Outsourcing 101: Hiring your first virtual assistant
One of the quickest ways to stunt the growth of your business is to do everything yourself.
As I’ve mentioned before, you want to spend the majority of your time on the $100/hr and $1000/hr activities. If you spend 90% of your day on the $10/hr activities, not only are you placing a very low cap on your income — but you’re probably not spending your time doing the work that you truly enjoy.
Regardless of what type of business you’re in, I imagine that the parts you enjoy the most are also the elements that provide the greatest ROI — the creative, strategic, and interactive aspects of your work.
Meanwhile, the mundane tasks of responding to customer requests, growing your social media following, and cold calling potential clients have two drawbacks:
1. They can be boring and emotionally draining.
2. When you do the math on these activities, your hourly rate quickly approaches minimum wage.
Of course you don’t have much capital as an entrepreneur — and it’s important to be smart with your money. But sometimes being financially savvy actually means that you should spend more money.
Your focus shouldn’t be to minimize costs, but rather to maximize ROI.
The opportunity cost for every hour spent on $10/hr tasks is the $990 that you could have earned if that time was spent on the $1000/hr activities.
The three ways to increase your productivity
The best way to maximize your value is to spend your time efficiently. Find ways to be more effective, develop routines for success, and focus your energy on the 20% of tasks that provide 80% of your value.
The three ways you can do this is to either work longer hours, implement tools and applications that save you time, or hire someone to help you.
Obviously, you can only work longer hours up to a point — as you eventually run out of hours in your day. Plus, the longer you spend rushing around trying to put out fires, the less time you can spend on the high-level value-add activities. Therefore, working more is rarely a reasonable solution.
This leaves you with two options — automation and hiring an employee/contractor.
Whenever possible, automation is an excellent decision. I use a wide range of apps and tools to maximize my productivity. However, you can only go so far with automation. At some point, if you want to maximize your value, you need people.
How outsourcing can exponentially increase your productivity
Thanks to Tim Ferris, Chris Ducker, and John Jonas, every entrepreneur recognizes the value of hiring others to maximize their productivity. While most successful entrepreneurs aren’t interested in living the 4 Hour Workweek, they understand that implementing practices to increase your productivity will allow you to 10x your daily output.
I owe much of my personal success to the use of smart outsourcing. From my first offshore office in India, to SupportNinja’s current office in the Philippines, to a handful of personal virtual assistants I have hired over the years, my businesses have been able to thrive thanks to intelligent outsourcing.
If you use outsourcing intelligently, it maximizes your productivity in two very obvious ways. First, it allows you to handoff some of the less complex, yet time consuming, elements of your business — at a fraction of the cost to hire someone in the US to achieve these activities. Second, it saves you money that you can invest into highly-skilled labor — either in the US or abroad.
Think about it, if you had to pay three people each $30,000 a year to manage your office work, adding a $70,000 skilled professional would make your total payroll $160,000. Meanwhile, if you hire three offshore office managers for $6,000 a year, adding a skilled employee will only require a total payroll cost of $88,000 a year — half of the initial cost!
How to know when you’re ready to hire a virtual assistant
If you’re running around like a chicken with it’s head cut off, and have no idea what’s going on in your business, hiring a virtual assistant probably isn’t a good idea.
Although a virtual assistant can be incredibly helpful, if you have no idea of what needs to be done, it will be challenging to find someone else capable of running the business for you.
You know you are ready to hire a virtual assistant when:
1. You have clearly defined tasks
While you want to hire a virtual assistant capable of growing and learning, you need to have very clear measurable activities when starting with a new VA.
Don’t tell your VA to “increase blog traffic”. Instead, tell him to leave comments on 10 blogs a day (initially from a list you provide him with), schedule 10 tweets a day to promote your content, and reach out to several blogs to request guest posting opportunities.
Meanwhile, if you’re hiring someone for outbound marketing, don’t just tell them to find clients to call. First, develop a script for them to follow. Then, tell them to have them do research and find 500 potential leads. Finally, have a mock conversion to confirm that they know what they’re talking about, and let them start calling.
In order for this to really work out, you must be able to complete the process from A to Z. Even if you’re not familiar with SEO, Web Dev or anything of the sort. All it takes is a little bit of research on your part to be able to give a complete task where they absorb the knowledge necessary to complete the work. Give them the layout and all you need to do is find somebody to follow it to the tee.
