To Hire Or Not To Hire A Virtual Assistant

So, you recently read The 4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss and you've decided you need a virtual assistant immediately. The number of entrepreneurs and independent contractors is increasing at a feverish pace. An unfortunate byproduct is a reduced need for a traditional secretary or office administrator. The new crop of business owners has demanded competitive solutions for daily business tasks. Thousands of companies emerged in the Philippines, India and other growing BPO destinations practically overnight that offered administrative support on a temporary or permanent basis. The benefits of using a virtual assistant are well defined: continuous access/support, efficiency and competitive pricing rates devoid of taxes, benefits, et cetera.

However, common misconceptions and undefined daily business challenges can mislead you to hiring a virtual assistant in lieu of an alternative workforce solution that will provide greater value and ROI. With proper analysis, you can define the best workforce solution for your business and you can focus on the 20% portion of the 80/20 principle (80% of your productivity comes from 20% of your time) trademarked by Timothy Ferriss. Answer this quick questionnaire to determine if acquiring a virtual assistant is the best solution for you:

1) How defined will your virtual assistant's daily activities be?

Early success as an entrepreneur hinges on your ability to define and delegate specific tasks to trusted employees that will execute your instructions consistently. Remember, communication and culture can present formidable challenges when you are managing employees located in foreign countries. Are you able to clearly and precisely define the processes you need your virtual employee to perform?

Examples of clearly defined tasks:

General upkeep of contact database (adding contacts, information verification, etc), calendar organization (setting meetings, updating itineraries, etc), travel arrangements (planning trips, making reservations, etc)

Examples of commonly undefined tasks:

Fielding sales inquiries, providing training or instruction to other employees, purchasing or installing complex software or programs (Salesforce, Highrise, etc)

2) Are there clearly defined metrics associated with each task assigned to your virtual assistant?

All employees within a company or organization must be held to certain standards. Defining and installing metrics for each employee to gauge individual performance is a vital component of any successful business. Despite their off-site location, virtual assistants must have metrics by which to track their progress and performance results.

Good uses of metrics:

Number of contacts updated/added/removed from database on a daily basis, projects completed monthly, response time to web related research

Poor uses of metrics:

Vague tracking methods such as tasks accomplished per day, grouping different projects together under one metric (ex. things accomplished), using general efficiency measurements for all types of tasks (ex. time of task, start to finish)

3) How autonomous can your virtual assistant be?

In theory, your virtual assistant should increase your personal efficiency and ability to focus on the core parts of your business. However, training and instructing your assistant extensively on a daily basis can be counterintuitive. It's important that you are able to define and plan projects for your virtual assistant that they can plan and complete autonomously.

Examples of autonomous projects:

Accumulating and organizing expense data, installation of billing protocol/procedures (sending invoices, determining missing payments, etc), research projects (determine costs of switching from one vendor to another for office supplies)

Projects that require too much guidance or supervision:

Making sales calls, writing training documents (requires skills they might not possess), complicated financial reports (tax info, product upgrades, employment forms)

Summary

A virtual assistant can be a tremendous resource when used effectively. If you are able to answer the prior questions truthfully and your results reflect the need for a virtual assistant, then explore possible providers and choose an assistant that best reflects your needs. However, many of your needs might require alternative solutions like freelancing, in-house employees or specialized outsourcing firms. Examples of good uses of alternative workforce solutions:

Crowdsourcing:

Project: Creating and adding new content to your blog

- Utilize solutions like oDesk and Elance to obtain an experienced blogger that will consistently create great content for your blog

- Payment: dollars per word could be most effective as you are unable to closely monitor hourly work

- Competitive freelance marketplace presents many viable options with extensive experience in this particular field

Outsourcing:

Project: Updating, organizing and verifying your sales database

- Payment: typically hourly or per project

- Many outsourcing firms have specializations that make them perfect fits for projects that require experience or specialized knowledge

- Outsourcing firms are constantly refining their management and workflow systems to allow them to complete projects efficiently and quickly

All work should be completed intelligently and with a specific purpose. Your ability to choose and effectively use the right workforce resources will determine the success and scalability of your business. Remember, work contributed by your employees will only be as good as the depth of thought, consideration and instruction you provide as a leader.

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Michael Buenaventura

August 09, 2012