How to Outsource to a Virtual Assistant
A complete guide to hiring and training a virtual assistant to free up your time for higher-level work and get more done
Modern-day productivity is more than just getting a lot done. You also want to create more time to do what you love.
Yet many of us find ourselves trapped doing tasks and activities that leave us drained of energy. The worst is when you’re so overwhelmed and so drained that you can’t even work up enthusiasm for the parts of your job that you do love.
I fell into this trap when I was first doing my podcast show. I’d line up the amazing guests and have them spill their secrets on the recording. This is the part I loved doing the most.
After that, I had to go through cleaning the audio file, adding the intro and outro, writing the show notes, creating the album art cover, uploading to iTunes, and sharing the show on social media and email.
The post-production was overwhelming. The post-production sucked up all my time. And, because I didn’t love doing that work, it also sucked up my energy and morale.
Eventually, I got fed up and hit on the idea that I only wanted to work in what I considered my “Genius Zone” and that I wanted to outsource everything else. That’s how I ended up getting started with—and then getting really efficient at—managing virtual assistants.
Your Genius Zone
The ‘Genius Zone’ comes from the book by Gary Keller called ‘The One Thing’, which talks about focusing on the one thing you’re great at (or a genius at). It doesn’t mean no one else is better than you at that one thing. Rather, it means that you’re better at your one thing than a majority of the population.
Take the podcast example: I figured I could get someone else to run the entire show for me. Yet I found that my favorite part of the whole process was doing the interviews. Even my guests were telling me I was a great interviewer. (And nobody ever told me I was great at adding intros and outros.)
So I wanted to find out what would happen if I focused on what I might be a ‘genius’ at (interviewing) rather than working on improving my weaknesses (post-production). What if I just went all-in on creating a team who loved doing the other parts that I didn’t?
Understanding what work you want to do yourself and what work you want other people to do is the first step in employing a Virtual Assistant.
This is the key to multiplying your time. It’s all about figuring out the few tasks you’re the ‘genius’ at and accepting that you’re not so good at the others.
If you hesitate to call yourself a genius at anything, then focus instead on what you are most passionate about.
If you’re a creative genius, then perhaps you struggle to manage project timelines. Or if you’re a coding genius, you might not have the salesmanship skills to close more projects. The beautiful part about today’s world is that it’s now easier than ever before to find and connect with people who are fantastic at the tasks you struggle with.
Checklist before hiring your first VA
Before you hire a VA you need to ask yourself if you’re are even ready for another person to come into your life.
VA’s bring many amazing options for getting more done and creating more time for yourself. Yet hiring a VA only works if you are prepared to provide the structure and guidance they need to be successful.
It begins with a series of questions to ask yourself starting with:
- How would hiring a VA add more to my life/business?
- What would my VA be doing for me?
- What would I be spending my freed-up time on?
- Do I have the funds to hire a VA?
- Am I willing to let go of control of some details?
These are some of the most important questions you need to consider when it comes to making a decision that involves another human in your life. There’s no point bringing in someone to simplify your life if you don’t know how they’ll do it.
This is a crucial point: Virtual Assistant’s follow systems that you create — they do not create the systems for you.
Examples of types of work for Virtual Assistants
If you have never worked with a virtual assistant, then it may help to consider some examples of what they can do.
I tend to think in terms of three categories.
- Task —A discrete task taken to completion (could be audio processing, video editing or email handling)
- Project — A group of tasks that are linked together to accomplish a goal (e.g. scheduling a trip often requires finding hotels, flights, rental cars, getting your feedback, then making the bookings)
- Role — Collective tasks that need to be completed day-to-day on a recurring basis (e.g general administration, customer support or social media scheduling)
Start by identifying your repetitive tasks
Usually most people start with a general VA role to handle mundane and repetitive tasks like travel arrangements, social media scheduling, and email management.
You should know and define these tasks before you hire your VA.
To get a good list of these tasks, go through your average week and identify tasks that repeat. If they are in your Genius Zone, then keep those tasks for yourself. If they aren’t, then they’re tasks you can train a VA to do.
The key here is to have tasks that are occurring regularly, so your VA can free up that time and also give them regular hours.
This is important because it’ll bring some stability for your VA to know the type of work they’re expected to perform. Regular hours also sets expectations for your working relationship about when they need to be ‘on’ for work and when they can be off.
Training requires being able to give step-by-step instructions
It’s important to capture every step of a task, no matter how small. Write down all the decisions, actions and thought patterns behind why this step is needed.
Most VAs are generalists and so they aren’t coming to your company with domain-specific knowledge. It’s always better to be specific about each step rather than assume that something is common knowledge.
If you’re struggling to break down your task into bite-sized steps, it either means the task requires too much brain power or experience to train someone in and shouldn’t be done (yet!), or you’re just overthinking the process.
Once you’ve written down the steps, do an editing pass. You’ll be surprised how many of the steps aren’t actually necessary.
