Choosing a Virtual Assistant for Your Business: Agency or Freelancer?

One of the biggest questions I get from people in relation to choosing a VA is “Should I hire a freelancer or just use one of those agencies?” I laugh when I hear the “just” part. That’s like saying “My car is broken, should I take it to that questionable backyard mechanic down the street or just take it to that fully licensed mechanic at the local dealer?”

I always recommend using outsourcing agencies to people who show interest in hiring a virtual assistant for their business. Here’s why.

Busy businesswoman

Do you really want to listen to a bunch of excuses when the job doesn’t get done right, or wait for that freelancer when they decide they need a vacation, or suddenly just plain don’t feel like working for a day, or for several days?


If you have nothing but time on your hands to train someone you found randomly on a classified list, online forum, or freelance platform like Elance or, then you might not need to choose an agency. There are several gems out there to be found, but those gems are hidden within a wasteland of time-wasters that’ll cause more aggravation than they alleviate.

Anyhow, if you only need an assistant occasionally, or are looking for someone to do just a couple of simple tasks like organizing your email or some other basic administrative duties, the benefits of using an agency might not appeal to you. Budget’s also a factor, but keep in mind that one or two bad hires, who waste tons of valuable time or make mistakes that cost you actual money, can blow a budget pretty quickly too.


If time comes at a premium (and most who’re looking for a virtual assistant or team fall into this category), using an online staffing agency is the only thing that makes sense. As long as that agency comes highly recommended, offers competitive pricing, and understands the kind of staff you’re looking to hire.

For instance, certain services will source employees for office administration only; others offer trained designers or experienced customer service reps; still others will specialize in providing assistants trained and certified in areas like medical transcription/billing and accounting. These are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the type of specialized staff you can find for virtual work.

Virtual assistant designer

So once one understands exactly what type of work their VA will be doing, they can seek out an agency that offers VAs to do work like:

  • Upload blogs or email newsletters
  • Respond to emails and set up email lists
  • Transcribe voice memos, conference calls and more
  • Create press releases
  • Run your calendar and plan your travel
  • Research
  • Compile data into organized spreadsheets
  • Handle forwarded phone calls when you’re unavailable or out of town
  • Edit videos
  • Any time-consuming or repetitive tasks
  • Help you hire other employees by doing preliminary research on candidates
  • Coding
  • Write and distribute standard business communications
  • Prepare presentations
  • Accounting
  • Billing
  • Manage your social media accounts
  • Coordinate with vendors
  • Place orders for new supplies

And so much more. Dream up a task and there’s likely a VA out there being paid to do it right now.

A staffing agency who builds trust and loyalty with their customers will take on virtually all the risks associated with hiring and managing a virtual team. They do most of the training and testing. If you can’t work with the first assistant they send your way, they’ll keep sending applicants to you until you’re satisfied. If your assistant disappears on you suddenly in the middle of the day or a specific project you’re working on, the agency takes on the burden of refilling that spot.

Another great advantage is for task tracking. The better agencies will have a secure web portal that you and your VA will sign into for communicating. Most will have built-in task tracking software that lets the outsourcer see exactly what their assistant is doing minute-to-minute, such as what software or documents they have open on their desktop, and what websites they’re visiting. Time tracking is invaluable if the VA is getting paid hourly, but also still quite telling about the work ethic of a given assistant who’s getting paid by the task.

Time is money

What’s your time worth?

Going with the freelancer option, there are so many potential hassles that I personally don’t choose to deal with. I’ll even pay a premium for agency services if necessary, because I don’t have the time to chase down rogue assistants who shoot off the radar suddenly, or people with five mothers, three dads and multiple grandparents – each of which who’ll die suddenly and tragically in the first couple of months working with so many freelance VAs. Nor do I choose to have my time wasted by people who claim to be able to accomplish everything, yet when it comes down to it they don’t know the difference between Ymail and Gmail.

If you’re looking for a truly exceptional, seamless experience, I recommend checking out the folks over at 24/7 Virtual Assistant. They’ve never treated me wrong. Their staff are always pleasant to work with, on time every day, available for communication during my working hours, and require no training on the basic things that I expect like using Windows Office Software, Photoshop, and Thunderbird.

However, if you still think going with a $2 an hour freelancer is worth the added time (and sometimes, financial) expense of working with unknowns, I wish you all the best of luck. There are most certainly more than a few good ones out there. Finding them is the tough part.

It all comes down to what your time’s worth…