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How to hire a virtual assistant

In this post, I talk about how to hire a virtual assistant (how to hire a VA) to get unstuck and unleash your potential as an MSP owner.

My initial intent was to focus exclusively on virtual assistants, but as we worked on this, I realized that the ideas work for anybody, whether virtual or live and in-person. Or whether you are hiring a personal virtual assistant for you or a virtual assistant who can help you solve specific problems in your business.

One thing we have all learned from the pandemic is that we can all work virtually.

Our business is already spread out around the country, and now that we have virtual assistants in El Salvador, we are an international firm!

But whether in El Salvador or down the street – the conditions for success when you hire somebody remain the same.

So let’s go through those conditions.

In this post I go through why you should hire anybody anyway, and pose the true underlying question: do you want to do more with less? Because if you don’t well, you don’t need an assistant. I talk a bit about building the machine, but the focus is on your maximum leverage activities and working through those, and identifying when you should consider hiring an assistant.

If you are ready to go forward, I digress into monkeys and MSP owners then go through the three key focus areas:

  1. How to identify your maximum leverage activities so that you can outsource the rest.
  2. Make them a part of your team, delegate don’t abdicate (including the four stages of delegation and a note on SOPs)
  3. Work with someone you can trust.

Going through this post will help you create the conditions for successfully hiring a virtual assistant (or assistant, or anybody really), I welcome your feedback.

So let’s get started with:

Why hire anybody, let alone hire a virtual assistant, anyway?

The truth is you don’t need to hire anybody. There is no need if you are happy doing what you do, have enough time to live your life, and achieve your impact, freedom, and wealth goals.

However, if you would like to:

  • scale your business,
  • create more time for yourself,
  • earn more money and
  • have a more significant impact,

than what you have and do now, then you are going to need some help.

The fact is, we hear from MSP owners all the time that they feel strapped, overwhelmed, and tired; if that is you, then hiring an assistant could be key to unlocking your potential.

So the question is: do you want more with less?

What most MSP owners do when they want more from their business is double down and work harder.

The problem is that working harder isn’t the solution and hiring someone to work harder with you leaves everyone tired and frustrated.

Working harder is not an effective way to grow your business. If you are spinning through the MSP ownership spin cycle, going back and forth between overhead and doing, then hiring people to help you work harder at spinning faster won’t help you grow.

Working hard is a Sysifisian task: rolling a boulder up a hill so that tomorrow you can roll it back up the mountain all over again.

If you hire somebody with the idea of working harder, if you find an assistant whose job is to help you work harder, then you’re both just struggling to roll that boulder up a hill.

It is still just a boulder going up a hill, it isn’t scalable, and it isn’t growing your business or making it more manageable. You do the same work; you aren’t leveraging your skills and not creating a competitive advantage.

So the first thing to think about when you’re hiring an assistant is creating that machine. You have a choice, be stuck in the spin cycle or build a machine.

Remember, a machine consists of several parts that come together to perform a particular task repeatedly.

That task is your signature program – the “product” you deliver that solves a problem for your target customer (avatar).

Creating the machine allows you to reduce work in two ways:

  • through repetition, you reduce the amount of work there is to do.
  • you delegate and outsource more work.
where should you spend your time

The trick is you only get these benefits if you create a business machine and focus your work on your Maximum Leverage Activities.

As you create your machine, you should spend time in three areas:

  • Doing the work of your business, which should take about 70% of the business’s time.
  • Delegating work and making decisions for about 20% of the time and
  • Designing the business about 10% of the time.

Use total business hours: if you have 10 people working 40 hours a week, 40 hours go to design – design is a full-time job in that case. You are better off with a team working on design, so you will take on some delegating, deciding, and doing work too.

maximum leverage activities

Your focus, when you do work, is that work where you have a natural advantage.

The idea goes back to Adam Smith and the wealth of nations: if everybody focuses on the work they do best, everyone is better off. If you enjoy an activity and do it efficiently, you will have a natural advantage in that area. These activities are where is where you will add value beyond what other people can do.

You must also focus on business design since you are the MSP owner and the business leader.

The combination of business design, essential delegation and decision-making, and the activities you enjoy doing and do well are your maximum leverage activities.

maximum leverage activities

Everything else, you should find a way to delegate, to a virtual assistant, for example.

Remember, too, to think about your Queen Bee Resource – your work and that of your team should align to your Queen Bee Resource.

“If you don’t have an assistant, you are one,”

Jack Daly

You are either focusing on your maximum leverage activities or on activities that are taking time but not yielding any results.

I worked with an accountant once who spent most of his day on email and transactional phone calls. He answered emails right away, but by the time he looked up, the day was gone. It was suddenly four o’clock, and that is when he had to start his accounting work.

