The Search for Virtual Assistants and What to Look For

World with HandsA virtual assistant is that extra set of hands that you occasionally need for your business, but who may not live or work in the same area of the country, or the world, as your business. With the internet, people can help you get work done from anywhere in the world. They can be around the corner or around the world. So step one when you are ready for that extra set of hands is to decide whether you will hire from around the corner, or around the world.

Home Country vs. Overseas

I always try to hire within the US – as that is where I live and from where my business comes. The primary reason is to avoid any language or cultural delays or problems in the work they produce for me. Communication is easier from me to them, and I find I have fewer “adjustments” to make the work sound the way I want it to sound for my clients. Harking back to my pre-internet days at Minolta, it was necessary to hire the freelancers locally as most that I hired worked within my department on the equipment I had there. The exception was when I was able to start actually having work delivered electronically – for instance, we would fax a storyboard to an artist who had another day job, but would do our type layout in the evening. Then, first thing in the morning, we would modem (yup, the old phone modems) the layout files into our system for output and production. Same with scripts, the writer would work his magic, and then we would modem the files into our production environment. We saved MUCH time, and, as we had the actual word processing files, were able to do some simple edits ourselves (and, for speeches and video scripts, reformat them for teleprompter) rather waiting for him to make corrections and then re-downloading the revised files. Therefore, for many online business owners, it’s ideal to work with someone locally who you can call and even meet face to face.

When cost is an issue, many times it is necessary to hire out of country. Workers in non-western countries many times have the advantage of lower cost of living, so often can compete favorably with our local freelancers and virtual assistants. Though you may be a bit uneasy sending work so far away, there are many very high quality freelancers, virtual assistants, and virtual assistant services operating from many places, “around the world.” Make sure you carefully examine their representative work, and check references – as you would with anyone you hire to work in your business. If the VA is experienced and professional, it doesn’t matter how far away they are.

All that said; I have hired project work from India with extremely good results. Though I wanted to hire in the US, I couldn’t find anyone in this country to do what I needed to do, at all… much less within my budget, so outside I went, and had no problems whatsoever. So by all means, try to hire within your country, but do not be concerned about hiring outside your market.

Characteristics to Look For

When choosing a freelancer or Virtual Assistant, what are some of the things for which you want to look? Your first task is to define carefully exactly what work you need done. You’ll find that as you carefully create your project brief, you will become better at defining the project for your hired help, and get better results more quickly. Once you have this kind of careful project description or specification, then make sure your intended worker has demonstrated skills that will get your project done quickly, well, and accurately. Most important, your carefully designed project brief should limit responses to people who will most likely have the required skill set. Moreover, your attention to detail in the brief helps you spot potential workers who really aren’t suited to this particular project. And, when you find workers suited to your project, you will spend less time training them.

You definitely want a freelancer or virtual assistant who is reliable and trustworthy, so check references very carefully. One of the ways I recommended freelancers in the past, when I was mentioned as a reference, was to tell the person checking that, yes, I would hire the person again. To me, that is the best recommendation I can give – it means I would trust my business to this person – again. Next, give your new assistant a small, less important task to start with, and evaluate from that. If you like their work, you can give them larger, more important tasks until you have built a good working relationship.

Of course, price will always be a key deciding factor. But a low price doesn’t always guarantee low cost. In my experience, many times, the cheapest worker takes more time to complete the task, which will cost you more than a higher priced worker who needs less time for the same work – which also affects your project timeline. To maintain your proper profit margin, as you plan your project, establish a budget for your freelance or virtual assistance help and hold to it. This has always worked well for me.

Where are Virtual Assistants and Freelancers?

The Internet puts you in touch with the worldwide workforce and there is no shortage of places to look for help. The social media, Facebook and Twitter are good places to start. Then, make an announcement on LinkedIn, or use their groups. LinkedIn is a great site to use because it’s designed for professional networking.

And there are also sites specifically designed for finding freelance and virtual assistant workers: ELance, Guru, and Freelancer. You can post jobs on these sites and VA’s will respond. Also consider posting an ad on Craigslist if you want someone more local.

Finally, there are actually websites for Virtual Assistant services, and you can negotiate and contract with the workers directly through them. One of the nice features of sites such as these is that many times they also facilitate payments – especially convenient when dealing with out of country workers and different currencies… you pay in your currency, they get paid in theirs.

When is the Right Time for a Virtual Assistant or Freelancer?

Adding Virtual Assistant or Freelance help is a big step for any business. You may not want to wait until your business is making a profit and you’ve got the funds to spare, it may be better for you to get the help sooner and get the cash flow started. Your own business plan will tell you when outside help will be most beneficial. And the sooner you can shed routine tasks to your Virtual Assistants or Freelancers, the sooner you have the freedom to grow your business and spend more time with your family.

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