You’re ready. You’ve got an onboarding document, a list of tasks, and you already know that your business has more than enough in its expense budget to take on a virtual assistant. You’ve read up on the process and you can already imagine yourself as a wise and brilliant delegator, effortlessly assigning tasks with clear goals.
Then the real world hits you.
Let’s face it: not everyone’s experience with virtual assistants is going to be pristine from the start. There are going to be mistakes. Adjustments. Outright miscommunications. And if you don’t have a plan for these, you may find the entire process disappointing. And you had such high hopes.
The truth is, delegating your tasks to a virtual assistant can be one of the most rewarding things you ever do. It will help you uncouple yourself from your business and scale your time so you no longer have to chain yourself to your desk.
But none of that is going to happen if you make the same mistakes that other people have made when hiring their first VA. To reduce that learning curve, let’s review what those mistakes are—and how to eliminate them:
Mistake #1: Starting with Information Overload
Imagine if you were to take a new position at an office. Now imagine that on the first day—with minimal onboarding and training—you were thrown into an overwhelming amount of work. Take on their business processes. Tackle their to-do list. Hit every deadline. Wouldn’t you feel unfairly treated if the CEO of that company expected you to perform at an optimal level by week one?
Now, imagine those same principles apply with a VA.
The same principles do apply, even if you have an experienced VA with a specific skillset you hired them for. Your organization has all sorts of nuances and information that are unique to the way you do things, including:
- Who to call
- Where questions should go
- What steps you take in your core business processes
In other words, even a highly-qualified, experienced virtual assistant needs to start with baby steps.
That was the conclusion of Michella Brudner of Natural Living Expo, a longtime entrepreneur who tried virtual assistants for a while before concluding the process wasn’t for her. “They are just there to check tasks off a list,” said Brudner. Her advice: assign small, very simple tasks at first—and adjust expectations accordingly.
Mistake #2: Vague Expectations
VAs do, as Brudner said, have to check items off a list. When they first onboard with your company, they have to focus on those tangible tasks they immediately know how to do.
Vague expectations get in the way of this natural process.
“Set clear expectations from the beginning,” said Sarah Van, Team Lead Manager at Delegated. “Talking about and setting expectations leaves room to clear up misunderstandings before they happen. The clearer a client can be about the desired outcome of the task or request, the better the chances are to actually get them.”
It's true that a good leader should be able to delegate—no pun intended—a certain amount to their virtual assistants. Ideally, you’ll find yourself in a situation where you can hand off control over certain tasks to a virtual assistant.
But when we start off with too much to figure out on the part of the VA—as we noted in the previous mistake—it’s asking for problems.
Mistake #3: Ineffective Communication
No one sets out to make this mistake. No one wants to be a vague, ineffective communicator. Yet many entrepreneurs still find that their VAs are lost about what to do next—and communication is often the issue.
What’s going on here? If we’re motivated to be good communicators, why can’t we seem to get our key points across? Why aren’t we on the same page with our virtual assistants?
Your instinct may be to communicate more. But remember that old quote of George Bernard Shaw’s: “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”
Said Sarah Van: “Communication is key to building a strong working relationship, especially in the beginning. Be clear about requirements, expectations and any project deadlines.”
Simplicity and directness is the name of the game in the world of business communication. Don’t just make yourself easy to understand; aim to make your communications almost impossible to misunderstand. And there is a difference.
Here are some of the steps you can take to ensure that your communication goes smoothly:
- Choose the medium best suited for your skills. Are you better at talking or writing? If the former, schedule regular phone calls so you can speak to your VA one-on-one. If the former, keep it to email.
- Schedule regular communication check-ups in the early weeks. We know—you didn’t sign up to have more work on your plate. But consider this part of the onboarding process as you and your VA work out the kinks in your system. This is time invested in the process that will pay dividends later. “Set up regular check-in call with your assistant,” said Sarah Van. “Don’t just rely on email or texts to communicate. A weekly or bi-weekly call holds both the client and the assistant accountable.”
- Provide accurate feedback. Your VA needs to know what they’re doing right and what needs adjustment. When you provide feedback, strive to make it as accurate as possible—otherwise, they’re just guessing.
Mistake #4: Not Setting Clear Goals—For Yourself
“Set clear goals” is advice we don’t have to rehash here. Chances are, if you’re currently so busy that you need to hire a VA, you’re doing just fine in the goal department.
