Stop Working Nights – How To Work With A Virtual Assistant

Vinay’s note – You have probably heard about the benefits of working with a Virtual Assistant. But how do you pick the right virtual assistant and how do you work with them effectively and efficiently? In this post Tom Hunt answers these questions and more. 

“You should hire a Virtual Assistant!”

Overheard in every co-working space and Entrepreneur Meetup since the rip-roaring success of The Four Hour Workweek. However, few people know WHY a Virtual Assistant can be so advantageous to the online entrepreneur and even fewer are aware of HOW to work with a Virtual Assistant.

The goal of this post is to bring clarity around these points, so that if you are ready to grow your online business…. you’ll know exactly WHY you need to hire a quality Virtual Assistant and more importantly, HOW to work effectively with your Virtual Assistant. Though before we jump into that, you are probably wondering why you should listen to me?

I spent 3 years trying to improve the margins on internal projects within a Big 4 Accountancy firm through outsourcing and then moved onto project managing an outsourcing project with one of the largest telecommunications companies in the world. And though this was fun, I decided to go my own way and started a small company that outsourced tasks from London-based startups to my team in the Philippines. That business grew, but was not scalable as the process was very manual. I then decided to automate this business with the marketplace model, and we now have entrepreneurs around the world, connecting and working with rockstar Virtual Assistants based in the Philippines with Virtual Valley.

Therefore, I have worked with countless entrepreneurs and project managers to understand why and if they should outsource, and then if yes, have shown them how to do so effectively. But let’s get a little more specific… Each week, I am replicating myself. In other words, 50 more hours of effort is spent on building the Virtual Valley system and my personal brand in addition to the time that I spend.

Why?

Because it means that I get comments like this from top bloggers:

blog comment love

And from new friends on Twitter:

twitter love

It means that I can maximize that amount of time that I spend adding value to my communities, which is ultimately what I believe will lead to success in online business and fulfillment in life (DEEP!).

How?

I have successfully trained a couple of Virtual Assistants to replicate my activities, including but not limited to:

  • Guest blogging requests
  • Podcast interview requests
  • Twitter profile growth
  • Instagram profile growth
  • Customer service
  • Lead follow up

Over the past 3 months, I have personally operated each of these tasks, fully documented the process and then handed it over to one of my team. Leaving me to … well… be just sitting here sipping my green tea writing this for you. This is the exact process you will be taken through in the next 10 minutes.

Why Michael Gerber says you should be outsourcing

I’m going to let you in on a secret… The majority of people that say they are entrepreneurs are not actually Entrepreneurs (with a capital E). In fact, me writing this blog post to add value to the WP Curve audience (and to promote our Virtual Assistant marketplace) is not a task that an Entrepreneur would undertake. It is a task for a Technician. Me spending time meeting with and explaining tasks to my Virtual Assistants responsible for building the supply side of our marketplace is not a task that an Entrepreneur would undertake. It is a task for a Manager.

In his must-read business book The E-Myth Revisited, Michael clarifies the difference between these 3 roles and provides an example of the positive effect that can be realized by shifting the amount of time the business owner spends as a Technician to Manager and finally to Entrepreneur.

Michael also stresses the importance of building a system that can reliably produce value for customers, without the direct input of the Entrepreneur (think McDonald’s). To achieve this, the Entrepreneur must spend the majority of his time working ON the business (system) and not IN the business (system).

Of course, in the startup phase of any online business, the Entrepreneur must wear many hats as the revenue of the business may not be sufficient to incentivize staff to carry out the Technician and Manager roles. Which highlights the advantage of the Virtual Assistant, due to the fact that they are “virtual” and are often freelancers and not employees, this can significantly reduce the investment required to staff the Manager and Technician roles, freeing up the entrepreneur’s time to spend… you know, as an Entrepreneur.

OK, now you understand WHY, what about HOW?

Right, you are now blissfully aware of the need to shift your time towards the Entrepreneur side of the scale AND must focus the majority of your time building the system, as opposed to being part of it. I guess you now want to know exactly HOW you will go about hiring and working with a Virtual Assistant that will take some of the Technician and Manager tasks off your hands. Though tempting, it would be inefficient to delve deep into the hiring process required to recruit a high quality Virtual Assistant, as this has been covered extensively elsewhere:

Instead, I will show you what to do BEFORE you hire your Virtual Assistant, how to make sure you have hired the right Virtual Assistant, and I will explain how to effectively induct your Virtual Assistant into your business and most importantly: how to work with your Virtual Assistant/Assistants effectively each day.

