Don’t hire a virtual assistant until you read this!
Is there such a thing as a perfect employee? Pretty close. Hiring a virtual assistant can be one of the smartest decisions you’ll ever make as a business owner. Imagine for a moment … a virtual assistant who’ll take charge and finish that PowerPoint presentation you’ve been putting off OR make those dreaded travel reservations.
Outsourcing help for some of your most time-consuming daily tasks will give you extra hours back each day. You’ll be able to focus more on growing your business, spending quality time with your family or even exploring your passions and hobbies.
Are all virtual assistants created equal? No.
The good news is you have a giant pool of virtual contractors to choose from. Can you find the one who’s right for you? Never fear, the cavalry is here!
You’re about to learn 8 essential tips for hiring the perfect virtual assistant:
> He or she must be deadline-oriented.
Talk to him or her. Missed deadlines could mean life or death to your ongoing working relationships. This is serious stuff. If a big project comes to a grinding halt due to an assistant’s lack of time management, it can damage your reputation as a business owner. Avoid this heartache now. Emphasize the importance of communication during an ongoing project and make your point that, unless your assistant is nursing a broken arm, you won’t stand for missed deadlines! It should also raise a red flag if your worker makes a delivery promise that doesn’t sound believable. Superheroes are hard to find.
> Your virtual assistant must be tech savvy and have a reliable computer and email service.
If he or she brags about saving your work on floppy disks, run for the hills! You want a VA who’s up to date with a current content management system to organize and complete your projects.
> You have to talk money.
Some virtual contractors expect a full or half deposit up front per project before work can begin. Don’t think too harshly of them if that is the case. Most virtual assistants take their work very seriously. They, too, run a business and don’t want to be scammed. Collecting a full or partial deposit up front lets the VA know you’re serious about working with them. If you like what a potential virtual helper has to offer you, payment expectations and invoicing methods are an important part of that decision. Although money is not a fun subject to talk about, good communication can save you frustration later. Ask if he or she will offer you a discount for large amounts of work. It’s a win-win situation for both of you.
> Establishing trust is essential.
Would you put all your money in a bank that no one’s heard of? Definitely not. It’s the same principle with a virtual assistant. Ask to see references, and then check them! A professional VA will also provide work samples. This is your chance to see the quality of work. Do a quick proofread of the sample and see if your potential hire pays attention to details such as grammar and spelling.
> Intelligence, professionalism and confidentiality
wrap those up with a bow and you have the perfect virtual assistant. If your potential contractor thinks NDA is a new rap group, move on. There are virtual assistants out there who give the profession a good name. Non-Disclosure and Work for Hire Agreements will protect both of you. The legalese in both documents outlines expectations for confidentiality and project requirements – essential for any successful business.
> As with any business relationship, misunderstandings about billing can sometimes arise.
It’s how those problems are handled that can make the difference. Ask a potential contractor how he or she handles revisions. Are all revisions covered under the original invoice? How many revisions are acceptable before the assistant charges an additional fee?
> Personality, customer service, and the ability to communicate are essential.
You have to discuss up front if the virtual assistant feels just as comfortable talking on the phone to a client as he or she does via email. Remember, he or she represents YOU. Bad customer service is a reputation killer. There are websites where clients can vent about bad customer service. The last thing you need is to hire a virtual assistant who is rude, unprofessional and can’t handle stressful situations. If the VA doesn’t have an immediate answer for a client, he or she must know how to respond politely and with a promise to research the issue and keep in touch with the client until the answer is found.
> Clear Expectations
Can your virtual assistant leap tall buildings in a single bound? Probably not, but that shouldn’t necessarily rule them out. We all have certain expectations for the person we want to hire as our right hand. He or she may have personality plus and some fabulous skills, but may not be familiar with PowerPoint. Relax. It doesn’t have to be a deal breaker. If that’s the ONLY issue holding you back from hiring a contractor and you believe he or she is trainable and enthusiastic about learning new skills – then go for it!
