How much is an hour of your time worth? If you invoice by the hour, you might be tempted to quote your contracted hourly rate in response to that question; if you invoice by the day, you might estimate the number of hours you work and divide your daily rate accordingly, instead.
You probably forgot to include your commute; it is not always immediately obvious but, if you have to travel for 2 hours every day in order to spend 8 hours at a client site, then those 2 hours also have to be included, as well.
Now ask yourself a more challenging question: How much of the work that you do could genuinely only be performed by you? If you’re a contractor, you’re probably working for your clients as a specialist but, unless you’re operating at the very highest levels within an organisation, the chances are that you won’t have a personal assistant so at least a portion of your day – each and every day, in fact – will still be devoted to mundane and routine administrative tasks such as calendar management, checking e-mails, et cetera. Also, what about the administration of your own business (if you’re operating through a private limited company, for example)? You might have an accountant but how much time do you spend each week, or at the end of each month, sorting out receipts, recording mileage, and submitting timesheets? If you’re like most contractors, you’ll probably spend at least half a day each month on non-chargeable activities which equates to 1-2 working weeks each year.
There has to be a better way of working, surely? Welcome to the reality of a virtual assistant… here is how it works.
First, you need to calculate how much an hour of your time is really worth. That figure is probably not even close to your contracted hourly rate, it is actually your total income divided by the total number of hours you devote to working and secondary supporting activities (e.g. commuting, mundane and repetitive administration, searching for contracts, Sunday afternoon paperwork, et cetera). List out all of those secondary supporting activities and then cross out any tasks that could genuinely only be performed by you; the remaining list is all potentially work that you could outsource to a virtual assistant at a fraction of your hourly rate by leveraging the principal of geoarbitrage.
Geoarbitrage is defined as, “the practice of taking advantage of a price difference between two or more markets: striking a combination of matching deals that capitalize upon the imbalance, the profit being the difference between the market prices.”
In this case, that means taking advantage of the strength of the pound against currencies in developing countries and outsourcing work to skilled freelance workers overseas. That might mean having an assistant in Singapore that reviews and submits your expense claims to your clients once a month, or a Microsoft Power Point guru from Chile who can put together a world-class animation based on your scribbled notes. The possibilities are literally endless.
There are several established communities – most notably Elance – offering a quick, reliable and safe way of securing low cost services which could leave you as a contractor with either more free time (increasing your quality of life) or more time to do chargeable work (increasing your income). The real beauty is that it gives you a choice; and choice, of course, is the essence of contracting.
Peter Roy is a freelance project manager and productivity consultant; he has successfully used virtual assistants from all over the globe to support his business over the last 2 years.