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Virtual Assistant Trial

As you know, I’ve been a happy Fancy Hands customer for several months now, but I wanted to put a few more virtual assistant services to the test to see how they stacked up.

Lately two start-ups had been generating a lot of positive response here on the site so I thought I would try them out myself. The first was Efficise, out of Pakistan, and the second was My Tasker, out of India. Both of these companies were founded by veteran VAs from other firms who decided to strike out on their own.

And finally, Red Butler was kind enough to offer me a trial gift membership so I could compare their service to other virtual assistant companies.

How would the American VAs compare against their overseas competition? Who would deliver the best results?

Over the course of a month, I tested these guys with a series of tasks. They featured a broad range of topics but the actual “work” being done was primarily online research and analysis, with a few phone calls sprinkled in here and there for fun.

Breakdown of the Virtual Assistant Plans

  • Fancy Hands – $45 for 15 tasks (50% off your first month through this link)
  • My Tasker – $39 for 30 tasks
  • Efficise – $45 for 30 tasks (30% off your first month with code NLIND30)
  • Red Butler – $99.99 for 30 “credits” (I’ll explain later) + Red Butler Privilege Card (20% off your first month with code VIRTUAL)

Fancy Hands gives the guideline of 15 minutes per task, but in one case spent over a half an hour on the phone without charging double.

My Tasker doesn’t really offer a time-limit on tasks but I imagine if you started to abuse the system you would be asked to upgrade to one of their professional plans. If you run out of tasks before the end of the month, extra ones can be bought at the rate of $2 each.

The Efficise guidelines suggest requests take no longer than 15-30 minutes.

Red Butler charges 1 credit for each “action” they take. For instance, ordering movie tickets and making dinner reservations would take 2 credits. The Red Butler privilege card carries a ton of perks at hotels, restaurants, and bars all around the world. It’s a cool add-on if you live in a major city; out in the San Francisco suburbs I didn’t get much use out of it.

UPDATE: Red Butler now charges 1 credit for anything that takes up to 20 minutes. “If we make 10 calls in that time, it’s still one credit,” VP of Business Development for Red Butler, Nick Ramirez says.

Sign Up Process

The sign up process for each company went pretty smoothly so I just wanted to make a couple notes.

With Fancy Hands, you need to use either a Google or Facebook login to create your account. Just about everyone will already have at least one of those so it’s not a big deal unless you’re really opposed to granting 3rd party access to your accounts. They don’t see your password; it’s just a way to keep you from having to create a separate Fancy Hands account.

My Tasker uses PayPal for their recurring billing, which is pretty pain-free.

Efficise uses the Plimus payment processing system, an up-and-coming competitor to PayPal. If you don’t already have a Plimus account, you’ll have to create one to sign-up. I didn’t and it was still quick and easy. One thing I thought was weird was the tax Efficise added to the subscription fee. At less than $3 it wasn’t a huge deal, but normally VA companies either aren’t charging any tax or they’re baking it into the price.

With Red Butler they created the account for me so I can’t really comment on the sign-up process. One nice touch was I got a welcome call from Amber, their Director of Experience. The downside? It went to voicemail because she called from a blocked number. Can’t imagine many of their too-busy clients make a habit of picking up unrecognized numbers.

Submitting Tasks

Whew, I’m in! And now the fun part can start.

With Fancy Hands, you can submit tasks through their online dashboard, via email or phone, and now through their new mobile app.

The Fancy Hands Dashboard
The Fancy Hands Dashboard

For My Tasker, you can submit tasks through their online interface or via email or phone. I primarily used email so I didn’t have to keep logging into their website. Similarly, Efficise accepts requests online, through email, or over Skype. Rumor has it phone support is coming soon.

Efficise member dashboard
Efficise member dashboard

Red Butler users can beckon their VA by email, phone, mobile app, or the web dashboard. These guys win the design contest with their super-slick new website.

Red Butler member dashboard
Red Butler member dashboard

After you submit a task, you’ll get an email confirmation they received it from every company except Efficise.

Virtual Assistant Performance

My basic methodology was to submit the same task to all 4 companies and see who came back with the best results. Most tasks were submitted during US business hours, which put Efficise and My Tasker at an immediate disadvantage because those requests fell on their night-shift crews.

I tried to think of a variety of tasks that would test the VAs in different ways. See if they could understand my idioms and problem solve a bit, you know.

