Even the most efficient of web workers may occasionally feel overwhelmed by the nitty-gritty details of running a freelance business or the more-to-do-with-fewer-resources stress of working for a company.
In either case, when you find yourself in the thick of things, there’s help available in a new breed of ready-to-work, would-be productivity saviors called virtual assistants (VAs). If you’re uninitiated into the world of VAs, they are administrative assistants who work independently via the Internet and phone to provide support to busy entrepreneurs, tired telecommuters and hard-working corporate types.
But as appealing as turning over your to-do list may seem, it’s not all a bed of efficiency roses. Witness my own first foray into hiring a VA. I made the classic mistake of not screening carefully enough and ended up losing $500, but also gaining insight into how to make the process work for me. But there’s no place for bitterness here — and besides, it inspired me to write this article. Since then, I’ve have some great experiences with VAs — all of which have helped me to increase my productivity, take on more business, and provided peace of mind.
If you’re thinking that a VA might make a difference in helping you get through your day with more speed, efficiency and sanity, here are three things to consider before taking the leap.
1. Determine if hiring a VA will help you improve your productivity by giving you more time to focus on higher-priority projects. “I hired a VA this year after thinking about it and putting it off for some time,” says Sharon Delay of Boldly Go Coaching. “Quite frankly, I would rather keep my money than pay someone else. However, I found myself doing a lot of ‘chores’ in my business that I simply didn’t enjoy; and the time I spent to work up to getting these jobs done, not to mention taking the time to do them, was actually costing me money when I realized my billable rate was better spent on building my clients,” she says. Sue L. Canfield, virtual assistant with AwesomeAssistant.info, suggests considering a few other factors that may influence your choice to hire a VA. Including are you:
- Missing out on opportunities because you forgot or haven’t followed up on certain items?
- Spending a lot of time trying to find information your accountant needs to file your taxes because you have no bookkeeping system in place?
- Having a hard time finding client and prospect contact information because you have no database?
- Working extra hours just to try to stay on top of routine administrative tasks?
- Lacking the time and energy to get new clients because you’re overwhelmed handling the day-to-day activities of running your business?
2. Follow a set protocol to find the right virtual assistant for your needs. “Of course, you want to find someone you can trust and depend on,” says Canfield. Easy to say, not so easy to do. Start your search by asking colleagues and business associates for referrals. Once you have a short list, do your due diligence to make sure that you end up with the right person for the job and interview the VA by phone. Kathy Goughenour, an expert in VA training, suggests a few things to pay attention to about how VAs handle the interview.
- Are they on time and prepared for the call?
- Are they confident and articulate about what they can do for you?
- Do they inspire feelings of trust?
- Do they listen carefully when you speak?
- Do they exhibit interest and curiosity about your business?
- Does they ask smart, relevant questions demonstrating knowledge in the area you need help with?
- Do they expertly guide you through the interview process as an experienced VA should?
Lastly, for each task you’ve identified you need help with, ask for specific examples of how the VA has accomplished these with past clients, and the results they have achieved. For example, if you’re using a VA to write an email blast letter — ask to see a sample of a similar product he or she has written before.
3. Watch out for the warning signs. “My No. 1 pet peeve with VAs is that some of them inflate their skills,” says Goughenour. Beware the VA who tells you he can be all things to all people. Instead look for specialists who have a depth of knowledge and expertise in the areas you need the most help with.
Goughenour also strongly suggests avoiding retainer contracts. A retainer is a monthly payment you make in advance of receiving the work. “Essentially, what you’re doing is paying the VA up front so that you receive some level of assurance that they will have the time set aside for your project,” says Goughenour. “If you don’t end up needing (or wanting) the amount of work you’ve paid for in your retainer, you do not get your money back.” This is how I lost the above-mentioned $500. Bottom line: Don’t enter into any agreement with a VA where a retainer is involved — it could set you up for losing your money.
If your productive time is being sucked dry by the minutia of administrative tasks, take a chance and hire a VA on a short-term basis. Who knows, it might just be the virtual cure to all your real-world productivity woes.
Have you hired VAs? Did they help boost your productivity?