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7 Tips to Successfully Work with a Virtual Assistant

Hint #1: Think of her as a partner not an employee

by Tracie in General
Work with a Virtual Assistant

This is the third part in a four-part series on how to hire and work with a Virtual Assistant. You can find part one here: “How to Know When to Hire a Virtual Assistant.”

Today’s the day! Your problems are over! Your business is about to experience growth and sales like never before. 

A choir of heavenly angels is singing a song as you pour your coffee and day dream about long days on the beach while your business runs itself. 

You just hired your first Virtual Assistant.

Ahhhhhhhhhh” (That’s the sound of the heavenly angels singing)

Hang on a second! “rrrrrreeeet” (That’s the sound of a record scratching)

It’s not quite that easy.

Not so fast…

When you finally hire your “perfect” new Virtual Assistant, it’s really tempting to give her a  list of tasks you can’t wait to have off your plate. A list of tasks that, once completed, will make your business soar. The list is probably full of things you planned to do yourself and, after moving them from one day’s to-do list to the next — for weeks — you’re realizing you need to hire someone to get those tasks done.

That’s how most business owners decide to hire work with a Virtual Assistant in the first place. 

But hold off on the angels for a second. There’s a little work to be done to make this the relationship of your dreams. There’s a difference between deciding to hire, and getting ready to work with, a virtual assistant. Here are tips to successfully working with a Virtual Assistant.

1. Collaboration is Key When You Work with a Virtual Assistant

Instead of handing off a list of things you can’t wait to get accomplished, meet with your new VA to go over the tasks and ask if she has any ideas about the best way they can be completed. It may be as simple as switching the social media scheduling tool to one she’s familiar using or changing the order of operations in one of your daily tasks. If she says she’s good to go with your process or doesn’t have a suggestion, that’s fine. By asking her at the beginning, however, you start a relationship of collaboration.

2. Be Prepared to Teach a New VA

Clearly you hired a VA to make your life easier. Ideally, she has many of the skills that fill needs in your business. No matter how skilled she is in the programs and platforms you use, however, she doesn’t use them the way you do.

Be patient and open to new ways of doing things. In the same way you wouldn’t hire an employee and expect her to immediately run your brick and mortar business, don’t expect your VA to know the ins and outs of your online business.

When you need her to take on a task she’s never done before, it is helpful to record short video snippets of you going over the process. is a quick and simple extension for Chrome that lets you record short screen capture videos and send her a link showing exactly the steps she needs to take. 

3. Use Projects as a Way to Teach

Well-defined, small projects are a great way to get to know each other and your work styles. Have her start with a project not critical to your bottom line if at all possible.

Scheduling social media posts that you’ve already written or designed is a good place to start. Putting together your weekly blog or email using your content is another. When you give her small tasks, you’re going to see how she communicates, if she asks for help when she’s stuck and where her strengths lie.

4. Start a Procedures Manual Immediately

One of the smartest things you can do when working with anyone new in your business is to ask her to write down all of the steps required to complete the process. This does two things: It creates a document you can use to train other people in the future and it uncovers holes in the process you don’t even know you have.

For example: If you’re explaining to her how to schedule social media, you’ll probably explain how you choose the quotes or text for the posts, how often you schedule, the program you use for scheduling and even the way you create the graphics. What you may forget is the font style you use on all of your graphics, or the fact you want each graphic to have a photo as the background, not just a colored image.

5. The Curse of Knowledge

These are things we don’t even realize we know about our own businesses, but by explaining them to someone else it becomes clear. Have her create a document you both have access to that explains everything she’s doing in a step-by-step process.

Not only does this make it easier for her to successfully replicate each task, it gives you a roadmap of what she does if she ever goes missing. You can also break this procedures manual down later on and give different tasks to different contractors while maintaining consistency.

6. Set a Process for Updates

One of the challenges with working virtually is that you can’t really know what your VA is doing at any given moment. If your relationship with your virtual assistant is going to work, you have to be okay with that.

