Best Practices for Managing a VA In An Independent Consulting Business with Silas Kim

Mar 28, 2022

Introduction to Silas 

I'm excited to introduce you to Silas Kim. He is the CEO of Atlas Assistants. He runs the agency that I worked with to find my current and amazing VA that I have partnering with me in my business.

I asked Silas if I could interview him for this newsletter (and for the podcast) so that he could share his perspectives on:

  • when to hire a virtual assistant in an independent consulting business,
  • how to hire a virtual assistant,
  • managing a virtual assistant,
  • communicating and collaborating with a VA, and
  • all of his best practices, tips and strategies. from the vantage point of being a recruiter and an agency that helps match up VAs with business owners.

So that's what we're going to dive into today.

And, before we jump into the interview, be sure to download the comprehensive Playbook for Hiring and Managing a Virtual Assistant in an Independent Consulting Business. Click here to download it.

 

This newsletter is a follow-on to last week's newsletter where I walked you through the seven steps to hire a virtual assistant, as well as the nine mistakes you want to avoid. I captured all of them in the Playbook, so be sure to download it.

In this interview, Silas shares so many actionable practical strategies, and I can't wait for you to learn all about them.

You can listen to this interview on my Grow Your Independent Consulting Business podcast, episode 054.

 

Silas, why don't we just start off and why don't you tell us a little bit about you and what you do?

Silas: absolutely. So I am Silas Kim, the CEO and co-founder of Atlas Assistants, a virtual assistant hiring agency. So we work primarily with coaches, consultants, and service providers to help them hire qualified virtual assistants.

I actually come from a recruitment background. So I've been in technical recruitment for about six years have experience in multiple industries like it engineering, clinical research, and most recently, digital marketing for pharmaceutical advertising. I worked in a lot of different types of companies. And then eventually, we went and started this agency to support different coaches, consultants, service providers that are looking for additional help.

 

I'm just curious what led you to take that leap to start working for yourself?

Silas: so Atlas actually started off as a side hustle. So I was doing it on the side, a nights and weekends type of thing. I wasworking in corporate, and in my last role, I was the sole in-house recruiter for a digital marketing agency. I essentially helped them double their headcount.

Over three years helped them reduce their turnover from 55% to 33% to 22%. And then they got acquired. When they got acquired, I was like, okay, this is the time for me to, you know, assess my other options.

And essentially, I started this business with my brother because we realized that entrepreneurs are really good at what they do, but a lot of times not so great at hiring. And so we started the business.

And another thing was in the previous agency I was in, we're looking for a lot of senior-level candidates, and then they would get hired, they would come in, and they would end up because it was such a small company, they would end up having to do their own administrative tasks for themselves, like scheduling their own meetings, uploading and you know, downloading files, renaming files, all types of things. And this is at a high seven-figure growing agency that has been around for like 20 years. So if it was true for them, probably true for a lot of solopreneurs out there. And so that's how we started it.

 

At what point do you recommend a business owner hire a virtual assistant?

Silas: so in short, really, every time you do anything in your business, you get to ask yourself a question: is there anyone else that can do this?

You want to analyze what you're doing and what types of tasks you could delegate. For example, you'll want to delegate the tasks that way you can actively free up your time as a business owner or consultant to then focus on the higher leverage tasks. And you can delegate all the lower value tasks, essentially, the ones that drive revenue versus those that don't drive revenue.

I had the luxury of inheriting my VA, actually, through my brother, so he had worked on my brother previously. I said, okay, go start this agency with my VA. So luckily, I've had a VA from the very start. And he is pretty much he is the like, General Manager/business partner. And he is a beast.

So for me, a little biased, I'd say like, hire a VA right away.

 

Do you notice that most business owners wait to long to hire an assistant?

Silas: absolutely.

I'll walk clients through an exercise so that they can look at what their hourly rate is, if they don't have a concrete number. Then, once you calculate your hourly rate, you make like $100 an hour. All right, and you spend 10 hours a week on a $10 an hour task, that's $1000 a week. So that's just an easy way to just kind of go about the analysis.

