“If you want to do a few small things right, do them yourself. If you want to do great things and make a big impact, learn to delegate.” -John C. Maxwell
As entrepreneurs, our days seem to keep getting busier. Added to that, the world of business is continually digitalising. With that in mind, outsourcing work to a virtual assistant has never made more sense. But there are tons of options out there. And we’re also the kind of people who like to have control over every little thing. Bringing in a new – entirely remote – team member can feel a bit daunting. Once you experience the added time, energy and focus outsourcing a VA brings to you, you’ll never want to go back. Delegating tasks is one of the best things you can do for your business. Outsourcing has been one of the most important factors in growing StephenEsketzis.com. In the following, I’ll cover how you can make outsourcing a virtual assistant a resounding success for your business, too.
What is a VA (Virtual Assistant)?
Virtual assistants (VA’s) are a relatively new phenomena. However, they’re an indicator of how the world of business is evolving – digital, remote, and adaptable. 34% of Americans are now freelancers. And that percentage is only growing. VA’s are virtual employees who assist in day-to-day business tasks. This could be basic work like writing emails and data entry, through to skilled tasks such as technical support or web design work.
The benefits of outsourcing a VA are numerous. Having a skilled, organised gun for hire can truly take your business to the next level. Hiring a VA can…
- Save you time on repetitive/easy chores and tasks (accounting, data entry etc.)
- Make your business more organised, streamlined and efficient (keeping members of your team accountable)
- Reduce your day-to-day stress and improve your focus
- Save on money – as you pay for work when you need it
- Cut the logistical/financial hassles of a full-time employeE
Do You Really Need a VA?
Hiring a VA isn’t appropriate for every business. That’s why deciding if you really need to outsource a VA or not is a good first step. If…
- Your business is 6+ months old
- You make over $1000 a week
Then outsourcing is probably a good idea. If your business is relatively new, or you’re making less per week, you need to make the decision whether hiring a VA would make financial sense for you. Don’t waste your hard earned $2,000 a month delegating $800-$1,000 to a virtual assistant so you can free up your time.
If you don’t have enough time in the business at $2,000 a month, something’s seriously broken and hiring a VA won’t fix it.
What To Outsource
Certain tasks are more suited to outsourcing than others. Generally speaking, it’s a bad idea to outsource your core competencies (the main services you offer clients).
- Repetitive tasks – Things like basic bookkeeping, customer service, podcast editing, data entry and scheduling social media posts take up a ton of time, and are relatively easy for experienced VA’s.
- Specialised tasks – If you’re struggling with niche tasks (e.g. technical / IT work), it might make sense to outsource this work to a specialised VA. They’ll be able to complete the task quicker, and at a lower rate than your own.
Here are 25 tasks you can outsource to your virtual assistant courtesy of Chris Ducker who owns a company called Virtual Staff Finder over in the Philippines.
Try to make a list of all the tasks that you could outsource. This’ll give you a good idea of what to look for in your virtual assistant.
Virtual assistants generally aren’t used for expert tasks (e.g. financial analysis, marketing strategy). Use an expert consultant/freelancer, or keep those tasks in-house, ideally.
Finding Your VA
With hundreds of outsourcing and online hiring options, finding the ideal virtual assistant can be a daunting process. There are three main options:
- Direct Hiring ($) – This is the cheapest option. Hiring directly cuts out the middleman, but cuts out the safety net, too. Use platforms such as Freelancer, Upwork and Elance for added security/accountability.
- Agencies ($$) – Agents add a fixed fee to your VA’s hourly rate. With that, you benefit from added security, in-house training, and a wider range of personnel choices. Carve, Virtual Done Well and Outsourcing Angel are good options.
- Recruitment Specialists ($$) – The most expensive option, but useful if you have specific needs. You pay a recruitment specialist a flat rate of $50-200 to find and vet the ideal virtual assistant for you. Examples include Online Jobs and Virtual Staff Finder.
