How to Find a Virtual Assistant


Perhaps you are a busy freelancer or solo entrepreneur who needs some extra help on a part-time basis.  Maybe you have a small company with a totally virtual workforce, and you want to hire help for your team.  Either way, you need to find a virtual assistant!

To find a virtual assistant, first decide on the skills and personality that you want.  Next, decide how you will screen this person for skills and personality.  Then, start looking at job boards, on college campuses, and in your own network.  Finally, make the decision after testing the person and finding the right fit.

If you are going to hire a virtual assistant, you will also need to know how to manage one.  Of course, we should start off with a definition, in case you don’t know what a virtual assistant is!

What is a Virtual Assistant?

In simple terms, a virtual assistant works remotely to provide support to clients.  They may work part-time, full-time, or on a contract basis.  In any case, a virtual assistant can wear many hats.

What They Do

Some may assist clients with administrative tasks, such as typing, answering phones or emails, and booking calls, flights, and vacations.  Others may assist with limited technical tasks, such as troubleshooting computer problems or maintaining websites.  Still others may work in a role using their creativity to design a website or logo.

Sometimes, virtual assistants will act in some combination of these capacities, depending on their abilities.  In other cases, a virtual assistant will act as a sort of concierge.  This could include tasks such as ordering pizza, cake, presents, and balloons for a birthday party.  A skilled virtual assistant will coordinate these items to arrive at the same time!

A virtual assistant can make your life easier by taking on tasks that you cannot handle.  In some cases, you do not have the skill to complete these tasks.  In other cases, you need to free up time for more important things, such as high-level business meetings.

Who They Are

Virtual assistants can help to provide flexibility for your business.  However, they expect flexibility in return.  Virtual assistants could come from any number of backgrounds.  They may be parents who need to work from home to take care of children.  They could also be people who take care of an older relative, and need a flexible work schedule.

You can also hire high school or college students, military spouses, or elderly people looking for extra retirement income.  You could also hire a disabled person who can’t drive.

Some virtual assistants are professionals who have been providing remote support for years or decades.  You have to decide what skills and expertise you need – and what you can afford – before hiring a virtual assistant.

Why Should I Hire a Virtual Assistant?

Hiring a virtual assistant can save you time, money, or both.  They can also reduce the stress that frequently plagues solo entrepreneurs and business owners.  Often, you can hire them on a part-time basis without paying benefits, which saves you money.  However, assistance from a virtual assistant can be worth his weight in gold!

They Can Save You Time

Let’s say you are a business owner who travels frequently to meet with clients.  A virtual assistant who specializes in booking travel might be able to find you a cheap fare quickly.

Instead of spending two hours comparing airlines, your VA spends one hour, and you pay him $20.  If you earn over $10 per hour during those two hours, then you are doing well!

You can also use this time to build your business, hire other employees, or automate your systems.  All of these actions will increase your income or save you time.  This can allow you to earn a higher hourly rate later on.  This, in turn, gives you more freedom in when and how much you work.

They Can Save You Money

Let’s say that you bill $240 per hour ($4 per minute) for your business services.  It is not worthwhile to spend 20 minutes ($80) to reverse a $70 subscription you thought you cancelled.

However, let’s say your virtual assistant spends the 20 minutes on the phone for you.  Then, you pay him $30 per hour.  Then it costs you $10 for the call.  However, you save $70 when the company reverses the charge, putting you $60 ahead.

Granted, it probably took you a few minutes to send the email asking your virtual assistant to do this.  However, you would still end up ahead.  Can you imagine the cost savings on bigger-ticket items when you have a virtual assistant doing your bidding?

Where Do I Find a Virtual Assistant?

There are a few different places you can look for virtual assistants.  One place is online job boards.  Keep in mind that you might never meet the candidate in-person.  However, you can do a video interview via Skype.

If you prefer to meet the candidate in-person at least once, there are other options.  You can recruit at local college campuses, or from your own network.

