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Everything to know about hiring a virtual assistant to help scale your business

A virtual assistant wearing a headset A virtual assistant wearing a headset

As a small business owner or solopreneur, you may struggle to manage and complete your growing to-do list. If you find yourself spread so thin that you can’t give important tasks your undivided attention, it’s time to hire a virtual assistant (VA).  

Hiring a virtual assistant is an exciting step in growing your business. For many solopreneurs, it’s the first person that you’ll add to your team. It can also signal your transition from a side-hustle or solopreneur to a full-time business owner.

The benefits of hiring a virtual assistant can more than compensate for the initial costs. For one, it is a cost-effective option to scale your business while taking mundane tasks off your plate.

However, like any hiring process, there are many considerations to finding and hiring candidates successfully. To help, we’ve created this complete guide on how to hire a virtual assistant that’s the right fit for your business. 

Table of contents

What is a virtual assistant?

As the name suggests, a virtual assistant works remotely and provides administrative services for a client. Virtual assistants often work with multiple clients at once on a freelance or contract basis. They usually aren’t employees. 

Personal assistants (PAs) are similar to VAs, and the terms are often used interchangeably. Both perform the same types of tasks, but personal assistants usually connect with clients primarily in person. 

Sometimes but not always, virtual assistants have “traditional” (in-person) administrative or assistant experience. In some cases, virtual assistants are simply highly skilled freelancers eager to assist you with tasks you’d like to get off your plate.

How much does a virtual assistant cost?

Some virtual assistants charge per hour, while others charge per task or work on retainer. 

Usually, hourly rates for VAs range from $10 to $50. Although, it could be more for highly technical and specialized services. 

Generally, the cost of a VA will depend on three factors. Virtual assistants set their rates depending on experience, task, and location. Here’s how each may influence the quotes you receive.

Experience 

While hiring a VA with low rates may be economical, hiring an assistant with years of experience could be worth the extra cost. For example, if you’re not familiar with a task and need special expertise, they can provide you with the knowledge you need. In addition, if they have experience, you may not need to spend as much time training and onboarding them.

Tasks

You can find a VA for any task that can be done remotely—data entry, digital marketing, customer support, social media management, administrative duties, accounting, and more.

Typically, more specialized tasks cost more. According to Upwork, a data entry VA can charge $12 to $20, while a marketing VA could charge $20 to $35. On the other hand, advanced VAs in IT support may charge $38 to $50 or more.

Location

Since virtual assistants work remotely, their charges vary based on their location and cost of living. For example, VAs based in the Philippines or India charge much lower rates than those in the United States or the United Kingdom.

However, rates do not reflect experience level or capabilities. An experienced VA from India could charge a fraction of what a VA in the United States charges. You’ll also want to consider the difference in time zones though. A person in India may not be available to work during certain business hours in the U.S. 

Since there’s no standard payment model, you might be wondering how to tell if you can afford a virtual assistant. 

First, compile a list of all tasks you need help with, and estimate how long it will take a VA to complete. Then multiply the hourly rate by the number of hours. For example, if a VA’s hourly rate is $20 and you need about 15 hours each month, your monthly cost would be $300. 

You’ll also want to consider how increasing the time you have to spend on revenue-generating activities will impact your income. For example, if you now have 15 more hours a month to focus on selling your course, how much is that time worth? 

Once you know what you can afford, set a sensible budget and negotiate rates per project. 

Benefits of hiring a virtual assistant

The primary benefit of hiring a virtual assistant is that it allows you to delegate tedious tasks so you can focus on more demanding parts of your business. 

Other benefits of hiring a virtual assistant are that you can: 

  • Build your team cost-effectively
  • Hire a team without needing an office
  • Gain expertise from your new VA
  • Free up your time to grow your business or relax
  • Increase productivity by outsourcing small tasks
  • Get an extra set of hands to manage your schedule, emails, and more

Types of VA tasks

Technically speaking, a virtual assistant can do pretty much any task you’re comfortable delegating to them.

