How to hire a virtual assistant in 8 steps & get your money’s worth

by Ananya Sarkar
hire a virtual assistant

You are living your dream at last as an entrepreneur – doing what you love, exercising complete control over your work, and being answerable to no one but yourself. But at times, does it appear like there are not enough hours in the day to get all things done? 

When your venture is young, spreading its wings can be tough in a sky of rising competition. In this context, it makes sense to have an extra set of hands in the form of a virtual assistant. A trained professional and ultimate multi-tasker, a virtual assistant can help to run your business more efficiently and make your life easier.

Table of Contents

Benefits of hiring a virtual assistant

Why should you hire a virtual assistant? Well, there’s a long list of benefits. First, it saves you money. Since the virtual assistant will be helping you remotely, you can cut overhead costs. Generally, virtual assistants work from their own homes, which omits the need to pay for office supplies, additional office space, or beverages. 

Some of the responsibilities of virtual assistants include tasks like managing your email and maintaining spreadsheets. Daily tasks like answering phone calls, data entry, managing payroll, and communicating with clients and vendors translate into higher productivity for you. Once you hire a reliable virtual assistant, you can enjoy the added strength to focus on growth.

Though it is undesirable, we are all aware of the dreaded office politics that can take place in the everyday workplace. With a virtual assistant, you don’t need to worry about possible conflicts between coworkers. Since they will be operating from home, they are likely to get along well with other employees.

One of the best parts about hiring a VA is that you can pay them per task. This means that you shell out money based on the number of hours the VA devotes to the work or the scope of work undertaken. This is a godsend for any small business owner keen on reducing costs. You pay your VA only when you utilize their services and not for any idle time during breaks. Since your VA is an independent contractor, unlike a full-time resource, you only need to pay an hourly fee. There is no fixed salary, health insurance, and other employee benefits to worry about. 

Identify the need for a virtual assistant

The signs that you need a virtual assistant can be telling. Let’s get down to some of them. If you find that your business needs skills you do not have, it might be a good idea to hire a VA. For example, if you know nothing about website design and development and are looking to create an e-commerce site to sell your products. A virtual assistant with a specialization in the above field can help here and take a load off your mind. 

Again, if you are vacation-deprived and need more time off but are reluctant to take it, you could do well with a VA. As an entrepreneur, deciding your work hours and calling the shots can be great. But if you do not get the time to step away from business, perhaps it’s time to bring in reinforcements.

It’s hard to grow the bottom line when large chunks of your day are spent billing, invoicing, booking, e-mailing, and so on. While admin tasks are necessary, they can often distract you from focusing on the core business. Also, you may not get the time to do what you do best.

8 steps to hire a virtual assistant

1. List the tasks you want to delegate

The work you need to outsource could be low-value tasks that do not make the best use of your time, even if you are good at them or enjoy executing them. These can be the most difficult to outsource but can make a great difference in your work process. Another type of task is those that you don’t want to do. These are assignments you do not like or enjoy doing. Lastly, there are tasks where you lack the requisite knowledge and skills. 

Apart from high-value tasks that you’re good at and enjoy doing, outsourcing other work is completely justifiable. Once you list the tasks and processes in your business, it might be easier for you to decide which ones to delegate.

Begin by making a list of all the tasks you intend to delegate to your virtual assistant. If these are tasks that you were earlier doing yourself, prepare training documents for the same. If you are hiring a Specialized Virtual Assistant, note down the outcomes, you want them to provide apart from specific tasks. 

2. Prepare a job description

For the next step, you need to compose a job description for the role that will be accountable for the tasks. Tasks that involve specialized skills should not be included in the description for a General Virtual Assistant. Also, all the tasks delegated to a General Virtual Assistant should be of a similar skill level. This will justify the same hourly rate. 

The job description should include background information about your company, including your industry, your products/services, and who your customers are. It should also contain the level of education, skills, and experience required. Additionally, make a list of duties and any tools, apps, or software the VA is required to use.

3. Shortlist applicants

Review the applications that come your way and conduct interviews with the top 5 to 10 candidates. Video interviews are ideal because they can help you to read the VA’s reactions through facial expressions. This, in turn, can enable you to figure out if you like someone and can get along with them well. If someone is not willing to do a video interview, it is a red flag. Avoid hiring them for your work.   

As you interview each person, refrain from asking them about their skills and work experience only. What are their goals and hobbies? How do they like to be worked and managed? What are their strengths and weaknesses? Asking such questions will help you to understand them better. You can also request the candidate to complete a free personality test. Accordingly, you can decide whether they are a good fit.

4. Evaluate applicants

Before you commit to recruiting a specific candidate, give your top 3 candidates a test task to complete. Select a type of task that will be a part of their regular responsibilities, and observe how well they perform. Allotting a real task to your candidates will help you determine who is the best. 