If you’re an accountant, your value comes from doing the accounting work, training other people to do the accounting, delegating the accounting work, and designing an organization to do the work more efficiently.

It is not in answering emails. That’s just a fact.

So, if you don’t have an assistant, you are one.

When you should consider hiring a virtual assistant

There are three criteria for when you should consider hiring a virtual assistant:

  1. You have repeatable work (which I am sure you have already
  2. You can define a role for your assistant to take on.
  3. You’re ready to commit to managing someone and having them be a part of the team.

The biggest mistake I see with people hiring assistants is in the third criterion: they don’t treat them as a part of the team. That doesn’t work.

If you have a role for your assistant and you treat them as a part of the team. The experience t can be very successful. If you’re not ready to go that step, don’t do it. Don’t just hire somebody in the Philippines for three bucks an hour because you can.

That’s not going to solve your problem.

So if you are ready, let’s talk about how to prepare yourself and hire an assistant.

As I went through all of this, I realized that this content is not just for hiring an assistant; it is for hiring anybody. But an assistant is a great place to start.

There are three essentials to hiring a virtual assistant, an assistant, or someone your will delegate work to:

  1. Define the work (expectations)
  2. Make them a part of your team through delegation, not an abdication
  3. Find someone you can trust.

I go through these below.

A quick sidebar to talk about monkeys

Before we go any further, I’d like to tell you a quick story.

It highlights an issue that I see MSP owners, solopreneurs, and freelancers confront daily, especially the smart ones. And it is the reluctance to delegate because of a belief that “I can do it better” or “It’s just too hard to explain.”

My example is of a monkey or chimpanzee. The way to catch a monkey is to put a banana in an immovable box. The box has a hole just big enough for the monkey’s hand in its side. The monkey reaches inside for the banana, grabs it, and can’t remove its hand without letting go of the banana. It will stay there, holding on to the banana until the trapper gathers it up, never letting go of the banana.

MSP owners are the same way. We may achieve amazing things if we let go, but letting go is hard; it feels like we are risking something.

But the greater risk is holding on too tightly, thereby missing opportunities (or being caught by the trapper).

So: practice letting go.

Okay, great, Jeff. Thank you very much. I understand I have to let go, but really, what do I give an assistant to do?

For this, we come back to those maximum leverage activities. Those are the things that you do and don’t hand off to someone else.

Part one: how to identify your maximum leverage activities and outsource the rest.

First, start with a list of everything that you do. Look at the week or last two weeks and write a list of all your work – each activity. Then, categorize them: reading an email from your spouse and reading an email from your business partner is still just reading emails.

Also, capture the amount of time (roughly) you spend on each activity.

And, yes, I do know exactly how painful this exercise is. But I also know that it can be incredibly revealing (and, by the way, good VAs can help you with this too).

Next, start filling in the delegation matrix by identifying the work you:

  • dislike and do inefficiently,
  • dislike and do efficiently.
  • like but do inefficiently and
  • like and do efficiently.

Now, anything in the dislike and inefficient category you send off immediately to an assistant. This is part one of their job.

Next, ask yourself: do you need more time or more pleasure from your work.

If you want to spend less time in your business or need more time for you, then add the like but inefficient category to the job description. If you need more joy, add the don’t like but efficient activities to the list.

Keep for yourself the things that you like and do efficiently. These are maximum leverage activities, and you can hold on to them for now.

In the future, as you grow, you will want to come back to this exercise and do it again.

So even though your focus today narrows to the work you like and do efficiently, you may find opportunities to parse that work and focus even more narrowly.

The critical point is to always come back to what you like and do well, hand the rest off to someone else.

Now we move into part two, make them a part of your team, delegate don’t abdicate.

Remember, you are creating a team here. You’re not hiring somebody who exists on the sidelines.

In this section, I’ll talk about the four stages of delegation and how to be more effective at delegating and then give you a tip for Standard Operating Procedures since this becomes key to the process.

The four stages of delegation

Delegation is vital for hiring an assistant. For many solopreneurs, freelancers, and MSP owners, hiring a virtual assistant is the first time they think about delegating in their own business.

The problem with delegation is, we don’t do it very well, especially at the beginning. We hold on to a lot of the work, like a monkey who won’t let go of the banana, rather than assign more of it to the person we are hiring.

Alternatively, we hand everything over, run away (or go to sleep), and hope for the best. That also doesn’t work.

When you hire your virtual assistant, you will need to think through all four phases of delegation. And they are:

Stage one: assign tasks, but you keep all the decision-making for yourself.

Everybody starts at this phase; it is where you tell people what to do. You assign tasks; they do it, then they come back to you for more.

