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Getting Started With a Virtual Assistant

Last Updated on February 27, 2009  

I am taking a plunge – again. I need to streamline things. I need to start ditching things. I need to outsource. That means I went looking for a virtual assistant. Here are a few things I’ve picked up along the way that I’d like to pass on.

First of all, it might be that you think you’re not ready to hire a VA. If that is the case, then at least keep it in mind for later because you’ll probably get to that point. Especially if you take on blogging and the Internet as a profession. There are a LOT of routine details that go along with this job. A lot of them end up being maintenance activities and not true money-makers. And that makes them IDEAL for a VA.

Finding a Virtual Assistant

I had a VA a year or so ago and I ended up getting rid of her. There were two things at work here: (1) I was underutilizing her due to my own disorganization and (2) I was hoping to have my wife do it. My wife is better suited to her own profession than what I do for a living and we’ve pretty much figured that out. I will also say, simply, that mixing a husband/wife relationship with business can be kinda tough (I’ll just leave it at that).

As 2009 gets going, though, I realized that I needed to tackle this. So, in a very modern approach, I turned to Twitter. I simply tweeted out that I was looking for a VA again.

As it turns out, virtual assistants are ALL OVER Twitter. 🙂 I had several reply to me fairly quickly. Before I had much of a chance to follow up with them, somebody emailed me in response to the tweet. She seemed to understand blogging well and actually has the intention of being able to do what I do for a living on her own. I thought that was cool because it means she would be interested and motivated rather than me just barking orders at her.

Now, if I didn’t have luck with Twitter so quickly, I would have probably turned to LinkedIn, Elance, maybe even VA Networking (which is where I found my last VA). But, I was really impressed with how well Twitter worked. It goes to show the power of social media, not only to connect people, but to potentially provide jobs. I love it.

Getting Started With a VA

First, I am not speaking here from a platform of having succeeded at this. My past experience with a VA was not successful. The VA was fine. The barrier was ME. My intention is to organize better this time around and cope as I go.

The first thing I did was send her an NDA. Secondly, I sent her an email with the first task. I made it very clear that I fully expect her to have questions. I don’t expect anybody to be able to step into a scene like mine and just start being me. And along that note…

Documentation! I had enough foresight a few months ago to begin documenting some of the common tasks in my business. I actually set up a WordPress blog, password protected the entire thing, and I use it as a repository for procedures and policies. My goal is to make every single “hat” in my business occupiable by anybody. To the extent that the particulars of a certain task are in my head….to that extent, I am STUCK with it for life!

So, my strongest suggestion with your own online business (and any business for that matter) is to plan ahead. Even if you don’t have employees or VAs, plan ahead as if you will eventually and start documenting what you do and how you do it. Only when that is done can you physically separate yourself from that task and actually have it be done by somebody else.

Not having documentation means (1) you’re stuck with it and (2) you’re going to be working so hard you’re losing your mind, being pulled in all directions at once.

My own documentation is far from complete, but I will be working on it. My assistant is also going to document procedures as she learns them so that her post is occupiable by others in the future. It is the only way to be safe and not be dependent on certain personnel.

Moving Forward

I was very clear with Lisa (that’s her name) that I’m figuring this out as I go. I have gone for a long time being primarily a one man show. Rich works for me as a writer on PCMech, but pretty much everything else is done by me. It is hard to give up those reigns and it is a challenge communicating exactly how I do things to somebody else.

It is a process, though. And one that is strange while it is happening but will surely be something I’m glad I did.


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  • Great post!
    Thanks David for writing such a great post to enhance people with getting started with a VA. This industry has serious awareness to be given around.

    Reply

  • Sylvana Dagostini says:

    Great article – thank you! I have experienced these very things with clients and see them standing in their own way of success. We VA’s can advise clients of how to better delegate/work with us but sometimes it’s a hard nut to crack. The more they hear this kind of advice it from fellow VA clients they may likely be more apt to follow better practices. Thanks again! And yes we VA’s love Twitter! I just tweeted this article! Cheers.

    Reply

  • Hiring a VA is a what-you-pay-what-you-get type of arrangement. I cannot stress it enough but you will only reap the benefits of having a VA at your disposal to help out with tasks if you invest in guiding them initially how you expect them to do things so they can also meet your expectations as an employer. It’s a win-win process and the relationship can turn out quite fruitful if you’ll have the free time to scale your business or spend more time with your family.

