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How to Hire a Virtual Assistant

Freelancer sites can help you find the right person at the right price.

Do you feel that if you could hire the right people at the right price, you could expand your business? Ah, if only bringing new people on board was that easy. But hiring a virtual assistant online, who then works for you via the Internet, may be just the way to go.

“They are fantastic,” says e-merchant John Lawson. “We wouldn’t exist without them.”

Lawson has operated an eBay business, 3rd Power Outlet, since 1999. He also sells on Amazon and through his own website. Not only that, he is a popular speaker, and a very active educator and marketer through social media sites like Twitter and Facebook.

When only a human will do

Lawson is one busy guy. So it’s no surprise that he has two to five virtual assistants working for him at any one time. They perform support work, which includes answering emails (as any eBay seller knows, those emails can really add up), writing product descriptions and duplicating listings from one platform to another.

When hiring your first virtual assistant, start with something small, to get used to the process

“These are all things that people are looking for software to do,” Lawson says. “It’s just that humans do them better.”

For example, in creating listings across many platforms, humans can optimize the listing for the site, tweaking things like titles and product descriptions.

Taylor McCoy, who sells handmade jewelry and “one-of-a-kind vintage items” under the name Native By Designz, also helps other businesses with marketing and Web design. She decided she needed an extra assistant to train and maintain her clients in her absence. McCoy points out that a virtual assistant ideally has some knowledge of your business or the industry in which you concentrate.

“The VA should also want to participate in the project or business you have available,” McCoy says. Training is important, too, when your assistant is working offsite. This means “the VA should be available for phone or PC training,” she adds.

Maybe you’re already thinking that hiring a virtual assistant may be something worth looking into. Should you ultimately hire one or more virtual assistants, you would be in good company. While e-commerce merchants can certainly benefit from hiring virtual assistants, corporate giants such as NBC and Hewlett Packard also use them.

Where to find a virtual assistant

When hiring your first virtual assistant, Lawson recommends starting with something small, to get used to the process. He uses sites like Elance and oDesk to look for candidates. oDesk, for example, invites employers to use its site to “find the right contractor and then review the work, and pay with ease.”

Through these sites you have access to many thousands of potential assistants. Posting a job is free. And, while anytime you hire someone the ultimate responsibility for making the right decision falls on your shoulders, sites like Elance can certainly help with that part of the process as well.

Elance notes on its site that it verifies each contractor’s location, contact information and work history. Many contractors, Elance reports, have verified employment, licenses and certifications. If you would like to evaluate a candidate’s past work as part of the selection process, you can probably do that, too. On many sites, contractors can post items from their portfolios, giving you much more than a resume or CV to evaluate.

Of course, megasites are not your only option for locating virtual assistants. For example, Kathy Colaiacovo and her team of six virtual assistants make up Time on Task. Her company provides social media and online marketing, and other “business, website and blog support services for businesses.” Many clients track her down after using search terms such as “social media virtual assistant.”

What to expect when you post a job

It’s up to you to make sure the relationship is working out and you’re getting what you need

When Lawson’s in the market to hire someone, he posts the job on Elance or oDesk, and notes what his budget is. He usually pays the person on an hourly basis. To aid him in sifting through candidates, each contractor’s site listing includes feedback he or she has received from former clients.

Just about any skillset you’re looking for is probably available, and verifiable. Elance, for example, offers more than 400 online skill tests in areas from programming languages to spelling and proofreading. The results are posted on contractor profiles.

Once you do hire someone, many sites include tools to help you monitor your contractor’s progress. oDesk, for instance, provides you with screenshots six times an hour, along with a graph charting your contractor’s activity level. Because of the tools oDesk provides employers, Lawson says oDesk “rocks.”

We used a site called Guru when we needed a researcher for a book project. We were a bit hesitant to go the virtual route, but with all the safeguards these sites employ (such as keeping your funds in escrow), we decided to forge ahead and give it a try.

The book was about online genealogy, so we decided to look for a researcher with background in that area. Finding candidates was as easy entering “genealogy” in a search box. From our search results, we narrowed the field down to a few contractors who had the experience we were looking for. We did our due diligence and hired someone with both the experience and passion for the project we wanted.

We carefully reviewed the work she submitted and released the funds we had put in escrow only when satisfied. While revisions were needed in some cases, overall, this contractor worked out splendidly.

Managing risks when hiring a virtual assistant

Sites like the ones we have mentioned enable you to track down candidates, carefully evaluate their credentials and monitor their work. You don’t pay until you have approved what they’ve done. With so many safeguards in place you’re not risking that much.

But in the end, it’s up to you to make sure the relationship is working out and you’re getting what you need.

“The VA should be aware, no matter what is completed, the end approval is your call,” McCoy says.

Handle the process of hiring virtual assistants carefully, and you may one day find you’ve come to depend on these people. If so, Lawson advises that you segment your work, so no one person becomes indispensable.

About the author

Brad & Debra Schepp
Brad and Debra Schepp are the authors of 20 books, including eBay PowerSeller Secrets and The Official Alibaba.com Success Guide: Insider Tips and Strategies for Sourcing Products from the World's Largest B2B Marketplace. Their most recent book is How to Find a Job on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Google+. Brad is also a literary agent for Waterside Productions. For further information, visit the couple's website, bradanddeb.com. Opinions expressed here may not be shared by The Online Seller and/or its principals.

  • Anonymous

    Great article Debra and Brad. Very inspiring.

    • brad and deb

       Thanks. 🙂

      B+D

  • Mziskic

    Great information, but you touch on only task-oriented VAs.  What about the business owners who might be looking for support in a long term relationship?  For someone who can look not only at the tasks for today, but the goals for tomorrow.  Have you considered exploring that option as well?

    • brad and deb

       You raise a good point. The article *is* more focused on task-oriented relationships.

  • Angelik

    Great post Brad and Debra! I was kind of hesitant to try a VA for my online business as I don’t have enough training on managing a remote contractor. A comrade recommended staff.com and for a beginner like me, they helped me out all the way from hiring to monitoring them for me (they have this TimeDoctor software which tracks my VA’s productive hours so I don’t pay her when she is just staring at her computer). I now have 4 VA’s working from me and all of them were amazing. It was tough to train them hands on in the beginning, but its all worth it in the end. 

    • brad and deb

       Thanks for your kind comments Angelik and your tips. Wish we had spoken to you for the article! Maybe next time.

  • This post is fit for newspaper publication! Good job!

    I would just like to add some sites where you can hire virtual assistants. Aside from elance and Odesk, you can also try Fiverr. This is a great marketplace to find VA’s who would work for you for $5 an hour.

    If you’re looking for Filipino VAs, then you find them at OnlineJobs.ph and BestJobs. You might also like to try our team out at thevirtualonlineassistant.com. 



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