Elance Work Differently Summit

Last night I had the chance to attend the first annual Elance Work Differently Summit, held at their corporate headquarters in Mountain View, California.

As an Elance user and outsourcing nerd, I was excited for the opportunity to visit “the mothership.”

Elance work differently summit

Networking Time

The evening began with open networking time and attendees were able to mingle with each other and with Elance employees. I met some interesting and motivated entrepreneurs, each with their own unique take on the Elance system.

There was also an open bar and a selection of hors d’oeuvres to keep people from getting too hungry or thirsty.

CEO Presentation

The scheduled program opened with remarks from Elance CEO Fabio Rosati. He discussed the tremendous growth of the platform and where they see the future of online work going. (up!)

Despite the recent headlines at Yahoo on banning telecommuting, the global trend is moving toward decentralized workforces and remote teams.

In terms of scale, he mentioned that Elance is on pace to fill over a million jobs this year and process more than $250 million in contractor payments.

Elance CEO Fabio Rosati
Elance CEO Fabio Rosati Presenting

Freelancer Presentation

A successful freelance project manager named Corrina told her story about getting started with Elance and the happier life she’s been able to build since going into business for herself.

It was pretty inspirational to hear about the potential for Elance connections to really make such positive changes in people’s lives.

Platform Features and Enhancements

Two members of the Elance team presented on some improved functionality of the platform and answered questions from the audience. Specifically they talked about:

  • Pre-populated job descriptions
  • Inviting pre-qualified contractors to bid your job
  • A “portfolio” view that is now in Beta
  • Folder options for organizing and managing your account
me with Elance sign
Me in front of the big Elance sign.

Elance Success Panel

Finally, 3 Elance power users held a lively panel discussion on how they’ve used the system to transform their businesses. The consensus was (not surprising for an Elance-sponsored event) that they were able to delivery higher quality results faster and at a lower cost than ever was possible before.

The panelists also discussed feedback on the platform, bidding and hiring strategies, and what to do when things go south.

My favorite part was when one of the panelists openly advocated for virtual assistants, proclaiming everyone needs one, and it’s an amazing feeling to just “let go.” (paraphrasing)

Takeaways

All in all I was happy I made the trip, and it definitely got me thinking about how I can better utilize the global talent pool available on the site.

Where you there? What did you think?

If you want to learn more about the company, please check out our Elance page for more information and user reviews.

A Giveaway

I have a free paperback copy of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Elance” to give away.  Leave a comment letting me know a funny VA story or anything else outsourcing-related and I’ll pick a winner by April 3rd*.

*Sorry, I can only ship to US addresses.

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How to Build an Automated Marketing Machine with a Virtual Assistant

This is a guest post from Chris Kilbourn. Chris is an innovative entrepreneur who is the founder of TaskBullet, a virtual assistant company in the Philippines, and TOFU Marketing, a full service Internet marketing firm.

When it comes to marketing your business there are a million and one things that need your attention. How could any business owner get the time to do it all?

The secret: utilizing a virtual assistant!

You need to focus on the important stuff. So, there’s no better way to do it than hiring a virtual assistant to help you scale your business.

Our customers with TaskBullet use these techniques frequently, and you can too!

Just follow the 5 marketing tasks below to help you build and automate your marketing machine.

Scheduling Your Social Media Posts for the Week

Many of your best social media postings will be real-time responses to customers, colleagues or events; however, a virtual assistant can easily schedule the postings of your basic messages in advance.  By doing this you ensure you won’t miss opportunities each day to keep your social community engaged.

There are several social media tools that enable the scheduling of posts for Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Buffer and Hootsuite are probably the two most popular because they are so easy to use.

bufferapp

Buffer’s scheduling interface allows you to select the days and times you want a post to go live.

To use a virtual assistant for this task you simply need to provide him or her with:

  • Log in details for your social media accounts
  • Pre-written messages, links and images for your posts
  • A basic schedule for when to take the posts live

For example, you might tell your virtual assistant that you want to schedule one Facebook post each day at 3pm Eastern Time while scheduling Twitter posts to go out at the top of the hour each hour between 8am and 6pm Eastern Time. Your assistant can then go through your document with pre-written messages and queue them up.

