Note: This is part 1 of a two-part series on Virtual Assistants – why you should consider using a Virtual Assistant. Here’s the second article: Who to Turn to for Virtual Assistant Services.
A few weeks ago, I was reading a post in the UMC Church Planters Facebook group, and someone mentioned that their church administrative assistant was going to be out for 6 months to a year. They were worried about the work vacuum that was created and were hoping to borrow an admin from another church planter. A few other planters spoke up and said they’d be willing to hire an admin and share between them… but didn’t know where to find someone with the talent that was needed.
I’ve worked at many churches and been part of the conversation of “where do we find a good administrative assistant” who isn’t afraid of spreadsheets and social media. Or there’s the small church or ministry that can only pay for a few hours a week, “but who can we find that only wants to work that many hours?” There are all sorts of reasons why churches struggle to find administrative help.
Sometimes, you get lucky. I remember when my husband was in ministry, we found an administrative assistant who wasn’t afraid to dive into website creation, for instance. And things were WONDERFUL. Synergy works, you get more done creatively, and it just works.
But sometimes… you settle. Or sometimes you don’t get an admin at all because you can’t find anyone you trust who can do what you need, or no one locally is willing to work in a part-time capacity.
We all know that skipping an administrative assistant can lead to burnout. If your skills don’t lie in administration, or if you find yourself drowning in administrative tasks, you’ll need to round out your team with someone who has those skills. Plus, we also know that hiring the wrong administrative assistant can lead to frustration because you end up doing it all yourself anyway.
Which led me to the thought:
If looking inwardly (or locally) for administrative assistants isn’t working, why not cast the net wider and consider a virtual assistant? I know they’re normally synonymous with business, but why can’t we use them too?
Can Virtual Assistants change the game for exhausted pastors? Or for new faith community leaders, or missionaries who need some extra help?
Is the Virtual Assistant world an untapped resource in the church world, that could help us grow our ministries? Could Virtual Assistants be the solution to some of the issues that faith leaders are running into? I think so.
I have a friend, Ashley Riddell Stark, who used to work for the Upper New York Conference as a high-level communicator and social media specialist, but when she married her husband they had to move to a military base.
They left the area, and she decided to become a Virtual Assistant because she could help anyone around the globe (and did!). I decided to pick her brain for a few reasons why it might be time to consider a virtual assistant.
Here’s what I gleaned from our conversation: five reasons why you should consider a Virtual Assistant.
1. Access to a business-minded professional that can help your ministry focus on technology in new ways.
This is probably the most polarizing part of enlisting a Virtual Assistant. Virtual Assistants are not necessarily going to be versed in church life. Their job is to be business-minded and add as much to your bottom line as possible.
For me, this is a positive; I think there’s a lot to be said for the “business of the church.” But that’s a contentious thought – if you are of the mindset that “church is not a business,” then it could be difficult to not talk in church jargon to your Virtual Assistant. Saying this like “you wouldn’t understand because you’re not part of a church” is not the best way to build a relationship with a Virtual Assistant.
Can you imagine what having a business-minded person on your team could bring to the table? Knowledge of current business practices, bringing forward new technological innovations that can change the very nature of how your faith community exists. Ashley said it beautifully, “the amount of technology out there that I had no idea could help churches (until I started working as a VA) is endless!”
2. Ask anything of a VA that would make your life easier, to hopefully help you avoid burnout.
Your job as a pastor or a community leader is connection. But how often do you get stuck in the weeds with other jobs that shouldn’t be taking up your time?
You’d be surprised at how much a VA can do – you’ll get to drop small projects that tie up time and energy. Ashley said she did all sorts of projects for her clients:
“I did everything from social media, to expense reports, to data entry, to ordering meals for meetings, to scheduling meetings, to finding gift baskets for a new baby of an employee.”– Ashley Riddell Stark
(Note: what you ask your VA to do is individualized and sometimes depends on what firm/person you hire, and what you need – more on that in the next articles!) But really, can you imagine having that kind of help?
