How to Know and How to Do It Right
If you do an internet search on “How to choose a virtual assistant” you will find a wealth of good articles and advice about
- why you should consider a virtual assistant (VA).
- what you should look for in a VA.
- how to utilize the talents of a VA productively for you.
At some point, every small business owner, entrepreneur, and sole proprietor (including me) finds themselves looking at a task and thinking, “I wish there were someone else who could do this so that I can focus on more important things.” It’s a perfectly logical byproduct of successful business growth.
The problem that many sole proprietors and entrepreneurs face is that we are alpha personalities who know what we want, how we want it, and when we want it done. For some of us, the very thought of letting anyone else “in” or delegating (if we even know how to do that) is almost as frightening as the idea of continuing to do everything ourselves.
The flip-side of that coin, however, is that if we don’t get help – help that we can afford, and help that understands what we do – we cannot continue to grow and we won’t find the success that we seek, regardless of how we might measure “success.”
My main business focus is centered around supporting professional speakers. Some speakers are so big they have their own staff focused on their success full time. Some speakers aren’t ready to let go of even the smallest task, no matter how much they should. And some speakers recognize that there are some things that, for them, are “busy work” that should be done by someone else. If you are part of this last group, it may be time for you to consider a virtual assistant (VA).
What kind of things could a VA do for you?
In my experience, once you find a VA that you can work well with, it will be easy to find things that they can do for you. Some of the tasks that I do regularly for my clients are:
- Data entry of leads (program sign-ups, business cards, etc.) into database, spreadsheet, or CRM tools.
- Proofread and edit articles, newsletters, blog posts, books, etc.
- Edit, schedule, and post newsletters
- Post articles to online publications sites
- Assist with social networking – Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Youtube, etc.
- Schedule or post blog and twitter items
- Assist with basic website and blog editing
- Convert existing documents to ebooks
- Review website; verify links, post announcements, perform basic periodic maintenance
- Manage events and logistics with the eSpeakers application or other tools
- Manage established projects – product, marketing, campaigns, etc.
This is, by no means, an all inclusive list, but it gives an idea of the variety of tasks that can be outsourced to virtual staff.
When looking for a VA, or when looking to outsource processes of any sort, it’s important to understand, first, what tasks need to be taken off your plate. The whole idea is to identify tasks that, while necessary to maintaining and managing your business, take precious time away from the things that only YOU can do to grow your business.
Virtual Assistant vs full-time staff
Okay, you know you need some help and you have a pretty good idea what tasks you want to get off your plate. Now, is a VA your best option or should you consider hiring someone to work in your office with you?
VA’s are contractors that you pay to do specific tasks for a specific fee. You only pay for the project or the time they actually spend on contracted tasks. You don’t pay overtime, benefits, or taxes.
Staff, on the other hand, requires you to pay taxes, benefits, etc., in most states. Also, you pay staff an hourly wage for being present, whether that time is productive for you or not. You pay for the coffee breaks, the restroom breaks, the interruptions, the side-tracks, etc.
Both options have their advantages and trade-offs, so be sure you understand your needs and what you can reasonably expect for your investment.
One of the most challenging issues I’ve had to deal with as a virtual assistant is some clients’ expectations of my time or my place in their business. It’s important to understand that most VA’s work on their own schedule, just like you, and you are not (usually) their only client. If you were, they would be your staff and you’d be paying a lot more than you do for their time!
How much will it cost?
One of the biggest obstacles faced when considering a VA, or outsourcing of any type, is the cost involved. Let’s look at that issue logically…
If you are busy doing the daily tasks that keep you afloat, your time to grow new business suffers.
Are those tasks worth what you think you are worth, per hour? Usually not.
So, if you outsource those tasks for less than your hourly worth, and that gives you the time to book more work at your rate, isn’t the cost of having that time worth the investment?
There are as many different cost levels and pricing plans available as you can imagine. What’s important is finding the right fit for you. Some people are perfectly happy hiring an overseas service for a minimal fee. Others prefer to have a VA closer to home, or with specialized expertise. It all depends on what services you need, how much you’re willing to pay to have those services taken care of by someone else (or just taken off your plate and your radar), and what trade-offs you are willing to accept.
One thing that is important to remember is that you are hiring expertise to handle the things that are not in your area of expertise, or within your comfort zone (Seriously, who’s going to hire someone else do the stuff they like doing?). Most VA’s are entrepreneurs and sole proprietors, just like you. They make their living providing you with the supports you need to make your living. Expect to pay appropriately for those supports.
Start slow and find your fit
Once you make peace with the need to hire help, and you’ve sorted out some of the things you think you want to outsource, you need to find a virtual assistant that you can trust and work with. You are building a team, and that takes time and more than a bit of patience.
This can be an emotional and scary step in your business, so start slow. Don’t jump right in and give someone you don’t know access to all your stuff. It’s a process.
I met one of my clients during a conference and we stayed in touch over the next year. Eventually, he found himself in need of someone to edit and publish his newsletters for him, so we contracted to do that, and that’s all I did for quite a while. During that time, we got to know each other and he came to believe that I could do other things for him so, as the opportunities presented themselves, more tasks became my responsibility. Today, this client and I share not only a solid, and consistent, business relationship, but we’ve become friends as well.
Another client saw some of my promotional material and called asking for a contract immediately, so we jumped right in. It didn’t take long to realize that this client wanted a full-time staff member, not a VA. We both failed in two key ways:
- We didn’t get to know whether we could work well together
- We didn’t start with a reasonable scope-of-work
That relationship lasted less than two grueling, emotional months, but I learned some important lessons.
As with any VA-client relationship, I’m not the best fit for everybody, but who is? There are things that I know I don’t do well, or that I don’t like to do at all, and I’ve learned that it’s best to not hurt my client relationships by trying to be someone I’m not. Finding one VA that can do everything that you don’t do well, as well as you want those things done, is not only a process, but a golden dream. Keep your mind open to the idea of having more than one VA and take the time to establish a rapport with the people you surround yourself with.
Where can I find a VA?
Again, there are as many options for this as there are VA’s looking for you. Do a Google search and you’ll see what I mean.
My first recommendation is that you ask your colleagues. Some will recommend their VA or the service that they use, and some will point you to services like the International Virtual Assistants Association (ivaa.org). These are all good places to start.
Do a little research, talk to a consultant (like me) to determine what you need, and shop around.
They are out there and we are waiting for your call.