How to Get the Best Out of Your Relationship with Your Virtual Assistant

Previously we look at the 3 Essential Steps to follow before hiring a VA as well as How to ensure you hire the best VA for your business.  This week focuses on starting your working relationship with your virtual assistant.

Once you have appointed your Virtual Assistant, it is important to have realistic expectations.  You both need to adjust to working together.  Plan for a trial period and gradually inch your way into outsourcing.

Learn when to outsource to a virtual assistant and when it’s faster to do it yourself

It’s almost always faster to do it yourself if it is a one-time thing.  If it’s a repetitive task, it’s probably worth training the VA to do it.

Communicate clearly with your virtual assistant

Clear communication cannot be emphasised too strongly.

No one knows your business as you do. Communicate clearly and often with your VA and make adjustments as you go.

At the start, let your VA know what your goals for your business are and how you intend to use their services to best support your needs.

First, assign the tasks including all the relevant information and clear and concise instructions that will contribute towards the success of the project.  Be sure to indicate your deadlines – most Virtual Assistants need a 24 – 48-hour time frame to complete assignments, so plan accordingly.

Provide your contact information and indicate the best way to contact you.

Provide training where necessary for your virtual assistant

Although your VA is a professional business person, it is a good idea to schedule some one-on-one training to help him/her to understand how you like things done.  This also gives the VA a chance to ask questions

Create a manual of key processes for your virtual assistant

This works especially well with repetitive tasks.  It will speed up the training process as well as provide a benchmark for a job well done.

Expect an accounting of the time spent on your business

You don’t have to micromanage your VA, but it is reasonable to expect a summary of the week’s accomplishments or tasks completed, as well as any problems the VA may be experiencing.

Make use of online collaboration tools

Dropbox

This is an awesome tool with allows for online backup, syncing, and file sharing.  It is super easy to share important documents like marketing materials, digital signature files, contracts, and more.

Google Docs

Google Docs provides a free online word processor, spreadsheet, presentation, and form service that makes collaboration a cinch.

Jing

It allows you to quickly create training videos (including screen captures) on various things you need your VA to do.

Skype

Skype allows you to have quick chats, phone calls, and video calls with ease. If you need to record your Skype conversation, there are free tools like MP3 Skype Recorder.

Asana

Asana is a great online productivity and organisation tool.  It allows you to create projects and tasks for your VA, and to track progress in real-time.

TimeTrade

This is an online appointment scheduler with automatic reminder and Outlook and Google Calendar integration.  You can simply provide people with your own personal URL so that they can set up an appointment based on your calendar availability.

Before long, the work will now get done that you didn’t have time to do before. It feels great when you actually have time for yourself.  Maybe with the extra time you have created by working with a VA, you can plan for that much-needed vacation – No, wait.  Your VA can do that for you too!

How to make sure that you hire the best Virtual Assistant for your business

Last week we looked at the 3 essential steps to follow before hiring a virtual assistant.

This week’s post is about what to do once you have received responses to your advertisement.

Once you have sent out your advertisement or request for proposals, you can start evaluating the responses you get.

Beware of responses with resumes attached.  A VA is your business partner, not your employee, and those sending a resume may still be in “employee” mode.

If you posted an ad asking for very specific information, the VA should respond answering all your questions.  If they fail to do so, you can assume that this VA does not take the time to read basic instructions and will often forget minor details that contribute to the successful completion of any task.

Also, search for grammatical errors in the responses.  You need a professional who can effectively write and convey their message.  You never know when you may need your VA to write an email on your behalf, or to help with proofreading or content creation.

Once you narrow your selection, it’s time to dig into the details.  Most VA’s have an online presence. Is their site polished and professional or does it look like a butchered template from the ‘90s seasoned with poor grammar?  It may sound a bit biased to judge them on their site’s appearance, but you have to take into consideration they are a business owner just like you.  If they have a strong online presence free of inaccuracies and errors, it clearly indicates that they are committed to this profession in the long run.

