Business owners across tons of industries talk about having a virtual assistant—including big players like John Lee Dumas, Todd Herman, and copywriters like Laura Belgray.
You might even feel a little bit of FOMO when you hear about ’em!
After all, who wouldn’t want…
…a trusty sidekick that can help you level up your business with far less of the behind-the-scenes turmoil that goes with the business-building territory?
…someone who can take care of the business-essential stuff that keeps your empire running but is clogging up your time with work that you don’t like doing and probably aren’t good at?
…the Jesse Pinkman to your Walter White, who will back you up where you need it and finally allow you to shine? Don’t you want to get known for making the best scante ever what you should be getting known for?
Yes, hiring a virtual assistant can do all of that (and even more).
But, for the uninitiated, hiring one can be as scary as getting your income taxes done! And, it’s true that if you don’t do it properly, hiring a VA can be a costly train wreck threatening to derail your business (see what I did there)?
You can hire a VA without all the agonizing and self-doubt, but you need to do the work and follow a process that will improve your chances of getting the right VA on your team.
Why should you listen to me?
A few reasons.
I’ve worked as a virtual assistant since 2017, working for one of the best OBMs in the business (you can check out her stuff here where you’ll learn way more than I could ever teach you. She’s even got a great course that could help you further). Then I started my own business in April 2020 (oh look, another pandemic biz baby), growing and developing my own processes and philosophies all based on what other geniuses have taught me. In short, I know what makes a good—and a bad—virtual assistant.
If you’ve dreamed about adding a VA to your team, here’s a good starting point.
Today you’ll learn:
1. What Is a virtual assistant?
2. Should you hire a VA, an OBM, an employee, or someone else?
3. What kinds of VA are out there and what can they do?
4. The money question—how much does a VA cost?
5. Are you ready for a VA?
6. 5 steps to hiring the perfect VA for your business
7. What you can expect from your VA when they join your team
8. What training will your VA need?
9. Uh oh—it’s not working out! Can I salvage this?
Let’s dive in!
What is a virtual assistant?
The short definition is that a virtual assistant is an independent contractor who provides services to clients—usually remotely. They can access necessary tools and accounts online like shared calendars, email accounts, and project management tools.
Like you, a VA is an entrepreneur. They have their own business expenses, goals, menu of services, mission statements, teams, and ideal clients.
But, most importantly…
…the right VA will help you reach your goals with less of the behind-the-scenes turmoil that we often face as business owners.
Should you hire a VA, an OBM, an employee, or someone else?
When it comes to hiring a VA vs. hiring an employee, it comes down to three things: the volume of work you need to have someone do, skills, and finally, your personal preferences.
Workload: Don’t hire a virtual assistant if the workload you want to pass off is more than 20 hours per week. Hiring an employee would probably be more cost-effective, and you’d get way more of their time and attention on your business.
Skillset: When you’re hiring a VA, they should already be skilled in what you’d like them to accomplish—and they will be if you are diligent when hiring (don’t worry, I’ve got you covered. More on this in a minute). This is particularly true when you get into the more specialized VAs we’ll talk about later. An employee may need more training and supervision to become proficient in more complicated tasks.
Personal preferences: Take into account your personality and how you envision building your team. If you are the kind of person who is not comfortable with giving up control of how a task gets done, then I don’t recommend hiring a virtual assistant. A good VA should be able to complete work without too much input from you.
If you want to have a little bit more control over how something gets done, you might be better off with an employee. You’ll be responsible for their training and their work environment.
The takeaway: With a virtual assistant, you are requesting the destination, not the road to get there.
Note: Sometimes, you might not need a VA or an employee at all! You might need a web designer, a social media strategist, an accountant, or another copywriter. Yes, a contractor like this may cost more, but the results will be of better quality than you trying to muddle through it on your own. If you’re looking for someone to help you manage your business, consider an OBM. If you need someone to lighten the menial workload of your day-to-day life (managing your schedule, or running errands), you might need a personal assistant if you’d prefer to have someone in-office with you.
Get to know what your needs are first before you start looking.
What kinds of VA are out there and what can they do?
Much like copywriters, VAs have a wide variety of skill sets and specializations. VAs will also have specific niches they work with. Look for someone who’s worked with a copywriter before.
Disclaimer: Most VAs don’t call themselves by the following names (even though they should). There will often be overlap in skillsets.
Here are some common ones:
General Admin VA
This is usually how virtual assistants start out and by far the most common type of VA you’ll find. A General Admin VA can do things like:
- Respond to customer emails.
- Book appointments.
- Manage contracts.
- Handle your accounts payable and receivable.
- Organize your files in Dropbox/Google Drive.
