Hiring a VA is something I always recommend to small business owners. With outsourced labour providing such affordable options for small business owners these days, many are wondering just what they need to do to get started. A lot of SMEs have become very comfortable with having their thumb in every one of their business pies. So moving to outsourced services can feel like a big risky step into the unknown. Here are the five things you need to do to make your first steps into the world of Virtual Assistants smooth and successful:
Hiring a VA is the step that will revolutionise your business, but where to start?
Take a good honest look at what you are currently doing, and which tasks might be best allocated to someone else. A SWOT analysis can be handy here, or a Value Stream Map to document exactly what steps are taken to conduct your core business processes. As you are conducting your analysis, note the parts of your business that you love, because these things keep you refreshed and recharged. Delegating those would not be nearly as valuable as delegating the tasks that you find cumbersome and laborious. As you work your way through the assessment, highlight the tasks which maximise your strengths, as well as those which are necessary but take too much of your valuable time. At the heart of this step lies the question: “How much is your time worth?”
Invest ample time into assessing your workflow to establish the best way to utilise your new team member. You would even be wise to seek advice from a business consultant to help you capture a true picture of what is actually happening in your daily processes, and how these might be refined. The foundations of monumental mistakes are laid here at this first stage of preparation. If you do not have a handle on your workflow and the best way to delegate tasks, you will be setting yourself and your VA up for a costly, time consuming failure.
With a good handle on the tasks you need done to get through your business day, it is now time to organise these into a logical flow. If you have been thorough with your business analysis you will have a sense of your own professional strengths and weaknesses, and you will see exactly how one stage of your workflow leads to the next. It is likely that all of this knowledge has been locked away inside your head up to now, so having it out in the form of charts, lists and diagrams will give you an entirely new perspective.
From this vantage point you should be able to see ways to eliminate some of the bottlenecks in your core process. You can remove double handling, waiting delays, administrative waste and unnecessary tasks now, because when they are mapped out in front of you, it is easy to see the inefficiencies which waste your precious time and money. At this stage you will also be able to tweak your processes to accommodate a new staff member. Where are those tasks that can be portioned off and put on someone else’s desk to remove them from your own? As you are organising your workflow, keep a keen eye out for the jobs that are the most straight-forward to delegate.
If the foundations of success are built in your assessment phase, the fulfilment of this success is established very firmly upon your ability to document with detailed precision. As laborious as this phase of preparation is, your documentation is the framework that your entire operation will hang on. Your documentation will initially provide the job description for recruitment and hiring. From there your documents will become your new VA bible. Every step that you want to pass on to your new assistant should be described, with screenshots wherever possible. Every piece of information that they will require to complete their work should be provided from the outset to create instant positivity and productive momentum. The better the documentation, the faster the wins will roll in for you and your assistant.
The most effective documentation makes your tasks Repeatable and Reproducible. A job that is Repeatable is one that can be completed to exactly the same quality standards every single time. If your documentation is to support Repeatable work, it must be so thorough as to prevent faults from occurring. Your documentation should be better than the flat pack instructions that allow you to build a cabinet with the shelving upside-down! It should be clear and systematic, with examples to show what each part of the task looks like as it is successfully completed.
A Reproducible task is one that can be completed to exactly the same quality standards every time, regardless of the operator. Your VA should not have to interpret what you mean, or draw on experience that only they have. Any one should be able to implement the steps you provide. If you are looking for a VA to perform a task that is beyond your current expertise (such as setting up an online course or automating your email sequence), you need to document as best you can what the final outcome of the work will look like for you. Then, when you have your VA up and running, you should ask them to help you with two things to ensure your documentation provides for Reproducible workflow: 1. Get them to help you systemise your creation and provision of content so that you are giving them content that they can use directly without needing to modify or interpret. And 2. Get them to help you document the key steps required to complete the work you have asked them to do. I know this seems dark, but I have first hand experience in losing the holder of knowledge that is central to running your business. A sustainable, growing business is one that does not rely on any one operator to keep things moving.
Having a clear idea of what you want your VA to do, and how you would like them to do it makes interviewing a breeze. You will remember to ask about the candidate’s previous work history, their access to technology, and ability to take initiative and solve problems, but also discuss personality, culture and lifestyle. You are looking for a specific skillset that comes packaged up in someone you can get along with.
Go back to your Assessment documentation to see the strengths you bring to the equation, and the weaknesses you would like help with. Use a standard set of questions which address these concerns to interview each candidate. Then, compare their suitability by implementing a scoring system for each question. Interview as many candidates as you realistically can to develop a shortlist of strong possibilities.
If you are anything like me you will want to rush to hire your favourite candidate, but slow and steady will win this race. Take your time to make your selection to ensure that you are confident with your choice, and that you have the time to set them up with adequate training. It takes about a month post hire to get the new person on board and functioning smoothly. Attempting to rush the process of hiring and training your new VA will not serve any one’s best interests. Your new VA may well end up being a team member for life. This is a big decision so make it carefully.
Like anything, you pay for what you get when taking on a VA. If it seems too cheap then it probably is. If your VA is coming from overseas you should look into the cost of living to see what your VA will actually need to live. Your VA offers you an affordable service but it is not one that should enslave them in desperation for income. Underpaying your VA might serve your short term budget, but it will undermine the loyalty, trust, and positive mutual regard that you need to sustain your long term business growth.
With careful research, planning and preparation, you will be able to make this move with confidence and see your business explode to new levels of growth. Believe me, once you cross over that line, you never go back! It will be clear skies and smooth sailing with your new VA. You used to look into the mirror and groan, “This guy’s the limit” and now you can look into the wide blue yonder of opportunity and quietly whisper “The sky’s the limit”.