I gave each response a letter grade A through F. Yes, completely subjective but I wasn’t sure how better to normalize the data set I was collecting. In some instances the grades were on something of a “curve” — meaning if I thought the response was good, but then another one came in and blew it out of the water, the initial one probably got downgraded.

One thing I was looking for was some insight and analysis beyond just Googling something. Anybody can do that. The best responses were the ones that took the time to dig a little deeper and provide some personal recommendations.

To view the complete list of tasks I submitted, along with the response times, grades, and some commentary, please click here.

–>> VA Smackdown Trial — Detailed task list and performance results <<–

Otherwise, I’ll continue with my summary.

The company I was most pleasantly surprised by was My Tasker. Out of 15 tasks, they scored 7 A’s and 5 B’s, the best result of all the virtual assistant companies.

My Tasker Virtual Assistant Quality Performance
My Tasker Virtual Assistant Quality Performance

Kudos to Ronny and the team at My Tasker for delivering the goods, even in the middle of the night India time and for a probably too-cheap price-point.

Fancy Hands also scored well, earning 9 A’s and B’s out of only 12 tasks. (I was running low on Fancy Hands tasks so they didn’t get to participate on every one!) In general, I’ve found their assistants willing to go above and beyond for some of the more complex jobs, but every now and then you get the idea they just want to churn through the tasks as fast as possible.

And who can blame them? That’s how they get paid.

Fancy Hands Quality Performance
Fancy Hands Quality Performance

Occasionally you get the impression it’s just a glorified “let me Google that for you” service, which is not my idea of a value add. Most of the time, very good though. I’m a fan.

Red Butler was unique in that they made every effort NOT to just drop in links from the search results they found, at least not without some personal explanation and analysis. Their responses were generally very detailed and useful, and they ended up tying My Tasker with 7 A-grades.

Red Butler quality performance
Red Butler quality performance

One thing that set Red Butler apart was reading beyond the question itself. For example, when I asked about dividend investing, they offered to connect me with a qualified financial planner. When I talked about FHA loans, it was congratulations on the decision to buy a house. I think that extra understanding of the WHY behind the query was really useful and it definitely showed in their responses.

One downside to Red Butler that diminishes the value somewhat is the credit system they use to charge tasks. One relatively simple task I sent was charged 7 credits when the other companies only deducted one. Perhaps not a deal breaker but just something to be aware of, especially when combined with their premium price point.

UPDATE: With their new credit system, that task would probably have been only charged 1 credit.

Finally, Efficise did well on certain tasks but seemed to struggle with understanding and context on others. In general the performance was OK, but more inconsistent than the other companies.

Efficise quality performance
Efficise quality performance

Several of their responses were very short, containing just a few links to the answer. I would have liked to see a little more in-depth thought come through in their answers. I’m asking for help because I don’t have time to read through a bunch of links; I just want the summary version or a recommended action to take.

Response Time

In terms of response time, Fancy Hands’ distributed virtual assistant model proved to be the winner, followed by Red Butler, My Tasker, and Efficise. Their average response time was just over 2 hours. (I removed outliers for this chart.)

Virtual assistant response time
Virtual assistant response time

My Tasker promises to have a response to you in 4-8 hours and they did well keeping within those limits. I think the only time they went over was on the weekend and the task required making calls during US business hours. My Tasker also allows you to double down (get charged 2 tasks) and set a task to “urgent” for a response within 2 hours.

Other Notes

The service I tested was for team-based task support. My Tasker, Efficise, and Red Butler all offer dedicated virtual assistant packages at higher price points. However, I was curious to see just how “un-dedicated” these low-priced options were.

For the 15 tasks, I was helped by 7 different My Tasker VAs, 4 different Efficise VAs, and 4 different Red Butler VAs. In comparison, I had a unique Fancy Hands VA 11 times out of 12.

If it matters to you, many of the My Tasker VAs use Westernized names, like Tom, Jay, or Daniel, rather than their real Indian names. Remember Rent a Smile and their fake celebrity / superhero names?

Efficise and Red Butler signed their emails with their full names which I always think is a nice professional touch. With Fancy Hands, you get a first name and a last initial.

Next Steps

You made it this far, now what? Here are the profile page links for the different companies:

There you’ll find a more detailed write-up for each service, reviews from real customers, and any relevant sign-up discounts offered through Virtual Assistant Assistant.

