Virtual Assistants Part II: Everything You Need to Know to Hire Amazing Remote Workers
Check out Part I: “Virtual Assistants: What They Are, Why You Need One”
Now that you have your Great Big List of Virtual Assistant Tasks, do you know how to hire a virtual assistant? Where do you find them? What do you ask? How much do you pay — and how?
My decades as a freelancer come in handy here; I’ve both hired people and been the subcontractor. So here are some tips I’ve gathered not only from personal experience, but also from some close friends. Several of them have been freelancing — for a long time! — and others are the Big Boss doing the hiring. So we’ve got both sides of the process covered in the following tips.
15 Tips: How to Hire Your First Virtual Assistant
- Pick a Job… Any Job. Don’t dwell too long on finding the “perfect” first job to outsource (there isn’t one), just jump right in!
- Test the Water; Start Small. For the first job, try a small one. Choose a closed-deadline or limited scope gig. Or, if you’re hiring an all-round, general Virtual Assistant, give them a two week trial. Then you can see how you get along personally, if your work ethics are compatible, and how well they get the job done.
- Be Clear and Detailed in the Job Description. Believe it or not, writing a great job listing is one of the most critical steps of the Virtual Assistant hiring process. The more info you give your potential hires up front, the better your candidate pool, making it easier to pick a great match for the skills you need. Sure, being as forthcoming as possible with your performance expectations might take more time to post the job, but it means a more positive outcome for both sides in the long run.
- Where in the World…? There are LOTS of Virtual Assistants out there — all over the world. So you have to decide up front: from where are you’re willing to hire? (This question of hiring locally vs. outsourcing — that whole “USA vs. World Economy” debate — is enough for a whole other post…) Lots of sites allow you to set preferences for the location of hire, so you can choose US only, but… well… some people lie online. (Gasp! Not telling the truth online?! Shocking, I know. More on that later.) But for now, just pick a preference: World, US Only, Local Only.
- Set Milestones!! Breaking up their work into smaller pieces means you’re sure they are on the right track before they deliver the Final Product. These periodic milestone reviews will save BOTH of you from surprise outcomes with wasted time and money.
- Review Frequency There’s no hard and fast rule, but often a job is broken into halves or quarters. For new VAs, many use a front-loaded practice of 2-3 short-turnaround milestones at the beginning of a job (ie: once a day for the first 2 days of a week-long job… or twice during the first week for a month long job) and then breaking the rest of the job up into half or quarter-milestones.
- Include Specific Deadline(s). Do you have a specific project deadline to hit? An internal idea for completion? Either way, be sure to include specific # of days, duration/time, or dates. Include final delivery, any milestones or regular check-ins. Better to require a lot of communication up front (if they’re not willing to commit to a few preset meetings, perhaps they’re too busy to commit to you!). You can always back off interaction later, once they’ve proven themselves.
Checklist for Writing a VA Job Description
- Name the Job something short and descriptive
- Application Deadline (usually 3-4 days or 1 week from posting)
- Applicant Location Limitations (worldwide, US only, local only)
- Deadlines (# hours you expect them to work, milestones)
- Time Zone (are they asleep when you need to talk to them?)
- Tools or Skills (any specifics required to do job)
- Fees (hourly, weekly or per job)
- “Real Person” Test (to weed out batch applications & firms – see below)
- Voice Chat/Interview Availability
- Hire Individuals, Not Faceless Entities There are a lot of overseas firms with banks of assistants. While this can work for some tasks (and is cheaper), generally you don’t get a personal assistant that way, you get whomever happens to be working on your account that day.
- Use a “Real Person” Test Many responses you’ll get to your job posting will be from firms or people who just respond to every. single. job. posted. with a standard, cut-n-paste response. But if in your job description you ask them to DO something in their response (like include a specific word — like “Ninja” or “Groundwork” — or answer a math problem or something else unique),then you can quickly weed out those auto-responders and get to the real potential candidates.
