Growing your business is exciting. Your hard work has paid off, and it’s finally time to work on the next steps in your overall strategy. 

But business growth also means that there’s more work to go around. You want to focus on the big picture, but you need to handle the increased demands of your day-to-day operations.

Have you ever gotten to the end of a demanding week and realized that you didn’t finish anything you wanted to accomplish? Instead of negotiating partnerships or analyzing your sales funnel, you spent the whole week processing orders and putting out fires.

Growth means there’s more work to go around, but it doesn’t always mean it’s a smart time to hire.

Hiring another team member isn’t always the right answer. Spending that revenue on payroll means you have less capital you can use to grow in other areas. Plus, it’s hard to find a jack-of-all-trades that can fill in all your gaps.

Hiring virtual assistants is a smart solution. Virtual assistants can pick up the slack without eating up too much of your budget. But first, you need to learn how to hire virtual assistants.

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What is a virtual assistant?

A virtual assistant (VA) is an off-site contractor who completes a wide range of tasks for your business. When you hire virtual assistants, they handle everything you’d expect from an office assistant, and many have more specialized skills like content writing or customer service. 

Businesses use virtual assistants to fill in gaps. You don’t need a full-time receptionist, office administrator, or personal assistant. Delegating work to the VA is more efficient and cost-effective. 

Most of the time, virtual assistants are contractors. They are not considered employees of your business. You don’t have to withhold taxes, provide equipment, or handle human resources for them.

Use virtual assistants to fill in gaps.

Since they’re not employees, it’s okay if the workload is inconsistent since they can be hired on an hourly or a per-project basis. If your tasks tend to cluster at the end of the month, delegate work to your virtual assistant when and how you need to.

Why hire a virtual assistant?

Infographic: Why you should hire a virtual assistant

The more your business grows, the more valuable your time becomes.

You can’t pack more hours into a day. It’s crucial to spend your time wisely and finish the things that only you can do. Delegate everything else and focus on your highest priorities.

A virtual assistant can help you do that.

Reasons you might consider hiring a VA

  • You need another person on the team, but you can’t afford a full-time hire yet
  • You need help with specific tasks, but there’s not enough work to justify a full-time hire
  • There’s not enough time to focus on your top priorities
  • Your workload is too stressful
  • Local candidates don’t have the skills you need
  • Though you need an administrative assistant, you don’t have office space for them

Your virtual assistant can be a temporary fix or a long-term partnership, depending on the type of work you need them to do.

A great virtual assistant helps you get more done with less investment.

Some companies hire multiple VAs to handle different types of work. You might have a personal assistant who helps keep you organized, plus someone who specializes in social media management to help your marketing team.

Benefits of hiring a VA

  • Save money: VAs usually operate as independent contractors. You aren’t responsible for a contractor’s payroll taxes or benefits. Save money by hiring someone based overseas who charges less than US-based VAs.
  • Gain access to a broader pool of talent: Hiring virtually gives you access to a wider talent pool. You’re not limited to local applicants.
  • Prevent burnout: If you’re one of those entrepreneurs who want to do everything themselves, you risk burning out and harming your health. A virtual assistant reduces your workload and decreases stress. With a manageable workload, you’re less likely to burn out.
  • Save on office space: If you work from home, hiring a virtual assistant means you don’t have to rent office space. If you do have an office, you’ll save money on supplies.
  • Address your skill gaps: You can’t be good at everything. Hire a virtual assistant that has the skills you don’t. They’ll get better results in less time.
  • Focus on growing your business: Entrepreneurs can spend too much time working in their business instead of on their business. If that sounds like you, you should consider hiring a virtual assistant to handle day-to-day tasks. Focus on growing your business.
  • Have more time for yourself: While growing your business is important, it shouldn’t come at the expense of your health or personal relationships. Virtual assistants reduce your workload, so you can spend more time on other things that matter to you. Spend more time with family. Give yourself space to recharge.
  • Around-the-clock availability: Wouldn’t you like to wake up and find that your work is already done? Hire an international VA and your business will keep operating while you sleep. They also work during holidays. There’s always someone to help if customers have issues or if there’s an emergency.

