The Ultimate Guide to Manage Virtual Assistants
How much of your life is spent doing administrative tasks? Scheduling meetings, entering data into systems, invoicing customers, and so on. None of these things are driving real value for your business. Do you think that Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and Mark Zuckerberg do this? No. They have assistants, teams, and departments that handle the day-to-day tactical work so they can focus on driving the vision of their companies forward. You don't have to be working on creating a multi-planetary species, selling retail to the entire world, or creating the world's largest social network to apply how they work to your particular situation.
But you are similar to them. You might be running a business that is 6, 7, 8, or 9 figures in revenue. You might be an employee who is making a good six-figure salary. What is your dollar per hour rate? Or what's your aspirational dollar per hour rate? What's the cost of you spending an hour a day on email? What's more important to your business - going back and forth on email to schedule a meeting time or spending time to land a new customer?
Enter Virtual Assistants. For $5/hour, you can find a fantastic assistant sitting overseas in the Philippines that will work in your time zone and take work off your plate. In this blog post, I'm going to show you how to identify what work you need to delegate, how to find Virtual Assistants, interview them, and then manage them. Throughout this post, I've linked all of my templates, resources, and tools I recommend you use.
Many of you reading this may have tried using Virtual Assistants and then failed. You may think that the overseas talent pool is not good, can't listen to directions and it's much easier to just do it yourself. I failed for years using Virtual Assistants and I realized it was my fault, not theirs. So you'll be able to learn from my mistakes.
But first, how do you determine what work you can start delegating?
How do I know what to delegate to my Virtual Assistant?
Many people feel like their work is so unique to them that no one else can do it. This is a common theme in everyone I talk with has hesitations on delegating some portion of their job. The reality is that isn't true. Most tasks can be taught. So how do you identify what those tasks are? I want you to start by tracking everything that you do in 15-minute increments for at least one day. If you can do it for one week that's great, but at least start with one day.
Here's the spreadsheet you can use. As a side-note, this exercise also serves two other purposes:
- You can visually see how much time you may waste in a day (I was personally shocked how much time I spent on Twitter), and
- A great way to understand if how you spend your days are in line with your priorities.
Back to the time tracking activity: Make a copy of the spreadsheet for yourself. In columns C and D you'll write down what you did and what the category is. You want to keep this spreadsheet up throughout the day and every 15 minutes just track what you did. Don't do it at the end of the day because you'll forget mostly everything. Being granular and detailed is key. Track every single thing. Even if you go to the bathroom (you can't delegate that). By the end of the day your spreadsheet may consist of 20 different things, for example: Meetings, Responding to emails, Reading the news, checking emails, checking Social media, creating a financial model, invoicing a customer, Writing a blog post, entering data into a spreadsheet, picking up the dry cleaning, etc. After you do this exercise, you are going to input "Yes" or "No" in columns E, F, and G which asks you the following questions:
- Do I like doing this? (Column E)
- Is this Repeatable? (Column F)
- Can this be automated or delegated? (Column G)
This framework will help you determine the tasks you don't like to do, how often this task occurs, and if this task can be automated or delegated. On the last question, "can this be automated or delegated?", resist the urge to quickly write down "No" because you think the only person that can do this task is you. If there's a hierarchy of automating or delegating a task, you want to automate it because it's typically cheaper and there is no chance of human manual error. Automation is an entirely different subject and we're going to focus on delegation in this blog post, but if you're interested in learning more about how to automate tasks check out Zapier.
Depending on if you've filled out this spreadsheet for one day or one week, you now have a lot of tasks that 1) You don't like doing and 2) Can be Delegated. The next step is finding a Virtual Assistant to take on this stuff for you. How do we find them?
How to find and Interview the best Virtual Assistants
There's a couple different types of virtual assistants. You can go through agencies to find them or find Virtual Assistants directly. If you go through an agency, they may have vetted a pool of candidates for you vs. you needing to perform the work of identifying good talent yourself. Separately, there are Virtual Assistants all over the world. You can find them for as little as $5/hour in the Philippines to ~$20/hour in the US. I have had success with both. I like the Philippines because you can find people who have great written and verbal communication skills, can speak good English, and they work hard. In the U.S. you can find great talent as well but for upwards of 3-4x the cost.
If you want an assistant in the U.S. I recommend going through Great Assistant.
Now, in order to find the best VA's you want to proactively filter for them. Here's how I do it. For example, using Upwork, I use the following filters to find the most experienced and best rated Virtual Assistants.
Below is a screenshot of the filters I use on Upwork. I use these filters because this provides the best talent on the platform: the people who have billed the most hours, have received the best feedback ratings, and have made the most money on the site.