Your virtual assistant can also help you find relevant links to share if you don’t have the time for that.

Prepping Your Weekly or Monthly Email Newsletter

Writing and sending a weekly or monthly e-newsletter takes up a lot of time. Free up some bandwidth by hiring a virtual assistant to take care of the basic prep work for you.

Your virtual assistant can set up your email campaign so that it goes to the appropriate list, assign the correct template to each campaign, add Google Analytics tracking code and even set up the campaign type (a/b test, basic, etc.) for you.

mailchimp dashboard

A virtual assistant can fill in the basic information for your email newsletter.

With all of that prep work completed in advance, all you need to do is go in and add in your copy, images and links before shooting off a test!

Adding Alt Tags to All Images on Your Website

Most SEO tactics require a hands-on approach from someone very knowledgeable in search marketing. Old school (scalable) techniques like social bookmarking, directory submissions, and comment spam no longer work because of Google’s Penguin and Panda updates. In fact, they can likely damage your site’s SEO if Google identifies it.

However, there is a basic task that your virtual assistant can help you with: adding ALT tags to all of your images.

An ALT tag is a small line of code that helps a search engine crawl and index an image.

It can be hand coded into a site like this:

<img src=”smiley.gif” alt=”Smiley Face”>

(You can see that the ALT text of “Smiley Face” describes the image smiley.gif and goes within the “img src” tag.)

Or, if you use WordPress there is a place to add ALT text for each image in the editor:

img alt text wordpress

Your virtual assistant can be tasked with adding ALT text to each image on your website.

When possible, you should use keyword friendly phrases in the ALT text while still accurately describing the image. To have your virtual assistant help with this task you will want to provide him or her with a list of your top keywords.

If you have never added any ALT tags to your website, you’ll want your virtual assistant to go through the entire site and add them in to each image. If you’ve been doing this all along, you can simply have your assistant add ALT text to each new image added for you. This is particularly helpful if you blog often and use multiple images in each post.

When considering other SEO tasks to have your virtual assistant help with, it’s important to note that social bookmarking, blog commenting and directory submissions no longer work to give your rankings a boost. Certainly commenting and social bookmarking can help you get found by your target audience, but do not count on them as SEO tactics.

Routing Qualified Leads to the Appropriate Sales Rep

It’s important to get qualified leads to the appropriate sales rep as soon as possible. If you don’t have expensive software that can help you automate this task, having a virtual assistant can be very useful.

For example, if you have a form on your website used for lead generation you may also have certain questions in the form that help determine if a lead is qualified or not.

Consider this scenario: you are a marketing consultant and someone fills out a form on your site that says she is interested in hiring a consultant within one month. You probably want to get in touch with her faster than a lead that says he is going to hire someone within the next six months because the one month lead at this time is more qualified.

Similarly, if all your lead gen form asks for is name and basic contact information and each lead needs to go to a certain sales person, your virtual assistant can help with the sorting.

For example if all leads with a last name that begins with A-L should go to Sales Rep 1 while leads with last names that begin with M-Z should go to Sales Rep 2, your virtual assistant can help sort and send the incoming leads to the correct person.

Putting Together a Weekly or Monthly Analytics Report

Your analytics software, whether it is Google Analytics or something else, holds a lot of information. Depending on your role within a company, the information you find most important will vary.

A virtual assistant can put together a daily, weekly or monthly report for you that focuses on just the information and trends that you find most important.

For example, if you are the owner of a business and have a marketing person or team under you, it is likely that you don’t need to see the in-the-weeds data on the conversion rate of each specific organic keyword coming in. Instead you may want to see a chart that shows the top 10 keywords alongside their bounce rate, average time on site and conversion rate. Or you may just want to see overall trends by month for increased organic traffic.

analytics

A virtual assistant can pull together analytical data into easy-to-read charts for you.

Your virtual assistant can put together a report template and fill in the relevant data you request for each day/week/month. This allows you to optimize your time spent on reviewing analytics rather than pulling the reports yourself.

Other Tasks a Virtual Assistant Can Help With

The above list of marketing tasks a virtual assistant can help with is certainly not comprehensive. And of course a virtual assistant can help with many things outside the realm of marketing.