5. Conduct a trial run

Once you choose the best candidate for the job, consider starting them off on a trial period. This could be 30 days, 60 days, or even 90 days. A trial period provides your Virtual Assistant with a greater incentive to do a good job for you since their performance can lead to a longstanding role on your team. Also, have them sign a formal Service Agreement to prevent any data leakage and/or other discrepancies in the future.

6. Clearly state expectations

For things to work out well, you need to be clear about your expectations. These include what you need, how much you need, turnaround time, frequency of progress updates, and so on. 

Ask yourself, “What’s important to me?” and take it from there. Clarity regarding the types of work and overall behaviors important to you is vital. Your virtual assistant cannot meet your expectations if you do not define them for yourself. So, figure out what success appears like to you, both in terms of work outcomes and your relationship with your VA.  

 If you have a detailed task list with a clear, step-by-step process made in advance, it will help you to get what you are looking for. However, there are other types of outcomes to be considered as well. For example, what is your communication style? Would you like to be in constant touch with your virtual assistant throughout the day, or would it be too tedious? Do you want your VA to save their questions and put them forth to you at specific times of the day? Again, when your virtual assistant faces a roadblock, would you like them to approach you straightaway, or would you prefer them to come up with an idea for a solution before approaching you? Consider what other values and behaviors you prioritize that your virtual assistant needs to know to be set up for success. 

7. Delegate

At this stage, you are ready to delegate. Convey the task’s objectives and expectations clearly to the virtual assistant. To confirm that they have understood properly and are on the same page, it is a good idea to have them recap your instructions. Consider documenting your business standards, style guide, and other guidelines – all that your VA needs to do their job well. It is noteworthy that even the most expert virtual assistant is only as good as your guidelines. 

Whenever you assign a time-sensitive task, be clear about the deadline. Also, make it known if you expect the assistant to report to you every day, once a week, or once in every set period. If a task has staggered deadlines, note them down.

Another important thing is the avoidance of micromanagement. Do not delegate a task and then micro-manage it all the way. You can certainly invest time in training your VA and monitor their work closely the first time they perform. But once that’s done, and you have set all the task parameters, you need to let go and let your virtual assistant do their thing. Have faith in the collaboration.

8. Keep the VAs accountable

It is important to keep your virtual assistants accountable. For this, consider conducting regular check-ins with your remote team members to make sure the desired productivity is maintained.  It enables you to review employee performance, supervise productivity levels over time and find ways to improve individual and team efficiency. Additionally, checking in with your workers enables you to support them through any issues they may face.

You can use time tracking tools to manage employee productivity. Time Doctor is one such great tool. It is used by both large and smaller businesses for efficient remote team management. Time Doctor allows you to track the time the VA spends on each task and project and analyze their productivity through detailed daily and weekly reports. Additionally, it ensures that the VA is actively working by sending distraction alerts after a span of inactivity. If you have more than one VA working for you, you can also receive attendance reports marking each individual as present, late, partly absent, or absent. 

There are also quite a few project management tools that can help to keep your VAs accountable. Platforms such as Trello, ClickUp, and Asana can make you stay updated on each task’s progress. These tools provide you a quick overview of all your projects and help in assigning tasks to your VA.  Through these, you can check if the assistant is meeting their required work milestones and, if not, the bottlenecks that need to be looked into.  

FAQs about virtual assistants

1. What exactly does a virtual assistant do?

A virtual assistant is generally a remote employee who provides administrative and other support for you and your business. They can perform tasks that an executive assistant would usually handle, such as making phone calls, scheduling appointments, arranging travel, and organizing emails. A specialized virtual assistant can also take care of tasks like website design and development, handling accounts, writing, and SEO. A virtual assistant works as an independent contractor, usually part-time. However, depending on the business needs, they can be hired as a full-time worker as well.  With remote work increasingly becoming popular, virtual assistants are now employed by companies of every size and across diverse industries.

Here are over 100 tasks you can outsource to virtual assistant services.

2. How do I hire my first virtual assistant?

The best way to hire a virtual assistant is to request your network for referrals. Similar to any position, those who come with a recommendation are more likely to have what you are seeking. Begin by posting on LinkedIn, along with any Facebook or Slack groups for business owners. Make sure you include the types of tasks you need assistance with and the kind of business you are running. The greater the specifics, the better quality of referrals others can send you.

If you are not able to hire through referrals, use a virtual assistant service. Virtual assistant services are mainly online platforms that act as agencies for virtual assistants. This means you do not have to source the assistant, saving time. 

3. What qualifications should I look for in a virtual assistant?

In regards to educational qualifications, you can set your standard depending on the work that needs to be done. Apart from that, it is good to hire someone with exceptional communication skills irrespective of whether or not they have years of experience. Excellent written and oral communication skills are vital for a VA as phone calls, emails, and presentations are all strategic ways businesses communicate with customers and employees. 

Project management skills are another important qualification for a VA. It covers developing and implementing strategies, offering support on business projects, composing emails and other marketing content, or providing online support like web maintenance.

