Virtual Assistants: How Startups Can Get More Done for Less
Time is not your friend in the beginning phases of a startup. You’re working hard and fast and juggling more tasks than you can handle, which is why only 10% of startups actually make it, and most fail within a year. In order to be successful, you need to spending your time being productive instead […]
Time is not your friend in the beginning phases of a startup. You’re working hard and fast and juggling more tasks than you can handle, which is why only 10% of startups actually make it, and most fail within a year. In order to be successful, you need to spending your time being productive instead of busy, which is sometimes hard to decipher when you’re in the early startup phases. There are many phases in the startup lifecycle, from what problem you’re solving to the maturity of the business. One of the biggest secrets about highly productive people is that they don’t try to do everything themselves. Extreme multi-tasking is one of the most common causes of burnout and a component in startups failing.
Another reason startups fail is because they run out of money. You can’t do everything yourself, yet hiring employees and having the space and equipment for them can get very expensive. You need a versatile team in order to be in the 10% of startups that succeed, and it makes sense to hire people who possess more than one skill or talent. So, who are you going to delegate tasks to?
In comes the virtual assistant
VAs work from their home offices so you’re not providing them space or equipment. They can work for you a few hours each month, a few hours each week or full-time. They are relatively less expensive than an employee when you consider the following:
A VA will already have a home office in place which will save you and your startup money from having to purchase any additional equipment.
You won’t have to worry about conflicting work schedules. You can assign your tasks or projects with a deadline and your work will be ready. Sometimes, having someone in a different time zone allows a VA to either be working before you’re out of bed, or past the time you’ve already left.
A VA only charges for the time they’ve spent working for you, not for the time spent with in-office distractions.
VAs are proficient with the latest technology and can typically jump into a project with little direction needed.
A VA is typically an independent contractor whether they’re working through an agency or freelancing. They take pride in their work because it’s their reputation on the line as well as yours.
There are no commuting issues with a VA. Your work will always be done regardless of snow storms or traffic delays.
With a VA there is no paid leave, sick time or vacation time. Virtual Assistants are only paid for the time they work.
VAs have a very low turnover rate. One of the main reasons people are leaving the 9-5 workday is due to obligations at home. A VA can still work efficiently from their home office and be available when necessary.
Many founders wait until they are falling behind before getting help… Waiting until you’re buried often leads to being desperate which leads to rash decisions that may not be good for you or your startup. One of the reasons you’re hiring a VA is to help so you DON’T get to that point.
How do you know a virtual assistant is the right choice for your company?
You can’t afford and utilize a full-time employee.
The work you need help with doesn’t require someone to be in your office.
You are spending more time organizing rather than executing.
Anything worthwhile takes time and effort. Although time is what you’re lacking as a startup, it is important to sit down and think through what areas you need help with and what you want your VA to do for you. Before you start out on your search, take time to sit down and:
Make a list. Take at least 1 week and start writing down the things that come up on a regular basis that you need help with or can’t find the time to do. If you are working with another party or employees, ask them to do the same. Virtual Assistants can not only be an asset to your startup but also in aiding your team in project assistance or other responsibilities they can’t find the time to do.
From the list, decide which areas are teachable. If you can teach someone to do a task then you can outsource it and move on to bigger things.
From what is teachable, find which is the most time consuming. There are many things we do on a daily basis that although they are important in the support of your business, may not be worth your time doing if it’s not directly related to generating income.
Pick the tasks that you enjoy least. Why would you keep doing things you don’t like doing? If it falls into the category of being teachable then it’s a responsibility a VA can do for you.
Many startups want to use a VA and know they can be a worthwhile investment but are unsure of how they can be utilized. Virtual Assistants can be personal assistants, executive assistants, project managers or assist on team projects. They can also run social media and digital marketing campaigns at a much lower cost than an agency. Most have left the corporate world for a more flexible work schedule, but experience in their related fields makes them a tremendous resource for startups. Some areas that are easy to outsource to a VA are: CUSTOMER SERVICE/CALENDAR & EMAIL MANAGEMENT
Sort through emails/mark what’s important/sort through spam
Reply to customer/client inquiries
Calendar management/appointment reminders
GENERAL ADMINISTRATIVE TASKS Although the administrative tasks are never-ending, some general administrative tasks are:
Client Gifts (purchasing & sending)
Organize Meetings/Conference Calls
DIGITAL MARKETING The world of digital marketing is big, and only getting bigger. Just when you think you’ve mastered one social channel, there’s another one that is proving to be better. Trying to stay on top of learning the ins & outs of digital marketing, whether it’s the latest email programs, hosting platforms or the hottest social channel to advertise on, can be overwhelming. Some areas you can outsource to a Virtual Assistant that will help promote you and your business are:
Every startup will have its own list of outsourcing needs, but these areas are interchangeable regardless of your industry or company size. Once you’ve decided on using a Virtual Assistant, then you need to find one.