How to hire a virtual assistant

A virtual assistant can be a contractor or a part-time employee. In most cases, it makes sense to hire on a contract or freelance basis so that you assign work as needed.

Hiring contractors is a similar process to hiring employees. The exception is with virtual assistant agencies. If you work with an agency, it’s more like subscribing to a helpful software service — you pay an hourly or monthly fee, and they provide whatever you need.

There are a few nuances when hiring a virtual assistant through a freelance marketplace or job board. Here’s how to do it right.

1. Document the tasks and processes you want to outsource

Make a list of all the tasks and processes you might want to delegate. It’s okay if that’s a long list.

Now, consider this: if your virtual assistant needs you to walk them through each one of those tasks, are you actually saving time and labor?

Documenting processes is a good idea even if you’re not planning to hire a virtual assistant. Those guides are valuable to help you train new employees and keep your current team consistent.

Start with the highest priority tasks. Write down each step that has to be completed before you consider the project done.

It’s a good idea to test your documentation before handing it over to a new virtual assistant. Try it yourself or give it to a member of your team to use as a checklist while they work. If you missed anything, it will be obvious when you’re actually doing the job.

2. Create a virtual assistant job posting

Unless you hire an assistant from a referral or an agency, create a job posting. Create a short virtual assistant job description, then post it online. You can use versions of the same posting for job boards and freelance marketplace websites.  

Cover all of these points in your posting.

  • Company overview: Talk about your company size, industry, and the products or services you offer.  
  • Position summary: Briefly describe the virtual assistant services you need and the responsibilities of this role. Clarify your expectations so candidates know what to expect.
  • Job requirements: List requirements like previous VA experience, education level, or time zone restrictions.
  • Pay range: Be clear that this is a contractor position. You’ll receive more qualified applications and filter out people who aren’t a good fit if you mention the hourly rates you’re willing to pay. 

Effective job postings are detailed and clear. People should be able to tell whether or not they qualify. Give them enough information to decide if they want the job and how likely they are to be a good fit.

Share your job posting on LinkedIn and in any business-related social media groups in which you’re active. Your network may come through with a great referral.

3. Review applications

Reviewing applications is tedious, but it must be done. Doing this by yourself will remind you why you wanted a virtual assistant in the first place.

Since a virtual assistant is a detail-oriented position, look for attention to detail in the application. Good candidates are thorough. They fill out every part of the application and check for errors before submitting it.

Pay special attention to candidates with experience in your specific industry. While a lack of industry experience doesn’t mean a candidate would be a bad fit for the position, having experience in your industry is a big plus.

Top applicants should have at least two references. If they applied through a freelance marketplace, you can see those references on their profile page.

Narrow down the pool of applicants to about five people who look like good candidates, then start interviews.

4. Schedule interviews

Once you’ve narrowed down the pool of applicants, schedule interviews. Video interviews are best, but a phone interview is a good backup plan.

Read each candidate’s resumé thoroughly before the interview. Don’t waste time asking candidates to repeat information already in their resumé. Instead, use the interview to ask for more details.

It’s easier to compare candidates if you ask similar questions in each interview. Keep a list of questions that you always want to ask, like:

  • What are your core skills? 
  • How do you avoid errors when you do routine tasks like preparing reports?
  • How do you keep yourself motivated when doing repetitive administrative tasks?
  • Have you worked with a client that had a hard time telling you what they wanted? How did you deal with them? 
  • How do you prioritize personal tasks when you don’t have specific deadlines assigned?

Great candidates have questions for you, too. They want to know what it will be like to work with you. Give them enough time to ask what they want to know.

Remember — while you’re interviewing a candidate, they’re interviewing you. Tell candidates what their core duties and responsibilities will be so they can decide if they’re the right fit for this job.

