Should you hire a virtual assistant? A freelancer’s cheat sheet

hiring a virtual assistant
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The idea of having a personal assistant has stuck with me ever since I first heard about it back around 2010.

I mean, wouldn’t you love to have someone following you everywhere you go, with a calendar and pen in hand and handling all your “things” – so you wouldn’t have to worry about meetings, appointments, emails, any of that! Just so you could become the movie cliché CEO -type of person.

Yeah, I wanted that, but at the same time I knew I didn’t have $40k a year to spend on an actual person to follow me in real life, so I needed to find a cheaper solution … so I went online.

And this brings me to the whole idea of a personal virtual assistant (VA).

But even though we’re not talking about $40k a year anymore, do you really need to spend your hard-earned cash to have a guy (or gal) taking care of what you can do perfectly well yourself?

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer here, so let’s look into some of the individual scenarios to find the right answer for you personally.

Freelancers and VAs – is the match any good?

Every freelance designer has a lot of things on their plate. I mean, there’s a huge difference between being a designer at a firm and being the firm.

As a designer, you “only” have to design. As a freelancer, the design is just one of the things you do.

It’s kind of intuitive that some of those other tasks can be delegated onto someone else, so you don’t have to worry about them and instead can focus on what you’re best at, plus you can focus on growing your business.

For instance, if you’re doing a lot of marketing and outreach in your business (or want to start doing a lot of it), a VA can handle all of the research for you. They can find new leads, new prospective clients, new partners, new blogs to guest post at, and so on.

However, let’s not get ahead of ourselves here.

When to hire

Or should I say “when not to hire.”

Not every freelance design scenario calls for a VA. Mainly, if you’re just starting out, you don’t need to be investing in a VA relationship.

At all.

Two reasons for that:

  • If you’re just starting out then you most likely don’t know which exact tasks would be better off handed over to a VA – you don’t have the experience doing them yourself yet, and
  • you don’t know how to prepare a script (or rules-of-engagement) for handling those tasks effectively – again, you don’t have that much experience doing the tasks yourself when you’re starting out.

The trick with VAs is that the whole idea of hiring them is very different from hiring a contractor, or finding someone to be your partner in crime.

Hiring a contractor is about working with someone who knows certain areas of business better than you. Working with a VA, on the other hand, is about teaching the VA what you already know, and letting them handle it within your existing processes.

It’s an apprentice-like relationship.

Taking all of the above into account, I’d say that the best moment to hire a VA is when you have your daily routine and your business processes mostly figured out, and also, when you have the funds to actually hire someone.

Here’s a cheat-sheet you can use to decide whether or not you should hire a VA:

  • Do you have $400+ to spare a month on a VA (full-time) or $250+ (part-time)?
  • Do you have specific tasks that you know someone could help you with, and you know exactly how they could help?
  • Do you have specific tasks that you know you shouldn’t be doing yourself? Maybe they are not the best use for your time, or maybe you just don’t like doing them (by the way, if you don’t like cutting your PSDs into HTML, you know where to go).
  • Is there some area of activity you’d really want to include in your business, but don’t have the time to do it yourself (like finding leads or specific marketing tasks)?
  • Do you know how to do all of those tasks yourself?

If that’s a yes then go for it!

Where to hire

There are two paths you can follow here. If you want to hire someone from the US, UK, Canada, etc. then you need to be ready to spend $2000+ a month. That’s the expensive path.

The cost-effective path is to find someone in the Philippines (or India). This is what I did, and what I encourage you to do as well.

There’s a number of agencies and job sites that will help you with your search, but I’d advise sticking with just two: OnlineJobs.ph, or Virtual Staff Finder.

The former is a reverse job board where people create profiles and offer their services. The latter is an agency that works with you individually. They do the actual work finding the best person for you.

OnlineJobs.ph is a $49 a month membership, but let’s face it, you only need it for a month. Virtual Staff Finder is $395 one-time payment, so a bit pricey.

I have direct experience with both sites, and in spite of the extreme cost difference, Virtual Staff Finder takes the crown here. Right after your purchase, you get a personal customer service representative that will guide you through the process and bring you to the point of hiring your VA.

Of course, apart from the costs of hiring itself, you also need to factor in the salary that will follow shortly thereafter. So to find someone who’s skilled and ambitious, you need to be ready to pay them anything starting from $400 for a full-time effort.

How to hire

As I said, even if you’re working with an agency that will send some people your way, it’s still only your responsibility to pick the best candidate.

