The Brave New World. Working with a Virtual Assistant

I am not going to tell you that “all the cool kids are doing it!” But some of the busy executives are. The trend for Virtual Assistants or VA’s as it is known is growing; this business innovation was made popular with the book “The World is Flat” by Thomas L. Friedman.

A virtual assistant is an independent contractor providing administrative, technical, or sometimes creative assistance to clients, usually to other independent entrepreneurs, solo and small business practices, such as that of a lawyer or realtor. VA’s work from their own office (hence “virtual”), thus making it a fairly popular (and growing) profession.

What Have You Done For Me Lately?

The role of a VA can vary depending upon your specific needs and their utility. And, can be varied as the work they perform. I have utilized the services of VA’s in Hungary and Spain. Alina was from Romania, Swapna and Kumar from India. Typically, the support is administrative, but I have had tasks as varied as complex Excel spreadsheets created, business plans researched, data entry for accounting completed, entire directories of professionals contacted for Online Surveys, Web Page Design, Logo Design and complicated Business Analysis performed on a business startup. Results vary in both quality and value, just like any other subcontractor relationship you need to define your parameters extremely clearly.

How Do You Get Over the Hurdle?

The best way to wrap your mind around sending business to a VA is to just look around your daily life and see how much is already outsourced. Your payroll services may be outsourced, your IT Services, your Tax Planning Services, your 401k management. There are countless other examples of how you are already outsourcing your business needs to someone down the street. What you don’t know is that the majority of these services are “Outsourcing the Outsource” and simply managing the process while billing you at standard rate. What! Yep, companies are billing for the work product and the quality of service, not where it was completed.

Moving On

So, now that you are over it and ready to adapt to this changing world of outsourcing you should understand some of the risks:

  • The last thing you want to happen is for a virtual assistant to walk away with your important information. It is critical that you have an attorney design a non-compete/non-disclosure agreement and have the VA sign before starting to work.
  • VA’s are independent contractors; I usually use overseas subs but if you go local make sure that you get a W9 or EIN. I avoid this when going offshore, just to keep clean records.
  • Do your due-diligence before you hire, just like any of your current employees a VA will have a personality all their own. Make sure that it is compatible with yours. Try a small project first before making a commitment.
  • Use the same hiring practices that you would for your own company. Just be aware of the cultural differences before thinking that your new VA is shy or strange.
  • If you don’t have the stomach for a disappearing VA, hire a company rather than finding an individual to handle your projects. This way if your VA splits, the company will handle finding a replacement.
  • Keep all files backed up and online for easy access. Insist that they keep all working copies of files on a shared online portal like This way, if they quit, you just change your password and your files are safe.
  • Identity and credit card theft….. Just think about them.

Best Bang For Your Buck

  • Don’t hire a VA that can’t type – send them to and have them email you the results.
  • Basic Microsoft Office skills are absolutely required, how else are they going to proofread your work? 🙂 And, make sure that the software that you use is compatible with the version that they are using. Chances are, you are a version ahead on most programs. Don’t fret, just “save as previous version” and you can beat the compatibility issues.
  • Make sure that you have at least a few hours of overlapping time so that you can effectively communicate with your new VA. Remember, instant message is a whole lot better than simple email. It creates a conversation.
  • I have a VA that works for me 40 hours per week, 160 hours per month, she and I “speak” over GoogleTalk at least once per day if not twice. Evenings are the best time for me to hand off projects because it is early in the morning in India. I then check back in with her at 5:15am before I go to the gym to make last minute adjustments to the work product. I then revise it during my day and if it needs additional input, she sees it again in the evening. It is an absolutely amazing system.

The What IF’s

My belief is to hire with caution and fire with passion. If things are not working out, have a conversation, if your gut is telling you that this is not going to work out, contact the company and they will typically assign you a new VA or if all else fails you can typically just walk away.

I have dozens of resources for VA’s and freelancers, if you would like some suggestions email me and let me know.