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Do You Need a Virtual Assistant or a Strategist? Here’s the Difference

We’ve made it our mission to train people who serve the needs of small businesses. And we’ve been working really hard to support entrepreneurs of every kind, whether they’re the entrepreneurs who are hiring service providers, or the ones doing the actual providing of services.

Having our VA Finder service gives us a unique perspective on the types of tasks small business owners are trying to “hire out.” Many of our clients have a plan or processes in place that simply need to be executed. Others, however, need someone to help develop their plans and/or processes.

The Basic Principle of Finding the Right Virtual Assistant

When you’re trying to find the right virtual assistant for your business, it’s important to understand what exactly you need help with doing. The more specific and defined your needs are, the more likely you are to find the right person to meet those needs.

But what if you have no idea what your needs are and you just know you need help?

There’s good news – you can even hire people to help you figure it out.

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To put it very generally, there are two “types” of virtual assistants you can hire: strategists and executors.

These are two distinct roles, with distinct skill sets. Strategists are the ones who make the plan, and executors are the ones who implement the plan.

There’s certainly some overlap in knowledge and ability between the two, and there are many VAs who are capable of playing either role (or both!) for your business. But before you can find the right virtual assistant, you need to have a good sense of whether you need a strategist, an implementer, or both.

I want to take a moment and note here that you’ll find people calling themselves strategists and consultants, but most VAs will not refer to themselves as implementers and executors. I’m using those terms in this post to help you understand the difference.

So how can you tell which one you need?

Let’s take a closer look at each role so you can see how they work together and how each one fits into your business. We’ll also cover what some of the differences in expectations are, so you can have a much better idea of what you’re looking for when you begin your search.

When You Might Need A Strategist

On the spectrum of payment, strategists will rank higher than executors the vast majority of the time. A good strategist is also worth their weight in gold.

If you aren’t familiar with the term “strategist” or you aren’t quite sure how to interpret it, you can think of a strategist as more of a consultant.

Strategists are the ones that come up with “the plan” for whatever your desired outcomes are.

When you hire a strategist, you’re harnessing the brain power of an expert. Strategists are experts in their chosen field. They understand the available options, they know what their particular market wants and responds to, and they can help you figure out the most effective way forward.

A good strategist will spend some time with you “up front” at the beginning of your working relationship to understand your business, how you work, what your goals are, and what tools you’re using (or willing to use) to get there.

If you aren’t sure whether you need a virtual assistant or a strategist, consider these questions:

Do you have a plan in place for the project you play to hire out?

A plan might look like a schedule, a core statement, or even an actual plan (with phases, etc.). If so, you probably don’t need a strategist and hiring someone to implement the plan will be fine.

Are you looking for someone to help you figure out how to get to your goals?

For example, higher conversions, more email subscribers, or cleaner finances. If so, you could probably benefit from a strategist.

Is there something you know you should be doing, but you don’t know why it makes sense or how to do it effectively?

For example, you want to start a social media presence to get leads, or you think you want to build a sales funnel … and that’s as far as you get with the planning. A good talk with a strategist can give you a better sense of what you need to be doing, as well as the right way to go about it for your particular goals and in your particular industry.

When to Hire an Implementer

If you know what you want to be done and you just need someone to do it, that’s when you look for an implementer.

Many virtual assistants, including the ones in our talent pool, are excellent implementers. They know their way around various software platforms, they have their own systems and processes for working efficiently and effectively, and they’re pretty good at getting stuff done.

That’s what makes them great virtual assistants!

Not every VA, however, is qualified to be a strategist. Being able to look at a business and develop a strategy for that business to achieve its goals requires some “seasoning.” It takes time to develop the skills and long-term view that a good strategist needs.

A virtual assistant is someone to whom you can delegate all kinds of tasks. Pretty much any task can be delegated to a VA.

But you need to understand the difference between delegating a task and delegating a project. For example:

“Create an opt-in form and install it on the blog” is a task, and you need a virtual assistant.

“Build a sales funnel for my newest course” is a project, and you need a strategist.

“Set up Facebook ads using the copy, creative, and audiences we provide” is a task.

“Create and manage Facebook ads for my business” is a project.

“Post to two social media platforms twice a day, one promoting my business and one promoting an affiliate, and provide weekly reports” is a task.

“Get me started on social media and then run it so I can position myself as a market leader.” is a project.

Which One Should I Hire: a Virtual Assistant or a Strategist?

Because it takes time, experience, and in-depth knowledge to be able to do strategy, you’ll find that strategists cost more than virtual assistants. With a strategist, you’re tapping into the skills and experience – the person’s background and brain power. Borrowing someone else’s brain comes at a price.

When you hire a virtual assistant, this depth of skills and experience simply aren’t necessary for the job. VAs are tremendously valuable because they can free you up to focus on income-producing activities, and they are instrumental in scaling your business (and income!) because there are simply more people doing the work, which means more work can be taken on.

There are many service providers who are capable of doing BOTH strategy and implementation.

Many business owners like hiring someone who can make the plan and then execute the plan. It feels more seamless and less risky, because you know you’ve got someone good who’s going to take you from start to finish.

You might be interested in hiring a strategist to come up with the plan, so you can then do the plan yourself. Many of my blogger clients, for example, will come to me for a two-hour “intensive” to work out the content strategy and value ladders for their blogs, and then they’ll go create the content themselves.

This approach means more work for you, as a business owner, but it also assures you that you’re spending your time focusing on the right things. It saves you a lot of money in the long run, and it might even bring you a lot of money too, if you execute well!

There are also many businesses that hire a strategist to write the plan, and then they’ll hire a virtual assistant to execute the plan. This is a good way to start making things happen in your business while saving some money – you can pay a top-notch strategist but then outsource the day-to-day work to someone you’re more able to afford.

So as you consider adding someone new to your team, think about what your overall needs are. If you need a lot of guidance, look for a virtual assistant who can handle the strategy behind the work you need done. But if what you’re outsourcing is fairly straightforward and doesn’t require a lot of strategy to do the actual job, you’ll do great to look for a skilled virtual assistant to pick up those tasks and free you up.

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Gina Horkey

Gina Horkey


Gina Horkey is a married, millennial mama from Minnesota. Additionally, she’s the founder of Horkey HandBook and loves helping others find or become a kickass virtual assistant. Gina’s background includes making a living as a professional writer, an online business marketing consultant and a decade of experience in the financial services industry.

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