Virtual assistant company vs. freelancer vs. agency? This is a question I get all the time!
When hiring a virtual assistant, you basically have three choices:
- You can find a freelance virtual assistant
- You can use one of several reputable virtual assistant companies.
- You can hire a specialized agency in the area you need help.
So which option is best? Like so many things in life, the answer is, “it depends.”
Here are some of the pros and cons of each.
Advantages of Virtual Assistant Companies
Virtual assistant companies have an office full of professional assistants ready to help you with whatever tasks you need done. In recent years, some of these VA companies have shifted to an entirely virtual model themselves, with VAs working from there home offices as is the case with Time Etc, which offers assistants in the US and UK.
Virtual Assist USA actually closed down their Pittsburgh office because they found everyone preferred working from home!
One advantage is for certain VA companies you’ll have access to their whole “bench” of skills if you need some specialized attention for a one-off task or project, even if you’re normally just working with one dedicated assistant.
Others, like Fancy Hands, operate on a pool basis, where tasks are assigned on the basis of availability and you may never work with the same assistant twice.
These companies typically charge a flat monthly fee that will vary upon the number of hours of work you’ll need done. Several virtual assistant companies offer a free trial period, which will help you get an idea both for how well their virtual assistant will perform, and how much you will use the service.
Downsides to Virtual Assistant Companies
In most cases, you’ll pay more when you use a third-party VA company than you would with a freelancer.
The reason for this is that the company incurs overhead costs like payroll processing, office infrastructure, and administrative support that freelancers do not.
Additional Support and Security
If and when your dedicated assistant moves on or isn’t a great fit, the company will help match you with a replacement. In contrast, if your freelance VA leaves for another opportunity, it’s on you to begin the applicant search all over again.
Still, when a full-time (overseas) virtual assistant is in the $1000-1500 a month ballpark, there is certainly something to be said for the additional support and security a VA firm offers.
My first full-time VA hire was through a VA company, which made for an easy line-item expense on my books. I was contracting with their service for a set price per month.
Advantages of Hiring a Freelance VA
With a freelance virtual assistant, you have the advantage of being able to specify your unique requirements in advance (although several VA companies allow you to do this as well).
This means you can hire the perfect worker for your needs, not just the first available virtual assistant. I’ve found that freelancers are great for one-time projects or quick tasks that require a specific area of expertise, but there are many full- and part-time freelance virtual assistants out there as well with a wide range of skills.
Although nearly every VA company will talk up their rigorous vetting process, when you hire yourself through Upwork or OnlineJobs.ph, you have far more control in the process from start to finish. You’ll post your job description, weed through applicants, interview the most promising ones, and ultimately extend an offer.
(It’s also a lot more work upfront!)
Interesting newer alternative: FreeeUp, which promises to only let in “the top 1%” of freelancers who apply.
After that, you’ll work with your new hire directly and pay them directly — with no middleman taking a cut. That translates into lower prices, OR theoretically higher quality. What I mean by that is if your budget allows for $30 an hour, you can get $30 an hour talent by hiring directly instead of going through an agency or VA company that’s taking a chunk of that.
Because of that, my more recent full-time VA hires were freelancers. By that time I was comfortable working one-on-one with my assistant and I think we were able to establish a pretty good relationship.
Downsides to Working with Freelancers
The downside of hiring a freelance virtual assistant is that if things aren’t working out, you may not have much recourse.
In contrast, many VA companies have satisfaction guarantees or can reassign your work to a new virtual assistant better able to accomplish your tasks.
The Hybrid Approach: Hire a Specialized Agency
A third option is one I’ve been leaning on a bit more lately, and that’s hiring a specialized agency.
These are companies that have popped up in the “productized service” space. Usually how it works is for a flat monthly fee, they’ll handle one aspect of your business.
Specialized agencies have popped up in all areas of virtual work including companies like:
- Design Pickle for graphic design
- Copywriter Today for content writing
- Zen WP for website support and maintenance
- Rocket Lawyer for legal support
- Bench for bookkeeping
- and tons more…
The advantage here is that the company only does ONE thing, so theoretically they should do it well. They should have systems and processes in place to bring on new clients, a track record of success, and should require minimal training and ramp-up time.
Usually the plans are far more affordable than a full-time or even part-time assistant. If you have ongoing needs in a specific functional area in your business–and a process to consistently use the service–this is the clear winner.
For example, I contract with a specialized agency to manage my Pinterest account. That’s all they do, and it saves me the mental capacity in having to learn how to do it myself.
I’m also testing out a similar service for graphic design. I’ve got a dedicated point of contact who can learn my brand, and it’s been going well so far. My business probably wouldn’t justify bringing on a dedicated designer even for a few hours a week, but I’ve got enough design work that it makes sense to contract with an affordable agency.
I do the same thing for podcast editing.
Downsides to Agencies
The drawback to working with agencies is you pay every month whether or not you use the service.
I keep several of these services “on call” almost as an insurance policy should anything come up. It’s easier to sent a quick email to my account rep than to search for a new assistant.
Of course because the company still needs to make a profit, you could potentially save money by hiring a freelancer. So if cost is the foremost concern, that’s the way to go.
What do you think? Which option is best for you? Let me know in the comments below.