Once you have identified the top-rated VA's you want to create your job description and then invite the VA's to apply to your job posting. Here's a template I use for my job description. You can make a copy of it, but you should modify this to be in line with your VA's roles & responsibilities. A common question I get is, "how many hours should I be hiring a VA for?". I typically like to make this a full 40 hour week because then there are no conflicts and I know this person is always working for me. However, in the beginning you can maybe start them off with 10-20 hours a week. I do recommend ultimately transitioning this person to full-time. It makes them feel more secure that they have a full-time job and you know that they are fully committed to working for you. To make the interview scheduling process efficient, sign up for a Calendly account. and then you want to block off 2 hour time slots for 2 days with 15-minute meeting slots and send that link to each VA so they can find a time on your calendar to book a meeting with you. This will give you 16 potential interviews. Based on my experience what happens is the following:
- 4 people won't show up - they are immediately eliminated
- 4 people won't have strong enough communication skills - they are immediately eliminated
- 8 people will show up and have good communication skills.
For this third group of people you want to ask them the following categories of questions:
- Basic Requirements (e.g. tell me about yourself, why you want this job)
- Thinking on your feet questions (e.g. won't you burn out working U.S. hours?)
- Culture Fit questions (e.g. tell me about your worst boss)
From those remaining 4 people, you'll most likely have 1-2 that are a good fit. You can either offer them both the job as a test period for 30-60 days or offer it to just 1 of them. You'll tell them that the 1st 60 days will be a pilot where you both are testing each other out. After 60 days, they'll have the chance for a raise.
You want to Delegate, not Abdicate
Now you have your Virtual Assistant ready to go! It's time to begin delegating. WARNING: THIS IS WHERE MOST PEOPLE SCREW UP. But reading this section and apply it will lead you to be successful with a VA. I screwed this up for years thinking I have an assistant and now someone will handle everything I don't want to do. The reason most people screw up here is because they do not delegate; they abdicate. You cannot give away all your tasks, you still need to manage to make sure they are being done effectively -- especially in the beginning. Your VA cannot read your mind and doesn't yet know how you like things done. You have to be extremely specific and clear in your instructions. Over time, they'll learn how you like things done. The way to do this is by creating processes and systems so you have comprehensive documentation and training of how you like your life to run.
We'll break this section into three different areas: 1) Preparing before Day 1 with your new VA, 2) Creating SOP's, and 3) What do do in the first month.
Preparing before day 1:
First, let's start with 2 documents that you need to complete for your Virtual Assistant. Luckily for you, I have created the template for you and all you need to do is fill it out (add or delete anything that may not be relevant for you). The first document is going to be your Personal Style document. Everyone has their own working style and this document communicates to your VA how you like to work. This includes: How you like to communicate, How your VA should keep you up-to-date on tasks, How Often you meet, how to schedule meetings, how to do research, your travel preferences, important people in your life. Communication is an extremely important point, so I want to give you a few pointers on that. Communication with your assistant comes down to three areas: First, how do you stay up-to-date on the status of tasks? Second, what's your primary mode of communication with each other? Third, what's your operating rhythm?
First, how do you stay up-to-date on the status of tasks? For me, I don't want to get a message from my assistant every time something is completed. Therefore, I have a Notion doc with my assistant that all tasks go into which includes: the description of the task, the due date, any notes on that task, and a status (not started, in process, completed). I can check this task list at any time to see where we might be on any given task.
Second, what's your primary mode of communication? I use Slack. I've set an expectation that you must be available on Slack during work hours and if I send a message I expect a response within a reasonable time frame. This is also what I use to message my assistant if I need him to work on a task. I send him a Slack message, he adds it in our Notion task list (as mentioned above), and gets to work on it.
Third, what's your operating rhythm? How often do you meet? In the first one to two weeks, I meet for 1 hour every day and then dial it back to maybe once a week for 30 minutes.
The second document is called your Personal Info document. This includes information on your businesses, important people in your life, etc. Here's my template. You can make a copy and put your info in there for your VA.
After creating these documents, you'll have given them a solid foundation of the information that is typically stored in your own brain. You should feel some relief that now you have a partner who knows important things about you that they need to complete work on your behalf.
