Maybe you don’t have the office space to accommodate another worker, or you work from home and need help with your growing business. Regardless of the reason, hiring a virtual assistant can be a great inexpensive option for entrepreneurs, who need a hand.
To find a virtual assistant (VA) you can try oDesk and Elance. Other companies known for access to good talent include Brickwork India and GetFriday. But before you sign on your first VA, note that even though this assistant is not there in person you still need to manage that person and your relationship wisely.
Here are the top seven tips for successfully managing a virtual assistant:
1. Cut them off after 30 minutes. Justin Palmer is founder and CEO of MedSaverCard, a discount prescription drug negotiator based in Orange, Calif., and hires virtual help on a regular basis. He recommends business owners giving VAs just 30 minutes worth of work at first.
Once the 30 minutes is up, Palmer will check in to see if the person is on the right track and correct any missteps. “That way, no time is wasted,” he says.
2. Don’t allow in-box clogging. There’s nothing more annoying than your e-mail in-box full of messages containing tiny questions from your VA. Ask your virtual assistant to save questions for your touch-base calls, recommends Erica Duran, productivity expert and certified professional organizer in Newport Beach, Calif.
3. Instant message constantly. If yoru virtual assistant doesn’t speak English well, try using instant messenger to communicate. Worried hackers will read your confidential conversations? Opt for a secured instant messenger program, suggests Michael Haaren, co-founder and CEO of Staffcentrix, a virtual training and development company in Annandale, Va.
Symantec and Apptix are two companies that provide secured IM services.
4. Keep your files in the cloud. Your virtual assistant quits before a project’s end, taking the files he or she was working on with them. Cue heart-racing panic.
Duran hears this story frequently from several of her entrepreneur friends and always gives them the same advice: only work in the cloud.
“As part of your contract, make your VA save all files to a service like DropBox [Google Drive is another good option],” she recommends. “That way, if your assistant takes off, at least you will have a copy of everything.”
5. Define your expectations precisely. Treat your VA like an in-person employee by providing them with a detailed job description, recommends Duran, adding that without direction, VAs “may end up trying it their own way,” which can turn out badly.
6. Fire quickly. It’s a buyers market out there for employers looking for VAs, so if your hire is unresponsive, give them the axe, recommends Laura Wilkinson Sinton, founder of Vox Advisory, a business consultancy in Marietta, Ga.
“If you are working with a VA company, you can ask for someone else,” she says. “It isn’t like you will run into this person at the supermarket and feel badly.”
7. Communicate every day. It can be easy to loose your connection with a VA, says Haaren. Stay on the same page by checking in daily, be it on Skype or e-mail.
“It doesn’t have to be a long conversation, just five or 10 minutes,” he notes. “Virtual teams tend to fragment if not tended to.”
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