You can’t teach confidence, personality and trust. If the virtual assistant has those assets and a workable skill set, it’s time to take the plunge. Start with a test project. See how he or she handles the work. If it’s close to what you’re looking for, congratulations! It was just a test and your potential hire passed. Think of what he or she can do once you’ve worked together for awhile. You’ve discovered a gold nugget on a virtual planet of potential workers.
Without a doubt, outsourcing is transforming the experience of solo-entrepreneurs everywhere. With the help of the right virtual assistant, you CAN have your life back and maybe take those guitar lessons you’ve always wanted to take.
About the author: Business Growth & Marketing Mentor, Deanna Maio, teaches coaches, consultants, and other service providers how to get more clients, work less hours, and enjoy their businesses again. Wanna learn how to outsource successfully and build a team to support you? Get her free special report “5 Simple Steps to Create a Powerful Virtual Team” at www.PowerfulVirtualTeams.com
This post is the first in a series that will answer the top 5 things you have always wanted to know about virtual assistants. Many small businesses are benefiting from partnering with virtual assistants as the VA industry continues to thrive and grow. However, there are still people that do not understand or have received misinformation about virtual assistants, their fees, the benefits, and how to work with them, etc. This informative series will answer the top 5 things concerning virtual assistants. This post will address What is a Virtual Assistant?
A virtual assistant, also known as a VA, is an independent contractor that provides business support to clients from their home office. Clients may include small businesses, entrepreneurs, startups, executives and individuals. Professional virtual assistants establish their own business based upon their years of ‘corporate’ experience, education and/or sharp business savvy.
The next question in this series will answer: Is a Virtual Assistant My Employee?
Is there a question you always wanted to know about a VA? Please let us know in the comments below.
Aside from searching Google, sending out a Tweet, or asking colleagues for referrals, there are also many websites you can use to find and hire a virtual assistant. Some are directories where you can browse virtual assistants listed according to the services they provide, their location, or both. Some sites provide an RFP system (Request for Proposal) where you can submit the details of your needs, your budget, and your expectations, specifying whether you’re looking for a virtual assistant to complete a single project, or you need ongoing assistance and receive replies from interested service providers.
We’ve provided a few excellent online resources where you can find and hire a qualified virtual assistant:
1. Virtual Assistantville – has both a directory and an RFP system. Browse the directory by category to view detailed virtual assistant listings including information on services, rates, background, client testimonials, latest blog posts, company videos and more. Use the contact form in each listing to contact your preferred virtual assistant(s) directly. Or, submit a free RFP to receive proposals from prospective, interested virtual assistants.
2. Virtual Assistant Forums– This online community for virtual assistants has both a virtual assistant directory and a free RFP system. Browse the virtual assistant directory listings via specialty and location or submit an RFP with your details to receive responses from interested member VAs.
3. AssistU – AssistU, a virtual assistant training program, provides a customized virtual assistant referral service designed to help busy clients connect with an ideal virtual assistant match.
4. IVAA – The International Virtual Assistants Association is a non-profit organization dedicated to the virtual assistance industry and the virtual assistants who populate it. The association also provides an RFP service where clients can enter their request for proposal and receive replies from interested IVAA member virtual assistants.
Whichever method you utilize to find and hire a virtual assistant, keep in mind that you’re not looking for an employee. Asking for things like references or a resume betrays an employer mindset and lessens your chances of receiving replies from the very best virtual assistants (who prefer to work with clients that understand the value of a virtual assistant as a professional service provider.) Instead, ask for writing samples, portfolios, client testimonials, and the like when requesting information from a prospective virtual assistant.
There are many virtual assistant directories, associations, and similar resources where you can find and hire a virtual assistant. We’ll keep this list growing with future posts highlighting even more places you can find and hire a virtual assistant.
Naturally, you’re going to want to hire a virtual assistant who works to stay on top of the latest developments in technology, software, and small business resources. That’s where Question #10. How do you stay up-to-date on new technology, software and resources? comes in.
A professional virtual assistant worth his or her fee will have an immediate and thorough response to this question. If he or she specializes in a particular industry or field the answer should include industry-specific sources.
The last thing you want is to hire an ‘outdated’ or ‘outmoded’ virtual assistant, so look for clues to active participation in the various social networking platforms, reference to industry-relevant feeds, blogs, forums and newsletters, as well as mention of recent or current applicable learning pursuits.