Being able to manage time and prioritize the workload to meet deadlines is also important. Again, having basic IT skills and being proficient in Microsoft programs is a plus. Some other important things to look for in a VA include attention to detail, a love for learning new things, good customer service skills, and reliability.

4. What is the difference between a virtual assistant and a traditional employee?

Hiring a virtual assistant is much more cost-effective than hiring a traditional employee. In the case of the latter, the employer has to pay for and provide the workspace, equipment, and access to necessary tools to complete the work. In addition, they have to provide social security, healthcare insurance, and other benefits. Most employers also pay vacation, sick, and overtime pay. To compete with similar businesses vying for employees, some employers provide extra benefits like free meals and gym memberships to retain staff. 

In contrast, a virtual assistant is an independent, self-employed contractor who works remotely, often from home. They pay for all the expenses they incur. This generally includes internet service, computer equipment, related software subscriptions, and other workspace items.  In addition, they provide their medical insurance. Also, you can pay a VA on a pay-per-use basis without having to pay a fixed salary every month.

Another main difference is location. You can hire a virtual assistant from anywhere in the world. As long as the VA has the skills and expertise you are looking for, location is unimportant since they work remotely. Traditional employees, on the other hand, need to be present in the workplace.

 In contrast to regular employees, a virtual assistant has more flexibility and can work even during nighttime or off-hours.

You can, however, assess your needs and check if you should hire a virtual assistant or a full-time employee.

5. How do virtual assistants deal with sensitive information?

At the time of task delegation, you may need to share sensitive information. In remote work, data protection is of utmost importance. To ensure that it is prioritized, have your virtual assistant sign an NDA or non-disclosure agreement outlining well-defined clauses and the consequences if they are breached. 

NDAs are also referred to as Confidentiality Agreements. It is mainly a legal document between two parties in which the maintenance of complete secrecy for all shared information is promised. The information will not be revealed to third parties without the disclosing party’s authorization. The NDA generally addresses confidential information, privacy, and so on.

Data breaches can be one of your biggest enemies. They are not welcome or expected. So, it’s best to set a concrete protocol for dealing with them if they come up. 

Choose a safe, trusted, and secure cloud backup platform. You can also enable two-factor authentication whenever your VA needs to log into your account on particular software. Contrary to single-factor authentication or SFA, this data protection method provides an extra security layer. In essence, the main idea is to make it tougher to access your account and prevent data breaches from occurring in the first place.

6. What is the average cost of a virtual assistant?

The average cost of a virtual assistant depends on several factors. One of these is experience. The more experienced a virtual assistant, the more adept they will be at work and the higher the rate they are likely to charge. 

Another thing that comes to play is the type of service. Are you looking for executive assistant-type tasks such as data entry, calendar management, and flight booking? Or are you asking for video production, website design, and copywriting services? Oftentimes, virtual assistants charge different rates based on the type of service. So consider what you are asking for when assessing rates.

If your task is a rush job and needs to be performed at the earliest, it is within a VA’s best interest to charge a bit more. This is because they need to drop everything to give you the output within a tight deadline.

Additionally, if a VA feels that your project has a lot of extra moving parts, they can charge a little more per hour. It’s basically for the related hassles.  Also, if you contact a virtual assistant from the West like U.S.A. or Canada, you can expect to pay more than if you outsource from developing nations like India and the Philippines.  That said, virtual assistants charge anywhere between $1 and $100 per hour, sometimes even more. 

7. How do virtual assistants get paid?

Virtual assistants can be paid per hour, per project, per task, or by subscription. 

An hourly rate is common for virtual assistants. You can assess how much a VA costs by the hour and pay accordingly. In this case, it’s worth investing in good time-tracking software like Time Doctor. It will show you the percentage of time the VA spends actively (calculated by mouse movements and keystrokes). 

For more complex work, a VA often prefers to be paid according to the project rather than the hour. This is common for services like website building and the creation of e-books.

In a task-based payment method, instead of paying for each task individually, you make a list of tasks and pay a certain amount. For instance, if each activity on the list takes 20 minutes, you would pay the virtual assistant’s hourly rate for the completion of all the tasks.

However, to opt for this system, you must have an exact idea of how long each task should take. If you performed the tasks earlier, then you already know this. If you are unsure, the virtual assistant can tell you, and then you can see if it sounds reasonable.

You may be able to get a subscription plan if you work with a VA agency. Typically, an agency will offer three to six different plans. Each provides you with a different number of hours per week or month and covers a range of services. Higher-priced plans tend to have some added benefits.

Wrapping up

It is common for entrepreneurs to think they can do everything themselves. However, this can lead to burnout. Additionally, they suffer from poor work quality when they lack expertise for a specific task. 

Here’s where a virtual assistant can help. VAs are not likely to be your only addition to your team as your business grows, but they are certainly the first. With a virtual assistant, you can focus on activities that will have a greater impact on your business and life. 

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