Who Is a Virtual Assistant?
A virtual assistant (VA) is any form of remote help that you contract to hand off your workload. They can operate anywhere in the world, have multiple clients, and can be hired to take on a variety of your day-to-day tasks.
A virtual assistant is a common “first hire” for many entrepreneurs, especially amongst online businesses, who don’t have the budget for a full-time employee or the time to continue doing everything themselves.
The difference between a VA and a freelancer or a traditional employee is that VAs are resourceful generalists (sometimes competent in areas like marketing communications or design) who perform tasks or routines rather than owning an entire function of your business.
And while they aren’t permanent employees, they offer an affordable way to get ongoing help running your business without any of the additional expenses of hiring a full-time person (plus their services as a contractor are often tax deductible).
A virtual assistant won’t build your entire website, but they might help you manage parts of your store. They probably won’t write and manage all your content, but they might help you with research. They shouldn’t take on an entire function of your business, but rather own a specific process or part of the whole machine.
Giving up control can be hard for entrepreneurs, and so taking on a VA is the perfect way to practice the soft skills of managing, delegating, and hiring on a smaller scale—all of which are essential to being a good leader.
How to Know If You Need a Virtual Assistant
It can be tough to identify the tipping point for when to hire a virtual assistant, but there are a few common signs that it’s time to start delegating:
You’re working long hours on a regular basis. Especially if a lot of your time is spent doing repetitive or tedious tasks like replying to social media comments or customer service emails, you might want to think about delegating to a VA. We’re talking about more than one bad week here or there—look for patterns of these long, tedious hours happening for several weeks in a row.
You’re losing customers or clients because you can’t respond to emails in a timely manner. Once you start losing money because you can’t keep up with your email, you absolutely need help. Losing clients isn’t an option for a growing business.
You’re spending your time on lower-value tasks. This is your company, and you should be spending your time adding value to the company in a way only you can. Administrative work is a specific skillset, but it’s one that you can delegate. Your brain? That’s non-transferable.
You’re doing work you don’t like. If you enjoy some of those tedious tasks, then by all means stick with them. They might energize you or spark ideas that you otherwise wouldn’t have. But make sure you like your work. Doing tasks that you dislike can lead to burnout, which will have a negative effect on your productivity—and your business.
How to Hire a Virtual Assistant
#1 Start Small
You don’t need to outsource everything right away. Start small by finding a task or two that you can delegate to someone else. Some ideas include email management, research, outreach (i.e. finding blogs you can guest post on), writing, and website set up.
#2 Write a Detailed Description of the Work You Want to Be Done
Virtual assistants know their job and are great resources of ideas; however, as a home business owner, you also have preferences to how you want things done.
The best way to work effectively and efficiently with a virtual assistant is to have clear directions on how you like things done. Create a manual, that outlines all the tasks related to the project you want your VA to do. Use screenshots or screenshot video for visual instruction if needed.
The clearer your instructions are, the faster your VA will be up and running. If she asks questions, be sure add the information in your manual. That way, if/when she moves on, the next VA will have an easy time taking over.
#3 Determine out How Much Time You Need Your Virtual Assistant to Work
Starting out, you may need only a few hours a month. As you add new activities, you might need several hours a week.
It is possible to hire a virtual assistant by project or as needed, but they prefer to know in advance how much time to give you so they can schedule their other clients.
Knowing how much time you’ll need a VA to work also allows you to budget the cost of help. If you’ve been doing the activities yourself, you’ll have a guestimate of about how long things take.
As you work with a virtual assistant, you’ll get a better idea of how much time tasks take and adjust the amount of time you need help.
#4 Use Your Network to Find a Virtual Assistant
Hiring a virtual assistant requires a leap of faith that you’ll find someone who can do the work and is honest about the time it takes to complete the tasks.
The best way to find a competent, trustworthy virtual assistant is through referrals. If you belong to a mastermind group or other business networking group, ask members who they recommend.
Another option is to hire through a freelance sites where you can check VA ratings and feedback from previous employers.
#5 Set up a Test-Drive With Your New Virtual Assistant
All the virtual assistants I’ve worked with have been nice and competent, but not all have been a good fit.
Start out your relationship with a probationary period that is long enough to work out any kinks, but short enough that either of you can end the relationship if it’s not working.
Many virtual assistants charge by the hour, month, and/or a retainer. Retainers offer the best per hour price, but they involve committing to set period of time, such as three or six months.
To start, you might want to go with a per hour or one month rate. If that goes well, look at taking on a virtual assistant on a retainer basis.