Even personal errands like scheduling doctor appointments or researching resorts for your next vacation are fair game. 

Before beginning your search for a virtual assistant, get a clear idea of what tasks you want to delegate. In most cases, you’ll want to delegate tasks that are: 

  • Critical to your business, but you don’t have the skills, time, or desire to do (customer support) 
  • Tasks that need to be done, but don’t directly contribute to the big picture or revenue goals (accounting and taxes)
  • Menial tasks that you aren’t interested in or that are not the best use of your time (scheduling appointments)

Start listing all the tasks you perform to figure out which specific tasks you need to outsource for your business. 

To decide what to delegate, ask these questions.

  • Which activities do you dislike or struggle to complete? 
  • What tasks take most of your time?
  • Do those tasks contribute to revenue or keep you from pursuing your primary business goals? 

For instance, if you struggle to complete a task, a VA can do it for you, sometimes faster and better. 

Tasks that virtual assistants typically do include:

  • Bookkeeping
  • Marketing services
  • Blog writing
  • Email
  • Calendar management
  • Travel booking
  • Social media management
  • Research
  • Personal scheduling
  • Errands

Ideally, you’ll delegate as many tasks as you can afford, and dedicate your time to tasks that only you can do.

What qualities should you look for in an assistant?

The qualifications to look for in a virtual assistant depend on the tasks you’d like them to complete. 

For example, let’s say you’re looking for an assistant primarily for bookkeeping, managing your email inbox, and sorting files. In that case, you may want to look for skills such as basic accounting knowledge, computer savviness, and organizational skills. 

Some essential qualifications that every virtual assistant should have, regardless of their focus areas, are: 

  • Effective communication (verbal, written, etc.)
  • Data entry
  • Time management
  • Self-motivation
  • Reliability

Where can you find virtual assistants?

Since more people have shifted to remote work, you can choose from a large pool of VA candidates. Typically, you can find and vet a virtual assistant on freelance job posting sites like other contract workers. You can also create your own virtual assistant job posts to attract qualified candidates. 

Here are some sites you can use to find and hire virtual assistants. 

Some services will manage the hiring process for you but charge a monthly subscription fee. Others, like Upwork, are free to sign up, but you manage the entire process from posting the job to hiring and compensation. 

How to hire a virtual assistant to grow your business

Now that you have a clear idea of the tasks to delegate and platforms to find VAs, you can start hiring. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to hire a virtual assistant.

1. Clearly outline tasks 

You should already have a list that you created when deciding which tasks to delegate. In this case, you’ll take your initial list of tasks and further hone them into a bulleted list. 

You’ll use these to form the duties and responsibilities section of your job description. It will also be useful to set a budget.  

2. Set a budget

Based on the tasks you need help with, estimate the hours you will need per month. Most VAs charge hourly rates, so you can set a rough budget by multiplying the average hourly rate by the hours each month.

As mentioned, the standard hourly rates range between $10 to $50 or more, depending on the skills required. You should be prepared to pay more if the job requires advanced skills such as web development.

You’ll also want to factor in hiring platform fees. For example, Upwork takes 20% of a worker’s commission for new contracts. As a result, they may charge a higher hourly rate to make up for that fee. 

3. Write a job description and post it to hiring sites

The job description (JD) should summarize the responsibilities, skills, and qualifications for the VA role. Ideally, the JD should provide enough information to help the candidate decide whether they’re the right match for the role. 

Your virtual assistant job description should include the following. 

Job title

The job title should accurately describe the role to target suitable job candidates. According to Indeed, more than a third of job seekers searching for work on job sites use the exact title of the position they’re looking for as the search phrase. Are you hiring an administrative assistant, social media assistant, or customer service assistant? Write the exact job title. You’ll also want to use the phrase at least once in the body for search purposes.

Brief overview

Include a strong summary providing an overview of your business and the position’s expectations. Briefly highlight your business culture to show why the candidate should work with you. Also, remember to let the candidate know they will be working remotely. 

