Danielle J. Cuomo, MBA, is an award-winning entrepreneur + founder of Virtual Assist USA, a leading provider of Virtual Assistant services.
Hiring a virtual assistant can take the “work smarter, not harder” philosophy to the next level. Virtual assistants (VAs) have been helpful to entrepreneurs and small-business owners for decades. Clearly, this concept of outsourcing and automation isn’t new.
But what about the challenges? Knowing the potential challenges of hiring a VA can help you set the right expectations and understand what you can and can’t do when working with a professional from another area code. Based on my experience coordinating virtual assistant services, here are four areas to keep in mind.
One of the biggest challenges with remote work is the need for more human interaction. You will need to connect with your VA through instant messaging, calls and/or video meetings. Due to the remote nature of the relationship and the fact that communication is mostly written, someone can easily misinterpret intent.
An excellent place to start? Say “good morning” to each other and carve out a few minutes for chit-chat at the start of each conversation. It’ll help your remote relationship feel less remote. After all, nothing helps a relationship get off to a good start like a cute pet photo or a new show recommendation, right?
2. Working Styles
Matching with the right VA is critical. For example, if you are straightforward and concise with your feedback, working with a Virtual Assistant who communicates with a different approach may be a poor choice. Conversely, if you’re a strategic and idea-oriented entrepreneur, you likely need to work with an organized, plan-focused and detail-oriented virtual assistant. One way to test this is through formal assessments such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), Predictive Index (PI) Behavioral Assessment or DISC Assessment. Here are some examples of psychometric questions you can ask.
• “If a client asked you to complete a task that you thought to be unrealistic at first, how would you approach this?”
• “Tell me about a time when a client wasn’t satisfied with the end result. How did you handle this? What would you do differently next time?”
• “How do you feel if you’re interrupted during an important project?”
3. Building Trust
Maybe you’ve been disappointed in the past by a team member’s performance, and so you end up doing everything yourself. You end up burnt out and overloaded, but in your mind, at least you can trust that it’s being done right. But it’s important not to turn one employee’s previous mistake into a generalization of how tasks will turn out in the future. Use any previous experiences to expand the conversation, evaluate your responsibility in the situation and articulate what needs to be done better in the next round.
This is a fundamental yet challenging part of hiring a VA. First, recognize that this process of developing trust takes work. But if you don’t do the work to build trust, you’ll end up back to where you started: doing everything yourself and burning out.
To build trust, first recognize that failure is a possibility. It is a completely natural part of growth. Accept that you’re aiming for progress, not perfection. Start small, in a way that is nearly risk-free, by having your VA do relatively inconsequential projects at the outset. At the end of each task, provide candid feedback. Over the following days, continually increase the impact of the delegated items. When you trust your virtual assistant, you have confidence in their decisions, which in turn increases productivity and the ROI you receive from working with a VA.
You’ve probably read about instances where someone hires a freelancer, and they suddenly go MIA and become unreachable. (Of course, hiring someone in-house isn’t a 100% retention success rate, either.) Training someone new takes time, and you don’t want to hire a VA who only sticks around for a month. You want a VA who can be part of a long-term strategy, someone who works with the dedication of a salaried employee but does so more efficiently and ultimately at a lower cost to your business.
If you decide to hire a VA to help grow your business, make sure to invest in stability with them. It’s more effective to work with trusted virtual assistants on a long-term basis instead of constantly engaging new people. I also recommend using available time tracking and reporting platforms to track your VA’s progress.
Overall, working with a virtual assistant—like any business decision—has both benefits and drawbacks. The right VA—one who is carefully vetted and selected—can save you time and add to your bottom line. By following the tips above, you can drive maximum value from working with virtual assistants and see how they add to your success story.
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