The Ultimate Guide to Working with a Virtual Assistant
You’re Thinking It’s Finally Time for an Assistant…
On Friday night, you were answering emails and posting to social media during your daughter’s dance recital. On Saturday morning, you were conversing with a client on chat about a new project during your son’s soccer game. Do you even remember what you ate at your anniversary dinner or was your mind on work? How long has it been since you were truly present in your own life?
Your Inbox is out of Control
If your inbox is splitting at the seams like your mailbox after a two-week vacation, it’s probably time to hire. When was the last time you could see free space in your email inbox? Just thinking about all the newsletters, junk mail, and social media notifications is overwhelming and causes us all to get the cold sweats. A VA can easily and quickly sort all of it out for you and then keep it organized.
Your ‘To Do’ List is Taking Over Your Life
Are you waking up at night wallpapering your bedroom with sticky notes filled with transaction details? If you find yourself going to bed so late it’s crossed your mind to just stay up, it’s time to hire a VA.
Yes, you’re an expert at certain tasks and it’s tough to hand them off to someone else with any faith they’ll do the job as well as you, but you’re burning the candle at both ends. It’s only a matter of time before you burn out and you’re left with a pile of ashes and sticky notes for décor.
A VA will make sure everything reconciles and that your walls aren’t fluorescent yellow anymore.
Your Business is Growing FAST
If you’ve had to turn away new clients, it’s time to hire a VA.
When we’re overwhelmed, it’s easy to overlook things or to prioritize incorrectly. A VA can check off the tasks required for project completion and to ensure your continued success. They can organize teams and coordinate tasks like nobody’s business. They know the technology that can save your sanity in seconds.
With a simple video chat, they can even help you figure out that new coffee machine you bought!
You Can’t Dream Anymore
Are you brimming with ideas for new ventures you’re anxious to try out, but you never seem to get to them? It’s probably because your focus is being pulled in too many directions.
All of those tasks you put off until tomorrow only to find they’ve been waiting for your attention for six weeks could be handled by a VA. Then you could get to that idea you had for those self-ironing pants.
Social Media is Running Your Life
If you’ve spent hours posting to social media but your following has barely increased and your engagement is non-existent, it’s time to hire a VA.
VAs specialize in different areas and some can really rock your social media. It isn’t that social media isn’t your jam, but your attention is spread too thin. You just can’t be everywhere at once and your business may be suffering.
Breathe new life into your business by admitting you might not have everything under control. If you’re experiencing even one of these items, you could benefit from some help.
Here are some questions we get asked at BELAY by leaders looking for administrative hiring advice:
- How do I know if I actually need an assistant?
- How can I work with an assistant who’s not in the next office?
- How can I track my assistant’s time? And how can an assistant help me with my time?
- How can an assistant make me a better leader?
- How is BELAY part of the solution?
These questions – and many more – are what we answer for business and organizational leaders each and every day. And here, we will answer these questions and more as we paint a picture of how virtual is a solution growing in popularity. So if you’re wondering if it’s time to hire a Virtual Assistant, you’re wrong. It’s past time. And here’s why.
Do You Know Your Employee Costs?
Since this guide is about hiring a virtual assistant, let’s quickly touch on why going virtual is such a good idea.
We can all agree that employees are expensive, and one common denominator regardless of where you’re in the U.S. is the unseen costs associated with an employee.
Because beyond their wage, employers are responsible for a whole lot more. In case you haven’t thought about or don’t know the full extent of your employee costs, here’s a brief overview:
- Wage/salary (that’s a given)
- Employer-related taxes on payroll
- Healthcare coverage
- Dental coverage
- Vision/eyecare costs
- Vacation pay
- Federal Holiday pay
- Sick pay
- Bereavement pay
- Sabbatical pay
- Investment/retirement contributions
- Disability insurance
- Life insurance(s)
- Office space
- Office utilities (water, AC, heat, electric, trash, etc.)
