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Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Art of Delegating Tasks to a Virtual Assistant

Written by: Celine Roque

“It’s all hype. Trust me, I gave it a shot. I worked with a virtual assistant and it was a complete waste of time. Wouldn’t do it again.”

This is what a friend of mine said when I was thinking about hiring a virtual assistant (VA) almost a year ago. Until I tried it myself, I didn’t realize that a great working relationship with a VA goes both ways. While they have to be efficient at executing your instructions, you also need to be good at the art of delegating if you want to make the most out of their services.

How exactly do you become good at getting the most out of your VA, thus freeing up much more of your own valuable time?

Get a VA that you trust 100%. Lack of trust is a sure way to waste your money. Not because the person you hire is going to scam you, but you’ll be spending an awful amount of time worrying about it. I’m talking about the time that the VA is supposed to free up on your schedule so you can work on other projects. If you’re going to spend the same time worrying about the tasks you delegated, then there’s no point to hiring a VA. Here are some ways you can find someone you can trust to work with:
•Ask your friends and associates for referrals.
•Do a thorough background check (if you’re hiring an individual).
•Look for online reviews of the service (if you’re hiring a company or team).
•At the very least, have a couple of phone or VoIP conversations with your potential assistants before you hire them.
Be specific about your instructions. “I find myself asking a lot of questions for clients if they send me general instructions. The more specific the instructions, the better the quality of the output.” said Ella Pelayo of epVirtualAssistants. Many VAs I’ve talked to echo this statement. You’ll be wasting both your own time, as well as your assistant’s, if your instructions require more clarification.

Generic instructions such as “check my email” or “research this topic” might give you results that are different from what you expected, so it’s best to include step by step instructions, as well as a few sentences describing the expected output. In a recent webinar, outsourcing expert Jeff Mills said that he even uses Jing, a free screencasting tool, to show VAs and contractors how to do more complex tasks. This is a useful suggestion, especially if the task is more complex than you can put into words.

Also, don’t forget to point out the maximum amount of time your VA needs to complete each task. This is especially important if you’re paying by the hour. Ask your VA to repeat your instructions to you, paraphrased, just to confirm that he understood the task.

Prepare a manual for repetitive or long-term tasks. When I first hired a VA to do customer support, I provided her with an FAQ document, as well as some email templates. The FAQ document dealt with any possible questions the VA might ask herself when encountering a complex customer support situation. Here are some of the questions I answered in the document:

•What do I do if the customer is not satisfied with the service?
•What do I do if a customer is asking for a service that we do not provide?
•What happens if the customer doesn’t send the needed deliverables on time?
Alternatively, you can provide a comprehensive guide or manual that your VA can use when tackling these problems. This kind of document establishes the rules and guidelines she should follow. The point is to give an easy reference so that the VA can handle as many problems as she can without having to ask you.
Know the special skills and abilities of each VA you hire. Many VAs are generalists and can do a variety of tasks such as booking flights, setting reminders, or providing customer support. But there are some specialized tasks which you may need assistance in, so it’s important that you know your VA can handle these tasks. After all, you don’t want to spend hours writing up detailed directions – that would be contrary to the simplicity you’re trying to achieve.

Hiring an assistant, especially a virtual one, might seem like a risky or expensive move for a web worker. But if you plan for it well and learn how to delegate effectively, you won’t have to worry too much about wasting your time or your money.

Do you work with virtual assistants? Were they as helpful as you expected them to be? How do you make the client-assistant relationship as effective as possible?


Stella said...

Selecting a VA is really a crucial job and really needs a special attention to avoid any of such experiences.

Logan said...

Your summaries are always top-notch. Thanks for keeping us apprised. I’m reading every word here. Virtual Office

Dixie said...

It is much harder to develop that great working relationship in the virtual world. There is no face-to-face interaction so both parties must be willing to explain their thoughts in greater detail. As a client, you must be willing to let go and allow your VA to take on some of the daily tasks. In a different environment I had a difficult time delegating not realizing that I was hindering myself. Trying to do everything yourself is one reason why a number of small businesses fail. Be willing to let someone else handle somethings so you can focus on building your business.

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