Setting Your Virtual Assistant Up For Success

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In last week’s article I talked about successful delegation and outsourcing; the big picture in other words. This week I wanted to really go into what your duties and responsibilities are as the business owner since you ultimately play such a big part in setting your virtual assistant up for success.

Here’s a clue: it’s all about the work you do upfront, and giving that person ongoing feedback especially in the beginning of a new “task”.  You want to make any course corrections that are needed quickly.

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Creating Procedures and Systems

There is no getting around the fact that you have to spend the time upfront in order for these types of relationships to work for both of you. I know I was totally unprepared for just how much work would be involved at first.

As the business owner, you want to get the job done correctly and in a timely manner. Therefore the person you have hired needs to be absolutely clear about the exact steps they need to take in order to do a good job for you. What I found out very quickly was that even though I thought I had every step detailed perfectly, there are these tiny bits of knowledge that we accrue over time that perhaps the other person doesn’t have. So you really have to keep drilling down the instructions until you get it right.

The good news is that once it is done, you have this roadmap that you can hand off to another person down the line if and when you need to do that. I put everything into Dropbox in a “shared folder” for my VA.  Any cloud storage site will work. I just happened to start out using Dropbox which is free and virtual assistants are familiar with this particular site.

Creating a “Task Package”

I have put together a “Task Package” that contains all of the information the VA will need for each individual job or task. You can make your own version that fits your business and the particular job or task you are outsourcing, but it should be very detailed. Remember that it needs to be broken down into baby steps.

This “Task Package” is what I created for my VA to post “We Buy Houses Ads” daily on CraigsList.

1. An Overview of “Things Needed and Training Materials for This Ongoing Task”

2. Overview of the job or task

3. Craigslist Rules

4. Craigslist Login Information

5. Sample Posting Schedule

6. List of “We Buy Houses Ads”

7. Website/Squeeze Page URL’s to insert into ads (clickable Links)

8. Graphics to Upload into Ads (Houses with a sold sign)

9. Training Video on How to Use Craigslist

I will go over each one of these in a minute, but right now I can already hear someone saying that this seems like overkill. I can assure you that it isn’t.  Even with these instructions, there were some parts of the instructions I had to change and “tweak” because my VA had never used Craigslist.

Breaking Down the Parts of the Task

1.”Things Needed and Training Materials for This Ongoing Task”

This is simply a list of the items in numbers 2-7 or kind of a checklist for both of us to ensure that she has every single thing she needs to do the job. Don’t make the mistake of trying to put everything into one long instruction sheet.

2. Overview of the job or task.   This is where you will write an overview of the job. Here’s an example:

Overview of the Work:

I would like you to post one ad on Craigslist each morning before 10:00 AM (my time zone). Since you have indicated that you are available to do this on Saturday and Sunday, that will be 7 ads per week.

Please keep a log of which ad, website and account were used for posting each day. I would like you to put a copy of that log into our shared Dropbox folder twice a month; once around the middle of the month and again on the last day of the month. I want to be able to track the ads and the websites to see how they are performing and tell if some are working better than others. *You will get a notice to approve each ad as it is posted so you will know it is done.

3. Craigslist Rules:

Craigslist is a simple site to use, but there are some rules. The main rule to worry about is that “an ad must be off the site at least 48 hours before it can be reposted”. You could actually change the ad text but if it contains a URL or link to a website, it is considered the same ad.  I will want you to pull down (delete) each ad after 48 hours to be sure we adhere to this site’s rules.

4. Craigslist Login Information

I have created several accounts and the login information is below for each account. Remember to delete any ad that has been up more than 48 hours. *Please do not share this information with anyone or have anyone do the posting for you.

5. Sample Posting Schedule

I gave her a sample posting schedule since she has multiple logins, seller ads, and website URL’s. I want her to be clear on how to do this.  Once again, I want to be sure to follow the site’s rules and regulations.

6. List of “We Buy Houses Ads”

I supplied her with a list of ads to be rotated. Some are long and some are short. Each one has a unique title.

7. Website/Squeeze Page URL’s to insert into ads with “Clickable Links”

It is important that these be rotated in order so that the same domain doesn’t appear too often on one account.

For anyone that doesn’t know how to do “clickable links” on Craigslist, here is the code you use to make your URL back to your website “clickable”:

<a href=”http://PutYourWebsiteURLHere.com“>Sell Now!</a>

The link will be hidden inside “Sell Now”.

