The Way We Work
January 17, 2013 by Guest Blogger

The decision to hire a virtual assistant for the first time is a big one, and one that—done right—can dramatically improve your life.

But working with a virtual assistant isn’t as simple as pressing an “easy button” and walking away. For many people, hiring, delegating, and managing are entirely new skill sets to learn and master.

This article won’t turn you into a pro overnight, but will give you some insight into five very common mistakes people make when hiring virtual assistants, and how you can avoid them.

1. Skipping the Prep Work

The work you do prior to hiring a virtual assistant is a huge factor in your success, but it can be difficult and there’s not a lot of immediate gratification.

First, you need to document your daily and weekly activities to analyze which tasks could be delegated out. Then you need to come up with detailed instructions on how a brand new person would accomplish those tasks.

And finally, you need to write The Killer Job Description. The Killer Job Description explains in detail what your requirements are, and describes the ideal candidate. This document serves three important purposes:

  • It sets expectations in advance.
  • It shows a bit of your personality to applicants.
  • It sets both you and your new hire up for success.

For more guidance on writing The Killer Job Description, check out this post on the oDesk blog.

I would liken the prep work for hiring a virtual assistant to the prep work necessary to paint a house. In both cases it’s not initially rewarding, but it’s impossible to do a good job without it.

2. Forgetting That You Get What You Pay For

When compared to hiring someone full time and in-house—or working extra hours to do the work yourself—it’s clear that hiring a virtual assistant can be the most cost-effective option. And while the potential low costs of hiring a virtual assistant are very real, it’s easy to get caught up in cost savings and try to pinch every penny.

The truth is that in most cases, you get what you pay for. A low bid may look attractive, but treat it as an outlier in the dataset, and consider that maybe the applicant didn’t really understand the requirements laid out in The Killer Job Description.

It should be noted that higher prices don’t always translate to higher quality, but that going with the absolute cheapest option is often a recipe for disappointment and higher costs in the long run.

3. Expecting a Plug-and-Play Solution

Like the best Christmas presents, “some assembly may be required” when working with a new virtual assistant for the first time.

Don’t disregard the time it takes to successfully onboard a new team member—they’ll need to be trained in your systems and processes, and will take some time to ramp up. Even with highly skilled workers hired in-house, there is still some “runway time” before they reach full productivity. The same is true with virtual assistants.

4. Aiming for One-Stop Shopping

In real life, we wouldn’t expect to hire a Web-Developing, Content-Writing, Graphic-Designing, Bookkeeping, Appointment-Scheduling, SEO-ing, Customer-Servicing Pro, so why expect all that from a virtual assistant?

As with any professional, virtual assistants have certain areas of work they specialize in. Sure, you can find some jack-of-all-trades people, and this may actually fit well with your objectives. But how good are they going to be at any one area if their attention is spread across so many different roles?

It’s like eating at The Cheesecake Factory. When the menu is the length of a short novel, what are the odds that any one dish (aside from perhaps the cheesecake) is going to be best-in-class?

Hire people to do what they’re good at, and you’ll both be happier.

5. Micromanaging

Aside from saving money, the other reason most often cited for hiring virtual assistants is saving time. So it is surprising that many first-timers undo their time gains by micromanaging their virtual assistants.

There is an understandable fear in working with someone far away. How will you know if they’re really working?

To combat this, consider establishing a set of deliverables and ask for daily progress reports. This should help avoid the urge to be constantly checking up on your virtual team.

If you prefer a little more oversight you can check oDesk’s Work Diary, which gives you information about your team members’ activity. But the easiest way to tell if your virtual assistant is working is to simply keep an eye on the results.

Do you have any best practices to add about working with virtual assistants? We’d love to hear them in the comments section below!

Nick LoperNick Loper is an online entrepreneur and lifelong student in the game of business. His most recent project is, a directory and review database for virtual assistant companies. He has been using online work since 2005 and is the author of Virtual Assistant Assistant: The Ultimate Guide to Finding, Hiring, and Working with Virtual Assistants.



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  • Kimber Lee

    Great post!

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  • Vinay Patankar

    Awesome post, we have used VAs on Odesk for a long time. actually we have been building a tool to help manage them better. It allows you to create recurring processes and track as your VAs complete them. Check it out here:

    Its free to sign up for a trial

  • Steven Williams

    Thanks for sharing such useful tips for hiring a virtual assistant. Really a great help for avoiding common mistakes while hiring a VA.

  • Armie Cabrera

    These are really good points to ponder. Thanks for sharing this! Great read!

  • Daniel Keltner

    Nice Post. It really help to get best VA among many if we try to avoid these common mistakes.

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  • Annabel Greene

    Talking about Virtual Assistant, you can hire a dedicated virtual
    assistance for your work this blog is giving great info about Virtual Hiring,
    lots of people faces problems regarding Virtual Assistance they are confuse
    about Virtual Hiring, how they can hire good and dedicated virtual assistance,
    you can hire a firm also who can hire Virtual Assistance for you.

  • jackAustin

    Thanks for sharing such a interesting blog on virtual assistant. please inform when your blog gets updated.

  • Hiring a Virtual Assistant

    “Treat your Virtual Assistants as real human beings and assume that they will do their best to help you” – that’s one of the best practices I did working with my VAs and it really works :)

  • models

    Hello Everyone,

    Great advice! at the first my when I went to hire a assistant, I wasn’t sure they can work for me or not, but I Hired One from Trade Virtual Services. and now I am very happy with them its been around 6 month. and they are performing very well on my daily admin task.

    I would highly recommend them.

    Thank you Trade virtual Services
    you guys are rock.:)

  • Tinju Ashok

    Great advice! I know I have been guilty of all of the above! I really appreciate the advice to overcome fear, especially of doing anything outside of my comfort zone. You’ve given me a little boost of courage! Thanks, Nick!

  • Freelance VA

    Very well thought ideas.
    For over four years now, I’ve been working as a freelancer and have worn too many hats I could possibly remember. But there are certainly skills and passion that stick together that a VA can say, ok, this is what i’m good at.
    One other thing that makes a VA employer would successfully work is to ensure that you don’t leave the human side of working together. It’s good to get to know each other in the process and not just making sure you get the ROI or your salary.
    I love to work with someone who treats me as as person and not just an outsourced guy from the other side of the planet.



  • Mark Gerson

    Thanks for the great blog on “The 5 Most Common Mistakes People Make When Hiring Virtual Assistants”. I own a Portland Oregon Call Center and I’m sure my employees and I will find your information very helpful. Keep up the good work.

  • Saif

    Excellent post. I think the timing of the virtual assistant should be same as they should be online at same spot to work together. Excellent post.
    Thank you

    • Nick Loper

      Hi Saif,

      Thanks for the comment. You’re absolutely right — working with people across different timezones can be big challenge!