On its surface, hiring a virtual assistant sounds like a win-win situation. You get to offload some of your less enjoyable tasks -- freeing up your time for higher-dollar activities -- all while giving a talented administrative professional the chance to earn a decent wage.
But ask anybody who’s ever been through the VA hiring and onboarding process and you’ll hear plenty of stories of things gone awry. Stories of projects bungled, disappearing VAs and more. The reality is, hiring a VA isn’t easy -- and it isn’t a quick fix for your business’s problems.
If you want to get it right, you’ve got to avoid the following pitfalls:
1. Hiring a VA for the wrong reasons
The best reason to hire a VA is that doing so will save you time that will result in stronger returns elsewhere. If, for example, you typically bill your time to clients at $100 and your VA can take on 10 hours of admin work at $10 an hour, that’s 10 hours where you can now make a $90 profit.
So what’s a bad reason? Thinking you have to hire a VA because somebody else told you so. Maybe your competitor brought one on, or you just finished reading the 4-Hour Workweek. Whatever the case may be, bringing on a VA when you don’t have a business case for doing so is simply a waste of money.
2. Not writing a clear VA job description
The financial illustration above makes the benefits of hiring a VA seem obvious, but it leaves out one important consideration: You have to know where and how it makes financial sense to allocate your VA’s time.
Suppose your new hire takes on 10 hours of work a week, but it’s 10 hours of work you wouldn’t have done anyways -- it’s just tasks you made up because you had your VA’s hours to fill. In that case, you aren’t saving yourself any money -- and you certainly aren’t profiting. You’re simply wasting money that could be better spent elsewhere.
That’s why beginning with a clear job description is so important. Until you know exactly what your VA will do and how these actions will benefit your company, you really have no business bringing on a virtual worker.
3. Expecting too much from your VA candidates
Having a good job description is important, but keep in mind that there may not be one single person out there who can handle all of your business’s needs. Say, for example, you need somebody who can handle a little light bookkeeping, manage your social media profiles and set appointments on your calendar. That’s three separate areas of expertise right there -- and the more areas of focus you add, the less likely it is you’ll find one person who can handle everything.
Avoiding this pitfall requires proactive effort on two parts. First, that job description I mentioned earlier will help candidates self-select if they don’t have the skills you need. Thinking through everything you expect your VA to do before you post your job will prevent the scope of your projects from exceeding your VA’s abilities down the line. Remember, bad hires don’t just cost you money -- you also lose out in terms of wasted time and productivity.
But it’s also important to be direct about your expectations with the candidates you interview, as well as be respectful about any limitations they raise. If candidates tell you that they don’t have marketing skills -- and aren’t interested in expanding their skill sets in that area -- don’t force the issue and expect them to come around later. Instead, choose a candidate who has the skills and/or interests you need from the start.
4. Not considering language barriers when hiring a VA
Tim Ferriss’s 4-Hour Workweek kicked off popular interest in virtual assistants by presenting the economic benefits of outsourcing work overseas.
But in many ways, in my opinion, Ferriss oversold the ease of working with foreign language VAs. It’s not impossible to find a good overseas VA, but ask yourself which of the following you’d prefer: spending four hours going back and forth over project requirements with a $5-an-hour foreign VA or taking one hour to provide instructions on a task to a $20-an-hour U.S.-based VA?
If you’re able to achieve the same outcome in both situations, the value of your time must be taken into account.
5. Not committing time to training your VA
Finally, keep in mind that, while most VAs are skilled administrative professionals, they aren’t mind-readers. They can’t take one look at the business systems you’ve spent years shoehorning together and instantly intuit what needs to happen.
So while I know you’re busy -- after all, that’s why you’re bringing on a VA in the first place -- you’ve still got to commit time to proper training. Think of it as an investment. The more time you’re able to commit up front, the stronger your working relationship will be going forward.
Have another pitfall you’ve encountered and worked through when hiring a virtual assistant before? I’d love to hear about it. Leave a comment below sharing your experiences: