Can virtual assistants keep your busy life on track?

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

Who couldn't use some extra help with the day-to-day tasks that clog up our days and take us away from the things we really need to get done?

You're taking colleagues out for dinner at a conference in Cleveland and you've never been there. You'll spend at least half an hour looking up restaurants and reviews before calling in for the reservation.

Having an assistant to help with that research, make the reservation and confirm attendees would certainly free you up to get other things accomplished, but vetting candidates, arranging medical insurance and training a new employee makes hiring an assistant an expensive, time-consuming task itself.

Enter virtual assistants. For a fee, by the month or by task, these online assistants aim to help you get organized and get more done. Send an e-mail or text or call in with your member number and the personal concierges at will make your dinner reservation, look up a phone number for you or compile a list of restaurants in Cleveland that would be appropriate for your group of five.

The idea is compelling. A virtual assistant who can help with tasks without the overhead of a personal assistant seems like a win-win. But despite the innovative idea, RedButler has some startling limitations.

Registration is done online. Packages of tasks range from $37 per month for 15 tasks to $166 per month for 100 tasks. There's also a middle-of-the-road package, $87 a month for 40 requests. Unless you buy a premium package ($87 or higher), you'll wait several days after you pay online for your confirmation to arrive by mail.

The tasks the virtual assistant can help with are limited to things that can be done online or over the phone from a remote location. So they can make a reservation at your favorite restaurant, but you have to take the time to send them a detailed e-mail with instructions. By the time you send the instructions, you could have made the reservation yourself.

The time-savers where personal assistants are most helpful-errands like taking in the dry cleaning or picking up a package-are outside the range of The virtual assistants cannot wait for the cable man. They can look up "service providers" in your area to help with errands, but you would pay that service directly.

RedButler does shine in the area of research. I requested a list of restaurants that would be unique to Cleveland and that would be appropriate for a business dinner. RedButler recommended Nitetown, Pier W, The Flying Fig, Sergio Sarava and Vivo Restaurant and Bar-all good picks. The list came complete with addresses, phone numbers and web sites. A quick reply to this e-mail would have yielded a dinner reservation.

The bottom line is that virtual assistants are for you if you require a good deal of research done on your behalf. What's the quickest flight to L.A.? What's the weather like in Chicago next week? I need a taxi in Charlotte. These are things RedButler can help with.

But if you have errands or other physical tasks that need to be completed, you may have to look beyond RedButler and the rest of cyberspace.