This guest blog was written by Ralph Simmons of www.ninjapartners.com.
Almost every entrepreneur or business owner quickly discovers the same thing in their first year of business: there is way too much to do and way too little time to do it.
The behind-the-scenes administrative tasks that come with running a business are difficult to anticipate and you could find yourself wasting hours and hours a day trying to stay on top of them. Not only does this radically limit the growth of your company, but it’s also going to lead to entrepreneurial burnout.
That’s why more and more people are hiring virtual assistants.
Virtual assistants provide all of the benefits of an in-person assistant without any of the drawbacks. You pay only for hours worked and still get all the core tasks of your business completed. You can outsource all the tasks you don’t like or that aren’t leading to company growth, reduce your workload, and find the best talent from anywhere in the world. There are almost no reasons not to hire a virtual assistant.
However, virtual assistants are a relatively new introduction into the business world, so it’s understandable if you don’t know where to start.
In this article, we’re going to help you:
- Determine what kind of virtual assistant you need
- Decide on the tasks you need to outsource
- Establish workflow and communication guidelines
By the end, you’ll have all the information you need to get the most out of hiring a virtual assistant.
Decide on What Tasks You Want to Outsource
This may seem obvious, but it’s common for overwhelmed entrepreneurs to know that they need help but not what they need help with. Make a detailed list of all the tasks you want a virtual assistant to take over before you start looking to hire one. This will help you to get clear on the kind of skills you need your virtual assistant to possess.
It might be that you need someone who is highly detail oriented to handle spreadsheets and organizing, or you may need someone with people skills and writing abilities to communicate directly with customers.
Some tasks you can outsource to a virtual assistant include:
- Managing email and setting up auto responders
- Set up and manage your social media accounts
- Keeping track of your calendar and scheduling appointments
- Research your blog post/content topics
- Manage and publish posts to your blog
- Reply to comments on your social media/blog
- Create reports
The possibilities are endless when it comes to assigning tasks to your virtual assistant. Begin by narrowing down on the things that you need most because more mistakes tend to be made when you have one person with a wide range of responsibilities. But start with the tasks that are absolutely necessary to your business but that you hate doing yourself, you’ll immediately free up your time.
For example, what if your virtual assistant managed your inbox? They could file all incoming mail into different folders 1) needs response 2) needs no response, and 3) archive; you would never have to worry about inbox overwhelm again!
Key point to remember: start with the basics and then expand on their responsibilities when they get more comfortable with your business.Find Someone Whose Strengths are Your Weaknesses
There are a whole host of behind-the-scenes tasks that come with running a business, and you have probably discovered that there is a good portion of them that you cannot do – either because you do not have the time or you’re simply not good at them. We all have our weaknesses, and just because you technically can handle all aspects of your business, doesn’t mean that you should.
Instead, as author of the 4-Hour Work Week, Tim Ferris, encourages, you should concentrate on the 80/20 rule: spend 80% of your time on the 20% of activities that generate the most returns.
Everything else? You outsource. This is not only makes more business sense but you’re much less likely to get burnt out and frustrated when you’re not dedicating time to tasks you hate.
This is why it’s important to determine what your weaknesses are before you look for a virtual assistant. This way, you can make the employee scorecard as clear as possible and find the person who can do the best job.
Start by creating a list of specific tasks you would like completed, but also consider other aspects of running your business that you don’t enjoy, so that you can hire someone who has the potential to suggest ways for them to help. You want to hire someone who has initiative and who’s interested in making your process as efficient as possible.
In the beginning, try a variety of different tasks to test their strengths and weaknesses. You might discover that your VA is capable of doing more than you originally hired them for.
Key point to remember: your virtual assistant should complement your weaknesses and excel at the tasks that you don’t like.
Establish the Workflow Early
One of the advantages of hiring a virtual assistant is that they can be located anywhere in the world. You might not ever meet them face-to-face! While this opens up the hiring pool considerably, it also introduces some unique challenges.
One common problem is that your virtual assistant won’t be coming into the office every day, where you can easily and quickly give them new instructions or assign a time-sensitive task. You want to establish the workflow early, so that you don’t find yourself desperately trying to get ahold of them and having them nowhere to be found.
Some key areas to consider when establishing your workflow:
Is there a specific period of time that you need them to be available?
Perhaps you need someone who is able to work the same hours as you do, so that you can assign tasks that require a quick turnaround time. Or you need someone who works the opposite hours to your business opening hours, so you can offer 24-hour customer support. Alternatively, you might need your virtual assistant to be reachable for only a few hours a day, and they can decide their own working hours the rest of the time. Your needs will depend on the kind of tasks your virtual assistant is fulfilling, but it’s important to keep time zones in mind when hiring someone international.
