This article is for you only if you’re trying to add leverage, scalability, or speed to your consulting business. If any of those things sound good to you, then you need learn how to hire a virtual assistant.
This article covers exactly how I do it. I have used this same process to hire people for the short term (task based), medium term (project based), and long term (monthly retainer). Feel free to take the process below, use it, and hire the support team you need.
Step 1: Decide The Need
The first thing you need to do is decide the need. This is the most important step. If you get this step wrong, the process breaks down, you won't hire the right person, and you will find yourself with more frustration than productivity. You've got to decide on three things ‑‑ the scope of work, the time frame, and how to compensate the person.
A - Scope of work is the exact set of tasks you need done. Are you're trying to get 10 YouTube videos uploaded, or you're trying to close 15 new clients, or you're trying to get a white paper completed, or you're trying to finish your tell‑all book? Whatever you are trying to get done, you got to be clear on the scope of that project. What exact work do YOU need done?
B - Time frame is your expectation on how long the tasks will take. Is it full‑time job (40 hours a week), part‑time, or project‑based? If you have never done this before, project‑based is a great place to start. You establish your scope, decide how long it should take, and pay to have that one task completed.
C - Choose how you plan to compensate the person. Is it hourly, you're going to pay them by the hour? Is it retainer, you're going to pay them a monthly fee every month, or is it salary plus benefits? There are lots of ways to mix and match the parts, but if you're not clear on the scope, time frame, and compensation plan everything else will break down.
Step 2: Choose Where To Post the Job
Decide where you want to post the job. There are two basic options. You can post for US based opportunities or for internationally based opportunities. Here are a short list of popular places to post a virtual opportunity.
(You can hire domestically or internationally through any of these options. These are the more popular sites for those who choose to hire internationally.)
Upwork (Formerly Odesk / Elance) - Odesk and Elance merged in 2013 to create Upwork. The contractor pool is large and diverse so you are very likely to find someone who fits your desired skills. This is my "go-to" place and have hired many different types of vendors here.
Craigslist - I'm sure you've heard of Craigslist. It is an amazing "catch-all", Ebay-like site where all kinds of products and services can be bought and sold. However, Craigslist does NOT specialize in helping you locate virtual talent. Therefore, you won't find any vetting or selection systems to help you find the best person. Most are attracted to this site because they think they can hire someone at a more affordable (aka "cheap") rate. Each time I have a new opening, I humor myself and post here. I get a LOT of responses and never hire anyone...food for thought.
Country specific - There are a number of sites that focus on country specific talent. If you are interested in hiring someone in the Philippines, for example, my research found OnlineJobs and JobStreet to be two of the higher rated and reliable. If you have experience hiring virtual help you might find this to be a route to scale your talent needs. In my experience, I haven't had to use services like these.
I have been fortunate enough to find great talent mostly through Elance (now Upwork) and US based services. Let me tell you about a few below.
US Based Hires
(If you are born and raised in the US, like I am, sometimes hiring a US based virtual assistant feels more comfortable. This choice can lessen the challenges of language, culture, and time zones making it easier to focus on the execution of your desired tasks. )
AssistU - This is where I hired my first VA. Actually, it is an entire community of virtual assistants run by Anastacia Brice. To hire someone from this community you have to fill out a detailed application form explaining the kind of VA you want and what you expect from the relationship. Your application is posted into the community and the VAs who believe they fit will reach out to you. Yes, it is a process and this process is designed to help match you to the right virtual assistant. It's worth your time.
eaHELP - It just so happens that I personally know someone who held a contract position at eaHELP. She worked as an "ea" (executive assistant) while finishing up her PhD. Clearly, not every assistant at eaHELP has a PhD, but it goes to show you the level of talent they have available. If you choose eaHELP you will work with a relationship manager who will help you find the right "ea" or transition to a new "ea" as your needs change.
Zirtual - I wanted to present you with one other US based option and Zirtual is the company I found. They call their assistants "ZAs" (Zirtual Assistants). They only hire college educated, US based assistants. According to their website "Thousands apply, but only the best of the best get to call themselves ZAs." In my research I found them interesting, but haven't had the chance to use them personally.
This is just a small sample of possible options... there are many, many more. It's easy to get overwhelmed with all of the different services. Here is some quick level setting before we go any further...
Hint 2A - Any of these options can help you find awesome virtual assistant, but NONE of these options can help you if you aren't clear on your expectations. VAs are people not robots. They cannot read your mind and can only execute after your provide appropriate leadership. Remember it's your business NOT theirs.
Hint 2B - Don't go looking for a "cheap" assistant. Being on a budget is one thing...being "cheap" is something else. Any assistant worth their salt is going to smell "cheap" a mile away and will decline the opportunity to work with you. The best way to manage costs is to understand your own projects and not waste your VA's time (or yours) with side tasks that provide your business no value.
Step 3: Post the Job
The next step is to post the job. I'll summarize the most important parts of the job description now in this section. To help you execute, I have attached a full job description template you can download and use for your own purposes.
In the job description:
Be clear: This is your opportunity to establish yourself as an employer your VA can trust, because you know what you want. Be clear about what the job is, the work you want done and how fast you want it done. Also be prepared to communicate who the job is good for (or not good for).
