again changed the way work is done.

Meet the virtual assistant, the out-of-office worker who will organise your schedule, type your letters and maybe even buy a last-minute anniversary present for your spouse — online of course.

Realising that there were not many virtual assistants in Jamaica, Nasstasia Francis left her job in computer sales and became a virtual assistant.

She does secretarial and administrative work for companies without having to go into their offices.

Working from one location, Francis is able to serve many clients, none of whom need a full-time assistant, and she can start and finish her work when she wants.

While most virtual assistants work from home, Francis has her office in the Brentford Road, Kingston premises of Quicktech computer sales, one of her clients.

Francis does telemarketing for Quicktech, which Howard Thomas started when he had a full-time job and needed a little extra help.

Initially, he was looking to develop a small clientele, so as not to interfere with his main job, and Francis was able to do his promotion for him.

It was a useful service for Thomas who did not have to pay an assistant for an eight-hour job. "When I started, I knew little about sales and I had little interest in walk-in customers," he said. Thomas now cuts the amount he spends on the salary of a secretary with Francis as his virtual assistant.

Francis now looks for other clients through word of mouth and by posting her details. She and her clients come to an agreement of the tasks to be done and Francis charges a retainer fee.

Businesses can use virtual assistants as short-term cover if an employee leaves abruptly, or over the medium term to cover for someone on holiday or maternity leave, or because the amount of work varies.

"I could have paid a staff to come in and work eight hours for over $6,000," said Thomas. "Now, I can pay as little as $3,000 depending on the hours my virtual assistant worked."

Francis uses a program called Team Viewer to see the company data of clients from out of town.

"My client in Ocho Rios can see what I'm doing and I can access the business's purchase orders and produce estimates for customers," she said.

The job of a virtual assistant sometimes begins before office hours said Jomarie Malcolm, a full-time virtual assistant who works from home.

"The virtual office is much more convenient for my hectic schedule and I can work overtime," said Malcolm, who specialises in social media and design.

The 21-year-old works on popular social marketing sites such as Facebook and Twitter, building relationships between her clients and their customers, both current and prospective.

As a graphic designer, she also creates the face of their online campaign to complement the business and its products, ensuring that everything is branded.

"If a client wanted a design done, after agreeing on the details and the time I need to work with, we set a deadline," she said. "In my experience, when a person comes to you for a design, it is needed in a short time."

Few people know that social media use in companies is serious business, she said, some persons take social media marketing lightly.

"There are those who think they are good social media marketers and those who are actually doing good social media marketing and the latter group is in the minority," Malcolm said.

A good social media image is relative, but it is important that consumers feel that you are credible and engaging.

Virtual assistance also allows businesses to Interact with customers outside office hours. Customers' concerns are addressed in real time.

Monique Salmon spends hours on the internet, and is sometimes up at midnight addressing concerns that may affect her clients.

"I do damage control," she said, explaining that she uses Twitter and other social media platforms to monitor people who follow her clients' businesses.

Ike Francis (no relation) initially did his own marketing on Facebook and Twitter for his catering company.

But when Bickles and Beverages needed an extra chef, he hired a virtual assistant, leaving him more time in the kitchen.

"A virtual assistant helps with online promotion," he said. "My business is kept relevant in the eyes of my customers."

As many as 300 clients are informed of dishes that he can provide for events.

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