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.
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 Loper is an online entrepreneur and lifelong student in the game of business. His most recent project is VirtualAssistantAssistant.com, 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.