What to do BEFORE you hire your Virtual Assistant?

There are 3 things:

1. Prepare Mentally

You are about to hand over the responsibility for your business to an external party, potentially for the first time. This is a big step… And if you want to develop a healthy and flourishing relationship with your VA, you need to ensure that you are prepared to trust in their ability to handle the processes that you outsource. If you are there pinging them on Skype for 12 hours a day wondering where your deliverable is, this will not provide a platform for your VA to flourish.

2. Document Key Processes

Ensure that you are clear on the tasks that are to be outsourced and that you have previously operated them AND fully documented them in Working Procedures (see “Give access to Working Procedures” section below). Your VA will want to jump in on day 1, so don’t waste both of your time by leaving this to after the hiring decision has been made.

3. Think About Where You Will Invest Your Saved Time

And the fun part…

You are about to regain 4-8 hours per day of your time, and if you are anything like me, sometimes you will sit around wondering what you actually can do in your business. So take the time before hiring your VA to understand exactly where the high $ value tasks are within your business, so that you can start generating the extra revenue required to cover the salary of your Virtual Assistant from day 1.

Making sure you have the right Virtual Assistant

Ideally, you are 100% sure that you have the right Virtual Assistant BEFORE you agree an employment contract. It is for this reason that throughout my outsourcing career, I have always exercised a test period where my Virtual Assistant will carry out a short task over an agreed time period to review both the working relationship and quality of output.

The test should be representative of the tasks and competencies that are required to fulfill the role effectively to enable you to make an accurate conclusion. Here is the Test Task we set each Virtual Assistant in the recruitment process for our marketplace. We are testing the following criteria:

  • Resourcefulness
  • Experience
  • Organization
  • Communication
  • Excellence
  • Attention To Detail
  • Reliability
  • Enthusiasm

Note the attention to detail that was included in the Test Task instructions, this was deliberate. From our experience, attention to detail is a crucial part of any Virtual Assistant role. This approach also allows you to review whether your Virtual Assistant is the correct cultural fit for your team and if you will be able to develop a healthy working relationship.

Indoctrinating Inducting your Virtual Assistant

The single biggest mistake that entrepreneurs make when hiring a Virtual Assistant is not treating them like a full time employee, since, if you want to maximize the return of your financial and time investment, your Virtual Assistant must feel like they are part of the team.

Now you are confident that you have found a Virtual Assistant that has the experience and personality to perform your role, it is time to induct them into your organization effectively:

1. Introduce to team
If you have a regular team meeting, be sure to invite your new Virtual Assistant and introduce them to the rest of your team. If necessary, give them a role in the meeting, e.g. taking notes/producing metrics to review, to ensure they have a part to play.

2. Give access to intro materials
Depending on the size and maturity of your online business, you may or may not have an on-boarding process for new employees. If you do, your Virtual Assistant should pass through this process just like any other employee. As per Work The System by Sam Carpenter (more on this book shortly), we share a Google Drive folder that contains the following:

  • Our Company Mission Statement
  • Our Company Operating Principles
  • Organizational Chart
  • Our Company Values
  • Task Management and Team Communication Procedures

We also schedule a short 30 minute meeting with each new Virtual Assistant to talk through these documents and discuss any questions they may have.

3. Share role description & performance plan
Once you have confirmed the role of your Virtual Assistant, this should be documented into a concise job description, which will include links to the Working Procedures of the processes that they will be responsible for. It should also include how the performance of your Virtual Assistant will be assessed and how you will be helping them to develop.

4. Give access to working procedures

As mentioned above, another MUST READ business book for any online Entrepreneur is Work The System by Sam Carpenter. The book documents Sam’s journey from a chaotic business to a well oiled system through the production of Working Procedures, which are simply documents that detail regular processes that occur within your business. Here is a screenshot of our Google Drive Working Procedures folder:

working procedures

The advantage to producing Working Procedures is two-fold…

  1. They retain all knowledge of processes in freely accessible documentation as opposed to in the heads of your employees.
  2. Documenting each increases the focus your team has on improvements to the process, which also are to be recorded.

Once your Virtual Assistant has passed through the 3 steps outlined above, they are now ready to be introduced to the Working Procedures which they will be responsible for. Though before they are let loose, it is important to start with Reverse Job Shadowing… Here the original employee (or you!) that was responsible for the process walks through the task whilst being observed by your Virtual Assistant.

