Are you overwhelmed by the many tasks and responsibilities of running your business? As your business grows, you realize that you need greater efforts to help sustain this growth and keep your business on track. Why not take advantage of the services a virtual assistant can offer? The right virtual assistant (VA) can free up your time so you can focus on running the company better, while also making improvements to the bottom line.
In my recent conversation with Enrique Jevons, a property management and real estate investments specialist, we talked about how businesses can benefit from hiring virtual assistants to help improve processes, create efficiencies and ultimately increase profits. In this blog, I will be sharing with you the process of hiring virtual assistants and some pointers on how to manage virtual support. If you’d like to listen to the full podcast, click here.
What is a Virtual Assistant (VA)?
A virtual assistant is a self-employed, experienced professional who can take over a variety of tasks and provide support for clients from a remote location. VAs can help in many different ways such as customer support, administrative tasks, social media marketing, data entry and management, accounting and bookkeeping, content writing, search engine optimization (SEO) and digital marketing, web development, audio and video editing, and more.
Hire a good one and you’ll be able to delegate time-consuming responsibilities and free up your time, allowing you to focus on core business productivities and scaling your business.
Advantages of Hiring a Virtual Assistant
- Broader talent pool
Enrique prefers hiring remote VAs because that way he’s opening up the candidate pool to the entire world instead of restricting his options to his immediate locality. “By hiring VAs, I will not be limited to somebody who’s willing to actually drive to my physical location,” says Enrique, adding that he has found high-quality virtual assistants with valuable skills and extensive work experience by hiring online.
- Fewer expenses, more savings
Business owners can save money by hiring as-needed virtual staff instead of a full-time salaried employee. The cost, particularly for overseas VAs, remains relatively low compared to traditional employees, notes Enrique. “It’s also helpful that VAs work from home and supply their own network connection and their own computer. I don’t have to purchase a desk and rent a larger office space,” he adds. Enrique has since grown his company by simply adding on more virtual staff.
How And Where To Find A Virtual Assistant
Enrique shares that he uses the freelancing jobs platform Upwork to recruit VAs. “It doesn’t cost a thing to get the accounts started and post a job advertisement on there,” he says.
Apart from Upwork, there is a multitude of platforms/websites for VA services that you can look into. However, care should be taken to avoid untrustworthy sites. Look for these key features when using VA outsourcing platforms: (1) clear and transparent pricing and payment methods, (2) user-friendly interface, and (3) abundant positive customer reviews.
Here are some tips from Enrique on posting job ads on online job platforms:
(1) Put together a comprehensive description of the job
“The better description, the more robust description you put on there, the fewer kind of dumb questions you’re going to get. So, I recommend thoroughly describing the work that you want to be done and the specific duties required of the VA,” states Enrique, as doing so will narrow down potential applicants and save you time.
(2) Specify the type of engagement
Indicate in the posting if the job is a full-time position, part-time, on-call, task-based, permanent, contract-based, etc. Enrique further suggests putting in the hours that you need the VA’s service, the days when you need them, and how often you need them.
(3) Indicate computer and connectivity requirements
“You need to include in the job post specific bandwidth and computer requirements. What I discovered is that the VA needs to have at least a 10-megabyte connection, especially if using VOIP phones,” advises Enrique, adding that requesting screenshots of the applicants’ computer and digital connection specifications may be necessary.
Another way to check good connection and speed is to do a video conference. “Through a video conference call, I can verify if they have a good video camera and microphone, a fast connection, and fast enough computer, router, and everything else. Upwork has its own internal one but you can also use Google Hangouts, Zoom, and other video conferencing tools,” suggests Enrique.
(4) Specify language requirements
It is important to specify language requirements for the VA if your business has clients speaking languages other than English and you want support staff who can attend to them in their own language. Enrique explains, “If you’re dealing in Quebec, you would want somebody who speaks French. In my case, I have a tenant base that’s 20% Spanish-speaking only and so it is important that some of my VA staff members were bilingual. But it’s also important that they be native English-speakers as well.”
(5) Previous freelance experience
If it’s important to you that a VA had previous experience in remote work, then you may include this requirement in your job post. “You can specify in the job posting the minimum number of months or years of experience that you’d want the VA to have,” says Enrique.
There are business owners who are unable to put in hours for training VAs, so to shorten the learning curve, they’d prefer to hire experienced or seasoned remote staff.
(6) Check employer feedback
Many online job platforms like Upwork show feedback given by employers to the employee that can be used as references when checking the VA’s background. “Here, the ratings are already on the individual’s history so you can take a look at them and see what their former employers have commented or rated,” Enrique notes. He further suggested referring to the scores in some tests (English proficiency, personality, general aptitude, IQ) that the VA has taken and uploaded to their account.
Things to Keep in Mind When Managing VAs
- Monitoring VA’s Work
Some online job platforms take screenshots of the VA’s work computer to monitor work performance. “Upwork takes random screenshots that show browser tabs that are open, what websites they’re open, with no warning. I can go back and look and see exactly what they were doing throughout the entire day,” says Enrique. This assures that he has more visibility into what his VAs are doing compared to a regular employee that doesn’t have monitoring software on their computer.
A phone monitoring system also allows business owners to keep an eye on the VA’s phone support performance. Data available on phone systems such as RingCentral and Vonage show the number of calls each person took, the duration of the calls, which calls were missed and went to voicemail, and which numbers were called back. “So, if it is an issue of trust, it is very easy to verify because you have data to back you up,” adds Enrique.
- Clear tasks and expectations
Make sure workloads, tasks, and projects are clear to your hired staff. Communicate your expectations to eliminate misunderstandings and help your VA stay on top of things. Enrique cautions, “Avoid the assumption that your VA can do everything and anything that you end up working them to pieces.”
- Security of sensitive information
“First off, I never give my password and user ID of bank accounts. However, one of the jobs that I outsource is the reconciliation of my bank accounts on a daily basis. So, I give the VA view-only access into my accounts, and then she can take a look at Folio and then reconcile every single transaction that’s occurred,” explains Enrique about handling sensitive bank information. He added that routine tasks such as bank reconciliation and inputting invoices pose a low threat to security and can be readily delegated to VAs.
- Have regular meetings
Enrique recommends regular staff meetings to help keep everyone informed and up to date, share feedback and ideas and boost morale in the workplace.
“I have a leasing department meeting, a maintenance department meeting, and a supervisors’ meeting in Google Hangouts as a way to get to know each other on a personal level,” he shares, adding that regular communication and check-ins keep everyone engaged and motivated.
- Retaining VAs
Engaged VAs are not just there to take orders and earn money – the committed ones work for the success of your business. When they see that the work they do is valued by the company, they will be more motivated to do excellent work which ultimately is beneficial to your business.
“What I have been able to do is very quickly get them up to full-time. I initially hire part-time but soon offer a permanent full-time position with set hours so that they can start accommodating their life around the business hours. That gives the stability of income,” advises Enrique, noting that most VAs prefer freelance work because of the flexibility of schedule and location. He further suggests business owners try and reduce the stress as much as possible so that their VAs get to enjoy their work.
More importantly, there are basic factors that are non-negotiable when employing VAs such as mutual respect between employer and employee, integrity in work, and respect for time and money – including ensuring that they are paid what’s due in a timely manner.
Virtual assistants can have a huge impact on how you run your business. Hiring a good virtual team can make your work lighter and your life easier. They can make your business more productive and increase your profit. But just like with any regular employee, you need to be an effective manager to successfully lead your virtual team of assistants.
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