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How to Hire a Virtual Assistant

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A few years ago I read a book that changed everything; The Four Hour Work Week by Tim Ferris.

The cover got me. It’s got a picture of a hammock hanging between two palms. I wanted that to be me, hanging between the breezy palms. I wanted to only work half a day a week.

A few years on and I’m somewhere close to that reality. Well, I’m not currently hanging between a couple of palms on a nice beach, but I’ve done that a few times in the past few years.

One of the things I learned in Tim Ferris’ book was to outsource. Anything and everything that someone else could do, you should start getting them to do that. When I was freelance writing on Elance, I started to outsource finding the jobs for myself. I hired a VA from the Philippines for a measly $2.50 per hour (her bid on the position) and realised it was much better to pay her $10 for four hours of research than to do it myself. I’ve had a Virtual Assistant working for me for over a year and I’ve just hired a second assistant, who I’m calling my General Virtual Assistant (GVA). This assistant lives in Portugal and is originally from New Zealand. I’ve hired her to handle my emails for me while I sleep.

I wouldn’t have been able to get where I am with my work without my VA. She’s allowed me to spend time focusing on other projects and ¬†have a lot more free time. To say it’s “changed my life” is an understatement.

I’ve hired a handful of virtual assistants and writers, so I’m pretty familiar with the hiring process. The main places to find VAs are Elance.com and Odesk.com. Here are some tips and tricks for hiring a virtual assistant:

1) Be Clear About What You Need Help With
There’s no point being vague about what you need help with – how on earth will your VA know what you need them to do!
Over the course of a week or two, every time you do a task you’d like your VA to do it, write it down. By the end of the week you should have a decent list of tasks your VA can start on.

2) Don’t Overwhelm Your VA
I’ve recently hired my GVA and she’s not as experienced with Gmail as I probably should have requested, but she’s willing to learn and has a great email manner. I’ve started things by giving her a few tasks at a time so that she’s not overwhelmed. I think it’s better to ensure she’s got part of the job mastered before expanding. Some things you’ve been doing for weeks, months or years might seem obvious or really easy to you, but what would they be like if you’d never done them before? I think it’s important to gradually introduce tasks and ensure everything’s going well.

3) Be Culturally Sensitive
You should take time to see when your VA’s holiday periods are, if there are any days of the weeks or times that they can’t work. Both my VA and GVA are stay at home mothers, so I like to make sure that the work I give them is flexible around their family schedule. For me, most tasks aren’t hugely time sensitive and as long as they’re done on the same day it’s fine for me. You should do a little reading about what the culture is like in your VA’s country. You might find that certain Asian cultures, for example, don’t tend to speak up with something is wrong so you might need to make an extra effort to ask your VA if there’s anything they need help with.

4) Pay them Fairly
It can be hard when you’re self employed and hiring staff, because your instinct might be to pay them as little as possible. My VA bid $2.50 on my job posting as her hourly rate, which is outrageously cheap for a western wage, but she’s in Asia. I asked around and found out what a good wage for an assistant in the Philippines and have adjusted her pay to that rate. She also gets a small commission so that when my business is doing well, she’s doing well too. I could’ve kept her on that low rate, but chances are she would have moved onto something better by now.

5) Give them a Trial Period
Make it clear to your virtual staff that you’re going to do a trial period, whether that’s a week, two weeks or a month. That gives you a bit of time to see how they work and it also lets them get a feel for the job, too. Of course I always pay for the trials but if it is obvious the VA is not going to be able to do the job, I don’t continue the trial just for the sake of it.

Hiring a VA can be one of the best things you ever do for your business, your life and your stress levels. If you don’t take the time to find a good VA you might actually find yourself with more work in the end.

Have you ever hired a VA or any virtual staff? What was your experience like? Let me know in the comments below.

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