Why You Need a Virtual Assistant and How to Get One

As business owners, we know we should be spending at least 20% of our time each week working on activities that will grow and develop the business, and at least 70% of our week doing stuff that brings in the money.

Often when we analyse our actual daily activities (hint -  write down what you do every hour for 2 weeks and take a good look at it) we get a shock to see how much time we spend doing repetitive adminy type things which are not the best use of our time.

Whether you’ve just started your business, or you’ve been going for a while, you will never achieve good profitable growth if you keep doing stuff that doesn’t develop your business or bring in money.  Check out our podcast episode 17 for lots of juicy tips – Working on the Right Areas of Your Business.

The answer is to stop doing these things, and pay someone – like a Virtual Assistant (VA) to do these things for you.

What Would You Get a VA to Do?

If you find yourself doing the same things over and over again – then these are the first tasks you should delegate.  Things like:

  • Organising your emails.  Answering, filing, flagging for those that you need to followup.
  • Doing the bookwork.  Data entry, invoicing, setting up automated payments, budget planning, cash flow management etc.
  • Social Media. Preparing posts, images, scheduling for you, building your fan/followers, commenting, sharing
  • Customer Communications.  Creating email campaigns, newsletters, sending out customer feedback surveys and thankyou cards
  • Digital Marketing.  Writing and scheduling blogposts. Website updates.  Researching syndication and backlink opportunities.  Onsite and offsite SEO.  Google local marketing.  Citations.
  • Research.  Researching trends, statistics, products, suppliers, target markets, PR opportunities.
  • Graphic Design.  Landing pages, reports, brochures, fliers, signage, infographics, social media covers.

This list might make you think you need a multi-tasking goddess with a PHD in Marketing, Accounting and Office Administration.  The truth is you will not find one person who could do all this for you.  You will need several people to do all these things.  People who are really good at detailed administration tasks like book-keeping and IT usually cannot write good marketing copy or compelling blogposts.

Now you may be thinking, I can’t afford to hire lots of people to do all these things.  If you’re serious about building your business – and ensuring that it is sustainable profitable– you can’t afford not to.  You can hire extremely competent VAs offshore for as little as $5ph.  Of course some are less, and some are more. You generally get what you pay for.

I recommend hiring a part time VA for 1 or 2 hours a day or a few hours a week to begin with to take over things that suck up too much of your time and / or things that you are not very good at.  But you must use the couple of extra hours a day you gain wisely, doing business development / revenue generation activities.

Some of the tasks listed above need to be done every day, others can be done once a week or on a project basis.

Where Do You Find VAs?

There are now hundreds, if not thousands of VA employment / hire companies offering virtual assistant services.  Many provide an agency service – whereby they find and control the staff, and you pay the agency.  This is wonderful if you don’t want the headache of recruiting and managing.  It’s also ideal if you need a team of people with specific skills – eg: a marketer, a bookkeeper and a VA.  Usually they require you to commit to  at least 20 hours each week , or they will charge recruitment fees to find someone to work directly with you.

If you prefer to just try someone for a couple of hours to see if it works for you, then you’ll need to find your own directly, which is what I have done this for the past 10 years mainly through the freelancers platform – Upwork (formerly known as Elance and Odesk).  I’ve found some amazing people there, some of whom are key members of my team and have been with me for years.  Of course I’ve had my share of not so suitable people too!

Hiring Tips

The process of finding a VA on freelancer sites like Upwork , Guru, or Freelancer involves posting a job advertisement.  These sites generally take a percentage of what you pay the VA.

Once registered, I suggest spending some time looking at the job ads on there so you get a feel for the kind of tasks people want done, and how they word their job posts.  The more effort you put into this, the better quality applicants you will attract.

As you can imagine, there are thousands of people around the world looking for work, and unfortunately many of them claim to be experts.  Don’t be surprised if you get 100 applications on the first day.

The Job Brief

When you’re looking for someone to help you, it’s important to specify exactly what tasks you want them to do (don’t be too vague), what skills you expect them to have, what experience they should have had, and the type of attitude and commitment you want.  The following list may be useful and get you started on creating your  job brief.

  • Overview of job role –  person to assist business owner with management of administrative functions
  • List tasks and responsibilities– eg: email management, diary management, responding to some emails, preparation of standard responses, development of standard operating procedures, preparation of budgets, maintenance of database, scheduling work for other team members etc.
  • What is the timeframe – how many hours per day or week, whether it is ongoing or just a project
  • Communication guidelines – platform – eg:  site’s messaging board, skype, Slack.  How often you want to communicate
  • SkillsMust have:  eg: proficient in MS Word,MS Excel, gmail management; and Skills - Nice to Have: Canva or photoshop skills for image prep, wordpress skills for updating website, copywriting, social media experience, SEO skills, etc
  • Expectations – eg: working times, English level, previous experience
  • Performance assessment  – communications, working times, willingness to ask questions, how quickly they understand
  • Future benefits – ongoing work, security, other projects,
  • Assessment criteria – answer all the questions, provide proof of experience/skills – eg: submit links or attach images of an article or a spreadsheet or something you have done to prove you can do it, rating and feedback
  • Cover letter – ask for a cover letter which addresses specific criteria in your job brief.  People who don’t take the time to submit cover letters are not that interested I don’t think – they’re just applying for as many jobs as possible, without putting in effort.

Why You Need a Virtual Assistant and How to Get OneNow you may not need to list all of these things in your Job Brief – but don’t make it too short either.  If you want serious quality applicants, you need to provide a well thought out brief which shows you know what you're looking for, and you will be a good professional business to work for.