Many college students take a full course load, and so they need part-time, flexible work.  This makes them ideal candidates for work as virtual assistants.

Some professionals in your network might want to spend some time at home with the kids while they are young.  These folks are also great candidates for part-time, remote work.

Online Job Boards

You can try to post a job on an online board like Indeed, which you can check out here.   You can also post on craigslist, which you can check out here.

If you want to hire from a different pool of candidates, here are a few sites you can use:

Conduct a phone interview via Skype before hiring someone you have never met!

College Campuses

You could probably print off a flyer and place it at a few locations on each local campus.  A few places that come to mind are the library, bookstore, dining hall, gym, and student union.  However, some people assume these flyers for work-at-home jobs are envelope-stuffing scams.

A better approach is to talk to a professor at the school.  Many professors have good relationships with many of their students, and can mention a flexible job opening that you have.  They can also make an announcement to their classes, or hand out your flyers for you.

There is another benefit to this approach.  The professor can “hand-pick” his best students, so that you receive top-notch applicants.  You can also go to specific departments, such as the visual arts or computer science departments.  This is great if you need help with logo design, web design, and computer programming.

Make sure to emphasize the flexibility of the position, and the fact that the candidate can do the work remotely.  If the hours are completely open, make sure to mention that as well!

Your Network

You can post a notice on LinkedIn, Facebook, or other avenues stating that you need a virtual assistant.  This method can fall short.  You might end up with someone messaging you that you would never hire as a virtual assistant.  In that case, you need to let the person down gently.  Otherwise, you might soon need to fire the person!

Instead, ask people to introduce you to people who have an interest in a virtual assistant job.  That way, you are more likely to receive leads that are “2nd degree connections”.  This simply means that the candidates are people you don’t already know directly.  Hiring acquaintances is much easier if you ever need to let them go.

Also, don’t ask your network to spam people with an entire job description.  Instead, put the job description in a PDF file.   Then, put the PDF in a public DropBox, and include the link in the shoutout.

What Should I Look For in a Virtual Assistant?

Aside from specific skills that you might want, you should look for someone who follows directions and can motivate himself.  Someone who gives up easily when stuck on a problem is not going to save you time or money.

Follows Instructions

A good way to test this is to include a line somewhere in the job description.  It should say something like “include the code ZBA 24680″ in the email subject line when applying to this job.”

That way, you will know right away whether applicants are reading carefully and following instructions.

If you don’t feel that this is enough, include another test.  In the job description, ask for an email greeting of “Salut!” or something similar.

Self-Motivated

This one is a bit tougher to test for, but it is still possible.  Send the person a challenge, and see how they respond.  For instance, ask them if they can find a certain coin (or stamp, or whatever) on eBay.  This coin should not actually be available, or maybe it doesn’t even exist.

What’s important is how the candidate deals with this challenge.  If he emails you back and say “I couldn’t find it on eBay”, I would pass on the candidate.  He may have searched for a while, but he is not a problem-solver.

If he emails you and says “I could not find that particular coin on eBay, Amazon, or craigslist.  So, I called up three coin dealers, and they had never heard of it.  One was helpful, and suggested that you might mean the 1907 XYZ coin.  Is that the right one?  If so, I found one here (link).”

Much better!  This candidate knows how to solve problems and will go the extra mile for you.  You can think up your own test, but make sure to set a time limit (e.g. 1 hour) so that a really great candidate is not pulling out his hair trying so solve the impossible.

Technical Skills

This will vary depending on your needs.  This could be something as simple as typing speed, ability to create spreadsheets, and format documents.  It could be as complex as editing photos or audio/video, or maintaining a website.

Whatever you need, make sure to ask for references from someone who can vouch for these skills.  If you can, ask the candidate to complete some type of skills test.  Some companies that connect you with virtual assistants might administer these tests.  However, you won’t really know the results for sure.