Responsibilities, duties, and skills

Give a clear and concise outline of the core responsibilities of the VA. Further detail the day-to-day activities to help candidates determine if the position is a good fit for them. Remember, many VAs have other job or school duties, so they need to know your expectations to determine whether they can juggle the responsibilities.

Specify the hard and soft skills the position requires. However, keep the list concise as a long list can dissuade the applicants.

Here’s a sample VA job description template you can use. 

Job title: Administrative virtual assistant 

Brief overview: 

Are you looking for a flexible job that allows you to work remotely with a team of creatives? Join a digital marketing company committed to teaching businesses how to grow with data-backed marketing strategies. 

We are looking for a reliable administrative virtual assistant to support our business operations remotely. You will be responsible for administrative tasks such as scheduling meetings, answering emails, managing calendars, and tracking and managing expenses and payments. The position requires you to have a strong internet connection.

Responsibilities and duties: 

  • Respond to emails
  • Schedule meetings
  • Manage calendars
  • Provide customer support to clients
  • Track and manage expenses and payments
  • Manage contact list
  • Update records

Qualifications and skills: 

  • 2 to 3 years of VA experience 
  • Knowledge of marketing and advertising
  • Data entry
  • Excellent organizational skills
  • Good time management 
  • Communication skills (verbal and written)

4. Review resumes and schedule phone interviews

When hiring a virtual assistant, review their resume closely, check references, and ask for work examples when applicable. 

Look for resumes that are personalized to the role. If you get a lot of resumes, you can filter them by searching for skills keywords like “data entry” or tools like “Mailchimp”. Many hiring platforms can search resumes for specific words to help you find the most qualified candidates.

Once you have your shortlist, schedule phone interviews with five to ten applicants. A phone interview over Zoom can help you assess if a candidate is a good fit for your business. 

5. Narrow down candidates with a quick project or test 

Once you have one to three candidates in mind, narrow down your choices with a project. 

Projects are the best way to test a VA’s skills. You’ll provide each candidate with the same prompt and give them a set time to complete it. Ideally, you’ll choose a small task that will be similar to what they will do in the role. 

Of course, be mindful of their time, and try to keep the test below one hour. If it is longer than an hour or requires a lot of investment in time and resources, you may also want to compensate them for their time. 

6. Make an offer and set up payment and contractor agreements

Once you’re confident that you have a suitable VA, make them an offer. Agree whether you will pay them per project basis or hourly, and put it in writing.

If you have hired them via a freelancing platform such as Upwork, you need to set up a payment and contractor agreement. It’s smart to do this regardless of the platform that you use because it sets clear expectations and helps protect you legally and financially. 

Fortunately, sending and signing contractor agreements is much quicker with online e-signature tools like DocuSign and HelloSign.

Mostly, you’ll pay the VA online, although some accept checks and credit card payments. If you are hiring through a freelancing platform, then you issue payment to the platform and it administers funds to the VA. If you didn’t use a site like Upwork, then the VA will likely send you invoices to pay each month. 

7. Create detailed standard operating procedures (SOPs)

To complete work, VAs must be granted access to specific programs, shared files, and anything else needed to complete their assigned tasks. Creating an SOP prevents errors and ensures the work quality is consistent with your brand’s standards.

Standard operating procedures, or SOPs for short, are detailed guides that describe how to complete tasks. They go through each task step-by-step and include where to find login details or important files. 

Don’t be afraid of overcommunicating in SOPs. No step is too small to include. Where necessary, add screenshots or record a quick Loom video. Generally, visuals make it easier to understand and leave little room for error.

When sharing passwords and payment information, you need to protect your data. Remember to run background checks. You can also use password managers like LastPass to send information securely. 

Example interview questions for a virtual assistant

Like in a typical job interview, asking the right questions can help you find your best match for a virtual assistant. Below are some examples of open-ended questions you could ask candidates.

What is your preferred communication style?

