The 7 Steps to Hire a Virtual Assistant For Your Consulting BusinessMar 18, 2022
Hiring a Virtual Assistant for Your Consulting Business
As an independent consultant, you are responsible for all aspects of your business, from marketing and sales to customer delivery to invoicing and collection. This can be a lot of work, especially if you're just starting out or your business is growing rapidly. That's where a virtual assistant (VA) can help.
1. Decide When to Hire a VA
Hiring a VA sooner than later can establish a strong infrastructure for you from the outset of your business.
I've found that many independent consultants wait for too long to hire a VA.
I know I waited too long.
Here are some common "thought errors" that I find solo consultants making about their time and their business:
- They choose to delay the cost of a VA because they can do the tasks themselves. While, yes, you CAN do the task yourself, that doesn't mean you SHOULD.
- Instead of thinking about the cash going out to pay a VA (it can commonly range from $250 to $800 a month), think about the opportunity cost of the time you're spending on these tasks.
- It's common for a VA to free up anywhere from 5-20 hours in your month. Imagine how much more impactful you can be on income-producing activities if you free up those hours.
2. Define the VA Role
Make a list of everything you could possibly delegate.
For each task, ask yourself how you can make delegating it successful. How can you make it easy for the VA to understand and complete the task?
A VA can take on some of the tasks that are keeping you from focusing on your core business activities. This can include
- administrative tasks, such as managing your calendar, answering emails, and preparing invoices;
- marketing tasks, such as creating content, designing graphics, and building links; or
- even customer service tasks, such as updating project plans, or creating templates from your work so you can re-use and re-purpose.
TIP: it's common to identify tasks that you could outsource, and then quickly talk yourself out of them. You might say things to yourself like:
- I can just do that faster myself
- That's sensitive information I don't feel comfortable sharing
- I'm worried that this task might be too challenging to explain
I recommend that you take the opposite approach.
Instead of talking yourself out of delegating the tasks, proactively force your brain to figure out how you can make delegating successful:
- Write out everything you could possibly delegate
- For each, ask yourself "how can I make delegating this successful? How can I make delegating this easy?"
3. Estimate the time you'll need a VA to work for you
After you create the list of tasks, estimate the time each would take on a weekly basis.
This will give you an initial idea of all the scope for your VA.
4. Determine The Type of VA You'll Hire
When you're looking for a VA, there are several variables to consider:
An onshore or offshore VA
I've leveraged both onshore and offshore VAs for my business. For you to decide what's best for your business, here are some considerations, generally speaking:
Offshore VAs can be beneficial if you
- have repeatable tasks that are straightforward to document and execute and
- find benefit, like I do, of someone who is in a completely opposite time zone
Onshore VAs can be beneficial if you
- want a VA who can take on tasks that require more ad hoc skillsets (e.g. ability to draft content from an outline, ability to monitor and respond to comments on LinkedIn and other platforms)
- want someone in a time zone closer to yours.
General or specialized
Based on the list of tasks you want the VA to cover, ask yourself:
- Do you need a general VA who can cover a variety of tasks? And/or
- Do you need a specialized VA(s) who can do more specific work?
5. Where to Find VA Candidates
One of the best ways to find a VA is to go through an agency. There are many reputable agencies that can connect you with qualified VAs, and they take care
- Background checks
- Initial screening
- Matching candidates to your list of requirements
- Presenting 2-3 candidates for you to interview
- Baseline training the VA
- Helping them to have equipment
- Replacing the VA if they don't work out
Going this route typically costs a little more than hiring directly. But, I've found that the added cost is beneficial, especially for offshore VAs.
I've found success hiring onshore VAs directly by:
- Asking colleagues
- Facebook groups
6. Interviewing and Selecting a VA for Your Consulting Business
When searching for a VA, be sure to ask lots of questions to ensure that they are the right fit for your business.
Example interview VA questions include:
- What type of experience do they have? And what experience do they have specific to your requirements list?
- How many clients are they currently working with?
- How do they manage their workload across multiple clients?
- How do they handle urgent requests?
- How do they handle last-minute requests?
- How quickly do you typically respond to questions?
- What's their availability?
- What kind of tasks do they typically perform for other clients?
- What tasks do they not enjoy?
- How do they prefer to communicate (phone, email, Skype, etc.)?
- What do they find works best for status reporting?
- How often do they prefer meeting with their client and in what format?
- Describe challenges they've had with past clients and how did they resolve them?
- Have you had past experiences where your client changes the types of tasks they want you to work on? How did you handle this?
- What kind of equipment do they have? For example, do they have enough space on their laptop to handle your video editing projects?
- What is their fee structure?
- How do they handle unused hours at the end of the month (e.g. they do or don't roll over)
7. Mistakes to Avoid When Hiring a VA
When hiring a VA, there are a few mistakes to avoid. I've made many of these myself. In fact, I've hired 4 VAs in the course of my business. And, it took 3 mis-hires before I found a VA who is a great match for me.
The first mistake to avoid, especially if you’re hiring your first VA, is hiring a brand-new VA who has no experience. I've made this mistake and it ended up costing me a lot of cycles to train the person. In the end, after several months of training, we both determined it wasn't a good fit. Looking back, I see that this was a mistake on my part. This was a direct result of me hiring someone without experience or knowledge of what a VA typically does.
Another mistake is not taking the time to fully outline the tasks you want the VA to complete. This can lead to miscommunication and a lack of clarity, which can lead to the VA not meeting your expectations. For example, when I hired one of my first VAs, I chose to pick a few tasks she would start with and I thought we could figure out the rest as we went. I chose to err on the side of paying on the higher end of the VA scale, with the expectation that the VA would be able to learn anything I needed her to. I quickly learned this was a mistake because (1) she didn't learn as fast as I expected and (2) she didn't have an interest in doing the tasks I added to her plate.
Consider hiring more than one VA if you need specialized skills. You don't need to find a one-size-fits-all VA, especially if you have a wide range of tasks you need a VA to fulfill. Get creative to hire one or more VAs to support your needs.
- One way to do this is to hire a primary VA who can facilitate the process, and then have them manage other VAs to do the specialized work.
- Or, work with an agency that can introduce you to multiple VAs who bring the specific skillsets you need.
Finally, be sure to focus on the personality fit in addition to the skills fit. Remember, the VA will be your right-hand person in many ways. You want to hire someone you enjoy interacting with, who you trust, and who you believe has a vested interest in your success as you do in theirs. Even if a VA looks perfect on paper, don't talk yourself into hiring them if anything feels off. It's worth it to invest the time to find a great fit.
Those are the 7 steps to take as you're hiring a VA for your consulting business. Watch out for next week's article on "Managing a VA in your consulting business." I'll share the tips and tricks I've learned in order to streamline working with a VA into a well-oiled machine.
If you'd like help growing your consulting business, reach out. I can help. I've created a 1:1 Bootcamp specific to independent consultants to help you sustainably scale your consulting practice.