- Set up filters on your email inbox.
- Document guest appearances on blogs/podcasts.
- Prepare documents.
- Create surveys and forms.
- Create standard operating procedures and training materials.
- Take meeting notes.
Marketing Admin VA
A Marketing VA can help with the behind-the-scenes work that grows your business. They can:
- Proof, edit and schedule emails for you in your email marketing system (even manage your contacts and update your tags/lists).
- Research guest opportunities for podcasts, blogs, and speaking events (and handle outreach).
- Create a strategy for content creation (such as blogs and lead magnets).
- Help you tweak your offers to create more value and income.
Social Media VA
You should hire a Social Media Manager instead of a Social Media VA if you’re looking to grow your online presence. A Social Media VA shines on the implementation side of things. Social Media VAs can:
- Manage social media postings (proof, edit, schedule).
- Create simple social media graphics (often from a pre-existing template).
- Research content that’s relevant to your target audience.
- Handle engagement with other social media accounts (responding to replies on your accounts and commenting on other blogs and social media accounts).
- Creating a content directory and a plan to repurpose your content.
Are you getting ready to launch a hot new lead magnet or offer? Do you need help with your website or with business software? A Tech/Launch VA might be for you if you want someone to:
- Handle basic updates on your website.
- Help you with software.
– Research and set up tools such as online meeting schedulers (like Acuity or Calendly), email marketing software (like ConvertKit or MailChimp), or project management tools (like Asana or Teamwork).
– Review your existing tools and look for improvements on how you use them.
- Manage a launch from start to finish.
Those are the most common VA types. But that’s not all they can do. Here’s a quick list of just a few other tasks a VA can take off your plate:
- Make travel arrangements (hotel, flight, and car rental bookings).
- Handle personal errands (scheduling personal appointments, ordering special occasion cards and gifts for clients, team members, family, and friends).
- Manage your online courses (making content updates, setting up new products, pulling reports on sales and retention)
- Create assets such as PowerPoint presentations
- Perform market research tasks, such as interviewing ideal clients and engaging with potential clients via email and social media.
Now, there’s one other person in the VA world that I haven’t mentioned yet…
Online Business Manager (OBM)
The cream of the crop. If you need help with managing your business, look no further.
This heavy hitter will: manage your team (hire and fire) people, manage the operations of the business, handle reporting for KPIs, accounting, and team performance—even take the lead on projects such as launches.
Sometimes called Integrators, OBMs typically are strategists and planners. You won’t see Online Business Managers taking support emails or calling to reschedule appointments. They oversee other members of your team who handle implementation.
The money question… how much does hiring a VA cost?
Probably the scariest question that comes up when considering hiring a VA, especially if this is your first rodeo.
To understand the cost of having a VA on your team, you first need to understand that VAs typically have two different kinds of billing models; hourly retainer- or deliverables-based. So what’s the difference?
A hourly retainer-based package is you exchanging your money for a set number of their hours per billing cycle. It’s not uncommon for VAs to bill weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, or even quarterly.
Example: You hire a VA and pay $500 monthly for 15 hours of their time per billing cycle.
There’s a large window of pricing for a VA. It’s not unusual to see a range of $20 – $150 per hour.
A deliverables-based package is you exchanging your money for a specific outcome. In a nutshell, you pay for specific tasks or results. As a copywriter, you’re probably well-versed in this billing model, but…
If you hire a VA to proof, edit and schedule your weekly email newsletter (and nothing else), you pay a specific amount for that service. The price will vary based on factors like experience and how specialized the outcome is.
HOLD UP! Why on earth should I pay someone that much!!?
When you get a proposal from a virtual assistant, you might suffer a bit of sticker shock. You might even think, “I can just hire someone full time for $15/hour. That makes much more financial sense!”
When you see the price, consider the value they bring to your business. What are they taking off your plate? How much experience do they have in those tasks? How long have they been a VA? Keep in mind that you’ll pay more for specialized VAs (they can help with higher value tasks), and you’ll find General Admin VAs are usually the least expensive type – between $20 and $45 an hour.
It’s also important to determine how much of your time it would take to accomplish what you want your VA to accomplish. You’re basically buying your time back, not just paying a VA more.
For example, if the admin work that your VA will take over will save you 20 hours per month and you can earn more with those hours (your hourly rate might be between $50-100) by taking on a new client project, suddenly paying $750 (or $37.50/hour) a month doesn’t seem so bad, does it?
More points to consider:
1. A virtual assistant owns their own business. They pay for their business license, office equipment, team, taxes, and software. You’re saving money because you don’t need to pay for any of that. They should also understand your needs as a business owner in a way an employee can’t.
