7 ways virtual assistants can use automation (And why they should)

by Ivan Serrano
virtual assistant automation

Over the past few years, the number of people embracing freelance work or opting to start a solopreneurship has skyrocketed. According to the most recent data, more than a third of the whole US workforce now freelances some or all of the time.

And there’s no sign of the trend slowing down anytime soon.

However, there’s a problem with the freelance revolution. Individual workers can’t always handle all of the work opportunities. A solopreneur only has so many hours in a day, limiting their economic prospects.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the world of the virtual assistant. Their job is to take on the tasks that other professionals and entrepreneurs are too busy to do. And that means they’re often tasked with time-consuming and detail-oriented work — and that can severely limit the number of clients they can handle at once.

But succeeding as a virtual assistant means taking on as many clients at once as possible. That means finding ways to complete more tasks in less time. And today, virtual assistants can turn to automation technology to make that happen. 

To explain, here’s an overview of why automation’s such a critical tool for virtual assistants and 7 ways that they can use it to expand their workload capacity.

The benefits of automation for virtual assistants

Virtual assistants are some of the most versatile business professionals in the world. They’re relied upon by entrepreneurs and business customers to handle a variety of critical work. And it isn’t just busy work — it’s the kind of work that requires great care and diligence.

Employment of humans means they must take care of privacy laws when dealing with customers, such as the California Privacy Rights Act. You can read more about the CPRA for extra details.

But there’s a natural limit to how much work a single virtual assistant can handle. And for that reason, the majority of virtual assistants don’t take on more than two customers at a time. Historically, those wishing to expand had to take on partners or other employees to accommodate a larger workload.

But today, automation technology is sufficiently developed to where it can help virtual assistants take on more work without taking on additional staff. That’s because automation is well suited to handling repetitive tasks and other time-consuming manual processes. And when it’s used in the right ways, virtual assistants can leverage it to take on more clients or offer value-added services they couldn’t otherwise.

Here are the areas where automation can be a game-changer for virtual assistants.

Automating email classification and response

One of the most common tasks that virtual assistants perform is the management of a client’s incoming emails. And the reason for that is the fact that it’s time-consuming. 

According to research by McKinsey, the average professional spends approximately 28% of their day reading and answering emails. And entrepreneurs may spend far more than that.

That would mean that a virtual assistant could only take on four clients at once — and that’s assuming that managing those clients’ emails was all they were doing. In the real world, most virtual assistants don’t take on more than two full-time clients at a time because inbox management is only a part of their workload.

But if they add automation to the mix, the equation changes. 

Today, it’s possible to automate email classifications and even some predetermined responses. And using more advanced AI-powered tools can cut down email-related workloads to just a fraction of what they’d be with a manual process. By using custom-trained machine learning algorithms, virtual assistants can automate everything from common question responses to the forwarding of email to appropriate recipients — and all without lifting a finger.

This means a virtual assistant can reduce their email management workload for each client down to just an hour or two per day. And that can dramatically increase their workload capacity without sacrificing the level of service provided to each client. In short — it’s a perfect use of automation for them.

Automating meeting and appointment scheduling

Another common task that virtual assistants often handle for clients is managing their calendars and scheduling. 

And although it’s not as time-consuming as managing a flood of incoming emails, it’s a task that can become quite time-consuming. It can also be a drain on virtual assistants because it can become confusing to manage the schedules of multiple clients at once.

Virtual assistants can turn to automated meeting and appointment scheduling systems to reduce that workload. Today’s automated scheduling systems make it possible to take a mostly hands-off approach to calendar management. 

By configuring a client’s calendar with their scheduling preferences — including preferred times, locations, and more — it’s possible to let people schedule meetings with the client with no manual intervention.

For the virtual assistant, this means not having to play phone or email tag with anyone to add meetings to a client’s schedule. And it also means never having to worry about managing conflicts or notifying participants of changes to a scheduled appointment or meeting. 

With automation in place, all of those things happen on their own, without the virtual assistant lifting a finger.

And that’s just the beginning. 

Automated scheduling systems built with advanced AI can help virtual assistants deliver some value-added services to their clients. For example, there are scheduling automation systems that can analyze a client’s productivity patterns to schedule appointments in the least disruptive way possible. 

By adding such tools to their arsenal, virtual assistants can help their clients get more done and make themselves indispensable — which helps them retain important clients even as they work to expand their operations.

