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Agency or Virtual Assistant? The Decision Making Process For Clients

Michelle Dale - Friday, July 17, 2015

Whilst sat in my office at 1am last night with my husband, I was having an interesting conversation with him (actually I was talking at him a bit but he's a good listener) about agencies and VAs and the differences between them. He said to me, 'you should be recording this' and whilst in all honesty I couldn't be bothered at that time, I thought I'd share some of these thoughts in a blog post.

There are loads of people who offer similar services to VAs that present those services in a different fashion. For example a social media virtual assistant can offer an identical service to a social media agency - but there's a difference of course, yet the agency is often considered the first choice, particularly by larger organisations.

I've even had clients send in contact forms saying, "I'm thinking of hiring an agency, tell me why I should choose a VA over an agency?" - like the only comparison you have to make would be Apples or Oranges... Doesn't matter who the agency is or the VA...

Keep in mind I'm freely admitting that I'm making stereotypical blanket statements here, I'm not saying it's always the case every time...

Agencies and virtual assistants have different advantages and disadvantages, I'm speaking from my experience working with agencies where I'm collaborating for clients on shared projects. Let's look at a few differences.

Difference in Price

The agencies tend to be more expensive because they have a 'bricks and mortar' business, whereas the VA is working online, usually from home, so can offer a comparatively different rate because of much lower overheads.


The agencies will often be made up of interns coming and going, trainees, young guns, hot shots (lmao I just wanted to use those words, don't hold it against me) and grads. Which is fine, we all have to start somewhere, but then you have the scenario of about 10 people all rallying around to get one job done who aren't quite ready to make the decisions, leaving ample room for miscommunication etc... and sometimes high turnover too. As an example, we worked with a company who would hire and fire staff seemingly at random - the problem wasn't with the staff, but the people in charge.

Another issue reported by many clients is the lack of promptness to respond... Which can often be down to poor management of expectations, or simply because they have a bit of an 'employee mentality'.

Skill Set

A lot of the advice and guidance I've seen offered looks fantastic on paper - someone went and Googled stats on various things or found a bit of research published somewhere -- but has anyone ever actually put that into practice and seen any first-hand result from it? Far too often, from my observations, the answer is no.

Back in the day

And the folks that are working under the agency umbrella who are more seasoned, often quote about 'past' successes which are no longer applicable due to massive changes in the digital world that have occurred and are occurring almost daily. For example, one individual said, "In 2006 I worked with a company and we had over a million hits a month." Okay great, so what company are you doing that for now?


Then you have the agencies that haven't done their homework on legals and ethics and tend to sort of come up with ideas and bend a few rules, or not even know the rules while putting the client's reputation or business at stake.

Okay, so I know this can also happen in VA businesses too, every VA or every agency should win business in my opinion, for Merit. Be it personal merit or company merit, be it because they produce the greatest result, or have the best customer service, whatever way we can measure merit - that's what I would think/hope clients would base their decisions on when deciding - should I go agency, or individual?

But nobody has ever said to me, "I used this agency, the results were rubbish but the customer service was amazing"...

And then I come up against this really befuddling thing that I've seen time and time again, clients have come to me literally investing thousands of pounds/dollars of their hard earned cash into a service, let's say social media support but there are a wide variety of other areas too, and they say, I feel cheated, I've lost all my budget, they were supposed to be the best and I was disappointed etc...

None of these clients really based their decision to hire, on Merit.

I often say well, who is the agency?

They say, "Acme Social Media Agency" (that's fictional and made up by the way) and they say, "they were going to skyrocket my audience, drive amazing traffic, and I'd have the world following me after my investment with them."

So I go check out "Acme Social Media Agency" - impressive website, impressive headshots of the team and offices etc... and great web copy on what they can do in social media.

So the first thing that pops into my head is... How do they handle their own social media? If you find an agency (or VA) who's social media is mediocre, lacklustre, disappointing - and to be frank just plain old 'text book' - would you hire them?

Would you let them handle your Twitter account, when they made big promises of a huge following yet they only had a handful of followers, and were following more than were being followed?

Would you let them handle your Facebook page when they made big promises of engagement when on their own page the tumbleweeds are rolling over some bland, impersonal rehashed content?

"When deciding to choose a service, whether it be #Agency or VA - think about the merit that goes into it" - @Miss_Friday - Click To Tweet

When deciding to choose a service or offer a service, whether it be agency or VA - you must do the homework and think about the MERIT that goes into it, think about whether the promises can be lived up to, think about what's important to you and look to see if those points that you hold in high regard actually show. 

So what's my point?

Well, there are fantastic agencies out there, and terrible VAs, or fantastic VAs and terrible agencies, but when taking a decision as a client to choose one or the other, think carefully about what you want to base that decision on, and approach both options with an equal balance of consideration.

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Hi I'm Michelle, an entrepreneur specialising in virtual assistance, a digital and real world nomad, and a down-to-earth mother of three.

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