2. A good virtual assistant is already trained and you don’t have to supervise them. If you do your due diligence, your VA will already be an expert in delivering the outcomes you want. If you hire an employee, you’ll likely have to train them – and they’ll take time to become as skilled and as fast at completing a task as an experienced VA.
Are you ready for a VA?
Does the idea of hiring someone get you like this?Like having a baby, you might never feel ‘ready’ to add someone to your team. Sometimes you have to just jump in and do the thing that scares you to reap the rewards.
Emotion aside, there are some tangible signs to look for that will help you determine if you’re ready to hire a VA.
You are NOT ready for a VA if…
- You are not financially stable. If you’re struggling to make ends meet, it’s not a good idea to add another bill to the pile.
- You have not done the work to determine what tasks your VA will take on. You MUST do the work here (more on that below). If what you really need is a Tech/Launch VA, and you hire a General Admin VA, the relationship will not be ideal.
- You have enough time to work on and in your business, and it’s growing smoothly. If you have enough time to do what you need to do, you don’t need a VA! If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.
- You think, “If I want a job done right, I need to do it myself!” This is an unproductive mindset when you’re hiring a VA. You’re hiring a professional, and they should know what they’re doing. If you don’t feel confident in your VA, find another one.
You are ready for a VA if…
- You are financially stable. You should have at least three months of a VA’s retainer fees saved before engaging.
- You understand that a VA is a business owner, not your employee. Your VA sets their office hours and their time off—but a good VA will always keep you in the loop and try to ensure the impact on you is minimal. There should be very clear boundaries surrounding workloads, contact, and outcomes.
- You find yourself working in your business more than on growing your business. Are you saying no to great opportunities because you already have too much on the go? That’s a problem. You don’t need to be doing everything yourself.
- You are comfortable allowing your VA to take responsibility for how a task gets completed. Remember: If you did the work and found the right VA with the right skills, you shouldn’t really need to ‘train’ them much beyond initial instructions.
5 steps to hiring the perfect VA for your business.
Step 1: Identify what’s really taking up your time. For two weeks, do a time audit and make a note of the tasks you’re currently doing. Review them and sort tasks into the following categories:
- Tasks I Love Doing
- Tasks I Hate Doing/Am Not Good At
- Tasks Only I Can Do
- Tasks I Can Offload
Step 2: Create your “task wishlist.” Make a list of the tasks in the “Tasks I Hate Doing/Am Not Good At” and “Tasks I Can Offload…”. Now you know what your VA should be taking off your plate.
Step 3: Begin your VA search. It’s now possible to find someone who’s a pro in the tasks you want to offload. But where do I look!?!
- Google Search
- Word Of Mouth (talk to people you know, put it out there on social media)
- Join VA Facebook groups and tell people there what you’re looking for. The VA Studio, Emily Reagan’s Digital Media VA Lab and The Break Room are a great start – there are tons of active members happy to give recommendations and tag other VAs who might be just what you need.
Step 4: Interview a VA. Once you’ve found a few potential VAs (start with 3-5), reach out to them and book a meeting. Be prepared to interview as many as it takes. Don’t wait until you’re desperate for help to start interviewing potential candidates. the last thing you want is to hire the wrong person because you need someone yesterday.
During the interview, ask the following questions:
- What kinds of clients have you worked with?
– Have they worked with clients like you? Maybe you know them. If they have worked with people like you, that’s a green flag. They’re familiar with your industry. Ask for references and reach out to them to see what they’re really like to work with.
- How long have you been a VA?
– The more experienced they are, the more you can expect out of this VA and the higher the price.
- What software are you familiar with?
– Make sure this is relevant to your needs. If your VA needs to handle your email marketing tool, they should be familiar with programs like ActiveCampaign, ConvertKit or Infusionsoft. You can test their knowledge in a few ways. Have them create a Loom video to visually show you how they would complete a task, or ask them to write up an SOP document that outlines step-by-step instructions and compensate them for their time.
- Who was the best and worst client you’ve ever had? What was it about them that made them the best or worst?
– This will tell you about your VA’s values. Do they align with yours? For example, if their worst client was a hardcore control freak and you lean in that direction sometimes, you’re probably not the best fit.
- What is your rate?
– Does this align with your budget? Can you afford them?
– Don’t automatically go with the cheapest option. Like copywriters, if they seem like a steal, it’s usually for a reason!
Note: this is not an exhaustive list, but it’s a start. Want a list? I’ve got you covered, fam. Grab this free printable worksheet with a list of questions you should ask your VA during your interview.
Another important thing to consider – do you like them? You don’t need to be best friends with your VA, but you should get along well and easily see yourself looking forward to working with them.
