Ever hear someone complain that they would hire a virtual assistant, but they have “nothing to outsource”? We’d beg to differ.
One key area in which we could all use a helping hand is in conducting research.
Consider the statistics. Business-to-business researchers won’t even contact a salesperson before they’ve done their homework, to the tune of 77%. 55% of us do product research on social media. And 78% of all Internet users do product research online.
No matter what business you’re in, good research is essential. This is true even if your Internet habits can best be described as “surfing.”
But if you run a small business, you know that research goes far beyond that. The quality of your research will help determine the quality of your marketing efforts, your ability to help clients, and the value of the content your company creates.
If you’ve run your own small business for a while, it’s tempting to think that no one knows how to conduct this research quite like you. After all, you’re the one who built your business. But there are two reasons you should rethink this attitude:
- You can always onboard a high-quality researcher and train them. Hiring a virtual assistant to help with research? If you believe your current research strategies are first-rate, then you can train them to take the research off your hands.
- You can hire a virtual assistant to fill in the blind spots in your research. Ever miss some important areas in your research? Hire a virtual assistant with direct experience and they’ll help you find the statistics, stories, and information that you always struggled to identify.
Using a virtual assistant to help with research is the best of both worlds: you can not only delegate an activity to save time, but in many cases, the quality of your research will improve as a result.
Let’s explore some why—and how—you can bring a VA on board to help with your research efforts:
Why You Need to Think About Outsourcing Some of Your Research
The ability to research, like anything else, is a skill. And it may not be a skill you possess in abundance.
If you consider yourself a good researcher, you can easily outsource the work you usually do by creating an onboarding document. This document can outline the steps you typically undertake to flesh out your research. Outsource these steps to a virtual assistant and your small business won’t miss a beat.
But if you think your research skills are lacking, there’s even better news. You can also incorporate your virtual assistant’s expertise. In addition to the research you normally would have done, a virtual assistant can bring their own skills to the table. They can tap into resources and tools you never knew existed.
By outsourcing a portion of your research, you can also expand on some processes that you don’t have time to handle yourself, including:
- Data entry. Some research, by its nature, is going to be dry. But it’s not as “dry” as you might think it is. Research shows that the quality of data entry depends on the skills of the person managing it.
- Investigative research. You don’t always have time to reach out and interview people. Or to enter a search into Google or Google Books to dig up old insights.
- Specialized research. Let’s say you run a legal firm. Is any old virtual assistant going to be able to step in and give you the answers you’re looking for? Without that specific experience, they may not even understand the questions you ask. Hire someone with specialized experience in your field.
- Analysis. This is where a virtual assistant’s skill and experience can really shine. It’s one thing to look at a spreadsheet. But making heads or tails of it is a unique skill set—and one that you don’t always have time to handle yourself.
Sound like a lot?
Let’s break it down by some of the most research-intensive industries there are:
How to Perform Legal Research with a VA
Legal research isn’t like other types of research. It requires its own sets of skills and experience—not only to know how to look for information, but to know what the appropriate answers may look like.
Let’s look at some of the best practices for performing legal research with the assistance of a VA:
- Use the appropriate resources to find cases and statutes. Digging up old statutes and cases isn’t as simple as entering it into a Google Search. Have your VAs look through resources like American Law Reports, legal encyclopedias like American Jurisprudence, and source directly from primary academic sources rather than finding quotes from questionable sources on the Internet.
- Run research through the proper states/jurisdictions. Here’s where some legal research can get messy. If you outsource legal research overseas, you might have an experienced researcher working with you—but what happens when they look up Texas law and you need to know the laws in Vermont? What if they quote you federal statutes when you’re looking for local ordinances?
- Create a list of appropriate legal sources and helpful tips. If you’ve had a paralegal help you with research before, ask them where they conducted their research. Better yet, create a list of appropriate legal sources you know and enjoy. You can incorporate these into an onboarding document that you send to your virtual assistant.
Handling Medical Research with a VA
The phrase “medical research” is a far-ranging field. You can consult the steps for conducting clinical research or consult medical dictionaries to find the answers to difficult questions. But a VA should be able to go a step further.
- Make sure your VA understands HIPAA compliance. HIPAA is one of the most powerful regulations in the medical industry, and your virtual assistant should know where the limits of their research should apply under these regulations.
- Assemble all relevant permissions to become HIPAA compliant. If you run a medical practice, you know how important it is to have all of your ducks in a row. Make sure that your virtual assistant understands this, too.
- Compiling existing data. You never know where your practice is heading unless you have a working knowledge of all the data at your disposal.
Market Research with a VA
If there’s anything most businesses have in common, it’s that they need to know their markets. As such, it helps to know how to conduct research into your market, no matter what you’re trying to sell.
- Use virtual assistants to help run A/B tests. A/B tests—such as testing two versions of headlines on a landing page—gives you insights that only the market can provide. Consult with a virtual assistant to learn about their favorite A/B testing software. Tell them what variables you’d like to test, whether that’s two different versions of a print ad or two different versions of an email subject line.
- Conduct surveys. Tools like SurveyMonkey are great—if you know how to use them. Hiring a VA with specific experience in conducting surveys will help you implement surveys and generate insights from your customers that you otherwise wouldn’t have.
- Run Google Analytics. Google Analytics is a powerful web analytics tool that gives you insights as to who’s visiting your site—and why. You can use a VA to not only handle the logistical work of setting up this service, but interpreting the data to drive key market insights.
In any of the three industries listed above—legal, medical, and market research—you’re not going to be limited to these suggestions. But they should form a good foundation for your VA to better understand the lay of the land in your sector.
A List of Common Research Tasks You Can Outsource Immediately
Still not sure what to do next?
- Competition research. One of the most essential ways to learn where your business stands is to look at where the competition stands. Have your VAs run reports on the competition, gathering all relevant data they can, to give you a picture of your current market.
- Sourcing statistics. Let’s say you’re having a VA help with content, but they’re a little short in the “sourcing” department. What can you do next? Have an experienced VA handle the sourcing of various statistics so readers are never left wondering where you pulled your data from.
- Resource research. Need a new coffee maker for your office? Which one is the best one? Need to identify new resources you can use to manage your email? Outsource this research to a VA and have them post the prices and features of the top available options.
- Compile a report. Let’s say your VA has helped you set up Google Analytics and you’ve now been collecting data for a while. What’s next? Continue to involve the VA! Have them compile a report for you, writing down their conclusions and analysis as part of it.
In addition, you can put a new VA hire to work right away using the following research tools, some of which have already been mentioned here:
- SurveyMonkey – Conduct surveys to drive key insights from your customers.
- Google Books – Search a vast library of academic sources and nonfiction books to find insights and statistics.
- EndNote – An organization tool for formatting bibliographies and identifying the full text from which your sources come.
- Zotero – Create a “personal research assistant” for searching through content you’ve already explored.
- DeepDyve – Gain access to thousands of high-quality journals for a flat monthly fee.
Your virtual assistant should also have a list of their own resources that they’ve used in the past. Whatever your next research project, you should now know the questions to ask a potential VA hire: what tools they’ll use, what methods they’ll employ, and how they’ll approach every assignment. You’re now free to read the results of the research and focus on the core activities that got you into your business in the first place.