Do Virtual Assistants Really Work?
February 17, 2021 | Education
And how can you get the most out of your relationship?
If you need time away from the day-to-day operations of your business to do things that will affect your bottom line and grow your brand but you aren’t ready to commit the resources to have a full-time assistant, a virtual assistant might sound like the perfect solution to get yourself from under the drudgery.
But virtual assistant work appears on almost every ‘easy side-hustles’ blog, so people across the world—regardless of proficiency—are flooding the marketplace and race-to-the-bottom pricing is forcing experienced workers out.
Assistant work is skilled work. And paying someone who lacks the experience or interest in your tasks can cost you twice as much time for a result that’s half as impressive.
Or you could end up with someone wonderful, but if you don’t have the infrastructure to support them, they won’t be able to do their best work.
Should I hire a virtual assistant?
I spend so much time answering inquiries or chasing payments.
Before hiring a virtual assistant: Put a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system in place
Having a process to manage inquiries is essential before you hire someone to respond to them. If you’re just answering emails as they come in, you could be wasting time and leaving potential sales on the table. You might not be following up with a thank you and request for a product review, sending special offers based on their purchase history, or anticipating your customer’s future needs. A CRM system can automate all of those messages and send payment reminders, leaving anyone you hire to focus solely on the few complicated one-off questions where their customer service skills can really shine.
Unexpected things come up all the time. I spend so much time managing them that at the end of the day I still have to post on social media, answer emails, and reconcile my inventory.
Before hiring a virtual assistant: Figure out which tasks are draining your mental resources.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed with the volume of tasks on your to-do list, it’s unlikely that a virtual assistant is going to be able to untangle it for you. They need time to get to know the company, your operations, and your vendors. Hiring and training someone when you’re stressed will just end up as extra things in your packet d schedule.
Think holistically about the work you have; what do you dread, what makes you feel frustrated, bored, or disengaged. If tracking inventory is over complicated and time-consuming, would hiring for a short term operations project to improve and automate your processing make life easier than supervising an assistant to repeat your existing workflow? If you can’t fathom thinking of creative things for social media and responding to comments, it could be that a social media specialist would take a more autonomous and strategic approach to maintain your presence than setting up virtual assistant to do community management.
I deal with sensitive information but am spending more time processing data than working on my business.
Before hiring a virtual assistant: Set up a robust data protection policy
As small business owners, our biggest data breach liability is the mishandling of data by employees. Having a high turnover of people come in and out of your business with little training is a security risk, even if you check their references. Put together a tailored data protection policy to help keep your business safe.
According to VA agency, avirtual:
“To outline your expectations and to ensure that they’re met, develop a policy that is tailored specifically for virtual assistants. What you should include here are things like what would happen if sensitive information is breached, the methods of electronic communication, what may be recorded, and what your virtual PA may share regarding your business.”
This might also look like having robust password managers, putting NDAs in place, and creating limited access accounts to your software or database.
Finding a good virtual assistant
Once you have solid processes in place, finding someone reliable to execute tasks can still be a challenge.
You have three options for finding a virtual assistant:
- Use a virtual assistant agency
A virtual assistant agency will contract a certain number of hours per month with you and make sure someone is available with the right skills to execute them.
Pros: Agency handles training and co-ordinating, you’re guaranteed that someone will be available, avoid interview hassle, there’s accountability.
Cons: Higher costs than you’d pay a single freelancer, you lose institutional knowledge if you’re assigned someone new.
- Find someone through a freelance marketplace
Use a freelance marketplace like UpWork, freelancer.com, Fiverr, or FlexJob to contract hire projects or long term support.
Pros: Lots of people available (same day), can try working with different assistants on small projects before committing to working longer-term, marketplace handles the payment.
Cons: Anyone can sign up, you can spend hours searching for someone appropriate, can be a lottery to find great talent.
- Find someone through your network (LinkedIn, Facebook Groups, Slack Channels)
Make a more informed decision by asking for referrals and setting up interviews with people recommended by your peers.
Pros: Find a great hire without searching through profiles or testimonials, payment doesn’t include agency or marketplace fees so you can set up something more mutually beneficial.
Cons: Can take time to establish contact and find the right person, you set up the payment process yourself, there’s less accountability.
Wherever you find them, make sure you know exactly what you’re looking for:
- Does the person need to be in the same timezone as you to chat throughout the day, or would it be useful to have someone working when you sleep?
- Do you want a fly-in-fly-out assistant for one-off projects, or to have steady work throughout the year?
- How much technical knowledge do you need the person to have beforehand, and how much time are you willing to spend to bring someone up to speed?
- How will you know what success looks like?
How much should you expect to pay a virtual assistant?
Virtual assistants are advertising on freelance marketplaces from $4 per hour to $60 depending on their location and skill set. However, if you’re looking for someone reliable with good communication skills, don’t expect to pay less than $13 an hour for their time.
If you’re delegating clerical work, desk research, data entry, or basic excel, you may pay around $15 – $20 an hour. If you want the person to talk to customers, chase vendors, or deal with basic accountancy tasks, they could charge from $20 – $35. If you want someone with a more specialist skill, like project management, content management, or using accounting software, then you can pay $35+.
Get the most out of your relationship with a virtual assistant
Spending time with colleagues is how most people pick up on cues around culture, how people like to communicate with one another, and the language you use to describe the things you do. The person being remote and working one-to-one with you means that they won’t have that 360 view of your business, and you need to be explicit about those things when you bring them into your work in a way that you might not with full time employees.
Any time you spend making your instructions easy-to-interpret will be handed back to you in mistakes avoided. Zapier suggests creating a screencast for your standard operating procedures and the individual tasks you need to be completed.
“We’d suggest starting with a screencast. If you record yourself as you’re completing the task, you can ensure that there won’t be any missed steps in the documentation. If you’re writing something out from memory, it’s easy to miss the small details.”
Use an firstname.lastname@example.org email address. That means you aren’t sharing sensitive information over a personal email, you can monitor what’s been sent and what’s come in, and you can easily transfer the work to a new person if there’s turnover.
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