Ok, I’m BUSY – Now what…? What you Absolutely MUST consider before hiring a VA

May 13, 2011 by

Have you been wondering how you are going to do everything yourself and still manage your clients, do your networking, implement your marketing strategy, grow your business, get your books done on time and everything that goes along with being a business owner?

How about finding time to be with your family and friends after work?

If you are experiencing ‘overwhelm’ then it might be time to consider getting some help – and that help might be in the form of a Virtual Assistant (VA). Before you jump into working with a VA, take some time to consider the following:

Do YOU have the right mindset?

Yes – it is true, the first thing to think about is you.

  • Do you see the value that getting the right help brings? If you are looking at a VA as an expense, rather than an investment in your business – then you are not ready.
  • You have to be ready and willing to let someone take tasks off your shoulders, and, you have to be very organized to do it effectively.
  • What do you need? Do you need to consider building a VA into your business plan? As every business owner’s goals are to expand, it makes sense. Do you need just one person to assist you for the first year or can you already see you’ll need more than that? Are your tasks minimal, e.g. basic admin, some basic tech or do you need more of an all-rounder?
  • Put together a CLEAR job description for your new VA for the now and the future. Tell them if you will be expanding and adding other team members in the future. If appropriate. Always include them in the bigger picture of your business.
  • Think about your style. Are you a micro-manager, an “assign it and leave it kind of person, a ‘control freak’? What kind of VA will work best with you? A long term relationship with a VA is usually quite close. You share your business dreams and goals with them. You need to like them – and they need to like you!

Finding the Right VA

Remember – a VA is NOT an employee. They are an independent business owner, just like you are. They have the option of working with you or not – this is a time to be completely open and honest with you self, and with your potential VA. They get to decide if YOU are a good fit in the same way you have to decide if THEY are.

There are so many different kinds of VA’s out there – how do you choose the right one? Well, you started off on the right track with evaluating yourself and your needs. By now you should have an idea of what tasks you might want your VA to complete. Now you need to decide what type of VA you need. I classify VA’s into a few categories, offshore, task specific and partner.

Offshore – if you are on a budget, and have only simple general needs like admin, transcription, calendaring, then likely an offshore VA can suit your needs. Services like O-Desk and Freelancer can hook you up with someone. You still get the opportunity to interview them and make sure their skills match, and often you find someone who can do what you require for a little amount of money. Be prepared however, to spend more time managing them.

Task Specific – if you have looked at your business and realize – all I need is someone to manage my shopping cart and update my website – then a specialist in that task category is likely to be to your advantage. Find someone who knows all there is to know about what you need done, and can work with minimal supervision. They should be able to do exactly what you need, and may offer suggestions on how to make that task more efficient or how to get better results. A task specific VA knows a lot, about a specific area, but may lack a broad business background, and you may find yourself looking for another task specific VA as your business needs develop.

Partner – A VA Partner is commonly referred to as an Online Business Manager or ‘OBM’. They likely come from a business owner’s background with a technical spin and usually offer a wide range of knowledge about multiple areas of business. They often manage a team of Project Managers and various Task Specific VA’s that carry out the requirements of their clients. They take an active role in your business, act as an executive sounding board and offer suggestions for growing and improving your business. They become long term team members who are invested in your business’s growth.


VA’s usually charge in one of two ways, hourly or package pricing. Within the hourly pricing model, traditionally there are two sets of rates – a project rate and a retainer rate. A project rate is usually the VA’s highest rate and it is just that – you pay as you go for hours spent on your tasks. A retainer rate is usually lower, but it is a guaranteed purchase of hours on a monthly basis. You agree you will purchase 10, 20, 30 – however many hours you need – per month and in turn, the VA offers you a preferred rate. You know how much your bill will be each month. It can however, be difficult to determine exactly how many hours it will take to complete the tasks you require. I want X,Y, Z, done each month – how many hours do I need to purchase? Now, a good VA can make a realistic guess how long it will take, but it often takes a few months to get it exactly right. With either hourly scenario, you both have to keep track of the hours consumed, and manage your time accordingly.

Alternately, some VA’s prefer not to charge by the hour, and will simply create packages that bundle their most requested, or most used services. You choose between a light package and a full service package, or somewhere in between and trust the job gets done. Period – there is no managing hours on your behalf, and you know exactly what your bill is going to be, regardless of the time it took your VA to complete your tasks.

In the hourly scenarios, you are likely to see this breakdown, Offshore rates range from $10-$20 per hour, Task Specific VA’s rates from $35-$45 per hour (although if your needs are highly technical, be prepared to spend more) and for on OBM, you will pay $45 – $90 per hour, depending on the level of OBM you choose.