Whether you don’t have the time for marketing, or just need some extra hands to help you build a marketing machine, hiring a virtual assistant is a wise choice to scale your efforts.

Your Thoughts

What types of tasks do you outsource to your virtual assistants?

Can you think of any that we could add to this list?

We’d love to hear from you! Just let us know in the comments below.

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iMysecy

iMysecy is an around-the-clock virtual assistant service based in India. The company was founded in 2009 by a group of entrepreneurs from the United States, England, and India. The sales office is in San Jose, CA, the heart of Silicon Valley. I’m thinking the name is like “i – my – secretary” — but I could be way off.

imysecy reviewAccording to their website, the founders of iMysecy are engineering graduates from the best Ivy League universities as well as holders of MBA’s from the “top 5 B-schools on the planet.” However, it looks like they want to remain anonymous because no names are listed.

Service wise, iMysecy runs a unique hybrid model of dedicated assistance and team-based support. You do get assigned a dedicated point of contact, but the actual work may be completed by someone else on their team or a qualified freelancer, depending on the expertise required.

Commonly outsourced tasks range from content creation to all aspects of administration, the latest in technological issues, and various forms of marketing and even accounting.

iMysecy is quite affordable, offering up five different pricing plans that can suit you, regardless of what your needs and budget are. They are keenly aware of the fact that many folks in the initial phase of their endeavors cannot afford to break the bank when seeking out virtual assistance services.

You can get your feet wet with a Pay As You Go plan at a rate of $8 an hour. Then there are the Silver Plan at $49 monthly in a 7 hour pack, Gold at $99 for 15 hours, Platinum at $149 monthly for 25 hours and lastly the Super Saver, which will get you 35 hours for a very affordable $199 (less than $6 an hour).

Hours don’t roll over month-to-month.

As you can see, there is something for everybody, regardless of their budget. The Pay-As-You-Go plan might be a good way to start out so you can see if their service meets your expectations. At the time of this writing, no free trial is available.

The primary targets of iMysecy are small to medium sized businesses worldwide. Some clients are also individuals who find they are too busy with other demands and need to strike some kind of balance. This is especially important as many entrepreneurs, especially when first starting out, experience some form of burnout and sometimes strife in their personal life as well.

Some things that really stand out about iMysecy are that they have experts from different cultural backgrounds, as well as the unique team-based way tasks may be assigned.

The disappointing thing was that someone from the company attempted to post spam comments on this site promoting the business. Poor form!

Among other virtual assistant companies in India, you might consider My Tasker or VMG BPO.

Have you worked with iMySecy? If so, please take a minute to share a quick review of your experience below and help others with their decision.

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TaskUs

TaskUs is a “boutique” outsourcing company in the Philippines, with a sales office in Los Angeles. The company has grown from 5 employees in 2008, to over 400 today, all working out of a dedicated office space in Manila.

The story goes that co-founders Bryce Maddock and Jaspar Weir tested virtual staff from several countries around the world before concluding that workers from the Philippines were the best. Impressed by the passion and high level of service, they decided to set up shop for their new company there.

Services

TaskUs is aimed at mid-sized companies looking to leverage the cost benefits of outsourcing. The primary clients are start-ups, tech companies, and ecommerce stores.

TaskUs allows firms to scale up rapidly, bringing on dedicated teams of workers in a short time, who embed themselves in your company’s culture like virtual employees. The focus is skilled computer-based work, like photo-editing or product feed management, but outsourced team members can also perform customer support functions, data verification, and even content creation.

TaskUs Intro Video

This made laugh.

The company will bid on project-based work, but the majority of clients opt for full-time workers on a long-term engagement.

The facility in the Philippines is staffed with on-site management and company directors, so you know your employees are being kept accountable. And unlike the home-based VAs who may disappear for days on end when there’s a power outage, TaskUs has backup generators and transportation in place so your business stays online.

Plans and Pricing

When I spoke with TaskUs, I couldn’t nail down a price range for their services, only that their rates vary by the skills you require and the number of employees you need. I interpreted that as if you’re looking for the absolute bargain basement virtual employee, this is not the place. But then, the $2.50/hr people you might find on oDesk often come with hidden costs as well.

