The internet, the coronavirus, lockdown, high literacy rate and digital skills. These are some of the main factors behind the rise of the virtual assistant market in Zimbabwe. It makes sense, Zimbabweans on average possess adequate English language communication skills. However, employment is scarce in Zimbabwe and many have turned to use their skills in the digital sphere. If you have the capacity and see the vision you could make a name for yourself by providing a virtual assistant marketplace or hub.
We’ve covered virtual assistants before on multiple occasions but one of the biggest problems has been where to find them. Virtual assistants perform administrative and other work while providing the services remotely. While the jobs vary in needs and complexity you can get started as a virtual assistant with a computer and an internet connection. It is that simple. Tasks range between research, writing, copywriting, administration, spreadsheets, presentations, graphics and just about any other job that could be done remotely.
So the idea here is to set up a platform that connects those who provide virtual assistant services to those who need them. In case the virtual before the assistant didn’t make it clear you are going to need a website. This website can be of the directory or listing type. There are two ways to look at this and I say when you have two options that are not mutually exclusive do both. Firstly you can create an assistant directory where people list their skills, details and make themself available to those with jobs. Secondly, you can create a board where those with jobs post jobs available with details and they invite those who list to apply. This feeds both sides of the market as a marketplace is supposed to do.
What Virtual Assistants want
To create the right product you need to understand both sides of the market and what they need. Let’s start with the virtual assistants. On the surface, they want a place where they can market their skills with a high probability of getting hired/engaged. If you look at it a little bit deeper you must consider the experiences people with digital skills have been through on the internet. There are a lot of scams and otherwise dishonest people out there who post opportunities that attract people but ultimately leave the job seeker disappointed. So in addition to providing them with a place to show their skills you also want to make sure they have some sort of method to tell how serious those offering opportunities are. It would also be wise to include a rating system so they can give feedback on their experiences with prospective employers.
What employers want
Looking at the other end what do employers want? Well, this is a bit more complicated because this side of the market is much more widely spread. You could have anything from a professional, a small business, an agency, a corporate or really anyone else looking for someone to assist with their tasks. While what they look for will be very different there are some similarities. Ultimately they want to see if the candidate will be a match. The best methods to determine this include work sampling, interviewing and pitching. So your platform should at the very least allow some type of sampling, an opportunity to converse through your platform and the ability for assistants to provide pitches where applicable.
Now that we’ve figured out how to get everybody else paid let’s talk about how you get paid. You have several options but they all tie very closely with how you handle payments on the market. A subscription basis would be ideal for the assistants. They pay a regular (preferably low) fee for access to the platform. This works for so long as there are plenty of job opportunities on the platform. Another option is of course taking a commission per work engagement. This is viable but requires a system that takes the money for an engagement upfront and holds it in trust until the job is performed then pays the assistant. Besides requiring a rather complicated accounting system it also has the potential to create very hairy situations which you will be stuck in the middle of. For this to be effective you will have to prevent users from meeting on your platform and concluding the transaction elsewhere. Be advised that employment law in Zimbabwe prohibits the running of an employment agency so requiring payment from job seekers is forbidden. The other side of the market would mostly work best with a once-off commission. However, some employers may find value in subscriptions based on their needs.
The key to running a marketplace like this one is keeping both sides happy. And this will require listening to the market and making adjustments where possible in a timely fashion. Remember the possibilities are not just within Zimbabwe but extend beyond and there is no reason to limit yourself to the Zimbabwean context.