    Reply

  • You are right David, Social media is so vast, and also it’s free! we can make use of it to get information and/or to hire a VA. Cheap price from a VA also has its risks, its better to hire from a VA company that has higher/fixed price and be sure.

    This article is also for the entrepreneurs/businessmen/women who plan to hire themselves a VA in the future and this article will give them a great idea on how to look and hire for one. It also gives them idea what they need before hiring a VA

    Reply

  • Laura Rike says:

    This is a great article! Beware though, sometimes finding someone cheap is not going to be the right VA for the tasks you come up with. If you want the best results possible for a great price – consider searching online via social media! There are tons of VA like me out there looking for work and will not let you down!

    The power of twitter can be amazing! Not too many people know that, but honestly that is where I find most of my clients looking for a VA to help them out! Plus it shows them that I obviously know how to use social media if i am able to seek them out and find out they need help!

    Laura Rike
    LauraRike.com

    Reply

  • Rent Assist says:

    Hi David,

    I know that this blog has been here quite a while and it’s a bummer that I haven’t seen this before. Thanks for giving high regards to virtual assistants who devote their time in aiding businesses. Your details are educational and can be used as reference by Vas and employers.

    All the best!

    Reply

  • Fantastic post! Great details on VA hiring. I believe hiring a VA is always been a great idea to manage your business efficiently and it is always been very productive and cost effective experience. I enjoyed reading the details.

    Reply

  • Great article David.

    I am a VA and have worked with few clients. I would say hiring a VA is very essential for every entrepreneur. There are many benefits of appointing a VA for your business.

    To know about the VA hiring process and more please visit our website:
    http://www.virtualbusinesscentre.com.au/

    Reply

  • Tinju Ashok says:

    Yes thats true that virtual assistant takes as much responsibility as they can but more than this important is you should hire appropriate virtual assistant who should do good quality of work including hiring cost much be low.

    Reply

  • I am pleased to say that the services and communication worked as sales team explained me. I am so happy with the services and solution that they provided and I highly recommended them.

    Reply

  • Tinju Ashok says:

    I decided that I would try to become a part time virtual assistant, and see where it leads me. I’m very organized, detail oriented, and a hard worker, so I think I would be an ideal VA. What are your thoughts on temp agencies that hire VA’s? I registered with one, but it seems that they don’t really want me to succeed, and it’s more for established VAs rather than people trying to break into the business. What is your opinion?

    Reply

    • David Risley says:

      Seeing as I’ve never been a VA, I can’t really speak to that. My instinct would be to not go through any kind of agency.

      From my standpoint, I hired my first VA because she responded to me via social media when I made a comment about needing a VA. Then, she referred me to somebody else (aka “word of mouth”). So, check out the social media world and monitor keywords. When somebody says they need something, chime in and say you can do it, etc.

      Also, I wouldn’t get into a mindset of “they don’t want me to succeed”. You’re the only one who has control over that.

      Reply

  • Ella Pelayo says:

    Great post, thank you for taking us on top and your support to us. As Virtual Assistant, I can do on what my boss cant cope up to do in their business because they are busy in their other task. I can take their job as their assistant to take care of all their business needs for the success of their business.

    Reply

  • I have started using http://www.sgsolutionsus.com VA for almost 2 years so far it’s been a great experience. They have a web development and SEO team also working along with the VA’s so that basically takes care of all my business needs. I guess that’s one advantage of working with a VA company. Will let you know if my opinion changes about them though, but so far so good.

    Reply

  • Every marketer wants to earn more results in short time. But
    long term will give more stability in earnings. Yes, there are ways to get
    there and you have figured out clearly.This is really informative for internet
    marketers to get maximum exposure and high traffic.

    Reply

  • kendall matthews says:

    You stated:

    “I had enough foresight a few months ago to begin documenting some of the common tasks in my business. I actually set up a WordPress blog, password protected the entire thing.”

    I am going to create the same thing. Could you write an article that details what type of pages and post you created.

    For example, did you create pages for each different area of your business; marketing, accounting, human resources.

    I would love to read your take on creating an Administrative password-protected Corporate Information WordPress Blog

    Reply

  • Matty Byloos says:

    The power of good communication is essential to just about any working or personal relationship, no?

