Do you find yourself constantly working late nights and weekends trying to juggle a million different tasks for your business? As a solopreneur, it’s tough trying to do everything yourself.
Most of my clients are independent consultants and experts. They are single-person businesses, and many of them don’t want to grow their business with a large team. In fact, I don’t want to grow a large employee base either.
But if you’re doing everything in your business with NO external help, I think you’re making a HUGE mistake.
If you’re an expert, you probably should not be doing your own bookkeeping, or any of the myriad other time-consuming tasks that are on your plate. Those will differ from person to person but I bet you have a good idea of where you’re spending time that you should probably delegate to someone else.
You probably should be talking to clients, writing a book, recording podcast interviews, or working on any of the other high-level strategy that is essential for your business and that ONLY YOU can do.
The good news is, you don’t have to do it all! Hiring freelancers can help ease your workload so you can focus on what matters most.
I’ve been working with freelancers since even before I started my business, way back in 2005 (yes, even before Tim Ferriss published The 4-Hour Workweek and popularised hiring overseas). And I’ve also been a freelancer myself, so I know the other side of the coin.
In this article, I’ll show you step-by-step how to hire a virtual assistant.
I was recently interviewed on the Savvy Talks Podcast by Kris Marie Dano and I shared my practical advice for working with VAs and other freelancers with her:
What is a Virtual Assistant?
A Virtual Assistant is a remote worker skilled in various tasks such as administration, content creation, and technical support. They use digital tools to efficiently integrate into your business operations.
What Does a Virtual Assistant Do?
It depends on the person. VA is a catch-all names that people can use in many different ways. Typically I see it used two ways:
- A true assistant, who is a generalist. They’ll be doing the tasks that an Executive Assistant (EA) or Personal Assistant (PA) would be doing, except remotely.
- A remote specialist, e.g. a social media manager, a website manager, or even a bookkeeper.
When I’m talking about VA, usually I mean an actual assistant, and I refer to specialists by their specialised title.
But the range of tasks they can help with is very wide:
- Administrative Support: From managing your calendar to handling emails, a VA can shoulder these duties, freeing you to focus on decision-making and strategy.
- Content Creation: Many VAs come equipped with skills in blog writing, graphic design, and social media posts. They can either create or help you manage your content pipeline.
- Podcast Production: my VA helps me with all the behind the scenes workflow of producing a podcast every week, from creating the graphics, processing the shownotes, down to scheduling the episode
- Data Management: Organizing spreadsheets, entering data, and even doing basic analytics. A VA can keep your data in shipshape, so you can glean insights more quickly.
- Customer Service: VAs can handle customer queries, schedule appointments, and even manage your CRM system.
- Technical Assistance: Whether it’s updating your website, running A/B tests, or basic troubleshooting, a tech-savvy VA can handle these.
- Financial Tasks: Invoice management, bookkeeping, and financial tracking can be outsourced to VAs with specialized skills in these areas.
How to Hire a VA
- Clearly communicate your needs and expectations in the job posting. Include very specific instructions and include a “keyword” to ensure applicants read everything.
- Filter out applicants who respond too quickly without reading the full post. Also filter out those claiming expertise in too many unrelated areas.
- Shortlist 2-3 of the best candidates and hire them for a small test project first. This helps assess skills, communication, and fit before committing to a larger project.
- Don’t expect a new freelancer to be as fast as you right away. Focus on quality and allow them time to learn. The goal is to free up your time for higher value tasks.
- Build SOPs (standard operating procedures) with step-by-step instructions and screenshots to streamline training and delegating tasks.
- Communication and developing trust are critical. Require freelancers to be willing to get on video/voice calls.
- Have backup plans in case your main freelancer is unavailable (e.g. a backup person, outsourcing company).
- Working with freelancers involves a learning curve. Be patient as you figure out processes.
My Step-by-Step Guide to Hiring a Virtual Assistant
If you’re looking for a step by step guide, I got you. Here’s my advice on how to proceed.
Step 1: Identify Your Most Time-Consuming Tasks
Start by brainstorming all the regular tasks that take up too much of your time each week. These might include:
- Social media management
- Calendar management
- Meeting prep
- Transcribing videos
- Editing blog posts
Look for repetitive projects and duties you aren’t the best fit for. We want to outsource the most time sucking tasks so you can focus on high-value priorities.
Didn’t you mean to write a book last year? Or start going to the gym more often? (Me too)
Step 2: Write a Project Description
But wait: instead of hiring a VA outright, I recommend you start by outsourcing a single task or project.
This way you can dip your toes in the water instead of committing long term.
The goal right now is just to outsource a single time-consuming task off your plate. You can worry about long-term hiring once you complete this first trial project.
With these first projects, I’m thinking about outsourcing a task that would take an hour or two, maybe something in the $25-100 range, depending on the required expertise.
I write up a detailed task/project description including:
- The scope of work (sometimes I’ll also provide a Loom screen recording video showing what I need done)
- Deadline for when you need it done by (and please don’t assume they’ll be starting immediately – the best folks will have a pipeline of projects)
- I ask them to be willing to get on a video call with me (even if I don’t want to actually have the call – I find simply asking this will weed out folks who aren’t a good fit)
- A unique keyword at the bottom “IMPORTANT: Make sure to include the word BANANA in your reply so I know you read the instructions”
- I always mention that I need them to agree to a subcontractor agreement – a legal document that I get them to sign before starting work. This includes issues related to GDPR – EU legislation to protect my client’s information – and my IP ownership. Basically, it says that if I pay them to create something, I own it.
Be as detailed as you can with the scope of work so it’s really clear what you need done. This will help you find the right candidate, and will save you time later.
