LOS ANGELES—Could you use a virtual assistant? That’s the question in a headline from the Wall Street Journal way back in 2010. You see, although virtual assistants have become quite the buzz in the past year, virtual assistants are nothing new to the entrepreneurial—or corporate—scenes.

“Between work, chores, an almost-two-year old and another baby on the way, my to-do list seems to be growing rapidly,” writes columnist Michelle Gerdes. “Some of my most-pressing to-do items: packing up baby clothes for the attic, painting the spare room for nursery No. 2, getting a billing situation straightened out with a doctor’s office and applying for tax-free commuting dollars through our benefits website at work.”

Virtual assistants may not be able to help you pack up your baby clothes or paint a spare room in your nursery, but virtual assistants can help you get a billing situation straightened out with a doctor’s office and applying for tax-free commuting dollars through your benefits website at work.

In other words, if it’s computer- or telephone-based, a virtual assistant can help you out. Virtual assistants can handle everything from answering your phone to scheduling your appointments to ordering flowers for that special occasion to planning your much-needed vacation. Beyond secretarial service, virtual assistants can also handle online marketing tasks, online research or anything else you need done online.

Of course, not all virtual assistants are created equal. Some are fresh out of college—or in college—and may not be skilled or dependable for your specific needs. Others are industry veterans that have handled just about any virtual task under the sun. So be sure to outline your needs and expectations clearly when choosing a virtual assistant.

By setting the bar at the beginning and taking the time to train up your virtual assistant, you can save enough time getting a billing situation straightened out with a doctor’s office and applying for tax-free commuting dollars through your benefits website at work in the long run. And that gives you time to pack up your baby clothes or paint a spare room in your nursery—and grow your business.