How do you prefer to be contacted and for what purpose?
You need to establish early on if your virtual assistant should IM, email, or call you, and what kind of questions they should direct your way or research themselves. You don’t want to hire a virtual assistant who ends up being more work because you have to constantly respond to their requests. Consider defining different contact procedures for different questions. For example, if the project is time sensitive, they should call, but if the question is more general but requires your specific knowledge, they should email.
How will they report their work?
Again, as you won’t be monitoring your virtual assistant in person, you will want them to provide a breakdown of the tasks they’ve performed, how long it took, and what stage they’re at in long-term projects. This could be a daily summary, a weekly report or a monthly detailed breakdown of their responsibilities.
What are their main responsibilities?
While you will probably assign your virtual assistant more tasks as they become more integral to your business, it’s important to establish the broad outline of their responsibilities early on. This will help them anticipate what their daily workload will be and also allow them to complete ongoing tasks without you needing to micromanage them.
Key point to remember: establishing a workflow routine will help your business run more efficiently and result in less disruption.
Give Detailed Instructions
When assigning tasks, you want to make the instructions as detailed as possible. This is especially important in the beginning when your assistant is not yet familiar with your company or your goals. Don’t assume that they’ll know what you’re talking about. Remember that you’ve likely been doing this for years while your assistant is brand new. Explain exactly the steps they should take and what you expect the result to be.
Then, ask them how they’re going to accomplish the task. Having them repeat the task will show that they understand what you require and that they’re going to follow the right steps. This will ultimately save a lot of time because they won’t have to come back with questions hours after you assigned the task.
In the future, you will likely be able to send bullet pointed requests, but in the beginning, write detailed instructions and also schedule phone calls if a specific project needs more in depth instruction.
Key point to remember: giving detailed instructions in the beginning will save time later.
Allow For Mistakes and a Learning Curve
In the beginning, you will probably be able to complete tasks faster than your virtual assistant does. Many business owners new to having virtual assistants will get frustrated and give up at this early stage, but the reality is that you have to allow for a learning curve. It may be faster for you to do the task but it doesn’t change the fact that you do not have the time to complete it.
In the beginning, allow 1-2 hours more than you normally would for your assistant to complete a task. They will get faster as time goes on, but you have to allow the first couple of weeks to be their time to learn. If you schedule properly, it won’t negatively affect you or your business.
Also, it goes without saying that outsourcing tasks is going to result in more mistakes than if you did everything yourself. You have to anticipate this and plan for it; you also have to realize that small mistakes are not the end of the world. Of course, you don’t want your assistant to make the kind of catastrophic mistakes that will damage your brand or public reputation, but occasional errors won’t have a long lasting effect.
Take the email example from earlier: If you handed over your inbox to an assistant, is it possible that they might incorrectly sort an email? Yes…but that occasional slipup is ultimately worth the peace of mind that comes with not having to dedicate hours a day to incoming emails.
Key point to remember: by scheduling time in the beginning for your virtual assistant to learn, you’re more likely to establish an efficient system in the future.
Schedule Time to Review Their Work
Finally, you want to make sure that you make it a priority to review their work. Yes, eventually you want them to be consistently producing error-free work that doesn’t require your approval, but to get to that point, you’ll have to oversee their work in the beginning.
Lots of business owners assume that their virtual assistants will be a perfect fit right from the get-go and feel inconvenienced by having to monitor their work. But the reality is that you have to put in some work to ensure the success of your virtual assistant.
The review period is the perfect opportunity to offer constructive criticism, which will make sure your virtual assistant succeeds in the future. By reviewing their work, you will maximize the productivity of your virtual assistant as you won’t be constantly following up to fix mistakes after it’s already been published or sent to a customer.
If you make this review period a part of your schedule, it also won’t feel like an inconvenience.
Key point to remember: making time to review their work in the beginning will ensure more perfect work in the future.
Hiring a virtual assistant can be one of the most important steps to streamlining your business practices so you can focus on growth, but it does require a time investment from you. By implementing some of the tips we outlined, your virtual assistant can start adding value to your company immediately.
A way to significantly cut down on the amount of time spent training your new assistant is to go through an outsourcing support company, but you will still want to get clear on what tasks you want to outsource and the skill set your ideal virtual assistant will possess.
Photo Credit: iStock by Getty Images
Photo Credit: iStock by Getty Images