Hiring a first employee was once a considerable milestone for every start-up entrepreneur. However, a lot has changed in recent years.

Thanks to a huge supply of skilled and talented virtual assistants, it’s simple to buy in help at any stage of your business’ lifecycle. Whether you need a regular resource or simply help with an ad-hoc task, using virtual assistants provides a flexible, economical and risk-free alternative to committing to hiring employees.

Back in 2009, famous entrepreneur Timothy Ferris wrote The Four Hour Work Week. The book is now well-known in start-up circles to the point of cliché. However, the book speaks a huge amount of sense on the subject of outsourcing routine tasks. Doing so can save you money, and bring you the most valuable gift of all: time.

Deciding which Tasks to Assign to a VA

Statistics on delegation speak for themselves, and over half of entrepreneurs accept that delegating tasks to other people will enable them to grow their businesses.

Yet many of us find delegation very hard to do.

There are two key things to keep in mind: First off, a virtual assistant MAY not tackle a task in exactly the way you would. It makes sense to learn to become comfortable with this.

Obviously the more carefully you define your processes, the more precisely a good VA will complete the jobs you assign. There’s more on that later in the article.

The second point – and it’s an important one – is that it’s unwise to assume your way is always the best way! It’s quite possible that a good virtual assistant will streamline your processes and introduce new ideas.

When you first begin to hand work over to a VA, it makes a lot of sense to start with tasks that are routine and repetitive; The kind of tasks that, once explained, leave little scope for questions and uncertainty.

Starting with tasks like this makes things more comfortable both for you and for your VA(s). You have a chance to see how they adapt, and they learn your business at a gradual pace. Then, in time you can layer more things on, and give them a fair chance to absorb additional information.

Where to Find Virtual Assistants

There are plenty of places to find virtual assistants. Let’s take a look at each in turn, and touch on the pros and cons.

Dedicated Companies / Agencies

There are many companies that provide VAs. These range from “one (wo)man bands” and agencies in your local area, to off-shore agencies that often advertise full-time equivalent staff for as little as US$200-300 per month.

There are two things to keep in mind: Firstly, local VAs will tend to charge “local” rates. For example, if you’re in a major city like London or New York, hourly rates can be considerable, so you will need to think about what you gain from hiring somebody in that location.

At the other end of the scale, cheap often doesn’t equate to good, for a variety of reasons. You may not want somebody with English as a second language representing your business, for example. This could seriously restrict how useful a low-cost off-shore VA could truly be.

Also, extremely important, is not contributing to people having to work under exploitative conditions.

If you are tempted by an off-shore agency offering assistance at a bargain-basement rate, be sure to do your due diligence and ensure their staff are fairly and honestly treated. It’s easy to find out a realistic living wage for any country. Ensure the VA themselves earns a suitable amount after whatever cut the agency may take.

Online Job Boards

Online freelance job boards like Upwork and Freelancer.com are a rich and varied source of Virtual Assistants. These boards also add the benefit of being places where you can recruit for exactly the type of person you need. You can specify necessary skills and experience, and pitch your job offering at a suitable hourly rate.

The downside is that you will have to go through a recruitment process. This means wording your job ad, filtering through candidates, interviewing people, and making the right hires.

This can be surprisingly time-consuming, but the trade-off is that you can end up with VAs that are truly hand-picked.

Social Media

Another source of Virtual Assistants is social media. LinkedIn is an obvious choice, being a business-focussed network. However, don’t dismiss Facebook groups or even Twitter feeds.

For example, say you’re looking to give your business some exposure on Pinterest. If you follow some related groups, you’ll find people both looking for suitably-qualified VAs and recommending them. If somebody impresses you with their activity on a group, there’s nothing to stop you approaching them directly.

How to Recruit VAs Successfully

Recruiting virtual assistants is an art in itself. It IS time-consuming, but it’s worth giving it the attention it deserves, because that’s the way to land yourself with the best people.

However you find your candidates, it makes sense to begin with a simple trial job. Committing to paying a VA for X hours per week until you know you work well together is a bad idea and best avoided.

If you’re recruiting using an ad on a job board, it makes sense to set some very strict criteria and ensure that you stick rigidly to it.

For example, it’s wise to instantly reject everybody who misses key details in the job ad, and everybody who submits an application with spelling and grammar errors. This may seem very stringent, but it’s an early indication of the level of attention to detail you can expect.

As an entrepreneur, you’re probably a very busy person. However, when you’re recruiting a VA, try not to be irritated by lots of questions, especially if they’re the right questions. People who work to learn about your business and your requirements are the kind of people you want!

Finally, think very carefully about rates. Setting an arbitrary cap on an hourly rate is far less wise than properly thinking about what you’re getting for your money, and what it will save you in your own time.

Two hours of a great (but more expensive) VA could prove a much better buy than ten hours of an incompetent (but cheap one). And while it’s not a fool proof law, you do often get what you pay for.

How to Issue Instructions to Virtual Assistants

It’s important to remember that you will have months or years of knowledge about your business stored in your head. Any new VA is starting from scratch.

This means that the quality of a VA’s work, especially at first, will be as much about the quality of the instructions you issue as how inherently good they are at their job.

It could help to think about McDonald’s. Love it or hate it, you can get a Big Mac that tastes the same regardless of the country you’re in or which franchisee’s restaurant you visit. This is because their processes are documented to the finest detail.

Try to keep that in mind. One useful way to train a VA is to use screencasts. Record yourself completing the procedure yourself on screen, talking through it as you go. Not only does this remove any questionable interpretations, it also gives the VA something to refer back to.

Regardless of how you decide to detail the work you need, make sure you’re not leaving unanswered questions. Not every VA you work with will last, or be perfect, but you do need to be giving them the fairest chance of learning to do what you expect of them.

Building your Business with VAs

We’ve covered the basics of finding VAs, hiring them, and getting them to work on the projects you need help with. So let’s take it a step further.

One thing to keep in mind is that you needn’t just hire one, and wait to hire a second once you have them fully occupied. A wonderful thing about the online freelancing market is that it’s incredibly easy to hire flexible resources.

You may, for example, have one VA with a fantastic flair for design, who’s great at doing everything from logos to social media graphics. That same VA might not excel at admin, book-keeping, or managing your email inbox.

This doesn’t matter! You can just hire another one. In an ideal world, you want everybody on your team playing to their strengths. Each piece of work can go to the person best equipped and talented to complete it.

If we zoom back to the beginning of the article, we talked about how there was once a time when start-ups would tend to build their team up with traditional staff-members. Thankfully, you don’t have to have just one assistant who’s great at some things and less good at others.

Of course, it all depends on your business. However, there’s no reason why you can’t have several VAs, each doing a handful of hours per week on the tasks they’re best at. VAs are used to working in this way, and you can create an entire team for your business with very little outlay.

Obviously, with time and success you may well end up using some of these people as full time resources – but you don’t need to until you’re ready.

Conclusion

Many high-profile entrepreneurs encourage people to hire a VA for a simple task, just to illustrate how straightforward it can be. Once you’re familiar with the process, the possibilities begin to stretch out ahead of you.

Nothing is more valuable than time when you’re a start-up. If you make yourself comfortable with delegation, you immediately create the ability to free up more of your own.

Relinquishing control of that first task is the hard part. Once you’ve done that it all gets much easier.

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