Step 3: Post on Relevant Freelance Sites
With your project description complete, you need to get it in front of freelancers. The good news is there are popular freelancing platforms and marketplaces where they hang out.
Major Freelance Marketplaces
The two major freelancing platforms where you can post a project are:
If you posted the job on Upwork or Freelancer then you’ll get responses that include a price, delivery time, profile link and message. There’s a formal process where you agree and award the project to your preferred freelancer and communicate through their messaging system.
You can also go look for someone on Fiverr. That’s slightly different in that the freelancers post up a spec of what they will do, and you choose from the fixed-price menu.
This can be a good place to start if you’re not sure about writing a project description. It’s a formal process and they hand-hold you through it step-by-step.
Apart from the freelance marketplaces above, there are also country-specific freelance marketplaces like OnlineJobs.ph which is where you can hire freelancers from the Philippines. You can also share in niche Facebook groups or subreddits related to the skill you need.
The downside of those sites is the process is typically less formalised and more free-form, so you need to know what you’re doing.
Here’s the full list:
- Upwork – Comprehensive range of freelancers.
- Freelancer.com – Global freelancer bidding system.
- Fiverr – Fixed-price, quick task specialists.
- OnlineJobs.ph – Philippines-based, many available for full-time or part-time psitions.
- Toptal – High-skill developer talent.
- Guru – Flexible work agreements.
- PeoplePerHour – UK-centric freelance platform.
- TaskRabbit – Local odd-job assistance.
- 99Designs – Design-specific project bidding.
- CloudPeeps – Marketing and content specialists.
Step 4: Shortlist Applicants
Once you publish it somewhere, you’ll start to get replies from potential hires. In fact, you’ll probably get A LOT of replies. For example, when I posted a project recently, I got 12 replies within the first two minutes, and another 47 replies over the next 24 hours.
That means it’s important to whittle it down to a more managable number. Here’s how I do it:
- Remove the overly fast responses that clearly didn’t read the job posting before replying – they’re simply copy-pasting their responses and playing a numbers game.
- Remove the folks who didn’t include my unique keyword – they didn’t read the post or want to follow the instructions.
- Remove those who claim expertise in too many areas. This is a judgement call, but if someone claims to have deep expertise in YouTube video editing, and web design, and bookkeeping, then I’m not likely to want to hire them.
Now we usually have a handful so we can start to evaluate portfolios, work samples, and previous experience for relevant fit.
I look at:
- Relevant portfolio pieces and work samples
- Specific experience related to my needs
- Professional but personable communication style
- Referrals or testimonials
I shortlist 2-3 candidates, and I like to ask simple questions to gauge responsiveness and communication.
In fact, for me communication is the single most important factor – even more important than their skill level at the actual task!
Step 5: Hire!
I like the look of a couple, and I’ll pick the best. In fact, depending on the scope of the task, I’ll sometimes hire the top 2-3 and compared their output.
I did that when hiring a video editor – in fact I actually hired 5 different editors for that one. I gave them each a different podcast episode video to edit, and the same instructions. I was able to use 4 of the 5 produced videos (the last one was terrible) and I still work with two of the editors months later.
They should already have most of the instructions to complete the task from the project description (that’s why writing that well was so important) so now you’ll just need to give them access to source files, share account passwords, and whatever else they need to do the job.
Step 6: Communicate!
Once you’ve hired, your focus should be on establishing good communication, this is the foundation for a successful project and relationship. (Yes, you’re building a relationship here!)
First, confirm they have access to all the resources they’ll need. Whether it’s source files, account credentials, or specific software, make sure they’re fully equipped to begin the task.
Next, agree on any milestones and deadlines. For tasks with longer timelines, consider setting up periodic check-ins to review progress and address any questions or concerns. This keeps you in the loop but and assures the VA that they’re on the right track.
You might find that they’re doing exactly what you asked, but it’s not what you needed – and that’s on you! Work with them to make sure they understand what you really need. This is why communication is key.
A word of warning: be cautious about requesting work-in-progress updates for tasks that are naturally iterative, like design work. Interim design work can be messy, and seeing a project midway can sometimes give you the wrong impression and lead to unnecessary changes or be detrimental to the outcome.
Find a balance between being hands-on and giving the VA space to do their job. Know when to step in and when to step back. Your goal is to foster an environment where both parties are informed and empowered to act decisively.
Step 7: Evaluate the Initial Project
Review the VA’s work against your criteria and original instructions. Make sure it meets the quality and objectives outlined.
Provide concrete feedback, highlight what was done well and what could improve. Remember that you’re in the position of power being the hiring party, so they probably won’t tell you about the mistakes that YOU made unless you create the right environment for that.
Using the rating system in the hiring platform, and remember that a positive or negative review can impact their livelihood.
Step 8: Decide on the Next Step
If the work met your standards and the communication was smooth, consider extending the contract or discussing future projects.
If it didn’t, evaluate whether the shortcomings are correctable through feedback or if you need to part ways.
I tend to go with my gut as to whether they feel like a long-term asset or a one-off hire.
Working with freelancers involves a learning curve. Be patient as you figure out your own business processes. Use the test project to assess if delegating these tasks is worth continuing – sometimes it’s better to just use it yourself.
Here are the tools I use day-to-day to communicate with my VA:
- Zoom – For calls
- Loom – Record video SOPs
- Google Docs/Sheets – Document SOPs etc
- Asana – Project management
- Discord – (Alternative to Slack) Communication and collaboration
- Otter.ai – Audio/Video to text transcription
- ChatGPT – AI assistant for brainstorming, drafting content
- QuickForget – Securely share passwords