Working with virtual assistants has become increasingly popular over the past several years, as small business owners, entrepreneurs, and busy people everywhere have acknowledged the need for additional help but wanted to avoid the cost and hassle of hiring in-house.
In his book The 4-Hour Workweek, Tim Ferriss outlines the benefits of passing off the repetitive tasks that you don’t have time for- or simply don’t enjoy to a virtual assistant.
But, there are several factors to consider in order to find the virtual assistant that’s best for you.
1. Define Your Specific Needs
So, you know that you have too much on your plate and you need help. That’s great, but if you had an amazing assistant start today, what exactly would you delegate to them?
To get the results you are looking for, start by deciding exactly what your new assistant will do. Know what they will need access to in order to do it, if it will require any training on your part for them to able to do it, and how much time or benefit it will provide you.
The easiest way to identify which tasks should be delegated is by going through each day in your typical work week and looking for the repetitive tasks that don’t need to be done specifically by you.
Things like inbox management, scheduling, data entry, research, and social media management are good examples of the types of tasks that are easily passed off to a virtual assistant.
This is because it doesn’t take a lot of time to find a virtual assistant who understands how to get these tasks done. Once you find that person, these types of tasks are off your plate for good!
A high quality virtual assistant is also a good choice because they will generally require little input from you, and most VA's are probably more experienced with them than you are.
Taking the time to define what you will delegate, and how, will ensure that you don’t waste any valuable time once you have found your new assistant.
2. Decide What Service Features are Important to You
Now that you know exactly what you’d like your virtual assistant to do, you can begin to find the right virtual assistant to fit your needs.
There are so many VA options available (whether you use a service or hire an independent contractor) that finding the perfect fit may seem a bit daunting. But, you can narrow your search considerably by defining your needs even more specifically beyond the basic task list.
First, think about how much time you’ll need with your VA, and what times you’ll need your VA to be available. Most virtual assistants work with several clients at the same time, but there are some who can dedicate all of their time to just one client or company.
If you need your VA to be constantly available, or most of the tasks they’ll do are urgent and require short turn-around times, you’ll likely want to hire an independent contractor who will work solely with you.
Some services or contractors have specific service windows, and some are available 24/7. If you’ll need your VA to be available on a Saturday at 7:00 pm to book a last minute flight for you, you’ll need to make sure that option is available before you engage their service.
US-based or International?
Another important consideration is whether to use an overseas service or a U.S. based VA.
Services that use virtual assistants based in areas like India and the Philippines typically cost less, but there can be issues when it comes to familiarity with American culture, language, and time zone differences.
Experience, Flexibility, and Contract
Also, as you search to find the right virtual assistant for your business, remember to consider:
- The experience and education level of the VA
- The flexibility to use more or fewer hours as you need them
- Whether you are locked into a contract or can cancel at any time
3. Ask the Right Questions
Once you have narrowed your search to the services or contractors that best fit your needs, take the time to discuss the key details with the contractor, or sales representative.
Give them the outline of what the VA will be doing and find out if there is anything that would be considered out of the scope of their service.
After you have a good sense of the general fit, get into the specifics. If you use a certain operating system or need the VA to have experience with a specific tool or program, make sure that can be accommodated.
If the VA needs to have a certain level of experience or certification, such as communication with C-level executives, advanced formulas in Excel, or a CPA, that should also be highlighted up front.
You should also discuss specific needs such as knowledge of particular areas of the country, if signing an NDA will be required, the ability to speak other languages, and the level of tech savvy needed.
Finally, make sure the VA will be able to communicate in the way you prefer (phone, email, text, chat, etc.), and find out how they will be storing sensitive information like passwords, and credit card numbers.
Keep in mind: more specialized needs, experience, and service requirements means fewer options and possibly more cost. But, being honest with yourself about what your deal-breakers are, and discussing them beforehand will ensure you get exactly what you want in the end.
4. Set Your Relationship Up for Success
Now that you’ve found that perfect rock-star virtual assistant, don’t make the mistake of dropping a task list in their lap and then checking out.
All relationships take a little time and effort to build, and in this case, it can mean the difference between a great partnership or frustration and confusion for both of you.
Intro phone call or video chat
To ensure you start things out on the best footing possible, have an introductory phone call or video chat with your new VA first thing.
Don’t try to do this over email or chat; you won’t get the same sense of the VA’s personality or confidence. Having a live, verbal conversation also allows for more natural follow-up questions and expanded answers on both sides.
Come prepared with info they will need to start
Come to the call prepared with information the virtual assistant will need to start your tasks right away. Giving them things like travel preferences, airline rewards numbers, scheduling preferences, commonly used programs, passwords, important dates and contact numbers will allow them to jump into the tasks without stopping to ask for this information (and having to wait for your reply).
If appropriate, screen share and walk them through the more detailed tasks so that they understand exactly how each should be done.
Once the VA has completed the tasks, take the time to review them and provide feedback on the results. This is especially important in the beginning.
If they nailed it, a simple “This is perfect; thanks!” will let them know to repeat that level of performance. If changes or clarification are needed, keep your comments constructive, remembering that the VA wants to meet your expectations, and should be given the opportunity to learn and make adjustments.
Be clear on priority and urgency
Also, when assigning tasks to your virtual assistant, be clear about the urgency of the task, and the expected turnaround time. This will help the VA know which tasks to prioritize, and which can wait until later.
If you want regular updates, let the VA know you'd like a progress report at the end of each day outlining the status of each task and when it will be completed. This daily update also allows the VA a chance to ask for any clarification or additional information they may need from you for the next day's work.
By keeping communication lines open and being clear about what’s working and what isn’t, you’ll soon have your those unwanted tasks passed off to your VA, and you can begin enjoying the benefits of saving time and stress.