Soft Skills

If your virtual assistant will be making and receiving calls, he or she should have a pleasant phone demeanor.  You can test this during a phone interview.  You can also test it after hiring by having a friend call and pretend to be a customer.

It might also help if your candidate has good negotiation skills.  That way, he can deal with annoyed customers or suppliers and vendors.

If you have a team and your virtual assistant will be supporting them, then communication skills are even more important.  Responding in a timely manner to calls might be extremely important for a fast-paced company.

Sufficient Availability

Make sure that you are up-front about time requirements with the candidate.  Also, be honest about time commitments.

Example

You promise your assistant that work will never exceed 10 hours per week.

In the first week, the candidate is spending 30 hours per week or more on your tasks.

The candidate will not be long with your company, unless she is actually willing to work more.  Even then, she will leave unless you pay for all those extra hours!

If you need more hours than your virtual assistant can provide, then consider hiring two.

How Do I Manage a Virtual Assistant?

To manage a virtual assistant, you should start off by communicating expectations.  I mentioned time commitments above, but there is much more to discuss before hiring someone.  In addition, you should define all tasks clearly when you assign work.  Finally, provide feedback, both good and bad, so that your virtual assistant can improve over time.

Communicate Expectations

Lay out all of the expectations clearly.  This means what you expect from the candidate, but also what they can expect from you.  This includes information about pay, time commitments, and availability.  It also includes sick or vacation time, communication, responsiveness, quality of work, and technical skills.

Example

For this position, the pay will be $20 per hour, payable to the assistant each Monday by PayPal.

The time commitment for the work involved will be between 15 and 20 hours per week.  The assistant must log the time spent for each task, and send the total to the employer each week.  The candidate must submit the information by 3pm Eastern on Friday afternoon each week.

The candidate will respond to emails within 24 hours with a time estimate for requested tasks.  If the employer confirms the task and hours, the candidate will spend that time attempting to complete the task.  The assistant can spend up to one extra hour completing the task if needed.

The candidate should be able to type at 60 words per minute.  For example, typing a 1500 word article, from written notes, should take about 25 minutes.

Overtime each week in excess of 20 hours will pay a time-and-a-half rate of $30 per hour.  Overtime work requires agreement and negotiation by both parties.

Define Tasks Clearly

When you assign a task to your virtual assistant, make sure that the problem and desired outcome are clear.  You should also specify the solution method, unless it is the assistant’s job to research and find a viable solution.

Example

Good morning Janet,

Happy Friday!  Can you please proofread the attached report for me (1 hour).  Then, format it like last week’s “Dodd-Frank” report (1 hour).  Finally, send it back to me as a PDF?  This is lower-priority right now; I don’t need it until this Wednesday.

More urgently: I forgot to book a restaurant for tonight.  It is me and Charlotte’s anniversary, and I am in big trouble if she thinks I forgot.  Can you look around and find a fancy Italian place within a 30 minute drive of my house?  MapQuest will tell you how far the drive is from my address (123 Main St, Lincoln, Nebraska).

If you find a few good restaurants, use your best judgment and pick one – I trust you 🙂  It is ok if it takes a couple of hours to do this.

Again, don’t worry about doing the report today – that can happen on Monday or Tuesday.

Thanks!

Jonathon

Provide Feedback

Once your virtual assistant completes a task, let him know how he did!  If your assistant does a task well, tell him to do it that way in the future.  Also, refer back to that successful item (as I did in the example above).

If your assistant did not do a task well, then say so, and explain your reasoning.  Tell him how to improve and what to do differently the next time.  How else will performance improve, unless you provide feedback?

Conclusion

Finding and hiring a virtual assistant may take a bit of effort on your part.  However, the time and money they can save you might make the search worthwhile.  There is also the convenience of having good help, which is difficult to measure!

If you are hiring a VA, chances are that your company recently went remote, or your remote business is growing.  Either way, you might wan to check out my post on how to run a remote business.

If you have any questions, please leave a comment below.

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