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Finding the Best Virtual Assistant for Your Business

Helping Hand Entrepreneurs tend to multitask. If you’re bootstrapping a new venture, you’re reluctant to hire anyone, as you’re afraid it will use up your capital and/or eat up all your profit.

But instead of saving money, you will actually lose more because you’re so absorbed in the nitty-gritty of your business – from responding to emails to sending an invoice.

You don’t have the time and energy to focus on tasks that will bring in revenue – like pitching to warm clients or writing a sales letter.

And this is just the “business” side of it. We women entrepreneurs may have high ambitions for our business, but we also don’t want to neglect our personal commitments. This is especially true among working moms who have to manage a business while raising children and being a supportive spouse.

One important thing I learned when I set up my copy writing business on the side is that time is a valuable resource. I have accepted the fact that since this is a new venture, I have to keep my fulltime job  (at least for a while) while nurturing my “side hustle” (a delightful term coined by Pam Slim). The thing is, I can only have 24 hours in a day.

So I decided to “buy back” my time by hiring part-time virtual assistants. And thanks to them I managed to have a job, a side hustle and a time to have coffee with family and friends.

Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to hire a VA to help you grow your business and still have a life.

1. Write down a to-do list for the VA

List down all the tasks that you want the VA to do and all the qualities and qualifications that you are looking for. For example, if you like the VA to do the bookkeeping, then write down all tasks related to bookkeeping – i.e. the VA will issue the invoice, follow up payment with clients, prepare your income statement, etc. You will also look for someone who has an accounting background (perhaps someone with a business degree?) and who has experience working for other entrepreneurs.

2. Set aside a budget for the VA

How much are you willing to spend for VA?  If you are busy entrepreneur who has a thriving business, I suggest that you hire someone on a full time basis so as not to disturb your workflow.

But if you are a newbie entrepreneur with a small budget, then hire someone who can work 10 to 20 hours a week. Another option is to hire someone on a per project basis.

3. Sign up for online job auction sites

There are so many online job auction sites out there (the popular ones are Odesk and Elance) that it’s easy for you to pick and choose. In my case, since I’m a Filipina, I’m comfortable looking for virtual assistants in these sites because there are a lot of  Filipina applicants in these sites. If you’re not confident working with VAs from India or the Philippines, don’t worry, you can also find American and European workers in these sites.

Aside from job auction sites, there are also some upscale sites where you can hire virtual assistants from the  U.S. and Europe. But unlike Filipina and Indian virtual assistants, you can’t hire these VAs for five U.S. dollars an hour.

4. Craft a detailed want ad

If you are posting an ad in a job auction site, your ad must include a brief description of your business, a list of all the tasks that you want your VA to do, all the qualities that you are looking for a VA and even references from previous enployers. Be specific as to how much time you are requiring from the VA and how much you’re willing to pay.

You have to be specific and clear with what you want to get the most qualified applicants.

5. Set up a qualification exam

After you have sifted though a bunch of applications, you will get a few people who have all the qualities that you are looking for. You can separate the chaff from the grain by testing your applicants before hiring them. You can either set up an interview or give them an exam to test their abilities.

Let’s say you’re looking for an someone who will research for you. You can “test” the applicant by asking them to produce a two-page report on a certain topic, written in English, quoting sources that they got from the Internet and send them to you within 24 hours. The report that they will hand out to you will reveal if they’re resourceful, can work fast, knows how to do online research and proficient in the English language.

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Image: jenni from the block via Flickr, Creative Commons

Prime Sarmiento  writes on business and career tools for women for the online tutorial company Ahead Interactive. As a freelance business blogger, she helps globally-focused entrepreneurs communicate with their clients. You can get in touch with her via www.primesarmiento.com or Twitter.


    1. You bring up a truly wonderful point, Prime prime_sarmiento – I was scared out of my wits to hire a virtual assistant at first. My issue was that since so much of what I do could be compartmentalized into smaller jobs and exported, I thought “Well then, what would MY job be?”

      It sounds silly, but I had this huge fear that it would make me obsolete. What I didn’t realize is that I would then be free to do what my REAL job is. Hope that smallbiztrends , shonali , jillfoster , jmpineda , and giniadietrich (women I admire who have “real” businesses, like you) can weigh in on the topic of how important this is.

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    2. @Tinu Ever since I read prime_sarmiento ‘s post, I’ve been thinking a lot about this… and I was talking to jillfoster about it just the other day. I think I got over the “what would my job be” bit, and now for me it’s more a question of finding the right VA – so I have to figure out how to do that.

      Looking forward to seeing what jmpineda giniadietrich have to say about it. I bet ericamallison would have a wealth of ideas too!

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    3. @Shonali I would love to hear from all those people – I really look up to people whose businesses are more…. mature than mine is.

