Virtual assistant: your secret weapon to scaling your business
After almost five years, I recently reached an exciting, but scary stage in my content production business—the scaling stage. My scaling strategy involves building out a comprehensive marketing education portal. That’s the exciting part. The scary part—I can’t get to it because I’m so strapped for time. What’s sucking up my time? Locking down meetings, formatting things in WordPress, scheduling and chasing contracts. I sometimes spend _four hours a day_ getting organized. This type of work is important, but it’s a time sink that’s costing me the opportunity to scale my business, an opportunity that I believe could mean big growth for me. I could do it all, if I brought on a full-time hire. Unfortunately I’m not ready for that. But, as I learned from friend and fellow entrepreneur Julia Cox Tunstall, there is another way. Her secret weapon for scaling her business is a virtual assistant (VA). Julia has been working with VAs for more than five years to help with her projects—most recently, to help manage A Bar Above, a mixology and cocktail education portal. I have long wondered about whether a VA could really help me. Would they really save me time? Would they be reliable? I recently asked Julia these and other questions to discover how she has managed to grow with the help of VAs. Here’s how our conversation went: **Ritika: What is your experience with virtual assistants?** **Julia: **I’ve used virtual assistants for a couple of years, across all of my businesses. We have virtual help for our real estate investment company and for both of our online businesses—one focused on bartender training and the other intended to help entrepreneurs find and connect to each other online. **Ritika: How have virtual assistants been important to your business?** **Julia: **Having virtual assistants made all the difference in the world for our businesses. It was the single change we made that resulted in allowing us to stop “treading water” and start building and growing our business. **Ritika: How has the experience been? What have been the challenges. What has surprised you?** **Julia: **We have hired five different VAs over the years and learned a lot in the experience. I was quickly persuaded by Tim Ferriss’s_ __4-Hour Workweek _that a VA was the silver bullet we needed, so we hired our first VA in 2010. It was a disaster that taught us these key lessons:
- If you don’t have the time to document your processes before you hire your VA, you won’t have the time to adequately train them.
- Without established, recurring processes that you can delegate, keeping a VA busy for even an hour a day can be a lot of work. If you want help every once in a while, hire on a flexible hourly contract.
- _Hire the right kind of VA for the position._ If you’re looking for help with personal tasks every once in a while, I’d recommend sticking with a domestic company that charges by the task. They are more likely to understand your needs and won’t result in you stressing about “keeping your VA busy.” If you have a long-term need for support with recurring tasks that you can fully document, then dedicated help may be a better option.
- _Be committed. _If you’re looking to hire a long-term team member, know that effective delegation takes practice. I strongly recommend hiring hourly help on a site like Elance.com, Freelance.com, or oDesk.com to start. Document as you delegate and use this as a way to get better at giving effective and actionable instructions. ****
- _Use a task manager. _Relying on email is a very difficult way to keep track of all of the different things you may be trying to delegate. We use Asana.com as our task manager and document the details of the tasks right in the tasks themselves. ****
- _Build a team. _If you’d like your VA to be a part of your team for the long-term, let them know it. There are many ways you can show a teammate that they are valuable to you. Ask them to spend a small part of their week learning about your industry, and make it clear that this is because you value their input and want them to have a solid understanding of what you do. They will notice that you are investing in them, and are more likely to take ownership of their role and stick around.****
- _Keep an open mind. _Last but arguably the most important: know that you have just as much to learn as the VA does. Hiring is the best way to learn to be a better communicator, a better system designer, and a better trainer. Did your VA do the task wrong? Your first thought should be “How could I have given better instructions?”—not criticizing the VA (even to yourself!) You have a lot to learn, and that’s okay!
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