What To Consider
Location – Hiring onshore or offshore is a huge consideration. The latter is far cheaper, but the former might be better for communication. The Philippines are well-regarded for high-quality virtual employees. Rates – Rates really depend on levels of expertise and experience. Expect to pay $4-8 / hour for general assistant work, and $6-10 for more specialised tasks. Try not to pick rock-bottom rates – there’s a reason they’re so low. Skills & Experience – Figure out exactly what tasks you need help with. Search for a VA with those specific skills, not a generalist ‘jack of all trades’. The difference in work quality will show. Here’s a great infographic to refer to put together by onlinejobs.ph about payment for virtual assistants:
Writing An A+ Job Description
Whether you’re listing your job online, or describing your needs to an agency, it’s important to invest a little time into your job description. Take this example: It’s vague. It’s rushed. It talks nothing about the company, the required tasks, and the required skills and experience. These kind of low-quality descriptions will attract equally low-quality employees. When writing your job description / outline, try to include:
- Who your company is, what you do, and your general philosophy
- What you need help with – note the tasks specifically
- The level of experience and expertise expected of the virtual assistant – again, outlining specific skills and years of experience required (if relevant)
- The expected level of commitment and urgency – how many weekly hours you require, and when you need your VA to start
- What they should include in their application to you (specific work examples, their approach, etc.)
VA Job Listing Template
Title: [Full/Part-time] Virtual Assistant Needed For [Specific Task/Your Business]
To applicants: Write ‘turtle’ at the start of your application to prove you’ve read this listing. [this is important to weed out lazy searchers]
[Company name] is looking for a virtual assistant to join our [tight-knit/creative/technical team] [part/full-time]. [Company name] is… [briefly describe what you do – describe what makes your company / culture unique]. We’re looking for an [enthusiastic/dynamic/driven] virtual assistant to help with [book-keeping/social media management].
The ideal candidate will:
- Speak English fluently
- Have [x] years of experience working with [specific area]
- Be skilled in [customer service/data research/social media management]
- Have a working knowledge of [note important tools/programs – e.g. Zendesk]
- Have access to an internet connection, a laptop, and be available to work [10/20/30/40 hours a week Monday-Friday EST/GMT/AEST time]
- [Responding and managing customer enquiries]
- [Performing basic research for [specific task]]
- [Managing our Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn profiles, including weekly updates]
- [Interchange the above with real tasks]
In your application, please include skills, work experience, and work samples relevant to this job. The best candidates will be interviewed, and may be given a trial task to start.
Thanks, and good luck! I look forward to hearing from you.
Note: The above is pretty cookie-cutter. Feel free to liven it up to fit your company’s identity.
You’re going to be swarmed by applications. Remember – only a few will fit the bill. Carefully select a few candidates. Especially if you’re using a service like UpWork, there’s a lot of shit ‘copy and paste’ applications you’ll receive. UpWork does their best to weed them out but ultimately it’s up to you to find the best quality applicants.
So, you have a shortlist of potential virtual assistants to interview. Your interview can be a great way to gauge their professionalism, attitude, and the chemistry between yourself and your prospective VA.
In your interview…
- Provide a recap of your company
- Cover – more specifically – the required tasks
- Ask for directly relevant work experiences
- Discuss communication and logistics – working hours, time zones, communication mediums (email, Skype, Slack, etc), and turnaround times
- Cover tech requirements (do they have the right software? Do they have appropriate hardware?)
- Ask about their strengths and weaknesses (seriously)
…And anything else specific to your business.
Once you have a shortlist of candidates (2-4), it’s time to put them to the test.
Select a simple task that needs completed – it shouldn’t take more than an hour. Now, pay each prospective VA to complete said task (let them know this is a trial). This task should be a ‘weeding’ task to really challenge the assistant to think on their feet and test their problem solving skills.
After the interview process and the trial task, you should have a solid idea of who you prefer. Pat yourself on the back – you have a new virtual assistant!
Hiring a VA? That was the easy part. The systems of training, work and communication you set up afterwards can either make or break this work dynamic.
Communication tools can be broken down to two – let’s call them ‘personal communication’ and ‘project communication’. The former is how you directly communicate with your virtual assistant. The latter is how you organise and share information relating to the project. Simple! These will form the backbone of your system. Personal Communication:
- Skype – For quick text chat and video calls.
- Camtasia – Excellent for screen-sharing and training.
- Slack – Instant chat – good for multiple team members and projects.
- WhatsApp – Convenient for AFK (away from keyboard) communication.
- Email – “Do emails get delivered on Sundays?” – Grandma.
- Trello – Fantastic, streamlined project management tool.
- DropBox – Fast, free cloud storage for file sharing.
- Google Calendar – Useful to assign task deadlines and share your schedule.
- BaseCamp – The new favourite for project management.
