The Virtual Assistant or VA is the not-so-secret weapon of many successful entrepreneurs.
You don’t see them; they work online from remote locations, yet those who contract their services will speak highly of virtual assistants.
Case in point, Tim Ferris, author of the New York Times bestseller, “The Four Hour Workweek: Escape 9-to-5, Live Anywhere and Join the New Rich”.
Ferris was putting in 14-hour work days for his supplement company, BrainQUICKEN. The time he put in his company only resulted in stress, fatigue, and poor health. In the end, he sold BrainQUICKEN. Ferris used the proceeds to take a much-needed vacation. However, Ferris kept track of his other businesses by hiring virtual assistants.
Ferris set aside time in the day to check in with his virtual assistants. Consequently, it there was nothing that required his immediate attention he went about his vacation itinerary. Ferris came home recharged and with a new epiphany on how hiring a VA can contribute significantly to business success.
His experiences with BrainQUICKEN and his approach to utilizing virtual assistants for his subsequent businesses became the subject of “The Four Hour Workweek”. A VA can become a Valuable Asset but you must know how to qualify one.
In order to help you find the best Virtual Assistant for your business, here are 5 common mistakes entrepreneurs make when hiring a VA.
- Failure to Define the Role of the VA
Without purpose, there is no direction toward success. The same philosophy applies when hiring a VA. What is your purpose for hiring a VA? More specifically, why do you need a VA?
Some people hire a Virtual Assistant, well, just because other entrepreneurs have remote workers on their team. Building a business isn’t a game of “Follow the Leader”.
You have to chart the course and set sail toward that direction. It does not matter if you hire VA’s or full-time employees. Unless they know what their roles are, your ship will end up sailing in circles.
The first step toward identifying the role of the VA starts with determining your business needs. The key functions of your business fall under your expertise. What about the other tasks that should be attended to? These tasks could be any of the following:
- Administrative Duties – Email filtering, calendar management, appointment setting, and phone handling.
- Specialized Work – Market research, social media management, and preparation of presentation materials.
- Back Office – Human Resources, Accounting, and Information Technology.
- Technical Skills – Graphic Design, Website Management, content writing, SEO, translation, and transcription.
There are no limits to what a Virtual Assistant can do! A VA is no longer just a virtual secretary or personal assistant. You can find a VA with the skill set you need for your business.
Many virtual assistants came from the grind of a 9-to-5 office job. They have experience and have honed their skills over the years. As virtual assistants, they focused on niches that need their specialization.
Today’s virtual assistants are referred to as telecommuters, freelancers, or home-based workers. Different terms with the same meaning: professionals who work online from a remote location.
- Creating a Poor Job Description
If you want to hire the best Virtual Assistant for your business, you must give the process more thought, purpose, and strategy. Therefore, it follows that you should likewise give your job description more thought, purpose, and strategy.
Creating an ad with an inaccurate, incomplete, and generally, poor job description will not bring in the best candidates for virtual assistance work.
What are the components of an effective job description for a VA?
- Provide a detailed summary of the desired skill set.
If you’re looking for a VA to handle accounting work, what software should he/she be familiar with? Do you want someone with an accounting degree?
Is preparing financial statements included in the scope of work? Do you want someone with experience preparing tax returns?
- Provide details on the working arrangement.
What is the work schedule of the VA? Will the VA be required to run a graveyard shift? Are there time zone conditions? Will the VA be part of a remote team or will he/she be working independently?
Give an idea of your budget as well as compensation or incentives package, if any.
- Indicate your preferences.
Are you willing to hire entry-level VA’s? What is the minimum required experience? Do you prefer working with a female VA? Or a male VA?
What is the age range for your ideal VA? Are you fine with the idea of hiring a VA who has children? Do you want only native English speakers?
Or will you consider VA’s from locations as remote as the Philippines and India?
- Give the required technical specifications.
In some locations, Internet connectivity can be a problem. Make sure you include details on the technical specifications of the job.
These details include minimum Internet bandwidth, availability of backup ISP, headset, video camera, scanner/printer, and required software.
- Set the conditions for hiring.
Give interested candidates an idea of your selection process. Let them know if they have to submit a resume with a recent photo.
Do you want to conduct a video interview? Ask them to provide their Skype I.D. Are you planning on implementing a test period? Indicate in the job ad if this will be a paid test period and its duration. If it’s a paid test period, include your hourly rate.
- Hiring the First VA That Comes Along
It’s never a good idea to hire the first VA that applies to your job post. Not because the first is the worst, but by hiring immediately, you will deny yourself the opportunity to find someone better.
Don’t get impatient. If your job ad does not generate enough interest, give it some time. Review your job ad and identify which sections have to be changed. Re-post it after a few days or even 1-2 weeks.
Ideally, you should try to build a shortlist of 5 candidates. The more you can interview for the job the better. Of course, you have to be aware of your timeline. If you need a VA right away, qualify the candidates that have made your shortlist within the time frame.
- Lack of Adequate Qualifying Procedures
An online profile or a resume is your first point-of-contact with the job applicant. It will give you an idea of who the applicant is; what he/she can do, their special skills, strengths, and level of experience.
As valuable as the resume is, it should not be your only basis for hiring a VA.
In the brick-and-mortar world, the purpose of the resume is to help the applicant land the much-coveted job interview. You can apply the same approach when looking for the right Virtual Assistant for your business.
Once you’ve used the resume to select the shortlist of candidates, subject them to strict qualifying procedures.
Your qualification procedure could include the following processes:
- Preliminary Interview – Conducted via an audio-video channel such as Skype; covers the content of the resume.
- Basic Office Skills Test – Typing, organizing/filing, conducting an Internet search, phone handling drills, grammar and spelling test, and conversational English.
- Specific Tests – These are tests that are directly related to the desired skill set. For example, for a VA tasked to manage accounting, you may want to see if he/she can prepare journal entries, cash flow, and income statements, as well as test for familiarity with accounting software.
- Due Diligence – Ask for references and check up on them. Run a simple Google test and see if something “disconcerting” comes up. Visit their social media accounts. Are there signs of inappropriate behaviour?
- “Coffee Chat” – Invite the candidate to an informal get-together over the Internet. Find out who he/she is. What do they believe in? How do they view work? What are their job expectations? If the candidate is from a far-off region, what cultural traditions or practices should you be aware of?
- Prioritizing Cost
Cost is never a good measure of quality or value. In the same way that a highly-priced VA is not a guarantee of quality of work, a low-priced VA does not translate to value for money.
Take for example virtual assistants from the Philippines or India. They charge much less than their counterparts from North America and Europe but many provide work of unparalleled quality.
Yes, you should have a budget and do your best to abide by it. However, by prioritizing cost you will be commoditizing the position of the VA. Again, there is no direct relationship between pricing and quality. If you want to hire the best Virtual Assistant, you must take the necessary steps to qualify one.
Of course, not everyone will have the same experience as Tim Ferris. There are entrepreneurs and executives who have not been as fortunate with their VA. Was it the VA’s fault?
In most cases, it’s just a simple matter of client and VA being a poor fit. Circumstances can be different from one client to another.
A VA who did exceptional work with Client “A” and in fact, was given a 5-star recommendation, can fail miserably with Client “B”.
The process of hiring a VA is not much different from the process of hiring a full-time employee.
You want to hire the best person for the job so you can allocate more time and energy on the functions that add dollars and cents to your bottom-line.