The VA (virtual assistant) industry is growing fast with a wide array of expertise, expectations, and operations.
So where do you start when you know you need help in your business but you’re unsure who to look for, how to find the RIGHT help for you and your business, and how to make the working relationship last?
I personally struggled with all of those things for a long time and many clients have reported the same headaches with hiring the right VA support.
But lucky for you, I have just the person to help you with getting all of that sorted for you: Valerie Tate.
Valerie is a Marketing VA and all-round legend, not to mention an integral part of the Optimise and Grow Online team. So, I asked her to share her insights on how our website visitors and clients can best prepare for, find, hire and work with a VA so that their business can grow easily without the headache of misaligned support.
Q: What questions do you think people should ask when hiring a VA that fits their needs/personality/work style?
Valerie: This is a great question! In my opinion, this is the most important aspect of finding the ideal VA for you.
It’s common to think that technical skills should be the highest priority. But, in reality, finding an assistant with a character, values, and communication style that mesh with yours can transform how you feel about doing business – in the best way.
1. First, take time to chat about your business and theirs
As you discuss your history, goals, and challenges, pay attention to how your candidate responds. Do they understand your industry references and terms? Are they able to participate naturally in the conversation or are they just nodding and saying “Yes, uh-huh, of course,” a lot?
If it’s the latter, you may want to question a little deeper to make sure they actually understand your business well enough to help you out.
This also gives you an idea of how well you communicate together.
Do you click? Do you share a few laughs and common experiences? Is this someone you can see yourself working with for the long term?
2. Ask them how they envision a perfect ongoing Client-VA relationship
This is an opportunity to explore the mechanics of how you will work together and if your working styles will mesh. Talk time zones, communication pathways, rush jobs, and how you would manage tasks together.
If you’re an energetic morning person who wants to have a daily catch-up call and they are an introverted night owl who prefers email, you may need to explore how you can find common ground (or move on to a better match).
3. Be real about who you are
It’s important that you are really honest about how you work. If you are a chaotic creative with eleventy-billion post-it notes or are always running late, state that upfront.
Make sure your VA is comfortable working in that type of environment.
Or, if you are uber-organised and expect your assistant to be the same, make that very clear. Ask them how they manage their own business and client tasks. Do they have a system or are they flying by the seat of their pants?
Conflicting work styles can cause a lot of misunderstandings and angst down the line, so you both need to understand how the other works and make sure you’re able to mesh your styles to create a good flow to get things done.
Bottom line – most technical skills can be taught if your candidate is smart and dedicated. But if they lack a professional work ethic, your personalities clash, or you just don’t communicate well with each other, you’re likely to run into trouble sooner than later.
Q: What’s the difference between a “VA” and a Marketing VA?
Valerie: There is a common misconception that all virtual assistants are alike, or that they are all “general administrative” assistants.
That may have been true when VAs first came on the scene, and it’s common for many VAs start out as generalists. But as the online business industry has matured, so have the VAs who support it.
Today, you can find VAs who specialise in all different aspects of online business.
A Marketing VA specialises in support designed to keep your online business marketing on track
As I’m sure you know, effectively marketing your business can require a lot of different skills. Here are some of the popular services Marketing VAs offer:
- Website management
- Blogging support
- Social media management
- Email marketing
- Analytics and reporting
- Software integrations
- Testing and proofing
Some marketing VAs may specialise in just one area, but most offer a mix of marketing services to support your business growth.
Q: Are there other types of VA out there?
Valerie: Absolutely! There are VAs who specialise in:
- Accounting and bookkeeping
- Ecommerce and shopping carts
- Graphic design and editing
- Product launch
- Project management
- Video editing and production
If you are looking for support in a particular area, there is someone out there for you.
Q: At what point in business do you think someone would benefit from a VA?
Valerie: If your business is established or growing rapidly and you realise that you:
- Have a to-do list that is growing exponentially and you can’t keep up
- Spend so much time on business operations that you can’t focus on critical strategy and revenue-generating activities
- Worry about things slipping through the cracks
It may be time for you to get some support.
There tend to be two different types of people – those who can’t *wait* to get an assistant and delegate their least favourite or most time-consuming tasks, and those who should have started delegating a while ago, but have trouble trusting someone new with their business.
If the first description sounds like you – take a hard look at your business. Is it really the right time or are you just anxious to get rid of tasks you dislike? Make sure you’re making a realistic decision before you jump in with both feet.
But if you’re the second – it’s probably time to take the leap. Take a little time to interview several candidates (give yourself a limit. Don’t procrastinate with never-ending interviews), get some references, and find yourself a trustworthy assistant to take that weight off your shoulders.
Q: What tips could you give for onboarding a VA so that the hiring process sets them up for long-term success?
Valerie: I think preparing to outsource is the step many stressed-out business owners skip. This can result in an unhappy experience with your first (or latest) VA.
What to outsource
First, do a little bit of preparation to make sure your new assistant can hit the ground running and really make a difference for you.
- Track your activities – Take several days to keep track of everything you do for your business – include the services you provide, marketing tasks, administrative work, and every other little mundane to-do, even if you think it’s something you could never delegate. Do a complete task audit of your business.
- Prioritise – Then go through your list, and circle or highlight every task that can ONLY be done by you. Be really honest here – get clear on what you must keep vs what could be done by someone else (you can decide what to actually delegate later).
- Identify – Now review the items you could delegate and determine which ones will make the biggest impact on your time and happiness when offloaded. If items could be done by someone else, but they are things you love to do, keep them! Give away the tasks you don’t enjoy in favour of the ones you do.
