My Tips For Hiring A Virtual Assistant

Please note: When I refer to “virtual assistant” or “VA” in this article, I’m talking about a real person (usually offshore) who can provide administrative help, not an AI platform like Siri.

Most people in business can relate to the feeling of needing a little extra help from time to time. And now, with COVID-19 bulldozing many people’s lives this year, support is needed more than ever.

If you’ve ever contemplated hiring a virtual assistant (VA), now’s a good time to test things out. People are adapting to remote work conditions with varying degrees of success — partnering with a VA could play a vital role in improving your systems and processes.

I’ve been working with VAs in the Philippines since 2012. With input from two of my staff, here are some tips on making the engagement as rewarding for everyone as possible.

Have a clear position description

First and foremost, please think of your VAs as highly skilled professionals that benefit from leadership and structure.

They are not mind-readers, nor are they on-demand to order you UberEats when you’re hangry.

Common areas of expertise that companies often look for in VAs include:

  • Accounting and/or bookkeeping
  • Customer support
  • Email filtering
  • Calendar scheduling
  • Social media marketing
  • SEO research and strategy
  • Website management

In saying that, do not expect to find one VA that can do everything well. If you need help across a range of fields, hire two or more part-timers instead.

VAs are often very process-driven, so it helps to go into detail around exactly how you want them to deliver. Of course, if you’re unsure, you can co-create and refine systems over time — just know that in this case, you’re better off hiring someone more experienced.

More detail also means more accountability; this comes in handy in reviewing their performance and determining whether the arrangement is working for you or not.

Find the right person

There are a few different ways to recruit a VA. You could approach an outsourcing company or try to recruit someone yourself. Both have their pros and cons.

Going through a company gives you the ability to switch out resources easily if you need (i.e. your VA goes on leave or they’re not performing in their role). However, this comes at a cost. If you’re comfortable with recruiting a VA directly, you could save yourself some dollars and advertise on platforms like Upwork or Fiverr.

You can also ask your network. In my case, I reached out to people I knew and found someone who had just hired a VA of their own. They offered to send me all the resumes of shortlisted candidates that didn’t get the job. I could filter through who I thought was most appropriate for what I needed, and within a couple of weeks, I had my first VA Czarina start. It was a fantastic way to cut through the rigmarole of recruitment. Since then, I’ve asked my VAs to recommend other suitable VAs for the business.

Consider different time zones

I should also use this opportunity to point out how important is it to know what time zone you want your VA working in. For example, my VAs live in Manila, which is 3 hours behind Melbourne. That means they can wake up early, finish early, and still fulfil real-time support for my Australian team during the day.

Alternatively, you may prefer someone to complete all their tasks overnight, in which case VAs from locations such as Eastern Europe or India might work better for you.

Say hello to my incredible VA Rachelle Tan (in the middle)! Rachelle is normally based in Manila but here we are face-to-face at Bali airport on the last day of our annual Avion team trip. It was great having you join us!

Ask the right questions

Selecting Czarina from my pool of “maybes” wasn’t a rushed decision. The things I took into consideration during Skype interviews included:

  • Their English skills
  • Their phone manner and perceived energy levels
  • Their internet connection — and what devices/systems they had as back-up in case it went down.

I also placed a strong emphasis on drive. How much did they want the role? Were they likely to stay long-term? Irrespective of whether the person I’m recruiting is local or offshore, I always put attitude over aptitude. My current VA Rachelle agrees:

“Most aspiring VAs have great qualities but can be inexperienced. They are looking for opportunities to practice and show what they can do. Consider promising applicants with minimal or without experience.”

Be willing to put in the time

A dream engagement doesn’t happen overnight. You must train. This is one of my biggest learnings.

When I first started working with Czarina, I assumed she could just read some stuff and then become a Mini Me. But I wasn’t allocating enough energy at the start of our relationship to get Czarina up to speed. Luckily, once we overcame teething problems, life was great.

Czarina says that the most valuable strategy we implemented was our daily report. This is what it looked like:

  1. I’d list priority tasks for Czarina to action every morning
  2. She’d cross them off throughout the day and submit the list back to me at 5pm
  3. We’d troubleshoot roadblocks and use the opportunity to build Czarina’s knowledge
  4. Czarina would also tell me exactly what she needed to fulfil her duties the next day.

Empower them with the right tools

This one’s obvious. Just as you would with any employee, be sure to check what online software your VA may need. Ask them what platforms they’re familiar with — or what new products they’d like to explore to do their job even better.

Some of the most productive systems Czarina and I set up included:

  • A bird’s eye view of all client communication with Basecamp
  • A paid-for Skype number that could be used for calls, anywhere, anytime
  • A central hub for managing invoices with Harvest.

Right now, Czarina is loving Podio. In particular, she enjoys the chat feature that makes her feel like she’s popping her head into a co-worker’s cubicle.

Some fantastic systems that I use with Rachelle include:

  • Communicating instantly through designated Slack channels
  • Recording utilization across the agency in Google sheets
  • Reconciling income and expenses via Xero reports and email queries.

Give them the opportunity to grow

My VAs work so diligently on rinse-and-repeatable tasks that I often forget they seek professional development. So, be sure to include them in your journey. They’ll jump at the chance to upskill and get you where you want to go.

In my early days, Czarina was crucial in helping me juggle the subcontractors I relied on. Looking back, she says: “I wish I could help Natalie accept more jobs. It wasn’t always about the money — it was about talent and time.” As with many VAs, she was passionate about helping me reach my business goals. Rachelle agrees and advises:

“Show your VA the bigger picture, the plan, and how you can execute it.”

“VAs tend to stay with a company when they start feeling a sense of belonging. Despite the distance, they want to feel valued. A certain level of rapport gives them confidence to do more — and appreciation in return lasts a long time.”

Pay them on time at a reasonable rate

Don’t think that just because they’re offshore, you can pay them unfairly. Your VA may have lower living costs, but they still deserve decent compensation.

From my research, hourly rates vary from $6–$25 USD, depending on their skills. Feel free to shop around; if you can genuinely offer flexibility and future prospects, you can probably find the right person at a good price.

Payment can be a tricky topic for inexperienced VA managers. If you decided to use a recruitment agency, you can rest assured a legitimate company is handling your money in an ethical manner. However, if decided to work with your VA directly, you’ll need to make international bank transfers straight to their account.

My recommendation is speaking to your financial institution to confirm what fees they charge for international transactions, as well as what currency conversion rates they apply. You want to ensure both you and your VA get the best outcome possible.

Alternatively, I’m a big fan of online platforms that allow you to transfer funds to a bricks-and-mortar branch where your VA can pick up cash. Currently, I use OrbitRemit. Western Union and TransferWise are also great options.

Treat the partnership with dignity and respect

I highly recommend working with one (or two!) VAs. But beware, it’s not as easy as it sounds. As Rachelle explains:

“The biggest pitfalls for business owners include a lack of communication, unclear rules, and unrealistic expectations.”

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About the author: Natalie Khoo built her business in Australia off the back of the 2008 recession. Having made all the mistakes since day one, she’s passionate about sharing her learnings with other business owners on a similar journey. Natalie’s career highlights include taking a 3-month scuba diving vacation in 2019 and not checking her emails once. She travels between Melbourne, Australia, and Austin, Texas, with her partner James.

To find out more: Visit the Avion website or follow Natalie on Instagram.