5. Test top candidates with a trial project

You can skip this step if you plan to use your virtual assistant only for routine tasks like data entry.

But if you need someone with more advanced skills, a test project is a great way to help you make the final choice. It’s a great way to assess skills and learn how they handle deadlines.

Assign a test project that is either actual work or is very similar to something you’d normally assign as real work. For example, if you need your virtual assistant to answer customer service tickets, you can give them a sample of 5 questions you already addressed to see how they would respond.

Read more about hiring remotely and assigning test projects in our guide here.

Trial projects are not a way for you to get free work from job seekers.

Pay for all the real work that people do for you. If you use a hypothetical project, it should be something that the candidate can finish quickly. Respect their time and effort.

6. Offer your contractor an agreement

Some virtual assistant service providers have standard contracts. Make sure you read those thoroughly. You should both be able to step away without consequences.

Most virtual assistant agencies have a standardized agreement that they’re not willing to alter. If you don’t like the agency’s terms, your best option is to find a different agency or hire a contractor yourself.

For companies that deal with sensitive data, it might be worthwhile to ask your virtual assistant to sign a nondisclosure agreement.

Whether you use their contract or yours, make sure you set the right expectations.

Define what success looks like. Your virtual assistant should know what you want them to do. Check in with them regularly during their first 90 days to answer questions and give honest feedback. This will help them get to know you and do a better job.

7. Build a relationship with your new virtual assistant

Once you’ve hired a virtual assistant, help them feel comfortable working with you. Since they will handle a lot of personal work for you, it’s worthwhile to invest in that relationship.

Stay in touch. Ask for their opinions. Whenever it makes sense, leverage their experience and knowledge to help you make decisions. They’ll see that you respect and value them.

It might make sense to invite your virtual assistant to attend some meetings. For example, if you have a meeting with your team to discuss a big project and you know you’ll want your VA to handle some of those tasks, include them in the conversation. They’ll have more context and feel like part of the team.

How much does a virtual assistant cost?

Virtual assistant rates can vary greatly depending on the type of work, the VA’s experience level, location, and how long you plan to work together.

Skills and experience cost more. If you need specialized skills, expect to pay a specialized rate.

Some assistants prefer to charge a monthly retainer. This usually includes a certain amount of time and limits on the types of tasks they perform for you at that rate.

Whether you pay monthly or hourly, it’s still about the same amount for the same work.

Here’s what to expect

  • Type of work: How much you’ll need to spend on a dedicated virtual assistant will depend on the type of tasks you want them to handle. If you only need your VA to keep an eye on your email inbox and do basic customer support, it might cost you anywhere from $5 to $25 per hour. More skill means a higher rate. For example, you can expect to pay at least $50 per hour for things like your marketing strategy. 
  • Experience level: The more experienced the virtual assistant, the more they’ll charge. It’s often worth the expense to find someone with lots of experience in businesses like yours because they’ll get more done in less time. The quality of the finished work should justify the higher rate. 
  • Location: Virtual assistants in more expensive areas charge more than those who live somewhere with a low cost of living, like the Philippines or India. Consider time zones, cultural differences, and language barriers when hiring freelance virtual assistants from another country. These things don’t matter for some assignments like accounting. But if you need them to communicate with clients or write social media posts, it matters.
  • Length of assignment: Just like software subscriptions, you’ll pay a little less if you commit to a long-term assignment. Expect to pay a premium for a short-term assignment that requires specialized skills.

Which tasks can a virtual assistant perform?

What can a virtual assistant do? Almost anything your business needs can become your virtual assistant’s job. 

The best tasks for virtual assistants are important for your business but require little or no strategy. In other words, they probably shouldn’t design your marketing plan, but they can monitor the performance of your Google ads.

If you want to get the most value, consider outsourcing these types of tasks. 

Office management is a common VA task. From ordering your team’s favorite coffee to printing shipping labels, those tedious tasks are easy to delegate.