Do a Google search on the VA’s name.  What image does this person portray?  Do they broadcast the most intimate details of their personal lives to the world, or is their communication meaningful and professional?

Think about what you want the VA to do for you. For instance, if you want your VA to help you maintain your social media profiles, what does theirs look like?  It will give you a good indication of the type of support you can expect to receive from them.

Conducting an interview

The ideal is to find a long-term collaborative partnership in order to fully benefit.  Time is money, and you don’t have time to repeat this process.  That is why it is important to find a VA that will fit perfectly with your needs.

Select 3 – 5 applicants for your shortlist based on your research above.  Contact them and arrange for an interview.  Look for clues such as the response time to answer your email.  If they take a while to respond, more than likely they have a full plate with more than they can chew.

During the interview, feel free to ask them for testimonials.  Your VA will potentially have access to important business and personal information, so you need to make sure they are trustworthy.

Also, ask them about their work experience and education.  You need to make sure that their background makes them a good fit for your business.

Look for clues when speaking to the VA.  Does the VA speak with confidence and have great phone etiquette?  Were they timely and prepared for the call?  Did you feel a sense of trust and chemistry?  Did the VA listen carefully and show interest in what you do by asking smart questions?

You need a VA who demonstrates great skills and a strong business sense so they can manage your workload effectively.

After the interview

Contact the VA of your choice and let them know you have chosen them.  You can also finalise a contract, rates, hours of work, and methods of communication.

Have a straightforward contract that clearly stipulates your expectations for your virtual assistant as well as what they should expect from you.

Hire the VA for a test run.  Assign some non-essential tasks in order to see how they handle communication, as well as how diligent they are in completing the tasks as assigned.  This type of trial allows you to see whether you and your virtual assistant are a good fit.

Look out for next week’s post on how to get the best out of your relationship with your VA.

3 Essential Steps to Follow Before Hiring a Virtual Assistant

Last week I spoke to several small business owners who were interested in hiring a virtual assistant for their businesses but did not know how to go about it.  I decided to write a short 3 part series to help them to make the best decisions and to find the best virtual assistant for their needs.

A virtual assistant can help your company in ways you probably haven’t imagined along with freeing up a great deal of your time.  You never have to worry about holidays, sick days, payroll taxes, etc. as they are independent business owners and you will only pay for the time spent on your tasks.

However, hiring a VA can be a big boon to your business, or a flop.

What can you do to ensure a greater success rate in hiring a VA?

There are all types of virtual assistants.  They come from a variety of different backgrounds and offer a variety of different services.  Some are freelancers who call themselves virtual assistants because they work remotely from their home-based office, some are business owners who operate as a business and provide high-level support based on their background and experience.  Sometimes VA business owners operate a multi-virtual assistant business where they have a team of virtual assistants who specialize in different areas, so you may work with two or three VA’s through that one company.

When looking for a Virtual Assistant, these options can seem daunting. Below are some steps you can take to make the task easier. 

1. Determine what you really want in your business

You definitely need to know what your needs and budget are, as well as what you expect in return.  When you think about what you expect in return, think not only about what you need/want them to do for you, but what you want the financial return to be.

For the money you spend:

  • Will your business make more money, because their efforts garner more leads, prospects and, eventually, customers, and/or
  • Will the business make more money because of what you can do with the freed up time, assuming you earn more “per hour” than you spend to hire them – and you use that time accordingly?
  • If they are technical people, will the product or service they (help) create turn into a worthwhile profit centre?

2. Determine what a Virtual Assistant can do for you

Do research to find out what a VA can do for you.  Some places to look at include 101 Ways to Use a VA and VA Networking.

Develop a to-do list of what needs to be done for your business to run successfully.  What items are on your to-do list that you never have time to get to?  What repetitive tasks can easily be accomplished by someone else?

