Have you been thinking about getting a virtual assistant to help you with your day-to-day tasks? It’s a great idea, and a lot of people have seen great success this way – just look at the advice in books like Chris Ducker’s Virtual Freedom – but it might not be the universal panacea you’re looking for. At least not at first. You’ll probably find that the first virtual assistant you hire doesn’t know what to do, doesn’t sign on at the right time, and might even take up more of your time than you were using to do the tasks you want to delegate.
That’s why you should do the following eight things before you hire a virtual assistant – because you shouldn’t believe the horror stories. Virtual assistants do provide valuable services, doing the day-to-day administrative tasks to free you up for the kind of tasks only you can complete.
Ready? Here goes.
1. Be sure you need a virtual assistant.
I know it sounds obvious, but you should really put serious thought to it. Are there enough routine tasks to actually keep a virtual assistant busy? Are there enough other things you could be doing to make it worth it? Even if you have tons of daily tasks that are tedious and repetitive, is it worth paying someone else to do them if you don’t actually have anything else to do with your time? You might decide it is, but make sure you’ve done the mental calculus before you get into hiring.
2. Plan the work for them.
Don’t just expect them to come in and revolutionize your working process on their own. The person who really knows what needs doing is you, even if a virtual assistant who is really on the ball might have some suggestions. There are some gems out there, virtual assistants who can take a look at your schedule and streamline it perfectly – but chances are, you won’t find that ultra-capable person on the first try.
3. Set up your systems first.
Even the best virtual assistant needs a workflow to actually follow, or they’ll never do the work exactly the way you want it. Set up a system and learn it yourself first, instead of having to cobble something together once you’re already paying for a virtual assistant’s time.
4. Prepare to train them.
The most capable person in the world can’t just pick up the threads right away. Once you’ve got a solid system in place, figure out a way to train the virtual assistant you’re hiring to use those systems. If you write down or record the training materials, you’ll be set if you ever have to replace your virtual assistant, too: you’ll be ready to train someone to step right into the previous assistant’s shoes instead of having a lengthy transition period.
5. Be clear about your requirements.
Not just in the job description – be clear on it for yourself. This will save time when writing the job description, and make sure that you don’t have to keep renegotiating what exactly the virtual assistant is going to do for you. If you have clear expectations to begin with, it’s easier for people to figure out if they can really help you or whether they’d be wasting your time and their own.
6. Don’t hire on impulse or in a hurry.
I know I’ve been saying that no virtual assistant is perfect, but there’s a better chance of finding the right person if you prepare first, know what you’re looking for, and don’t have to settle for the first applicant.
7. Look around.
How do other people use their virtual assistants? How are other people attracting the best people to help them? How are they writing their job ads? If you can follow in the footsteps of someone who is already happy with their virtual assistant, so much the better!
8. Don’t be prepared to settle.
Most applicants for the job won’t have any experience, won’t know what to do, and won’t be nearly as good as they think they are. You might think that the job of virtual assistant isn’t that important – after all, they’re only completing routine tasks for you, right? But actually, a virtual assistant can be the foundation of everything else. If they’re taking the routine tasks from you, that’s time and energy you can devote to the important things. If they’re trying to take on routine tasks and doing a bad job, then that’s extra time and energy that you’ve got to invest on things that won’t help your business grow.
Figure out what you need, and then spend time selecting exactly the right person for the job. A surprising amount of your work will depend on them, so you don’t want to build on a shaky foundation. Don’t just chat to someone for five minutes on Skype and decide to give them a chance – it seems like it couldn’t hurt, but it could actually waste a lot of time. Go through a proper hiring process: you’ll thank yourself later.
You might be thinking that all of that sounded obvious, but you’d be amazed how often people make these mistakes – just by rushing through the process and thinking that a virtual assistant will automatically solve their problems. A virtual assistant can be a powerful tool, but they can also be a roadblock. Treat it as seriously as you’d treat hiring any other employee and you can’t go far wrong.