Thanks for stopping by! If you have any questions about this trial or about virtual assistants in general, please let me know.

14 Comments

  1. I’ve sent e-mail questioning efficise.com and I’ve no reply. This service is for real?

    Not about this topic, but I’ve also sent an e-mail to timesvr.com and no reply.

    Are this services overloaded or they gone away?

    Best Regards,
    André

  2. Nick,
    Great site!
    I’m a Realtor looking for a cost effective part time and eventually full time VA who can answer phones and handle things as though she or he were a secretary. Was looking at My outdesk but they seem expensive and while specialized for RE something about them doesn’t sit right with me.
    Any suggestions?

    1. Thanks for the note and kind words. For call answering a couple ideas come to mind. The first is Call Ruby, which is not on the VirtualAssistantAssistant site, but is a unique “virtual receptionist” service. I’m not super familiar with them but might be worth looking into.

      The other is Uassist.ME — they’re in El Salvador and are set up in such a way that your VA can be “on call” all day long, even on a part-time plan. Especially good value if the phones aren’t always ringing off the hook.

      The rates are a little higher than what you’d find in the Philippines but it’s a more familiar accent and they’re in the same time zone.

      Call Ruby is probably a little cheaper but I think the additional VA services Uassist.me offers might justify the extra expense. I know they have several real estate clients so may be able to help in out other areas of the business as well.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  3. I’ve never been a fan of un-dedicated assistants as for me all my outsourced tasks are important and I need them to be done correctly. So the thought of getting inconsistent results gives me ulcers hence I just hire my assistants out of oDesk – after following Nick’s extremely helpful guidelines on hiring from oDesk/Elance.

    In my experience even dedicated assistants don’t always do a great job (ie. the problem above where they do research and provide links vs provide some level of analysis into the data is common) but I’ve found as long as you coach them they learn to know what you need. You don’t have that privilege when dealing with random assistants.

    However if all you need are assistants to make reservations and making simple online research and you don’t mind having to be really precise in your tasks, I can see the non-dedicated route might work and be more cost-effective.

  4. This is an interesting comparison but lets not forget there are a lot of Filipino’s entering the market. The name issue is something I came across as well as generally staff prefer to use aliases but it seems to be more of something they picked up elsewhere. Because for me I prefer “genuine people”. Because clients can then ask for the same person again which is also useful for building a relationship. E.g. even on carrying out 10 – 15 tasks this month you would prefer to have the same person next month for sure. Especially if you had to explain any specifics in the first place as it saves going through it all again with a new Virtual Assistant.

    What I am interested in also is what are people using virtual assistants for. Because its something where changing peoples perceptions is important. I.e. if someone hires someone for 4 hours a day to do their telemarketing are they aware the same person can do SEO and web design as well as social marketing? Because its much easier to spend time with one person in depth than trying to herd positive results out of 3 – 4 people all working part-time.

    Adding to all of that is getting people to realise the value of a virtual assistant and that they actually do need one.

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Matt. Have you had success with the jack-of-all-trades VA that does telemarketing, SEO, web-design, and social media? I’m with you 100% that it would be best to have 1 dedicated resource but in my experience it’s been tough to find someone with all those skills. Although I suppose they could be trained up to a certain extent. Design is a tough skill though… and so subjective.

      Excited to see BPO24hour’s growth in this exciting space. Thanks again.

      1. Nick,

        Thanks for this review, it helps a lot. However, I am still a rookie in the VA arena. I am currently in the infancy stages of researching a possibly business to start. In your opinion, which company and service level would be the best option for me? I am needing research on wholesaler options, retail outlets, website options, and so on. I am leaning towards Fancy Hands due to your longer term usage and happiness with the company.

        Thanks for your help.

      2. Hi Nick,

        I loved coming across this blog.

        Originally, the purpose of reading this was to differentiate which VA sites are reputable enough for me to find additional projects/tasks.

        However, now it has turned into a proposition. If you are ever interested in finding just ONE Executive Assistant whom you can go to for all your centralized projects rather than using a multitude of VAs, please feel free to get in touch with me. I have 6+ years experience in Administration, Business Development and Marketing. In addition to Website Development, Content, and Social Media with supporting references.

        🙂

        Thanks for the great read!

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