The problem with this is that you have to do all of the thinking. You are still doing 80-90% of the work, and the faster, more efficient your assistant delivers, the more you have to think up things for them to do.

It is where you start, but if you stay here, you end up mired in micromanagement which is terrible for you and bad for them.

Stage two: you assign the responsibility for decisions but not results.

Now they can make some decisions around what they have to do, but they’re not responsible for the results of the decisions; you still own those.

For example, I write but turn page creation over to others. In stage one, I give them the template, the words, and all of the guidance. They do.

In stage two, they decide what the page looks like but come back to me for approval to make sure it looks right. If you get stuck at this stage, it always feels to your assistant like they are guessing at what you want.

The challenge for you is providing clarity around what you need and want.

Stage three: they own the decisions and the results.

In this case, you back away from even the results. At this stage, your assistant manages your calendar with almost no input from you whatsoever. Emails arrive, your assistant answers them, takes necessary actions, and tells you what you need to know.

Or, if they create pages for you, they create them and design them without you ever being involved.

You want to get to this third stage of delegation with your assistant. At this stage, their work effectively reduces your load, they can self-manage tasks, and you can focus on the outcomes.

Stage four: They own the outcome

Stage four is the highest level of delegation, where you assign the work to someone, that person executes, and they report back on the outcome.

At this level, if they are designing the page, the conversation you have with them is conversion rates or SEO results, and they are focused on doing the work to get acceptable conversion rates or the right SEO results.

Your virtual assistant may or may not work at this level. But whether they do or not, it will take a while to get here because it requires a high level of training, commitment, and team cohesion.

Your conversation is about what they need to get from a 15% to 20% conversion rate.

The mistake is in staying at level 1 or jumping too quickly to level 4

Level one delegation does not save enough of your time or work, sure your VA will do work, but they are not doing enough to reduce your workload. Unfortunately, there is still too much management involved.

Moving to level 4 requires training and cohesion. The more highly experienced and trained your assistant is, the more they can take on.

Cohesion is another aspect. A highly cohesive company or team understands clear the objectives, the mission, and the vision of your business. High cohesion (mission, vision, strategy, values) makes more elevated levels of delegation possible.

Stages and effort
How to hire a virtual assistant

How to make your virtual assistant a part of your team and move them through the stages of delegation.

We have found some critical aspects to working with your VA that will help you move through the stages of delegation and effectively make your assistant a part of your team.

Regular communication, schedule 15-20 minutes at least to work with your VA. When I first hired a VA, and it didn’t work for me, I hid. I didn’t know what to do. Don’t do that.

Give feedback; that is how they (and you) learn.

Make sure that they have the right tools.

Train them, make sure they know what they’re doing, share your mission and vision, engage them in the conversation.

Create a shared space for instructions and SOPs. Creating SOPs and instructions is key to ensuring they know what to do and are aligned with your goals.

Define what you want from your virtual assistant and interview for skills and a culture fit. They are part of the team, which means that they fit with the culture of the company, the culture that you want to create. So make sure from the beginning that they will fit.

A note on Standard Operating Procedures

Standard operating procedures are essential, but creating a big book of standard operating procedures written in stone is about as helpful as cement blocks on your feet when trying to swim.

Worse, creating SOPs can suck up all of your time, and they may not even understand them. There is a simple solution (taught to me by a VA!)

Step one: Explain the process to your assistant so that they understand what it is you expect.

Step two: have them do the process while they’re recording. Loom is great for this, but there are lots of screen recorders out there.

Step three: If the result is correct, the SOP is complete. You’ve completed the SOP and done the work at the same time.

Step four: If the outcome is wrong, give feedback and repeat the process.

This is a very effective way to define SOPs while getting work done, and by having your VA create and update SOPs, you don’t have to dedicate your time to this tedious task.

Now, we move on to part three.

Hire a virtual assistant you can trust.

One of the issues that I’ve found in finding assistants through Upwork or finding people through apps is finding people I can trust.

They could be perfectly trustworthy, but it feels hard to trust an individual in Timbukwherever, whom I have never met.

We don’t know each other well enough, and they don’t have any organizational support.

This is why we have put together our own VA program. We manage that organizational support for you, we train, manage and build trust with you and yoru VA.

And here is why trust is so important:

Your assistant will

  • become a part of your business
  • have access to personal information
  • will represent you to others

and the more confidence you have, the more effectively you can delegate and make them a part of your team.

Build that trusting relationship. Consider them a part of your team, and find quality people who will work with you for you to become a part of your business.

Next Steps finding people and building the machine

This is the part of the post where we would typically give you the next steps to hire your virtual assistant.

What we have discovered, and what our clients have found, is that having a great partner to help you with hiring virtual assistants is invaluable.

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