For yourself and your new VA, there’ll be a slight learning curve in how either of you work. That’s why a training process is essential to help your VA get to grips with what you need.
Using YouTube, Skype’s ‘screen share’, or Camtasia to record a step-by-step walkthrough of how to complete each task. Narrate each tasks clearly. If the task is generic enough – there may already be an existing video on YouTube that you can link to your VA to save time. Programs like Screencast-o-matic have this function.
Using email, Skype, Slack, or your tool of choice, provide bulleted, step-by-step instructions for your required task. Include screenshots or relevant videos if required.
Tip: Record and save all of your training materials.
These will come in handy if you need to quickly train new personnel in the same tasks, and make you more efficient as a whole. When you assign a new task to your VA, try to be as clear, thorough and as unambiguous as possible.
If the task wasn’t completed properly, give them thorough, explicit feedback on how to improve.
Motivate & Retain
Once you’ve trained your VA, they’re now a valuable, functioning member of your team. It makes sense to keep them on board as long as possible. Money is – obviously – the main motivator here. However, if you want to motivate, retain and inspire your virtual assistant to continually produce great work and fight for your cause, you’re going to have to step it up a notch.
- Pay – Pay wages promptly. Pay them a fair, competitive rate. Rates are variable on skill, experience, and location. Expect to pay $4-15 for offshore VA’s, and $10-30+ for onshore VA’s. If it’s feasible, offer wage rises if your virtual assistant is doing a great job. This will both motivate them and make it less likely they’ll jump ship.
- Include – Even if it’s not directly relevant, include your VA In important news, events and updates. Include them in team conversations. Inclusion is a powerful motivator.
- Communicate – Touch base with your VA every two weeks – use Google Calendar. This will add some structure. You can select ‘repeat every two weeks on [x] day’: ‘Add guest’ will notify your VA of the scheduled meetings.
- Video Calling – Try to schedule video calls, if possible. Be consistent. Provide clear, constructive feedback, and talk about their needs (personal and professional). Let them know you’re on their side, rooting for them. They’ll return the favour.
- Reward – Rewards can be financial, or a simple pat on the back. Consider notifying your team that your VA did a great job – the gesture will be appreciated.
Last I wanted to include a very important area on hiring virtual assistants and that is systemisation (spelt with a ‘z’ for the Americans but us Australians know it really uses an ‘s’).
As you continue to grow your business, you’ll continue to grow your team of virtual assistants too, so it’s important to realize that you will need to systemize your operations as your business and team continues to grow.
The best way that has worked for me and my team is using a folder of ‘Training Modules‘.
Each time I need a task done (whether it’s one off or recurring) I quickly open up Screencast-O-Matic and screenrecord & narrate the task which needs to be worked on by one of my team.
As time goes on, this folder goes on to server as a massive video library of various tutorials which anyone from my team can go back and watch.
Step 1: Start a Training Modules Video Library
Once you’ve begun that library (or if you already have a team and are starting from scratch) I suggest you go back and film all the tedious day-to-day tasks which if you hired someone completely fresh off the streets, they could go in and watch and learn the tasks as they happen.
I then take it one step further with my new hires.
Step 2: Have Your Assistant Re-Film The Tutorials 3 Weeks Into Their Placement
After your virtual assistant has settled into their training and day to day tasks, it’s important to make sure they are capable themselves (don’t just take their word for it) to do the tasks your require them to.
Hence why I have each assistant which joins my team re-film and narrate all of their tasks they work on so they can be confident to not only apply the content but teach it to others (that’s how you know someone is really confident in their work).
So overall you can see how many steps are involved in hiring and bringing on board a rockstar virtual assistant into your business. There’s different levels of assistants which you can go out and hire in both quality and cost which you really need to take into consideration.
Whether you’re a solopreneur or building a multi-facet business you will go through (at some stage) the hiring and firing process of virtual assistants and other employees, it’s part of running and growing a business.
If I can leave you with one final piece of advice that is, set the standards very early in the relationship. If there’s one thing I’ve learn about virtual assistants it’s that I’ve become too friendly and nice early one which allowed them to take advantage of my goodwill which means they’ve become slack on deadlines and tasks from day to day.
Lastly, go out and find that winning virtual assistant who can really dominate your tasks in the short term and the long term within your growing business.
Leave me a comment below if you have a virtual assistant and how they have impacted your business. Let me know if I can help you overcome any of your VA issues.