How to Hire, Train, and Build a Virtual Assistant Relationship That Lasts
You could say I started my business kicking and screaming. It wasn’t exactly intentional—I provided a service that quickly grew in popularity, so I incorporated the business to protect myself and the people I was hiring to support the growth.
This sort of “accidental entrepreneurship” is a common theme that I’ve spoken with other business owners about. It’s funny because most of us just want to do the thing we started our business to do, not all the other stuff that actually running a successful business entails. Alas, most business owners are nothing if not ambitious, and growth is extremely important to maintaining a successful business.
During my business’s earliest era, our “growth plan” was nonexistent. Everything was done in a grassroots sort of way. Whenever our plates were too full, my colleagues and I would shout out on social media, “Don’t Panic is hiring! Want to be a virtual assistant? Send us a resume and writing sample!”
From there, we’d sift through whatever came in and make our best guess as to who had the skills to become a virtual assistant. Sure, we’d interview our candidates, but the majority of our hiring process was done on the fly and based on gut feelings and intuition.
Don’t Make the Most Common Mistake
Although I’ve always thought of myself as a good judge of character, this way of finding and hiring virtual assistants was a flawed approach. Why? First of all, because not everyone has the experience or expertise to be a VA (a common misconception!). Second, it limited our hiring pool to our friends and colleagues, rather than the most talented and skilled freelancers on the internet. A large part of the beauty of working virtually is that you have access to bright minds all over the world, not just in your network, so it’s silly to ignore this opportunity.
If you’re feeling overworked and under-rested, a virtual assistant might be exactly the extra set of hands you need to get your work life and peace of mind back on track. That being said, a hiring system for your virtual assistant is incredibly important if you want to create a working relationship that lasts. You shouldn’t have to reinvent the wheel every time you recruit a new member of your team.
Because we recruit virtual assistants for a living, we’ve put the subjective, grassroots efforts behind us and created a highly-systematized and more objective approach to hiring, training, and cultivating a virtual assistant relationship that’s built to last.
(Bonus: Even though this post is about hiring a virtual assistant — you know the phrase, “write what you know!” — these are systems that can help smooth your process for engaging with any new member of your professional circle, from partners to full-time employees to new clients.)
First the Why, Then the How
Any time you’re bringing someone into your professional circle, you should know why you’re hiring them. Have the crushing long hours left you missing important family events? Are you finding yourself performing tasks that you either don’t know how to do or don’t want to do?
If you’re not completely sure, a couple of exercises can help:
Audit everything about your day-to-day work life. What exactly are you doing each day? What’s missing? Where are there inefficiencies?
Write down everything you do all day—and I mean everything. Did you spend 15 minutes sifting through blog posts for a client’s social media channels? Did you waste an hour of your day trying to reformat a slide deck for a pitch? Did you check Facebook 14 times?
Whatever you do, put it on paper. Do this every day for a week if you can manage it.
Next, divide every task into four categories: “Things I Love to Do,” “Things I Hate to Do,” “Necessary Tasks,” “Useless Efforts.”
From this list, you’ll immediately be able to paint a picture of what you can relegate, automate, or delegate, plus what you need to keep in your own court.
I always recommend starting with the “useless” column because those are the tasks that you can probably remove from your plate immediately. And for necessary tasks or things you hate to do, see what can be automated first using a piece of software, an app, or an online tool.
After that, you can generally plan to keep anything that you love and anything that’s necessary, but that only you can do.
With what’s left, you have a list of tasks that you can delegate to the new team member you’re hiring (in this case, a virtual assistant).
Now’s a good time to mention that many virtual assistants do a lot more than executive assistant work. For example, tons of marketers find they need a virtual assistant to execute the digital tactics they are so busy handling for clients that they don’t have time to cover them for their own brand. Consider how a virtual assistant can help you write for your blog or outside sources, curate content for your social media channels, or help you produce a podcast. If you can dream it, there is a virtual assistant out there who can do it.
How to Find a Virtual Assistant
Once you know who you’re looking for, it’s a matter of setting out to find them. Like the internet itself, the opportunities for connecting with a freelance virtual assistant are practically infinite. You can post on job boards dedicated to remote positions like FlexJobs or Remote.co or search through social media channels. In addition to LinkedIn’s job postings, both Facebook Groups and Twitter are active stomping grounds for freelance virtual assistants.
It’s useful to search by the type of virtual assistant you need, such as “social media virtual assistant,” “podcasting virtual assistant,” or “data entry virtual assistant.”
