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?
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As one of the more modern ‘techie’ VA’s out there, this article really struck a chord. Some new clients know exactly what they want and how to use me, and others expect me to be a bit of a mind reader and know how they and their business works and what they want me to do without telling me!
What makes my job much easier is when a client is organised and knows where you fit in to their business. My favourite clients are super-successful, really busy people who use me to free up their time so they can get on with going after new opportunities and doing the things that they’re best at. They’re clear on what they need and they communicate that effectively to me.
I always relay back to my clients every task they give me as I understand it; sometimes what I think they want me to do, isn’t what they actually meant, and more often by my talking through the stages with them, we realise it could be done better – especially as I have experience of different industries and systems so can often see how to make their processes easier for them.
It’s also important that they are open to suggestions I might make as I’m not just a lackey, I’m beneficial to them because I’m good at what I do – that’s why I do it for a living! I’m not the cheapest VA on the block and I’d never try to compete with an overseas e-lancer or o-desker, but as you said – you get what you pay for so choose the tasks and the VA wisely!
I really enjoyed reading this article! Partnering with a VA benefits a company in so many ways. I really don’t know how any successful small business can keep up without the use of a VA. Eventually help will be needed in order to continue to grow!
I also enjoyed the comment left by Joanne Munro. I was able to take a few tips away with me. Understanding what is expected on both ends, is vital for the success of the company and the VA. I really like this comment:
“I always relay back to my clients every task they give me as I understand it; sometimes what I think they want me to do, isn’t what they actually meant, and more often by my talking through the stages with them, we realize it could be done better – especially as I have experience of different industries and systems so can often see how to make their processes easier for them.”
Thank you both for your comments! So true that while a VA can do tons to support businesses – it’s key for those requesting support to be very clear on their expectations!
Sandra, I like your ideas because I would like to one day consider hiring a VA. However, I am not that busy right now, but you outline the steps very well. If I had questions before you answered them here. thanks for this informative article.
Great! Thanks for your comments, Michael!
I have a few VAs now and found the biggest hurdle for me was shifting gears from doing to teaching/directing and getting to know my VAs individual strengths. So far so good.
I agree, Joyce. Everyone has unique skills so it’s really important for all of us delegating to identify what those are – otherwise, you are in for real frustrating results!
I love reading your article, I’m a VA now and it help me to improve my self… 🙂
Please do post more article about this. 🙂
Thanks for the tips .
it is good to give our Virtual Assistant delegate task, so he will not be idle, but of course VA’s should be productive also, such as reading some stuff about how to help there clients.
There simply isn’t enough time in the day to do everything yourself and this is when a busy entrepreneur needs help, a virtual assistant. One thing to keep in mind and I wanted to add here, if you may, is being clear with your instructions. Just as in any relationship, being clear with stuff is way way important than we could all explain.
Great article, I totally agree with finding the right virtual assistant as this can be one of the hardest thing to do right. But once you have a good virtual assistant they can be a vital member of any team.