- Office equipment (phones, copiers, printers, desks, chairs, whiteboards, etc.)
- Training/continuing education
- Conferences and events
- Travel (air, hotel, rental car, meals, entertainment, etc.)
- Motivational tools
- Employee portal
- IT support for employees
- Cell phone with text and data plan
- And more…
If that didn’t help set the stage for looking into a different option for staffing, then maybe diving deeper with this employee cost calculator will do the trick. You can download it here.
When you’re ready, we’ll bust a myth that you have to be in the same office to be productive.
Why Your First Hire Should be a Virtual Assistant
As an entrepreneur, you’re a visionary. You may even use terms like ‘cat-herder,’ ‘jack-of-all-trades’ and ‘superstar’ to describe yourself.
But just because you can be practically all things to all functions necessary for your emerging enterprise, it doesn’t mean that you should be.
The reality is, you need help – a right-hand man or wing-woman to assist you where it matters most. That’s why a virtual assistant should be your business’s first hire. He or she will become the relief valve that enables you to make the highest and best use of your limited time, fast-tracking progress, motivating productivity and refocusing priorities.
Hundreds of growth-focused proprietors, C-level executives, and corporations across the country have added virtual assistants to their teams to get more done. And here’s why you should, too:
It’s hard to make forward progress if you’re distracted by the past. Because entrepreneurs are competitive, motivated risk-takers and planners, you uphold high standards and, as a result, may dwell on missed opportunities and delayed light-bulb moments.
If the details of day-to-day business have gotten in the way, an executive assistant can help renew those ideas, taking them out of freeze-frame and allowing you to put them into motion.
All sorts of priorities and pressures pull at business owners’ limited bandwidth. From returning routine calls and comparing vendor quotes to approving designs and posting updates to social media channels, dozens of tasks pile up at every turn and monopolize valuable resources.
A virtual assistant can assume the lion’s share of customized and customary, administrative needs. This frees you up to do your best work – lead, think and create.
It’s one thing to do more with less, but it’s much more effective to accomplish more with the time you have available.
Virtual assistants fuel productivity, which is a critical currency for successful businesses. If time is money, then utilizing it effectively and efficiently by delegating key tasks to administrative experts can trigger profitability.
So now you may be thinking that this is sounding too good to be true. There may be a question nagging in the back of your mind – “How does this work if we aren’t in the same office space?”
Why it Doesn’t Matter Where Your Assistant Is
The idea of the executive assistant who sits outside the CEO’s office, typing up documents and waiting for tasks to be assigned just feels really ‘Mad Men’ these days. Don’t get us wrong – there are things that the traditional on-site assistant does that provide tremendous value to leaders and are essential to getting things done each day. They just don’t need to happen with an assistant who’s sitting outside your door.
How can a virtual executive assistant help you get things done the same way an on-site assistant can – and for a fraction of the staffing cost? Here are just a few ideas:
There are countless ways a virtual assistant can serve you. It comes down to a willingness to try something different and be open to letting go of the idea that an assistant has to be physically present in your office to be effective.
And if you’re wondering how you can track their time when you can’t see them, we have an answer for that, too!
How Do I Keep Track Of My VA’s Time?
Since virtual assistants work flexible schedules, it’s important that they keep track of their time. This ensures that they are meeting their commitment to their clients as all contractors are hired for a set number of hours, and also respecting their own time. Each client and their virtual assistant can set their own parameters for how they want to communicate about time, but here are some common practices for how and why our virtual assistants track it.
Especially in the beginning, it’s important to regularly communicate about hours. Both the virtual assistant and client are figuring out the VA’s responsibilities, how long it takes them to complete their work, and how best to prioritize tasks.
Doing a quick poll from our contractors, we found many who regardless of how they’ve been working with their client, still send a weekly status email detailing where their hours went for the week.
Another important reason for virtual assistants to closely monitor time is that it allows them to gauge throughout the week if they need more work to meet their hours or need further clarification from the client to prioritize tasks when they’re running over on time.
