Are you running in circles trying to field phone calls, read emails, send your texts in time, and record videos for your podcast all while answering the call of a crying toddler hitting the moon because their applesauce isn’t the right color? It’s time for a virtual assistant!
Whether you have kids or not, adding a virtual assistant (VA) to your business can be an integral step in scaling what you do from a solo venture to a larger team effort with bigger aspirations. Hiring your first VA can feel daunting, however. There may be many unknowns, and you may feel it’s difficult to know exactly when the best time is to dive in. I’ve been there, I get it.
When I hired my virtual assistant, she set me FREE to focus on other things in my business.
If you’re running your business by yourself and feeling overwhelmed and hurried and stressed, hiring a virtual assistant might be precisely what you need.
What is a virtual assistant?
A virtual assistant is just what it says – someone who helps you do things, virtually. They’re located someplace you aren’t and you don’t interact with each other in-person. You do, however, communicate, and sometimes a lot!
Your VA is an independent contractor who helps you with administrative duties. But it can go beyond this. I like to consider a VA as a general contractor. Traditionally, a virtual assistant helps you with things like:
- Scheduling appointments
- Making phone calls
- Managing email accounts
- Booking travel arrangements
- General reception duties
You can stretch the idea of a VA as far as you like, really.
In old-school environments, assistants aren’t virtual but someone hired to work alongside you in your office.
Often called a receptionist, or an administrative assistant, these in-person helpers are responsible for clerical duties, file organization, message creation, assisting other staff members, and helping your place of business run as smoothly as possible.
The biggest difference between this type of assistant and a VA is that you can’t send your VA out to get a coffee for you from Starbucks, (although they could pre-order one for you, which is at least half as good!)
For me, the label VA throws a wide net.
My virtual assistants cover everything from video and graphics editing, to event production, and calendaring. I hire VAs to help me in numerous aspects of my business as an independent speaker, and they help me run a business that I simply couldn’t on my own. The work you may choose to outsource to others over the internet really depends on the particular needs of your business.
How to know when you need a virtual assistant
How do you know when it’s time to hire help?
When everything gets too busy to handle on your own.
My social media outreach was working well, people loved my videos, but there was so much more to do. And I didn’t have the time to cover all the details myself, nor did I have the interest.
Sometimes there are also things that need to be done that I don’t know how to do, and so hiring someone else to get it done is essential.
For example, I can edit a video pretty well, but I don’t have the expertise and vision to add in all the special effects and graphics. These bring a real look of professionalism and finesse to the work, so I hire someone else to do my editing for me.
In my view, deciding when to hire a virtual assistant comes down to three basic benchmarks. These are:
If you find your business is rolling along well and you don’t have the time to do all the required work, hire someone to help you.
If the same is true and you lack an interest in taking care of the fine details and grunt work, or you don’t have the expertise to do it, these are also good signs that it’s time to hire a virtual assistant.
There are so many different visions you may have for your company. Some people are aiming for fast growth that sees their enterprise scale from a two-person side gig to a multi-million dollar company in a very short period of time. This takes both skill and luck. Others prefer staying closer to the life of a freelancer, trading time for dollars.
My goal has always been somewhere in between. To build a small business with some scale, I’ve needed a team effort.
Determining what help you need a virtual assistant to do
Figuring out which aspects of your business could be best outsourced may be simple, or it could take a bit of reflection and sleuthing to pinpoint. As touched on previously, you might start with:
- Business needs you don’t have time for
- Work you don’t have the expertise to complete
- Work you can get someone else to do cheaper
Once you’ve figured out which aspects of your business you’d like to focus your energies on and which you would like to hire someone else to do, you need to figure out if this all makes economic sense.
As an entrepreneur, one of the key questions to ask yourself is, can I hire someone to do my work for less?
Know what your time is worth. You may need to do some calculations to figure out what you are actually worth in dollars and cents, per hour. (If you’re not keeping your books tightly enough to know this by the way, you may need to look into some housekeeping).
Once you’ve determined a ballpark figure, ask yourself if you can hire someone to edit that video for you, for a cheaper cost.
Depending on how successful your business is, you may find the answer is, “yes!” Is it worth your time to hammer away at your computer into the wee hours of the morning, or can you sleep while outsourcing that key project?
