How to Hire and Train a Virtual Assistant for Your eCommerce Store

Photo by Corinne Kutz on Unsplash

As a founder, delegation wasn’t something that came naturally to me. Despite the fact I was constantly busy, the thought of handing over tasks was terrifying, particularly when I was the only one who knew how to do them. As Pixc grew, I quickly figured out I had no choice, I had to build a team. Living in a small town with less than 10,000 people made it difficult to find people with a specific set of skills. Truth be told, it was almost impossible.

I decided to turn to online freelance marketplaces, and after lots of trial and error, I finally found Upwork. My biggest challenge was trying to find reliable and trustworthy people to do the tasks I had assigned, without having to keep an eye on them. I’ve since hired over 300 people on Upwork, for a wide variety of tasks. I get asked the same questions when I tell people I run a business using virtual assistants across 9 countries, ‘How do I know when it’s time to hire a virtual assistant, and what tasks should I be delegating?’

I’m going to share some of the lessons I’ve learned along the way, and help show you how you can hire and train virtual assistants for your eCommerce store.

Tasks You Can Outsource

It’s important to know what tasks you should outsource before you start building your team. Look for manual, time-consuming work that doesn’t deliver any measurable return on investment. Pinpoint tasks that don’t require your constant supervision, repeated work necessary to running a business but don’t result in growth. Fundamentally, if you want to scale your eCommerce business, you need to focus on automating as many daily administrative tasks as possible.

Most of these tasks you’ve likely done yourself, and know like the back of your hand. Rather than adopting the classic ‘it’s easier for me to do it’ approach, create a process document including a step by step guide, visuals and screen recording where necessary. Once you create process documents for your list of administrative tasks, you’ll get a clearer picture of what skills or experience you’re looking for in a virtual assistant. This will make the hiring process much more efficient.

Here are some daily tasks you should consider delegating:

  • Customer service
  • Order processing
  • Returns and exchanges
  • Inventory management
  • Site maintenance
  • Label management and package tracking
  • PPC ads management
  • Invoice management
  • Social media management
  • Content creation and keyword research
  • Personal tasks, such as travel arrangement
  • Drafting and scheduling newsletters

Being able to outsource routine tasks was a huge stress reliever for me, it gave much more time and energy to focus on growing my business. Rather than getting buried in emails, invoices and never ending To Do lists, I was finally able to tap into my creativity and start planning months ahead. After a while, I felt comfortable enough to go away for the weekend and spend quality time with the people I love. * link to medium post on taking breaks* Just having a couple of days to switch off and recharge my batteries made me much more efficient.

Especially during the busiest times of the year, it’s essential that you’re in the zone. And you can’t do that when you’re trying to juggle everything, eventually you’re going to drop the ball. Outsourcing to a virtual assistant is a great way to avoid inevitable mistakes. If you’re concerned about security, most apps and platforms allow you to set permission levels giving your VA access to certain tasks, without having access to all your data. As you start to build trust, you can delegate more complex tasks to your VA. Ultimately, the less you have on your plate, the more effective you will be in the tasks you’re focused on.

Post a Job

I’ve found Upwork to be one of the best places to find and manage VAs. Their intuitive platform is super easy to use, allowing you to quickly post a job, and manages the entire interview and hiring process from start to finish. Once you’ve chosen a candidate, you can manage payments and keep an eye on new hires using Upwork’s Time Tracker tool that takes screenshots of their work every 10–15 minutes. Other great platforms for finding remote workers are Zirtual, for US-based highly experienced executive assistants, and Fancy Hands, great for hiring VAs for one-off tasks.You can track time and progress using a platform like Toggl.

Source: Upwork

When posting a job, keep it concise, engaging, and use key phrases that potential VAs might be searching for like customer service assistant. To qualify applicants and save time in the culling process, ask applicants to provide the answer to a random question in the first line of their reply. It could as simple as “5+4=?” or an unusual word like unicorn. This ensures that you only review applicants who have taken the time to read your job post.

Your job description is crucial in attracting the right candidates, so mention details like business volume, apps and platforms you use, language requirements, and specific tasks you expect them to do. Like everything else in life and business, hiring is about managing expectations, for both you and your team.

Shortlist and Interview

Make a shortlist of up to 5 candidates, and schedule interviews via Skype or Google Hangouts. Plan for no more than 30 minutes per call, and prepare 3–4 questions designed to give you more information about their skills and mindset.

Remember: You can teach skills, but you can’t change personalities.

What to ask:

  • What jobs do you enjoy doing?
  • What skills do you want to perfect and learn?
  • What are their strengths?
  • Why are they interested in the job?
  • What do you enjoy doing in your free time? (This will tell you a lot about the person’s personality)

Once you’re confident that you’re chosen the right candidate, it’s time to discuss payment. This can be anywhere from as little as $5/hr for applicants from Asia, to an average of $25/hr from the US. If you decide to manage your new hire via Upwork, you can set up an hourly contract and payments will automatically be deducted from your account on a weekly basis based on the hours they clock.