2. You have realistic expectations
You can’t expect an article writer you pay $500/month in the Philippines to develop the same level of quality that you will find with a $500/per article freelance writer in the US. Understanding the qualitative difference between the outsourced and non-outsourced version of the work involved must be a consideration before you decide what you can and cannot outsource.
The same goes with any other activity. Understand that your VA will likely come across some challenges — especially if you expect the same quality that you do yourself.
By maintaining realistic expectations, and understanding that you may not be able to outsource everything, you’ll keep yourself from being overly disappointed or stressed out later on.
3. You understand the overarching strategy of what needs to get done
Just because a virtual assistant says that they have three years of SEO experience doesn’t mean you can hire him to manage your entire search optimization process. His experience in SEO may have been submitting articles to directories or adding spammy comments to blog posts. Odds are he will have no idea how to develop an exhaustive SEO strategy for your website.
Therefore, it’s essential for you to know the core elements of the tasks you are outsourcing. You don’t need to be an exceptional graphic designer — but if you’re hiring a VA to build your website, you better be able to share very specific examples of elements you like from different websites. Just don’t become this.
If you don’t have the knowledge or time to invest in the high-level strategy, then hiring a consultant is a better decision than a virtual assistant.
However, for tasks that you have been doing on a regular basis, and simply want to pass off to someone else, a VA is the perfect choice.
4. You have time to train the VA
Too many people get turned off by outsourcing because they hire a virtual assistant who does the project completely wrong.
While this may sometimes be due to the caliber of the contractor, more often than not it is due to poor training and a lack of detail on the part of the entrepreneur.
Unless you have time to speak with your VA, create supporting documents and videos, and walk through drafts, don’t waste your time. As with any new employee, it takes time to learn how to do something the “right” way. Considering using an SOP/Checklist software likesweetprocess.com, cleverchecklist.com, manifest.ly, or process.st to ensure that you are able to provide your VA with everything he needs to get started.
If hiring a virtual assistant still sounds like the right decision after reviewing the four steps above, it’s time to begin the hunt!
How to find and hire the right virtual assistant
Once you know it’s time to find an assistant, the real fun begins. By following these steps you’ll minimize your headaches and maximize the quality of the first assistant you hire.
1. Look for an assistant in the right place
When it comes to hiring a virtual assistant, you have three unique options:
- Hire a part-time employee/team to cover ongoing needs.
- Hire a full time assistant who focuses 100% on your business.
- Outsource specific, short term tasks.
Services such as zirtual.com, redbulter.com, and uassist.me provide ongoing virtual assistant support. These types of services can assist with basic tasks such as organizing travel, managing emails and social media accounts, and writing basic content. The first two services are based out of the US, which means they are a bit more expensive (but culturally easy to work with), while uassist.me is based in Central America.
For someone looking for an alternative to the traditional office administrative assistant, these services are a great fit. However, the rates for the two US based teams start at over $30/hr (provided you use up the entire hourly allotment per month). You also work with multiple assistants — which can make it take longer for their team to fully understand your specific needs.
Meanwhile, when it comes to hiring a full-time virtual assistant, many entrepreneurs look towards Asia — with its highly educated, low cost workforce.
Over the last few years, the Philippines has surpassed India as the #1 place to find a virtual assistant due to lower cultural and language barriers. While an Indian accent can be difficult to understand, many Filipinos are able to speak English clearly. India may still be a better location for technical backend projects, but most customer-facing interactions are better suited for a Filipino contractor.
Onlinejobs.ph charges a monthly fee of $49 — which allows you to post jobs and interview potential candidates directly through their site.
Meanwhile, Virtual Staff Finder charges a one time $350 fee to manage the entire process for you. They help you post a high quality job listing and filter through all of the applicants — sending you the top three for a final round of interviews.
A third option for finding a VA is Upwork. I’ve said before that I’m not a huge fan of Upwork for a few reasons — but primarily because the quality of the contractor’s on the website seems to be subpar AND they charge a 10% fee indefinitely.
However, Upwork still has its place in the outsourcing community. It is a great starting point without feeling any obligation to keep a contractor on just because they are not performing as well. When hiring contractors directly it can be a bit more of an emotional burden to let them go.