    Reply

  • Virtual Assistant says:

    I for one believe on the power of good communication. I strongly believe that once it is established the higher chances of resolved issues would definitely arise between the two parties.

    Reply

  • David,
    Enjoyed your article and the comments. I am just starting out in the VA industry and reading some of the comments gives me hope that I will find my first client soon. As with any relationship communication is key! I am always asking questions. I’ve been an administrative professional for over 20 years and am still learning new things.

    @Rick – how can you put a price on your time? A VA will free up your time so you can work on the things you love.

    Beth

    Reply

  • Missoula Gazette says:

    It is tough with the first employee. Sometimes it seems that it takes longer to teach someone to do something than to just do it yourself. And that is true the first time. But the next time the assistant does it will take less of your time and the third time you will be free to be working on something else.

    Following up is critical though. Thinking they have it down and then after they spend several hours doing it wrong can drive you to drink.

    Rick

    Reply

  • Nickey Hollenbach says:

    Enjoyed your article very much. Great to see someone puts so much thought in hiring and finding the right VA for them. It’s all about a great fit between the two of you – no different than if your VA was sitting there right next to you. VAnetworking.com is a great place to look!

    Good luck with Lisa and kudos that you are figuring it out as you go – great attitude!

    Reply

  • Heike Miller says:

    @ Rick. I think the term “overseas VA” is a bit confusing as I would call myself an overseas VA because I live in New Zealand. I think David probably meant Indian VAs whose rates are very cheap in comparison to VAs from English speaking countries, such as US, Canada, UK, New Zealand and Australia.

    Usually, VA rates range from $20 to $50, depending on the activities required. Specific tasks that require more knowledge or skill, such as copywriting, video, webinars, social media marketing, etc., usually demand a higher rate than basic administration and secretarial tasks.

    Reply

  • Rick Ector says:

    Great post! I now only need to document what I do. LOL – when am I going to find the time to do that? Seriously, outsourcing my tedious tasks is in my near future.

    One thing that you didn’t address was some contrasts in dealing with overseas VA relative to domestic ones. Also, what is reasonable compensation for grunt work? I need to calculate how much my time is worth. Care to write an article that shows how you made that determination? All in all, great post!

    Reply

  • Super article Dave. I have used VAs in the past as well from small sized projects to managing a website such as yours.

    It is also getting to the point again where things are getting incredibly busy so will probably look at getting a new VA sooner rather than later. I hope it works out for you and your business, and thats great to hear how good Twitter is for finding people that you need.

    Cheers,
    Matt
    http://www.make-money-online-guaranteed.com

    Reply

  • Heike Miller says:

    I think like with any relationship it’s important to have the right match. That’s just one thing you can’t determine before you have actually worked with someone. I once had a female boss who was pretty much a dragon to most people, but for some reason we got on really well and she totally relied on me and gave me lots of responsibility. I was happy for the trust she had in me and my ability.

    Reply

  • Rachel Reeves says:

    You are so right about documenting everything David. I previously took on a role where nothing was documented, the one person who had the knowledge provided limited availability in answering questions. This role was a particularly challenging one and the (wo)man hours I spent on this equated to so many more than if everything had been documented. Needless to say, the whole role needed an overhaul anyway as it was not set up for getting the tasks done quickly and the electronic and hardcopy filing was very average. Thankfully though this is the type of challenge that I love! That’s a real good idea making procedures etc available, password protected, for the applicable people to view.

    I haven’t got around to ‘tweeting’ yet but have been feeling very encouraged to join in the fun for all the talk around the place.

    I am an active member of VAnetworking.com and I have to say there are plenty of really top VAs over there and the way that Tawnya has set this networking forum up is to provide ease to clients of locating a good Virtual Assistant, or one close by.

    And yes, when a person is looking for administrative support, or is looking for any kind of service for that matter it is always a good idea to go where the selection is good.

    Rachel Reeves
    Proactive Admin Services

    Reply

  • Terri Brooks says:

    David,

    Thanks for all these great pointers for anyone looking to hire a VA or Online Business Manager. As others have said, the key to a successful relationship with your VA or OBM is communication and planning. The more the two of you can relate to each other whether it be like-mindedness or even members of the same industry, the better results you will get and of course, the faster your business will grow.

