It’s Thursday. You’re tired, stressed, and you have no idea how you’re at the end of yet another week.
The sound of your phone causes your shoulders to meet your ears. It’s time to post to social media, but you have nothing prepared.
Instead of posting from a place of calm, you end up posting an image you have on your phone. It’s barely edited with a hastily written copy before you run off to tackle the next emergency.
This is what I like to call the immediacy cycle. Everything is last minute. Unfortunately, it is one of the easiest cycles to fall into as a small business owner. The more you try to grow the busier you get. The result is something like a flywheel that keeps gaining momentum with you feeling like you have less and less control.
One of the ways to break this cycle is to hire a virtual assistant. They can jump in and start taking care of the busy tasks so you can get back in the driving seat of your business and choose your next destination with clarity.
Heads up this is rather a long post so use these links to jump to the section you need right away:
You will also find simple exercises, reference links and templates under relevant sections if you need a head start.
When to Hire a Virtual Assistant.
The answer to this is sooner than you think. Virtual Assistants are not freelancers. They can be a valued member of your team. They take the small tasks off your plate so that you can focus on the tasks that only you can do. I asked Carol Feller of Stolen Stitches what it was like to hire and start working with a virtual assistant:
‘If you continually feel as though you don’t have enough time to get all the tasks done in a day then a VA may be just what you’re looking for. Within a couple of months of working with my VA, we got into such a nice rhythm, where I suddenly realised that it was almost like having an extension of my working hours, just magic!”Carol Feller – Stolen Stitches
Disclosure I regularly work closely with Carol, and I find that if you want a direct, informed, succinct answer, Carol is the best person to ask. My personal opinion is to hire a VA as soon as you are able without putting yourself into debt. Your time is the single most important asset to your business. No one can do what you do, but others can take care of busy tasks like:
-field your emails,
-provide customer service,
-write content/ FAQ pages,
-update products on your website,
-plan social media etc.
Did you know that all of the tasks within your business can be divided into four main areas?
1. Tasks that you should do: Tasks that you enjoy doing and perform well. These also include lead generation, future-proofing, etc. These tasks are usually revenue-focused.
2. Tasks that you should not do: Busy tasks. Low-value tasks even if you enjoy doing them. e.g. bookkeeping, customer support, editing, graphic design.
3. Tasks that you don’t want to do: These are the easiest to outsource because someone else will love doing them.
4. Tasks that you can’t do: These are the tasks that you could outsource to someone who has the relevant skills and knowledge to complete them in a professional and timely manner.
Are you ready for a Virtual Assistant?
Knowing if you’re ready for a virtual assistant can be a stumbling block. As an exercise to see if you’re ready for a Virtual Assistant, why not document your work life for the next two weeks. During this time make a note of the tasks you are carrying out and which category they fall into.
If you are spending lots of time on the low value, busy tasks, then it could be time for a VA. Look at the number of hours you have clocked up here. What could you do for your business if you could use those hours differently? Could you write a podcast/ blog post pitch to work on exposure? Could you write email pitches or work on referrals?
Once you can physically see the hours you put into these tasks as a cold number staring back at you, your attitude to hiring can begin to shift.
Types of Virtual Assistants
There are two main types of virtual assistants.
General Virtual Assistant
A general VA is the most common type of VA. Most assistants start here before they specialise. Some virtual assistants stay in this category because they love the variety in their work and with whom they work.
General VAs have a varied portfolio and offer tasks on a general day to day running of your business. These tasks are usually technical and repetitive in nature such as social media, data entry, scheduling appointments, fielding emails or vetting new prospects.
Specialised Virtual Assistant
As the name suggests, this type of virtual assistant is suited for a particular process within your business. They have a refined skill set and require little to no further training from you to complete their tasks.
Please note that hourly rates reflect the type of work carried out. Cost is often one of the more stressful parts on deciding on a VA. To make this process more comfortable for you, try to determine an hourly rate for this position before you start researching VAs.
How to calculate your hourly rate.
If you know how much your time is worth, then working out how much you can pay your potential VA becomes easier.
To calculate your hourly rate, take your monthly (or annual) income and divide it by the number of hours that you work in that timeframe.
This is an area where you can get stuck. If you are anything like myself, you are continually working on something in your business. If this is you, take a step back and have a look at your answers for the exercise I asked you to do earlier. Then use these numbers to work out your hourly rate for that week. Also, ask yourself if this is representative of a typical work week for you. If it isn’t, now is the time to adjust the numbers.
Now you have a cold hard number staring back at you on a page. This number is what your time is worth. For example, you fell in love with a VA who charges €25 an hour. That figure can quickly add up, but if you compare that to say your €100 an hour, you can come to a decision more readily.
How to hire a Virtual Assistant.
Right now, you may be wondering how to hire a Virtual Assistant and the steps that you should take. Below is a guide that I found helpful previously as a specialist VA and now as an entrepreneur. Before we start our step-by-step guide a few words of wisdom from Penny Baker from Penny Baker Services:
My number one tip for business owners thinking about hiring a virtual assistant is to think of it as a relationship. You need to be able to work together and you need to be able to trust your VA inside your business.
You need to be able to talk to a potential VA honestly about your business problems or areas of overwhelm so that they can see if and how they can help you.