I’d recommend you give prospective VAs a trial task to test skills and punctuality. If successful, offer a 2-week trial period to further test the candidate’s capabilities. If things go well, it’s time to start delegating more of your manual tasks. Tap into their strengths, experience and areas of expertise. As much as they are assisting you, leave yourself open to learning from their past experiences.

Check out my post on How to Hire a Virtual Assistant if you’re interested in finding out a bit more detail on the hiring process, examples of exceptional vs. poor cover letters and more ideas for interview questions.

On-boarding

It might be a good idea to on board two candidates simultaneously and split their responsibilities. It’s quite common for a candidate to drop out during their trial period, or oversell their capabilities making them unsuitable for the role. By trailing two VAs you increase your chances of finding a good match, and best case scenario you could end up with two great options.

Establishing regular communication is a great way to create a bond with your new VA. Aim to speak two or three times a week at first, and at least once a week once they are settled in. Send a recurring calendar invite once you’ve agreed exact days and times.

Clear communication is crucial, particularly in the early stages. Take time to communicate your way of working, brand values, company culture, and vision. This is especially important for remote employees, who run the risk of feeling lonely, leading to low productivity. That’s why it’s very important to make your VA feel welcome, by treating them like an in-house team member.

Guidelines

Create training manuals and written guidelines throughout the on-boarding process, or get your VA to update documents you have already created. Use voice recordings and videos to compliment written guides, particularly for administrative tasks using to train your VA on specific apps and platforms.

Recording screen share training sessions is a great way to ensure that future VAs have access to resources, meaning you can spend less time training. You can use tools like Camtasia for PC, and ScreenFlow for Mac. ScreenFlow allows you to record your screen and yourself using your webcam, making the training more engaging.

Source: ScreenFlow

If you need help training staff on how to use popular tools, like Zendesk or Shopify, use YouTube videos and tutorials. There are libraries of professional tutorials for most tools and skills on YouTube, saving you lots of time.

Use screenshots, links, and attachments, and share everything via Google Drive, Dropbox, or something similar.

Don’t forget to add each step of the process to a training manual, so it can be used for future reference.

Training

There is a world of free online resources you can use to train remote workers on specific tasks or tools.

One of my favorites is HubSpot Academy, as they cover topics like inbound content creation, email marketing, and web design to name a few. HubSpot is an industry leader in inbound marketing and sales, and offers lots of comprehensive and engaging online classes.

Another resource that I always turn to is Moz’s Beginner’s Guide to SEO. SEO is such a fundamental element of all growth tactics, and this guide teaches you how search engines work, how to research keywords, and how to measure and track success.

Source: Moz

If you want your VA to manage your paid ad efforts, WordStream’s PPC University is a great place to get them started. They can learn about CTR, CPC, negative keywords, and A/B testing among countless other aspects of PPC advertising.

Other great resources include Social Media Quickstarter, CodeAcademy for web development, and Design School by Canva.

Management

Once you establish a workflow, you need to nurture the relationship. Make sure your VA is satisfied and learning things that interest them. If they start to lose interest in their role or your relationship becomes stale, there is a high likelihood that they might leave or their productivity might start to decline.

Ask them to send you a weekly recap with bullet points of what they have achieved. Schedule a regular weekly call to go over projects and discuss anything they would like to do differently or learn. The more trust you build, the less time you will have to spend supervising, enabling your VA to use their initiative and work independently.

Here’s an example of what a VA’s weekly recap might look like:

  • I resolved all customer service tickets to date.
  • I scheduled your weekly blog posts for the next two weeks.
  • I booked your flight to San Francisco and requested a gluten-free meal.
  • I can help with label orders if you need help.

Ideally, you want to build a relationship where your VA is able to work as independently as possible. That way you’ll be comfortable delegating more complex tasks, and they’ll learn and grow with you.

Useful Apps and Platforms to Communicate with Your VA

Asana— Create projects and assign them to team members.

Slack — Communicate and collaborate on anything work-related.

Trello — Create dynamic to-do lists.

YouCanBook.Me — Simple and quick way to schedule short meetings.

WhatsApp — Text and chat on the go for free.

Skype — Call across the globe for free.

Google Hangouts — Video call via your google account.

Google Drive — Share files and documents and collaborate on them.

Delegating So You Can Grow

I know delegation can be difficult for founders, especially considering you have built everything from scratch and want things to be done a certain way. But at some point building a team becomes an inevitable necessity, and you have to find a way that works for you. The goal is to provide the necessary structure for your VA to thrive, freeing up your time to focus on building your business.

It might take a few rounds of hiring to find a process that works, but trust me, it’s worth the hassle. You’ll have more time to work on what you really want to do, getting closer to kind of work-life balance that Tim Ferris teaches and entrepreneurs like me dream of.