How to Hire a Virtual Assistant That Scales Your Time and Business

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Hire a virtual assistant

Hiring a virtual assistant is a great way to scale your time and business.

If you’re an entrepreneur or employee in the modern world, you probably have an endless to-do list. Effective prioritization is one way to work on this problem. But even if you do that well, you may still need more support.

This is where virtual assistants (VAs) come in. Virtual assistants are part- or full-time contractors who support your business. VAs typically help you with administrative tasks and repetitive, energy-draining work. You can hire smart, widely-skilled VAs for $5 an hour.

With this support, you can focus on the biggest opportunities for your business. You will also have more time for the activities you enjoy outside of growing your business.

All that said, hiring someone for your team can be scary. Especially if your business is still losing money, you may want to tackle everything on your own.

The problem with this “do everything” approach is two-fold. First, you will move 3-4x slower than someone who has a team. Second, you will likely burn out. If you try to do everything, you will increase the probability that your business will fail.

VAs are a great solution to this problem. You can hire a smart, widely-skilled VA from the Philippines for $5 an hour.

When I hired my first VA, I had no idea what I was doing. But as I’ve hired more virtual assistants, I’ve how to find good people. With less on my plate, I’ve tripled my creative output. I’ve also had more time to surf, hang out with my girlfriend, and enjoy life outside of work.

Below, I share my process for hiring skilled virtual assistants for your business. My process is not perfect, but it’s worked for me. My hope is that it also works for you.

Why are you hiring a virtual assistant?

Before you hire a virtual assistant, you need to know why you’re hiring this person.

I decided to hire a VA because I felt like I couldn’t focus on the most fulfilling and high-impact parts of my business. Instead of learning, writing, and podcasting, I spent too much time on tedious tasks.

For example, after writing an article, I spent hours finding images, formating content, and so on. I could do these things, or for $10, I could hire someone else to do them. With those extra 2 hours, I could write more articles or do something else I enjoy.

So my “why” was about freeing up time to focus on the work that brings me the most joy. Your “why” may be different than mine, but it’s important to define it before you hire someone for your team.

What do you want the virtual assistant to do?

“You don’t hire for skills, you hire for attitude. You can always teach skills.” – Simon Sinek

Once you know why you’re hiring a virtual assistant, you need to identify the specific tasks that they will work on. Don’t take shortcuts here.

To hire the right person, you need to be clear about what you want that person to do. That way, you can identify someone who has the right skills for the job.

It’s tempting to look for a “magical VA” who can do everything. But no one can do everything. VAs are people like you and me who have strengths and weaknesses. If you expect to find someone who can do everything, you’ll fail.

Instead, define a specific list of tasks and projects that you want your VA to work on for the next 6 months. You can always make another hire down the road if you need to do so.

Where do I find a virtual assistant?

There are many places to find VAs, but I used Upwork. If you use my process on Upwork, you can find a good VA in 7-14 days.

To hire a VA on Upwork, you need to create a profile, post a job description, create an assessment, and interview candidates. Below, I explain how to do the last three stages of this process.

What do I include in my job description?

Most people get job descriptions wrong because they don’t take the time to get them right.

Be specific in your job description. Define the primary projects and  tasks that you want the person to do in the next six months. Think about the skills required to do those projects well. And remember, you can often teach people skills if they have a good attitude.

When I hired a VA, I wanted someone who could manage databases, write emails, transcribe audio, and do internet research. I also waned someone who could speak English fluently. Those were the most important skills. I could teach everything else.

Finally, I wanted someone who could work with me over the long-term. So I wanted them to be interested in my company and have at least 20 hours of availability every week.

Here’s the job description I used.

Trusted Virtual Assistant – Experienced, Organized, and Dedicated

I’m looking for an experienced virtual assistant to help support my business. Ideally, we can work together flexibly on a long-term basis. To be considered for the role, you must be fluent in written English, organized, have strong attention to detail and research skills, and be able to manage email outreach campaigns.

We will work together on a number of projects, including conducting online research, organizing information, email outreach and follow up, data entry, transcribing audio files to written text, uploading content to a website, and more. To be considered, you need to be available for at least 20 hours a week.

Before hiring for the long-term position, I’m offering $10 for a 1-2 hour test project designed to help us evaluate how well we will work together. If you want to be considered for the long-term role, you’ll need to apply for the role and complete this assignment, which you will be paid for.

Proposal Question: Tell me about your prior experience as a virtual assistant. What were your responsibilities? How did you build the relationship with the client? What mistakes did you make, and how did you address them?

What is the assessment you mentioned in the job description?

To evaluate someone’s skills and attitude, you need to work with them. A test project is a great way to do that. Before making a hire, it’s best to give someone actual work and pay them for it. This will give you the best sense for their skills, work quality, and how you will enjoy working with them.

The most important part of an assessment is to actually test the skills that you need. It should give you the best clarity possible that the person can do the job you’re asking.

When I create assessments, I usually include work that I’m currently doing or that I’ve done recently. That way, I have a good sense of what it takes and what quality looks like.

The last point on assessments is that you need to pay people. Don’t be the person who uses assessments to get free work – that’s not the right thing to do.

Here’s the assessment I used.

Hi, thanks for being a part of my project!

This brief assessment should take 1-2 hours to complete. If you do an exceptional job on the assessment, I will invite you to interview for the opportunity to work with each other on a long-term basis. We will work together at least a few hours per week at a rate of $5/hour.

For the assessment, please complete the following:

Part 1: Transcribe this short audio recording into text. (I provided a 1.5-minute audio recording).

Part 2: I’m interested in understanding what software I should use to start building links to content on my website: Do some research on potential tools and provide a list of the top 5 email outreach providers. In your list, include details on pricing, features, and your recommendation for the provider.