Identify specific skill(s) required: It can be a specific skill or set of emotional traits . It could be a geographic location or a certain "must have" software. It's up to you to define the mix of attributes that will work best within the systems of your company. You want the candidate to read it, get it, and self-select (in or out).
Know your desired response: You want them to read the job description and say, "Oh no no. This doesn't fit me because I don't know this, don't know that, and don't have access to that other thing."
Or you want them to say, "Oh, this job is for me, because I love this project! I use all the tools that they ask for. I have all the skills they need."
Here is a sample job description I have used to hire a VA to assist with social media tasks.
The more detailed you are in the description, the better response you will get from the pool of virtual assistants. Again, you have a full job description template you can use to help speed up the process for you.
Step 4: Follow Up With Top Tier Candidates
You want to follow up with the top‑tier candidates. Every time I put out a job posting, there is always a very quick top 10%-20% of people that I immediately like. I would encourage you to run with that group. Don't try to over analyze the pool of candidates.
Special tip: Ask for their expectations
Send your candidates a quick note that gives your expectations and asks for their expectations. What's important to understand here is the person you're hiring is a person. They are a human being (not a machine, robot, mindreader, or expert-in-everything).
So if you take the time to understand how the person works you will communicate and interact with that person in a much more productive way. Remember this IS a relationship, no matter how simple YOU believe the tasks are. If you provide your virtual employee with what they want they will be even more excited to get you what you want.
Finally, asking for their expectations not only let's you learn about what they expect from the relationship, but it also gives you an idea how fast they will respond to your requests in the future.
Step 5: Have the Interview
Then you want to set a quick interview time ‑‑ you have done this before. There's nothing complex here ‑‑ just set a time to have a conversation. When you have the interview it's incredibly important that you listen more than you talk. You should follow a very simple 80/20 rule ‑‑ you should be listening 80 percent of the time, you should be talking 20 percent of the time.
Listen more than you talk. Again, you are hiring a virtual assistant to work with you in your business. If you and that person don't communicate well, then you won't work well together. If you can't stop long enough to listen to them, then you won't know what they have to say, and you won't fully appreciate the value they bring to the table.
Do not oversell the position. Be very careful not to oversell the candidate on the job. In fact, you shouldn't be selling the job at all. The candidate knows what the job is because you wrote a clear job description. Listen to them. Ask them the right questions. Let them tell you where they are coming from and then figure out if they fit or not.
Is a paid "test task" appropriate? If it makes sense, you may have your candidate complete a paid test task. Choose your top three people, describe a typical task within your business, and have them complete the task for a nominal fee. The person who does the task the best is the person you hire. To be clear, doing a paid task is an optional step. I have been able to hire some really good people without using the paid test task strategy.
Step 6: Choose Your Winner
At this point it should be pretty obvious, simply choose the person who is the best fit for you. Let them know you are excited to get started!
Special Tip: I'd highly recommend you keep your second and third choice in a file somewhere. You already like them, they already like you. If the first person breaks down, or you need some help with something else, you have a short‑list of people to go back to.
Step 7: Follow-Up With Training
Bottom line: If you want to win for the long term, you need to have a private training area. This section is the difference between:
"I've hired and fired 3 different virtual assistants this year. I can't get my project off the ground. It's terrible."
"I've hired 3 different virtual assistants this year. I've got three successful projects happening at once. It's great."
Have a private training area
You must have a training area for your VA. It doesn't have to be robust. It doesn't have to be complex. It doesn't even have to be password protected. It can simply be a series of Word documents, organized by project, laying out the steps required to execute the necessary tasks. For example, here is a screen shot of an internal document I provide my VAs on "How to Upload a YouTube Video".
This is a very simple recipe. So simple, in fact, you may under estimate how incredibly important it is. You need to be very clear with your virtual assistant on what you expect. They don't sit in an office with you, so they don't get a chance to pick up your informal cues. You got to be as direct as you can with exactly what you want them to do.
Creating a training area not accelerates the learning curve, but it also increases the consistency of the end work product.
Have a task tracking system
Connected to that Word document you need to have a task tracking system. This is can be as simple as an Excel spreadsheet. Again, this doesn't have to be complex. Each project is made up of a individual tasks. As your VA finishes each task have them check the box to mark it complete. The Excel spreadsheets give you instant status on any project being worked on without having to call or reach out to your VA every 15 minutes.
Have a daily report
There is nothing wrong if you want (or need) to speak to your VA everyday. However, if you are like me you would prefer to work with people who manage their time well with only high-level involvement from their employer. Therefore, I ask my VAs to complete a daily report so I know what did (or didn't) happen on a given day. This daily report is the most important communication tool between me and my virtual team.
Everyday, I get a report from my VAs that look like this:
The report is easy to complete. It's outlined very clearly. I can digest it a matter of minutes. Plus, no VA has ever complained about having to complete it. In fact, my virtual team appreciates it because we are communicating daily in a valuable way. I know their status and I know exactly where they need help. It's a good deal for both of us.
You now have a real process for how to hire an awesome virtual assistant. You are clear about what you want. You know where to post the job description. You know how to follow up. You know how to train the person for success.
Being deliberate about your hiring process opens the doors for true leverage, scalability, and efficiency in your business. By allowing this process to break down you are also allowing your leverage, scalability and efficiency to breakdown also. I encourage you to download the job template and other supporting documents. Use them and hire yourself a great assistant!