How to Work with a Virtual Assistant: A Guide for Freelancers

How to Work with a Virtual Assistant: A Guide for FreelancersAs business owners, freelancers will at some point consider working with a virtual assistant.

A virtual assistant is similar to the traditional office or administrative assistant. However, the main difference is that a virtual assistant doesn’t have to be physically present in your freelancing home office. You may work with one for years and never meet him or her face to face.

Why would a freelancer need a virtual assistant or VA? The most common reason is when you need to get something done, but you don’t have the skills to do it. For example, in my case, my virtual assistant updates my WordPress sites, making sure my plugins and themes are updated as well.

I could do it myself, but after a sad incident involving the disappearance of a well-established blog, I’ve come to the conclusion that the world is better off if a VA handled my tech stuff.

Freelancers also need a VA when we get to that point in our businesses when we’re too busy to do everything. In other words, we need a VA when we graduate from being a DIY home biz. You may find, for example, that you’re using precious time on administrative stuff, such as tracking invoices–time you’d be better off actually serving your clients or finding new ones.

How Can a Virtual Assistant Support You

VAs specialize in various aspects of business management. You could easily find one no matter what type of support you need. Much to my dismay, some VAs even do copywriting.

Tasks VAs can do include:

  • maintaining your website
  • updating your social networking profiles
  • responding to emails
  • setting up appointments and reminding you of them
  • tracking and sending invoices
  • sending out follow-up communication to leads and prospects
  • writing and sending out thank-you cards to clients
  • finding prospects and setting up meetings with them
  • making travel arrangements
  • doing research
  • organizing and archiving digital files
  • writing and sending out press releases
  • putting together a list of blogs you can guest post in
  • collecting contact information for a direct mail campaign
  • doing keyword research
  • building backlinks to your and your clients’ sites

These are just some of the things VAs can do.

How to Find a Good Virtual Assistant

The trickiest part is finding a good VA who has the right chemistry with you. There are many VAs looking for work, but you’ll be surprised how hard it can be to find one who’s both skillful and reliable.

The best way is to ask your trusted friends for recommendations. Ask someone who’s fairly successful in their own business. Another good place to ask for referrals is in online forums, particularly where other freelancers and small business owners hang out.

When asking, be specific about the skill set you’re looking for and the budget you have. VAs’ fees vary widely, with some working for as little as $10 per hour, to as much as $50 or more hourly.

When you have a list of candidates, Google their names and see what comes up. You’ll want to see a link to their business website, as well as profiles in social networking sites. An initial review of their sites and profiles will give you an idea of their personality and style.

I’m very intuitive when it comes to working with people, and I tend to rely on how I feel towards somebody. This may or may not be the case with you. Either way, it’s a good idea to consider both objective and subjective elements before you make your final choice.

Create a short list of your top three candidates, and arrange a Skype interview with them. A video interview would be ideal, so you can get to know each person better, and even see the environment they work in.

If it’s applicable, ask for samples of work. Definitely ask for referrals, and call them. Find out what the candidate’s strengths and weaknesses are, and if they would recommend him or her wholeheartedly.

When you think you’ve found the right person to support you, set up a trial project to cover about three months. This is enough time for both of you to get to know each other and work out kinks, so you can decide if you’ve made the right choice or not.

Working with Your Virtual Assistant

Now you’re on the other side of the freelancing relationship, and you’re the one employing a freelance virtual assistant. Be the ideal client you wish you had yourself.

Be very clear with your expectations–what specific deliverables or outputs you expect, by when, and for how much. Insist on a detailed contract or Terms of Agreement. Make sure the mode of payment is clearly laid out, as well as the schedule for submission of tasks or completion of milestones. Also include how updates will be given (e.g., weekly or after each task is completed?). This will depend on the nature and duration of the project.

Give feedback promptly. When your VA does good work, make sure he or she knows it. If there’s something you’d like to be improved, communicate that as well. And don’t forget to reward good work. Sure, you’re paying for your VA’s services, but there’s such a thing as non-monetary rewards that can be just as gratifying. It can be as simple as a shout-on on Twitter.

Finally, use the tools, which are at your disposal to make working with your VA easier and more efficient. For example, I use Dropbox both with my clients and the freelancers I work with. It’s an easy way to share and sync files.

Online collaboration software can be extremely useful as well. Examples of this include ActiveCollab and Basecamp.

Final Thoughts

A good VA is a business asset. He or she will help you get more profitable. A VA will free up your time so you can focus on doing what you do best. The bottom line is, your VA is your partner in achieving the freelancing life you want for yourself.

Do you work with a VA? What has your experience been like? Or do you have questions about hiring a VA?

Share your thoughts with us in the comments. And if you liked this post, go ahead and “like” it on Facebook, and share the link with your friends online. Thank you!

Image by Seattle Municipal Archives