Figuring out the cost to hire someone else to do vital aspects of your company’s work, and comparing this to the money you pull is one way to figure out which jobs you may wish to outsource.
Finally, after all of this is said and done, next you’ll need to search for someone who is the best fit for the identified job(s).
6 qualities to look for when hiring a virtual assistant
You want to match with your VA, and work with someone who understands your brand. This could take some time to find, or it may be straightforward.
In general, you want a VA who shows:
- Attention to the details
- Openness to learning
- Good communication skills
You want someone who gets up in the morning and says, “how can I help?” because that’s what they do.
You want a team member who “gets” what the end result is and the measure of success.
Yes, they should follow “rules” but also they can bend the rules when they need to, within reason, to get the job done in a way that benefits your organization as a whole (and is legal).
You want a VA who is passionate about providing you with their top service every time, and who can do so within the timeline you need.
How can you tell who you should hire?
Look for good reviews and people who come recommended.
If you don’t like the work of one virtual assistant, try someone else. It might take some time to find the best fit. It depends on how picky you are, really.
For me, I want to hire someone who gets where I’m going, who understands what I want to do and who can make decisions independently and execute. I have no time to micromanage people. I need to grow. I happen to not be an OCD person and I’m also not a perfectionist and I think that helps. Competence and ability are key.
3. Attention to the details
Because I’m busy looking after the bigger picture, I need someone else who I can rely on to catch the small stuff. You may find this works for you, too. A virtual assistant who lets the essential small details slide too often can lose your confidence, and your business.
4. Openness to learning
As your company grows, your needs will, too. Having an assistant on hand who can adapt to new situations within reason can save you time and money down the road as you don’t have to search for someone new every time a new project pops up. Being open to learning new things can be a great asset.
5. Good communication skills
Some people are fantastic at painting and some others can forge a beautiful iron sword. But this isn’t what you require. You need a VA who is good with words, in writing and likely in conversation, too. Your VA needs to be able to articulate your brand’s values to potential clients, and communicate effectively with you in writing or over the phone. If they need to send you a painting, that’s a problem.
Again, having someone you can work with is key. Be open to paying a bit more for compatibility if need be, as it can be worth it. If incompatibility will be a problem, you’ll most likely spot it early on. Try to communicate through any rough spots, however, at least at the outset, as it may be a temporary problem rather than an over-all bad fit.
Avoid hiring cheap
Cheap, cheap, cheap! It’s important to remember that cheap is always out there.
Someone is always in the market who is just starting out, or perhaps taking their time to scale larger.
Their rate may be cheaper than someone else who is more established. This may not necessarily be reflected in their work of course, and some cheap VAs do a great job of getting done what needs doing. It’s important to keep in mind, however, that often, you get what you pay for. So, if you can do it, avoid hiring someone one just because their price looks attractive. You may have to jump ship soon thereafter.
Companies to find VAs
So, where should you look for a VA? There are numerous ways to find your own VAs online. Common companies that hire out virtual assistants include:
- Work Better Now
- Time etc
- Fancy Hands
- Wood Bows
Different companies have varying pricing structures, and so it’s best to reflect on the type of work you need. Is it a one-time project? Do you need someone on an on-going basis?
Companies like Time ect offer VAs for monthly fees that vary depending on the number of hours you need. In contrast, Fancy Hands specializes in single tasks that last a maximum of just twenty minutes, with pay-as-you-go pricing.
Look at the candidates’ background, and place a solid job description on the platform you choose for the best results.
How to budget for a virtual assistant
As always, business success requires the outlines of a fine budget! Figuring out your VA budget can be tricky. I have a particular system.
There’s the owner’s pay and the budget for overhead, let’s call it.
And then I have a client budget.
If I’m being paid $1000 per blog post, I can afford to pay someone $150 to $200 to write this entry.
There’s a bit of overhead for administrative work, perhaps some graphics editing, and it gets the job done.
Eventually, over time you know your numbers and what your gross is and your overhead, and within what range you can afford to do business. Most contractors charge by the hour or by the project. Budget for your support staff according to your needs and what is reasonable for your business.
