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How to hire a virtual assistant for your business

I clearly remember the moment I decided to hire a virtual assistant (VA). As my business started growing, I realized that more clients meant more work to get done! Pretty soon, I was so busy that I was missing emails and failing to get back to people because I just never had the time. I knew this couldn’t continue—so I tracked my time for a week or two, hoping to get some insight on where all my hours were going. 

Looking at my time log, I discovered that I was spending eight hours a week just scheduling meetings with people. Worse, I hated it. All those back and forth emails. Then once I got agreement on a time and date, I would screw up the calendar invite half the time. Are you kidding me? Right away, I could see the value in outsourcing this sort of administrative work to someone else. By hiring a VA, I would get back at least 32 hours a month that I could spend building my business or working on client work!

How to hire a virtual assistant for your business

So when I see my clients struggling to keep up with all the admin work that goes into running a business, I’ll suggest they hire a VA to take some of that load off them—so that they can focus on the strategy behind their business. 

But I know from my own experience that outsourcing to a VA can feel like a daunting task, especially when you’re already so busy. Luckily, hiring a VA isn’t as hard as it seems. 

Should you hire a VA?

First off, not every business owner should hire a VA right away (or ever). But I think a good percentage of business owners would benefit from it. 

To judge whether you’re at a right place to hire a VA, ask yourself: 

  • Am I willing to trade some of my money to get some of my time back? 
  • Am I spending way too much time on admin tasks that someone else could easily do?
  • Are there things on my weekly to-do list that I always dread doing (or that I’m NOT doing)?

The key is that you must have enough business that you can sell enough of the hours you are “buying back” so that you can pay for the VA’s time, and you must have some tasks you currently do that aren’t related to the overall strategy of running your business (such as accounting, scheduling, communication, or managing your website). 

How much does a VA cost? 

One of the biggest misconceptions about hiring a VA is that it’s too expensive for most business owners. But the truth is that hiring a VA is not a huge expense. 

For example, the hourly rates of a VA in Chicago range from about $19 to about $31, though some could go as high as $50–$75 per hour for specialized work. If you hire a VA at $22/hour for five hours a week, that’s only $440/month. Most business owners I know don’t need to start with many more hours than that. The most I have ever paid a VA is about $650/month. 

How to hire a VA

You might think that the first thing you should do is start interviewing VAs. I don’t think so. I recommend that business owners prepare first and then look for a VA. You wouldn’t start looking for candidates for a full-time job without creating the job description, right? Hiring a VA is no different. 

Here are the steps for how to hire a VA:

1. Make a list of the tasks that you could most easily hand over to a VA. 

My advice? Start with just a few tasks. You can always add more later. Think about which administrative tasks you still have the most resistance to. Do you hate sending invoices? Do you put off formatting your newsletter until the last minute? Start with those things.

2. Create a procedure guide for those tasks. 

This is what you’ll give to your VA to take the task over from you, so it needs to be detailed and clear, noting every step along the way. You can make a video (using screen recordings), or you can create an outline in Word or Google Docs. Here’s a sample procedure guide I made.

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3. Find a qualified VA candidate.

Look for someone who specializes in the area you want to pass off to a VA. So, for example, if you’re going to hand off your email newsletter formatting, find someone who knows their way around graphic design and the email tool that you currently use. 

I recommend three places to start your search for a VA:

  • The International Virtual Assistants Association (IVAA) directory. This directory includes hundreds of qualified VAs available for hire. You can search by services, keyword, or location. 
  • Horkey Handbook. Horkey Handbook is another VA-specific directory, and they will compile a shortlist of candidates for you that match what you’re looking for. 
  • Upwork. Upwork is a freelancer marketplace, where hundreds of VAs are available for hire. You can create a job listing and interview the candidates that apply. 

Another good option is to ask someone you know has a VA for a referral. Chances are, their VA will know a qualified person to recommend.

4. Reach out to the VA you are considering hiring. 

It’s a good idea to send them the procedure guide you created and ask them to share similar projects they’ve done in the past. You don’t want to hire someone who hasn’t done this type of work before, so ask for proof and talk to references.

5. Interview your candidate over the phone or video chat. 

This is your opportunity to make sure this VA is the best fit for your business. That means asking questions like…

Have you done this before? 

  • What problems have you run into with similar projects? How did you fix them?
  • How did you get good at doing this task?
  • What kind of questions do you ask your clients? What kind of meetings do you have with them? 
  • What kind of reports do you provide? (If applicable.)
  • Where do you get your stock photos? (If applicable.)
  • Do you have any examples of your work? 
  • How much do you charge? And, how do you charge (hourly or by project)?

Throughout the interview, be on the lookout for how well they communicate with you. Bad communication will tank any business owner–VA relationship! 

It’s also crucial that you get along and like one another because you will be spending a lot of time communicating back and forth.

6. Do a paid trial run. 

You don’t want to be locked into a months-long contract if it turns out that your new hire isn’t the best VA for your business. So, suggest that your VA start on a paid trial basis, either for a small amount of time (such as two weeks) or for a single task/project. 

7. Hire your VA for the long-term, but build in regular check-ins. 

Once you’ve completed the trial project, you’re ready to go all in. You’ll likely find yourself thinking, “I wonder if my VA could do this,” more and more often! So, keep your communication lines open. Set a time every week or two to jump on the phone or video chat with your VA and just “check-in.” They might even have some pointers for how to make your relationship more efficient!

Tips for hiring the best VA for your business

Over the years, I’ve learned a few things about working with a VA—both what to do and what not to do. Here’s what you should keep in mind to make sure your first VA hire is perfect for your business: 

Don’t expect one VA to be great at every task you want to outsource. Instead, hire a different VA for different tasks. For example, I have one VA who maintains my calendar, another who does my bookkeeping, and another who manages my email marketing.

Find a VA who lives in your timezone to make communication easier. You likely won’t have to meet in person, so the city they live in isn’t essential. However, a few hours of time difference does make everything more challenging.

During the interview process, communicate with them at least once via the channel they’d be using to communicate with you or on your behalf. That could be phone, video chat, or email.

Look for someone who is a problem solver. The last thing you want is for your VA to come to you with every little problem! Find a VA who is proactive about solving your problems, rather than just following orders.

Make sure the VA you hire is in it for the long-term. You don’t want to spend weeks getting comfortable working with someone, only to have them quit after three months.

With your first VA, start with just one or two basic tasks to make the transition smooth. You can always add more jobs later. 

Ask your VA to keep the procedure guides up to date. As software or processes change, make sure your VA maintains the procedure guides to keep them current. If you ever have to shift work to another VA, those up-to-date guides will save you a lot of time and effort.

Hiring a VA can be a massive boost for your business

Today, I’m working with five different VAs to handle the aspects of running my business that I’m either not good at, don’t like doing, or spend way too much time on. This has freed me up to focus on the parts of my business that make me happy (like working with my clients). It’s also allowed me more time to devote to working on my business so that I can strategically grow it. 

But don’t just take my word for it. I actually did the math to make sure that my VAs are a great investment in my business: after hiring a VA, I got 20% of my time back, and even if only half that time went to billable projects, I’ve already increased my income by 10% (which is worth way more than the few hundred dollars I pay her)! 

What could you gain by hiring a VA? 

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