Know Where Your Time Goes
It’s easy to get caught up in a new project or stuck in a routine and not realize where your time is going.
Time tracking helps you know where you’re spending most of your time so you can adjust as needed.
If, for example, a VA’s main responsibility is to handle social media but secondary tasks often steal their focus, knowing how much time they are spending on different tasks provides a better idea of what’s distracting them from their top priority and how to prioritize better.
Popular Tools for Tracking
There are lots of ways you can keep track of your time. It can be as simple as pen and paper or you can use a desktop or mobile app.
Toggl allows you to track hours by client, make notes about any particular project, and present information in a pie chart or bar graph – arguably the best feature. HoursTracker app is another popular option.
Ultimately, the responsibility of time tracking falls on the Virtual Assistant. But it’s important for you to communicate with your assistant how you want to be updated on their time and projects so everyone knows what to expect. That ensures a long and productive relationship far into the future.
The next question you should be asking yourself is, ‘How can a virtual assistant help me manage my time?
How Can A Virtual Assistant Help Me Manage My Time?
Many of our clients here at BELAY come to us because their businesses have outgrown their available time.
These leaders find themselves buried under all the details that go along with a successful venture, and are in danger of drowning in those details. Fortunately, that’s exactly why BELAY is here!
Here are some ways our BELAY assistants can help you manage your time more effectively:
Protecting Your Calendar
With a BELAY virtual assistant, you no longer have to be the bad guy when it comes to saying ‘no’ to appointments you really don’t have time for.
By working with your assistant to establish what times are reserved for which projects, you’ll accomplish that much more. Your assistant can handle all the back-and-forth of scheduling necessary appointments and help you remember that you’ve committed to that t-ball game/soccer clinic/violin lesson/date night at a time when someone else might want to schedule a meeting.
Managing Your Network
Many of our virtual assistants are tremendously skilled in the ways of social media and can help you take advantage of all the business development opportunities available through those platforms.
Curating an active social media presence takes a lot of time, and you likely didn’t set out in your business venture to learn about which Twitter scheduling tool is the best. But our assistants did, and they can jump right into your social media profiles to help you maximize them and build your business network while you do what only you can do.
Pushing Projects Forward
Rather than spending hours of your week following up on vendors, contractors, and unpaid invoices, have your virtual assistant do that for you.
Your assistant can keep your projects moving toward deadlines, and do all the time-consuming follow-up with everyone involved so you can focus on your portion of the project. They can also solicit proposals, send out post-project surveys, manage project-related expenses, and any other tasks that need to be done to successfully finish whatever projects you have in the works – while you focus on brainstorming the next one.
Dealing With the Details
Virtual assistants deal with thousands of details every day for our clients – seriously thousands. Confirming flights/hotels/car rentals, scheduling dentist appointments, recording mileage expenses, making phone calls to potential vendors or customers, researching new productivity tools, transcribing meeting notes, posting social media updates, proofreading documents, writing documentation, creating PowerPoints, updating project software or task management applications, and the list goes on.
If you ever catch yourself wondering, ‘Why am I doing this task?,’ that’s a task a virtual assistant can do for you.
What do you catch yourself doing that an assistant could do for you? Take a minute and jot some of those down. You can also download the Delegation Matrix and add them to that worksheet.
How To Work Together
At BELAY, we work with all sorts of leaders. New leaders, experienced leaders, church leaders, stressed-out leaders, laid-back leaders, detailed leaders, fly-by-the-seat-of-their-pants leaders, leaders at one-man or one-woman shops, leaders in global corporations, leaders running small businesses, and so on.
Regardless of the type of leader you are or are becoming, and regardless of the size of your organization, when you hire a virtual assistant, it’s important to start your working relationship off on the right foot.
Here are five sure-fire ways to develop a meaningful and successful working relationship with your virtual assistant:
Set Yourself Up for Success With Your VA: Build A Foundation
At BELAY, we spend what seems like a really long time at the front end of a new client/virtual assistant relationship getting things set up.