The other thing I strongly recommend you do is ask two specific questions.  Things like –

  • What are the two things you’re really good at and love doing?
  • What is the one thing you would like to get better at?
  • What is your main area of interest – eg: topics, hobbies, past-times.
  •  What’s your favourite social media platform and why?

The reason you ask these is to see who answers.  If these questions are not answered, more than likely you will have a received a copy and paste type reply – from someone who posts the same bid to every job posting and has not read the brief, and therefore is probably not the kind of person you want doing your detailed admin work.

You will also need to determine if you're going to pay by the hour, or by project.  By the hour is good for ongoing work, and most of these platforms provide work tracking software which regularly takes screenshots of their work, so you can check to see that they are indeed working for you and not chatting to friends on Facebook.  Yes - I did have someone doing that.  Needless to say he didn't last long.

Post the Job

You can post the job up for general viewing within the platform, which will attract the highest amount of applicants. You do have the option of limiting criteria by country, star ratings, agencies/individual freelancers etc.  But this is sometimes ignored by applicants.

The other way is to keep the job posting private and invite people to apply.  So to do this you search for freelancers using criteria such as job title keywords, star ratings, regions, skills, price per hour, etc. Then shortlist those that match your criteria and send an invitation to apply just to them.  The benefit is you don’t get hundreds of unsuitable applicants.  The downside is that you could miss out on finding the perfect person that may have not shown up in your search filters – and this has also happened to me.

I prefer to do both - post it publicly, and also find some worthwhile candidates and invite them to apply.

Types of Applicants

A few years ago most freelancers were genuine.  Now they’re not all trustworthy.  You'll need to sift through the applicants and create a shortlist.

  • Bots – automatic generic responses, not tailored to the Brief.  Usually received within minutes of you posting your job.
  • Fools – people who can say they can do more than they really can.  They overpromise and cannot deliver, and I’ve certainly had a few of these.  Check out their examples of work – portfolio, past content pieces etc
  • Excusers – take on board the project then can’t complete it when the deadline falls due – amazing excuses which happen over and over.  Confirm you hear them and tell them to get it done.   Have a look at the reviews and comments people posted about them.
  • Pros – Don’t usually bid on public projects.  Most of work comes from private invitations because they are good.  These people can be more expensive, but are usually worthwhile, particularly for project work.
  • The Right Person – Good feedback, has done some jobs on the platform, cost effective, has samples of work

Reviewing the Bids

  • Is it a copy and paste reply?  Does not meet your criteria or answer your questions.  Exception – if they have a high rating and good feedback, ask them to respond to your questions.
  • Negative Comments? – Sometimes the buyer was not good and didn’t do the right thing by the provider.  Sometimes this works in your favour if the provider has been burnt and is willing to provide cheaper services to get their feedback back up.
  • Can they do the job?  Do they meet the criteria – eg: English as first language. Developing countries are the best place to get cost effective work done, but look at their previous work to get a good indication of their skills.
  • Are they being realistic about the costs?  - Bid too much when you’ve specified the amount.  Ask why.
  • Read between the lines – see what they haven’t said.

Short List the Applicants

I suggest shortlisting the top 3 or 4 and interviewing them by Skype – particularly if you’re looking at hiring someone to work with you on an ongoing basis.

Why You Need a Virtual Assistant and How to Get OneIf you’re hiring someone to do writing work – blogposts, social media posts, website content, emails, ebook, etc, it really is worth it to try out two or three, and pay each of them to prepare one or two posts or emails for you- or a sample of the bigger project (eg: one page of copy for your website).  It contravenes Upwork’s policies to ask them to submit samples for free, and you will not get people’s best work if they feel they are being exploited. This is a good way to see if each person can do what they say they can and have not shown you samples that they got someone else to write.  You will need to check their work. Cross check it with your assessment criteria.  Use Copyscape to check that they have not submitted a duplicate of existing content.

I also like to give unsuccessful candidates (the genuine ones) feedback so they know what they did right and wrong.

The Next Step - Managing VAs

As this has turned out to be a rather long post, I’ve decided to cover Managing VAs in the next one.

In summary, getting help has been really worthwhile for our business.

  • I no longer spend hours managing our client’s website and marketing projects in minute detail.  I have a terrific VA who is way better organised than me, has a great eye for detail and makes sure that we all do things properly and meet deadlines.
  • I also have several other wonderful team members who help with the technical work, graphic design work, content preparation, social media work and video/audio work. The thing is that although I actually do know how to do all this stuff, and have spent years doing these things, I’ve finally seen the light and realised that it is not the best way for me to be spending my time,  and there are people out there who can do it better than me.
  • And I definitely no longer spend nights trying to reconcile bank accounts of get GST / tax stuff done as I found a very competent lady who loves doing this and does it about three times faster (and way more accurately) than I can.

Since finding the right team members, it has freed up my time to do what business owners should be doing - working on business growth, marketing, client relationships, partnerships and team management. My business has grown and developed into a well-rounded marketing agency that runs more efficiently; and our clients are looked after much better than I ever achieved on my own.

So do yourself and your business a big favour – and get some help.  It is so worth it.

Oh, and by the way, if you'd like some help with outsourcing marketing work, that is something we can definitely help with.


Avatar for Annette Welsford

About Annette Welsford

Hi there. My passion is to inspire and help business owners to create the type of marketing and customer service that makes their business irresistible. I'm privileged to have a talented team at Commonsense Marketing who create and execute beautiful websites, engaging social media campaigns, and fantastic email campaigns that deliver results for our clients. And it's wonderful that many of them have said lots of nice things about the work we’ve done (see our case studies). We love to work with the owners and teams of small to medium sized business who are motivated to become the best in their niche and achieve more than they ever thought possible.