Thanks to COVID-19 the term remote worker no longer means working in some industry camp drilling, mining, or logging. But instead stands for a growing army of individuals available to help with your laundry list of tasks needed to run a successful business.
There are plenty of websites where you can hire help for a fraction of the cost of doing it yourself or having an employee do it for you.
That is the brochure. What is not mentioned is that directly hiring a remote worker, or virtual assistant (VA) is time-consuming, error-prone, and can be costly not only in time but in mistakes.
Our company uses virtual assistants and has done so long before COVID-19.
If you are considering seeking help, or if you have already taken the plunge and have hired remote help and are having some issue, we have prepared some pointers that may be helpful for you, written by one of our own virtual assistants.
So, what is the difference between a remote worker, and a virtual assistant?
Remote workers are typically an extension of your office and are considered employees complete with all the requirements of having an employee under relevant local employment laws.
A virtual assistant on the other hand is an independent contractor who may have more than just you as a client, and keeps their own hours, equipment; and may decide when to work, and when not to work.
We asked our lead VA to create in her own words how small businesses should work with a virtual assistant. The following is her work.
Step 1. Determine your needs, tasks, and goals
Start by writing down a list of tasks you would like to have performed for you. It can be tasks that are simply just taking too much of your time (for example, keeping records updated or booking appointments with clients) or tasks that you do not know to perform yourself (building a website or performing bookkeeping for instance).
It can also be helpful to know the future goals you want for your business, for example: “I want to increase my client base” or “I want to deliver a better customer experience”. This will help you focus on what kind of task – and thus – what kind of qualifications you should look for in a VA for them to help you achieve your main goal. It will also help the VA work towards your goal or vision.
You may find that you have a lot of small tasks you want to outsource ranging from administrative tasks to marketing or website development. If that the case, you may want to hire a VA with a more rounded focus rather than a specialist at each task because (1) specialized VAs charge more and (2) you will have to spend more time hiring, training, and managing a larger number of VAs.
Step 2. Going it alone or hiring an agency
If you want to spend more time managing your business than your virtual assistants, then another possibility is to hire a VA agency instead. Agencies usually charge a monthly flat rate and they usually have packages depending on the number of work hours you need.
But now you may be thinking that you do not really know how many hours you would need to contract for your business because you do not know how long it takes to build a website, for example. Fortunately, the best agencies can assess your company and present you with a proposal based on your current needs and goals.
The advantage of working with an agency is having the responsibility and burden (time and money-wise) of hiring, training, and managing VAs transferred to them. You get a team of specialists working on your business in a monthly package without carrying the extra burden.
Step 3. Have realistic expectations.
There is a Learning Curve
It is important to keep in mind that there is a learning curve for both parties when starting to work with someone new. You, as the business owner, will have to learn how to best work with a VA, how to train them, and how to communicate with them in the best way possible.
In the beginning, you will have to spend some time preparing instructions, shooting training videos, and explaining how your business works to successfully onboard your new VA. At the beginning of this process, you may feel overwhelmed, not knowing where to start or the best way to proceed.
Luckily, there are several agencies with a lot of experience working with VAs. You might want to shorten your learning curve by seeking these services rather than hiring a VA by yourself.
Know what level of qualification you need from your VA before hiring
There are many levels of qualified VAs out there and nowadays we can work with people from all over the world. It is important to know what you can really expect from VAs with various levels of qualifications and pay rates. For instance, remote workers living in developing countries will cost you less but they will not speak fluent English, for example.
It is really going to be up to you to figure out the balance between how much you are willing to pay and the qualifications you want your VA to have (and keep in mind that you usually get what you pay for). That is why in many cases business owners may prefer to have more than one VA to perform various levels of tasks.
Communication is key when you have remote workers
The success of working with your VA will be widely influenced by the quality of your communication. This includes not only the clarity of the instructions you give to your VA but also the type of platform used and the frequency of communication.
From experience, it is always better to have communication tools that keep a record of what was discussed, what instructions were given, and what agreements were made between both parties. This includes emails, chat apps, and other free and paid team management applications.