Automating transcription services

By now, it should be obvious that the best uses of automation for virtual assistants tend to revolve around reducing the burden of time-consuming tasks. And there aren’t many more time-consuming tasks than transcribing audio. 

It’s something that many virtual assistants have to do now that modern voicemail systems can deliver messages to recipients via email attachments.

In practice, this means the virtual assistant has to listen to every incoming voicemail — in full — and provide their client with a text readout of its contents. And there aren’t many shortcuts that can speed up the process. As a result, virtual assistants are at the mercy of each client’s voicemail box.

If, for example, a particular client is working on a complex deal and is getting multiple messages per day from a customer, their lawyers, and other stakeholders, the virtual assistant will have hours of work they can’t avoid. That is unless they turn to automation.

Today’s automated transcription tools can handle speech-to-text conversion, and they can help virtual assistants to minimize their workload. And they’re just as accurate as transcribing audio the old-fashioned way. Better still — they can transcribe audio at faster than real-time speeds.

That means a single virtual assistant can offer voicemail transcription services to multiple clients without risking getting overwhelmed by the work. No matter how many messages need transcribing, the transcription software will handle it with almost no intervention.

But that’s not all. Virtual assistants don’t only transcribe voicemails. They’re also sometimes asked to listen in on meetings and provide a transcript to participants. Having to do that locks them into a single task for a protracted amount of time — preventing them from handling work for other clients.

For that reason, there are plenty of virtual assistants that don’t even offer meeting transcriptions as a service. The time demands are simply too high. And offering it essentially means never having more than two clients at a time to maintain the needed schedule flexibility.

Automated transcription software can help with that, too. Many of today’s transcription platforms can dial into phone meetings — or listen in on in-person meetings via phone — and produce transcripts in real-time. That means the virtual assistant can add yet another value-added service without limiting the number of clients they can serve at once.

Automating accounting tasks

There’s a particular kind of irony involved in running a virtual assistant business. It’s that it means taking on the time-consuming work other entrepreneurs don’t have time to do. And by doing so, virtual assistants don’t have much time to do the nuts-and-bolts work of running their own business.

Among the work they need to do is to handle their business’s accounting functions. After all, a virtual assistant business can’t expand — let alone survive — without paying bills and billing clients for services rendered.

And that’s another area where automation can help in a big way. By turning to an accounting automation solution, virtual assistants can put much of their accounting work on autopilot by turning to an accounting automation solution. The most important benefit of doing so is improving their accounts receivable process.

First and foremost, automation can help virtual assistants to send more accurate and timely invoices to clients. That improves their odds of getting paid on time. Plus, accounting automation tools can take over the unpleasant — but sometimes necessary — work of reminding clients that bills are overdue.

Handing those critical accounting tasks to automation helps virtual assistants stabilize their cash flow. It also allows them to scale up their accounting functions as they take on new clients. Plus, accounting automation platforms provide them with up-to-the-minute financial data and bottom-line transparency.

All of those things are essential for virtual assistants hoping to expand their operations. But they’re not even the only benefits. Accounting automation can also help automate payroll, giving a solo virtual assistant an easier path to expansion by hiring additional staff. That alone makes accounting automation worth using for any business with designs for future growth.

bpo data entry

Automating data entry tasks

Data entry is another area where automation can make a big difference for virtual assistants. It’s yet another time-consuming task that virtual assistants are often asked to handle. And it is well suited for today’s automation technology.

It’s also worth noting that there are more automation tools available for data entry tasks than there are for almost any other kind of work. This is because data entry, as a category, is far from homogenous.

For example, one of the most common data entry tasks virtual assistants handle is data extraction and conversion. This refers to tasks like extracting client information from invoices and sales documentation and entering it into an ERP or CRM system. But that’s a task that aligns perfectly with today’s automation technology.

The virtual assistant would need to define the data types for a given input (like the fields on a standard invoice) and define where each data type should end up. Then, the automation tools could use a combination of optical character recognition and database connectivity to do the rest. 

The workload for the virtual assistant is then reduced to nothing more than setting up the workflow.

And that’s not the only type of data entry that automation tools can handle. Other applicable tasks include:

  • Capturing data from resumes and HR documentation
  • Sourcing and translating data to generate business reports
  • Web scraping and document processing for competitor research
  • Identity verification tasks

And those are just a few of the types of data entry workflows that are a natural fit for automation. And for virtual assistants, everyone represents a potentially lucrative service they could be offering to clients. With automation in the mix, they can do so without fear of biting off more than they can chew.

