Do you need an employee or a virtual assistant – and what’s the difference?

October 24th 2022 – Written By Stephanie Sheargold

virtual assistants

For any successful business, there inevitably comes a day when you sit back and think “I can’t do this on my own anymore”. In most cases, this leaves you with two options. Hiring an employee or working with a virtual assistant on a regular basis.

But how do you decide which is right for you? Does it make more sense for you to hire an employee or use a virtual assistant?

What is the difference between a virtual assistant and an employee?

Depending on your business needs, you may find that a virtual assistant and employee could carry out similar tasks. However, there are distinct differences. Here’s a quick run-down.

Virtual assistants

· are independent contractors. This means you only pay them for the time they work. You won’t pay PAYE, NI, holiday or sick pay if you’re using the services of a VA.

· work remotely from home, using their own equipment and software. If you want your VA to use specialist software, prepare to pay for their licence and the time it takes for them to get up to speed.

· are responsible for their own professional development. This cuts both ways – many VAs focus on training as a way of making themselves more competitive. Others may deprioritise professional development because of time pressures.

· work for you alongside other clients. This may mean they’re not available for urgent requests or quick turnarounds.

· tend to work flexibly, often around family commitments or other roles. Some basic planning will ensure that your VA delivers work in line with your needs.

· can be replaced comparatively easily. If you’re working with a VA agency, your account contact may be able to connect you with an alternative VA. Otherwise, some recommendations should help you find a replacement if needed.

· may cost more on an hourly basis than an employee. That’s because they have to cover their own costs and fund their own holiday pay, sick pay and pensions.


· need to be paid regardless of how much (or how little) work they do. You must also pay PAYE, NI, pension contributions, holiday and sick pay.

· are dependent on you for their financial security. This sense of responsibility can weigh heavy on some business owners and increase the pressure that comes with running a business.

· may work remotely or in your office. You are responsible for providing their equipment, software and relevant training.

· have their professional development funded by you. You can create a competitive advantage by having a highly skilled workforce of your own making. 

· work only for you – at least in the hours they are contracted. This means they can jump onto urgent requests, spend the day talking things through and generally respond to your every whim.

· can be fully evaluated before you hire them – is their work ethic, personality and skill set what you’re looking for? 

· are protected by strict employment laws. You can’t dismiss them simply because of a personality clash and redundancy takes time. It’s important to understand UK employment law (or work with an HR service to help you do so).

As you can see, there are some distinct differences between VAs and employees. If you’re still not sure which category of worker would be best for you, here are a few questions to help you decide…

What do you want your new team member to do for you?

Do you need general office support or something more specialised? If you want someone to sell for you, help with manufacturing or manage suppliers, an employee (or specialist contractor) will be more practical. A virtual assistant typically supports businesses with back-office support such as bookkeeping, diary management, client onboarding, project research and posting on social media. This frees up your time so you can concentrate on core business activities.

How much work do you have for your new team member?

If it’s less than two days a week then a VA is perfect for you. They’ll be able to fit your work around their other clients and provide you with a high level of service. If you need someone for more than three days per week you may want to consider employing someone directly. A VA could help you, but it’s probably more cost-effective to hire an employee. What’s more, employing someone gives you that person’s sole attention for that time, allowing you to plan around their availability more easily.

How will your role change once your new team member is up to speed?

Do you see yourself finally being able to work on your business and start moving ahead with your grand plans? Then a virtual assistant is the way to go. They’ll help you free up the headspace you so desperately need and will facilitate future projects through their administrative skills.

Or perhaps you’re hoping to become more of a supervisor and strategic overseer. In this case, you need an employee who has the skills and responsibility to start handling parts of the business on your behalf.

Are you OK with your new team member ‘seeing other people’ or would you prefer their undivided attention?

If you want monogamy, then you need an employee. This will give you their undivided attention, at least for the hours they’re contracted to work! If you’re flexible and don’t really mind who your new team member sees (so long as they do the work to the quality you expect), then a VA would suit you perfectly.

Working with a virtual assistant is hugely exciting but can take some getting used to. If you’re ready to expand and curious about taking on a VA, read our blog ‘Want to expand? Start as you mean to go on’. It’s full of hands-on tips to make the administrative side of business growth easier.