Hiring a Virtual Assistant is one of the first, yet most important hires that you can make as an entrepreneur. Until you have someone on your team that you can delegate specific tasks to, you will continue to waste valuable time and energy on activities that don’t actually contribute to the growth of your business.
Solopreneur vs Entrepreneur
One of the key differences between a “solopreneur” (someone who is the only person in their business) and a business owner/entrepreneur is a team. A business owner doesn’t do everything themselves. They build systems and hire people to do things for them. These are necessary steps to building a scalable business that continues to grow, even when they’re not working.
Hiring a team member is a critical step in making the shift from a solopreneur to a business owner – or as Michael E. Gerber, author of the best-selling business book The E-Myth would say: from working in your business to working on your business. Having other people on your team helps to free up your time so you can focus on activities that have the greatest impact on your business and income.
In this guide, I’m going to walk you through the steps involved in hiring a Virtual Assistant and share some specific tips and tools to help you manage virtual staff effectively.
- Benefits of hiring virtual staff
- Types of virtual assistants
- How to become CEO of your own business
- How to choose what tasks and processes to outsource
- How to hire a virtual assistant
- 6 steps to hiring a virtual assistant
- Tips for managing your virtual assistant
- Top tools for outsourcing and managing virtual staff
- Hire a virtual assistant so you can focus on what matters most
Once you hire your first Virtual Assistant, you can follow these same steps to identify even more tasks to delegate, create new roles in your business, and hire more team members until you eventually occupy only one role in your business: the role of CEO.
But for now, let’s tackle hiring your first Virtual Assistant.
Whether you hire a single Virtual Assistant or you build an entire team of virtual staff, outsourcing to remote team members can have a significant impact on your productivity and the growth of your business.
Here are some of the main benefits of hiring a Virtual Assistant:
You don’t need a physical office
Depending on where you live, renting a physical office space can be quite expensive. Hiring a Virtual Assistant enables you to start building your team while keeping your expenses low. With the exception of a few software tools for communicating with and managing your virtual staff, the primary cost of hiring virtual staff is the amount you pay for their time.
Virtual Assistants are inexpensive
Virtual Assistants are an affordable alternative to hiring regular employees. Most Virtual Assistants operate as independent contractors and depending on where they live, their hourly rate may be significantly lower than what a local employee would cost you. A Virtual Assistant in the Philippines, for example, will typically cost less than half of what a Virtual Assistant in North America costs for the same tasks and responsibilities.
You’re not limited by local talent (hire the best of the best)
Not every entrepreneur has access to a local talent pool of qualified candidates for a specific role. A Virtual Assistant can technically work from anywhere in the world as long as they have an internet connection. Not having to hire someone locally increases your number of potential candidates for specific roles significantly.
Virtual Assistants are not the only people that use remote work tools and can work from anywhere. Our friends at ConvertKit (an email marketing software company), for example, currently have 34 highly skilled team members spread across 26 different cities.
Delegation helps prevent burnout
Delegating specific tasks and responsibilities to other people is a huge step toward preventing burnout. Unfortunately, there are a lot of entrepreneurs that think they need to do everything themselves, and that’s exactly what they end up doing. This leads to very long workdays, lack of focus, feeling overwhelmed, and having little time for other areas of their life such as exercise, hobbies, and family.
Spend more time in your areas of strength
You can’t be a master of everything, nor should you try to be. For every task and process that is required to run your business (including the ones you don’t like or are terrible at doing!), there are other people who specialize in those tasks and actually enjoy them. Hiring people to delegate tasks frees up your time to focus on activities that you enjoy and that you’re good at.
Focus on high-value and income generating activities
Lastly, when you hire a Virtual Assistant, you free up more time to focus on activities that add significantly more value to your business than the ones you delegated to your Virtual Assistant. In other words, you free up more time to focus on activities that have a direct impact on your income.
“Your most precious resource as a human being (not just a business owner) is TIME. The less you commit to, the greater your focus. The greater your focus, the more impact you can have with the time you’re given. For this reason alone, everyone should hire at least one Virtual Assistant.”
One of the main questions you’re probably asking yourself as you consider hiring a Virtual Assistant is what can they do for you?