Once you’ve prioritised your tasks for outsourcing, you can find some help. Hiring a VA before doing this step is likely to end up badly, so it’s worth taking the time.
Be prepared for training
The more experienced the VA, the less time you’ll need to spend on training. On the other hand, if you find a newer assistant you like or if your business has specialised processes or software, expect to spend more time getting them up to speed.
- Are you prepared to do that training?
- Are documented processes available?
- Do you have relevant resources in a centralised location they can access?
Now is the time to put those things in place.
Consider what kind of training you will need to do and how much time you are willing to spend on that before you begin your search so you’ll know whether you need a seasoned VA, someone with special skills, or if a less experienced VA will work.
Consider your budget
As with most service providers, rates among virtual assistants vary widely, based on experience, specialities, and other factors. Determine ahead of time if you are open to paying higher rates for more experience/specialised skills or not. This will help you identify the right candidates.
Don’t forget that most VAs are self-employed, paying their own self-employment taxes, benefits, overhead expenses, equipment, etc. Rates should be only one of the factors you evaluate.
Once you’ve found your VA, take the time to set them up for ongoing success. Many VAs will already have their own onboarding system, including a contract for you both to sign. If not, make sure both of you have clear understanding on:
- Availability – what days and times you are available to each other?
- Communications – how will you communicate? Email? Slack? Text? FB Messenger? Phone? Video? How do you get in touch in case of an emergency or a rush request?
- Project/Task management – how will you manage tasks? Asana? Trello? Teamwork? Email? This one is really important, so make sure you have a plan in place. You need to be able to keep track of who’s doing what, all the details that go with each item, and when they are due and completed.
- Turnaround time (regular & rush) – will regular tasks be completed within 1 week, 48 hours, 24 hours, same day, or some other time period? Whatever the standard terms are, make sure you also know what happens with exceptions – will there be extra fees or other changes?
Q: When someone’s left it too late to hire effectively and everything’s a bit of a mess, how do you help people navigate that time without them losing momentum in their business?
Valerie: This is a tough one! But I think it’s something too many business owners experience.
In this situation, I would want to have an immediate strategy session to determine exactly where we stand and identify the most critical areas that need attention right away.
It’s really easy for a to-do list to get out of hand. They fill up quickly with every idea you’ve ever had about things to do in your business. But the reality is that a good portion – sometimes the vast majority – of those tasks are not critical. They can be put off until later or even deleted altogether.
So in the case of someone who is drowning in to-dos and feeling completely overwhelmed, it’s time to get real about that list.
Quickly pull out the core business items that must be taken care of to keep business moving forward and back on track and set the rest aside for the time being. Once those areas are under control, the rest of the items on the list can be pruned, ordered, prioritised, and scheduled out for handling.
It’s actually amazing how much progress you can make when you sit down with someone to help you prioritise. Sometimes the thing that is stressing you out the most isn’t really critical to your business and it takes an objective viewpoint to see that clearly.
Q: What would be your top 5 do’s and don’ts when hiring a VA?
1. Do try a trial project
If you are having trouble choosing between a couple of candidates, or you’re hesitating to commit, try a trial project. Set a specific time period to work together (30 days is usually a good amount of time, more if you have complex systems or tasks) with the understanding upfront that you will both evaluate at the end of the trial to see if you want to move forward or not.
This is a great way to “date” and see if you’d like to have a long-term relationship.
2. Do have a process
Even if you much prefer to work in a casual, unstructured way, it’s important to have some basic processes in place.
For instance, communicating new tasks should be done the same way every time (whether email or Asana or something else) or things are guaranteed to go missing. Set up a few simple frameworks for managing work to keep you both on the same page.
3. Do remember it’s a relationship
It’s tempting to slot things into categories in your life – personal, family, business, etc. Even though your relationship with your VA is business-related, it’s still a relationship. As with any other long-term relationship, there will be highs and lows. Sometimes things will be great, other times, perhaps a little tense.
Communicating openly (and often), being honest with each other, and having some empathy when things go wrong can go a long way to keep your relationship healthy.
4. Don’t forget that VAs are NOT employees
One big mistake a lot of business owners make is to treat VAs like employees. Instead, think of your VA as a colleague or a consultant. They are there to help you solve a problem and provide a service. And they are very often also business owners in their own right.
Respecting them as the professionals they are during your work together will result in a highly productive and collaborative relationship.
5. Don’t forget to have fun!
It’s easy to get caught up in the details, especially when things don’t go as expected. But don’t forget to have a sense of humour.
No matter how prepared you are, something will go wrong eventually (because hey, we’re all human!). Miscommunication will happen, a deadline will get missed or something will just flat out be wrong. Respect each other as professionals and as humans, and everything will go much more smoothly.
Even though you are conducting business together, there’s no reason you can’t also share some laughs. Have some fun!
Q: As a marketing VA, what are some of the common problems you solve for your clients?
Valerie: The most common problems my clients have are around time and focus – a lack of them, to be precise!
There are a million and twelve things that can be done to help your business grow. But we are all limited to just 24 hours in a day. Sometimes that’s just not enough!
Scaling your business requires a transformation to take place from working in your business to becoming the CEO of your business. It’s hard to do that when you’re still spending your day formatting blog posts and figuring out how to set up email automation.
I help my clients transition into that CEO mindset and focus on higher-level activities by managing their marketing and operations tasks.
Here’s a quick visual snapshot of the areas I help my clients with:
Imagine it this way – say you’ve decided to promote a new course or product. This may include:
- Building a new nurture sequence in your email marketing platform
- Creating a new listing in your website store
- Designing and scheduling out some social media posts
- Setting up a new appointment type in your scheduling software
When you have a Marketing V