An Extra Pair of Hands – Virtual Assistants for Busy Professionals

The days run by so swiftly it seems like the world is spinning faster and time has compressed. Everyone I speak to feels this same rush as summer disappears into winter in the blink of an eye. So much to do and so little time to do it, has become a theme of our collective days. One way I tackled the challenge was to literally employ an extra set of hands. I hired a virtual assistant, Mary-Lou, and that decision changed my life for the better.

What’s a virtual assistant?

A virtual assistant is an administrative professional and business owner who works out of their home. The word virtual indicates they conduct their work over the phone and internet taking advantage of the many technologies designed to make telecommunicating accessible to all.

Virtual assistants are available in most parts of the world. Here in Canada you can work with a virtual assistant who works in the the same city or province if you prefer. You do not have to worry about language or experience barriers as you are hiring a locally trained administrative professional who has chosen to build a business working from their home rather than an office.

Hiring a virtual assistant is simple. There are no extended contracts. There are no employee benefits or CPP contributions to pay. They act as independent contractors who bill by the hour. You might require the services of a virtual assistant ten hours one month and twenty the next, it is simply pay as you go. You only pay for time worked, no coffee breaks or water cooler chats, just the time it takes to get the job done.

How do virtual assistants help?

In my case the greatest area of concern was scheduling. As a coach for lawyers with busy legal practices most of my time is spent in meetings and about 10% of those meetings get rescheduled on short notice to accommodate my clients’ closings, trial dates and the like. The bottom line was I had to spend many hours each week simply on the back and forth exchange of emails and phone calls to get the schedule in order. As the volume of emails grew along with the growth of my practice I started making mistakes, and even worse getting out of touch with friends and contacts simply because I just didn’t have the time to try to schedule coffees and lunch dates. All that changed when Mary-Lou came on board. Over the first months we found she was spending between twenty and thirty hours a month simply on scheduling. One day about a month after handing over the scheduling reigns to Mary-Lou I had this astonishing realization: how on earth had a managed without her? The answer was not very well.

Mary-Lou also makes reservations for me, handles my invoicing, turns my hand written notes into documents, and takes care of a myriad of small administrative tasks that would drain the productivity out of my day.

Even better she serves as an accountability coach for me. She maintains an ongoing hot list of action items. In our weekly meetings she opens up the list and we choose what to tackle during the week. Over the course of the week I send her emails of items to add to the hot list.

My friends, clients and contacts have come to know Mary-Lou and are not in any way put out that she handles the mechanics of setting up our meetings, lunch dates and the like.

Lawyers, a virtual assistant could be just what you need too.

If you already have an assistant with the capacity to help you with all your administrative tasks then you are one of the fortunate few. Many don’t. The biggest single expenditure for law firms are employee salary and benefits . As a result many firms keep the number of support staff down to a minimum. I know small firms that are staffed with just a few paralegals who are kept fully busy with legal work and have no time left over to help a lawyer with day to day tasks. Or lawyers at large firms who are in a secretarial share with two other lawyers and therefor cannot rely on their assistant for more than document revision and other essential work. If you don’t have anyone to turn to for extra support then consider what hiring a virtual assistant for 20 hours a month could do for you.

Support for your marketing and business development objectives:

  • The crucial tool for business development is your contact list. A virtual assistant can keep this up to date with current address and contact information as well as other important details such as birthdays, the names of children, and other significant milestones for your clients and contacts.
  • Help you to develop a schedule of lunch and coffee dates and other keep in touch measures with your important contacts.
  • Assist you to prepare for presentations by turning your notes or dictation into a PowerPoint presentation.
  • Keep your web and LinkedIn profiles up-to-date and give you a hand with other social media such as blogs, Twitter and Facebook.

Help you be more effective and productive:

  • Maintain your on-going to do list and help you prioritize.
  •  Help you stay accountable to yourself and your personal priorities by asking about progress towards objectives and providing reminders of important action items you want to make time for.
  • Help you track and enter your billable time.
  • Manage all scheduling and keep your calendar up to date, including sending emails to contacts, clients and friends to set-up and confirm meeting times.
  • Organize your email in-box.
  • Purchase gifts on-line, send flowers, make lunch reservations, book travel and hotels and help with a myriad of other tasks.

What about legal secretary work?

There are also virtual legal secretaries and paralegals available that are trained to do legal support work. Virtual assistants can help with editing and formatting documents. They can draft letters, reports, proposals, business plans, mileage or expense logs, marketing plans, financial reports or presentations. Whatever documents you need, they can help you with.

Where to go from here?

If you are interested in learning more here are some resources for you to explore:

The top 25 virtual assistant services:
The International Virtual Assistants Association:

I am also happy to answer any questions, just email me at








  1. Hi Alison, thanks for sharing your thoughts on the virtual assistant world and for sharing some of the tasks your assistant carrys out for you. I think a lot of people have the thought that va’s only do a bit of call answering, document typing, etc but there are so many other tasks your assistant can help you with, as you have explained. It sounds like you have met your perfect virtual assistant match with Mary-Lou, congrats!