Have you ever watched, eyes green with envy, as administrative virtual assistants skillfully smooth away the bumps in an executive’s day?
“If only,” you think, “I could afford to have someone like that to answer the phone, keep my calendar, keep me organized, make travel arrangements, keep up with social media, update my website, deal with customers, keep my books… (the list goes on) Then, I could really focus on the important things that will make my business or career thrive! But, alas, I don’t have the _____ (fill in the blank: money, time, know-how, office space, etc.) to hire someone like that.”
So you go on spinning through your days, bouncing from crisis to crisis while the important things remain undone.
Well, here’s some good news for you. Having spent the past three years helping people find and use experienced virtual assistants from all over the world to their best advantage, I can tell you that this is closer within your reach than you think. Due to the explosion of affordable, cloud-based productivity and communications technology as well as the availability of highly skilled freelancers looking to work from their homes, it is now possible to build a staff of one or more experienced professionals — from next door or half a world away.
You can hire someone with the skillset you need to provide whatever service you need that does not require a physical presence, without long term commitment, overhead, payroll taxes or benefits. What is more, you can use your virtual assistant for as many or few hours as you need, to work long-term or on a single project.
“Okay, I’m hooked,” you say. “What does it take to do this right?”
Finding Virtual Assistance
You may choose to post your project or position on one of the many automated marketplaces where freelance providers hang out (like Elance, ODesk, Guru, Freelancer, etc.) or use a virtual service company that finds and manages assistance for you. The principles are the same for finding a great virtual assistant or team to which you can confidently delegate work:
- What does success look like? Have a clear idea of what you need the virtual assistant to accomplish and the skills and experience they should have to do so.
- Write your job description with enough detail so providers can understand whether your job is a good fit for them.
- Be realistic in budgeting. Yes, you can probably get someone to write your blog for a 10 dollars, but as in most things, you usually get what you pay for. Remember, although you’ll have to pay a small percentage to the service, you won’t have to pay taxes, benefits, office and equipment fees or long-term commitment.
- Be aware of possible government reporting requirements for contractors. The marketplace or service company can help you with this.
- Carefully review the proposals you receive to make sure respondents understand and fit your requirements. Review work samples and especially reviews of their work by previous clients.
- Consider work ethics, personality and broad experience base as well as the specific skill set you need. The best programmer in the world will only be a frustration if he is uncommunicative, doesn’t take feedback well and misses deadlines.
- Keep in mind time zones, language and cultural issues when choosing virtual assistance from around the globe. There may be advantages to having someone from another country, but there will also be challenges.
- Use a web-based communication tool such as Skype to interview finalists to help you choose the best fit.
- Try them out with a small project before making a larger commitment.
Working Awesomely with Virtual Assistants
You’ve done it! You posted your project, vetted and selected from 20 proposals, and you and your new virtual assistant are ready to get started. Here are a few pointers to help you delegate successfully.
- Think of your virtual assistant as a partner. Taking time to get the partnership off to a good start will pay off for you both in the long run.
- Just as in defining the job in the first place, being precise in your requirements and expectations will help your virtual staff give you what you need.
- Delegating doesn’t mean forgetting. You must keep in touch and monitor the quality of the work being performed. After all, it is your name that goes on the work, no matter who performs it. Monitor fairly closely at first. You may be able to back off a little or a lot as you develop a good working relationship.
- Frequent communication and feedback on work performed are essential, especially in the beginning. Your virtual assistant wants to do his best for you and needs to know how to adapt to your requirements. This may take some tweaking. Be patient and precise.
- Communicate carefully. You may be staying in touch most frequently through emails or chats. The written word, especially across cultures, is much more easily misunderstood than face to face communication, so be careful and re-read what you have written before pushing the send button! An occasional video or audio chat will be helpful in ensuring clarity of understanding, especially for building long-term relationships or managing complex projects.
Finding a VA is within your reach. If you feel the need, take action today. The principles and skills you use to hire and manage your virtual staff are the same employed by any good leader. Apply these principles in finding, choosing and managing great virtual assistants for a few days — or years — and you will build a support structure that can flex and grow with your needs. You can then climb to success on this support structure.
Have you ever worked with virtual assistants? How did you go about it and what was your experience?
Photo by Graeme Weatherston.
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