Drawing up my wish list for 2008, I thought An Extra Pair of Hands would be a good thing. Or, come to think of it, a virtual assistant.

A virtual assistant, as the title implies, is one who is not physically present at your place of work, but uses communications technology to provide a range of services traditionally provided by secretaries, executive assistants or personal assistants. Or, for many home based business professionals, by the business owner herself or himself. The last-mentioned being common practice, but not really a great idea, at least if we want to work smarter, not harder.

A lot of smart coaches and other business people of my acquaintance get more value out of their working day by engaging a virtual assistant. I’ve thought about it often enough, but have not taken action.

Now, with a contest announced recently (thanks to Anita Campbell of Small Business Trends for the heads up), there is an opportunity for one of us to have our own virtual assistant in 2008. The contest, with a $5,000 grand prize, is being sponsored and run by Elance, a kind of online marketplace for people looking for professionals to hire, and professionals offering their services.

What kind of services could a virtual assistant provide for your business? The contest page has some suggestions:

  • Travel Plans
  • Data Entry
  • Word Processing
  • Transcription
  • Market Research
  • Event Planning
  • Presentations
  • Calendar Management
  • Online Marketing

If you’ve read Tim Ferris’ much vaunted The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich
you will have found, in Chapter 8 “Outsourcing Life”, a lot of practical information and commentary on using virtual assistants (as well as a few very valuable caveats).

The terms of entry for the Elance contest are straightforward. Basically, answer the question (hint: use the bullet point list above to help):

How would you use a virtual assistant to grow your business or improve your personal life?

The answer can be in text, audio or video.

You need to be a member of Elance – basic membership is free.

And just so none of us waste time fantasizing that we’ll win the five grand and use it to book a Caribbean cruise or a villa in Tuscany, the Grand Prize is not actual money in your bank account but “Elance promotional credit redeemable for the purchase of $5,000 in services on Elance”.

Closing date is January 25, 2008 and the time of day is 11:59:59pm PST.

I’m going for it. How about you?

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