Ultimately the value comes from getting consistent quality work done at an affordable price, and not having to deal with the headaches of the hiring process yourself. Here’s an excellent write-up on PandoDaily about how TaskUs has kind of become Silicon Valley’s secret weapon for growth.

TaskUs Alternatives

Check out Prialto or VA Staffer for a couple alternatives to TaskUs in the Philippines.

Your Turn

Have you worked with TaskUs? If so, please share a quick review of your experience below and help others with their decision.

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3 Ways to Make Your Commute More Productive

The most efficient commute is no commute at all, but unfortunately that is not the reality for most people.  In fact, a 2012 Ipsos study found that while telecommuting is on the rise, more than 90% of global employees have to physically go into work at least some of the time.

In the U.S., the average commute is 25 minutes one way (2011 Census Report).  That means we have a solid 50 minutes a day worth of time to work with – time I believe is often wasted.

If you commute every day, that’s more than 4 hours a week and more than 2 full work days a month. The best part about it is it’s “free” time – you don’t have to sacrifice any other activities, and a few small habits can yield great results in your overall wellbeing.

Here are three activities you can do to utilize your commute time effectively, whether you’re driving yourself or taking public transportation.

Breathe

You don’t need to go to a yoga studio to do breathing exercises, and proper breathing has been linked to a number of physical and mental benefits.

Breathing deeply increases oxygen intake, which aids your immune system, improves brain function, and may even help burn excess fat.

Deep, slow breaths help expel toxins from your body and release tension.

It can be a meditative exercise as well; to help clear your mind and get you ready to face the day, or relax on the way home.

So what do you do?

  • Inhale slowly through your nose. Try and inhale for 5 seconds. Feel your stomach and chest expand.
  • Hold for 3 seconds at full capacity.
  • Exhale slowly while counting to 5. Feels good, doesn’t it?
  • Repeat for 5-10 minutes during both your morning and evening commute.

Work the Core

Just because you’re sitting on a bus or behind the wheel of a car doesn’t mean you can’t exercise.

What you’ll do is squeeze your stomach muscles and obliques and hold them in a contracted position. Hold this “flex” for a predetermined amount of time, say until the clock changes to the next minute, or for the duration of one song on the radio.

Then take the next minute or song off, and repeat.

A strong core is critical to your physical health and general athleticism, and this is a great way to work on your strength without going to the gym. The trick is you have to provide all the resistance in this exercise, so it all depends on how hard you squeeze and how long you hold it.

Bonus points if you can do this on the subway without looking constipated!

Learn

The late great Zig Ziglar called drive time “Automobile University” for a reason. You can choose to fill your ears with dozens of different entertainment options, but no amount of music or talk radio will do much to advance your goals.

Instead, download a podcast from iTunes. There are hundreds of amazing free shows. Just search any topic you’re interested in (productivity, for example) and prepare to have your world rocked.

Or, check out the audio books section at your local library website and download that book you’ve been meaning to read for the last 2 years.

Your commute time is the perfect opportunity to further your informal, pragmatic education.

Bringing It All Together

Let’s end the days of brainless autopilot commutes.

Let’s turn this necessary evil into a conscious time of self-awareness, a time to strengthen our bodies and our minds.

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The State of Personal Outsourcing White Paper

VirtualAssistantAssistant.com has compiled some information on personal outsourcing in 2012 and created a free white paper.

The paper covers:

  • Hot trends and topics in the virtual assistant industry.
  • Six months of proprietary never-before-released survey data on what customers are looking for in a virtual assistant.
  • Venture capitalist activity in the marketplace.
  • Geographic analytics data on potential virtual assistant clients.

View your free copy of the report HERE. (no opt-in required)

The State of Personal Outsourcing

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Outsourcing Things Done

Outsourcing Things Done is a virtual assistant company in the Philippines. Founded in 2009, the company has positioned themselves as a premium entry in the market.

Outsourcing Things Done VAs are available in a few different areas of expertise including general administrative skills, customer service, and real estate. In fact, the parent company of Outsourcing Things Done specializes in creating websites for real estate agents so it makes sense they would have virtual assistants familiar with business.

outsourcing things done reviewAnother company that focuses on real estate virtual assistants is My OutDesk.