We know that for a client who’s drowning in administrative detail, spending this much time on the setup can be a bit frustrating and confusing – especially when you just want to get things done as soon as possible. And we totally get that.
But after working with hundreds of clients and their VAs, we’ve learned that this up-front investment will yield a return of productive hours worth many times more than the prep time you put in.
It might seem like you don’t have the time to sit down and write out what you want your VA to do before you even know who that VA might be.
But taking that time – and working with your BELAY Client Success Consultant to help you out – and identifying the specific things you want your VA to help accomplish means your VA can dive right into those tasks with clear direction and no wasted efforts.
Working virtually, it can sometimes be challenging to show someone how to do something when you can’t just ask them to look over your shoulder.
That’s why we love things like Google Drive, Dropbox, and Jing – you can upload and share training documents as you create them, and use Jing to record screencasts with you narrating as you complete the tasks you want your VA to take over for you. That way, your VA knows exactly what you want done and how.
It happens to us all the time – you get that perfect document ready to share with your team, upload it to Google Drive, and get five emails back saying your team can’t access it because you forgot to update the sharing settings.
We walk you through all the virtual tools and systems you’re going to need to share with your VA, so your VA can dive into getting things done for you and not waste time waiting for access and approvals.
The key to leveraging technology on a virtual team is to keep everyone on the same page with technology usage and the timeframe expected for replies.
It may seem formal, but having a conversation around this topic will serve you and your team well. Everyone should know what method of communication to use for an emergency, such as text or phone call, as well as reasonable response times to those emergency messages.
At BELAY, normal messages during normal business hours need to be answered within an hour.
Working virtually provides amazing flexibility and freedom. That’s why so many of us do it, right? But setting up agreed-upon boundaries with your VA is an important step to complete at the beginning of your engagement.
Both you and your VA need to establish and agree to your response times to emails, texts, and voicemails, and establish when you will and won’t communicate. That way, when you send your VA a text at 10 p.m. – when you’ve agreed on a 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. window of business hours – your VA will know it’s a really big deal and you need help.
We want you and your VA to be working together for the long term, which means that just like a marathon, you’ll need to invest time in training and preparation so you can see long-term success.
Yes, you will start seeing things getting accomplished right away, but investing in the right preparation and foundation-building will set you up for even greater success down the road.
Now that you know what to do and why, let’s look at some tips to help you and your team communicate well.
How Your VA Can Help At Home
We tend to see virtual assistants as a function of work only, but that’s certainly not the case.
In fact, a lot of our virtual assistants at BELAY oversee and complete scores of personal tasks for leaders’ spouses and other family members. These leaders protect their time at home just as well as the time they’re at work.
Get Your Time Back, Even At Home
Here’s just the start of a list of what a virtual assistant could do for you and your family at home:
- Appointment Setting for doctors, dentists, counselors, etc.
- Set up local runners for groceries delivered to your house, dry cleaning delivery services, pet sitting, etc.
- Oversee house projects for repairs, maintenance, remodels, etc.
- Create and maintain a family calendar with you, your spouse, your kids, your parents.
- Help with researching and scheduling vacations and trips.
- Schedule the logistics of the all-important date night, including reservations, child care, show tickets, etc.
- Schedule massages, spa days, flower deliveries, and other niceties that make life good
You don’t stop being busy when you get home from the office. Your time is valuable, whether that time is in an office or at home.
Where you spend your time shows others what you value. Home should be no different.
Eight Reasons Why You Need A VA
If you’re on the fence about getting a virtual assistant, no doubt this will help you get started.
What makes you different from other Virtual Assistant companies?
We are a service provider dedicated to building good relationships with our clients. We are a benchmark in the virtual assistant industry.
Where do you find your assistants?
Some of our assistants find us the typical way – through blogs and job review sites – but most are referred to us from other assistants.