      I spent a lot of time thinking about the “perfect” assistant. And frankly, it wasted a lot more time than it saved, only because it gave me another thing to do – by myself. One thing that helped me was writing a list of just the top 10 time-sucking things I could outsource easily. Then I got an inexpensive assistant to do those.

      That’s how I found out that the biggest thing I needed someone to do besides me that wasn’t easy to outsource was customer service, and it was also how I found the time to start the search for the right person.

      For me, I found out that the right person was really three people. I use TimeSvr.com’s dedicated services when I can, and hire on a project basis otherwise. It helps SO much.

      prime_sarmiento jillfoster jmpineda giniadietrich ericamallison

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    4. prime_sarmiento jillfoster jmpineda ginidietrich ericamallison

      Thanks for the shout out @Tinu and @Shonali ! So, I have been through this a bit, but more of a hybrid “in the office” assistant and “virtual assistant” than just a VA. For purposes of discussion, let’s say the same theories and parameters apply here.

      For me, I brought on a VA on a part-time, contractual basis that was initially driven by projects. When the work load became too much for me to handle well on my own and still service my clients, I knew it was time to think about it. {Actually, forecasting those situations in advance is critical and should be part of the proposal and estimating process in order to truly “cover your nut”.}

      The VA was awesome, took over some items that are either not part of my “billable” time (my website updates, errands) or were, but with a large profit margin (i.e., database entry or maintenance on a larger project, basic social media management).

      What I learned from this process was to have very clear parameters and to do a thorough review of cash flow projections, project scopes and pipeline because you can easily fall into a habit of “needing” the VA and then quickly realize, wait, I’m operating in a red zone here and need to focus back in on the original parameters.

      Now, I have clearly defined time lines (no more than x hours on this job), ensure that the project budget can handle it (and if it can’t, I suck it up and figure out how I can do it), and then be as LEAN as I possibly can.

      To find the right person, i went to social media and put my job description there. I screened applicants by reviewing their digital footprint, reading their blogs, their status updates and overall tone. This weeded out several applicants right away.

      Hope that was helpful!

      Erica

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    5. @EricaAllison It definitely was helpful for me. Spending too much is often a concern, so folding the cost into a project has worked. However, in marketing myself properly, there were some tasks that overlapped. So the hybrid solution sounds like it would fit me. Thanks for all your advice. cc: prime_sarmiento jillfoster ericamallison @Shonali

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    6. @EricaAllison @Shonali jillfoster giniadietrich @Tinu I absolutely use an assistant and other services to help me “buy time.” First, I identified the time-sucking tasks that don’t require me specifically. Then I determined what kind of skill set I needed to get these tasks done.

      In my case, my value these days to matrixgroup is networking, strategizing with clients, recruiting, and making sure projects are going smoothly. So I have outsourced a lot of administrative tasks in my personal and professional lives: reviewing my e-mail to remove spam, scheduling, house cleaning. During a hectic move to a new house, I outsourced scheduling all the appointments with utilities and other vendors, change of address calls, faxing paperwork, etc. This was super important because June is our busiest month and I could not afford to be unfocused at work.

      I don’t feel guilty about having help. I have a budget and I’ve also automated a lot of administrative tasks. For example, most of my bills are on auto pay, both at home and at work. I have also tried to consolidate how I receive communications. I use one e-mail address for most everything and my voice mail goes to e-mail so I just have to check one place.

      As for skill set, I need someone who is meticulous about the details, knows how to hound me for info so she can do what she needs to do, and is customer friendly.

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    7. @Tinu @Shonali prime_sarmiento jillfoster jmpineda giniadietrich ericamallison Hmm so what will my job be? My job is to write, woo clients, focus on how to brand myself and of course to travel! I’d rather focus on these things than spend hours researching or tweaking my blog. I guess it boils down to what I really want to do and what will help my “side hustle” grow.

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    8. HI Joanna,

      That helps so much. I don’t have guilt about asking for help, per se. I have to tell you though, I never thought of having so much more outsourcing in my Personal time, aside from getting outside house for house cleaning. That sounds fantastic. Wish I’d known that during my move from Vegas to MD. I really appreciate your input. I’m trying to learn as much as I can from people who have solid businesses.

      @jmpineda matrixgroup

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    9. @prime_sarmiento This is an insight I can’t hear enough times, particularly the concept of buying time. Have never thought about it that way. There are things I want to outsource not because I hate them, but because there are only so many hours in the day. And the first time I was successful at paying an assistant to take things off my desk, I remember having this feeling I could vaguely remember having, years ago…

      It was really the absence of a feeling – I had much less pressure on me personally. For the first time, I felt like I had a “real” business, having a part time employee, a small team to outsource to, and someone else to answer the phone. Almost didn’t know what to do with myself!Then I remembered: market harder. It was the most successful month I had in years, in terms of the business I brought in.

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    10. @EricaAllison That was so helpful! Hey, how about writing a guest post for WGB along these lines?

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