The world is different today. It is faster, busier and it is more demanding. As competing priorities increase, having a reliable Virtual Assistant (VA) by your side helps tremendously.
For me, my VA has been God-sent. I am sure many can say the same for theirs. VAs do not cost nearly as much as full time executive assistants, or secretaries that you have to provide an office for.
VAs work remotely, and likely on multiple clients at a time, making their rates very attractive for a successful career individual. Think about it for a second. If you are making $90,000 a year with 3 weeks of vacation, your hourly wage is approximately $46 per hour. You can get a decent VA for $10 an hour.
This arrangement can be more lucrative if you have a side business and are making some money from it. Think about your VA expense as business related expenditure. Chances are you are already thin spread for time, and you can use your VA for both personal and business related tasks.
I haven’t factored in the tax component, but if you think about it, all expenses aside from your pre tax medical and dental are likely post tax (meaning after you pay taxes on your income). Just like most expenses, you are spending money on a VA to get something back, which can be more time with your family, freedom, flexibility and peace of mind.
There are “life outsourcing: gurus out there who go overboard with what they recommend you make your VA do. My philosophy is fairly simple. Make your VA do tasks that would take you much longer to explain or do yourself, and those that fit within your comfort level.
Comfort level is important because while having your VA shop for the best deals on airfares, hotels and restaurants that meet your specifications, you will have to hand over your credit card information for the booking or reservation. Similarly, there are many tasks, routine or otherwise, that require disclosure of more personal information than you may be comfortable with. Decide prudently.
As far as time investment is concerned, there are tasks you do, then there are tasks best left for a VA. Think about the time it will take you to explain the task to the VA and the time it will take you to do it yourself. I don’t need to go any further do I?
The exception is if you want to train your VA for the future and you know there will be several other situations where you will need similar tasks done. If so, the time investment is worth it, but give some consideration to the fact that your VA may not work for you in the future, whether voluntarily or involuntarily.
I like using VAs for routine reservations (hotels, cars, airfare, restaurants), setting up meetings and appointments, routine bookkeeping, reconciling various accounts and other repetitive tasks.
Before attempting to outsource work to a VA, I highly recommend you evaluate the tasks very carefully and eliminate as much fat in the process as you can to streamline it. Expecting your VA to effectively and efficiently complete processes that are flawed to begin with can lead to disaster. Always eliminate to simplify before you delegate.
Another piece of advice is to get in the habit of writing “one and done” emails, something Tim Ferris talks about repeatedly in his best-selling book The Four Hour Workweek. This basically means writing emails that reduce, or completely eliminate the need for back and forth correspondence by making the email specific, providing all relevant exceptions and options as part of an if/then scenario.
The idea is to send the email once, and let the recipient figure out all else and get back to you with only the final deliverable, not a response back to you original email asking for further clarification.
This is a good practice to perfect and implement even if you don’t plan on hiring a VA. There are far too many benefits and efficiencies to be gained by practicing sound, clear and specific communication, even as an employee in the office.
With countless options today, selecting a VA can be a challenge. I can certainly appreciate that challenge. If you are willing to find a suitable VA yourself, try websites like odesk and craigslist to hire a VA.
Odesk is definitely the preferred site when hiring a VA given the quality of VAs found through it. Test out the candidates based on command of English, competence and diligence. You can usually screen out most unqualified applicants in their first correspondence to you.
Always ask to speak to the VA over Skype (free for all so there should be no excuses) even if you are not going to do it. This gives you the opportunity to measure command of English, and weed out those that don’t meet your criteria by preventing them from applying for the position. I like to do this because most applications, resumes and sample materials are pre fabricated. You want to measure your VAs capabilities in a real time environment.
Always get referrals or clients to speak to who can vouch for the VA’s diligence, work quality and experience. There is no better testimony than first-hand experience. If you think you’ve found a gem, you might want to train and develop them so they can hopefully someday become an extension of you. That said, always keep attrition in mind. There is nothing permanent in life except change.
Finally, there are full-fledge VA firms if you are concerned about continuity. VA firms are staffed with many VAs. You get an account manager dedicated to you who is your single point of contact. Your tasks are then farmed out within the firm to those qualified to handle them. There is a slight premium for these services, but these firms ensure that there will always be someone qualified who can help with your specific needs.
I have never tried VA firms, but have heard some very good things about them. Let someone else worry about finding and training someone to do the work for you, rather than you looking for a new VA each time the old one leaves. I am looking into a few firms myself, will try them out and report back here with my feedback.
So if you are struggling to create that ideal balance in life, consider hiring a VA and test out the experience for a few months. You can always stop and resume your “normal” routine. Something tells me though that once you go “virtual”, you will never go “normal”.
Readers: What are your thoughts on hiring a VA? Do you currently have one? How is it going for you?
Here is another compelling case of hiring a VA for your business.