*As a note, sometimes these links “get broken” or stop working, and you have to put them in again.  There are two things you need to do each time:

  • First of all, have your VA check the links to be sure they work each time an ad is posted.
  • Secondly, put your actual website address below the clickable link just in case the link doesn’t work for someone.

8. Graphics to Upload into Ads (Houses with a sold sign)

I pulled up about a dozen pictures online of houses with sold signs over them for her to use and make the ads fresh each time. I need to find a couple more so the graphics will not repeat within a 2 week time period.

Related: How to Use The Craigslist Map View To Reach More Tenants

9. Training Video on How to Use Craigslist

I made a screen capture video using one of my new favorite free tools called Screencast-O-matic which I wrote about a couple of weeks ago.  I started with pulling up CraigsList.org, selecting my city and state, signing in and then went over each step for creating an ad. In hindsight I realize that I omitted a step, and that was a mistake.  You know what they say, “sometimes you just don’t know what you don’t know until you mess something up”.

The following video will give you an example of an actual video I use to explain how to use Craigslist.

I didn’t show the exact “copy and paste” step. While this is pretty basic for you and me, it might not be for someone else. So I need to re-record this video to include the actual “copying and pasting the ads and links step” into the new video.  Each step is needed so it needs to be included for anyone that would do this job in the future (thinking long term).

I also decided that rather than to have a 15 minute video (the most you can record with the free version of ScreenCast-O-Matic), it would be better to have it broken down into several 5 or 6 minute videos.  Once they have watched the tutorial initially, if they forgot one part of the process they could go back and just watch that part.  I’m always learning too!

If you have you created any procedures for VA’s I would love to hear about them.

Photo: Garrett Gill

About Author

Sharon Vornholt

Sharon has been investing in real estate since 1998. She owned and operated a successful home inspection company for 17 years. In January of 2008 she took the leap of closing her business to become a full time real estate investor.

25 Comments

  1. Great article especially sharing your example video.

    Might folks share where and how you hire va’s?

    By the hour, by the task, set #hrs per week? 123emloyee.com, odesk.com etc?

    Thanks curt

    • Curt –

      I use Odesk, and I have had great luck with them. You can find workers from the US and from other countries depending on your preference and the particular skills required.

      You can set your hours for a maximum a week. For instance if you only wanted someone to work for 4 hours based on your budget, you can do that. I have a VA that I pay by the hour, and I do have a maximum number of hours set. They have to log their time online so you know the work you have given them, and you can see how long it is taking them each day. It will take anyone a little longer to do the job the first couple of times.

      I had a big project once (actually my first job) which was to transcribe about a dozen videos. They were about 30 minutes each. I posted that job as a “price fixed job” and got a whole bunch of responses.

      I think it just depends on what you want them to do. If It is a daily or a weekly task then you will probably pay by the hour.

      You have to go through an “interview process” with these people just like you would for anyone. I hope this helps.

      Sharon

    • Mark –

      It’s a great way to ad extra manpower as contract workers. Not everyone can start out from the beginning with an office staff financially, so this is just another tool. It is especially useful for project type of work.

      Thanks for reading.
      Sharon

  2. Sharon, thanks for the great article. I am always interested in outsourcing my business, but right now I don’t have enough business to support outsourcing the work nor do I have processes fo do so. Would you recommend that I focus on creating processes and begin outsourcing to build my business or build my business and then begin outsourcing?

    Hugh

    • Hugh –

      It’s funny you should ask that question. I just wrote a post for my blog where that is one of the questions I have been asked several times recently.

      Most people myself included waited until we felt like we were “drowning”. That used to be my thinking. But I think there is a better way.

      Find something like your direct mail (as an example) and outsource that. It could be anything that is time consuming that someone else can do for you; something that you don’t need a highly skilled person to do. The key thing I believe is to outsource a revenue generating or lead generating activity.

      Then take that time you have just freed up — let’s say it is 4 hours a week, and work on something else. It could be to build a WordPress lead generation website. It could be to write some ads and post them on Craig’s List – “We Buy Houses” ads. You have to figure out what is right for you.

      I have a grad student that folds, stuffs and hand addresses my probate direct mail for $10 per thousand. She can do this while watching TV. Outsourcing doesn’t have to be expensive. You can hire someone on Odesk to post a Craig’s list ad for you every day for $4 an hour. That will cost you a few bucks a week. Get creative and figure out how someone else can make you money.

