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How exactly do you become good at getting the most out of your virtual assistant, thus freeing up much more of your own valuable time?

“It’s all hype. Trust me, I gave it a shot. I worked with a virtual assistant and it was a complete waste of time. Wouldn’t do it again.”

This is what a friend of mine said when I was thinking about hiring a virtual assistant (VA) almost a year ago. Until I tried it myself, I didn’t realize that a great working relationship with a VA goes both ways. While they have to be efficient at executing your instructions, you also need to be good at the art of delegating if you want to make the most out of their services.

How exactly do you become good at getting the most out of your VA, thus freeing up much more of your own valuable time?

Get a VA that you trust 100%. Lack of trust is a sure way to waste your money. Not because the person you hire is going to scam you, but you’ll be spending an awful amount of time worrying about it. I’m talking about the time that the VA is supposed to free up on your schedule so you can work on other projects. If you’re going to spend the same time worrying about the tasks you delegated, then there’s no point to hiring a VA. Here are some ways you can find someone you can trust to work with:1134525_person_pyramid

  • Ask your friends and associates for referrals.
  • Do a thorough background check (if you’re hiring an individual).
  • Look for online reviews of the service (if you’re hiring a company or team).
  • At the very least, have a couple of phone or VoIP conversations with your potential assistants before you hire them.

Be specific about your instructions. “I find myself asking a lot of questions for clients if they send me general instructions. The more specific the instructions, the better the quality of the output.” said Ella Pelayo of epVirtualAssistants. Many VAs I’ve talked to echo this statement. You’ll be wasting both your own time, as well as your assistant’s, if your instructions require more clarification.

Generic instructions such as “check my email” or “research this topic” might give you results that are different from what you expected, so it’s best to include step by step instructions, as well as a few sentences describing the expected output. In a recent webinar, outsourcing expert Jeff Mills said that he even uses Jing, a free screencasting tool, to show VAs and contractors how to do more complex tasks. This is a useful suggestion, especially if the task is more complex than you can put into words.

Also, don’t forget to point out the maximum amount of time your VA needs to complete each task. This is especially important if you’re paying by the hour. Ask your VA to repeat your instructions to you, paraphrased, just to confirm that he understood the task.

Prepare a manual for repetitive or long-term tasks. When I first hired a VA to do customer support, I provided her with an FAQ  document, as well as some email templates. The FAQ document dealt with any possible questions the VA might ask herself when encountering a complex customer support situation. Here are some of the questions I answered in the document:

  • What do I do if the customer is not satisfied with the service?
  • What do I do if a customer is asking for a service that we do not provide?
  • What happens if the customer doesn’t send the needed deliverables on time?

Alternatively, you can provide a comprehensive guide or manual that your VA can use when tackling these problems. This kind of document establishes the rules and guidelines she should follow. The point is to give an easy reference so that the VA can handle as many problems as she can without having to ask you. 

Know the special skills and abilities of each VA you hire. Many VAs are generalists and can do a variety of tasks such as booking flights, setting reminders, or providing customer support. But there are some specialized tasks which you may need assistance in, so it’s important that you know your VA can handle these tasks. After all, you don’t want to spend hours writing up detailed directions – that would be contrary to the simplicity you’re trying to achieve.

Hiring an assistant, especially a virtual one, might seem like a risky or expensive move for a web worker. But if you plan for it well and learn how to delegate effectively, you won’t have to worry too much about wasting your time or your money.

Do you work with virtual assistants? Were they as helpful as you expected them to be? How do you make the client-assistant relationship as effective as possible?

Image by Sigurd Decroos from sxc.hu

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By Celine Roque

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  1. Kate LaFrance Friday, January 30, 2009

    Thank you for writing this! It’s so great to see someone who gets the VA / Client relationship. There is a lot of room for possibilities both good and bad and it is what you make it.