Decide what you’re willing to delegate.  With good instructions, your VA can complete virtually any task with minimal guidance.  Based on your list, estimate how much time you will need your VA each month and what you are willing to pay for their services. Some VA’s require the purchase of a monthly retainer plan.  They typically charge $15 – $55 per hour and give discounts if you require their assistance for more than 10 hours per month.

Also, think about how you will use the extra time if these tasks are taken off your plate.

With your plan on what to outsource you can now start looking for the perfect Virtual Assistant.

3. Create a Virtual Assistant advertisement

Once your research is done, you can create a plan based on your business needs and what options are available to ensure the best return on your investment.

Write up a detailed advertisement or request for proposal of what you need done, and what you are looking for in your Virtual Assistant.  The more specific you are, the greater the chances are that you will attract your ideal candidate.

Where to advertise for a VA

There are many places where Virtual Assistants hang out online.  You can do a Google search to find them.  There are also many job sites such as GuruPeople Per Hour, and Upwork.  However, I would recommend looking for a quality Virtual Assistant here:

Twitter

You can tweet about it.  You can instantaneously receive messages from VA businesses and people who can recommend a VA.

Upwork

You need to register to advertise.  Upwork provides nifty tools such as a tracking tool, as well as the ability to search for your ideal VA.  You can also set your budget and ask for people to bid within a fixed budget or per hour for a certain number of hours a week.

Linkedin

You can do a search to find a VA.  Those you are connected to will appear first in your search.  You can also hang around in various VA groups to get an idea of who is available and who is active.

Look out next week for the next step in the VA hiring process: How to make sure you hire the best virtual assistant for your business

Asana – a great online organization tool

I love trying new applications to improve productivity, and was pleasantly surprised when I discovered Asana.com.

Asana was developed to address the frustration of spending too much time doing “work about work.”

The founders, Dustin Moskovitz and Justin Rosenstein, developed this web application to “empower humanity to do great things.”

It works wonderfully for both individual entrepreneurs as well as teams to improve their productivity.

How Asana benefits a small business owner

A small business owner can easily create a project, break it down into tasks and subtasks to be accomplished, and assign these tasks and subtasks to his/her staff. It is a great way to make sure that all staff members are optimally engaged in reaching the goals of the organisation, because you can see at a glance who is working on what, who has too much on their plate, and who can be given more responsibilities.

It is also a great tracking tool of what has been accomplished during a set time period.

An example of how a virtual assistant could use Asana

A virtual assistant can open a Project for every client, and list the tasks, subtasks, and due dates of all that should be accomplished for each client. Every time a new task is received via email or other means, it can be added to the task list for that client. It is easy to see at a glance what needs to be done on a daily basis, as well as for making sure that none of the balls the virtual assistant is juggling fall on the ground. It is also simple to report on what has been accomplished, as the lists and the dates tasks were accomplished are already in an easy-to-use format.

I also like the ability to create repeat tasks for things that have to be done monthly, weekly, or at other preset intervals. Never again do you have to try to remember what needs to be done – it is all there at your fingertips.

If you have people that you outsource work to, you can invite them to specific projects and assign tasks to them as well as track their progress.

Asana can be used for personal projects too

It is not necessary to separate your work life and personal life. You can put all your projects and tasks into one place, so that remembering where you put certain information is never a problem again.

Asana is really a simple, intuitive online productivity tool. I can really recommend it.

5 Reasons Why Online Services Are So Popular

It does not matter whether you call it virtual assistance, freelancing, online secretarial services or virtual administrative support.  What matters is that it is becoming increasingly popular both for people working from home, and for small business owners.  As a small business owner it certainly makes sense employing contractors on this basis, as it gives you the competitive advantage in the following ways:

  • Access to superior talent.

You no longer need to try to compete with bigger companies to get the best employees.  You can engage a highly professional person for exactly the number of hours you need.

  • Reduced overhead costs.

As you rarely have to pay for healthcare benefits, paid vacations or retirement packages, you can save an average of 53% by employing workers virtually.

  • Minimized risk.