The answer is almost anything.
As long as they have the right training, skills, and tools, a Virtual Assistant can technically do anything that does not require their physical presence, which, if you think about it, is actually a lot.
That being said, there are different types of Virtual Assistants, and it’s important to know which type of Virtual Assistant is best suited for the tasks you plan to outsource.
The General Virtual Assistant
The most common type of Virtual Assistant is known as a General Virtual Assistant (aka a General VA). A General VA is someone who can take on the daily tasks and processes that are important for running your business but not necessarily focused on growing it.
The tasks that you would delegate to a General VA tend to be technical and repetitive in nature, such as managing your emails or travel schedule, scheduling your appointments, data entry, research, scheduling posts on social media, and so on.
The Specialized Virtual Assistant
A Specialized Virtual Assistant is someone that has a very specific skillset and is better suited for owning and/or overseeing a very specific process in your business. They tend to be more expensive than General VAs because they already have a specialized skill set and will require minimal additional training from you.
Tasks such as customer service, bookkeeping, video editing, and project management, for example, are better suited for a Specialized VA.
Outsourcing tasks vs. outcomes
With a General VA, it’s best to outsource specific tasks and processes, and you should provide them with training on how to do those tasks and processes properly.
With a Specialized VA, it’s best to outsource specific outcomes. A Specialized VA should be more skilled than you are (that’s why you hire them!) at the specific tasks and processes that are a part of their role. Since you’re counting on their knowledge and expertise, it’s best to tell them what do to, not how to do it.
Increasing Twitter followers by 10% per month, for example, is an outcome. Importing a blog post from Google Drive to WordPress, for example, is a task. See the difference?
Unless you immediately hired a team as soon as you launched your business, you’re probably assuming the responsibility for many different roles. In other words, you’re wearing many different hats, and consequently, your time is spread across many different tasks and responsibilities.
To become the CEO of your business, and to spend your time only on activities that a CEO should spend their time on, you need to delegate specific tasks and responsibilities to others.
It comes down to simple math.
If your goal is to generate over $100,000 in annual revenue, for example, you can’t expect to accomplish this goal by spending your time on tasks that are worth $20 per hour. Unless you can work 5,000 hours in a 12-month period (unlikely), the math just doesn’t add up. You need to spend your time on activities that have a higher hourly rate.
One of the reasons why entrepreneurs resist hiring help is because they view hiring other people as an expense and not as an investment. If you’ve ever felt this way about hiring, the following exercise should be helpful for you.
Calculate your Target Hourly Rate
Your Target Hourly Rate is the rate that your time, as the CEO of your business, needs to be worth in order for you to achieve your income goals.
To calculate your Target Hourly Rate, take your monthly (or annual) income goal and divide it by the number of hours you intend to work during that period of time.
For example: $250,000 (annual income goal) divided by 2,000 (# of work hours) equals $125 per hour
“Personally, I hired way before I thought I was ready for an assistant, and encourage others to do the same. Most people wait until they are at a specific revenue, or have been in business a set time period. There is no “magic” time that hiring support makes sense, other than: If it will allow you to focus on what you do best, you aren’t going into debt to do it, and the time you’ll save frees you up to focus on revenue-generating activities, then it’s time.”
Every task in your business has an approximate dollar value
As an entrepreneur, it’s your job to identify activities that contribute the most value to your business and spend the majority of your time on those activities. Any tasks or activities that fall below your Target Hourly Rate should be delegated to someone else.
If you’re not achieving your income goals, and I can almost guarantee that it’s because you’re not spending enough time on high-value activities.
High and low value tasks
Low-value tasks are tasks that are necessary to running your business but do not directly contribute to increasing revenue. Examples of low-value tasks are bookkeeping, customer support, project management, graphic design, editing, etc.
High-value tasks are tasks that directly contribute to increasing revenue. Examples of high-value tasks are marketing and lead generation, selling, launching new products or services and creating strategic partnerships and joint ventures.
The quickest way to increase your income as an entrepreneur is to delegate more low-value tasks to others and fill your calendar with as many high-value tasks as possible. Use the income that you generate from high-value tasks to pay for the outsourcing of the low-value tasks.