Having a system in place that gives you or your VA the possibility of going back on earlier assigned tasks, instructions, and questions can be a valuable tool because:
- It saves you time by limiting the amount of unnecessary back and forth communication. If instructions were clear in the first place, your VA will always have a material to refer to as many times necessary in case of doubt.
- It gives you the power of tracking activities being performed for your business over time so you can evaluate their benefits in the future.
- It gives you the possibility of working with people in separate locations and time zones. When working with VAs that are not in the same time zone as you are, having a written communication system allows you and your VA to work efficiently even when not working at the same time.
Step 4. Set us up for success
Provide clear instructions to your VA
Taking your time to write down clear instructions (or even film training videos) of the tasks you want to be performed can save you and your VA a lot of time as well as avoid misunderstandings.
It is recommended that you create a structured procedure for each one of your most important tasks. This will ensure that they will be performed correctly each time and it can also be used to train other team members in the future as your company grows.
Editor’s Note: Working with a virtual assistant, or any other person whether across the street or around the globe requires constant feedback on both sides. Imagine trying to explain a simple task to someone in your office by talking through a door? At Shepherd 360 communications is a big part of what we do with our human resources and admittedly, does add time to the task.
“If you feel that you do not know where to start or how to structure your own processes, Shepherd 360 can help you with that.”
So, do not think of it as a waste of time or as something tedious that you must do. Think of it as an investment that will keep bringing you benefits eventually.
If you feel that you do not know where to start or how to structure your own processes, Shepherd 360 can help you with that. We have experience applying this method in-house for clients as well, and we can help you build structured processes exclusively designed for your small business.
Plan tasks and create deadlines
Planning tasks and writing down deadlines is the best way to keep track of your VA’s work as well as the progress your small business is making. Your VAs will also thank you for it because they will know exactly what you are expecting from them (and when), allowing them to plan their own workload for the period.
Using the tools
It is recommended to have some online calendar, planner, or task management tool that can be shared between you and your VA (or team of VAs). There are many options in the market, including free to paid solutions, with distinctive features depending on your needs.
With more people working from home the market has exploded with time tracking software that often includes GPS and screen capturing features that allow you to keep a close eye on your remote worker, controlling their location and what they do on their computer.
While these features may be helpful in some specific cases – such as for delivery companies -, it is not the case for most small business owners out there. First, watching your VA (or VAs) so closely will demand your time – and money!
One of the major reasons for having a VA working for you is saving you time and money but if you must spend time checking their activities, then you are not really achieving your main goal. In the same way, if you are paying for such features but cannot find the time to analyze the data coming from it, then you are completely wasting your money.
If you have no idea where to start, we can help. Shepherd 360 has created a unique management system to help you and your small business become more efficient while working with a team of VAs.
The death of a relationship – trust
The truth is that you will only be successful working with a VA if you can really trust them. That is why a task-based approach is the best choice when working with remote workers. This means that you will measure the efficiency of your VA and the success of working with them based on completed tasks.
For example, if you have a VA doing your bookkeeping you may verify their work by asking the following questions “Have all my bank statements been reconciled this month?”, “Have my taxes been filed on time?” or “Are all my records up-to-date?” Internally, we have processes to ensure deadlines are met.
The bottom line is you should be tracking only the things that really matter to your business, and if you find yourself feeling the need to thoroughly monitor your VA then perhaps you chose the wrong person altogether.
Shepherd 360 has built its business model around virtual assistants and throughout the years has developed its own procedures and control systems to ensure the success of virtual teams.
If you are still unsure that working with a VA is the right step for your small business or if you have already decided that you do want a VA but you do not really know how to start, please visit our services page or contact us to find out more the ways we can help you and your business succeed.
If you are a qualified VA and want to be part of Shepherd 360’s teams, please our contact page to start your VA application. We are always looking for experienced VAs to join our team.
Isis is a team lead working in Canada supporting clients with Sage 50, QuickBooks online as well as Xero. She is available for research, document management, and outreach to your customers.
When working with virtual assistants it is important that communications, task management, and correct time reporting are all in place using the latest technology. At Shepherd 360 we know this can be a moving target, but we have the skills and abilities to ensure that these things are in place should you decide you need help running your own business.