Using a virtual assistant can shave hours from your workweek, but knowing which tasks to delegate can be tricky, whether you’re starting or growing a business.

Entrepreneurs can use virtual assistants for everything from making vendor or customer service calls to sending out thank you cards to prospective clients. It’s important to build trust, just as you would with a permanent employee. A virtual assistant becomes a team member who just happens to work remotely.

You can easily farm out Internet research to virtual assistants. Common requests can include finding information on corporate websites, exploring new products and vetting potential employees or business contacts. Be sure to send clear instructions, along with user names and passwords so assistants can get access to specialty search tools or paid websites.

Whether it’s a slew of new business cards picked up at a conference or updated information for existing contacts, keeping databases current is a suitable task for virtual assistants. Be specific about your needs and expectations.

Turning raw data into a clear Power Point presentation or summarizing research findings in a Word document can be a huge time saver when prepping for meetings.

To keep you from wasting time in your email inbox, virtual assistants will filter your most important emails and respond to the rest on your behalf. Email management is easy to do remotely, but you need to provide guidance on how to pick out key emails and ask the assistant to copy you before sending out any responses to reduce the risk of errors.

Virtual assistants are a good bet to handle tasks such as writing holiday cards or sending thank you notes.

Virtual assistants are a great resource for finding hotels, booking airfares and mapping out trip itineraries both for business and pleasure, The assistants can take advantage of the growing number of travel research tools and review sites on the Web. They can also deal with the hassle of navigating time zones when booking or researching international travel options by phone.

Virtual assistants are managing the calendars of clients using various scheduling tools. Tasks include dealing with meeting invitations from others, scheduling appointments with clients and helping to plan events. “It’s about being comfortable and letting go of that calendar” to a non-staff person working remotely.

Prioritizing potential business opportunities can be challenging, but virtual assistants can help with the process. When deciding what to sell on eBay, ask your virtual assistant to look around for products that can be profitable to resell.

With limited time to keep up with industry news, small businesses have turned to virtual assistants to keep tabs on the most important happenings. Many executives then use the industry information to update their Twitter feed or bring up interesting developments in conversation with customers and prospects. This helps “executives appear to have timely news.

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