Step 5: Make a decision. If it’s a fit, have them send you a contract (more on that below). If it’s a no, interview more potential VA until it’s a yes.
What you can expect from your VA when they join your team.
When you agree to work with a VA, you should be properly welcomed and onboarded.
The very first thing you should get is a proposal/contract that you need to review and sign. REVIEW THIS CAREFULLY.
You should know: What’s their overage rate (the fee they charge if you exceed your available retainer hours)? Do their retainer hours roll over? What about rush fees? How frequently are they billing you? In what currency? What are their office hours and communication preferences? Do they have a project management tool that you’ll use?
If the contract feels good to you, sign it. If it doesn’t, don’t sign. Ask questions if you need to. Your VA should be responsive and prepared to clarify any points that you’re unsure about.
After you sign: Be prepared for some training. Your VA needs to get to know your specific setup and tools and fine-tune your work together. Allow time for SOP creation.
All in, you should expect your VA to be in the groove by 3-4 months… longer if your needs change frequently. Just be patient, and avoid the temptation to give up too soon.
What training will your VA need?
This depends on you and your needs. If you’re mentally ready to let go of the work and let your VA own it (and you’ve hired the right VA), they should not require much training beyond instruction on how you have things set up.
Should you pay your VA for this training period? YES. The time it takes to onboard them should still count towards their retainer hours, if that’s their billing module. If it’s a deliverables-based VA, that should be built into their pricing.
Would you allow a copywriting client to take you for a free test run?
…I hope you said “hell no!”
If you truly feel the need to take your VA for a test run, I’ve seen instances where clients have paid VAs for a month or two with the understanding that they would continue on if the relationship was working well.
Uh oh! It’s not working out! Can I salvage this?
Sometimes a VA who might have seemed like a dream come true during the hiring process can turn out to be a massive headache.
Although it can be frustrating enough to make you want to run for the hills and forget the idea of hiring anyone, fear not! Most of the time, you can salvage your relationship with your VA if you know what to look for and have a process that will guide you through it.
First, a few common concerns:
- Has no concept of time (things like deadlines and meeting times are not honored).
- Ignores your feedback (you’ve provided specific direction and your VA isn’t listening).
- Takes forever to reply to you.
Second, you need a quick action plan that can help you:
- Holistically review what’s happened. Be honest with yourself—this can be challenging! Sometimes we can get so wrapped up in what we’re doing that we might not realize that we are adding to the problem. If you are vague with your feedback, take your time replying to your VA’s questions or change your mind frequently, this could be the case. Consider how often the problem’s happening. Once? Monthly? Weekly? Lastly, what is the impact on your business?
- Talk To Your VA! I firmly believe that most interpersonal issues could be resolved with simple communication. So why’s that so hard!? Your best bet here is to just bite your lip, take a few deep breaths and tell your VA what your needs are. Don’t be a jerk about it. Just tell them the issue, how it’s impacting you and get their input on solutions.
Then, come up with a specific plan to resolve the problem. The key is to gain agreement.
At this point, one of two things will happen…
- Yay, your VA is improving! Telling them that they’re improving and a simple ‘thank you!’ works wonders for morale and motivation.
- Shoot, this isn’t getting better. Queue the Price Is Right loser theme. Can you live with your VA’s faults? That’s the only question that matters at this point. If not, let them go and try a new VA. If you can, either try talking to them again or learn to live with it. You can’t force someone to improve if they don’t want to make the effort.
Remember, it’s okay if you find out that your relationship with your VA isn’t working. It’s not always a reflection on you; sometimes it’s just not a match. Breathe easy – it’s okay. There are others out there who will be a better fit. Your VA will not curl up into a ball and wither away if you decide not to continue working with them.
You don’t need to fear expanding your team.
You can maximize your chances of getting VA you never knew you needed by:
- Getting to know what a VA can really do and how much they cost and if you even need a VA, or another kind of team member (like an employee or contractor)
- Determining exactly what your needs are
- Reviewing your business and yourself logically and shedding the emotional side of “am I really ready”
- Following a specific process for finding the perfect VA that will ace your wishlist
- Knowing how to address any issues with your VA as they come up
Go forth and hire with confidence! It’s your turn to create the business of your dreams, and bring someone along for the ride.
Grace Fortune is an online course strategist and copywriter who has had more jobs than she can count (including working as a VA and an unfortunate gig handling toxic chemicals). She helped one client earn more than $1,000,000 from a handful of offers. Graduated from Niagara College in 2012, Grace lives near Niagara Falls and can usually be found with a cat in her lap, singing Hamilton songs, and pondering why the heck being left-handed has to be so difficult. Find out more at www.gracefortune.com