    Places like VAnetworking are great places to find highly qualified VAs as well as a place for anyone to learn more about the industry.

    As an Online Business Manager, I value the relationship I have with my clients and the weekly time we spend discussing their business, which gives me insights as to how to best manage their online business and to help them succeed.

    Terri Brooks
    A Virtual Business Solution
    Tasting The Internet, One Byte at a Time

    Reply

  • Geek Entrepreneur says:

    Great informative post, David. I plan on hiring a VA myself in the future. So reading this post gave me a good idea of how I should not only look for one (via social networking) but also what I need to do BEFORE hiring one.

    One thing I hope you post about is what criteria you used in hiring your current VA. I hope you keep us posted on how things work out.

    Wesley
    The Geek Entrepreneur

    Reply

  • Kathy | Virtual Impax says:

    David –

    How utterly MATURE of you!! (I’m with Dale on the “bravo” for recognizing your wedding vows did not include a clause about performing VA duties!!!)

    I also ADORE how you’re laying the blame for your first experience with a VA at your own feet!

    The documentation stuff is DIFFICULT for most entrepreneurs. I recently was contacted by a professional organizer and didn’t realize that such documentation is actually PART of the whole “organization” process for a small business.

    So for anyone who feels overwhelmed by the whole documentation assignment – check out a professional organizer who works with small business owners and see if they can help you with the assignment.

    Reply

  • Does your wife know how lucky she is?? You are a brilliant man! Had my ex not expected me to be his VA and been offended when I found no pleasure in doing all the dirty work he didn’t want to do – he might not be my ex!

    It’s the VA sort of work that bogs me down and limits my creativity for sure.

    Awesome point about documentation. I hadn’t thought of that. Great. Now I have even more work to do! 😉 And even if not for a VA it would be helpful in terms of not having to store so much how-to information in my head.

    Reply

  • Johnny 'Acreage' Benoit says:

    Hmmm… I think it’s safe to say we could all use some extra help. Seems to be neverending, the pile of to-do’s and it always seems to run at the same speed but in the opposite direction to the dwindling time. Does VA mean you never actually meet up with her? How do you think it will work to have no face to face time? That might be the only hiccup.

    Reply

  • Nathan Hangen says:

    I’ve been wanting to study more on this subject…glad you posted about it. I’ve got to admit, I have no idea what to expect when it comes to hiring a VA. I hope you’ll keep us up to date.

    Reply

  • Lisa Morosky says:

    Lara Kulpa, who works with Darren Rowse on admin projects and various other things, wrote a comment that I love on one of Darren’s blogs on this topic:

    “…The point I’m trying to make is that hiring a VA is more than just finding someone to delegate to and pay – it’s just like any other job, where the VA needs to know, understand, and value what you’re doing like they would even if they were going to work a 9-5 at some corporate conglomerate. I wouldn’t do the work for Darren if I didn’t appreciate him and believe in his efforts – and granted, not all VA’s are going to be like that, and just like any employer/employee situation, you may have to sift through a few to find one that works with your needs and has a desire to help you succeed in your online efforts.”

    Reply

  • Julie Cioffi-Brawley says:

    As a VA, THANK YOU, THANK YOU for such a GREAT post in support of us!!!

    Reply

  • I’m just getting started as a virtual assistant and appreciate that you already understand the difficulties inherent in basically getting inside someone else’s head in order to help them do what they do only faster.
    Molly

    Reply

  • Deborah Reynolds says:

    David, thanks for the great article. As a Virtual Assistant, it’s exciting to see our industry gaining recognition. It’s true that so many business owners think it’s easier to do everything themselves, rather than outsource it, and eventually it does catch up with them. An important note about Virtual Assistants is that most of them have a professional administrative background, so they are familiar with the latest technologies and are able to assist with a multitude of tasks and projects. The small amount of time spent upfront transitioning to your Virtual Assistant will save you hours down the road.

    Congratulations on taking the plunge!

    Reply

  • Simon Crabb says:

    You’re absolutely right David, the hardest thing about employing anyone to do anything, whether ‘real’ or virtual is communicating to them what you need doing.

    And the other thing is, you have to let go and let them do it their way, and also not expect them to do it as well as you, ‘good enough’ is often good enough…

    Reply

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