When a solopreneur reaches the point where she can’t keep up with business growth on her own, the first step is often to hire a virtual assistant. If that’s where you are – or the point you’re rapidly approaching – I have some advice for taking this exciting step. Done right, hiring your first team member will work wonders for your business. Not only will you increase the capacity of your business, but you can then focus more time and energy on the aspects of your business that will move it forward. However, done wrong, adding a VA can be a huge time suck, an exercise in frustration, and a drain on your finances.
I’ve seen it done right and done wrong, so I know what works and what doesn’t. Let’s set you up for success!
Plan Ahead: Things to Do Before You Hire a Virtual Assistant
Give Yourself Enough Time
Ideally, you start planning how you’ll hire a virtual assistant before you’re in dire need of one, while you have time to thoughtfully spell out the process. But even if you’re pulling-your-hair-out overwhelmed and just want help NOW!, please don’t rush this process. If you hurry up and hire, you’ll likely set yourself and your new team member up for failure. At best, that will result in putting out fires, lots of rework, and wasted time and money. At worst, it won’t work out with your new team member, and you’ll be starting over, hiring a second virtual assistant to replace the first.
Identify What You Need from a Virtual Assistant
You might be buried in work and desperate for help, but if you aren’t clear on what you need help with, hiring a virtual assistant certainly won’t help. Remember that a VA performs tasks you assign to them. It’s neither within the VA’s responsibilities nor skill set to figure out which tasks they should perform.
If you’re thinking something like, “I need help with social media,” notice that’s not a task! What social media tasks could a VA perform? Writing captions? Finding the best hashtags? Scheduling? Creating graphics? You need to dig in and really break it down. I recommend the following steps.
- Track Everything You Do. Start writing down everything you do plus how long it takes you to do it. If you have a consistent or predictable routine, where each week looks pretty much like the next, do this for a week. If you block your time so that different activities take place during different weeks of the month, track your time and tasks for as long as it takes you to cycle through all of your business actions.
- Be specific. As in the example above, “90 minutes working on social media” isn’t clear. Break it down into its distinct component parts.
- Review what you’ve tracked. Group tasks together and note which ones follow clearcut, repeatable processes.
- Ask yourself which tasks could be performed by a VA. The more concrete and repeatable, the easier they will be to hand off to a virtual assistant.
- Ask yourself which of those you’re willing to let go of. Start with the tasks you hate to do. Then ask yourself again. If you’re feeling resistance to handing over control to another, remind yourself that you can’t do everything. You may need to hand off tasks you enjoy or some you think that only you can do.
- Create SOPs for all tasks you can hand off. For the tasks that follow repeatable processes, document each, step by step, as your standard operating procedure (SOP). I recommend creating them in an online task management tool like Trello or Asana. Put them in a task manager now, and you’ll be able to use that tools to track progress, collaborate, and communicate with the virtual assistant your hire!
Take your time at each step and create your SOPs carefully. You’re so close to your processes, you’re likely to skip steps in your documentation without even noticing it. Also, make sure you’ve not only captured the visible steps, but also any steps that take place in your head. Ask yourself if there’s a judgment call or thinking process you employ while performing the task. When you hire your virtual assistant, they’ll need to know the mental steps, too!
Armed with the recurring tasks you’ll hand off to your VA, you’re now ready to start your search for the right virtual assistant for your business!
Do Your Research: What to Look for When You Hire Your Virtual Assistant
Determine Whether You Need a Specialist or a Generalist
Look at the types of tasks you identified to give to the VA you intend to hire. Are they strictly administrative tasks, such as calendar management, data entry, or transcription? Or are do your recurring tasks require specialized knowledge and skills or experience with a specific tool or platform?
If you need help with basic admin, a generalist VA will fill your needs. For tasks that require higher-level skills, such as email automation, writing & editing, or graphic design, you’ll need to hire a virtual assistant who specializes in those activities. Typically, a specialized VA will charge higher rates for their services because they’re more highly qualified. Don’t let this deter you from looking for the specialist you need! It will be worth the investment to find the right fit for your business!
Find the Virtual Assistant with the Specific Skills to Match Your Needs
Write a job description. Do this even if you don’t intend to post it on your channels or a recruiting site! It will help you gain further clarity on what you need and how you and your VA can achieve success together.
Include the following in your description:
- Skills and experience required for the role
- The specific tasks you’ll assign to the VA
- The number of hours per day/week required
- Whether they can choose their hours or you have specific times you need them to be available
- The specific tools they’ll use to complete their tasks
At this point, start asking your business friends for recommendations for VAs or VA agencies. Agencies will assist in matching you with the right virtual assistant. Some of these organizations allow you to post a job description and the VAs in their network can apply for the position. If you post the position online, it will attract applicants who are a good match for the role. And if you’re trying to hire via referral from your friends, you’ll be easily able to communicate exactly what you’re looking for.
You can now proceed with confidence as you prepare to add a virtual assistant to your team! It might sound like a lot of work up front, but the time investment now will pay dividends in the long-run. Define what you need first, and you’ll find a VA match made in heaven for your business!