The risk of employing the wrong person full-time is minimized.  You can contract online services for as short as an hour to test whether this working relationship will be successful.  If you are not happy with an online service provider, you can move on to someone else.  You can end your relationship with the service provider at any time.

  • Limited liability.

If you employ someone for a specific project, once the project is done, you stop paying.  You are not obliged to keep them on your payroll.

  • Reduced timeframe.

When you have identified a need, you can appoint someone within a very short time frame, which means quick turnaround times and bigger profits.

Why not allow your business to grow more rapidly through online outsourcing?   E-mail Virtual Productivity Solutions to start enjoying the benefits above.  Not only can we do work you’d like to outsource, but we can help you determine your priorities and what you should outsource for optimum productivity. Your business will benefit.

The top 8 ways small business owners can benefit by outsourcing

Imagine having the access to experts for every aspect of your business.

Imagine that this access is reasonably priced.

Imagine that these experts can help you from anywhere in the world and that your business can go on even when you are sleeping.

Outsourcing gives you all the above.  It can be used as a strategic tool for making any business more productive and profitable.  Outsourcing means that you entrust the processes of your business functions to external vendors.

The main advantages for small business owners are:

  1. You only need to do the tasks you are competent at and love doing. Imagine not having to dread coming to work because you hate doing all the peripheral duties that are essential to your business success.  You will be happier and more productive if you outsource these.  You can, for instance, rather focus on building your brand, developing new ideas, or developing wonderful customer service.
  2. You save money and boost your profits.  You save money by paying for productive time only, and you don’t need to worry about employee taxes, office space, equipment, vacation time, etc.   Outsourcing helps you to improve your continuity and customer service, while freeing you to pursue profitable activities in your business.
  3. You can achieve a better work-life balance. A person loses a lot of their creativity when they are stressed and overworked.  Outsourcing frees you to take time off from work, knowing that the work or customer service does not end just because you are not there.  You and your business will benefit.
  4. You have access to world-class capabilities. You have access to new skills and highly trained professionals at a lower cost, without having to manage them directly.  You can supplement resources that are not available internally.  You therefore have the same advantages as a large company who has these resources in-house.
  5. Focus on core activities. Often small business owners are consumed by the non-core activities at the expense of core activities.  Back-office operations and administrative functions take time and energy.  Outsourcing helps you to have more time and opportunity to grow your business.
  6. Staffing flexibility. There are some times during the year that you may need more support than others.  Outsourcing allows you to increase and decrease support for your business according to demand.
  7. Time zone advantages. You can get your work done while your business is closed at night.  This allows you to provide customer support even when you are not working.  Through outsourcing you can service your customers faster, provide better quality and decrease turnaround time.
  8. Boost your productivity and efficiency. If your business goals are properly aligned with the deliverables in outsourcing, you will increase productivity.  Outsourcing providers with the right expertise and experience can actually help streamline business processes and contribute to the bottom line.

What can I outsource?

You are basically only limited by your imagination as to what you can outsource.  To get your creative juices flowing, consider the following ideas:

  1. Website creation/maintenance.  Instead of spending hours figuring out how to do things or fix mistakes, you can pay someone to maintain your WordPress blogs (setup, periodic backup, etc)
  2. Content creation.  This is a process that takes a lot of time, and can be outsourced.
  3. Video creation.  There are people who can create a high quality video at very reasonable costs
  4. Graphics are great to outsource if you are not good at it, or it takes too much time.
  5. Customization and management of key business systems, for instance having Standard Operating Procedures compiled and revised regularly, database setup and maintenance, etc.
  6. Project management support.
  7. Human resource management support.

Your success and freedom as a small business owner depends on your ability to focus on what you love and what you do well, and eliminating or outsourcing everything else.

Ask yourself:  what is the first step I need to take to become a prosperous small business owner?