Remember, when you are deciding which type of VA you need, it is partly about price – I get that, but it should mostly be about value. If you really need an OBM and you choose an offshore VA simply because of price, there is a possibility you will spend far more than you bargained for because the task could have to be re-done, and more than once. That said, no one says that an OBM is the be all and end all for everyone. Just because they say they are an amazing OBM, it does not mean they actually are, or that they are well qualified to be one. That leads us to the selection process.

Engaging your VA

A few guidelines will help make the decision even easier.

  1. Make sure you spend focused time in searching for your VA. When you start going through the interview process, ask pointed questions and give them x, y, z type of scenarios they may encounter while working in your business and ask them how they would deal with them. Remember, your VA may have direct contact with your clients and it is important that they represent your brand well.
  2. Do you like them? Remember, communication is the main component in your working relationship, so make sure you both understand each other well. Does the VA have a clear understanding of your needs, and can they articulate it back to you? It sounds silly – but I have found this to be a key step.
  3. Ask the VA what THEIR plans are when coming to work for you. How busy are they now? If you start out with 20 hours a month, and experience growth, will they be able to handle the increased workload, or will they ‘drop you’ as a client. If you work with a VA who has a team, that is far less likely to happen, but it may be a concern with a VA who is working alone.
  4. Ask for referrals – and call them! Check out VA associations, ask your colleagues who they use. Hopefully you would do that with any service provider. Working with a VA is not like ordering a pizza – take your time, ask around.
  5. Always get a signed agreement – with a confidentiality clause. Most reputable VA’s have their own contract but you can also draw one up for them.
  6. Always start with a trial period. You’ll know within the first 30 days if the two of you are a fit.
  7. Keep in mind, the VA is interviewing you as much as you are them. In some cases, a VA may turn down an offer to work with you if they feel you are not an ideal fit for their business. Again, this speaks to the contractor/vendor vs. the employee mindset.

Tips to work effectively with a VA

  • In the beginning, you will most likely want to double check work, processes, communications etc – but let your VA do their work with as little supervision as possible. They need to know you trust them to work independently – or they might never do so. Remember – you are looking for someone with an entrepreneurial mindset – just like yours. If you have to tell them what to do each and every time – you are not saving the time you wanted – and eventually they will become an expense – not an investment.
  • Task delegation is not as easy as it sounds. Be prepared to be VERY CLEAR on what tasks you are handing over, what the steps are for the VA to carry out and what the deadlines are and be sure you’re both very clear on the expectations. A good way to manage projects is with a project implementation plan or matrix. That way you are both clear (and yes – a good VA will create them for you). Another good tool is the use of an online team workspace like Central Desktop or Basecamp – or even something simple like Google Docs to start.
  • Be prepared for the fact that your VA is just that – VIRTUAL and shared online tasks and documents are likely going to be the norm.
  • Recommend a once-a-week phone or Skype meeting, even if it’s for 10 minutes to keep on task.
  • Ask for weekly or bi-weekly reports of their tasks/time. This is your business, and you have the right to know what is going on at any given moment.

If it seems like an overwhelming process just to LOOK for a VA, take heart. There are far more good, reputable VA’s out there than not. The Virtual Assistance industry is growing at an incredible rate, and chances are, you already know someone who is using a VA that they trust. Word of mouth referrals usually give you a hand up in the selection process. If the VA is doing a great job doing what you need for someone else, chances are they will do a good job for you too.

Now that you have done your “due diligence” and though about all of the pros and cons – and decided what kind of VA will suit you best, if your needs are for an Online Business Manager and strategic partner in your business – I hope you will give Pibworth a call.


Written by Guest Blogger and Market Your Coaching Business Partner, Lauren Pibworth, Pibworth Professional Solutions.

Happily married and living in Barrie, Ontario, Lauren Pibworth is a Virtual Business Manager, specializing in perception management for speakers, trainers and coaches.

In 2010 she published her first book, “Quacking The Surface, Managing Customer Perceptions.” Now managing a team of 10+ task specific VA’s, Lauren is also an active Speaker, teaches the elements of perception management that have allowed her to achieve and maintain this exponential growth.

“My work experience is varied, and it has served me well,” says Lauren. “ I combined eight years of successful small business management in the Wine and Retail industries with more than 10 years in the Advertising and Financial industries and brought that experience into my own business“



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  1. Excellent points and well laid out information. I have been spinning my wheels learning all I can with doing business online and spent countless $$ and now feel confident that it is time to hire a VA to handle my back office and allow me more time to do what I love, which is coaching and teaching.

    • I totally agree Wendy! Hiring Lauren (who is my VA) was one of the hardest decisions to make, but also one of the smartest. As coaches, we work with our clients to help them focus on their strengths and outsourcing what is not, yet it’s often hard for us to do that ourselves. Once I FINALLY made that decision to let go, it made my life and business so much easier.

      Kathy Jo!

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