Every business has a long list of tasks and processes that are involved in running that business. To help you decide which ones to outsource and which ones you should keep doing, start by categorizing these tasks and processes.
Every task and process in your business belongs in 1 of 4 categories:
1. Tasks that you should do: high-value tasks that you enjoy doing and you’re actually good at.
2. Tasks that you should not do: low-value tasks that are not the best use of your time, even if you’re good at them or you enjoy doing them. (These are the hardest ones to outsource!)
3. Tasks that you don’t want to do: tasks that you don’t like doing, but that someone else will.
4. Tasks that you can’t do: tasks that you lack the necessary knowledge and skills to do properly.
If you haven’t already, make sure you downloaded our Outsourcing Worksheet. We included a table for you to list and categorize the tasks and processes in your business
“The tasks you hate doing or can’t do should be at the top of your list of things to delegate. The harder tasks to part with are the ones you can do and may even enjoy doing, but realistically, shouldn’t be doing them.”
Hiring virtual staff for specific roles on your team is different from hiring freelancers for specific projects.
When you hire a freelancer for a specific project, that project has a start date and an end date. And since most freelancers have multiple clients, you won’t always be their first priority.
When you hire a Virtual Assistant, you are hiring a team member. Even though the tasks you delegate to them may change over time, they will still occupy a specific role on your team. That’s not to say that you can’t find them via a freelancing site such as Fiverr or Upwork. There are many virtual assistants looking for work on these sites that can fit your needs.
Step 1: Document the tasks you want to outsource
Start by making a list of all the tasks and processes that you plan to delegate to your Virtual Assistant. Assuming these are tasks that you’re already doing yourself, create training documents (aka Standard Operating Procedures) for these tasks. To learn how to write effective Standard Operating Procedures, check out this guide.
If you’re hiring a Specialized Virtual Assistant, document the outcomes you want them to accomplish instead of specific tasks or procedures.
Step 2: Create a job description
Once you have your list of tasks to delegate, you’ll need to create a job description for the role that will be responsible for these tasks.
Tasks that require specialized skills should not be included in the job description for a General Virtual Assistant. All of the tasks that you delegate to a General Virtual Assistant should share a similar skill level and hourly rate.
Your job description should include:
- Background information about your business (your industry, what you sell, and who your clients/customers are)
- Level of education, experience, and/or skills required
- List of duties and responsibilities
- List of any apps, tools, or software they will be using
Here’s an example of a well written Virtual Assistant job description that we borrowed from Shopify’s guide to hiring a virtual assistant:
Step 3: Post your job description online
Once you have your job description ready, your next step is to post it online and start accepting applications. One option is to post your job description directly on Craigslist (post in the city/country you want to hire in). Another option is to use a Virtual Assistant hiring service or directory.
This freelance marketplace list is a great place to find freelancers for just about any task.
Here are some other popular websites and directories you can use to find Virtual Assistants:
“It’s important to create detailed job description so expectations are met on both sides. I always ask people I know first for referrals. A virtual assistant should be able to provide references and samples of their work. Speaking with them by phone is very helpful to get to know them and their personality to see if it’s a good fit.”
Step 4: Review applications & schedule interviews
Review the applications that come through and schedule interviews with the top 5-10 candidates. I recommend conducting video interviews with your top candidates. A video interview is the next best thing to interviewing someone in person. You can figure out pretty quickly if you like someone and communicate well with them on a video call. If someone isn’t willing to do a video interview with you, this is a red flag and you shouldn’t hire them.
As you interview each candidate, don’t just ask them about their work experience and skills. Ask them about their goals, their hobbies, how they like to work and how they like to be managed. You could even ask your candidate to complete a free personality test. This will help you to further understand their values, strengths, and how they work.
“We ask a very specific set of character questions that test how someone would treat another human being. We have “automatic disqualifiers” that kick people out of our funnel immediately based on their answers. This prevents us from talking to someone who doesn’t share our value system, without us getting glossy-eyed about their resume. It’s saved us from so many bad hires and makes our screening process go much faster.”