  2. After a few attempts, I have found a VA who is working out well. Found through elance and she is based in the US. Your comments above are right on target

    My question for you about trust–how do you recommend doing a background check? Is there any service you use for that? I would like to go a little further but need to know how much information I can trust her with…

  3. Article From Web Worker Daily "The Art of Delegating Tasks to a Virtual Assistant" – Virtual Assistant Forums Friday, January 30, 2009

    [...] Web Worker Daily "The Art of Delegating Tasks to a Virtual Assistant" The Art of Delegating Tasks to a Virtual Assistant I probably don’t even need to into this article – great, concise writeup from Web Worker Daily on [...]

  4. Kate LaFrance Friday, January 30, 2009

    Margaret, ask if she does anything “sensitive” for her other clients. If so, ask if you can speak to them about how it’s been going for them.

  5. Thank you for an insightful and comprehensive post about working with a Virtual Assistant. The ability to communicate and delegate effectively are key to any successful client/VA relationship. This is something I ask about in my initial consultation with potential clients.

    It does help to offer detailed instructions to your Virtual Assistant and as highly experienced professional, most Virtual Assistants will pick up on your preferences and business processes quickly.

    To find someone you can trust, ask for references, do a Google search and speak to the VA about what her security measures are as well as her confidentiality policy. A professional, experienced and trustworthy Virth Assistant will be able to provide these easily. Personally, I think doing a background check is something one would do on an employee, not a contracted service provider which is what a Virtual Assistant is.

    Kimberly LeRiche
    JK Virtual Office Resources
    Twitter: @jkvirtualoffice

  6. Janet Barclay Friday, January 30, 2009

    As a virtual assistant, I thank you for writing this article. Communication is key to a good working relationship between the client and the VA! However, it’s not always necessary to provide detailed instructions, especially if you choose a VA with experience doing the type of work you need. In fact, many of my clients hire me because I know how to do things they don’t know how to do!

  7. Thank you Celine for a great post! There are many ways to research VAs and discover more info before you even make contact. Look for places where VAs hang out like forums (www.virtualassistantforums.com is my favorite). Not only do these places usually have an area to match up clients and VAs but you might find a section for Q&A about the skills you are looking for which will show you who knows their stuff. Personal mannerisms on the web can reveal some of how a person will (or won’t) work with you!

    My favorite way to meet new clients is through a referral. Check with people you know/like/trust and they should only refer you to people they know/like/trust. Start with your accountant, business coach, web designer and people you see frequently at networking events for VAs they might know.

    @Margaret – I think after considering some external clues you should have a serious conversation with your VA about the type of work you have in mind. Here are the clues I would consider: is there a legal contract between the two of you for services and payments, was there a section about confidentiality, has she been timely and professional with her interactions with you up until now. All these things are indicators you are working with a professional who takes their business and reputation very seriously.

    Sundi D. Hayes
    My Office Zilla

  8. This is a great point you’re discussing here. I’ve seen a few blog posts about people who’ve had an unpleasant experience with a VA, and swear off of them completely. With any other service professional, if one did not work out, would you discount them all? If the first mechanic you ever visited did not correctly fix your car, would you never visit another mechanic?
    As with any professional or working relationship, you’re not always going to get along with everyone, and it’s important to keep an open mind and be aware of limitations on both parts – yours and theirs. If you are not comfortable with delegating, perhaps a more traditional assistant is a better fit for you. If it’s simply a matter of not knowing what can be delegated, an experienced Virtual Assistant should be able to help you discover what types of tasks can be outsourced in order to increase your productivity. And if the relationship isn’t working out with a particular individual, for whatever reason, ask for recommendations and try again.

    Terri Orlowski
    beyond the office

  9. The trust aspect is absolutely crucial! Because of the nature of what and how a virtual assistant works, trust is the most vital part of the client/VA relationship.
    There’s an organization called VAnetworking (http://www.vanetworking.com ) and they have a free Ebook called “Finding the Ultimate Virtual Assistant for your Business” I recommend this as a resource for anyone contemplating hiring a VA.

  10. chris hardwick has a great tongue-in-cheek post on outsourcing to VA’s:

    http://www.nerdist.com/2009/01/outsourced-blog-post.html

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