In an earlier post, I mentioned using a virtual assistant (VA) to help with my work so that I could free myself to focus on more important tasks, including taking much-needed time off. Many readers asked who I used for virtual assistant services, and one reader […]

help wantedIn an earlier post, I mentioned using a virtual assistant (VA) to help with my work so that I could free myself to focus on more important tasks, including taking much-needed time off. Many readers asked who I used for virtual assistant services, and one reader asked for an post on how I use VAs. So I thought I’d share my experience, as it might help you in your own business.

VAs have been very effective in helping me get things done, while freeing me to focus on other, more important, areas of my life and business. Here are a few things to ask yourself before hiring a VA.

Can I Afford It?

The first thing to consider is whether or not you can afford to hire a virtual assistant. I’m actually starting to believe the advice given to me many years ago: you can’t afford not to hire one. As small business owners, we simply have too much to get done each day, and we’re very prone to overworking and not taking enough time for other aspects of our lives, especially taking time for ourselves.
On top of that, if you charge $100 per hour, as an example, and are doing tasks that can be outsourced for $25, you’re not really making the best use of your time. A good rule of thumb mentioned in a previous WWD post suggests using half your hourly rate as a guide, so if you charge $100 per hour, outsource tasks that can be done for $50 or less.

Will It Help Me?

Money doesn’t have to be the only consideration. You can also outsource those tasks you simply do not like to do, and this is a highly personal decision. You have to do what works for you. We don’t all have the same needs, income levels and likes/dislikes. I know people who actually enjoy doing laundry and others who send it all to a dry cleaner. There are those who think it’s wasteful to pay someone to clean their homes and others who prefer to work extra hours just to avoid household chores. The good thing about outsourcing is that you can use it as you need it and as it fits with your resources and demands. Mostly, it’s about finding the mix that’s right for you.

How Will I Use a VA?

This is the best part of outsourcing. If it needs to be done, chances are, there’s a VA who can do it. Virtual assistants can help with lead generation activities, like blogging, publishing newsletters, submitting articles to directories and maintaining social network profiles (Twitter, Facebook, etc.). You can also get a VA to help with administrative tasks, like responding to routine emails (you create the canned responses, and the VA customizes them; this would work especially well if you routed all responses from web forms to your VA), compiling quotes for your services, requesting guest posting opportunities with other bloggers (incoming and outgoing), etc.

It’s important to keep in mind that not all tasks are well-suited for outsourcing. There are certain things that are simply easier to do yourself and would actually take longer to complete if you attempted to delegate them. Generally, these types of tasks take too long to teach someone else how to do them, are too complex to outsource completely, or require too much oversight on your part to justify the cost in time and money.

The most important consideration when thinking about what to outsource, as mentioned in the Julie Morgenstern book “Never Check E-Mail in the Morning,” is this: “Is this close to the ‘revenue line’?” Your role in your business should be to do those tasks that most directly contribute to your income. At most, try to stay within one or two steps of your revenue line and outsource everything else.

Are My Expectations Realistic?

Don’t expect your outsourced efforts to be perfect right out of the gate. You’ll need to plan for a trial period and gradually inch your way into outsourcing over an extended period of time, say twelve months. Then you’ll need to communicate clearly and often with your VA and make adjustments as you go.

When you first sign up for service, let the VA know that you’re just venturing into it, as well as your goals for your business and how you intend to utilize his or her services to best support your needs. I also like to let my VA know if my needs will fluctuate from month to month so that we stay on the same page at all times.

If you are considering hiring a VA, make sure to give yourself enough time to plan for the effective use of virtual assistant services. When I decided to start delegating again, I sat down and listed all of the writing I have to do each month and decided to outsource 50 percent of my blog posts on two of my sites. I let my VA know the range of topics or subject areas to cover, how often to post, and the average length of each post. I also let her know that if I had ideas for topics, I would email her. Otherwise, she could use her discretion when it came to selecting topics.

Although it can seem really intimidating at first, start small, and you’ll soon see how liberating it can be to solicit help when it comes to your business. You’ll start looking at your business in a whole new light and imagining the possibilities for growth and improvement (or simply enjoying some much-needed time off)!

Here are the VAs that I use (and refer clients to):

How do you use a virtual assistant to help with your life or business? What types of activities to you delegate, and how has it freed you to do other things?