In the past, we have received over 1,000 resumes a month, but we only contract with 4 percent, selecting the most hard-working and resourceful applicants.
Are there any best practices when getting started with a virtual assistant?
Ideally, you should communicate with them frequently and be clear about what you want done so that neither of you is left hanging out to dry.
Our Client Success Consultant will cover the above situations with you in detail during your Onboarding Plan. And we have plenty of resources and tools to help with both determining what to delegate and how to effectively communicate.
What if I’ve never worked with an assistant before?
For many of our clients, this is the first time they’re getting to the place where they can’t do everything anymore, and using a virtual assistant allows them to stop doing critical administrative tasks so they can spend more time on other equally important areas of their business.
How do you match a client with an assistant?
We gather information about you in our client profile document and then you meet with your BELAY Client Success Consultant to determine your work style, task list and programs used, as well as the personality you work best with.
They will then collaborate with our placement team to identify the one VA that would be the best match for you and your needs.
How many hours do they work a week?
We have flexible contracts that begin at 10 hours a week, climbing by increments of five a week.
We can recommend the number of hours a week based on what you’d like them to accomplish, and you can grow the hours if needed. And we work with you and the assistant on how to communicate and work together best depending on the number of hours needed.
What does my Client Success Consultant do?
Think of them as your ‘Virtual Business Coach.’
They will collectively sit at the 10,000-foot level across all 950 engagements and are armed with many tips, tools and best practices to offer as you're learning how this all works.
We don’t expect you to show up and know how to work in this space so your Client Success Consultant is there to roadmap everything for you throughout the engagement, but more so during the first 90 days which we consider our onboarding period.
Basically, you're getting a ‘two-for’ deal with a stellar Virtual Assistant as well as a Virtual Business Coach.
What can I expect after you have placed me with my Virtual Assistant?
No problem! Your CSC will be looking for specific Onboarding Benchmarks that we know make a virtual relationship successful at the 30-, 60- and 90-day marks.
During this time, they will reach out to make sure that expectations are clear and reasonable:
30 Days: We are looking for trust between you and your VA.
60 Days: We expect that systems and processes are up and running.
90 Days: We expect your VA to have a solid understanding of how they can proactively support you.
How Do We Match Clients and Virtual Assistants
One of the things we take really seriously here at BELAY is the way we match clients with one of our virtual assistants.
As such, we’re pretty selective when it comes to choosing the candidates we invite to join the BELAY VA team. We joke sometimes that becoming a BELAY virtual assistant is kind of like our own version of Survivor. It’s a long and sometimes challenging process, but with what we think is a big payout at the end.
In fact, fewer applicants make it to our talent bench than get accepted to Harvard. True story!
Our talent acquisition recruiters screen hundreds of resumes each week, looking for candidates with the right mix of skills, experiences, and attitudes and often, the attitude is the deciding factor.
We want candidates who are truly focused on serving their clients, who understand that often the most important position when it comes to getting things done is at the bottom of the ladder.
Our talent acquisition team then conducts video interviews with those candidates that have the winning combination of skills, experiences, and attitude, and completes in-depth reference checks and skills assessments before offering the candidate a contract.
Once they’re on board, the process begins all over again as we match new clients with a potential assistant.
We look at the skills, experiences, and attitudes an assistant has that will be a good fit for how a client wants to work. Once the client and virtual assistant are in a working relationship, we provide both of them with resources on how to work effectively together and offer lots of resources to both clients and assistants through newsletters, webinars, and private online forums so they can hear about the newest tools and crowdsourced ideas from each other. We love seeing these communities come together to answer questions, provide recommendations and celebrate wins with each other!
Our BELAY Client Success Consultant also serves as both the client and assistant’s dedicated resource throughout the contract to help navigate any potential obstacles in the virtual working road and coaches clients and assistants with more effective ways to work together.
So that’s that! If we’ve answered all your questions, click here to get started today with your very own Virtual Assistant!