Though both parties should be open to communication through various mediums, it’s crucial to grasp how your potential virtual assistant prefers to communicate to determine if it aligns with the tasks to be delegated.

How do you troubleshoot technical issues that may impact your ability to work?

Virtual assistants don’t have an IT department to walk over to when their computer crashes, the internet goes out, or another unfortunate technical difficulty occurs. 

It’s comforting to know that if some technical difficulties happen, your future VA has a solid plan to resolve any issues. And, most importantly, understands the importance of communicating the issue immediately. Things like having a backup laptop or access to wifi at a nearby public space (library, cafe, etc.) may not be required but show your potential hire thinks quickly and is prepared for the unknown.

What time of the day do you prefer to work?

If tasks don’t require your virtual assistant to be online during a specific time window, inquiring about their preferred schedule may not be of the utmost importance. However, if you’re assigning timely tasks like engaging on your social media accounts at specific times of the day, you should confirm that your virtual has the ideal availability.

How many clients are you with at the moment?

As mentioned above, virtual assistants typically work with more than one client simultaneously. While being able to balance multiple client loads can attest to their time management and prioritizing abilities, you want to ensure that your virtual assistant has the bandwidth to take on your tasks while putting their best foot forward. 

Tips and tools for managing VAs

Hiring a virtual assistant not only frees up your time to concentrate on revenue-generating activities, but it increases productivity and overall business performance.

However, to reap these benefits you still need to manage your VAs well. Fortunately, there are tons of resources to help. Here are some tips and tools that will help you manage your virtual assistant. 

1. Provide clear instructions and set deadlines

In addition to providing detailed SOPs, make sure your instructions have clear expectations and deadlines. You will avoid miscommunication and save time answering questions. If it helps, you can use one of the project management tools below. 

2. Avoid micromanaging 

If you provide the VA with clear instructions and they understand your expectations, there’s no need to micromanage.

As a leader, you can’t do everything yourself. If you micromanage, you’re not leveraging your free time for other more important tasks. Micromanaging can also make your team lose confidence in their abilities and negatively impact their work. 

By not micromanaging, you’ll show your VA that you trust them to complete tasks on your behalf. 

3. Set performance expectations

Even though you aren’t hovering over your VA’s shoulder every day, you still want to make sure that your goals and expectations are met. You should work with your VA to set measurable goals. For example, you might expect a VA to answer emails within 24 hours on a business day. 

Some tasks may appear small, yet their complexity necessitates more time for completion. Be practical when setting expectations and deadlines and welcome feedback from the VA. This way, you can know when you’re stretching them too far.

Do weekly check-ins 

Depending on the assigned tasks, have the VAs report regularly on their work progress. You can create a standard template where they report on their progress at a set interval.

Use the right tools

There are various productivity tools you can use to manage your VAs effectively. They can help you speed up communication and increase organization and efficiency. Here are some of them. 

  • Google Workspace – Google’s tools—Drive especially—is ideal for communication, sharing files, and collaboration.
  • Time Doctor – This is a tool to track the time your VA spends on each task. It’s helpful, especially if the VA bills you on an hourly basis.
  • Loom – Some tasks may require more than a written instructional manual. A video recording tool like Loom can help you provide complex instructions and visuals to help them carry out specific tasks.
  • Calendly – Your VA can use Calendly’s scheduling tool to easily set up meetings. Sync Calendly up with your Google calendar and create a link to share when scheduling multiple meetings with different prospects.

Once you’ve hired an assistant to help you, you can focus more time on growing your business. Think about all the time that would be available if you didn’t have to answer emails or schedule calls each day. 

These are all benefits of hiring a virtual assistant that you will see pretty immediately after hiring them. You can also always try out having an assistant for a busy time because they work on a freelance or contract basis. Whatever you need to do to help build your business, your assistant can help.

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Author: Mika Robinson, Mika is a NYC-based lifestyle blogger and freelance writer. When she’s not creating content on her blog, astoldbymika.com, she’s somewhere in the digisphere writing content for your favorite platforms and go-to brands.

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