Questions to Ask a Prospective Virtual Assistant #8: What are your business hours?

What are your business hours?

What are your business hours?

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.)

So You Want to Work with a Virtual Assistant? 10 Things You Need to Know

So You Want to Work with a Virtual Assistant?

So You Want to Work with a Virtual Assistant?

1) Have a good understanding of what you want the VA to do for you. Keep an ongoing list of responsibilities you really want to delegate. List those items which keep you from doing the primary work you enjoy.

2) Prioritize that list. Break the projects down to three categories: Items which should have been done yesterday; those which need to be done this week and those which can wait until next month.

3) Decide how much your budget will allow to contract with a virtual assistant. If you can spend $300 a month; then stick to that budget.

4) Post a request for proposal (RFP) on Virtual Assistantville

Create a detailed RFP. Do not forget to include your website address and an alternate email address. Many virtual assistants will research your business online before posting for a position so any information you offer beforehand only helps to weed out those who may not meet your needs. **This tip is a time-saver for both the individual screening the RFPs and the VAs submitting the response to the RFP.**

5) Give a time-line as to when your RFP response has to be submitted but give a fair amount of time to respond. Interested virtual assistants will respond fairly quickly but it does take time and effort to reply properly to RFPs as the responses are often customized to align VA skills with client needs.Specify what you want the VA to send you in the first pass…i.e., links to sites, blogging samples, graphic samples, articles, etc.

Note: It is not necessary to ask for a resume. This is not an employee-employer relationship. A virtual assistant is a business owner as well.

6) Ask for testimonials.

7) If you know someone who works with a VA, then ask for a referral from that colleague. If you like the work you see, then this can be indicative of a VA whose skills may meet your own business needs.

8) When you have decided upon the right virtual assistant for your business, expect that in the beginning you will need to ‘hand over’ passwords, usernames and business information to get started. Be sure that your VA has a confidentiality agreement. You will need to reveal confidential business information to someone with whom you have never been physically introduced. Trust will grow over time.

9) Review the service contract needed to ensure both parties are in agreement with terms, rates, etc., and return back to the VA in a timely fashion. If you are not in agreement with something in the contract, say so before you sign.

10) Communicate…communicate…communicate… Set aside time during the work week to answer your VA’s emails and questions. Respond to your VA with complete thoughts and not “140 characters or less” responses. Regularly forward industry-related articles and blog topics links to your VA to engage conversation and to help generate new ideas to help grow your business. If you have online e-newsletter industry subscriptions, offer to forward these documents to your virtual assistant. Mail your VA any publications which are related to your business.

You will find more time to do the work you enjoy. You can focus on your business plan. With some upfront ‘legwork’, you can partner with someone who has an interest in the growth of your business.

About the author: Since opening Your Virtual Wizard in March of 2006, Janine Gregor has developed a reputation for getting the job done and doing it right. Known for her perseverance and determination to find the best solution for her clients, she was once dubbed, “The Thinking VA” by one of her long-term clients. Specializing in business and promotional writing, social media and e-commerce support Janine partners with small business owners to engender enthusiasm and desire for her clients’ products and services.

Questions to Ask a Prospective Virtual Assistant #7: How do you communicate with your clients?

How do you communicate with your clients?

How do you communicate with your clients?

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.

2

Learn How to Delegate to A Virtual Assistant

Learn How to Delegate to A Virtual Assistant

Learn How to Delegate to A Virtual Assistant

The truth is, you can’t afford NOT to delegate to a Virtual Assistant. Of course, for entrepreneurs – your business is your baby. And I know that, because mine is, too. It’s easy to get into the mindset of “It will be faster just for me to do it” or “I am afraid I will forget to tell an important detail.” I’ve also heard clients say “I am too much of a perfectionist” or “I have no idea what to delegate”. That probably sounds very familiar to some of you.

Experts say that in order to have your business grow, you need to continue to grow a solid, proactive, innovative team. I know that as entrepreneurs and small business owners, we like to do it all – and I am confident that you can – but the reality is, it does not make any business sense to do so.

Delegating does not have to feel like handing over the authority to someone else – and working with the right Virtual Assistant will make you not feel that way. The key here is to make it as organized as possible for your Virtual Assistant to perform the task. Here at Virtual Assist USA, we have a “Task Requisition” form. This is a web-based proprietary program where clients can submit tasks. It’s very easy for them and it tells us everything we need to know without any of that back and forth. The form outlines the deadline, the output requested (Word, PDF), any samples to follow, user names/passwords necessary for access and the client’s overall objective.

Now, I want you all to stop making excuses and start delegating – and you will see your business soar!

1. Decide what goes where:
Figure out what your strengths are – is it building client relationships? Think of where you are contributing to your business in the best way, to make it the most successful. Whatever that task is, keep doing it. It’s something you’re good at. But for the rest of it – bookkeeping, say – if you are not an expert, and someone else can do it faster than you, by all means, delegate! Think long and hard about this – I have a client who really loves maintaining client relationships. However, he cannot spend everyday sending short emails or calls just to check in with clients. So he delegated his “keep in touch” contacting to one of my Virtual Assistants, and now, he just handles the biggest and most important on his list. Take a 5 day period and write down everything that you do. Highlight what you can delegate and share that with your VA.

2. Be Detailed:
Consider exactly how you want the work to be completed. Be specific, and detailed. You only have to do this once. In this case, take some time to create a process. Just like Virtual Assist USA’s task requisition form, determine what the final output and objective should be, and outline specific steps to get there.

3. Give accountability:
Let your VA know that they are being held accountable for the end result of the task. Give them that responsibility and have them own it. Think about exactly what you want the deliverable to look like at the end, and then explain that to your VA. It’s helpful, oftentimes, to assign numbers or metrics to tasks. For example, “Get me speaking engagements” could be “Get me 3 speaking engagements per month.” Include goals and results and you will be sure to get them.

4. Have good communication:
Check in with your VA – and it doesn’t have to be everyday. They should be sending you weekly reports – take the time to go over them. Set the times that you will check in before hand – say, 15 minutes every Wednesday morning. This keeps you in the loop and also lets the VA know that your work is a priority to you.

About the author: Danielle Cuomo, MBA, was nominated to the exclusive list of the Best 50 Women in Business and Top Businesses to Follow on Twitter. She has also received 3 awards for excellence in Public Relations. Before entering the VA world, Danielle worked in Global Publicity for ESPN, and then for an IT Consulting company. Danielle shows clients how to propel their businesses by delegating tasks. Danielle’s virtual assistance firm, Virtual Assist USA, helps clients all over the world meet business development challenges.

Questions to Ask a Prospective Virtual Assistant #6: Will you be handling my projects or do you contract work out?

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.

Will you, personally, be handling all of my projects or do you contract work out?

Will you, personally, be handling all of my projects or do you contract work out?

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.

Questions to Ask a Prospective Virtual Assistant #5: What are your billing and payment policies?

Questions to ask a prospective virtual assistant

Questions to ask a prospective virtual assistant

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.

Questions to Ask a Prospective Virtual Assistant #4: What is your level of experience?

Questions to Ask a Prospective Virtual Assistant

Questions to Ask a Prospective Virtual Assistant

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.