June 23, 2010 -- If you've ever wanted your own personal assistant, websites that promise cost-effective outsourcing of tasks sound like a dream.
For roughly $2 a task, sites like AskSunday.com, RedButler.com and ihabilis.com will schedule your doctor's appointments, buy wedding gifts off a registry for you and even help you research a dishwasher purchase.
To test these services I submitted three tasks to each site and then judged how efficient they were at getting the jobs done.
First I signed up for AskSunday.com. For all of these sites you have to submit lots of personal information like your address, your credit card number, your e-mail address and your phone number.
I tasked AskSunday with helping me find lodging for a last-minute family trip on the 4th of July, researching tuition rates at preschools near my home, and helping me find prices from a tree trimmer to take down a tree in my backyard.
For the lodging request, AskSunday sent me five links: four of which were to rentals and hotels that didn't have availability on the dates I had submitted. The fifth link was to a house rental site that didn't list availability, but when I called the number listed on the site I did find an available cottage.
AskSunday did a good job finding five preschools in my area and got tuition quotes for most of the schools.
I thought this would be the toughest task for the site, but whether it was the individual who handled the request or it was an easier task than I'd anticipated, this research work was really helpful.
Finally, AskSunday sent me links to five tree trimmers. I didn't receive any rate quotes, but the site gave one of the tree companies my phone number and they called me directly to give me a quote.
RedButler is the only one of the services I used that is based in the U.S.
I wondered if that difference would impact the results, but I saw no differences in the three services that seemed traceable to their locations. RedButler got the jobs of helping me find a gift, buying something online so I didn't have to fill out all the forms, and helping me find a babysitter on an upcoming trip to someplace I'd never been.
The gift suggestions were pretty generic considering all the specifics I'd submitted, but the concierge did find me a discount code for 10 percent off at the gift site they suggested. To purchase the product online I did have to go to the RedButler site and input my credit card number, but I was surprised that they couldn't pull that information from their database since I had submitted it to pay for the service.
Finally they sent three options for babysitting services and I contacted the owner of one who turned out to be fantastically helpful.
Three Virtual Assistants Put to the Test
The third personal assistant site I tested was ihabilis.com.
They had the fastest response times of the three sites. AskSunday and RedButler took one to two days to get back to me, but ihabilis.com got my first answer to me in an hour and subsequent answers shortly thereafter.
I asked ihabilis to rent me a minivan, get plumbing cost estimates on how much it would cost to clear some roots that were putting pressure on the sewer line from my house, and then I asked them to research new dishwashers and any local rebates I might qualify for with the purchase of a new appliance.
The assistant handling the rental car task sent me a document showing four minivan options for the dates I submitted. But when I did a quick search for rental car codes, I found a way to get the same van from one of the suggested rental companies for $150 less.
The plumber recommendation came within an hour and I really appreciated the expediency, but the estimate ihabilis provided seemed high, so I called around and found a local plumber who gave me an estimate for $40 less than the national plumbing chain quote ihabilis sent.
Finally they sent me ratings and reviews for nine dishwashers all within the price range I stipulated. When I e-mailed back and asked them to find any eligible rebates for the purchase of a new energy efficient dishwasher, they sent me a local store offering 10 percent discounts, but they missed the $50 discount being offered by my local utility company.
On the whole, travel requests, purchasing online and web researching were the most successful tasks for these personal assistant sites.
Anything that required much local knowledge or phone interaction seemed to make the results a bit spotty. I felt that creating a relationship with one of these companies could help you start projects and do some of the scut work associated with modern life.
But in most cases I still needed to get involved with a lot of instructions, further research and decision making. For $2 a task that seems reasonable and I will certainly continue to use these sites in the future.