Virtual Assistants—The Answer to Your Prayers Or The Nightmare of Your Dreams
Let me start off by sharing this…
I’ve been an entrepreneur for over 25 years and for more than 20 of those years, I thought the only two choices available to having qualified team members were by hiring either part-time or full-time, in-house employees.
I knew virtual assistants were a thing, but I equated the idea of hiring one to significant challenges in training, a lack of reliability, relatability, expediency, and quite honestly, someone overseas with questionable English that certainly wouldn’t “get me” or what I needed. While all of these things can be true… I couldn’t have been more wrong.
I have personally shifted my companies from a large office building in Columbus, OH, to working from the comfort of my own home three blocks from the ocean in sleepy Satellite Beach, Florida, or from our camper – wherever our travels take us. Sometimes I work from the beach, a coffee shop, or shared office space depending on what I’m feeling that day—most importantly, the choice is mine.
And instead of an in-house team of employees, payroll, insurance, workers’ comp, payroll taxes, and all that comes along with it, we now have a contracted, highly-capable US-based 24/7 helpdesk and have grown our “internal team” to an incredibly diverse, worldwide group of 17 rockstars that I lean into only as needed, like Tom from San Diego who edited this post for me (thanks Tom). None of which are “employed”. That means no insurance, no taxes, no workers’ comp, no overtime, and most importantly, I’m only paying for the actual time needed.
I share my experience for you to know what’s possible–as some may not be familiar with the concept of working with virtual assistants and others, like me, could be stuck in fear or limiting beliefs.
And perhaps my scenario doesn’t fit your scenario because you have a retail store, restaurant, auto repair shop, gym, or similar customer-facing business. That’s okay. You can still have virtual assistants supporting you with several key aspects of your business.
Here are some ideas of how a virtual assistant can support your client-facing business.
I know this one may sound scary, but it really doesn’t need to be. What’s the alternative? Not doing it at all? A virtual assistant can handle daily/weekly transaction entry in Quickbooks, payroll (why pay the high-expense of ADP?), client billing, bill payments, reconciliation, monthly reporting, and pre-tax document gathering for your CPA. Just think about all of the time you could save with this one task alone!
Reception, Phone Support, & Scheduling
Do you really need someone to be on location to answer your phone? Imagine if your team could stay focused only on the customers who are in your store and didn’t need to choose between missing a call or taking time away from a possible sale. Gym and salon owners could keep working with their clients and auto repair shops on their client’s cars, never needing to be interrupted by a phone call—that might be a telemarketer anyhow—and magically have new appointments just show up on their schedules.
This is one area where business owners often try to do it all. Whether it’s because of the perceived cost of outsourcing or because they think they’re good at it. As someone who loves marketing, I’m going to level with you. In today’s competitive, digital world where there’s always someone faster or cheaper; half-assed, random social media posts, a questionable website, and a logo that looks like your 17-year-old nephew drew it on a napkin may have worked in the 90s, but the 90s are long gone and shitty attempts at marketing should be too. You are probably an expert at whatever it is that you do—stick to that. Source out the marketing to people that eat, sleep and dream about conversion rate optimization (CRO), search engine optimization (SEO), search engine marketing (SEM), pay-per-click (PPC), local search, Google My Business (GMB), social media, funnels, and all the other weird terms you hear about. You’ll be glad you did and your bank account will thank you.
Business Consultant or Coach
A business consultant or coach (yes, they’re different) is like a personal trainer for your business. They hold you accountable and give you the swift kick in the ass you need, seemingly at the perfect time. Depending on your needs and circumstances, they can assist you virtually via video conferencing or via a combination of remote and onsite work. I like to work with clients that I consult for both remotely and onsite for a week or more to get a clear understanding of where improvements are possible. Sometimes there is just no replacement for that outside eye looking in.
Imagine if you could articulate to someone what skills and personality traits your next perfect hire would possess, and with zero effort of your own, you were handed three perfect candidates to review and talk with yourself. Yup, a virtual assistant can handle that for you too.
Shopping & General Assistant Tasks
From Amazon orders to doctor appointments and supplier vetting, a virtual assistant can save you an incredible amount of time and money given the opportunity to do so. Have a vision of new widgets you want to sell in your store… whether you are looking for a new distributor for a hot selling product or just want to make sure coffee and most importantly, ah-hem, toilet paper shows up in time, a VA can be the perfect solution to making that happen.
The above covers just a handful of ideas on how a VA can support your brick and mortar business, and hopefully gives you some ideas on what could be possible if you don’t have a client-facing business (because there are even more opportunities there).
Now that you have some ideas on where and how a VA can support your business, let’s talk about some of the things we learned from our Shop Talk Saturday expert call with Natasha:
Get Them Off To A Good Start
Like anyone working with you, the more time you invest in training and covering standard operating procedures (SOPs), the more successful they will be. It’s incredibly important that they feel like part of the team and not some lackey that you assign bottom of the barrel tasks to. This can be easily accomplished through making them feel like part of the team, treating them as a human being, and thoroughly training them as if they were right by your side. The level of success for both them and you has everything to do with the first handful of hours you invest in them.
Treat Them Like A Human
I don’t feel like this is something I should even need to talk about, and I’m afraid that I do. In our digital, “hide behind a keyboard” world, some people can be real jerks. Remember, just because you may never see this person in the flesh doesn’t mean that they’re not a mother or father, or brother or sister, just like you. They have a heartbeat and bleed red — treat them as such.