But consider that you shouldn’t only look at benchmarks that your VA should satisfy here.
When we asked Sarah Van about the key mistakes some people make when hiring their VA, she said:
“Not having a clear idea of the benefit the client is hoping to gain from the relationship. Is it to expand the client’s business, allow the client to delegate tasks in order to focus on other areas of the business, or be able to spend more time with friends and family?”
Notice this is a flip on the traditional way of looking at a VA. You’re thinking about them, how they spend their time, how they might achieve what you want them to achieve, etc.
But what if you reversed it? What if you set a goal for your own VA experience? This is, after all, your hire. Your dollar.
Let’s get specific. Just as you don’t want to set vague goals for your business, you don’t want to set vague goals for the experience you’re about to have with a virtual assistant. Here are some suggestions for clearly-defined goals you can set for yourself in this process:
- Finishing work one hour early every day. If you currently work until 5 p.m. every day, see what happens if you start delegating enough tasks to shave an hour off your schedule. This is a specific goal that helps you define something more vague, like “spend more time with family.”
- Spending less time on a task. How can we define this? Let’s say you were using an app like RescueTime—something that allows you to review exactly how much time you spent in a program like Excel, doing data entry. If you compare that time from before your VA hire to the post-hire process, you can have a specific answer to the question: just how much time is your virtual assistant saving you?
- Receiving one new lead per week/month. If you’re more interested in growth than productivity and time management, then it helps to put a number on how you want to grow. Can a VA help you with sales? Or can they free up your time so you can focus on lead generation?
These are just suggestions. Keep in mind that every business is different—and your goals will be different. But it’s important to remember to make your goals 1) specific and 2) about what you can also achieve with a well-placed VA hire.
Mistake #5: Going for the Cheapest Option
“Cheap” is sometimes good. If you find a deal at the grocery store on fresh produce, “cheap” is even a good thing.
But when you hire someone and expect them to improve your business, it’s not always the greatest experience.
Make no mistake: there are plenty of cheap virtual assistants out there when you weigh the hourly costs. It’s possible to have a virtual assistant work for what feels like pennies relative to the expense of their time. But you do have to consider that this kind of “affordability” can lead to trade-offs.
For starters, you may have to outsource overseas, which can lead to problems caused by having a remote team across disparate time zones. This can also make it difficult to check in with your virtual assistant—you’ll constantly be looking for times that work out.
That doesn’t mean that expensive is necessarily better, either. There are plenty of businesses who have put down enormous amounts of cash, only to regret their decision.
We think that the best middle ground is in being calculated with your VA investments. If you know that you can find high-quality, experienced virtual assistants, it may be worth it to try paying a little more at the start.
Mistake #6: Not Investing in Long-Term Results
Speaking of investing time in the process with the hope of paying dividends down the road, let’s be clear: many clients simply expect too much from the process right away.
But keep in mind that your own experience in building your own business and lifestyle likely wasn’t smooth, either. It took you lots of trial and error to get to this point. You made long-term investments in your own success, and you’ve been rewarded with a growing plate that now needs multiple people to manage.
Is it fair to say there may also be some hiccups with any hire?
Sure, there may be some hires—VA or otherwise—that will go far more smoothly than others. You may luck out and find someone who’s a precise fit for your needs. Their ambition, experience, and skill are perfect for your company, and you count your lucky stars you found them.
But that doesn’t mean you should discount a new hire when it doesn’t go that smoothly at first. Onboarding is a process; it’s not something that you should expect to happen overnight, even with the most skilled and experienced VAs.
Mistake #7: Not Adapting
Finally, let’s explore one of the key elements to success with any VA: the ability to adapt.
From the VA’s perspective, your feedback will be invaluable. But you should also adapt to the circumstances as they develop. How? Here are three steps to incorporate with any new VA hire:
- Provide them with regular, clear feedback to let them know what they could improve upon.
- Set small goals and work out the kinks with your system before you ramp up your efforts.
- Remember that you have to adapt, too: be willing to ask for feedback from your VA for how you could be clearer and more effective in the way you handle your business.
It’s going to happen: you’re going to make mistakes. But if you’re willing to make changes in your processes and use the lessons you’ve learned here, you’ll stand a far greater chance of succeeding with your VA and growing your business.
For more great tips, read here, our guide to getting started with your virtual assistant!