Question #6. Will you be handling my projects or do you contract work out?
If you’re contracting with a qualified team of virtual assistants, this question may not be quite as applicable (although you may still wish to inquire if the firm sends work out to other or overseas service providers) but it’s still necessary to consider how important the answer to the question is to you.
If you prefer to work closely with a single service provider with the understanding that he or she is the only person working on your projects and requests, a virtual assistant who does outsource work may not be a good fit for you.
In some cases though, just as a firm or team of virtual assistants can help cover a wider range of services – so too can a professional virtual assistant who has built a network of fellow VAs with various specialties to call on when a request comes in that she would ordinarily not be able to handle. In these situations your virtual assistant would either project manage or oversee the results of a request that needed to be outsourced; ensuring you get the quality product or service you need without having to spend the time or energy tracking down another service provider.
If a VA does outsource, don’t be shy about asking deeper questions regarding who the virtual assistant sources work to. Find out if the virtual assistant sends work overseas or works with non-native English speaking service providers – this can be particularly important when tasks involving writing, editing, proofreading or preparation of written materials come into play.
Many well-established virtual assistants also have equally well-established colleagues within their network on whom they rely for specialty work or other requests they cannot fulfill for their clients. A professional virtual assistant who does outsource work to other professional virtual assistants will have no qualms about sharing this information with you up front.
If a prospective virtual assistant doesn’t outsource, ask him or her how they would handle a request they’re not qualified to complete.
Relative to Question #2 ‘What are your fees?’, it’s important to have a clear understanding of how a prospective virtual assistant handles billing and payment processing.
Question #5. What are your billing and payment policies?
Regarding billing: some virtual assistants bill by the minute, others in six, ten or fifteen-minute increments. Some charge an hour, minimum; others will invoice only for the exact time spent on your request. Most virtual assistants bill for phone calls made or received on behalf of you or your company, as well as for calls with you or with your clients and contacts. Many virtual assistants bill for time spent discussing projects with you, as well as time spent communicating on your behalf, via IM or email.
Some virtual assistants require a retainer or deposit payment up front, others will accept a pay-as-you-go arrangement with or without a deposit. If the virtual assistant does work on retainer, find out what happens if you are unable to utilize all of the hours you’ve paid for or need additional hours above and beyond what you’re purchased.
The way a virtual service provider has set up his or her billing system will vary so be sure to ask all prospective virtual assistants for complete information on their particular billing processes. Doing so will help you clarify what will work best for you, your business, and your budget and will also help avoid unnecessary surprises when the first invoice arrives from your new VA.
Note that a professional virtual assistant will provide you with a contract detailing all of this information (and more) in writing should you decide to hire them. Some virtual assistants will share their contract details prior to any binding commitment being made, to help clarify their business policies and procedures. Read the contract carefully and be sure that it stipulates billing processes fully.
Regarding payment processing: virtual assistants accept payment via varying methods and on various terms. Payment methods a particular VA accepts could include: PayPal, check, direct deposit, Intuit Payment Network or even money order. Payment terms will vary, depending on the VA and the project/circumstances, including: (partial or full) payment due in advance, Net 7, Net 10, Net 30 or payment due upon receipt. Some virtual assistants will even offer payment plans for larger projects.
Again, in order to ensure complete understanding of a prospective virtual assistant’s business policies and procedures you’ll want to ask on what terms they invoice and how you would be required to make payment.
When you do decide to hire a particular virtual assistant, check that these details are included in the VA’s contract as well.
Continuing our list of Questions to Ask a Prospective Virtual Assistant, this question is designed to help you determine if the virtual assistant in question is experienced with and skilled at the particular tasks you’re currently aware you need help with.
Question #4. What is your level of experience (with X, Y, Z service[s])?
It’s worth noting that we didn’t phrase the question as ‘How long have you been in business?’, and that’s because a virtual assistant who has only been in business a few months may bring decades of applicable experience to the table.
As was mentioned earlier, you and your virtual assistant will almost certainly come to discover new tasks and projects that can be delegated as you work together over time. For now, you’ll need to be sure that the prospective virtual assistant can handle the tasks that are driving you to find and hire a VA in the first place.
Your business and work is likely centered around a specific industry or industries and the tasks you have in mind may relate strongly to that particular field. If that’s the case it will be important to find a virtual assistant who has relative and relevant education, experience or both.
For example, real estate agents commonly work with virtual assistants but necessarily will seek out VAs who have either worked in the real estate industry themselves (as an administrative assistant or even as an agent themselves), or who have completed an industry-relative training course.
Even if your needs are more general administrative support such as word processing, data entry, proofreading, communications management, customer service or research it will be important to have at least some tasks already in mind when you speak with prospective virtual assistants.
This question will naturally lead into further conversation about the virtual assistant’s background, work experience, and current projects – which will ultimately help you learn more about his or her varied skills and service offerings. During your conversation you may together uncover additional tasks that could be delegated. Whatever your particular, immediate needs are, prepare ahead of time by examining and listing them so that you can clearly lay them out when you speaking with a prospective virtual assistant.