Make 2012 the year that you allow your business to grow more rapidly through outsourcing.  E-mail Virtual Productivity Solutions to start enjoying the benefits of outsourcing.  Not only can we do work you’d like to outsource, but we can help you determine your priorities and what you should outsource for optimum productivity. Your business will thank you.

6 Steps to Find the Best Freelancers Online

As a small business owner you can outsource the tasks that you are not good at, so that you can focus on growing your business.  You don’t need a huge budget in order to outsource.  In fact, you can hire freelancers for small things, and then work your way up as your business grows.

But you could, however, feel that there is too much risk involved.  How do you ensure that a person you have never met face-to-face is the perfect person to do the job?  There are a few things to keep in mind.

1.  Be very clear with your instructions

Whenever you give instructions to people, be as clear as possible.  Many people overlook this.  But if you are paying by the hour, you want to save money by avoiding any confusion or uncertainty.

When you advertise your requirements, do it in a clear Step by Step format.  Beside avoiding confusion, you will be able to identify any potential bottleneck in the system.

You should also be clear on important items like deadlines, payment terms and any other expectations.

2. Check the credibility of your potential candidate

You want to work with a professional who provides quality work.  Some ways to check the candidate are what they say they are:

  • Have a look at the candidate’s portfolio.  Ask for examples of similar work done before.  Make sure that the candidate has worked on something similar before.
  • Contact the references given, or check for online references.
  • Google the person’s name, website name, and e-mail addresses.  You want someone with an established history.

3. Work according to milestones

If you need to outsource a big project, pay according to specific deliverables.  This protects you.  The worker is also protected if you provide an upfront deposit.

4. Expect short daily updates

Have the freelancer give you a short summary on:

  • What they did and the results they got
  • Any problems or challenges they faced
  • Any questions they might have

This way you keep on top of things.  Someone may forget to send you the summary.  It reflects on their calibre.  But for those that do remember, you can see how they are doing and fix any issues before they escalate.

5. Give regular feedback

Whether the work is done well or is subpar, give feedback.  Let people know exactly what they are doing right or wrong.  Focus on the positive, and build a strong relationship with your worker.

6.    Never hire someone full time immediately

Start by hiring a candidate for a small project.  You can then ask for more complicated work if you are satisfied.  Be sure that the candidate communicates well with you and that you feel comfortable with him/her.

It is actually very easy to ease the burden of your day-to-day tasks with a little planning and foresight.  You also have the opportunity to finish essential projects you simply don’t have time for.  If you would like to find out how Virtual Productivity Solutions can help you in this regard, visit our website.

Be more productive: get on the fast track to business success by outsourcing virtually

If you’ve been working in your business for a year or longer without support, you may find yourself going nowhere fast. It often feels like there just isn’t enough time in the day to get it all day! Do you find yourself saying:

“There aren’t enough hours in the day…”

“I don’t have time to do that…”

It’s a common belief among entrepreneurs that they can (and should!) take the hard road, or that their success doesn’t mean anything if they have help. On the contrary, quick and dramatic business growth is often impossible in the hands of one person alone. To truly succeed in your business involves building teams of professional to support your business in areas that you can’t perform. You can make better use of your time as the owner of your business doing other things.

The idea behind building your own business means you will have ultimate financial freedom and plenty of free time, along with the ability to do work that you love. The key to realizing these goals in a reasonable time frame lies in finding others that you can trust to help you.

Compiling a team of professionals who all have unique abilities but possess the same mindset for success will be beneficial for you to be able to focus on “big picture” thinking to grow your business. Whether you are just starting your business, or stuck at your current level and want to expand, you can easily begin to network to find like minds. These like minds may be missing links to help you find what is needed for your potential. By doing this, you will become more productive as you work with others on the success of your business.

Even though many business owners quit their jobs and get into business because they want to do things on their own and in their terms does not mean that they have to go it alone. By building a reliable support team, you will find the ability to expand on the success that you have only begun to envision.

Are you ready to get on the fast track to your success? Contact us to find out how we can provide the support you need to get there, fast!