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In today’s fast-paced business world, outsourcing to a virtual assistant has become an increasingly popular and effective way to streamline processes, affordably delegate part-time work, and expand time and energy for core business activities and growth initiatives. 

With such a rich pool of virtual assistants on the market, outsourcing to a virtual assistant can be a game-changer for entrepreneurs, small business owners, and busy professionals, like realtors and health coaches who can’t afford to be bogged down by tedious, time-consuming tasks. 

Of course, outsourcing to a virtual assistant is an investment of time and money, and to get the most out of your investment, it’s important to ensure your readiness, not only to hire a virtual assistant but to continue to manage and communicate with them for worthwhile outcomes. 

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Why Hire a Virtual Assistant 

Outsourcing to a virtual assistant can support the growth of any business at different points throughout its development. With low onboarding costs and a structure built for ad hoc expertise, virtual assistants allow you to scale your workforce based on your changing needs. 

What can a virtual assistant do?

Different types of virtual assistants have surfaced to meet the varying needs of different industries, providing general labor and niche capabilities, without the burden of full-time employment costs. 

Real estate virtual assistants, for example, can handle property research, schedule showings, and create print real estate materials. Social media virtual assistants can implement user engagement strategies, curate content, and manage posting schedules. Or general virtual assistants can tackle administrative work, deliver customer support, and manage email inboxes, for example. 

Ranging from bookkeeping to graphic design and creating SEO-optimized blog content, VAs can proficiently tackle your business’s non-core activities, saving you time and energy to concentrate on strategic planning and business growth.

Deciding If You’re Ready to Start Outsourcing to a Virtual Assistant

If you find yourself losing hours of your day to repetitive maintenance tasks, pouring your energy into email writing, or otherwise losing time and mental capacity for high-value activities and business growth initiatives, outsourcing to a virtual assistant could help you regain control of your time and productivity.   

But while overwhelm is a sign that you need the help of a VA, it does not mean that you’re ready to hire one. This is the mistake of many small business owners outsourcing to a virtual assistant: they hire a VA to help them become less overwhelmed, but they don’t know how the VA can help them, or even what exactly they need help with. VAs are not business consultants; while they can often consult you on the specialized task you hire them for, they cannot consult you on what tasks need to be done to reach your goals.

Before you hire a VA, take a look at your big picture: define clear goals, and set objectives. Locate where you’re spending your time and where you should be spending your time in order to help your business reach its goals. 

Once you’ve done this, you can get a clear sense of how a VA might fit into your larger business plan and therefore how much value outsourcing to a virtual assistant could bring to your business. This not only ensures that you’re making a financially informed decision, but it gives you some direction for hiring the right type of VA and enables you to get the most out of their services.

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Determining What Projects Are Best for Outsourcing to a Virtual Assistant 

Social media management, email maintenance, data entry, and other routine administrative tasks are common for outsourcing to a virtual assistant. Of course, the right projects to delegate depend entirely on your business, your goals, and your processes, but in general, the tasks to delegate to a virtual assistant are those that have been established or whose goal in your business plan have been established. They are non-core activities that do not require strategic planning. 

Outsourcing to a virtual assistant can offer particularly high value on recurring projects, repetitive activities, or tasks that are easy to delegate. When determining which projects to outsource, weigh the amount of time it would save you against how much time it would take to delegate and manage. 

It’s important to ensure that you have tasks of this nature that you can realistically and safely outsource to a new VA. But it’s also helpful to consider that as you gain trust and experience working together, your VA’s capabilities will expand and their value in your business might gradually grow.

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How to Hire a Virtual Assistant

I can’t overstate the importance of getting clear on what kind of support you want and need before you begin outsourcing to a virtual assistant. This means both strategizing your processes and defining, standardizing, and documenting them through SOPs, or standard operating procedures. 

This might seem like overkill at first glance, but this kind of process management and organization will save you time at every stage of hiring and onboarding, as well as set you up for a much better-matched VA hire—which, by saving you multiple hiring attempts—will itself save you time and money.   

Define your requirements clearly.

With clearly outlined processes, you will have a clear and thorough sense of the exact skills and capabilities you need in a VA, which will enable you to precisely target the type of VA that will best serve you. Even if you just need general administrative assistance, you can tailor your search. Many VAs have a specific industry focus, so you might look for a VA with expertise in the real estate industry or experience in the private medical sector, for example.

Conduct thorough interviews. 

Just like an internal hire, it’s important that your VA be a good match for your working style and company culture. Look for indicators of shared values on their website, and conduct virtual interviews to get a sense for their communication skills and collaborative potential with you and your business.

Request work samples.

Reviewing your VA candidates’ websites can give you some insight into their performance and standards, and often, they will provide client testimonials too. But especially if you’re hiring them for specialized projects that aren’t completely represented on their website, asking for specific work samples is a good idea. This will also tell you if the attention to detail, elegant design, or writing proficiency communicated through their website carries into their client work.

Be prepared with onboarding materials. 

Once you’ve secured a VA, the onboarding process is made much more effective and less time-consuming by ready-made process documentation and clearly defined instruction. 

This is one of many benefits of writing SOPs as you form new processes—they double as training materials and reference points for new hires or outsourcing partners. Rather than taking your valuable time to train the VA on this project, you can share with them the process documentation or video tutorials you’ve already created. 

Not only are these resources that can be used again and again to save you time in the long run, but they provide your VA with a resource that they can continually reference, rather than having to come back to you with questions—again saving you time for the important stuff. 

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Tips for Managing Your Virtual Assistant

Another common mistake among small business owners when outsourcing to a virtual assistant is misconceiving that once hired, working with a virtual assistant won’t take any time at all—that once delegated, that outsourced project can be forgotten.

Outsourcing to a virtual assistant means entering a working relationship, and while it should require far less engagement than a full-time employee, it still requires your sustained communication and management. A foundation in process management can help you sustain the necessary engagement while requiring very little maintenance from you. 

Prioritize clear communication. 

One aspect of this is establishing a consistent and contained communication channel with your VA. For many, that’s simply organized email communication, and for others, it’s a designated Slack workspace. In addition to aligning with your unique communication style, it’s helpful, when choosing the best mode of communication, to consider what kinds of project resources and instructional materials you will regularly need to share with your VA. 

Use SOPs.

SOPs allow you the space to clearly define project goals, expectations, and standardized project instructions in a way that can easily be reused and adapted for different team members and outsourcing partners

By providing thorough instructions that were written with your strategic processes in mind, you can ensure that the projects that step out of your control remain oriented toward your goals, that they are completed with consistency and efficiency, and that they don’t require your continuous check-ins to be done well. This is especially important when managing a remote team of any kind.
Plus, by clearly defining goals and expectations, SOPs set the stage for you to precisely analyze your VAs work and give specific feedback that references this shared resource and gives your VA clear areas for improvement.