That's a good way to look at it --- multiplying your rate and seeing that it could free up so much of your time. Like you said, even if you don't have clients at the moment to fill that time, then it's so much better spent on lead generation and business development than it is on a spreadsheet or whatever it is that you're doing on the back end.

 

What types of VAs are out there that people could hire and for what kinds of activities?

Silas: there are basically for almost anything and everything, so all types from administrative, technical, sales, marketing, creative, you name it.

Realistically, VAs can do almost anything, as long as they have the proper direction and training. We tend to focus primarily on administrative days. However, while we're screening them, we screen them to make sure that they can follow instructions, but they have experience with a lot of the common tools right that many of our clients are using.

So it could be anything like project management software, like Asana or Trello. Or if the social media platforms such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, so on.

Sometimes business owners think we're the only ones who could do certain tasks, like write a proposal for a client, for example. But if you can templatize, at least part of what you do for a VA, the VA can at least get your work started by creating a draft.

 

A lot of times, we rule out things that we think only we could do when they could be delegated. Tell me what you think about that.

Silas: I wholeheartedly agree. I think that's more of like a mindset thing because a lot of us are unwilling to let go of those things. You think no one else can do it better than you can, until you break it down. And you realize that actually someone can do it just as well as I can, if not better than I can. So that happens all the time.

 

So, then that leads us to tell me what mistakes you've noticed business owners making when they're hiring a VA?

Silas: A lot of the time not being clear on the wants versus the needs, just not being clear overall in terms of the expectations and what you're looking for and the person you need. And on the back end of that, just not having a strong enough hiring system, which is why you would use an agency because they give you the ability to an agency to actually hire people that will fit your team.

And then the last thing is very common, a lot of clients will come and say: "hey, I really need a VA to help me with X, Y, and Z. Sometimes X, Y, and Z are very high level, like executive-level things. And, I also want someone to help me figure out how all the tools and software in my business connect."

So a lot of it would be just getting really clear expectations AND being very realistic. As long as you have the training materials and ability to show someone something, that's gonna be the big thing when you're thinking about hiring, whether or not that competency even exists in order to teach that person.

 

What trends do you see with business owners abdicating to a virtual assistant versus delegating to a virtual assistant?

Silas: Yes, this is the example where business owners say something like "just figure out my backend system for me, and how my website and my email system and everything connect because they don't want to deal with it." So they just sort of throw it over the fence and hope that someone else can handle it versus truly delegating

When business owners delegate (instead of abdicate), they know what a process looks like and that it's repeatable. Then they lift it over to a virtual assistant.

So you answered that one, and tell me after the hiring process and being clear on what you want, and what's a want versus a need, like you said, now tell me what you see as the best way to train a virtual assistant after you've hired them.

So once you're really clear on the wants and the needs and you know what you're going to delegate to that virtual assistant, you then start creating some training materials and or standard operating procedures, typically one of the same.

You know, a lot of folks overcomplicate it. The simplest way to explain it is to record yourself doing it using a tool like Loom or a Zoom recording. You just share your screen, record it and send it off to your virtual assistant.

Then, have the VA turn that into an SOP. So following the steps that you've outlined in a video, they document it for you so you have it for later reference. And then essentially they have a go at it, to try to complete the task. And if they can, with the instructions you've given them, then great. That's a good SOP stored for later use. If not, you get to go back and modify what needs to get modified that we have a better result next time.

Melisa: Loom is a lifesaver. I use it probably once a day with my VA, just in terms of refining processes, or just giving a visual of what I'm seeing versus trying to explain it in writing. It seems to reduce so many misunderstandings, and as you said, it can become such a shortcut. Because you're showing the VA what you want to be done, you can give the color around it. This is why I'm doing what I'm doing and this is what I'm thinking about as I'm doing it. And then they can see that in real life and document it for you.

 

Tell me the converse Silas, what mistakes do you see in people when they're managing their virtual assistants?

Silas: The number one thing is communication, or lack thereof, right. So we do have some clients that don't communicate as well as they can to explicitly tell the virtual assistant what they need or want.

And then, of course, on that, it's also knowing what to delegate and when to delegate.