The people that will be suggested to you will have a lot of different skills, Photoshop, writing, blogging, WordPress, Excel, and whatnot. It’s good to browse through them and pick what seems the best for you.

There are two elements to focus on in your process:

  1. Testing. Yes, start with testing. Once you’ve found a person you’re considering, send them a test consisting of 2-3 tasks. Those tasks should be the exact mirror of what they will be doing if they get hired. You simply want to check how well they can cope with them right from the get-go.
  2. Interviewing. if you’re satisfied with the test, it’s time to interview the person. Nothing fancy here, just Skype. This is about checking if the vibe they’re sending is something you actually enjoy.

After that, if you like the person, there’s nothing else to do than hire them.

Or is there?

Mistakes and other things that will happen

There’s just a couple of things I want to guide your attention to:

  • Make sure the person has a PayPal account. In 99 percent of the cases, this will be your payment method.
  • Realize there’s no one-VA-for-everything. Hiring VAs is most effective when you need them for specific tasks. You almost certainly won’t be able to find one person that will be great at everything … blog posts, editing, marketing, outreach, accounting, and audio recording all at the same time.
  • Don’t expect them to be better than you at the things you want them to do. It’s basically your task to teach them the fine details of your business. They won’t have that knowledge from the get-go.
  • Be aware: some of the candidates won’t even respond to your test. That’s the unfortunate truth, but for some reason, people tend to disappear when you send them your test. Maybe they don’t feel confident about their results, or they simply don’t want to invest their time. Either way, it will happen.

Looking at my notes, I think that’s all I had to share about the hiring process itself. So what do you think about hiring a VA? Are you (and your freelance business) ready to give this a go?

Let’s discuss.

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About Karol K.

Karol K. (@carlosinho) is a blogger and writer, published author, and a team member at codeinwp.com. Check us out if you don’t like converting your PSDs to WordPress by hand, we’ll take good care of them for you.

 

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About Karol’s business: Karol is a freelance writer working with codeinwp.com, The top-notch PSD to WordPress service. YOU DESIGN, THEY CODE. As simple as that.

Comments

  1. Hi Karol
    Thank you for suggesting freelancers outsource to Virtual Assistants (VAs). We all suffer from overwhelm at times in our businesses and could do with support from someone who understands the challenges freelancers face.

    A VA can make all the difference to your business by taking care of the “busy work” which makes much more sense, freeing up your time and headspace to do your work more creatively and effectively without having to worry about the burden of doing all the admin stuff.

    You are correct in having someone else take care of this allows you to go out and source more projects or network to bring in new business.

    VAs usually charge by the hour or per project so you only pay for the work that’s been completed.
    Yes a VA can do all the tasks that you mentioned and more … many VAs are also highly skilled in Graphic Design programmes so would also be able to assist you in these areas.

    The best way to determine what tasks you want to outsource is to make a list of all the admin tasks you need to undertake and then place them in order of preference, i.e., which tasks you don’t mind doing and which tasks you absolutely hate doing. From there you can decide what you would like to outsource.

    When you have found a VA that you think might be a match for you start out by giving them small tasks to do so you can gauge the quality of their work and whether you and the VA would be a good fit.

    VAs are also highly skilled in many areas so it’s possible to find VAs who can do tasks better than you, e.g., your accounts, document formatting and would therefore also be able to do these jobs faster. Being business owners themselves VAs don’t need micromanaging and once they are given a brief are able to carry out the set task with minimal supervision.

    You can source VAs from all over the world but in many cases it makes sense to hire someone who understands your culture and where English is their first language. This can eliminate misunderstandings and speed up the learning curve, saving you time and therefore also money. Also be careful with large outsourcing firms from third world countries. Many of the “VAs” are not actually VAs at all rather employees of these outsourcing firms and their loyalty lies with their firm as opposed to the clients they support. Also you aren’t guaranteed to have the same VA supporting you. It may also be necessary at times to have a face to face meeting with your VA or have them come to your office for some tasks. If they are local to your area it would be easy for the VA to accommodate your request.

    A quick Google search will find many “freelance VAs” to choose from with their websites providing lists of services. There are also many membership forums that VAs belong to where they list their skills and services and any certifications they may have.

    In the end it just makes sense to “do what you do best and outsource the rest”.

    • Karol K. says:

      Thanks for this comment!

      About the costs; some VAs charge by the hour or per project, but I would advise sticking with the usual monthly payment. Be it part time or full time.