      I hope this helps.
      Sharon

    • You are so sweet Glenn.

      Like you I am always learning, and I love sharing this information. I’m going to try to break this outsourcing process down a little further in the future. I initially started putting a process together because not having it was actually holding me back.

      As always, thanks for your comments.
      Sharon

  3. Sharon,

    Thank you for the article on VAs. It’s true that procedures can really help move things along with most VAs, especially if you already know exactly what you want done and how you want it accomplished.
    However, as the owner of a VA company, I can tell you that we actually help many of our clients create the procedures as well. We often get clients that have an end result in mind, but don’t know the best process, procedures, or technology to make it happen. I like to think that this level of expertise is what sets us apart from some of the independent VAs as well as those overseas.

    Thanks again for the article!

    Kathrine

  4. Make sure on the videos there is no background music. That makes it hard to focus on the video and what the VA will need to learn.

    I looked into VA’s in the foreign countries and even here in the states and didn’t like it. My database of clients is very private and I do not want a VA sharing my strategies with multiple clients etc.

    So I use an assistant who I call my “research analyst” that is local and we e-mail back and forth and meet up for lunch about once every 5 to 6 weeks. I pay them as a contractor to avoid employee status for taxes and benefits etc.

    • Joel –

      Everyone needs to do what is best for their business. I don’t have to worry too much about her sharing things because she is not in my area. I would worry more if she were right in my backyard; that would be more of a threat for me as far as sharing with my competitors.
      She doesn’t have access to my database either.

      I have someone in my area that is a grad student that helps with my direct mail. Thanks for your comments.

      Sharon

    • Joel,
      Your ‘research analyst’ actually sounds like a local VA… We have that type of relationship with several of our clients that are within driving distance. There can be real benefits to being able to meet face to face when needed. However, even our local clients find the benefits of web conferencing with screen sharing and being able to record meetings beneficial from time to time.
      Kathrine

  5. Dear Sharon,

    I’m following your lead. I tried out Fiverr.com to get some research pulled together. Awesome – got way more than $5 worth of value. The VA is a better researcher than me. This will be my go-to move before diving into writing a blog article.

    Next I began interviewing a VA on Odesk. Odesk is not as easy for me to use like Elance, but I think it’s a really good place to find a VA for the long haul. I’m going to have that person run the marketing campaign for our local theater. I’m absolutely sure a VA will generate tons more revenue than they consume.

    Thanks Sharon for the kick in the butt!

  6. Al –

    I’m happy to oblige and give you the kick in the butt you needed. Outsourcing can be hard for us “I can do it all types”. I don’t know one person that says they wish they had waited to outsource, but I know a whole lot of people that wish they had started sooner (myself included).

    I absoutely love fiverr! I use them all the time. I’ve gotten a couple of duds but for the most part I have been more than satisfied with the work.

    Sharon

  7. Great article! When I work with a client for the first time, it is always helpful to know exactly how the work needs to be performed. I also find that great communication helps, too. I never hesitate to ask questions if something is unclear. This ensures a successful working relationship for both of us.

  8. Hey Sharon,
    Another great article.
    I’m really enjoying and getting a lot of these last few things you have done.
    I’ve always liked your posts but these are particularly relevant to where I am with my business right now and are very actionable.
    Thank you so much for the great content!

  9. I like the idea of outsourcing (which we already do) but the ‘letting go’ part is still difficult. It is impossible to have growth without subcontracting or employing other people but putting your trust in third parties is sometimes a leap in the dark. Quality control becomes the priority, which is not such a bad thing.

    Ironically now we outsource we have been employed by other companies (incl UK surveyors, authors etc.) to manage their QC, this was not the original direction of our business plan but…

    Great article covering the key points.

    • Sharon Vornholt

      Peter –

      That is indeed the hard part. I think if you start with some of the simpler jobs, it is easier to let go of the “bigger things” in time. I am still a work in progress where that is concerned.

      It’s those tasks that are not black and white; that take some reasoning skills that are the hardest. It is indeed hard to muster up the right amount of trust to let go.

      Thanks for your comments.
      Sharon

    • Jose –

      That first time was a learning experience for me too. I have found that it is easier in the long run to just do it right the first time. The more details the less questions later on. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

      Sharon

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