Once the Virtual Assistant is confident with the process, Forward Job Shadowing can occur: with your Virtual Assistant operating the process and you/another employee observing. Congratulations, your Virtual Assistant has now been fully inducted into your organization and is now ready to take on some of the Technician tasks that you should NOT be doing (if you want to grow your business that is).

Scaling Your Virtual Assistant Empire

Okay, so the MOST crucial part in scaling your Virtual Assistant Empire is your Virtual Assistant Manager. Now I have been skillful/lucky enough to have my first 2 VA’s hired in separate businesses graduate to the Manager position. I think that I achieved this because I included this as part of the recruiting process.

I screened for previous management experience AND potential interest in becoming a manager, so be sure to include these topics in your search for your first Virtual Assistant. Once you have your first (and potential manager) VA in place, you will need to leave time to monitor workload and ROI from the use of your VA.

If you are not able to generate the revenue required to cover the salary of your VA through your time saved and don’t think you will do so in the space of a couple of months, then maybe it would be time to rethink your decision to hire a VA. However, with the average salary of a General Virtual Assistant ranging from $400-600 per month, there is no reason why you shouldn’t 😉

If the workload and ROI is there, you need to ask your VA Manager what he/she thinks would be good to offload from them and if there is a sufficient amount of work to be outsourced (from your VA Manager), then it is time to set your VA Manager the task of hiring an assistant. Allow your VA Manager to take control of the hiring process (as this will be a key role going forward as you scale), but make sure you have the final say on the hiring decision.

For example, with Virtual Valley, we started off with a single VA, then as we launched and the ROI and workload was there, I set my VA Manager the task of hiring an assistant to take tasks from him that he didn’t enjoy/required a lower level of skill set. Then moving forward, ALL of your new Virtual Assistants are hired and managed by your Manager VA, who then reports directly to you.

A day in the life of Tom – how to work with a Virtual Assistant

08:00 – Wake & morning ritual. This is a whole other blog post, though I try to ensure that the first 2-3 hours of each day are spent either working on the system or directly creating value for people that may use the system (this blog post for example) WITHOUT being interrupted and reacting to other people.

11:00 – Receive update from Manager. At 11am GMT, I receive an update through Skype from my Virtual Assistant Manager that answers the following 3 questions:

  • What has gone well so far today?
  • What I need to do (if anything)?
  • Any issues that require immediate attention?

The first question is designed to enable us to focus on the positive aspects of what we have achieved that day, the second question exists as currently my manager is responsible for demand side (entrepreneur) lead generation and therefore may need me to take an action to move a lead down our sales funnel. And the third question enables him to flag any urgent issues that require my immediate attention.

14:00 – Call with Manager. I have a short Skype call with my Manager to go over any issues, discuss current processes and determine which improvements are to be made to the system.

18:00 – Task review & assignment. At the end of the day, I review each daily report from our team of Virtual Assistants in our chosen project management tool: Asana. They consist of the follow 3 sections:

  • What I did today
  • What I will do tomorrow
  • Any improvements/questions/issues

I can respond and give feedback where required, and assign tasks for the following day. This ensures that my morning ritual and productive 2-3 hours remain uninterrupted. You may be wondering about a lack of management/interaction with my team during an average day of work at Virtual Valley? Our team is able to work effectively with this lack of interaction because I have developed a Virtual Assistant into an effective manager, leaving me to invest more time into being an Entrepreneur, as opposed to a Manager, with the Technicians operating below him. I also filter all communication from the team (unless urgent) through my manager to reduce the amount of time that I am distracted from my Entrepreneurial tasks throughout the day.

Now it’s your turn…

You have been shown the knowledge and understand WHY you must shift the majority of the time you invest in your business to Entrepreneur, as opposed to Technician or Manager. You have learned how to ensure you have selected the Virtual Assistant that is right for you and your business, how they should be inducted into your culture and how you should work with them on a day to day basis. Each day, I strive to spend more time as an Entrepreneur. Where do you spend your time?

Oh, and just one more thing… You know that 1 friend that is always complaining about the fact that they don’t have any time? Feel free to send this article over to them using the social icons, who knows how much time they could save.

About

Tom Hunt is a TEDx Speaker, Dragon’s Den Failure And Founder of AskTina.io: your new sales assistant. Tom also teaches Help Marketing to all the legends that sign up here.

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