And along those lines, it just has realistic expectations again, right. So when you have unrealistic expectations from the hiring process all the way through to managing them, it can be very challenging because, again, a lot of that comes down to mindset. And you have a lot of entrepreneurs out there when the mindsets are just not quite there to delegate to somebody, and they just want to hold on to everything.

 

What advice would you give to those business owners who are having challenges with their VA meeting their expectations?

Silas: I recommend they focus upfront so that they're better choosing the virtual assistant. And, if they're having a hard time with their VA, they should take a look inward a bit. Because, sure, there are plenty of times where it's the VA. But there are a lot more times where it's the system, right or the process, and the instructions that you've given to that person. So if you think back to a virtual assistant that just didn't quite work out, you get to take a moment, step back, look at what part of that right system broke down. And then you can actually modify those things. And then, of course, when you bring the new VA in, you'll want a good handoff and that you've incorporated lessons learned from past VAs.

 

What's important in onboarding a replacement VA?

Silas: When you're trying to get a new virtual assistant up to speed, you'll want to prvide any training materials, as well as lessons learned, so you share as much information with the new VA as possible. That way, the new VA can just jump in and hit the ground running. And then the business owner doesn't need to take all too much time to repeat. Again, this is where SOPs come in handy. If you have them, it's a lot easier to swap people in and out if needed.

 

So tell us a little bit about what is in a good SOP?

Silas: So in a good SOP, there are quite a few things. The first thing would be to have a really strong definition of done. Essentially, it's what is done look like, if you were to explain to someone, "hey, here's this task, go and do it." You want to be sure you have to have a clear expectation for what you're looking for what the outcome is.

So clear, the desired outcome is the first thing that you would want to put into the SOP.

Then, of course, the step-by-step instructions of how to go about actually getting that result.

And a couple of other things are nicer to have.

  1. An estimated completion time and
  2. how much time you think it might take to complete that task.
  3. Access-related things or tools that they might need to complete that specific process.

There is a Chrome extension called Tango that's absolutely phenomenal. Essentially, when you start the Chrome extension and you start clicking through the different tasks, it'll automatically take a screenshot of whatever it is that you clicked on. It writes a little blurb for you. Then you go back and edit everything. In like two minutes, you can essentially create an SOP. It's got to store it in a place where you can easily access it. And that is that.

 

Okay, let's talk about the tools for a minute. What is the best way to share tools with virtual assistants?

Silas: I always recommend clients use LastPass, or any sort of password management tool. So that way, when you do actually share the passwords or logins with your virtual assistant, they can't actually see the password so you don't have to go back and change it or anything.

And then when offboarding were to happen, it's easy just to remove all the access, and you have to change your passwords, you just remove all the access right away.

So there are some VAs that will come kind of preloaded with, like the Adobe Suite. If they're more creative or not creative, then they probably have other types of subscriptions on their own.

Melisa: It's probably a good question to be asking in the hiring process, like what kind of software do you have? So that then you know, as an independent consultant, if you've got to buy some software to provide to that virtual assistant or if the virtual assistant has it.

 

Tell me anything else that you would recommend in terms of best practices for communication?

Silas: Communication, the number one thing, has a primary communication channel. You might have a primary and like a secondary, or for like emergencies, or if you just can't reach them on the primary one.

But you don't want to have like five different ones like email, WhatsApp, and Slack because when you have too many, then there's a lot of places you've got to check. So that's the first thing, just picking an actual channel.

And then in addition to that, I always recommend starting off with daily check-ins, if you have the time and capacity, if not at least meet like every other day and then whittle it down to maybe once or twice a week, right and just kind of going down the ranks there.

And then, of course, there's a feedback loop and all that. So whenever you delegate a task, you're essentially opening up a feedback loop. So just be cognizant that after you delegate it and have to go back and actually make sure they did it and did it right. Yeah. That's another piece that's a lot of times that's that's missing and all this.

Melisa: that's so helpful. I know my VA and I. We communicate mostly over Asana, which is a task management tool. And also WhatsApp for quick questions or time-sensitive/urgent items.

 

Silas, tell me anything that you would recommend that we haven't touched on already about retention for business owners who have found great VAs that they want to keep?