The more open and honest you are and the VA is in return during this process, the easier it will be to find the right VA for you.Penny Baker – Penny Baker Services
Step 1: Document the tasks you want to outsource.
Here you want to determine:
- The tasks you want your VA to do
- How you want those tasks carried out.
- The amount of time you are hiring the VA for each week/month.
Some virtual assistants work per project, some per month and some work in time blocks only. Having a clear idea of what will work best for you and your business means that choosing a VA will be easier for you.
You will need to decide if your virtual assistant will work solely for you or if you are sharing them with another business. Ideally, you would like them to work only for you, but if you are providing a small number of hours per week, then your assistant will need other forms of revenue. In this case, you need to decide if non- disclosures or non-compete clauses are required.
Now is also the time to create training documents and standard operating procedures if they are required. WikiHow has a great guide here if you are unsure of this process. These documents may seem like a time suck but should you switch assistants it’s a vital document.
Step 2: Create a job description.
Working on your answers from above, you can create a job description. If you require a template to work from Workable has one here. In general, a job description will detail the following:
- Background information about your business (your industry, what you sell, and who your clients/customers are)
- Level of education, experience, and/or skills required
- List of duties and responsibilities
- List of any apps, tools, or software they will be using.
Step 3: Check for a referral.
Once you have a job description, you can reach out to your network for referrals. If you are part of private business groups or masterminds, this is a great place to start. Have you completed any collaborations recently that went well? Why not mention that you are looking for a VA, you never know they might have a recommendation for you.
Step 4: Check online Virtual Assistant sites.
If you are hesitant of the number of applications coming your way you could review the following online sites:
Step 5: Post your job description online.
Once you have created your job description, you can then post it online as you would if you were filling the position in person. You can use platforms like Linked In, Jobs.ie, Monster, Craigslist and Indeed.com are a few.
Tip: If you are posting a job online set specific requirements as an application procedure. Remove any candidates that did not adhere to your particular instructions.
Step 6: Review applications and schedule interviews.
Once you have all your applications, work through them and make a list of your favourite ten. Then it’s time to start interviews. I like to use Skype or Zoom calls for this as it’s a great way to see if you will have an excellent working dynamic.
Here you want to ask a little more about them outside of their portfolio. Ask about your potential hire’s hobbies and goals. How do they like to work? Is this going to fit with your idea of how they will fit into your business and work routine?
If you are worried about getting along with your new hire, you could also ask them to complete a personality test online. If this is your first time conducting an interview and you’re nervous, then check out this in-depth guide by Indeed.
Remember that the interview process is a two-way conversation. Your potential VA is also trying to determine if you will have a good working relationship too. They want to provide their service to the best of their ability and also make you happy. They will also have some questions for you during this process.
“Define your boundaries from the start and be respectful of each others time. This allows you to complete your tasks to the best of your ability with clear expectations on both sides. “Sarah Cleeton Msc. – Marketing Manager, This is Knit
Step 7: Start Small – Initial Work Sample.
Once you have your candidates down to 2 or 3 it’s time to ask for a work sample. A work sample is when you create a small task for your potential virtual assistant.
Pick a task that would be part of their regular responsibilities and give them a time frame to complete it. This is a paid work sample. The virtual assistant will have a portfolio for you to browse, but if you are asking them to provide a work sample, then you pay for this work.
Candidates can sometimes look fantastic on paper and perform well during interviews but may not be the best fit for your business. Also, it helps to remember that some that are nervous during the interview can provide a first-class work sample that connects well with you.
Step 8: Trial Period.
Once you choose a candidate, you start your trial period. This can be a month, two months or six month time period. A more extended trial period is usually the case when it comes to virtual assistant contracts that lead to a permanent position.
Virtual assistants also work on retainer contracts which is their best rate and is more like a freelancer service. Initially, you could take on your VA on a per hour or per month rate before moving to a retainer rate.
Step 9: On-Going Evaluation.
I like to think of these as check-ins. One of the worst parts of being a virtual assistant is trying to figure out if the person you work for values your work. Having monthly or weekly reports is an excellent way to keep everyone on the same page and up to date.
It would help if you also considered how you are going to give feedback on performance. Ultimately you don’t want to micromanage a VA because you’ve hired them to take these tasks off your plate. However, you might feel like you need to know what’s happening in your business at any given time.
There are several tools that you can use for project management and remote sharing, such as:
Remember a clearly defined set of goals, KPIs (performance indicators, how you will measure their performance) and check-in requirements will help your relationship to run smoothly. If something isn’t working, be open to trying a new system.
Also, try to be receptive of feedback from your VA. This isn’t their first rodeo so they might have some tips for you. And if it is their first rodeo, then we are all learning together so expect some teething issues on both sides.
Final Thoughts on Hiring a Virtual Assistant.
A virtual assistant can be one of the most significant assets of your business. Think of them as an investment. If your first hire doesn’t work out, don’t rule out all assistants. Things might be a bit bumpy before you find your stride working together but when you do?
Oh, that’s when the magic happens. Not only have you found accountability in the form of a new team member, but you can spend more of your time on the aspects of your business that you love.
Personally, I like to think of virtual assistants as my secret weapon ready to kick it Summar Glau style as we stare into the impending interweb apocalypse. And who wouldn’t like a badass like that in your corner?