Types of tasks to outsource

  • Bookkeeping: A virtual assistant is not an accountant, but they can make your financial management much easier. Delegate bookkeeping admin tasks like reconciling bank transactions and payments, tracking expenses, and creating budget reports. 
  • Content writing: Content is an important part of your business, but it’s also time-consuming to create. Save time by delegating product descriptions, press releases, and other writing work to your virtual assistant.
  • Data entry: Data entry is simple and tedious. You shouldn’t be wasting your own time on it. Your virtual assistant can collect and sort all your data and input it into whatever software you use. If you deal with sensitive customer data, ensure security protocols are in place, especially when using a customer data platform for e-commerce.
  • Hiring: The hiring process is a time-consuming process. If you need to outsource the whole process, work with a recruiter. They’ll help you with your strategy and narrow down your options to the best candidates. 
  • Email and schedule management: How long do you spend answering emails and phone calls every day? Studies show that most people spend 28% of their workweek reading and answering emails. That means that every week, you spend more than 11 hours on email alone. Let your virtual assistant handle calendar management and scheduling meetings.

Where to find a virtual assistant

It’s easy to find a good virtual assistant. Unfortunately, it’s also easy to find a bad one.

You can filter out a lot of unqualified candidates by looking in the right places.

Referrals are a great place to start. Ask your network for recommendations. Some of your peers probably use an assistant they really like.

If you don’t find someone through a referral, here are some reliable places to look.

Freelance marketplaces

Hubstaff Talent

Freelance marketplaces connect employers with people who do contract work. Choose a reputable platform like Upwork or Freelancer.com. These platforms have rigorous standards so that you only find reliable, properly vetted candidates.

You can find great virtual assistants on Hubstaff Talent. It’s our database of remote talent. We created it to help businesses find high-quality remote team members like virtual assistants, developers, and graphic designers. You can filter listings based on location, skills, and hourly rate.

When you search for a virtual assistant, use keywords and filters to find people who are most qualified to work with you. For example, if you run a dropshipping website, look for people who specialize in e-commerce.

Post your open position on a freelance marketplace to find virtual assistants who are actively looking for work.

Virtual assistant agencies

Delegated

Virtual assistant agencies like Delegated and Boldly are convenient and reliable. Instead of hiring an individual, you hire the agency and get access to their team of virtual assistants.

There are pros and cons to this type of arrangement.

An agency can handle a wider variety of tasks because they have multiple people to service your account.

On the other hand, you may not work with the same person consistently even if you want to. Agencies may charge more than a freelancer for similar work because they have more business expenses.

Job boards and job search engines

Indeed

Another way to find a virtual assistant is to post a job posting on a career site like Indeed or Monster.com.

Since these sites attract millions of job seekers every day, posting there gets you in front of a large pool of virtual assistants.

However, it also means that you’ll need to spend lots of time reviewing applications. 

If you plan to do your virtual assistant hiring on a contract basis, make sure that’s clear in your job description. People come to these boards looking for all kinds of assistant jobs. Be very clear about the estimated hours you expect and the type of working arrangement you offer.


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Next steps

Ready to hire a VA? Here’s what to do right now:

  • Determine what you need your VA to do: Do you need help with data entry, order processing, content writing, or something else? Write down all the tasks you’d like your virtual assistant to handle.
  • Start documenting your processes: With your task list in hand, pick the two or three that are most important to your business. Write down all of the steps that a person needs to complete to finish that task. This might take a while, but it’s important to be thorough and accurate.
  • Bookmark this post: There’s a lot to think about when you work with a virtual assistant for the first time. Come back to this article for reference.
  • Find a workforce management tool: Tools like Hubstaff can make managing a virtual assistant easy. With Hubstaff, for example, you can see detailed reports on how time is being spent, set up automated timesheets, and even track locations for field or mobile work. This can be especially beneficial if you’re managing multiple virtual assistants across different time zones, helping to streamline workflows and communication.

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This post was originally published in November 2015. It was updated in June 2023.

Category: Outsourcing