Preparing for a Virtual Assistant: How to Maximize Their Value in Your Business
Updated: Nov 8, 2019
As technology evolves and the nature of work changes, virtual assistance (VA) is establishing a strong presence in the workforce. While there are still plenty of “traditional” VA’s providing customer service and data entry, the field has expanded to professional services as well. You can find a virtual assistant for just about anything. The best part? They can provide endless value for your business… if you’re prepared for them. Your VA’s effectiveness will be directly related to how prepared you are. Here are 5 steps you can take to prepare for a VA.
1. For one week, write down every single task you do.
This sounds crazy - every single task? Those tiny tasks not only interrupt your workday; they interrupt your focus and make you more likely to forget what needs to be done. Making note of “tiny tasks” will help you pull out the distractions that you could train someone to help you with.
You may think, “Well, this task only takes a couple minutes.” But, when you have that mindset for 10 or 15 little tasks, you just lost half an hour of your morning. When you take the time to write these down, and see with your own eyes the number of tasks you've done that week, you'll have a clearer understanding of what your VA can take off of your plate.
2. Create process documents.
Create a document for every task / process you eventually want to pass off. Process documents should be specific. For example, if you want your VA to manage your email inbox, your process document should include:
- how frequently you need your inbox checked
- which emails to flag or notify you of
- which emails to delete
- how to use your folder structure / organize messages
- common questions people ask you through email and how to respond to those questions on your behalf
Sounds time consuming to create this, right? It will save you time in the long run. Here's why.
- Your VA won't need to come to you with questions as frequently, if they have this to refer to.
- If your VA changes, or you decide to pass this process to someone else in your company, you won't have to re-explain this to a new person.
- You're ensuring that this task / process will be completed with the same level of accuracy and consistency each time, saving you from fixing mistakes after the fact.
3. Look at your budget.
What does your cash flow look like? What can you afford to pay a quality VA? Know exactly what you’re looking for and be aware that you’ll pay more for a professional VA. Because you aren’t providing benefits (health insurance, 401K, etc.), they have to charge a higher hourly rate to compensate for the additional expense on their end. VA's also have to pay self-employment tax that a typical employee wouldn't have to pay. If you feel a sense of “sticker shock” when you see their rates, remember to consider their additional costs.
Even if you’re paying a “high” hourly rate, you’re most likely still saving money when you think about how expensive it is to hire an employee. Make sure your budget has enough “wiggle room” to incorporate a VA. If you’re spending valuable time doing work that someone else could do for you, you’re forfeiting the opportunity to spend that time providing the professional services that can earn you more money. Let's say you're an engineer who makes $250 / hour for consulting services. Your VA charges $40/hour to help you manage your calendar, organize your inbox, maintain your company's social media accounts, order supplies, and do whatever else needs to be done. That $40/hr incorporates...
- an hourly wage
- self-employment taxes
- the cost of their laptop / computer / internet service that an employer would pay for (but in this case, they're paying for)
- their additional expense for healthcare, 401K, etc that they don't have employer assistance with
But guess what? When you pay that $40, you're saving $210/hour. If you could be doing consulting services, rather than administrative/marketing/operational/financial tasks, that $40/hr is a *huge* savings for you. Not to mention that a professional VA should be able to perform these services more quickly than you'd be able to, as you'll expect your VA to have knowledge / experience / skills in these domains that you don't necessarily have. While their services should save you money long term, you must have solid cash flow in order to front the initial expense.
4. Make a list of projects you’ve wanted to do, but just haven’t had time to do.
Small business owners are the definition of busy, overloaded, “at max capacity,” you name it! There are so many things to think about at any given time. There are “good intentions” that just can’t come to fruition when you’re getting started. Make a list of those good intentions that simply haven’t happened yet. Maybe you want to get more active on your business’s social media page, blog consistently, make new connections in the community, start a company newsletter, clean out your inbox… the list goes on and on. An experienced VA will be able to assess your business and pretty quickly identify some areas you may want to focus on. Making this list before you have a VA will help you better choose a VA that's experienced in the projects you have on your "to do" list.
5. Think about how you'll incorporate them into your workflow.
Plan to prioritize the emails / messages you receive from your VA. Will you give them your cell number in case they're working evenings or weekends, which is often the case? VA’s are resourceful and (should) do their best to work independently. If they need clarification on a project, have a question, or need you to approve something before they continue pushing forward, answer them quickly. The sooner you respond, the sooner they can get back to work. Don’t let a lack of responsiveness cause a simple project to be delayed significantly if/when it gets lost in your inbox. Be prompt!
Virtual assistants provide value from so many angles. When they fit your business well, they really can help take your business to the next level. In situations where it isn't feasible or wise to hire an employee, a VA can stand in that gap. Preparing well will help you reap the benefits of this growing profession.