10 Steps to Hiring a Great Virtual Assistant

Okay, so you have decided that you are finally ready to get some extra help with your projects but how do you find a good virtual assistant? Obviously you are very busy, and you do not want to spend a lot of time training a virtual assistant if they are not going to work out in the long run.

I have had a lot of trial and error in the area of hiring a virtual assistant for the past 7 years. These are the top things that you should consider before hiring a virtual assistant…

Types of Tasks

The very first thing that you need to consider is what types of tasks are you going to need help with? Is it simply confined to one task or a wide variety of tasks? For example, do you only need data entry or do you need someone to post your blog posts, handle your social media management, search engine optimization, online research, or web design? Many entrepreneurs who have not outsourced before, look for a virtual assistant who can do it all. The fact is — these super VA’s just do not exist. Each VA has their own areas of expertise, strengths, and weaknesses. You need to identify what tasks you are going to need help with on the front end, so you can clearly hire the right person or persons to manage your projects.

If you have one project or even few projects such as bookkeeping, data entry, or online research, these do not not require highly specialized skills which means a general virtual assistant may be a good fit for you. General virtual assistants are capable of handling various administrative projects and are great for freeing your time so you can focus on other priorities.

1. Individual

Individual virtual assistants can encompass a wide variety of freelancers. Often times, individuals can be less costly than teams, so this can be a good option for entrepreneurs who want to start off with a very low budget. If you have decided on one or two specific tasks, then an individual VA may be a good option for you.

Here are some things to consider when looking for an individual virtual assistant:

  • Many of these virtual assistants are working from home and may or may not have access to reliable internet and computers. When hiring an individual virtual assistant you need to be very cautious of this and arrange for a Skype video interview where you can preview the working facilities. Also ask the virtual assistant to test their internet speeds and to send you a screenshot of the results.
  • Often times individual virtual assistants have other clients or other full-time jobs. Your tasks and projects may not always get top priority. You need to be willing to consider if you are okay with 1-3 day response times.
  • Ensure that any individual virtual assistants do not farm out your projects to other sub-virtual assistants or other freelancers without your permission. This can bring your personal and business info in front of other freelancers who you do not know. I have assistants sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) before starting on any projects. If your info is being farmed out to other individuals who have not signed an NDA, then you run the risk of your info getting in front of people who should not be seeing it.
  • Always, always hire a virtual assistant through a network of freelancers where you can securely pay the virtual assistant and where there is increased security. Upwork is the best solution for hiring individual virtual assistants. Upwork allows you to browse by skills, country, budget, and feedback. Here you can have a good idea of who your assistant is before you hire them and allows you to view their past work experience. Upwork also offers certain buyer protection.
    Consider that one assistant is not as reliable as a team of assistants. If your one assistant was sick, your entire task or project would be delayed

2. Team

Teams of assistants can be great for offering one-stop outsourcing solutions. Pricing will often times be 10-20% higher, but I have found this to be worth it, especially if you have a wide variety of tasks to outsource. If you have data entry, graphic design work, and email management that you need help with, then you work with one dedicated project managing assistant who gets the project to the right team member in the company. Here are some things to consider when hiring a team:

  • Do you require more urgent response times or dedicated work daily? If so, then teams many times offer more prompt attention to your work. Response times can vary from a few minutes to a few hours, but if you require more immediate attention to your projects a team is probably the best solution.
    Before hiring a team for your wide variety of tasks and projects, talk with them about what would be a reasonable response time to expect, and discuss the type of tasks that you will need help with regularly, to ensure they will be able to offer assistance with all your tasks and projects.
  • Always ask for a general virtual assistant or project manager with excellent English speaking and writing skills, especially if you are going to have them manage your email or phone calls.
  • Ensure that the company will be willing to sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) before you commit to hiring them.
  • Ask the payment terms before starting with the team. I personally only go with teams that will allow me to use my credit card for the monthly rates, so I can obtain points off of these ongoing expenses.
  • See if the team will be willing to send you daily or weekly progress reports so you are aware of what was being worked on.
  • Get a clear understanding of how flexible the teams are before you start with them. For example, I once was interviewing a team that I was going to work on my projects daily. Some projects required attention the same day, in order to meet deadlines. This particular company charged double rates for any projects that required a same-day response time. Ask about what your expectations should be for reasonable response times. What are their holidays? What are the normal ways of communication? Once you have the answers to these questions, do these fit your needs, if not, some negotiating may be needed.