Make Them Part Of The Team
Let’s get clear about something… a virtual assistant, whether they’re a neighbor working down the street or handling things from their own home while you sleep, is part of your team and it’s incredibly important that you help them feel that way. Everyone wants to feel like they are a part of something bigger than themselves. The better job you do helping them feel like part of the team, the greater the output and interest they’ll have in supporting you.
Just as you would with a local, onsite team, make it a point to meet regularly. If you have a full-time(ish) virtual team, establish daily or weekly meetings as may be appropriate for your needs. Those who work less consistently and still have regular tasks, once per month may do the trick. And for VAs that work on an as-needed only basis, at the very least reach out every month or so to let them know you’re thinking about them (see Treat Them Like A Human).
Give Consistent, Honest, Direct Feedback
Anyone worthy of supporting you and your business must be open to consistent, honest, and direct feedback. In fact, really they should crave it. The worst nightmare of employees and VAs alike is getting fired for all of the things they did wrong and never knowing they were doing something wrong, to begin with. To be clear, direct and honest doesn’t mean cold and heartless. It means to be clear, honest, and transparent. Instead of “right and wrong”, I like to use “working and not working” such as what you did here works—Great job. What you did with this does not work and here’s why.
Get Clear and Be Transparent
Sometimes we know we need help, but we don’t quite know why, how, or exactly with what. That’s okay— if you are honest and upfront about that. You do not need to know it all. In fact, you get what you give. So if you want to build an honest and transparent team, there’s no better way to foster that way of being than by being that way yourself. It is perfectly okay to tell your VA “Here’s what I’m struggling with. This is what I think I need, but I’m not sure. Can you help me flesh this out?” And if you don’t know exactly what you need and are transparent about it, they can go in feeling safe and eager to help you figure it out because everyone wants to be helpful. However, be sure to check yourself before you demonstrate feelings of frustration if the results aren’t what you hoped for. A virtual assistant is an average everyday human being just like you—not a clairvoyant superhero. This also means that if you know what you want, make sure you are 100% clear on your expectations. I recommend asking them to repeat back to you what their understanding of a task is based on your explanation. This will help minimize anything getting lost in translation.
So now you have some ideas on how a virtual assistant can support you in your business and you have basic insights on how to manage a VA. Now the question is, where the heck do you find a VA? Great news! You have a lot of options. I’ll give you a few ideas to get you started.
Likely, the most obvious option. Reach out to your existing network. Let your friends and family know that you’re searching for a little help and give them a general description of what you’re looking for. I was amazed at the number of people in my own neighborhood that loved the idea of picking up a few hours of admin work each week. In addition to Facebook give Nextdoor a shot as well.
One of the most well-known resources for independent contractors. Upwork, formerly Elance-oDesk, is a global freelancing platform where businesses and independent professionals connect and collaborate remotely.
FreeUp is a marketplace connecting pre-vetted virtual assistants, freelancers, and agencies in Amazon, eCommerce, and marketing. While their core customer base is within eCommerce and marketing, they work with many businesses outside of those spaces as well.
And last but not least, let’s take a quick look at a few of the most basic tools that can support you in working with one or more virtual assistants.
Book Like a Boss
Book Like a Boss is a web-based platform for scheduling appointments and selling products and services online through a custom, all-in-one booking page. Users can connect with PayPal, Stripe, or Square to collect payments, and sync with third-party calendar apps such as Google Calendar, iCloud, Outlook, and more.
Asana is a web and mobile application designed to help teams organize, track, and manage their work. Work anytime, anywhere with Asana. Keep remote and distributed teams, and your entire organization focused on their goals, projects, and tasks with Asana’s simple to-do lists.
Todoist is a strong, powerful task management software that can be used for small teams, individuals, and professionals to manage anything from a shopping list to major projects at work. Todoist can be a simple task manager or solid collaborative tool for teams alike.
Time Doctor is an employee tracking solution with advanced time tracking and attendance features. It is a web-based solution that provides time tracking, computer work session monitoring, reminders, screenshot recording, invoicing, reporting tools, integrations and so much more. Time tracking instantly improves employees’ focus and productivity.
G Suite is a suite of cloud computing, productivity, and collaboration tools, software, and products developed by Google Cloud. G Suite is Google’s answer to a number of different productivity problems facing most companies and organizations. In one suite of tools, it offers solutions for email, word processing, spreadsheets, presentation decks, shared calendars, cloud storage, virtual conferencing, and much more.
Zoom is a cloud-based video conferencing service you can use to virtually meet with others – either by video or audio-only or both, all while conducting live chats – and it lets you record those sessions to view later.
There are certainly all kinds of tools you may find helpful in working with virtual assistants in everyday business, but this should get you off to a good start. I have found these two books essential in learning about the possibilities with VAs, where to find them, and how to hire, manage, and train them.
Suffice it to say, we covered a lot of ground on May’s Shop Talk Saturday expert call. And in the midst of COVID-19, with so many thinking about what’s next for their business, there could be no better time to receive support for all those incomplete projects and tasks that have been hanging out on your to-do list for way too long.
If you’re wondering what Shop Talk Saturday is all about, it’s a bi-weekly, live, interactive Zoom call that takes place on the first and third Saturday of every month for our Small Business Owner Support group. If you’re not familiar with this free group, I invite you to check it out and see if it’s a good fit for you.
Also, I’d love to hear from you! Do you currently work with any virtual assistants? What tips and tricks can you share that others may find helpful? If you are a VA, what guidance would you give to someone who is just exploring the world of virtual assistants to help them succeed and foster a good relationship with you?