Now, remember all those tasks we were tracking in 15-minute increments? It's time to go back to start figuring out which ones to delegate. Depending on how many tasks you have, you probably don't want to delegate everything from day one. I would start with the easiest, or most time-relevant ones. For example, let's say that in your VA's first week that you are going to be publishing a blog post. Then the first task you may want to delegate is "how to publish blog posts". If you have a vacation scheduled 4 months from today, now is probably not the time to be delegating how to book my flights because that can wait a month or two. I started off with what I believed were the easiest tasks in the first week that I needed to be done which was: booking a haircut, booking a dentist appointment, how to schedule meetings, how to order groceries, and how to publish my weekly newsletter (sign up here!).
So, here's how to start delegating each task. Pick a task from your time tracking spreadsheet. You are going to record yourself on your computer doing this task. This is where we start creating Standard Operating Procedures (SOP's). You can use this tool called Loom, which allows you to record your screen and voice. Go to Loom, hit record, and start recording your screen on whichever task you're doing and talk through every step of the process. You'll then repeat this with any other tasks you want to delegate. When your VA starts, they will start doing these tasks and ask any clarifying questions. If one of the videos wasn't clear, ask your VA to record themself doing the task and create a new video to document the process.The beauty is that you have now documented one of your tasks for life in this set of SOP's. So if you ever get a new VA, you have a full library of SOP's so you don't need to do this again. Remember, earlier I said one of the biggest reasons people screw up managing a VA is they don't give clear and specific instructions -- you have to be very specific in your instructions in your SOP's -- why are you clicking a button or entering a piece of data when doing a task? Explain everything.
You're in a good position before day 1 - you've set up an onboarding agenda for your VA with your Personal Style & Personal Info docs and created some SOP's so they are ready to start executing on day 1. The last step is to start giving them access to all the tools and passwords they will need. For example, gmail, Notion, Zoom, Slack, etc. I'll provide more detail on how I share passwords, maintain security, and give access to my assistant at the very bottom of the post.
Now how do you make sure they can execute successfully beyond day 1?
Establishing your relationship in Month 1
The first week I suggest you have a meeting for at least 1 hour everyday. This will give you a chance to connect 1x1 so your VA can ask you questions, you can begin to see how each other communicate, and so on.
In these meetings, you want to have an agenda of discussion topics that your VA has created. Based on your own personal style, you may begin to start feeling comfortable within 1 - 2 weeks. At this point, you can begin dialing back the 1x1's to once a week or any rhythm that suits you.
As your assistant gets up to speed and increases their productivity, you can continue to delegate additional tasks to them. Follow the same process you initially did -- Create SOP's (Loom videos) when tasks come up. Your VA will then do the task, ask any questions, and continue to execute the task. You should also be adding these to a library of SOP's in your Notion. Remember, giving clear instructions is so important. Garbage In, Garbage Out: The quality of work you get from your VA is proportional to the quality of instructions that they receive. So provide high quality & detailed instructions.
Now that we've walked through how to track your tasks, find, interview, and manage VA's, the last area is tools & technology..
Tools, Resources, and Security
There's many tools that make it easy to communicate and share information with your VA. Below is the "stack" that I use:
- gmail - I delegate email & calendar access to my VA so they are able to check my email, respond on my behalf and set up meeting invites. I also create a gmail address for them. You can learn how to do it here
- Lastpass - I share my login info that my VA needs through lastpass (they're able to login to anything that I share with them, but they're not able to see my actual password)
- Loom - this is a tool that allows me to record my screen and talk through something and then share the video with my VA. This is a great tool for asynchronous communication.
- Notion - I consider this our Team "knowledge center". This is where we track all action items, tasks, priorities, SOPs/Loom videos, etc.
- Zoom - for video conferencing.
- Slack - for quick communication
From a Security perspective, some people are uncomfortable giving access to their email, calendar, etc. I had this concern at first as well. But I realized that I needed to trust my assistant if I wanted to get things off my plate. I don't give access to my bank account, but I do give access to my credit cards. My thought process is that any credit card charge is reversible. Based on my research, it seemed the probability of fraud from a VA was pretty low. Regardless, you'll need to determine your own level of comfort and control of delegating access to certain things.
What do you Think?
So that's the ultimate guide for hiring and managing Virtual Assistants! Once this starts working for you, you’re going to get addicted to delegation and outsourcing. The next step will be the in-person assistant/house manager that can manage tasks that are required to be in person (managing your physical mail, keeping your house stocked with essentials, etc) -- but that is for another post!
What questions do you have? Let me know - the best way to reach me directly is on Twitter. Good luck!
P.S. I've gotten some messages that people want more education on Assistants, Delegation, Systems, etc. If there's wide interest for this, I may create a course or some other type of product that is helpful for people. Click here to enter your email and get notified if it's something I pursue!
P.P.S. A special thank you to Liam Kircher for reviewing this post.