Take a minute to dream: what are a few of those things that you could ask a VA to do over the course of a week that could make your life easier? Schedule social media posts a week in advance (and even design them, perhaps) so you don’t have to hop on Instagram every few days? Or even better, research things like Hootsuite so you can schedule them out even further? (For those United Methodists out there… fill in your Ezra reports?) Write the first draft of your donor letters so you just edit them? Create a letterhead for you to use? Schedule meetings for you, or create a Google Calendar that your team can use? The possibilities are endless.
3. Get more done in less time with a highly-trained VA – not only do you not have to do most of the training, but you only pay for what you need.
My friend Ashley has a degree in Communications and was working as a Virtual Assistant. You can find highly trained people in that field who are working as VAs for all sorts of reasons; how much time would you save not having to train someone how to do a mail merge or a spreadsheet?
How often do you get stuck in technology that you don’t understand? You can spend 5 hours learning how to embed an image into a webpage or ask a Virtual Assistant who can take care of it in 15 minutes. What would you do with that saved time?
You get more done in less time = you pay for less time (which is always a bonus). You only pay for what you need; instead of feeling obligated to hire a half-time administrative assistant, you might only need 5-10 hours per week. You’ll get more out of the time, and your ministry’s bottom line will thank you.
VAs often have access to networks of people; if they don’t know how to do it, they’ll find someone who does. You don’t have to dig through Google to figure out how to train them to do it… many times, it gets figured out and done. What a beautiful resource this could be for faith leaders!
4. No need to worry about office space for your new staff; plus no one needs to know you have a virtual assistant who works remotely.
Virtual Assistants can be visible or invisible, depending on what your needs are. But whatever you decide, know they can work just as efficiently without an office space, which is particularly helpful for new faith communities that might not have space yet but still have administrative needs.
“Here’s the awesome part, with my client… no one outside the company knew I was remote. I’d schedule meetings and they’d show up wanting to meet me. It was sweet, and funny. But it helped my client be ridiculously productive and get to drop the small projects that tie up time and energy.”-Ashley Riddell Stark
5. Another option: supplement existing staff with a specialized Virtual Assistant
If the idea of omitting a traditional church assistant is too much of a leap culturally for your community, or you already have a staff member that you love (which is super exciting for you!), hiring a virtual assistant alongside your staff is something that could still lighten your load and increase your bottom line.
A virtual assistant could focus on website and social media or could be more of a personal assistant that writes your correspondence, articles, or even does press releases and press outreach.
One other thing to note: with a Virtual Assistant, you’re likely to find someone who loves what they do. You don’t end up in the “no one else volunteered so I guess I’ll step up” mentality that volunteers and church leaders can sometimes find themselves in. Ashley talks about absolutely LOVING the work, and that makes a difference when you’re working with faith leaders. That excitement and enthusiasm is contagious.
And before you start to hem and haw about the cost of a new staff member, here’s what I’ll say (what I often say): sometimes you need to invest to reap benefits. There are small hourly packages for VAs, so you could start small and as you build your financial base increase their hours. But I’m telling you – that 5 hours of a Virtual Assistants’ time could save you 10 or 15 hours per week so you can do the work you really love, and focus on growing your ministry (and therefore your bottom line).
Looking for more reasons to lean into hiring a Virtual Assistant?
You don’t just have to take my word for it – these blog posts can give you even more reasons why:
MyTasker: Top 16 Reasons You Should Hire a Virtual Assistant Today
BizTime: 5 Key Reasons to Hire a Virtual Assistant for your Business in 2021
Yes… I know these are business-centered blogs. But see Reason #1 – sometimes it’s not such a bad thing to talk business language when running a ministry!
This is part of a series of articles on Virtual Assistants and leveraging your admin assistants to get the most out of your bottom line. The next article will focus on the question: but where do I find a Virtual Assistant, if I decide to try one? The final article is more about how to best leverage a Virtual Assistant (or Church Administrative assistant, if that’s where you’re at) to increase your bottom line.