One thing that sets OTD apart from the competition is that their VAs work from a professional office environment rather than from their homes. The downside, as you might expect, is this increases the cost substantially. (But it looks like a very nice office based on the video below!)

Services

Outsourcing Things Done offers three levels of VA service, imaginatively called Level 1, Level 2, and Level 3. There’s not much information I could find on what exactly these three levels mean, but they get more expensive the higher you go so I’ll assume it pertains to the VA’s experience and expertise.

Outsourcing Things Done Intro Video

Plans and Pricing

The rates start at $1200 a month and go up from there, which is definitely on the high side for virtual assistant companies in the Philippines. Every plan is a for a full-time virtual employee; there doesn’t appear to be any on-demand or part-time options available.

This is also known as a “staff leasing” business model. Based on your job description, the company will actively recruit a team member that fits your needs. They rely heavily on videos, both from you and the candidates, to ensure a good professional fit.

Beyond the monthly fee, OTD charges a $995 set up fee. There are a few companies charging these kinds of fees but not many.

If your VA requires special software — even Microsoft Office — there’s an additional charge for that. Do you need them to print and scan documents? There’s an extra charge for that. Do you need them to work during US business hours? There’s an extra charge for that.

I understand every business has certain costs and needs to make a profit but reading through their pricing menu just seems like a nickle-and-dime upcharge frenzy.

To help you monitor productivity, Outsourcing Things Done has installed special seat and screen cams. This will help you verify your virtual assistant is present and working when they say they are.

Outsourcing Things Done Alternatives

Take a look at VA Staffer or Prialto as potential considerations in addition to OTD.

Your Turn

Have you worked with Outsourcing Things Done? If so, please share a quick review of your experience below to help others with their decision.

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Hire in the Philippines

UPDATE April 18th, 2013: HireinthePhilippines.com is shut down indefinitely.

Hire in the Philippines is a young outsourcing company founded by entrepreneur Bobby Hicks.

The startup story is a somewhat common one. Hicks, a graphic design and video production professional, grew frustrated with the existing virtual assistant options. In his experience, VAs were flaky, irresponsible, and unproductive.

hire in the philippines reviewBut rather than give up on outsourcing altogether, Hicks thought there’s got to be a better way. So he packed up and moved from California to the Philippines in 2012 to start his own virtual assistant company, HireInThePhilippines.com.

Hire in the Philippines VAs speak English well and are experienced in common business process outsourcing tasks such as article writing, website management, SEO, customer service, and even programming and app development.

The main differentiator between Hire in the Philippines and some of the other VA companies is that their VAs are required to come in and work from the company office. Many other companies employ home-based workers, a practice Hicks believes kills productivity.

Hire in the Philippines Intro Video

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=udGrNCjuMf8

When I spoke with via Skype, he explained how he was in the office every day personally overseeing the virtual assistants — something he wished someone had been doing for him when he was outsourcing. It was also interesting to hear about all the business challenges a foreigner must go through to set up shop in the Philippines.

My takeaway was if Hicks was willing to move halfway around the world to make sure his vision became reality, he’s already shown the “whatever it takes” attitude necessary to build a successful operation.

With HireInThePhilippines.com, you can hire full-time 40 hours a week or half-time 20 hours a week, but you’ll need to have a  discussion with the company first to determine your specific needs. This is so they can recruit the best talent and best fit for your job. Their specialty is in placing long-term virtual employees.

Because of this, the company doesn’t quote prices on their website as the rates can vary depending on skills and experience. Generally speaking (just to give a ballpark idea), a general VA might be in the $700-900 per month range, and more technically skilled VAs might be in the $1000-1200 per month range.

The rates will likely be higher than with a freelancer or with a VA found through a recruiting service like Virtual Staff Finder or Remote Staff Recruit, but the theory is it’s worth it to pay a bit of a premium for the extra productivity that comes from having on-site management and office infrastructure.

Virtual Assistant Assistant Exclusive: Mention referral code VAA9000 for 10% off your first month!

Have you worked with Hire in the Philippines? If so, please share a quick review of your experience below to help others with their decision.

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Time Dog

UPDATE 12/11/2012: Time Dog has merged with iBlog Media Group, and has stopped taking new virtual assistant clients and requests.