      You are right about starting with small tasks first. It’s a great approach to get your VA up to speed with the things you’re doing in your business.

      The only problem with hiring VAs in your local area, which probably means somewhere in the western world, is that the costs will be huge. That is why I advise searching overseas. The Philippines is a great place to start because there’s almost no cultural gap.

      • I was biting my tongue when I read this article and kind of appalled. So you Karol are saying yes it is cheaper to get a VA from a thirdworld country. Just a thought, if everyone of your clients thought, you know what Karol is expensive he lives in the Western part of the world, I am going to go pay someone pennies to do the same thing. Shame, support the people around you and they will support you back. Using someone in your country or region like Monika said will benefit you in the long run.

        I was rather hurt by this article, as yes if you cannot handle something or need more time then outsource. But honestly people support people in your country.

        This is exactly like adopting a child from Africa, and bringing them home to the Western world where there are children in need, and need to be adopted too. Support the people around you, and your customers will appreciate it.

        If I was your client, and someone that english is not their first language is receiving and replaying to your emails could be bad. Our humor is not the same, or lingo is not the same.

        Just my point of view, but I would be careful next time about how you word articles that take jobs away from so many americans.

        • Laura, I can see where you are coming from. At first glance it does appear to take jobs away from Americans. I used to be a freelancer. And for a while I saw it that way too.

          But now working with freelancers growing into small firms, I see it differently.

          First of all, what makes you say they are taking jobs from other Americans? Many entrepreneurs who hire VA’s oversees CANNOT afford $24k per year. So what job loss do you speak of? Those you can afford $2k/mo, often DO hire here because it can be a better return on investment when you consider training and management time.

          Another way to look at it is hiring someone overseas and paying $400/mo will free up the business owner to rapidly grow the business. And who does that benefit?

          How about…
          -The community that the business owner lives in.
          -Reinvestment into the business to grow even more
          -Local business service vendors
          -Hiring even more staff. US based English speaking project managers are a great investment

          Laura what I am getting at here is that it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. A mix can be a healthy way to grow one’s firm. And outsourcing provides a very cost effective option for growing small businesses– the backbone of the American economy. The same businesses that pays taxes to support communities.

          I get that it’s a paradigm shift. But like the dawning days of the horse and buggy, we have to find ways to use the global economy to our personal and community’s advantage. People in the digital world are better off looking for ways to make themselves indispensable, rather than fighting the inevitable.

          Karol, really great post. You did an excellent job laying out the whole process. And you are spot on about what you need to have in place before hiring. Nice work!

        • Karol K. says:

          My point of view isn’t about taking jobs from anyone. It’s about giving jobs.

          I can’t afford hiring a VA in the UK or the US. But I can afford a VA from the Philippines. So the choice I have is either not giving job to anyone (if I want to do the hiring in the western world), or do hire a VA somewhere else.

          So option 1 is that no one wins … I have no VA and no one has a new job. And option 2 is where at least 2 people win (me and the VA). What’s not right here?

          This is a global economy, especially on the web. It doesn’t matter where you’re from. Everyone can make it.

  2. Karol, thanks for the article and I’ve enjoyed the discussion so far in Comments. I’m one of those ‘expensive’ US-based VA’s and definitely see both sides of the coin regarding hiring US versus overseas. I’m worth what I charge and am blessed to get long-term clients who see my value.

    Another thing to think about regarding hiring a US-based freelancer VA is that there are so many of us with extensive admin backgrounds (25+ years in my case) in a variety of professions that the learning – and therefore your teaching – curve is heavily reduced. VAs like me need very little training or supervision. Also, as a business owner myself and not an employee of an agency, I get The Big PIcture. I know how American business and entrepreneurship works.

    In my observations of the VA industry, I see overseas VAs being used more for one-off tasks and simpler tasks, whereas US-based VAs are used more as long-term partners in the business. Many social media VAs are hired by start-ups, and then become Social Media Directors as they help the company grow. They’re brought in to reach long-range goals and are able to do so in a shorter time (and possibly for an equivalent amount of money when you consider ROI, no agency fees, less time wasted, etc.).

    Well, that’s just my two cents and I’m obviously biased ;) But I do thank you for an interesting look at freelancers and using VAs.

    • Karol K. says:

      Thanks for the comment. What you’re saying makes a lot of sense. And it actually gives us a hint why US-based VAs are that much more expensive to hire.

      I guess it’s all about the budget. We always get the best person we can afford. Just like our clients when they search for designers.

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