Another important question to ask a virtual assistant you’re considering contracting is:
Question #3. Why are you interested in working with me/my company?
Similar to Question #1 (What will you do to help me grow my business?), this question will also help you separate the virtual assistants who are replying to your RFP simply because you’re willing to pay for services, from those who are sincerely interested in partnering with you and working within your industry.
Virtual assistants go into business for many reasons, not the least of which is to focus their skills and talents on industries and projects that interest and appeal to them. Unless you’re planning to delegate nothing more than data entry your virtual assistant, prospective VAs should have a notably enthusiastic response to this question.
In fairness to those virtual assistants who are responding to your RFP, they can only adequately answer this question if you’ve given enough information, so be generous with the details about you, your company, your industry, potential projects you have in mind that the virtual assistant will ideally be responsible for, and anything else you feel will help the very best potential VAs respond appropriately to your RFP and your subsequent questions.
Continuing with the Questions to Ask a Prospective Virtual Assistant series:
Question # 2. What are your fees?
It can be hard to avoid price-shopping when you’re a business on a budget (and who isn’t, really?). While it can make sense to do so when it comes to some business expenses, in this case, the answer to the question should not be the deciding factor in which virtual assistant you choose to work with. The fact is, you’re going to need to know how much it will cost you each month to work with your virtual assistant but ultimately, the point of utilizing a virtual assistant is to make more money by freeing you up to spend more of your time on billable hours, and less time on the administrative, development and marketing aspects of your business. In the right circumstances, with the right VA, that’s exactly what will happen.
As you gather pricing data from the various virtual assistants you speak with, bear in mind this famous quote: “If you think it’s expensive to hire a professional to do the job, wait until you hire an amateur.”
Price points can vary wildly in the virtual assistant industry, especially if you include the offshore ‘virtual assistant call centers’. But it’s important to realize that a truly professional virtual assistant, with the skills and experience you need to actually take your business to that next level, charge between $25-$40 hourly. While a $4 an hour “VA” may seem appealing, it could actually end up costing you a lot more than you realize.
Weigh your budget against the virtual assistant’s experience, abilities, and professionalism. What could take an inexperienced VA an hour might take an experienced VA less than 10 minutes, depending on the situation of course. Oftentimes, when a choice is made based solely on price, you’ll wind up back at square one, hiring the more expensive virtual assistant to redo the work or worse, to fix issues caused by going with the ‘cheaper’ option.
All of this is not to say that a virtual assistant has to be expensive to be good. Ask the question with all of this in mind, and use due diligence when making your final decision.
If you’re in a position to seek out and hire a virtual assistant, you’re going to want to handle the process from an organized approach. Doing so will save you time and money as well as potential frustration and will help ensure your working relationship with the virtual assistant of your choice gets off in the right direction.
Surely, you’ll have your own questions relative to the project you have in mind, or your own immediate and long-term business goals – but the ten questions we’ll present in this series Questions to Ask a Prospective Virtual Assistant will provide you with a solid start.
Question # 1. What will you do to help me grow my business?
This may seem like a fairly vague question to ask someone at an initial consultation, but the virtual assistant’s answer will provide ample insight into his or her approach to winning potential contracts. A virtual assistant who has prepared for their meeting with you will have immediate answers that relate directly to your business, your industry, and the products or services you offer.
Don’t expect the virtual assistant to be able to wrap your business needs into a nutshell at this first meeting though – while they should provide an answer that shows serious insight, a virtual assistant who has had time to work with you in and on your business will obviously develop new perspectives and approaches as they learn how your business operates and what your goals are. At this stage, you’re looking for a response that shows the virtual assistant has done some research prior to the call and takes a genuine interest in you and your company.
Stay tuned as we add to the list of Questions to Ask a Prospective Virtual Assistant.
With all of the incredible online and mobile technology available it’s no surprise that more and more businesses are going virtual in many ways. From iPhone apps that help you manage client information, to Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) phone numbers, to virtual assistants working on your business growth from perhaps hundreds or even thousands of miles away from your business base – smart business owners are harnessing the power of what it means to go virtual, for success.
It’s cheaper (no in-house staff, less hardware to invest in and maintain, smaller office spaces needed, etc.), faster (your virtual assistant can work when you’re out of the office, and even when you’re on vacation – keeping things up-to-speed), and most modern-day entrepreneurs will agree: virtual is better.
A recent article explains just how effective going virtual can be for a business, and how successful the businesses providing those virtual services, are as well:
Not long ago, the idea of running a small business with colleagues and clients dispersed around the country – indeed, around the world – seemed impossible. But thanks to the evolution of Internet-based “virtual businesses,” some of the nation’s fastest growing enterprises exist entirely in cyberspace. (Read the entire article here.)