Image by Flickr user daniel spils

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By Amber Singleton Riviere

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  1. This is one of the best overviews of hiring a VA that I’ve seen.

    I have a small business and have been using a VA from Secretary in Israel (www.secretaryinisrael) for months now. I have been completely impressed with the high level of expertise that my assistant offers for an affordable price. It has allowed me to actually work on the things that I enjoy and that are necessary to grow my business rather than get weighed down with the day to day aspects.

  2. Couldn’t agree with you more! I work as a VA (located in Scotland) and have clients all over the world who are getting the chance to get on with building their business and not worry about the time-consuming admin. An excellent resource for me is VAnetworking.com but you may also find it useful for contact dets on other VAs covering various niche markets.

  3. Has anyone tried Timesvr.com?

  4. Kathie Thomas, A Claytons Secretary Monday, August 17, 2009

    Great sensible advice about using a VA. There’s too much information out there that has unrealistic views of what a Virtual Assistant is and how to use them.

    In the corporate world a new boss has to find out how best to use their secretary and what the skills and abilities are of that secretary. The same applies to using a VA. There’s no way it can work perfectly from the very start for most clients, but will for some – there is a learning and settling in process but one worth while working with.

    I’ve been a VA for over 15 years and love the work I do, the clients I work with, and the opportunities and things I’ve learnt and experienced.

  5. Virtual Assistant – THE Blog About Our Industry » How to use a VA in your business Monday, August 17, 2009

    [...] refreshing it was to see today a new article that is clear about how to use a VA and is factual in the [...]

  6. Julia Wooster Monday, August 17, 2009

    This is an excellent article. People should really consider a virtual assistant as an investment in their business, not an expense. One of my clients was talking with a colleague recently and her colleague said that she didn’t understand why my client outsourced work to me. My client had to bite her tongue because she wanted to say, “that’s why I have clients and you don’t”. She’d rather be doing what she does well and be out selling her business than doing the filing, formatting, travel arrangements, etc. that I do for her.

  7. committedexpertise Tuesday, August 18, 2009

    Sounds interesting. You can be rich by Outsourcing your life, too.
    See: http://committedexpertise.wordpress.com/2009/08/18/be-rich-by-outsourcing-your-life/


  8. Mark Thompson Tuesday, August 18, 2009

    I tried a VA but was disappointed. I then found If I broke each task I need doing down into a 10 hours a week segments I got a lot more done by people who were highly qualified without having to spend hours training them.

    I am currently running a month long outsourcing experiment on my blog mjthompson.net the results should be “interesting” i.e I’ll either be very poor or it will have free up a lot of time!

    1. Mark,

      I had the same experience in my experiment. I broke down tasks into very plain, easy to do bookkeeping items. There was no communication and no follow through, then they tried to double-charge me, and criticized when I protested. I think it may have been the partner, so I’m always on the lookout for people that have solid recommendations for other firms.

      1. Hi Dan,
        I had the same experience before when I hired a VA who claimed to be specializing in internet research. But it turned out her research skills was just a little advanced compared to a fifth grader. Anyways, I replaced her. What I have this time came from a professional group which I found only through searching on Yahoo the term “affordable virtual assistant”. (Sorry guys, I am not a Googler). I got an affordable one http://www.peppervirtualassistant.com. Well, affordable for me isn’t synonymous to cheap or low cost. Affodability is value for my money –generally getting what I pay for.

  9. This post provides a good overview from the business owner’s perspective of the expectations for hiring and working with a Virtual Assistant.

    I find the clients who get the most out of working with a VA are the one’s who have done just as you’ve suggested. Delegating properly, good communication and having a very clear idea of what you’d like for your Virtual Assistant to help with are the keys to a successful relationship.

    Thank you!
    Twitter: @jkvirtualoffice

  10. Another rule of thumb for hiring VA’s would be to consider them as your remote employees … meaning just like in-house employees, there is some training period (if the tasks you delegate are new to the VA) and a learning curve. The VA will also adjust to your working style and personal preferences. It gets better and better after that and you’ll find you’ll be able to delegate a lot more without having to spend as much time training (assuming you needed to train her at the start … for some projects and tasks, all you need is to get a well-qualified VA and give clear instructions and expectations).

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