Have you ever heard that saying “if it’s to be, it’s up to me”?
Yeah look, the original intention of that saying was to embrace responsibility for your own success. This means adopting the attitudes of a winner and taking a leadership role.
It doesn’t mean “do everything yourself,” which, unfortunately, is how many entrepreneurs interpret it!
In fact, you just can’t do it all. The most successful business owners around have a not-so-secret, secret - they’ve had help!
There comes a point where you simply have to hire someone to help you tackle the tasks that go into running your business. For many entrepreneurs, a virtual assistant (VA) is one of their first hires.
Does this sound like you? Here are a few tips for successfully hiring that first VA:
#1. Know what you really need
Want to know what typically leads to an unsuccessful foray into the world of virtual assistants? Here’s a scenario:
You, the business owner, realise you’ve been utterly slammed and have no time for anything else that you’d like to be doing. Perhaps you’ve even missed out on some opportunities because you’re just constantly spinning the hamster wheel.
You think, “I know, these virtual assistant people sound amazing, I’ll get one of those.”
Only, you find that once you have them, you’re still super busy. In fact, you seem to be devoting a lot of time to finding them things to do, explaining how to do things, or that some things just need to get done by you. You’re chasing your tail again…
This is exactly why you need to define what it is you really need first.
There are many different types of virtual assistants out there, some with very specialised skills, but almost all have a certain set of tasks that they work within. They’re like you and they want a set scope.
Your best bet for defining what it is that you really need is to list out the tasks that you need help with. If it’s a very long list, prioritise those tasks so that the real “bang for buck” items are at the top.
Now look at those tasks - do they fit within the scope of what a virtual assistant usually does? Or do you need someone else? Sometimes business owners think they need the virtual assistant when their first hire should be a project manager, salesperson or social media specialist. In Steph Campanella's case, her first hire was a graphic designer.
#2. Assess whether the role adds value
This is the logical next-step from what we just discussed - if you’re hiring a virtual assistant or ANY other role, then that role should be adding real value to your business. In other words, hiring that person helps you to make more money rather than simply being another cost.
How does a virtual assistant make you money? They’re not usually directly involved with sales or even customer retention, but here are some value-add examples:
- They take over repetitive tasks that take up a lot of your time. This frees you up to pursue networking, partnership or new client opportunities.
- They can respond to basic customer enquiries, or at least acknowledge them and give them a timeline for a response. Perhaps this helps you to keep more customers, or bring on more new ones.
- They can ensure that some of your basic marketing tasks are happening on a regular basis, bringing you more business. For example, your newsletter or your social media post scheduling.
One thing you could do is examine your business for any “weak links” and assess whether the VA is going to be able to help you with those. For example, if it’s “I can’t attend the networking events I need to because I’m too busy with “doing,” then it’s likely a VA can help.
#3. Be prepared to relinquish tasks
Sometimes the biggest barrier to handing over those tasks is you.
When it comes down to it, a lot of business owners struggle to hand over tasks to someone else. It’s usually a mindset thing - your business is your “baby” and you’re used to calling all the shots and making sure things are done “right” yourself.
It can be a big shift to relinquish some of that control and let someone else in. The whole point of hiring a virtual assistant is that you should be freeing up your own time. If you find yourself unable to let go, or feeling that you must micromanage the tasks, then you’re defeating that point yourself.
Adopting the “manager” mindset means a bit less doing and a bit more of a strategic approach. Ask yourself why you’re struggling to let go. The whole point of hiring is that you should have someone whom you can trust.
If you put yourself in the shoes of the virtual assistant, how does it feel to be micromanaged? Most people can’t stand it. This isn’t a productive use of their time or yours. You either choose to accept that you’re hiring someone competent who you’re able to delegate to, or you don’t achieve any more efficiency through the hiring exercise.
#4. Have a job description prepared
This very much relates to that first point - you have to know what you’re going to be getting a virtual assistant to do so that you can decide if that’s who your hire should be.
Practically speaking, a job description helps you to narrow down candidates based on how well they meet your requirements. It also helps you to answer the question “what will I get them to do today?” From the applicant's perspective, it helps people to opt themselves in or out based on how well they feel they meet the description.
Go back to those priority tasks you identified at #1. This is your starting point for describing what the work entails. You can divide up responsibilities and skills into “must-have” and “nice to have,” for clarity.
One important thing that your job description should achieve is to set expectations. Remember to include details such as hours per day and days per week. If you’re expecting that someone should be available evenings or weekends, then you need to make this clear. (But remember, VAs aren’t superhuman, they need breaks too!)
#5. Have strong systems and processes
A virtual assistant won’t be a silver bullet for a business with scattered processes or no systems.
Think about how a virtual assistant is going to be able to work autonomously. This is really where they get the opportunity to shine and you get the full benefit of someone who can work without constant input from you.
There are two things that will help the most:
- Have documented processes so that someone else can follow them
- Have good tools in place to systemise what you do. For example, tools for communication, for managing customers, for accounting…
If your work environment is chaotic without those things, then you’re just asking someone to join you in the chaos. You’re setting them up for frustration and potential failure.
#6. Look in the right places
Where are you going to find a good virtual assistant? This is a question many business owners grapple with. If you do a search online you will be inundated with options, from independent contractors, to job sites like Upwork, to agencies.
The answer to this question depends upon how much time you have to invest in the process yourself. If you’re going to place an advertisement somewhere like Upwork or on another job board, then you need to be prepared for the long task of filtering through applicants.
To do this, you should check off their skills and experience against your must-haves, interview them (usually via video call) and check their references. You might even do something like a paid work test.
If you’re concerned that you don’t have the required time to go through the whole process yourself, then going through a virtual assistant agency can be a good option. These companies have already recruited competent VAs themselves and work to match them with the right clients.
An agency will usually have a specific set of tasks that their VAs cover, so check to make sure they will do what you need done. Some examples of agencies to check out include The Virtual Hub or Zirtual.
#7. Pay attention to onboarding
Did you know that good employee onboarding can increase retention by 25% and improve employee performance by 11%? Onboarding covers that period of time from preparing to bring on the new employee to having them completely orientated within your business.
A good onboarding process not only helps your VA to know what to do and where to look for things but ensures that they have access to what they need and that they’re introduced to anyone they need to know.
Onboarding helps to provide structure which allows the VA to operate successfully. It also helps them to feel welcome and valued!
The bottom line is, have a prepared onboarding plan for your new VA. Think about their first day, week and month. What do they need to do their job successfully and feel welcome in your business?
#8. Be available
This is at the opposite end of point #3. Some business owners lean more toward the laissez-faire approach; “oh great, here are all the things I need done. See you next week.”
If you really want to set up your new virtual assistant for success, you need to make yourself available when needed as well. Sure, there are many things your VA can simply get on with, but part of making the relationship a success involves ensuring they have the information and context they need to do a good job.
You know your business best and you’re the one on top of your goals and strategies. Being available to provide that vital context and feedback for your VA will help them do their best work.
This might sound like a lot of things to consider just for hiring someone to help you, but the point is if you’re going to do it, it’s worth doing right.
You want a VA so that you’re able to delegate tasks and focus on the things that are a better use of your own time. Make sure you’re setting them up for success. Invest in people the right way so that you see value for that investment.