Good Help Is Hard To Find-Hiring a Virtual Assistant

You might hear colleagues or acquaintances mention how helpful their personal assistant is and wonder, wait…why don’t I have one? Sure I run my own business, but I could use the help! I don’t need someone at my house but I used to wonder, “How can I do this!”

Recently, the idea of small business owners using a virtual assistant to outsource daily business tasks has gained popularity, but many people don’t know how to hire or benefit from one. I recently have hired a personal assistant and can tell you, it has made my life so much easier! However, that may not be the case for everyone, so let’s chat about what they are and how they can help you too!

Outsourcing a Personal Assistant

Is a Personal Assistant Right for You?

The first thing I did was make a list, (a long one) with all of my daily, weekly, and monthly tasks. Once I did that I set aside a couple lists:

  • What I enjoy doing/what I need to do as an owner myself
  • What I hate doing and takes up a lot of time
  • Minor tasks and busy work

It was a major analysis, which I have to say in the long run was a great way to get organized! So I then wondered where to look. I live in the US, and a US based virtual assistant can earn a salary that can start at about $15 an hour (and those with a specialty might command higher rates). Talented administrative-task virtual assistants from abroad can be secured for as little as $3 to $6 an hour. Wow, that’s quite a difference!

Agency Pros and Cons

It might be costlier to hire a VA from an agency due to large overhead costs, but an agency might arrange for an entrepreneur to use multiple assistants to smooth over gaps in availability or in skill sets. I thought about taking this route so that I could relax and trust in the agency. I used services like Elance, Odesk and Upwork. However, I then I began to dig around more and saw the many independent contractors on those platforms, also looking for work and in my price range.

So I decided to post a job listing because when it came down to it, I wanted more personalized attention, given that it’s just that one person on the gig. An agency might rotate in multiple virtual assistants for one assignment or pull one away to their convenience not mine. The most dedicated assistants almost always are independent freelancers with whom the entrepreneur builds a relationship with.

A key factor to consider is how important is it for the person to be awake while you work and how aware of American culture you need the person to be.  I decided to go with a gentleman who lives in New Zealand. He speaks English fluently and I can usually communicate with him directly around 4PM my time, yet his work schedule will take him into the timeframe where I am sleeping at night. I have to say, its pretty cool to wake up to tasks being fulfilled, and if any issues, I do have the window to talk with him in the evening.

Create a Listing

Good-Help-Is-Hard-1So I wrote this well-edited, detailed job listing, and I was pretty happy with it. A good friend told me that when posting a listing such as this, you should always put in a call to action that merits a response to see if the applicant has read the description. For instance, ask the applicant to provide examples of his or her work.

You will be able to tell when a candidate seems motivated. When Oliver (my now assistant) reached out, he was so excited about the opportunity, he asked to interview via skype right away, and followed up immediately after our call. Nice work, Oliver, I like your style.

Hiring

Create a list of the applicants whose responses you like, read the reviews about them and then line up interviews. A platform like oDesk or Upwork can show an entrepreneur how a candidate scored on an English proficiency exam and how many jobs he or she has previously done. Some of these companies even have the ability to generate a contract, monitor work and set up a payment system.

A video conference like I used on Skype, is a must and will serve a few purposes: It can reveal the person’s grasp of English and the setting that he or she will likely be working from — and if it’s an decent setting from which to make a phone call on your behalf and the applicant’s overall attitude and personality.

Managing Your New VA

So now you have some of the day to yourself, but you still have the responsibility to allocate tasks smartly and effectively so that you can actually enjoy it. The more specific you are in explaining tasks, the better. As a result of good management, a virtual assistant will in time learn your work style and you will be able to give that person more responsibility and encourage more initiative taking.

There are some great tools out there for virtual assistants that you can use to help integrate them into your world.

Here are some good ones I have used:

Trello-A great task management system where you can both add to do lists, and move things into different categories when completed

Hubstaff– A screen shot tool that takes images of the assistants screen regularly and tracks their productivity, so you can make sure you are paying them to work not hang on Facebook all day!Good-Help-Is-Hard-2

Slack– You can create teams on here, and communicate via instant messages, and even send files. I am obsessed with this one.

Process Street-Allows you to set up a repeatable process for your VA to run through

It will be up to you to decide whether to trust your assistant with information like passwords and other sensitive materials. Start out with small things, such as granting access to social-media accounts. You may want to consider having an assistant sign a nondisclosure agreement.

Here Are Some Great Task Ideas for Your Virtual Assistant

Bookkeeping

Keeping tabs on bills and other bookkeeping matters can be one of the easiest things to assign to a virtual assistant. You can have them follow up on tasks such as outstanding invoices or unpaid bills which, lets be honest, is no fun.

Online Research

This is great for assistants. They can help you find information on corporate websites, explore new products, scout potential employees, and even reach out to business contacts! One thing to make sure you do is send clear instructions and user names and passwords so they can easily access what they need to. I have Oliver search blog topics and new fashion trends for me which is huge for my website, and he does it weekly so we are always on top of things.

Data Presentations and Database Entries

Turning raw data into a clear PowerPoint presentation or summarizing research findings in a Word document can be a huge timesaver when prepping for meetings. Another great thing is having your VA enter info into excel sheets etc. Creating timelines, entering emails, and competitor analysis are some great examples.

Good-Help-Is-Hard-3Email Management

I have a tendency to waste time in my email inbox. To avoid this I have my virtual assistant filter my most important emails and respond to the rest on my behalf. Email management is easy to do remotely, but you need to provide guidance on how to pick out key emails and ask the assistant to copy you before sending out any responses to reduce the risk of errors.

FollowUp-Email-(for-web)Automate emails without the hassle with Extendware’s Follow Up Email Extension

Social Tasks

Virtual assistants can be a good bet to handle tasks such as writing holiday cards or sending thank you notes, which can be a huge help to a very time consuming but important task.

Travel

Whether its finding hotels, booking airfares or mapping out trip itineraries both for business and pleasure, VA’s can help! Assistants can take advantage of the growing number of travel research tools and review sites on the Web. They can also deal with the hassle of navigating time zones when booking or researching international travel options by phone.

Scheduling

Tasks can include dealing with meeting invitations from others, scheduling appointments with clients and helping to plan events. The only hard part is getting comfortable enough to let go of your calendar for a bit!

 

 

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