- Is this critical to achieving the end result or the task?
- Can I/the business live without this action?
- How can I do this in fewer steps?
In addition to being clear, I also like to give context to each task. My assumption is that my VA won’t know anything about my business and so this context (even if it feels basic to me) helps put them in a position to succeed:
- Why am I doing this?
- What am I doing?
- What would happen if I don’t do this?
The last question is critical because if you don’t lay out the consequence of inaction or poor delivery, people will not truly grasp the magnitude and the impact of their work. This is really to piece the whole picture together for your VA, and to help them understand the importance of their work and how it fits into the company.
Now you can hire your VA
Hiring could be its own lengthy tutorial, where here I’m trying to focus on how to train.
But simply, the first place to look is with your friends. Some VAs are better than others, so often one of your friends will have a recommendation about a specific VA.
After that, there are a number of services you can try. Use the instructions you’ve created for your first task as a sample project. This is why I always recommend people define the first project for their VA before they even try to hire one.
One of the top tactics for finding the best VA for yourself is to give the same task to multiple VAs and then compare the results. Sure, that might cost you an extra $100, but it’s the fastest and most efficient way to evaluate a VA.
If your friends don’t have strong recommendations for you, you can start by looking on Upwork. This is an excellent service and starting point. If you’re looking to have the search done for you then you might want to check out Outsourcing Angel.
I also recommend trying FreeEup, simply because I appreciate their chart listing expected hourly price ranges for virtual support:
Applying the 30x rule for training
Often the biggest mistake when hiring a VA is that you don’t spend enough time investing in training.
Training is the most crucial part to outsourcing because the more you prepare at the start, the more time you’ll save from having to retrain them. Training someone to completely take over any task from you takes time.
In Rory Vaden’s Procrastinate on Purpose: 5 Permissions to Multiply Your Time, he talks about how multipliers use the 30x Rule.
The 30x rule is that you should invest 30 times more on training than it takes you to do the task one time. So if it takes a task 5 minutes to complete, it should cost you 150 minutes (2.5 hours) to train someone to take that task over.
This probably sounds crazy. And yes, it’s possible to spend less time. But I find this rule of thumb inspires me to create the best possible training. Then when I lose a VA (this happens), I have training that’s good enough to reuse with the next VA.
Training comes down to more than just a set of instructions emailed to your VA. Training involves being there to support your VA when they encounter difficulties/challenges or when they come up against something you’ve left off your original instructions. Training time includes time to review their work and then provide feedback.
Using video to get training leverage
The best change I made to my training was document all of it onto video and then put that video into a training portal. This has made it much easier to bring on new VAs.
I’ve personally used this to train up VA’s who had no idea what podcasts were to be able to do basic podcast post-production within weeks of hiring.
Now in these training websites, I’ve personally found long boring SOP’s (Standard Operating Procedure) documents do not help at the start. It’s kind of like walking into a new office and getting told to read the encyclopedia first. I’ll go out on a limb and generalize by saying no one wants to do that!
So the keys to engaging training that is effective and easily digestible is to create short (3–7min) video tutorials. You can do this very easily with applications like Jing, Camtasia and Screenflow, or even just QuickTime if you are on a Mac.
Why do short videos?
Think of your own video watching habits: anything longer than 10 minutes and you’ll most likely not want to watch it. It’s the same for your VA: you want to make it easily digestible and reduce the barriers as much as possible.
As much as it is their role to make your life easier, it’s your responsibility to make it as easy as possible for them to complete their work. So go above and beyond and make it as simple and easy as possible for them to support you.
We do this by augmenting the videos with the appropriate templates of scripts, emails, message responses and checklists relating to the process. Go further by even providing them links to access the tools they need easily!
This training portal serves as a great base for learning, but also simplifies your VA’s work and empowers them with all the resources they need.
Project managing your VA
Sometimes you’ll need to track where your VA is on a project.
I use Trello, partly because Trello makes it easy to create checklist templates. This is also a place where you can place resources (links, files, logos) that your VA will use every day. This project management system is separate from your training library. Your VA uses your training library to get up to speed and then uses your project management portal on a day-to-day basis.
It is critical is to manage checklists. Let me show you how detail oriented I get in my checklists:
Having this sort of checklist helps make sure your VA is following every detail. Most VAs are detail-oriented by nature — and so these checklists play to their strength.
Checklists also make it easy to improve or adjust your processes over time.
Creating this much training is a lot of work. Frankly, it is a more work than most people are willing to do. Yet, doing it is why you’ll find yourself with more time on your hands—because you’re guiding, empowering and providing the platform for your virtual team to succeed without you!
That’s the whole point. You make a big investment up front so that your time is freed up to do other things.
As you start to tap into the multiplier within you, you’ll be shifting away from putting out fires and start to figure other tasks that cause noise, pressure and repetition in your life. You can eliminate them or pass those also along to a VA. Your VA will be part of a system that removes your ‘non-genius’ tasks from your life.