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VA: 101

How To Hire The Right Virtual Assistant For You! By Yva Yorston

Copyright Š Yva Yorston 2013 All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without written permission from the author. Yva Yorston of Boost Business Support Email: Web:

About Yva Yorston Yva is a passionate, go-getting businesswoman from Aberdeenshire in Scotland. Prior to establishing Boost Business Support in 2012, Yva worked in hospitality, retail, the public sector and social enterprise. Following her graduation from the University of Strathclyde in 2011, she set about refining her idea to provide practical support to small businesses. Now, she provides professional, intelligent and efficient services to her clients; by supporting them with administration, marketing and research, she relieves them of business burdens and helps them to maximise their profitability and potential. Want to find out more? Visit

Contents Introduction


1. In the beginning‌


2. What is a Virtual Assistant, exactly?


3. What are the differences between employees, temps and VAs?


Employees Temps Virtual Assistants 4. A VA is the right choice for me. What next?


Your business goals Your budget The skills and knowledge you require The VAs location 5. What types of Virtual Assistant are out there?


Offshore and Onshore Solo-VAs and Multi-VA Companies Generalists and Specialists 6. What could you be delegating?


7. How does it work?


Where do I find a VA? Starting the relationship Working together And that’s it!


Introduction Entrepreneurs everywhere are discovering outsourcing as a flexible, cost-effective alternative to traditional recruitment when building their team. Advances in technology, coupled with a greater openness to remote working and a common need to reduce costs whilst maximising growth, means that the workforce of the future is looking increasingly ‘virtual’. The trouble is that, after the briefest of internet searches, business owners find a global industry of online workers to choose from, each with their own skills, specialities and price tags. How do you get the right person on board, without undertaking a time-consuming and costly process of trial and error? VA 101: How To Find The Right Virtual Assistant For You is a straightforward, no-waffle guide to the increasingly diverse Virtual Assistant industry. Whether you’re completely new to the world of virtual assistance, or you’ve worked with VAs in the past but struggled to find the perfect match, this book is for you. Through each chapter, you will begin to build a picture of your support needs and the choices available to you as a business owner; from the reasons to outsource through to finding your perfect VA and getting the relationship started. By equipping you with this knowledge, I hope to save you time, money and enable you to develop a virtual partnership that delivers the results you’re looking for. So let’s get started!


In the beginning‌

In the beginning, many start-up owners try to do everything themselves. Partly in a bid to save money, but also because it's hard to relinquish control on something you've built from scratch. Unfortunately, it soon gets to a point where this isn't really sustainable.

Many of the tasks involved in running a business have nothing to do with your core activity or goal.

So why do we do them? We don't try to do everything ourselves in our personal lives so why do we do it in business?

It’s important to remember that we outsource every day for lots of different reasons…

We outsource tasks that are necessary, but that we don't always enjoy doing Like cooking. We have to eat every day, but the planning and preparation involved can become a real chore, especially if you've got a family, so we eat out or get a takeaway.

We outsource tasks that we don't have the specialist knowledge for Like health care. We don't try to diagnose our own health problems or pull our own teeth out!

We outsource tasks that we don't have the equipment for If we want to dig a big hole, maybe to lay a new driveway or build an extension, we don't get out the shovel, do we! We call someone who has the tools to do the job efficiently.

We outsource tasks that we don't have the time or resources to do ourselves Like delivering mail. Everyone loves a hand delivered birthday card but unless you live in the same part of town, it’s just not practical!

Once you realise how much you already outsource, it won’t appear such a daunting prospect!

3 key reasons to outsource: Passion Many entrepreneurs start their businesses because they have a passion for their industry and what they do. Others start because they enjoy coming up with new ideas for growth and taking the business forward. Outsourcing the tasks that don't fall into these categories will free up your time to do what you enjoy, whether that’s in work or outside of it.

Collaboration Running a business as a solo-preneur can be isolating; some people are lucky enough to have access to a mentor of some sort, but maybe you'd like someone else to bounce ideas around with? Someone who knows and understands what's going on in your business and who can share the burden? Working with a professional partner can fill this void.

Growth Delegating some of your business activities releases your time to focus on business development and strategy, and increases your capacity for billable work.

So do you think outsourcing could be a viable option for you? Let’s learn a bit more about the sort of help that’s out there.


What is a Virtual Assistant, exactly?

A Virtual Assistant provides independent administrative, technical or creative support to busy entrepreneurs and small businesses remotely via the internet.

VAs are not temps, not employees, but self-employed administrative consultants. They are entrepreneurs who understand the pressures their clients may be under, because they’ve been there themselves. They are experienced at working virtually and save you the additional costs associated with hiring full time staff. They provide services such as administration, bookkeeping, desktop publishing and marketing, to businesses of all shapes and sizes. Virtual Assistants will work both in long term relationships and on one-off projects.

But how do you know whether this is the right option for you?


What are the differences between employees, temps and VAs?