This is the final question in our Questions to Ask a Prospective Virtual Assistant series, but is by no means the last question you should ask. As you move through each of your questions with a prospective VA you’ll naturally come up with new questions to ask and new tangents to explore. We’ve provided these ‘Top Ten’ as thinking points to help you get started.
You should ask as many questions as you need to during your initial consultation with a virtual assistant. (Most virtual assistants will offer a thirty or sixty minute consultation prior to engaging in a contract with a new client.) Remember, a professional virtual assistant is ‘interviewing’ you as much as you are them.
A professional virtual assistant is looking for a client who will be a good fit for his or her skills, business philosophy and work style, among other things. By being communicative about your own hopes and expectations and clearly discussing each of your questions and concerns, you’ll help yourself and the virtual assistant in question determine if you’ll be a good match for each other.
If you want to get real insight into what a virtual assistant does best, find out what they most love to work on. Asking Question #9. What kinds of projects do you most enjoy? will get you the answers you’re looking for.
This question will help you uncover a prospective virtual assistant’s greatest strengths, which will also ultimately be your greatest assets. Human nature dictates that we spend more time and effort to truly excel at doing that which we love. When a service provider is enjoying what they’re doing, they do a better job, provide better results, and take more care arriving at the end result (in this case, your company’s white paper, bookkeeping, newsletter, marketing campaign or customer service, etc.)
Asking this question will also help you fine tune and expand the list of tasks you wish to delegate by bringing forth ideas for projects you may not have thought of yet.
Question #8. What are your business hours? doesn’t have a ‘right’ or a ‘wrong’ answer, per se.
Many virtual assistants use their incredible time management skills to run their own business as well as their clients’ businesses while caring for a family, attending school or taking other educational courses to enhance their skills and service offerings, and more. There are also virtual assistants located the world over in various time zones. With that in mind, you can imagine that working hours, planned holidays, and schedules among virtual assistants are as many and varied as the virtual assistants themselves.
As a business owner investing in a service provider it’s important for you to know when your virtual assistant is available to work on your projects, to collaborate with you, and to help manage your business. If you anticipate needing assistance with time-sensitive projects or things that ordinarily must be accomplished on a particular schedule, be up front with prospective virtual assistants about this to ensure they can accommodate your needs and meet your expectations. (It’s relatively important to note that virtual assistants are independent contractors, not employees – and as such, any scheduling of work or meetings ultimately must fall to the service provider, not the client.)
Question #7. How do you communicate with your clients? is actually two questions in one. You’re not only looking for information on a virtual assistant’s preferred methods of communication with their clients (email, IM, VoIP, phone, etc.) but also clues to their communication style.
Answers to the first question are generally pretty easy to arrive at. Email is easily the preferred method of communication for nearly all virtual assistants because it helps create a ‘paper trail’ of project planning, requested deliverables, proposed and agreed deadlines, invoices and more but some virtual assistants also provide a company telephone number that clients can ring during business hours and expect to be greeted at the other end. Other virtual assistants retrieve voice mail messages and return calls at specific times of the day. Some VAs only accept calls that have been arranged in advance, and still others do not accept calls as a general rule. Some VAs may also set up an IM (Instant Messenger) account for use during business hours, usually with specific parameters in mind for how and when they will interact with clients. After all, being immediately available to every client at all times would allow too many interruptions in what should be a focused working day.
Your prospective virtual assistants should be able to articulate their own client communication policies, and in doing so will also give you some insight into their communication style. In actuality, just about any question you ask of those listed in the Questions to Ask a Prospective Virtual Assistant series should give some insight into a virtual assistant’s communication style.
If your questions are met with brief, vague, shallow or otherwise lacking responses and you (as most clients will) prefer working with someone who is communicative, forthcoming and transparent, make note of this issue and move on to another prospective virtual assistant.
A professional virtual assistant should be not only available to you via methods and during periods of time that will work well for you and your business, but should also communicate with you in a way that leaves you satisfied, informed and ready to move forward – not lingering with yet more questions or uncertainty.