The Importance of Administrative Support

During my first ten years as a manager, I had no administrative support. If you wanted to schedule a time to talk, I had to make the appointment. If a flight had to be booked, I had to do it. If a report had to word-processed, I had to do it.  

I had no choice. We barely had the budget for a full-time receptionist.  

And, even when our cash flow had improved, I rejected the idea of any support. I guess I wanted to show that I could do it all. Of course, my desire to be Superman meant that I was working long days and taking lots of work home. I remember the night; I was typing a routine report on my laptop while the rest of my family was watching a movie.  

I happened to mention to a former boss that somehow I needed to carve out more time to raise funds for our nonprofit. He told me the answer was obvious. He said I could accomplish so much more if I had hired an administrative assistant. He challenged me to keep track of the time I was spending on routine and clerical tasks. When I did, he multiplied it by the amount I was earning, and it became clear that I was making a substantial investment in doing my work. My boss was right, it made financial sense to find someone to help me.  

I hired a part-time assistant. But then I worried that I wouldn’t have anything for that person to do or that it would take more time for me to train, supervise, delegate, and review the work of this person who sat just outside my office.  

We started slowly. She handled my calendar, answered my phone, and typed up some reports.  

Within a few months, my assistant was suggesting other things she could do. I somewhat reluctantly delegated a few projects to her. I noticed that everything she took on was done very well. Sometimes, she did a better job than I could. My stress level dropped as she took on more. I was taking less work home. I gave her more responsibility, and soon she became full-time, and I finally had the time to speak with donors and the community. The investment paid off. My boss was right.  

About a year later, she left to pursue a different career. I was never tempted to go without administrative support. The next person I hired in that role has worked with me for more than 20 years. She is a real pro and could assign her projects and allow her to make many decisions on her own.  I describe her as my “secret weapon.” 

But there are other reasons an administrative assistant could be a game-changer for you: 

You aren’t in the office all the time. Your assistant can handle things that come up while you are gone and can alert you as needed.  

They can manage your calendar. You don’t know how much time you are spending on scheduling meetings until you no longer have to do it.  

Once you’ve worked together for a while, your administrative assistant will begin to anticipate your needs and keep track of deadlines and other things you need to do.  

What if you can’t afford an administrative assistant?  I might question that assumption. Perhaps you can’t afford to be without one unless you have a tiny team

But let’s say that is the case. If you find yourself overloaded with clerical projects, you might consider working with a temp agency to complete the work. These companies find qualified candidates, employ them, and hire them to companies that need short term help. You will find that this a cheaper approach than hiring a full-time permanent employee. But if a job will take a year or so to complete, you might be better off hiring on your own. There are other downsides to this approach. A temporary employee will still require training. They may be less committed to your organization. And, you should be aware of some recent court decisions regarding when an individual must become eligible for the same benefits enjoyed by your permanent employees.  

Another approach is to outsource your work to a “virtual assistant.”  There are a growing number of companies that provide this service. You will have access to a person who will work on your projects as an independent contractor. The person usually works from their own home, but it is incredible how much they can accomplish. All you have to decide is approximately how many hours you need and sign the deal. I know someone went this route said he should have done this earlier, even if it meant paying for it from his own pocket.  

No matter how you do it, working with an assistant will allow you to get more done and be more effective in getting things done.  

When people would comment about my productivity, I was happy to give credit was due. Ann Piatt was my secret weapon, and I will always be grateful. 

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