3. Cost

I mentioned that teams are generally a little more costly, but offer a broad range of benefits from faster response time, to more security, to more talent. So what sort of budget should an entrepreneur expect when outsourcing? The answer to this question will depend mostly upon where you are outsourcing to and what your requirements are.

With my experience, rates can vary significantly, but you can typically find general virtual assistants for as low as $2-3 USD in parts of Asia, but these are for very entry-level assistants. For tasks that are not real urgent or very skilled in nature, you may consider one of these virtual assistants. US virtual assistants typically start off at $10-12 per hour for beginners and $30-$40 per hour for top-notch assistants.

For full teams of assistants, I have found rates as low as $5.00 per hour. While this may sound really good. You always need to look at the cost per completed task not the cost per hour. Unfortunately, I got this wrong when I first started. I outsourced to the team with the lowest rate per hour in India, and found that it was taking them 2-3 times longer than it should have taken them to finish a project. Therefore a 10-hour project, that should have cost $50, was turning into a cost of $100-$150.

4. Hours of Availability

What times do you need your assistants to be available? Do you have work that needs to be completed during the normal 9-5 business day or do you prefer to have work completed while you sleep? If projects require your communication and oversight you will need to be ready to hire a team or individual that is willing to work on US hours. Individuals and teams in Asia or Europe may often time charge a higher rate for working during US hours. This is something you will need to be prepared for. Many of my projects require a team to work during US hours which required me either being willing to pay the higher rates in Asia or look into Canada, the US, Central America, or South America. Currently, I have an excellent team based out of Central America that handles all of my work and email Monday-Friday during US hours.

5. Language

Strong English speaking skills are a must for effective and efficient outsourcing. I have found certain countries and regions to be better when it comes to communication than others. Obviously Canada, the US, and Europe are top choices for excellent English speaking skills, but these regions often come with a higher outsourcing rate. Parts of Central America, parts of South America and the Philippines all have strong English speaking skills. If you are going to require content writing, email management, or telephone calls you will want to really have clear communication expectations for your assistant(s), before hiring them.

6. Cultural

Again, it helps if the assistants you are outsourcing to, understand the American culture, current business and marketing trends, and even designing trends. This is why it is important to hire an assistant or team that understands the culture. This will decrease the number of communication barriers, and ensure the projects run smoother. For example, some developing countries like the Philippines are very familiar with the American culture, language and ways of doing business. On the other hand, India is not. I attribute this to another reason why my outsourcing efforts to India were such a disaster.

7. Country

You need to also consider whether you want to outsource to individuals within the US or outside the US. I personally have always opted to outsource outside the US, because of the tax advantages. If you outsource within the US you are required to fill out 1099 for your contractors. If you outsource outside of the US, there is no documentation or additional taxes needed. All contractors outside of the US are simply looked as a business expense.

8. Interview / NDA

Once you have done your research and are ready to hire an assistant or team, then you need to arrange for a Skype phone or video call where you can interview your assistant. Have a list of questions ready before beginning your call that will give you good insight into their English speaking skills, cultural understanding, hours of availability, security issues, reliability of internet and tools, methods of communication and understanding of specific skills, You also need to ensure that your assistant is willing to sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement.

9. Trial Period

I always start off with new contractors on a trial basis to see how the individuals work with me and handle the projects. Often times, especially with freelancers, you can agree to start off of at a lower wage and then agree to increase that wage at the end of the 30 or 60 day period depending on the contractors perfomance. My team in Central America offers a 7 day free-trial, where you can get your money back if you are not satisfied.

10. Backup Options

Once you have found a team, always have a backup option for a team or individual, especially if your work requires tight deadlines or ongoing work. This is some extra work, up front, but helps ensure things run smoothly in the event of a catastrophe. Recently a US based virtual assistant company known as Zirtual went out of business overnight with no notice to their customers. All projects were suddenly halted, which left many entrepreneurs and businesses paralyzed when it came to the completion of these projects. Don’t put all your eggs in the basket of one team or one individual. It is too risky.

Hiring a virtual assistant can be exciting and stressful all at the same time, because you know you need the help, but you can’t waste your time working with or training contractors that are not going to work out, in the long run. I would encourage you to hire slow and fire fast. Be very clear about what you want, what your expectations are and how your contractors are going to work with and communicate with you. Rarely are things a complete catastrophe. I have been outsourcing for 7 years, and with the exception of a few detours and speed bumps, things were not bad. In the end, an assistant is a very wise investment, an investment that can offer you more personal freedom and help your productivity to skyrocket. If you follow the steps above outlined, things will go much more smoothly. Who knows, you may even make some new friends in other parts of the world.