Silas: Keep communicating with them and keep treating them well. Every now and then, ask them how they're doing and whether or not the skills and the things that they're working on are still in line with what they were looking for. Because things change, right? Interests change people, especially VAs, as they get more experience. They might want to continue to grow and do the next right, latest and greatest.

Essentially, consistently helping them upskill, teaching them the best that you can, and helping them to just grow in their career. That'll keep them around. I mean, Filipino virtual assistants, in general, are very, very loyal. And they stick around so that's a plus. But of course, you're going to want to put in some effort to maintain that relationship, improve that relationship, and they'll continue to stick around.

Melisa: I think that's such an important insight. Because a lot of times we don't consider a VA in the same way we thought about an employee when we were working in corporate. And now we're working in our own business with a contractor. And so you might not think that things that would help it retain an employee would apply to retaining a contractor, but in a lot of ways, they do. And so having that dialogue, not only about the day to day, and the smoothness of the processes and the deadlines, but also really understanding what that VA cares about and where they want their career to grow and how you can help align to that as well, even though they're not an "employee."

Silas: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, they're essentially your team member,

Melisa: Exactly. That's fantastic. I love that reframe.

 

Tell me what new trends you might be seeing in the virtual assistant industry.

Silas: one that I noticed recently that's interesting is having VAs actually use AI software to do more advanced tasks that VAs typically won't do.

So there are things like things called RPA robotic process automation. For example, you've got things like the AI copywriting tools like Jasper.

Imagine having a VA that can wait for all your copy for you.

 

Anything else we haven't covered Silas?

Silas: Well, the last thing I think would be to recommend that a business owner create a very high, high level overview of what they do and what they need, as the way to start the hiring process. And by the way, I don't think I've ever shared this with you, but when you sent me your Word doc and your Loom video when we started the relationship, I was mind blown. I was like, wow, why don't I do that with everyone, because not everyone thinks that way. But when I saw it, I was like, okay, this makes much sense, because you broke it down by like monthly, weekly, think daily, something like that, and had all the different tools and the different tasks, which was terrific.

Melisa: just interrupt you for a second you're talking about when I first reached out to you, and we'll do what I needed. I had given you a Word document and Loom explainer video that described exactly what I wanted and what I didn't want, and to your point kind of group in the frequency of the tasks and what types of tools they used. And that, okay, so keep going. That's the context.

Silas: That's the context. And so really for anyone:

  • write all the things that you do on any given day,
  • look through that list and decide which ones you want to delegate once you categorize them. Typically you'll categorize them based on how often they're happening in your business, how complex those tasks are, and how much value they provide in your business.
  • Once you do that, it's really simple to go, there's like two or three tasks that take up a lot of my time that you can create an SOP, and then you're ready to transfer it to a virtual assistant.

That is that whole process right there, just going from awareness of all the things you're working on to executing it. People have a tough time with that.

 

That was really helpful to walk us through kind of end-to-end what that process looks like of hiring and getting the VA up to speed.

Melisa: You know, I'll just share my personal experience. I've hired VAs directly. I've found them in Facebook groups for recommendations from other people, you know, different places. And then I've also hired through agencies like Silas'.

And what I've found is, you know, with anything, you make the process so easy. So whether you work with Silas as an agency or go find a VA on your own, just think about how much of the heavy lifting you want to do upfront in the process of vetting candidates, finding those initial candidates, interviewing them, pre-screening them, all of those things that an agency like styluses would take over.

I think that's the biggest mistake I made when I hired VAs directly is not doing enough of that really pre-qualification.

 

Silas where can the readers find you?

Silas: You can, you can email me at [email protected]

Also, feel free to reach out to me on all the social platforms.

Melisa: Don't forget, you want to go download the Playbook for Hiring & Managing a Virtual Assistant In An Independent Consulting Business. I created it specifically for independent consultants. It's incredibly comprehensive, from hiring to managing and mistakes to avoid. So it's a great playbook for you to use and leverage in your business. So go download that at melisaliberman.com/va.

Learn About Private Coaching for Independent Consultants

Learn More