The 10-Step Guide to Hiring a Virtual Assistant

Laura Holton

Laura is a professional writer specializing in content aimed at small businesses and entrepreneurs. She has helped countless startups find the information they needed to take their ventures to the next level.

As an entrepreneur, your business may well be just you or perhaps you and one other person. After all, there’s no money in your budget to afford employees. However, at a certain point, routine tasks may well become so overwhelming that you’ll be unable to dedicate enough time to your core business activities. This is the time when you need to start thinking about hiring a virtual assistant.

The benefits of hiring a virtual assistant are numerous. For one thing, you’ll learn important skills that you’ll need later to manage a team. Hiring a virtual assistant will also show you what tasks you may be able to delegate to employees in the future and which tasks you need to continue to handle yourself. Finally, a VA can help you stay organized and keep you up to date with your work, which is critical for any growing business.

Should I Hire a Virtual Assistant?

No one can answer this question but you.

If you’re working far longer hours than you’d like to, you’re unable to keep up with your workload (to the detriment of your business), or you spend far too much time on menial tasks, you should definitely hire a virtual assistant.

However, if hiring a virtual assistant is a perk you cannot really afford at this time, it may be better to wait a little longer until you’ve grown your business.

How to Hire a Virtual Assistant

Before you jump right in, it’s important to know how to hire a virtual assistant. Taking the right steps will ensure you find someone who is ideal for your company.

Step 1: Decide What Your Virtual Assistant Will Do

There are virtual assistants for just about any task. VAs can do data entry, calendar management, bookkeeping, social media management, correspondence, research… the list goes on. The point is: you need to know what you want your virtual assistant to do from the start. Otherwise, it will be impossible to find the right person.

VAs tend to market themselves as general virtual assistants and specialized virtual assistants. If you just need help staying organized, a general virtual assistant will be able to best meet your needs. However, if you need support in a particular area, you’ll want to hire a specialized VA.

Unsure about what you need? Spend a week (or perhaps a month, if your activities are quite diverse) making a note of everything you do. Decide what doesn’t require your expertise and that you could outsource to a virtual assistant.

Step 2: Figure Out Your Budget

You may have a large amount of tasks that you could potentially hand over to a VA, but this would likely be too expensive. To start, just focus on a few tasks — perhaps the most monotonous or maybe those you struggle with.

To determine how many tasks you can afford to assign, you’ll need to know how much a virtual assistant will cost. Unfortunately, there’s no clear answer — it depends on a multiple of factors, including type of services, how many years’ experience the VA has, and whether you hire from within the U.S. or abroad. As a result, you can expect to pay anywhere from $3 to $75 an hour.

Try to give each task you need a monetary value to decide the maximum you can pay a VA. Bear in mind that you’ll need to pay more for higher quality. However, you can often save money by hiring a virtual assistant who is just starting out but who does have relevant experience.

Step 3: Create a Training Program

Depending on the task, training could take a few minutes or several hours. Whatever the case, you will need to design some sort of onboarding. This will help the VA complete work to your standards and use the same processes as you. Training can be in the form of a document where you outline steps (perhaps with screenshots) or a video showing the procedure. If your original virtual assistant leaves, having this training program will make it easier for a new VA to pick up the work.

Step 4: Search for a Virtual Assistant

Now, we come to an important point: where to find a virtual assistant. You have three main option:

  • Freelance platforms
  • A virtual assistant agency
  • Job site

Freelance platforms and job sites give you access to a wide pool of candidates to choose from. An added advantage of freelance platforms over job sites is payment protection, although the interviewing process can be more restrictive.

With an agency, you’ll likely have less control over the VA you are assigned. For some small business owners, this is a disadvantage. Others, however, actually prefer this, as it removes some of the effort of finding the right candidate yourself.

 

Step 5: Write a Job Post

Critical in your search is expressing what you want and how you want it. If you’re using an agency, this could mean requesting particular services. If you’re searching for a hire yourself, however, you will need to write a job post.

The perfect job post will clearly explain what work you need along with any skills or qualifications the VA should have. This will prevent you from wasting your time on unqualified candidates. It’s also a good idea to throw in some questions. As well as giving candidates the chance to explain their skills, this will allow you to easily check if respondents have read the entire job post.

Finally, it’s important to include how many hours you need the VA to work — per week or per month. Virtual assistants who are already working for several other small business owners or who have other commitments will need to know that they have enough time for your job.

Step 6: Interview Candidates

Another extra step if you’re hiring a virtual assistant through a job site or freelance platform is holding an interview. The interview could consist of asking candidates a few simple question over text messages or it could be a phone call or video chat. This will depend to an extent on the platform you’re using, as there may be limitations to how much you can communicate with a VA before hiring.

Step 7: Create a Short Test

To assess candidates, you may like to develop a test that VAs can complete in 10 minutes or less. Don’t make it much longer than this, as it could come across as if you are looking for free work. The test should allow you to judge relevant skills, attention to detail, and ability to follow instructions. It should also be related to the work the VA will do for you.

Tests tend to be appropriate for general virtual assistants. For specialist VAs, though, it may be better to see samples of past work. For instance, if the VA will manage your social media accounts, you may like to see profiles the virtual assistant is already managing.

Step 8: Do a Trial Run

There’s only so much an interview and short test can tell you. Before committing to a long-term contract, it’s a good idea to hire the virtual assistant for a short trial period. A week could be sufficient or you may need as much as 30 or 60 days, such as if the work you have is limited. A trial run will give you both the chance to see if you’ll work well together in the long term. It will also mean that neither of you are committed to continue after the trial is complete.

If you are hiring a virtual assistant through an agency, a trial run is particularly easy. Agencies often allow you to work with a virtual assistant for a few tasks and, if you’re unhappy with the results, you can change to someone else immediately. If you use a freelance platform or job site, though, you will be back to square one — unless, of course, you have a few backup candidates in mind.

Step 9: Set Reasonable Expectations

After you hire a virtual assistant, it’s important to have realistic expectations. There will be a learning curve at the start while the VA adapts to your working style. As time goes on, though, you should expect to see improvements until the work you are receiving is perfect — or close enough.

If, to save money, you hire a VA with little or no experience, expect tasks to take longer and quality to be lower. The top virtual assistants are expensive. In the case you can only afford someone charging a few dollars an hour, you may need to rein in your expectations.

Nonetheless, after a certain amount of time, it is reasonable to expect your VA to work with minimal guidance. If the work your receive continues to fall short, don’t feel like you need to renew the contract.

Step 10: Adapt Your Approach

Some small business owners hire one VA after another but nothing seems to work out. In these situations, you need to think if there’s something you should change.

First, consider the instructions you’re providing. Is it clear what you want, how you want it done, and in what timeframe? You need to be as specific as possible. Otherwise, even the best virtual assistant will feel lost.

Next, how are you communicating? Over the first week, you’ll likely need to check in often — through messages and maybe the occasional video chat. After this, tone it down. There’s no need to schedule a chat if you have nothing specific to say. Just make sure you do give feedback every time the VA delivers work. If everything looks fine, a simple “thanks” may suffice.

Finally, think about the deadlines you are setting. If they are too tight, your VA may be unable to keep up, which could result in poor-quality work. As a result, the VA may quit to find someone who is less demanding.

Finding success with a virtual assistant requires attention to every stage of the hiring process. You need to be clear about what you’re looking for and vet candidates by asking the right questions. Then, you need to create a supportive atmosphere where your virtual assistant can thrive. Do this and your VA will become a valuable member of your team, putting your business on the path to growth.

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