Choosing the right virtual assistant company can make the difference between transforming your productivity, boosting your company’s growth, and a disappointing experience. While it may be tempting to jump in quickly, it really pays to do your homework, understand the options and choose carefully.

Here’s how to identify, interview and choose the best VA company for your specific needs.

Step 1: Identify the Type of Company You Need

Virtual assistance companies are as varied as the clients they serve, so the very first thing you need to do is determine what type of company you should work with.

The impartial review site virtualassistantassistant.com (VAA), is an excellent starting point for researching companies, and reading reviews from their customers. VAA offers overviews of many of the best VA companies, often trying their services first-hand and posting detailed reviews. Even more, VAA features client ratings: authentic, unedited opinions from small business owners who have used these services for years.

When evaluating potential VA companies, here are some important factors to consider:

Individual-grade vs. Business-grade VA Staffing

In the virtual assistant world, there are two basic grades of VA: Virtual Assistants suitable for individuals, and business-grade assistants, suitable for the more complex tasks needed by small businesses. Individual-grade VAs are what many people think of as the traditional virtual assistant: virtual staff who perform basic admin, like answering emails and scheduling travel.

Business-grade VAs can handle much more complex functions, from social media and bookkeeping to multilingual customer service. Business-grade VA companies usually have specialized assistants on their team that can help with web design, email marketing, web development, project management, WordPress admin (webmaster), and more. Business-grade VAs possess not only advanced skills, but also the maturity, experience and track-records to handle the responsibility of your important business functions.

Bottom line: Business-grade VAs generally cost more, but if you require specialized skillsets, business-grade is worth the extra investment.

Onshore vs. Offshore Virtual Assistant Companies

In addition to grade, the VA world is broken down into another basic dichotomy: onshore versus offshore. Onshore assistants are located in your country, whether that’s in North America, Europe or Australasia: they work in your time zone, speak your language natively, and understand the cultural nuances – the work ethic, timeliness, and other factors you expect from your VA.

Offshore VAs are based abroad, often in developing nations like India, the Philippines, or in Latin America. Assistants speak English, but their language skills often hover around 75-90% fluency: perfectly adequate for everyday, interoffice communications, but may not be appropriate for speaking with clients, answering emails, and developing other company communications that clients will see.

Bottom line: Onshore VAs have perfect English and work when you work, but they’re usually more expensive.

Task-Based Assistance vs. Dedicated Assistants

Most VA companies offer either dedicated assistants or task-based help, while a few companies offer both services. Task-based assistance is impersonal, but usually less expensive. It can be challenging however to get consistency when you never know who will be working on your task. If you work with a company that offers task-based VA service, you’ll send small (15- to 60-minute) tasks off to a general email account, and an available assistant will complete your work.

Working with a dedicated assistant, on the other hand means you’ll work with the same assistant everyday, which gives you the chance to train your VA to understand your company’s personality, guidelines and other important elements. The dedicated assistant model usually requires you to purchase a monthly package of set daily/weekly hours, so turnaround time is fast.

Bottom line: If you need simple assistance such as light research, low-cost task-based assistance may be a good solution. For admin that requires familiarity with your company, you’re better off with a dedicated VA.

Personalization of Service

Service levels in the Virtual Assistant world vary significantly from company to company. The larger companies take a generic ‘One Size Fits All’ approach to VA services: work is viewed mostly as a commodity – a set task to be completed in a standard way – and there’s less emphasis placed on building a long-term relationship between an entrepreneur and VA. This level of service is ideal for small biz owners with simple tasks.

VA companies offering a personal approach start with the premise that the entrepreneur-VA relationship is long-term, and their approach is much more tailored to the small business owner. A VA company like this will match you with a VA who not only possesses the skills you need, but whose personality gels with your’s and with whom you feel at ease.

Top-tier VA companies go the extra mile to ensure you receive the best service. For example, the best companies will provide you with several candidates from which to choose: after a phone or Skype interview, you select the VA who is right for you. Even better, they will not only provide a backup assistant in case of illness or vacation, but also pre-train your backup to step in seamlessly if your primary VA is away.

Bottom line: It all comes down to your needs: if you’re looking for a virtual team member whom you can trust with sensitive tasks and major responsibilities, choose a VA company that offers high-quality service.

Satisfaction Guarantee

Reputable VA companies offer a satisfaction guarantee: if you’re not happy with services rendered, you get your money back. Be aware of guarantee lengths: many companies offer just two weeks, even if you pay by the month. Whenever possible, work with a company that offers a full, 30-day, 100% satisfaction guarantee.

Bottom line: Always work with a company that offers a satisfaction guarantee – and the longer the term, the better.

Step 2: Speak to A Shortlist of Companies

After you’ve narrowed down your virtual assistant company candidates, it’s time to choose The One. While the first phase is exciting, this phase can be a little nerve-racking: are you choosing the right company?

Take a breath and refer back to Step 1’s guarantee clause: whatever company you choose should guarantee your complete satisfaction. Anxiety relieved.

Once you’ve read through all the reviews and made a shortlist of the companies you are interested in, speak to them. Ask lots of questions. (See below.) Do they resonate with you? Do you feel comfortable with them? Are they open and transparent about their process?

The questions you ask will depend on your needs, which you identified above. Here are a few things you don’t want to forget:

  • How do they choose their assistants? or What do they look for in a “great” assistant? Working virtually is different from working in an office, face-to-face with your assistant. You need an assistant (or assistants) who is responsible and trustworthy, so be sure to understand how the company selects its VAs.
  • What is their process for getting started? A good VA company has a clear and simple procedure for getting started. You should never have to wonder, what’s next?
  • Do they offer hours tracking? Many VA packages are billed by the hour, so you need access to time-tracking software or an hours-tracking dashboard. (For example, at Worldwide 101 our clients have access to a transparent, easy-to-use hours dashboard.) Beware: when a company works on the “honor system,” it’s probably a warning sign.
  • How important are language skills? If your VA will be tasked with phone customer service, email marketing, and other company communications, you will likely require a native-language speaker. Verify that a candidate company offers native speakers in your desired language(s).
  • Do I need an assistant in my time zone? If your VA will be responsible for time-sensitive tasks, like responding to email during business hours, be sure to ask whether the company can guarantee an assistant who works in your time zone.
  • Can I meet my assistant before deciding? This goes back to level of service: if you require a highly-skilled VA, make sure your virtual assistant company allows you to meet and select from a pool of candidates.
  • Do I need a backup assistant, in case my VA is sick or on vacation? This isn’t simply a question of substitute labor – you want skilled backup that understands your company. (Who wants to train a temporary assistant?) Ask your VA company whether they provide training to backups.

After interviewing potential companies and assistants, assess your feelings. Does your favorite company inspire confidence? Do you feel comfortable with their processes? Do you believe you’ll receive reliable help? Remember, you will be delegating important business processes to your VA, and hopefully establishing a long-term relationship with this company. What does your gut say? Do you feel good about this decision?

The best virtual assistant companies know that they have incredible assistants who perform above expectations. They offer a satisfaction guarantee because they know you’ll be satisfied. So have faith in the process and take the leap. If it doesn’t work out, for any reason, you’re covered.