Shifting your mindset from solo to team
Do you find thinking big comes naturally? Or, when you imagine yourself earning more than $200/day, does it seem impossible? Everyone has a different mindset when it comes to life and success in business.
When considering hiring a VA, you want to shift your focus and perspective away from running a solo venture, and revise a team outlook. For some, this happens overnight. For many others, it takes some time.
Some of the key elements to working well with a team are:
This is a big one.
You need to be able to let go and trust that others can get the work done for you! Having trust in those you work with means allowing them to take the reins a bit, so to speak. If you’re used to tending to every minute detail of your work, this may not come naturally to you.
Remember, you hired your VA, or contractor for a reason.
Let them have their input and do the work for you. It can be easy for entrepreneurs to want to design their logo themselves, determine what’s going on their website and where, and what colors to use, the right font, and so on. The trouble is, you’re paying someone else to do this now, for you.
You can share your two cents but then stop yourself from trying to take over. If you’ve hired a contractor to design your website for you, remember they do this all the time. They do this for a living! While you have great ideas, the web designer might have more insight into what works online and what doesn’t. Trust them and you may be pleasantly surprised.
When you communicate effectively with your team, you can all be on the same page. Good communication can help smooth over any rough spots and conflicts.
Communication can also ensure the right message gets out. If you have a vision in mind for your business but you don’t share it effectively, your team is left guessing. A bit of this is OK as it leaves room for interpretation, but too much guessing can leave some essential stones unturned.
Strike a balance. Establish a process. Have regularly scheduled team meetings. These may be once a week, such as on Monday morning at 10AM. (That’s when ours are!) Your team needs to know what is the flywheel of your business in order to operate. Make sure your team knows what your Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats are. Do a SWOT analysis and share it. Ask your team for input. What problems are they encountering? What strengths do they see working well? Ask your team for feedback and grow from this. Your business will benefit.
It would be great if everything always got off on the right foot and stayed this way, but we all know this usually isn’t the case. Stuff happens. Remember to persevere with your ideas. You’ve done your research and hired a talented team. If things aren’t going as planned maybe there’s a glitch in your communication.
Ask your VAs if anything is unclear.
If they wish to speak with you on the phone to address an issue or two, don’t insist on hashing it out over email. Maybe there’s a reason they want to talk about things. Keep your avenues open and remember that things will feel different as a team and that’s OK. Keep your eye on the ball and stay focused.
Last but not least, it’s important to remain objective.
When you’re working with others remotely as you are with a virtual assistant, it can be easy to jump to conclusions if something goes off track. Technology can be helpful but it can also cause glitches to occur. It’s different from communicating in person. Maybe that message didn’t get through or was somehow lost. Perhaps an email was sent to the wrong inbox and wasn’t read in time.
Generally speaking, virtual assistants can be amazingly helpful but if something goes wrong, resist the temptation to paint the whole scenario as problematic.
Remain objective and find out what’s going on. This will help keep the right people on your side, and vice versa. I make it sound like a lot of problems will pop up when working with virtual assistants and contractors and that’s not the case.
Oftentimes you have a good rapport and business progresses well, especially once you’ve found people you gel with. But this is just a brief heads up because there are always stumbling blocks when starting out and they happen to everyone.
General tips and advice for hiring a virtual assistant
What’s the best advice I can give you right now when it comes to hiring virtual staff? Hire them right now, right now, right now.
Right now, hire that staff. You’re an entrepreneur trying to do it all, trying to do your invoicing, trying to get your graphics done, trying to get your editing done, trying to get your website done, trying to serve your clients, trying to grow, hire somebody now. Sure, you can be successful doing it all alone. There are many things you can automate now, and that route may work. But as the African proverb wisely states, “You can go fast alone, but you can go farther with others.”
My other bit of advice is, to leave your team alone and let them do what they do best. Do it now! You won’t regret it.
Virtual assistants can help your business grow in ways you envision and in others that may not even be on the table yet. By opening yourself up to working together with others as a team, you release yourself from the daily grind and give yourself permission to dream of bigger goals and how you’re going to get there. The world’s your oyster! Dive in the ocean and grab it! Hiring your first virtual assistant will show you just how much is possible to get done if you place the right pieces together.
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