Are you a small business owner who needs help at work?

The question often is, what kind of help and who should you hire to do it? On the administrative end, and especially for remote help, it’s usually a choice between a virtual assistant or an administrative professional.

Sometimes business owners aren’t sure what the difference is, or whether they’re better with one over the other. We’re here to make the case for why you should choose an AP over a VA:

Hire for experience

As a small business owner, you don’t tend to have as many resources available when it comes to getting key tasks in your business taken care of. You probably don’t have much time to spend on creating tasks for someone else or providing extensive instructions. In fact, this can create even more work for yourself!

When we compare VAs and APs, virtual assistants are typically less experienced and more task-focused. They prefer to work from a task list, which means someone has to provide one. VAs tend to be more transactional with their work, rather than moving things forward from a more proactive perspective. Another difference is that VAs often support a team, while APs support at that C-Suite level.

On the other hand, APs tend to have more experience and are used to taking the lead on projects. They can almost immediately take ownership of processes and/or areas of the business and don’t require “managing” through a task list. They can start adding value and saving you time almost immediately. The big difference is often in productivity - an AP comes on board ready to take care of your scheduling and other tasks so that you can focus on other important things. They anticipate executive needs - they’re resourceful and adaptable.

Get special projects and initiatives taken care of

Small businesses often face an issue where there’s a small project or initiative they’d like to get underway, but it doesn’t fall under any specific department or individual’s responsibilities. Those projects often tend to stay on the backburner, even if they could really add value to your company.

These are exactly the sorts of projects that an experienced AP can take and run with. APs have a project management skill set that most VAs don’t typically have. Project work involves being able to take the initiative, analyze options for solutions, then create and follow a plan to get there. That’s largely outside the wheelhouse of the task-focused VA role.

Taking a leadership role

People often think of APs along the lines of “secretary” stereotypes, seen featured in shows like Mad Men. The administrative professional role has evolved considerably though - it’s much more than “the help” - APs are skilled professionals in their own right.

When compared to a VA, APs tend to have spent more time working in a senior leadership environment and are comfortable taking a leadership role themselves. They often take the lead on things like cultivating or reinforcing a strong company culture. APs tend to know everyone in the company and often become the organizers of all things social.

Some APs have even taken the lead on organizing employee appreciation events or recognition. This can be a huge help for maintaining a strong culture, where employees feel valued. (Something most business owners don’t have time to organize themselves!)

Level of responsibility is higher for APs

The overall job description is different for the AP and VA roles. For example, we’ve already compared project management (APs) versus task management (VAs). APs also take a higher level of responsibility with planning. While a VA might set up a meeting and invite the key attendees, APs tend to play a more active role in preparing, attending, taking notes, and giving input. They have a higher expectation for using their own initiative, as opposed to working from a task list.

If SOPs and clearly defining how things should be done is important, an AP comes better-equipped to help implement and record those SOPs. Process management tends to be a strong AP skill and they are accustomed to taking the lead, whereas a VA tends to need more direction.

Importantly, APs take a “gatekeeper” role in supporting executives or small business owners. They’re the first call for people wanting to speak to the owner and are often able to help those people themselves. They handle calls, respond to emails, and take care of scheduling. Those tasks don’t typically fall under VA duties. APs are great at nurturing client relationships, which is crucial for small businesses. Their executive presence can often make a small business feel more like a larger corporation in terms of organization and professionalism.

If you need someone to take that higher level of responsibility, then you need an AP. They’re usually more experienced and have a broader range of professional skills than a VA, and they also earn a higher salary for their work. You can’t expect to pay VA rates for AP tasks.

Is an AP for small businesses different than for larger businesses?

In terms of the tasks that APs perform, there’s really not a lot of difference between small businesses and larger businesses. They tend to have similar responsibilities, although perhaps the scale is different.

One difference is the time commitment. Sometimes in a small business, you need an administrative professional, but you don’t need them full time, whereas in some large businesses, the workload is such that more than one AP is required. Alternatively, in some businesses the AP is shared between more than one person in a leadership role - this tends to work best if there are clear parameters around when the AP is doing what and for whom.

Know what the time commitment is that you need from an AP. At Worxbee, we work off a minimum of 40 active hours per month. Your AP is committed to doing their best work with you and being highly productive. “Active hours” means hours actually doing the work, rather than the standard eight-hour day where several hours are non-productive.

Setting up for success with an administrative professional for small business

What can you do to have a successful experience working with an administrative professional in your small business?

First, be willing to build a relationship. Even with virtual work, the most productive businesses tend to build strong relationships among the team. You will work very closely with an administrative professional and they’ll be privy to most things in your life, so it’s important to have a good relationship with strong communication.

On that note, APs are there to help you achieve key business goals. For them to do their best work, you need to be willing to be authentic and unguarded about what’s really needed. The best results come from the AP having a very clear view of the current state versus what is needed to achieve your goals. Holding back means they only get part of a chance to analyze and find the optimal things that should be done.

Another key success factor is to allow the AP some time to get to know you well and develop a good rhythm. They need to understand you, how you work, and your preferences across many aspects of your working life. While you get a competent person from Day 1, they still need that critical learning time.

Final thoughts

An administrative professional can be a key asset to small business owners. There are several benefits of choosing an AP over a VA, but primarily it comes down to level of experience and responsibility.

You can expect to get into a rhythm with an AP where you often won’t need to ask - they’ll know what you need done. On the other hand, VAs work from task lists, so that means you spend time on devising those tasks.

Are you looking for a great AP for your small business? Worxbee is here to help. We find and recruit the best of the best, then pair them up with businesses that will be a good match. Contact us today about how we can help you.