Automating social media posts and management

Some kinds of automation can benefit a virtual assistant and their clients at the same time. A prime example of that is social media automation. Virtual assistants often use social media channels to promote themselves and the services they offer. And some even offer social media management as a service to their client base.

In both cases, automation can have a major impact. 

First, virtual assistants can use social media automation tools to pre-plan and execute their own social marketing strategy. That will give them one less time-consuming task to worry about. Plus, it’ll improve their posting consistency, which is a major key to building a larger audience and improving engagement metrics.

And social media automation tools come with some other benefits for virtual assistants. One big one is that many of them include measuring social sentiment. That makes it possible for a virtual assistant to gauge the reaction they’re getting online without resorting to manual data analysis.

And another is the ability to generate reports and gain better visibility into their social performance metrics. That means they will get nearly instant feedback that will help them to optimize their social marketing campaigns. Some social media automation tools also offer the ability to manage follower interactions on multiple social channels.

They can, for example, forward important social messages via email and hide obvious spam messages. That cuts down on how much time the virtual assistant has to spend on reading through social comments and sorting out what’s important from what’s not. Instead, they receive a digest that highlights what they need to know and leaves out all the rest.

And every one of those features can also allow a virtual assistant to offer social media management as a service to multiple clients at once. And by doing so, they can increase their per-client rate without dramatically increasing their workload. It’s a true win-win proposition.

Automating SEO tasks

Social media automation isn’t the only type of automation that can benefit a virtual assistant and their clients. The same is true of SEO automation. 

SEO, or search engine optimization, is a key strategy that businesses use to raise their online profile. For virtual assistants, it’s one of the primary ways to create a steady stream of new leads in their quest to add new clients and expand.

But SEO can be a labor-intensive process. Just getting started with it can require hours of research — and that’s just to figure out the best strategy to improve search engine rankings. And even once that strategy bears fruit, it’s necessary to monitor site analytics and keyword rankings to try and stay on top.

The good news is that there’s a variety of SEO software available to make some of the necessary work a bit easier. And that’s not all. Several tools make automating some key SEO tasks easy. Some of those tasks include:

  • Position tracking – this is the process of monitoring how specific landing pages or content rank for the keywords they’re targeting
  • Analyzing link profile quality – this is the process of keeping track of backlinks leading to optimized pages to look out for low-quality links that harm search rankings
  • Brand monitoring – this is the process of scouring the web for mentions of your brand, so you can contact site owners to try and arrange for backlinks
  • Technical SEO auditing – this is the process of scanning owned websites looking for technical issues (like slow load times, missing images, and broken links) that can harm search rankings
  • Analyzing crawl logs – this is the process of looking for difficulties search engines may be having while cataloging websites and assets

With the right kind of automated SEO tools in place, virtual assistants can improve their own SEO results and attract more new leads. And that will allow them to create a client funnel to feed their expansion plans.

But the use of automated SEO tools will also help on the client-side. These days, SEO services are frequently offered by virtual assistants. And they’re another value-added service that can help virtual assistants to pad their bottom lines without getting overloaded.

Check out this list of virtual assistant software tools.

The takeaway

Today’s economy provides individuals with unprecedented opportunities to strike out on their own to start a business. And people are doing so at an ever-increasing rate. And it’s projected to continue for the foreseeable future.

By 2028, analysts expect that there will be over 90 million freelancers in the US alone. It’s a massive shift that’s just beginning to show its effects on the broader economy. And one of those effects is that businesses increasingly have to turn to outsiders to handle some of their most critical tasks.

At the same time, the more people shift toward freelance work, the greater that demand will become. And virtual assistants are in a unique position to capitalize on that surge in demand. They’re talented and versatile business professionals that can handle many of the tasks businesses now need help to manage.

But virtual assistants can’t take on an unlimited number of clients when they’re working alone. And that’s why automation is such a critical tool for them to use if they wish to expand their operations. It offers a way of cutting down the work associated with many of the most common tasks virtual assistants do.

And beyond that, automation offers a path for virtual assistants to expand on the services they now provide. Doing so will help them be more competitive and grow their business with more lucrative contracts — and all without having to take on more staff.

The bottom line is simple. Automation is a natural fit for virtual assistants. And embracing it is the perfect way to expand their workload capacity without sacrificing a thing. The opportunities for automation aren’t limited to the seven areas identified here, either. 

So it’s well worth it for virtual assistants to start exploring automation technology today — so they can be ready for the work that’s sure to come tomorrow.

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