The Virtual Assistant: a Simple Solution for Overworked Entrepreneurs

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Oh, how I wish I had known about virtual assistants when I started my business! I think back to the times that I’d pull all-nighters to get tasks done before deadlines, or the money I wasted keeping assistants busy when I ran out of tasks for them to do.

The beauty of hiring a virtual assistant is that all you are responsible for as an employer is paying their fees. You owe no taxes, no insurance, no extra paperwork, and you don’t have to worry about hiring and firing procedures. It’s the easiest and fastest way to delegate work.

Yvonne Weld is the Marketing Director for the International Virtual Assistants Association. She gave me some great tips for finding and hiring a virtual assistant, and I’m excited to share them with you.

Q: Who should hire a virtual assistant?
A: I believe that all business owners should consider a Virtual Assistant. For solopreneurs, it is great to have someone (or several someones) to assist you on an as-needed basis. Unlike an in-house employee, Virtual Assistants only charge for time on task so you are not obligated to the same government requirements and rules as with employees. Also, for any business owner, a Virtual Assistant is a great “back-up” to cover if your own in-house is sick or on vacation. If you train a Virtual Assistant, you can essentially use the same person each time your employee is unavailable, unlike a temp agency, where each time you are likely to get a different person.

Q: How much might one spend on a virtual assistant per hour?
A: The common going rate is anywhere from $25 – $75 per hour (Susan’s note: I’ve heard of lower-priced VAs for simple tasks). However, that said, I have seen Virtual Assistants with rates as high as $100. The rate is going to depend on the skillset, the time in business, etc. If you are looking for someone with basic administrative skills, they are going to be on the lower end of the scale, but if you are looking for someone with specialized and/or technical skills, they will be closer to the higher end of the scale. I would say, though, that most Virtual Assistants have a rate somewhere between $40 and $60 per hour.

Q: Can a VA work on a project basis?
A: Every Virtual Assistant is going to have their own pricing structure. I have seen hourly rates, retainers, project-based pricing, and purchasing blocks of time. I would suggest as a potential client that you figure out your budget and what will work for you. Don’t be afraid to ask the Virtual Assistant to estimate the length of time a particular project will take if they are working in a structure other than project pricing.

Q: Where should one look for a VA?
A: IVAA offers a searchable database where you can input any criteria that are important in your search, such as skills, programs (e.g. Infusionsoft), geographical location, etc. We also provide an opportunity to submit an RFP where you can provide very specific instructions as to what you are looking for.

More importantly, I always suggest that people start with their friends and colleagues and ask for recommendations. You will be amazed how many people are using a Virtual Assistant and can make a recommendation for you.

Q: What questions should one ask a potential VA?
A: First and foremost, ask for “social proof” that they actually know and provide the services they are offering. If they are taking over your social media, look at their social media presence. If they are doing your website, look at their website. Be sure to ask for “samples” and “examples” of similar work they have done for others.

Since Virtual Assistants work with a number of different clients, you will want to know how quickly they can turn around a project and how many other clients will be vying for their attention. Be sure to ask them how they prioritize projects and how they handle juggling the demands of several different people at once.

Also, ask them what their “boundaries” are, such as: do they have set office hours (or when will they be available), how do they like to communicate best (email, IM, phone, etc.), and do they take certain times off/what holidays they observe.

Finally, be sure to ask how they work best. Do they require a lot of details, or do they prefer very little details? If you are a hands-on person, you want to make sure the person you are working with is hands-on, too.

Q: How does one work with a VA?
A: It is actually very similar to working with an in-house employee, other than you can’t physically see them. Think about this…in an office environment, you are still likely to email your assistant with instructions or jot some notes on a piece of paper to give to them. What is the difference if the email goes 25 feet or 250 miles? What is the difference if the notes are handed over or faxed/scanned?

I always suggest setting up a recurring meeting time each week. This is just a time to talk about what is “coming down the pipeline” and to check in on work that is presently in the works.

A great tool to use is an online project management software such as Basecamp, Central Desktop, etc. Some VAs have their own accounts or you can also set up an account. This way, everything is documented and recorded in one place versus running into the problem of “I didn’t get that email” or “I can’t find your instructions.”

Another thing to consider, if you will be sharing passwords, is a tool such as Passback or Lastpass, where you can share your passwords without providing them.

Q: What is not a good way to work with a VA?
A: Many solopreneurs have the misconception that VAs are available 24/7. I have had several people try to give me projects with unrealistic timelines or provide something on a Friday evening and want it completed on Monday morning. Make sure you know what lead time is necessary for a project. Never try to rush a project, as that is when mistakes are made. Many entrepreneurs get the “shiny object” syndrome and want it done now. Things take time, and you need to understand that.

Also, make sure that your VA is very clear on your vision and understands your instructions clearly. Many frustrations come when you and your VA are on two different pages.

Q: What expectations does a VA have of his or her clients?
A: Virtual Assistants want to be treated with respect and be treated as fellow business owners. Many times, we are treated as if we are “beneath” others. Remember, if we put in the time, we deserve to be paid regardless of the outcome.

Q: Do you have anything else you would like to say about hiring VAs?
A: My biggest piece of advice is to do your research. Take the time to do a Google search on your potential VA and see what comes up. Also, look at their marketing materials and their website and see what kind of an image they are putting out there. Is their website polished, or are there grammatical or spelling mistakes? Take the time to read their blogs, their social media posts, etc. What are they saying? Could you align yourself with them?

Thanks so much, Yvonne, for taking the time to inform us about the world of Virtual Assistants. Hopefully you’ve opened some doors for many of the entrepreneurs out there!

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