If some of the hype is to be believed, everybody, but everybody, should have a virtual assistant to take over unwanted tasks and so reduce their own working week to just a few hours. Whether that’s true or not, the hype-machine has certainly been good news for virtual assistants and for companies like ours, which exists to manage VAs and match them with clients.
More and more people, regardless of their employment status, nature of business, or domestic situation, are hiring VAs for everything from public relations to personal dating (finding dates that is—not actually going on the dates).
But some who jumped on the outsourcing bandwagon have been disillusioned by the experience, and as we’ve mentioned before in this blog, the reason often has nothing to do with the skills, abilities, or work ethic of the VA.
You Need to Look Before You Leap
The fact is that even if everyone should have a Virtual Assistant, not everyone is suitably qualified to hire one…
…Shock, horror! Can the customer really wrong when disappointed with a virtual assistant’s services?
Well, quite frankly yes, clients can be the architects of their own disappointment, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Everyone can enjoy the services of a virtual assistant, if they believe in the potential value for money a VA offers—and if they understand how to extract that value.
The problem with the hype machine is that it leads lots of people to think of VA services like those of cable, Internet, gas, electricity, mobile phone, or any other utility provider.
But hiring somebody to help you work fewer hours or become more productive, is totally unlike contracting with a utility service. It’s not a simple matter of signing up, paying your bills, and leaving everything else to the provider.
In fact, working with a VA is much more like hiring and managing an employee—and that’s not something that everybody does well, especially those who aren’t experienced employers.
It’s All About Starting on the Right Foot
This post is in no way intended to discourage you if you’re thinking about hiring a virtual assistant, but rather as a recommendation for the first steps to take. You see, we’ve learned from experience that you’re almost certain to get off on the right foot with a new VA if you as a client have achieved a certain state of readiness.
The following observations and insights should be helpful, especially if you’re a small-business owner or entrepreneur who has not yet experienced the process of “letting go” of tasks and responsibilities that you currently perform yourself.
Read on to determine if you’re really ready to hire a virtual assistant and if not, discover some steps you can take to get properly prepared.
Are You Able to Let Go?
This is really the first question to ask yourself, and to answer with brutal honesty if you are planning to hire a virtual assistant. If you’re someone who always likes to feel in direct control of what’s going on with your tasks and projects, you might not be ready to hire a virtual assistant.
If this sounds like stating the obvious, rest assured that there’s a good reason to mention the point here. Giving up tasks that you currently do yourself doesn’t sound difficult. In fact, it probably sounds positively wonderful… until you actually come to do it.
Task delegation doesn’t come easily to everyone. In fact, some business owners, managers, and even corporate leaders find it extremely difficult.
In many cases, even people who do delegate tasks don’t do it well. They either delegate without providing sufficient support to the people who take on the tasks, they micromanage, or they take projects back at the first sign of trouble.
Can You Delegate at a Distance?
If delegating tasks to locally based employees is difficult, it can be even more challenging when outsourcing to a remote worker—perhaps even someone working on a different continent. This is where many people who hire virtual assistants go wrong. They think that outsourcing is simply a case of creating a few written or verbal instructions, and then letting go. What happens next?
The first time a task is not completed satisfactorily, the frustrated client takes it back, figuring she’s better off doing it herself.
Effective delegation involves a lot more than simply giving someone a task and waiting on its completion. It doesn’t matter either, whether that someone is an overseas VA or a local employee. So if you’re not sure about your delegation skills, you may not yet be ready to hire a virtual assistant.
Try an 80/20 Approach to Outsourcing
To reiterate, our guidance is not intended to dissuade you from hiring a virtual assistant, but simply to prepare you for the fact that outsourcing and delegation can be challenging… at first. It won’t take too much practice to get it right, as long as you approach it correctly.
It may help for example, to try not to even think about delegation as the giving-away of a task. Instead, think of it as reducing your workload on any delegated task by about 80%. Your 20% of the task will comprise the initial structuring, outlining, and defining of objectives (10%), and reviewing the results (10%) after your VA has completed his 80%.
The 10% given over to review should also include the provision of feedback. Inform your virtual assistant as to what was done really well and what could do with improvement. Offer tips, guidance, or more detailed instructions (if needed) for the next time your VA completes the same task.
In time, you should be able to start giving your VA 100% responsibility for some tasks. But if you think only in terms of 80%, anything more is a bonus, and you won’t be disappointed about retaining a small portion of your original workload. A saving in personal labour hours of 80% is a pretty sweet gain after all.
Do You Know What You Want From a Virtual Assistant?
Some people have an unsatisfactory experience with VAs because they don’t have any firm objectives in mind when hiring their first virtual assistant. The hype-machine to some extent is to blame for this.
With virtual assistants being billed as a sure way to shave hours from your working week, it’s all too easy to get over-enthused and into hiring mode before really thinking things through.
In addition to considering the process of delegation, it makes good sense to clarify in your own mind exactly what you want a VA to do for you. If you hire a virtual assistant only on the basis that you want to save some of your own time or to increase your productivity, you might be in for an early disappointment.
Score Early Success with Outsourcing Goals
Without clear goals in mind, it’s easy to get bogged down in the early stages of the client/VA relationship, as you struggle to decide what tasks to delegate, become tied up with creating work instructions and VA training, and find yourself managing your assistant through multiple tasks simultaneously.
When this happens, clients sometimes hastily deduce that they made a wrong decision in hiring a virtual assistant, and give up before the teething troubles can be ironed out. So before you jump into the outsourcing process, decide exactly how you want your VA to save your time or increase your productivity.
Prepare Before You Hire
After setting your outsourcing goals, it will be easier to take the following final steps in preparation to hire a virtual assistant:
- Identify the tasks or projects that you wish to outsource
- Prioritise the identified tasks, and create a sequence or schedule for their delegation
- Finally, create some instructions and/or training materials for each of these tasks or projects
The entire process of setting goals, prioritising, and preparing will help you in the following ways:
- You will be more informed about the skills you require from a virtual assistant
- You will be better able to find a VA who is a good match for your needs
- Your VA will be able to provide a better service from day one
- You’ll be able to manage your time better, and that of your virtual assistant
- Your VA will be more self-sufficient from the outset of the working relationship
- You’re less likely to become frustrated and feel that a VA is not for you
These are all real benefits of goal-setting and preparation, ensuring that your overall time saving and productivity objectives will be met and that ultimately you’ll be glad you decided to hire a VA.
Remember though, to follow this process before you even begin searching for a virtual assistant.
Ready, Aim, Hire
So what do you think? Is the time really right for you to hire a virtual assistant? If you ask yourself the questions, and run through the process described in this post, you certainly should be.
- Get yourself ready for the realities of task delegation.
- Set your sights on exactly what you want a VA to do for you or your business
- Prioritise and prepare a little, then go ahead and hire.
These actions will help you to hire a VA whose skill-set closely matches your needs. You’ll also get off on the right foot with your new virtual assistant, thanks to your preparation. Most importantly of all, you’ll avoid being one of those people who heard the hype and thought that hiring a VA is like signing up for a cable package.