Finding a VA for your startup
There are pros and cons to both freelance VAs and utilizing an agency. Much depends on what you’re looking for, how much time you have to invest in the process, and how much money your budget allows. Research the agencies wisely. Some will assign you one dedicated VA while others will use a “team” of multiple virtual assistants. Agencies that tend to rotate VAs often have higher turnover rates and the project can lend itself to more confusion. Some agencies work with only US based assistants while others work with VAs from overseas. When deciding between choosing a virtual assistant who’s located in the United States versus hiring a VA from abroad, consider how important is it for the person to be available while you work, how aware of American culture you need the person to be, and if the language barrier will be a problem. Whether you decide to use a US based Virtual Assistant Agency or overseas, there are several benefits an agency provides, such as:
Consulting. Most agencies will provide an initial consultation to help them place you with the right VA, help decide what types of tasks the VA can handle for maximum efficiency, and how many hours you need on a monthly basis.
Experienced Virtual Assistants. Having experience working as a VA is important in understanding how a virtual relationship works and the different programs and apps to use for virtual success.
Back-Up. Life is not perfect, and neither is every virtual relationship. There are times that the relationship between a client and virtual assistant may not work out for whatever reason, or maybe they move on at some point to do other things. Instead of having to start from square one, agencies will have other experienced VAs that will be able to jump in as soon as the next day and get started.
Training. Many times the agency offers training for their VAs to keep up-to-date with the latest apps and programs.
Hiring & Screening Process is done for you. Conducting a search alone for a virtual assistant can be overwhelming. With an Agency they will do the hiring, screening and contracting process for you and either choose a VA that matches your needs based on their skills or allow you the opportunity to interview a couple for you to make the decision yourself.
Contracts. You can come up with your own contract for your virtual relationship, but an agency will have a contract that is in place with both the VA and the client. This is not only to protect the VA, but to protect the agency as well. Also, this contract will protect the client’s information and maintain confidentiality.
If you decide to use a freelance Virtual Assistant, there are many places they can post their information whether you use a service like Upwork or search through LinkedIn. Keep in mind when going the freelance route, you are responsible for the interviewing, reference checking, hiring and paying of the VA. Once you’re up and running with your virtual assistant, you enter the next phase of managing and delegating to your Virtual Assistant.
Managing your virtual employees
Although most VAs have years of experience in their respected fields, you still need to take some time to teach them what you want accomplished, how you like things done and be clear on your expectations. Virtual assistants are human and make the same mistakes we all do. The #1 failure of all virtual relationships (actually any relationship) is lack of communication. From Day 1, it’s best to decide on what form of communication will work best for both of you, how often you will communicate or give updates and that you take the time to review the updates that are given to you. When collaborating with a virtual assistant and depending on the tasks they’re doing for you, you’ll need to be able to share your files, company information, etc. There are more tools than you can imagine that allow you to work with a VA.
Some of my favorite tools for VA management are:
GSuite: Formerly Google Apps for Work, this offer professional email, online storage, shared calendars, video meetings and more. The apps are designed for business and teams to share and collaborate securely, making it a great tool to use with your virtual assistant.
Dropbox: Easily and securely store all of your documents which you have access to on your desktop and mobile devices and is great for sharing large files.
World Time Buddy: Being a startup can mean that you’re at one end of the world at times while your VA is at the other. World Time Buddy is great to effortlessly compare multiple time zones, plan conference call, webinars, international phone calls and web meeting.
Streak: This is a great CRM right inside of Gmail. You and your VA can manage your clients effectively and efficiently.
Hellosign for Gmail: With this you can sign documents in 30 seconds or less and do it all within Gmail as well as send, retrieve and save without having to print.
Google Voice: Google voice is a great tool to use with your virtual assistant. They can use it to make free calls and as an after-hours voicemail.
For Digital Marketing Needs:
MailChimp: Design and schedule great looking emails or newsletters. Mailchimp is free until you hit 2,000 subscribers and offer great analytics to gauge your campaigns.
Hootsuite: You can schedule up to 3 channels free on Hootsuite, save drafts you can repurpose later and view multiple feeds. You can create posts or save links you find online in Hootsuite and save them as drafts for your VA to use at a later date.
Canva: Create stunning graphics is easy and free with Canva (unless you use Canva for Work). You can find photos you would like to use for posts and upload them in Canva for your VA.
Pixabay: A great site for free online photo’s to use for your blogs or social media campaigns.
Myhours: Myhours is a time tracking software that is great not only for you to see where your virtual assistant’s time is spent, but for them too. Your VA is able to log the tasks and projects so you can see how much time is spent on each area.
There are many Password Manager programs that allow virtual assistants to login into all of your accounts without seeing your passwords. The usernames and passwords are encrypted in the program itself, keeping all of your information in one place. Your Virtual Assistant can log into the program and navigate to the websites you have put in place. A few to try are:
Depending on how you choose to use your virtual assistant, whether it’s to take over a few tasks or they become your right hand, encourage them to offer you feedback, lending more warmth to the remote-work arrangement. Assistants might not provide feedback unless you ask not wanting to overstep any bounds, yet their ideas are often spot-on given their proximity to the work. Ultimately, a virtual assistant is not just another cog in your business machine, but a representative of your business and even a direct extension of you. Like anything, the more clear and concise you are on your expectations with your VA from the start will lend to a long and worthwhile relationship. Communicate effectively and often to get the most out of your virtual assistant experience.
Laura is the founder of Elite Virtual Assistants. EVA carefully matches busy professionals with experienced virtual assistants and specializes in helping business coaches and speakers. You can find more information at www.elitevirtualassist.com. Laura and her family live in Ohio.