Employees are on some form of permanent contract which means:    

They have a job description that clearly defines their role They are completely dedicated to that role within their stated working hours They are generally working with you on your premises on a daily basis They work within your guidelines and according to your company culture

This comes with considerable commitment and responsibility to the person you employ:     

They need work space and equipment They need training and supervision They are entitled to benefits like maternity leave, holidays and sick leave They require regular hours, as agreed in their contract of employment They require an ongoing, consistent flow of work to undertake

Remember! A person cannot be expected to be productive 100% of the time. Downtime, coffee breaks and casual chats are all hidden costs of a person’s employment!

Temporary workers, or ‘temps’, are usually employed by an agency and assigned to you for a set period of time. This means:    

 

They are hired based on their capability to fulfil a defined role in your business They will be dedicated to that role within the terms of their contract They will generally work with you on your premises You need only employ them for the number of hours you require on a daily or weekly basis, which may be less than that of a part time employee You have increased flexibility, as you can hire according to natural fluctuations in workload You have the opportunity to test the impact of an additional team member before undertaking permanent recruitment

However, it’s important to bear in mind that: 

  

Working with an agency will involve paying a recruitment fee, either up front, as a portion of the worker’s hourly rate, or both There may be a minimum number of hours per day or week to adhere to The worker will require workspace and equipment They will still require training and supervision to undertake their role, but this investment is wasted when the temporary contract ends Whilst there are people who prefer to work on temporary assignments as a career, many temps are working as a stop-gap between permanent positions and may not be completely dedicated to their assignment or their work Depending on their level of experience, temporary workers may receive quite low wages and therefore lack financial incentive to produce quality work If you require help from temporary workers on a regular basis, there is no guarantee that you will be assigned the same person every time Recent changes in UK legislation means that if an assignment lasts longer than 3 months they have the same right to employment benefits, like holiday and sick pay, as a permanent employee

VAs work as remote contractors, which means:   

They don't need work space or equipment You are not responsible for their training There are no hidden costs like holiday or sick leave, as these are all covered by their hourly rate You don't pay for downtime, as they will bill for the exact amount of time they spend on a project You can build a lasting business relationship with your service provider

They offer maximum flexibility to business owners: 

 

If the market changes then you have the option to increase or reduce their workload accordingly The scope of their role is also flexible depending on your requirements, as they may have skills in a number of areas Any minimum hire policies may be as low as 1 hour As long as expectations are clear, there is no need for micro-management as the VA will let you know if they have any queries

However... They do work with multiple clients at a time and must manage their schedules accordingly. If something comes up and you need urgent support, you may need to pay an additional fee to compensate for rescheduling other work, they might delegate to another team member or they may offer an alternative, such as working with a sub-contractor, to meet your requirements. They are independent professionals so they will work to their own standards and company culture. Having said that, their reputation is at stake for every project so it is in their interest to work efficiently and to the highest quality at all times.


A VA is the right choice for me. What next?

Once you have decided that outsourcing to a Virtual Assistant is the right path for you, there are a few things that you should consider to ensure you get the right person on board…

Your business goals   

How do you work now and how would you like to work in the future? Are you outsourcing purely to free up your time from basic admin tasks? Are you looking for a collaborative partner, with an entrepreneurial mindset, who can help you build and implement a strategy?

Your budget  

The industry is extremely varied and there are VAs to suit every budget. But remember to balance their hourly rate with your other priorities, e.g. their skills and location. Delegating to a VA is often cheaper than you first think!

The skills and knowledge you require   

Do you want someone with specialist knowledge of your industry? Do you need someone with a particular skillset? Do the tasks you want doing require only basic skills? I.e. "grunt work"

The VA’s location

Time difference

 

Native language

 

Do you need to stay in contact with your assistant during standard UK business hours? Would it suit you to have work turned around overnight? Does the work you need doing require a high standard of business English? Ie. Will you be asking them to undertake a lot of writing or telephony?

Working culture

VAs based in a different part of the globe may have a different working culture and this should be taken into consideration, particularly if you’d like them to integrate with other team members

Local knowledge

 

Would it be useful if your assistant had local knowledge? Knowledge of peak traffic hours and travel times might be useful in appointment setting Understanding local dialects and colloquialisms might be important in conducting telephony Familiarity with local place names and postcodes might mean a data entry project is completed more efficiently

 

Not so virtual!

Working virtually will always be the most cost-effective option, BUT would you like the ability to meet with your assistant face to face occasionally?

Now let’s take a look at the people out there who fit these criteria…


What types of Virtual Assistant are out there?

The VA industry is diverse, but there are a few distinct groups you should know about:

Offshore and Onshore Offshore refers to VAs in countries like the Phillipines and India. Due to their economies, these VAs can operate on much lower hourly rates than those based in Western countries. You might choose an offshore VA if...

  

Budget was a particular concern It was helpful to have work turned around overnight (due to the time difference) You were delegating largely basic, very clearly defined administrative tasks

Onshore refers to VAs based in Western, native English speaking countries like the UK, US, Canada and Australia. Onshore VAs will generally operate at a higher hourly rate, however, this option may suit you better if...