Part 3: Read my website and use what you learn to do the following:

  • Imagine that I’ve been asked to be a guest on a podcast about entrepreneurs who are trying to change the world. Write a three-sentence bio that describes who I am, what I’ve accomplished, and what I care about.
  • Imagine that I want other bloggers or sites to link to my latest article on goal setting: Write an email to one of the bloggers that will make them want to link to and share my article.

Best of luck! I’m looking forward to working together!

How do I get candidates to apply for my job posting?

Once you post your one-time, hourly project on Upwork, it’s best to invite a few potential candidates to apply for the job. I filtered for people from the Philippines (the best place to hire VAs), who charge $5/hour, and who have good reviews from former clients. Once you invite a few candidates, wait a day or two to see what candidates apply for your job.

How do I review candidate applications?

Evaluate candidates based on criteria you care about. I looked for good written English skills, relevant prior experience, and good reviews from former clients. Choose the best three to five candidates.

Then, reach out to let them know that you’re chosen them to do the assessment, and send them the test project. I ask candidates to complete the assessment in 72 hours.

You will pay each candidate $10 for completing the assessment. So if you hire someone from this group, you’ll pay $30-50 to find a great virtual assistant.

How do I evaluate the candidate assessments?

First, look at the project holistically. Ask yourself, “If I were to give someone this project as a member of my team, would I be happy with the output?”

Then, evaluate candidates on each of the core skills. I rate how well the candidate did on each skill on a scale of 0 (terrible) to 5 (excellent). Rarely, if ever, will you find a candidate who has 5’s across the board. If someone scores a 0 on a core skill, such as English proficiency, they’re out.

From the pool of assessments, I invite the best two candidates for a  Zoom interview.

What do I ask in the Zoom interview?

This is the final interview, so be intentional about what you want to ask. On the technical side, I ask questions about the assessment and their experience with specific tools. On the personal side, I ask questions about their motivations, career goals, and interests outside of work.

Here are some sample interview questions.

Background and Fit Questions

  • How did you end up where you are today?
  • What do you enjoy doing outside of work?
  • What type of work are you best at? What are you most interested in learning more about? What are you not good at? What work do you prefer not to do?

Performance Questions

  • How did you go about doing [x] on the assessment? What parts did you find most challenging?
  • What would you do if I gave you an assignment, you thought you understood it, but then later you realized you didn’t understand it?
  • You’re working on an urgent deadline and your computer crashes, or your internet goes down. What’s the first thing you do? (The weather in the Philippines can sometimes cause internet problems, so it’s important to know what will happen in this scenario.)

Tool and Skill Questions

  • Have you used Slack or Trello before?
  • How do you like to receive feedback?
  • Have you worked with a WordPress blog before?
  • How do you like to receive feedback?

Admin Questions

  • Are you working with other clients? What’s your availability? Is the pay of $5/hour okay?
  • What are your schedule restrictions? What is your preferred schedule? How quickly do you respond during working hours?
  • What’s your email? Are you comfortable getting paid bi-weekly through Paypal?

I finish the interview with the next steps. If I want to hire the candidate, I let them know and send a contract. If I don’t want to move forward, I let the candidate know right away. If I have another interview to conduct, I’ll tell the candidate and let them know when they’ll hear back from me.

I’ve found the right candidate. What do I do next?

Congrats! You’re one step closer to scaling your time. I send the candidate a contract that details the job responsibilities, hourly rate, payment schedule, expense policy, work product ownership, and so on. You can find a number of templates online that you can then customize for your specific needs.

Once you’ve made a hire, set a start date. Before the start date, start preparing everything that you’ll need to make your new hire successful in the role. Get them access to the right tools, create training videos, design work product templates, and so on.

Once your virtual assistant starts, spend the first month evaluating their fit. While a good interview process will minimize false positives, it’s possible you didn’t make the right hire. If it’s not working out after a month of working together, I recommend letting the person go and kicking off another hiring process. It will work out better for both of you in the end.

What else should I know about hiring virtual assistants?

  • A $5 hire from the Philippines can do more than you would think, but they also need the right training and clarity from you. Don’t be lazy with training. Also, be extremely clear with your project instructions. It’s tough when you’re busy to be clear about what you want, but it’s worth the effort. For $5/hour, you aren’t going to get someone who can predict what you want and be a highly independent thinker. But you can get someone who can seriously help scale your time if you build the right systems, develop a good relationship, and treat them well along the way.
  • I try to make all VAs feel a part of my team and work. I think it makes them more engaged and interested. That might mean I spend more time creating training videos or providing context, but in the long run, that helps. It’s sometimes hard to feel connected with people half-way across the globe, but it’s your job to make that happen.
  • It’s common to have internet and weather problems in the Philippines. Be empathetic about these problems. Many people also work incredibly hard to support their families, so be empathetic when family needs arise.
  • For the most part, people from the Philippines will not tell you “no” (they don’t like confrontation), so it’s up to you to make sure to create a communication dynamic of openness and transparency. Invite the person to provide suggestions over and over again. Invite them to tell you about problems. Keep asking for feedback.
  • There is something called the 13th month in the Philippines. It’s essentially an end-of-the-year bonus. You don’t have to follow it, but at least look it up and consider giving the bonus to your VA.

Final thoughts

Hiring a virtual assistant is one of the most powerful ways that you can scale your time and business cost-effectively. It may take a little time to get it right, but it’s worth it.

I hope you found this helpful. My process is certainly not perfect, and it’s not the only way to hire a virtual assistant. But it’s worked for me and many others.  You can always reach out to me at [email protected] if you have any questions.

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