Upwork also has a huge selection of talent who are inclined to do their best since their rating requires it — although the rating system can be tainted as most people who have a bad experience are not inclined to leave a bad rating on the contractor since that contractor can give a likewise bad review to the company who hired him or her.
The other plus about Upwork is that it gives an additional layer of liability protection since the contractor technically works for Upwork and not yourself. This can be particularly important when hiring contractors in the USA as this means you don’t have to generate 1099 forms at the end of the year since Upwork takes care of this. It can also serve as an additional layer of protection against your Filipino worker not paying his or her taxes; which they rarely do in the Philippines. In such a case where the BIR (IRS but in the Philippines) catches somebody getting money and not paying taxes, they can send them to prison for up to a year. While they won’t go after your US company, it could cause problems should you decide to establish operations there in the future (and you lose a valuable worker). Either way, onlinejobs.ph has a great article that shows the number of hoops a Phillipine worker has to go through in order to pay taxes on the money you give them.
While Onlinejobs.ph and Virtual Staff Finder both charge you during the job hunt, Upwork makes the job hunt free, and then takes a tenth of everything you pay through the website. For short term projects this may be reasonable. However, for a long term contractor that 10% quickly adds up.
Regardless of which system you use to find your contractor, remember that there is far more to the job-hunt then simply posting the job, which leads us to our next step.
2. Filter through the crowd
Once you post your job opening, it doesn’t take long before you have dozens of applicants. You now have the challenge of filtering through the massive amount of applicants to choose the right candidate.
There are a few things that can help filter out the lower-quality applicants and cut down the size of the list substantially.
Require a keyword to be included in the response. One of the quickest ways to filter through the applicants and make sure that they actually read your job posting is to add a comment at the bottom that says something like “Include ‘I want to be a ninja’ in the first paragraph of your application”. This will help filter out those who are applying to jobs in mass and those who are unable to follow directions. Even if the candidate seems great, if they are unable to follow your first request, odds are there will be more problems in the future. The most common sign of not following your instructions is that they are just mass copy/pasting to multiple job postings. While it could be said that is a sign of a productive worker, efficacy always trumps efficiency.
Request that the candidate take appropriate online tests. There are many free tests that candidates can take online to prove themselves. Depending on the task required, find appropriate tests for the applicants to take that prove they are skilled in the field. Several basic test could include an English language test or typing test. I never hire someone who can’t type at a rate of at least 30 wpm. Testdome.com, for example gives a great selection of tests for programmers where you can just ask them to take a screenshot of their test result. KeyHero is also great for WPM testing.
Interview and ask for references. By evaluating the person over a video interview, and reading what other people have to say about the candidate, you’ll be able to gain an understanding of how well they can communicate, present themselves, and work with others. There is a great course on body language here on udemy that allows you to look for subtle cues in the person you’re interviewing which would not be possible to see if it were without video. Try and do video interviews as often as possible. If they don’t have a webcam, that would be an instant pass.
Being strict in the hiring process will prevent you from having to let someone go in the future and start the entire process over again.
3. When it doesn’t work out, move on — quickly
If you’ve followed the steps outlined above, and put in an appropriate amount of time to train your assistant — but things still aren’t working out — let them go. And fast!
Everyone has different skill sets. Some people are self-motivated and capable of working on their own from home. Others, however, need structure in order to be productive.
If your contractor isn’t willing to learn new things or wastes their time on Facebook during free time (where no tasks have been assigned) then it might be time to move on.
Because my assistants may start out doing one thing, and then end up doing something completely different, I always strive to make sure that they have a growth mindset rather than a fixed mindset. If someone is willing to work hard and learn, you can teach them to do anything. Meanwhile, if someone is unwilling to take on new challenges, you will never be able to get value from them than you do right now.
Don’t hire for experience, hire for personality.
What can you start outsourcing today?
The moment I hired my first VA, my productivity skyrocketed. Now, with a full team of skilled virtual assistants, I am capable of accomplishing 100x more than I would be able to on my own.
If you take a moment to think about your own work, what tasks could you start outsourcing today? Are their routine activities that require little effort but consume a large portion of your time? How much more would you be able to accomplish if these tasks were passed off to someone else?
Could spending $500/month on a virtual assistant add $5,000/month to your Bottomline? It’s something worth thinking about.