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I am very struck by the way that I am continually approached by individuals who are setting themselves up as virtual assistants or remote PAs or whatever they want to call themselves. I realise that they are taking that portfolio executive approach to heart in the way that they organise themselves and their services.

Defining the type of virtual PA who qualifies

So, let us just step back a moment. There are offshore virtual PA services and I don’t really count those as they are run typically by an organisation. The individuals who are engaged are employed by that organisation and so the people who are working for that organisation typically don’t have the kind of freedom in the way that they work that a portfolio executive can have.

What I am talking about is individuals who choose to step out on their own and build a business as a part-time virtual assistant. They have recognised that to get the workstyle they want to build the life they want; they need to step aside from full-time permanent salaried employment.

Rather than working full-time for one individual in one organisation, or possibly a few individuals in one organisation, they are going to have a portfolio of clients, who they work with on an ongoing basis.

PA’s are not all the same

The variety of virtual PA services that they bring can be many and varied.  The ones that I get most excited about are those who can see that by providing a personal service to a senior individual, they multiply the effectiveness of that individual’s time.  They are not just doing a bit of appointment setting and organising diaries. They are taking responsibility for a whole set of related tasks.  They may organise an event: sort out a venue, sort out the attendees, make sure all the joining instructions are in place. They may take responsibility for processing expense claims and doing bookkeeping. They may develop PowerPoint slides or other presentation material. They may step into the shoes of the senior individual to develop and manage content using social media.

They are creating a whole range of value add, way beyond what you might get by implementing one of these click through appointment setting services such as Calendy for example.

Are virtual PAs really Portfolio Executives?

What is different from a virtual PA and the other kinds of portfolio executives that I’ve talked about?

I think there is not very much that is different.  They are working in a different realm of responsibility.  They are still supporting the CEO or other senior individuals in ways that a Portfolio Executive does.  They still are taking responsibility for a function and making sure it the right things are done and that they are done right. They still have the opportunity to build their own business out of it. Perhaps delegating some of the work like bookkeeping work to other people and becoming more of a hub, managing a team who provide a variety of different services and so they can play to their strengths.

Absolutely they are taking responsibility for managing the relationship with the CEO or other senior executives. They need to both manage upwards, manage themselves and, if they are starting to engage assistants to assist them, manage others.

Demonstrating additional value

But there are also a whole series of benefits that they could promote more powerfully to their clients.  By providing a part-time service they can provide all of the needs of that executive without all the costs of somebody full-time.  A lot of their interaction with their executives, colleagues, stakeholders, clients, suppliers, is by email and so they can provide the appearance of full-time cover without actually working full-time.

I have used a virtual PA for a number of years; in fact I like the approach so much I now have three people working for me doing various tasks for me. I constantly recommend them to other Portfolio Executives as a crucial tool to enable them to leverage their time and to do the things that they are often not very good at, such as detail and follow through.

Getting your positioning right

However, the other thing I would say to the people aspiring to become virtual PAs is that you need to get clearer about your value proposition.  How can you demonstrate more value add, so that you can justify the higher hourly rates that you deserve?  Think about your own portfolio of skills.  Are you good at writing?  Do you love contacting and building relationships with people?  Are you a champion administrator with a great attention to detail?  Or is what you love to do co-ordinate and draw people into a project? Have you got skills around social media? Or maybe even you can do some basic website design?

Think about the basic portfolio of skills that you have to offer. Then think about which of those skills are going to be premium to the individuals you’re serving. Typically someone will pay less for basic bookkeeping services, than they will pay for someone to do appointment setting.  Someone who is going to organise and co-ordinate events can attract better rates than somebody who is going to manage a social media channel. Think carefully about portfolio skills and think about what you enjoy doing. Then think about which things, once you’ve built and established a relationship with your client, you want to start giving away.

Get started and build

In my experience when you win a new client, the best thing is to start small.  Start with a small commitment from their side, with a limited set of tasks that allow you to demonstrate your value.  As you do that, build up the portfolio of services that you offer those clients.  Bit by bit build that trust. Build the footprint of engagement. As your client starts to see you succeed and grown in your role there will be more and more that they are prepared to delegate to you. Most importantly don’t be afraid to manage them. Respectfully of course, but if there is something that you need from them challenge them to provide it. If their instructions aren’t clear, challenge them to be clear. If they send you conflicting messages surface that and look for clarity.

You can sack them!

Ultimately remember that you can sack clients and you will probably find that you want to sack them before they want to sack you. So, remember, this is your opportunity to have Freedom and Joy in your working life and you can choose who your work for, when you work and ultimately how much you get paid.


Is a virtual assistant a portfolio executive?  Absolutely.  To succeed they need to think more and more like one.


Charles McLachlan is the founder of FuturePerfect and on a mission to transform the future of work and business. The Portfolio Executive programme is a new initiative to help executives build a sustainable and impactful second-half-career. Creating an alternative future takes imagination, design, organisation and many other thinking skills. Charles is happy to lend them to you.