- Chat Before You Hire Always speak with your perspective hire via video or audio; you need to be sure they really are who they say they are. (A friend once hired a guy who’s profile said he was a 65-year-old British retired academic who did data analysis… only to find it was really a teenage Filipino boy still in school!) Speaking at least once up front reveals the real person. And if they don’t want to chat, ask yourself why, then move on!
- Research & Set Your Rates Doing a little research before you post can give you a good idea of rates. Then YOU set the price in your job posting (instead of asking what they what they charge). Fees vary greatly based on numerous factors like: the VA’s experience, location (it’s cheaper to hire a firm in India than, say, a stay at home marketing mom in NYC), and the requirements for your job. For general administrative work (like email management, answering calls, scheduling, etc.), you will usually pay $15-25/hour. If you’re looking for higher-level tasks (marketing, project management), it could be $50+ per hour.
- Payment Plans. The is the GOLDEN RULE of Hiring Freelancers: Never, EVER pay for your whole project up front. Usually there’s a retainer (up to half of the project’s fee) given up front, then milestone payments (often quarterly), with the balance of the agreed upon fee paid after final delivery of work.
- Consider Escrow While I’m not a big fan of paying a middle man, until you get to know your VA, consider using a site/service with this feature. Online freelance sites such as Upwork.com and Freelancer.com will hold your money in Escrow until work is completed, which puts both parties at ease. There’s no question on their part that you will pay — AND you can choose to release the money only after you’re happy with their work.
- Optional Sanity Saver: If Paying Hourly, Pad Your (Internal) Estimates! For estimation purposes, know going in to a job that it’s probably gonna take longer than you (both) think. Almost every single person I spoke with said that when they make an original estimate for a gig, they assume it’s going to take 20-25% longer than originally expected. (So if you internally say to yourself “This needs to be done by the 30th” then tell them the deadline is the 23rd. Or “I have $300 for this job” then you might want to start at $250.)
SAMPLE INTERVIEW QUESTIONS
What Apps/Software have you MASTERED?
What office procedures (or tasks you need) are you familiar with?
What industries have you worked with in the past? Have a niche?
Hours Available? (per day/week/month)
What’s your local time zone?
How many other Clients do your have at the moment?
What Time Tracker do you use? (If charging hourly)
Where to Find Great Virtual Assistants
There are sooo many online sites/services that offer Virtual Assistant freelancers now. Just Google “hire freelance VA virtual assistant” and you get over 2.5 MILLION results. Yikes! But there’s hope. Many, actually! But here are a few faves:
Three Great Places to Hire a Virtual Assistant
Personally, I love Upwork. I’ve hired numerous people (for all kinds of gigs) and have had really positive experiences every single time. They have everything from basic Admin Support and Writing, through Data Science and Web Development. I have three freelancers that I regularly hit up for different types of work. There’s a great internal chat feature and work preview, and I love the escrow and review system. (It’s like Uber; you leave reviews and get reviews and all the money is kept safe until the job is completed, keeping it safe and balanced for both sides.) Upwork has a super-helpful article here, with rates and tips on hiring VAs.
I have a friend (who works with Fortune 500 companies and CEOs) who swears he can find someone to do just about any kind of job on Fiverr.com. Fiverr started as a little “do a job, get five bucks” curiosity, where people would write and sing and do all kinds of crazy stuff for you for five dollars. But it’s since grown to showcase freelance talent around the world. He’s gotten some amazing work done relatively cheaply. He’s had explainer videos made, content written, graphics whipped up, phones answered, scheduling done… He uses it for EVERYTHING and loves it.
Another friend says she can’t live without Freelancer. She’s hired people to do just about everything for her from there, and always has virtual assistants. I tried Freelancer a couple of times, but found that it seemed to have more specific, narrow specialties (which is great when you need web design, mobile app development, product manufacturing, and accounting). There also listings for virtual assistants, content writers, marketers and the like, but I think Freelancer is really strong with it’s technical hires.
Now that you know how to hire a virtual assistant, go ahead — dive in! Pick that first small Test Job, write it up (with plenty o’ details!) and get hiring.
Here’s to a fun (and productive!) experience hiring your first Virtual Assistant! :)
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