What kind of help do you REALLY need?
In order to hire the right Virtual Assistant, you first have to identify the help you need. Sounds simple, even obvious, right? Well, don’t be so sure. It’s easier to look around and identify that you need help than it is to define what form the help will take. For example, you may have a document to produce by a certain date, and when you read it it seems like it needs “something.” Perhaps it’s not flowing as well as you’d like, or it’s been co-authored already by multiple people, and you notice it lacks cohesion. Your first impulse is to think “I know! I’ll hire a copyeditor to pull it all together!”
Sounds like a good idea, right? Get another objective pair of eyes to unify the voice, pull it together, polish it up? Not so fast. What if the reason it’s not meeting your expectations is that it needs more meat, more content, more detail specific to your business, or your target audience? What if the reason you aren’t happy with it is that it’s repetitive, and the same ideas are being used over and over, just reworded, or expressed in longer sentences, merely to add necessary length? What if the problem is the whole thing needs more attention in-house from you, or the team who wrote it to begin with? If that’s the case, hiring an editor is premature at best, a total waste of time and money at worst. After all, the editor can only edit what’s already there. He or she can’t create content from whole-cloth, certainly not unless you first produce it in rough draft or even outline form.
You might do well to hire an editor with specific industry background, who can research background material for you, and incorporate it into the draft document. However, even then, if the document has to cover specific information, for the purpose (for example) of selling a specific product that only you and your team know intimately, you’re still going to be spending as much time directing your VA as you would spend doing the work yourself. In other words, sometimes the help you need is someone to tell you what you need to do next yourself!
Other times, it’s a different type of help than you thought, like needing that researcher rather than the editor, or someone who can do both. The point is, if you don’t take some time on the front end to figure this out, you will hire the wrong person, and probably end up dissatisfied with their work, even if they deliver the highest quality possible based on what you said you needed.
How should you determine what you really need? I suggest you follow the following steps:
For tasks you do everyday: Write a recipe for the task.
Imagine you’ve never done this work before, and need a “recipe” or list of steps to do the job. If it’s something you do every day, and you’d like to delegate to someone else, sit down and document what it is that you do, as if you were watching yourself do it. Write it down, don’t assume you “know” all the steps just because you do them so automatically. As an example, imagine writing the steps for driving a car, or making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, for someone who’s never done either. Perspective is the key–you can’t expect someone else to replace you if you don’t really understand what it is that you do, in detail. Include how long it takes you to do something. It is very common for entrepreneurs to be so immersed in, and comfortable with their work, that they lose track of time. This leads them assume tasks take less of it than they actually do. Time yourself, then remember that your VA will be helping you, but it may take time for them to ramp up to the speed at which you complete these tasks. Take into account the fact that they need to learn your process, even if they’ve done the discrete tasks (Internet searches, updating blogs and websites, serving customers over the phone) a million times, your process–your “recipe”–is what you want them to follow. The good ones will make quick work of that, and have shallow learning curves, but you still need to have a benchmark, and it needs to be realistic.
For tasks you don’t currently do: Be your target audience.
As with the document editing example, take a step back and review the work you need done from the perspective of the end consumer or user. Even if that consumer is YOU, be honest, thorough, and realistic about what it is you don’t like or find lacking, or why it is you’re not doing the work yourself. Are you just bored, or do you lack the requisite time or skills, and need a true “second pair of hands?” Are you at the task level yet, or do you need help defining the scope and tasks themselves? Consider hiring someone to serve as the consumer or objective “eye” if you find it too difficult, it will still be money well-spent, and may even inspire you to solve the problem or finish the work yourself, with less effort and renewed energy. Ask yourself if the assistance you need requires the same industry knowledge you have, or if more general knowledge or technical know-how will suffice? Remember, the best VA out there still isn’t you, and as much business acumen as they have, they may still have to ask you lots of questions to fill in content and context blanks, be very sure you are comfortable with this, or expect it, before you hire someone.
For every job: Write a detailed job description.
I realize I’m repeating myself, but this is a point that bears repeating! Take the time to write a job description! After you’ve critically examined the work you need done, write it down, explain how long you expect it to take, and while you’re at it, decide what it’s worth to you. How much is your time worth? How many hours per day, or week, or on this project alone, will your VA be saving you if they are the right person? Imagine you had to do the job instead, what would it “cost” you? That’s the “value” of the job to you, and you should expect to pay accordingly–not necessarily dollar-for-dollar what you would be paid, but certainly according to the value it will deliver. I see so many people posting projects for VAs who want what I call “Unicorn People,” Jacks and Janes of all trades, who are both psychic, and so multi-talented, it’s nearly impossible to comprehend the one brain that could house and be good at so many different skills! And they want it all for rock-bottom rates.
Reading some of the job descriptions, I have to wonder if the employer posting has taken even five minutes to look at how they do what they are trying to delegate, or how others do it if they lack those skills themselves. It would be akin to a non-cook putting an ad out for the Iron Chef winner to whip up Thanksgiving Dinner in an hour, at a rate of $2/hour. As the saying goes: You get what you pay for.
There’s another saying in the consulting world (and the best Virtual Assistants really are “consultants” at heart): Fast, cheap, great: Pick any TWO.
This is not to say you can’t find high-quality help, at a reasonable rate, delivering in a timely manner! The point of the triangle is that perspective is key! Setting clear expectations, which starts with knowing what you really need, is the key to finding the solution that delivers all three. So take the time, do the work up front, and you will not only be better prepared to hire the right person, you’ll get more out of them when you do!