If seeking out candidates feels a little overwhelming, consider working with a virtual assistant agency to find your match. My agency, Don’t Panic Management, is just one way to use a third party to connect with the perfect VA: Upwork, TaskRabbit, Belay Solutions, and CloudPeeps can all help you meet with the right freelancer for your needs. Each has its own type of work specialty and its own process for connecting you to a VA, so not every company will be the right fit for your business. But with just a little research into your options, you can get recruiting in no time.
How to Interview a Virtual Assistant
Once you’ve collected your pool of candidates, always interview them. In addition to the usual job interview questions now pulsing through your brain, consider these helpful ones that are specific to building an awesome relationship with a virtual assistant:
- Have you ever worked virtually before? While not a requirement, it is important to know whether or not this is your VA’s first rodeo, as the learning curve and tools they are used to using will be different depending on their experience.
- What do you do to keep learning? A lot of virtual assistant work requires a curious mind and a “I don’t know, but I’ll figure it out,” attitude. Make sure your VA is up to the task!
- What sort of tasks do you love to do and what do you hate to do? If their “Love To Do It” list doesn’t match the list of tasks you need to offboard, they probably aren’t your perfect candidate.
- When do you do your best work? This and other workstyle preferences will be key in building a long-lasting relationship. If you’re on the east coast and like to check in with your VA over the phone first thing in the morning, you don’t want to work with a west coast VA who is only available in the afternoons.
How to Train Your Virtual Assistant
Even with a thorough interview process, it can be really difficult to discover if the person you’re talking to is the right virtual assistant for your business’s needs. Because of that, always start any new relationship with a paid test project. This can be something you have already completed in the past or something you actually intend to use (but if you want to use it, be prepared to completely redo the work if the test is a bust).
Create a grading rubric and score the test project against how you or someone on your team would have done it. This exercise will give your potential VA a chance to prove they practice what they preach, and the scoring rubric will keep your hiring process as objective as possible (though gut intuition is still important, too!). For whoever you decide to work with, share constructive feedback so they know how to adjust their work for your ongoing relationship.
Once you have met your perfect match, it’s time to begin training. Collect up all your important preferences and processes for the jobs at-hand and schedule a kickoff call. No detail is too small to share! And if your process is particularly involved (say, you want them to load guest blog posts into the custom backend of your website), a tool like Loom will help you record simple, easy-to-follow training videos.
In the beginning, be prepared to meet often as you two develop your workflows.
How to Build a Relationship That Lasts
Your relationship with your virtual assistant will constantly evolve as you learn each other’s styles, grow to trust one another and become a close-knit team. While this is an awesome side effect to have a right-hand wo/man on the job, it does mean you need to regularly evaluate your processes to continuously improve together.
Remember, you’re driving the bus. The virtual assistant will follow your lead and can only be as successful as you help them to be. Provide consistent feedback, even if it’s as simple as a virtual high five to say, “I love how you handled X this week!”
At Don’t Panic, we like to sit down monthly and evaluate everyone on a Red-Yellow-Green scale in terms of both their work product and culture fit. Green, of course, means they are totally rocking the job, yellow means they need a little bit of feedback on how they could improve a certain task or behavior going forward, and red means we need to have a serious conversation about a broken process or attitude.
I think it goes without saying, but if your virtual assistant is consistently in the red zone, it’s time to go back to the drawing board. This is where having a system in place becomes so helpful. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel or start from scratch, especially if you’re working with a virtual assistant agency. You can just dial it back a few steps, and try again to find a better fit.
The good news is: when you have a highly systematized approach to recruiting new members to your team, you’ll never end up connected with someone who consistently lets you down. By setting up a thoughtful and intentional process for finding your virtual assistant, you’re almost guaranteed to build a long-lasting business relationship that gets tedious work off your plate and into the hands of a partner who can really make a difference in your business and in your life.
About the Author
Jess Ostroff is the proud Director of Calm at Don’t Panic Management, a new approach to virtual assistant success, as well as the Managing Editor at Convince & Convert, one of the world’s leading digital marketing advisory firms. She is the host of the new Managing Editor Show podcast, which takes a fun-filled approach to the daily trials and tribulations common to digital writers and their editors. Her book about next-level strategies for cultivating virtual assistant relationships that last comes out in January 2018. When she’s not coordinating projects, you can find Jess practicing speeches, trying new recipes, or attending concerts.