   

You want to work with someone during UK business hours You need someone with a high standard of business English You wanted the VA to be consumer-facing and representative of your company's characteristics You wanted someone who could work collaboratively and on their own initiative

Solo VAs and Multi-VA companies A Solo VA is one person undertaking all categories of work for their clients. They are a known entity in terms of quality of work, communication, availability etc. Despite being 'solo', will likely have a network of contacts and associates to refer or subcontract work to. A Multi-VA company works with a team of Virtual Assistants. Interestingly, these are normally subcontracting/outsourcing relationships, just like the VAs have with their clients, meaning that each team member may also have their own business. Working with a Multi-VA company means you will likely have a variety of specialist skills at your disposal. You may also encounter more security in terms of availability and ability to undertake rush jobs.

Generalists and Specialists Many VAs promote a specialist skill; something that requires technical know-how or training, like website design or search engine optimisation. Others specialise in an area that they have taken forward from their previous offline career, such as event management or bookkeeping. You will also encounter VAs with experience in a particular industry. For instance, there are those who work mainly with authors, because they know how to self-publish original works. Another common specialism is to work with speakers, where the VA is experienced in securing gigs for their clients. However, the common feature amongst most VAs is the provision of general administrative support. This encompasses many of the tasks you would associate with a traditional office role: word processing, managing spreadsheets and creating presentations. But because we’ve taken these skills online, it also starts to include a virtual skillset; managing emails and online calendars, updating website pages, maintaining social media accounts and managing cloud-based applications.


What could you be delegating?

So we’ve decided we want to work with a VA, we’ve thought about our criteria and our options, now what could we delegate?

Anything that diverts you from your core business activity, mission or goal.

Here are some ideas to get you started: Maintaining the status quo  Managing emails and social media  Updating websites  Updating spreadsheets and databases Going paperless  Copy typing from hard copy documents or PDF image scans  Setting up online accounting  Setting up online filing systems using applications like Evernote Creation of e-products  Ebooks  Email 'autoresponder' courses  Screencast videos

Next time you undertake one of these tasks, think about the steps you take to complete it, write them down and speak to a VA about the possibility of taking it off your hands!


How does it work?

Where do I find a VA? Simply typing ‘Virtual Assistant’ into Google is unlikely to bring up the right person for you and your business on page 1. To find your ideal VA we need to look in the right place, based on the criteria we set earlier. If you’re looking for an offshore VA, a good place to start is a ‘people for hire’ website, such as:,, or Here, you can post an advert for a specific project and review the applications for someone of ideal expertise and hourly rate or you can simply browse the freelancer profiles for someone suitable. For specialist VAs, the simplest approach is to select the most important criteria for you and search using long-tail keywords. If you’re looking for someone local, add in your city, region or country. However, whilst this approach will help to narrow your search, you may feel that the results still lack credibility. How do you know these are reputable service providers? One solution would be to use a directory of approved or vetted assistants, such as the or Another might be to appeal to your network; could any of your contacts recommend a VA? If you don’t know someone personally, you could also ask a shortlisted VA to put you in touch with their previous clients, much in the same way as you might do with a new builder.

Starting the relationship The client-VA relationship normally begins following one of two scenarios:


The client approaches the VA to assist with a specific project that has a defined brief This will result in an initial consultation to discuss the project scope, requirements and deadlines. The VA will then review the information provided by the client and provide an estimate for all or part of the project. Most VAs will then ask for a deposit to confirm and schedule the work.


The client approaches the VA speculatively, knowing they want to start delegating but looking for advice from the VA about where to start Again, this scenario will begin with a consultation but one which is much more open. The VA will try to gauge the client’s ultimate business goals and expectations; based on this discussion, they might suggest some small tasks that the client could start delegating. VAs are fully aware that outsourcing can be daunting at first, and will aim to build trust with their clients before moving on to larger tasks and longer-term working arrangements.

Working together Working virtually doesn't mean you have to be any less connected or ‘in touch’ as you would with someone in your office. As long as you have considered your preferences regarding working hours etc., as we discussed earlier, then there shouldn’t be any problems. Every VA will have their own systems and processes for working with clients and keeping them up to date with progress. Solo VAs may find it perfectly sufficient to work via email, phone and Skype. Some VAs may work with clients in an online project management space, which keeps all files and communication in one place. In a multi-VA company, this would enable any authorised team member to quickly get up to speed and start working. During the consultation stage, working processes and communication is something you might want to bring up, as it may influence the effectiveness of your partnership and your suitability for each other.

And that’s it! You now have the tools and knowledge that you need to hire the right Virtual Assistant for you and begin reaping both the personal and business rewards of outsourcing. I just have one question for you‌

Could it be us?

Boost is an onshore, solo VA service, based in Aberdeenshire, Scotland Specialising in supporting solo entrepreneurs and small teams, in a wide variety of industries, with administration, marketing and research

For intelligent, proactive business support from an entrepreneurial VA Email or call 01467 42 42 40

Any questions? Ask Yva via Twitter @boostbizsupport Or at

For more great business articles, check out The Boost Blog at

Copyright Š Yva Yorston 2013


VA 101: How To Find The Right Virtual Assistant For You is a straightforward, no-waffle guide to the increasingly diverse Virtual Assistant...

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