Time Dog is a task-based virtual assistant company based in Tampa, Florida. time dog reviewThe business began in 2011 and has grown to a small team of virtual assistants, all working from the company’s Florida headquarters.

Founder Matt Cherry created Time Dog to help busy people (primarily busy women and moms) better manage their hectic schedules. He’s enlisted a team of service-oriented “superheroes” to make lives easier for clients around the country.

time dog reviewTime Dog offers remote personal assistance for quick tasks, and specifically targets busy individuals. The service is appropriate for personal use but is currently not open to business-related tasks.

Like other US-based VA companies such as Fancy Hands and Red Butler, Time Dog specializes in one-off online research type jobs and concierge tasks. Unlike those however, they offer an “unlimited” plan with no specific time limits on tasks.

One thing that really surprised me was the pricing. Time Dog is really inexpensive relative to their competition. At this time, the service is just $35 a month for unlimited requests, serviced by office-based US VAs. The service comes with a very generous 30-day free trial.

And they offer a free account that comes with a 15 day free trial with no credit card required.

I say “at this time,” because I’m not sure how long they can survive at that low rate! There’s nothing comparable in the US, and even overseas you have to go to almost double that price before you find a similar “unlimited” virtual assistant plan (TimeSvr, Pakistan).

Time Dog Intro Video

I took advantage of their free trial and submitted a handful of tasks. In general, the response times were quick and the results were good. Here are a few of the tasks I sent in:

  • Find a replacement motor for my treadmill.
  • Send me some butternut squash recipes.
  • Are dogs allowed on this hiking trail?

Obviously none of these were super-urgent, but Time Dog operates on standard East Coast business hours so if you need support at odd hours that could be a consideration.

You can submit tasks via text, email through the online interface, live chat, phone, or through their free iPhone app. The only drawback I experienced was not being able to send a request directly from my email, as I can with Fancy Hands.

If you’re looking for a creative gift idea, Time Dog offers personalizable gift memberships.

Have you tried Time Dog? If so, please share a quick review of your experience below to help others with their decision.

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Team Double-Click

Team Double-Click is a remote staffing agency, specializing in American “cloud-based” virtual assistants. The Colorado-based company was founded by Jim and Gayle Buske way back in 2000. (I believe “cloud-based” is the new preferred way to say the VAs work from their homes, rather than from a centralized office.)

team doubleclick reviewYour virtual administrative assistant is an off-site resource for your business. He or she can help with a broad range of computer-related tasks such as proofreading, bookkeeping, article writing, and data entry. Team Double-Click VAs also can make travel arrangements, assist with real estate transactions, prepare newsletters, and help with your customer service.

Team Double-Click offers two levels of service: Hourly Hire and Direct Placement.

With Hourly Hire, you contract with Team Double-Click on an on-demand hourly basis. They help monitor and manage your virtual assistant for you. In theory it makes sense to leverage their expertise in this way, but my guess is you’ll end up paying a higher rate and possibly have an extra layer of complexity in your relationship with your VA.

With Direct Placement, the company matches you up with one of their virtual assistants for free. Maybe the VAs are the ones paying for this matchmaking service?

Either way, this arrangement works similar to Virtual Staff Finder and some of the other recruiting services, except for US virtual assistants. From a network of nearly 100,000 VAs, they pre-screen the candidates and present a short list for you to interview. Then you select the winner and begin working with them and paying them directly as an independent contractor.

If you want to learn more about Team Double-Click, be sure to mention referral code VAA247 to take advantage of any special offers that might be available.

The only mention of pricing I could find gives only a range of $15 to $75 an hour. Quite a spread!

I’m generally not a fan of having to download, print, sign, fax/scan any pdf document, but that appears to be the only way to sign up for the service. They also want to collect your credit card information from the very onset.

In the Hourly Hire agreement pdf, a rate table is included. An entry level VA is quoted at $29.81 an hour, which definitely puts them on the higher end of the spectrum globally, but on par with other US-based virtual assistant companies.

As an alternative, you might try your hand at finding a freelance VA to meet your needs.

Have you worked with Team Double-Click? If so, please share your experience below and help others make with their research.

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