Step 5: Give your top candidates a test
Before you commit to hiring a specific candidate, give your top 3 candidates a task to complete as a test. Pick a type of task that would be a part of their regular responsibilities anyway, and see how well they perform this task. Asking your candidates to complete a real task will help you determine who the top candidate really is.
Step 6: Give the best candidate a trial period
Choose the best candidate for the job, and start them off on a trial period (30, 60 or 90 days, for example). A trial period gives your Virtual Assistant additional incentive to do a great job for you, knowing that it will lead to a permanent role on your team. Have them sign a formal Service Agreement to avoid any discrepancies in the future.
Hiring a Virtual Assistant is just the beginning. Once you’ve added someone to your team, part of your job as a leader is to help maintain a productive, professional, and mutually beneficial relationship with your staff.
Above all else, you should be judging the success of your Virtual Assistant based on their performance. To do this, make sure you have clear expectations and/or key performance indicators (KPIs) in place. If they’re meeting your expectations, do you really care how many coffee breaks they take throughout the day?
If you set clear expectations with your Virtual Assistant and you evaluate them based on how well they meet those expectations, there should be no need to micromanage them. Yes, there are programs that allow you to “spy” on your virtual assistant’s computer screen or track the time they spend working. These things are unnecessary when you have trust and clear expectations with your Virtual Assistant. If you wouldn’t like being managed the way that you manage your Virtual Assistant, you’re probably doing something wrong.
Use a communication tool such as Google Workspace, Microsoft Teams, or Slack to conduct quick check-ins with your Virtual Assistant. Maybe this is daily at the beginning or end of their workday, or every second day, or even weekly. Do whatever works for both of you. Use this time to make sure they know what they’re working on and that there isn’t anything or anyone (including you!) blocking them from completing their tasks for the day.
Require weekly reports
At the end of each week, have your Virtual Assistant send you a report of what they did that week. Provide them with a template to use to send you their reports. Here are some questions we recommend requiring your Virtual Assistant to answer in their weekly reports, along with any specific metrics or KPIs that they are responsible for tracking.
- What tasks or projects did they complete?
- How much time did they spend on each task or project?
- What are they still working on?
- Did they run into any problems or challenges?
- Do they have any feedback, questions, or ideas for you?
- Do they need any additional training?
Create a culture of feedback
Create a culture with your Virtual Assistant (and anyone else you work with) of trust and open communication. Encourage them to share ideas, ask questions, and provide feedback on a regular basis. Doing so will help you learn to be a better leader and manager, which will help to create mutually beneficial relationships with your team members. At Thinkific, we’re big fans of Kim Scott’s book Radical Candor as a framework for giving and receiving feedback to get started.
While the concept of hiring someone that you may never actually meet in person may seem strange, with the right tools, you can build and maintain productive and enjoyable relationships with your virtual staff.
The main categories of tools required to work effectively with Virtual Assistants and remote team members are communication, project management, file sharing and security (password protection). I’ve listed some of our favorite tools for each category below.
If you want to learn about even more programs and tools to help you run your business, check out our list of the top 40+ online business tools used by entrepreneurs.
Project Management Tools:
File Sharing & Security
If you’re feeling tired and overwhelmed with building your business, you’re not alone. Most entrepreneurs work long hours simply because they haven’t learned how to leverage their time and delegate to others effectively. They suffer from what our friend Chris Ducker, best-selling author of Virtual Freedom, calls “Superhero Syndrome”.
A lot of entrepreneurs think that they can do everything themselves, and because of that belief, that’s exactly what they do. What they lack in efficiency they make up for in work ethic, often at the risk of burning out.
Your job as an entrepreneur is not just to create a job for yourself. That’s what freelancing and self-employment are for. An entrepreneur is someone that builds systems and hires people that help run their business for them.
A Virtual Assistant likely won’t be the only person you add to your team as you grow your business, but they should definitely be one of the first. Hiring a Virtual Assistant helps free up more time for you to focus on activities that have a greater impact on your life and business.
“One of the things we can do to avoid burning out is to become more effective delegators. At first, it’s hard letting go, but trust me folks, once you start letting go of the steering wheel a little, you’ll want to hire a full-time driver sooner or later!”
This blog was originally published in May of 2018. It has been updated in April 2022.