Many VAs are in the profession specifically so they can have flexibility in their schedule. When I was a VA, I took one day a week off from client work to work on my own business, never worked weekends or evenings and for years scheduled my work to be done by 2:00pm each day so I could spend time with my kids.

Because I got up at five each morning, and always got my client work done, this wasn’t an issue. I even took a six-week road trip with my family when the kids were in middle school and worked in between hiking the Virgin Narrows in Zion National Park and bicycling down Pike’s Peak. My clients knew what I was up to and, as long as I got the work done, they were fine with it.

The key is to make sure your VA is consistently updating you on her tasks and progress. Once you have an established relationship with your VA, this would probably be once a week. For new VAs that you haven’t worked with before, daily is probably best. Keep this simple. As a VA, I on Mondays, I sent a weekly email to clients that looked like this:

Monday, July 22; 2019

  1. What I plan to work on this week:
  2. Things holding me back from completing a project:
  3. What I worked on since your last update:
  4. Ongoing projects/things to get to when I have time:

Hours worked so far this month: 

It’s that simple. This makes sure you’re both on the same page and gives you a heads up if she’s waiting for something from you to finish a current task. I was always on retainer with my clients so I this let them know how many hours they had left in the month. That way there were no surprises.

Note: I kept this very simple. I don’t encourage time sheets by task because it often requires too much time for the VA to be managing the time sheet. I’d rather have her working on my project. If she tells me it’s taken her 4 hours to do something that should take far less, I know that I need to have a talk with her about potential problems she’s having. It’s about communication not punching a time clock. And honestly, by the time you get through the interview process, trust should no longer be an issue.

7. Decide How You’ll Communicate

Do you prefer email updates or a weekly phone call? I’ve done both successfully with clients and here’s what I’ve found. Phone calls can take up a lot of time. Emails can be easily misconstrued. A hybrid of both methods works best.

When I had weekly calls with my clients, we both got more done. The client knew I’d be asking for info they owed to me so it helped them to be accountable. I knew they were going to ask for status updates, so I stayed on task. Keep in mind, the call is something the VA gets paid to be on, so be friendly, but have an outline for the call and stick to it.

Calls also allow you to check in with each other. You’ll be able to tell if there’s something going on in her life you should know about. That may not be important to you at first, but as your relationship grows, a great VA becomes almost a part of your family. 

A few years ago an amazing Filipino VA from one of the teams I worked on for a client was being uncharacteristically quiet. She was completing her work just fine, but her messages to us weren’t as consistent and we could tell something was “off.” I asked her about it and she sent a photo of her living room.

There was water halfway up to her computer desk. She had extension cords strung as high off the ground as she could so that her work wasn’t interrupted. We were horrified at the potential for electrocution. Outside her window, we could see cars stranded in water up to their hoods. She never complained to us, but we decided maybe she’d earned a bit of time off. 😃

We only knew something was going on because we were in communication with her and she’s one of our most valued team members.

A word about email: it’s inefficient (okay, two words).

Instead of emailing your VA in between phone calls, I suggest using Slack or other type of direct message system. It is much faster, more organized and more elegant than email. Things get lost in email. One conversation turns into another and finding important data is much harder. Use messaging instead.

Most importantly: Treat Your VA as a Trusted Member of the Team

Last week I wrote about an interview process that works well when hiring a VA. 

One of the questions I always ask in an interview is about work/life balance. As counterintuitive as it sounds, you do not want to hire a VA who tells you that your business is the most important thing to her. For one thing, it’s certainly not going to be true. More importantly, however, if you want her to be around for a while, you want her to have a business that is thriving and works for her entire family, or she’ll be off to find something new very quickly. 

Here are some tips to make sure she knows her business and life is important to you and will help you to become her most favorite, and protected, client.

  1. Honor her time. Unless you’ve discussed it ahead of time, don’t expect her to work evenings and weekends even if your world is melting down. If you know you’ll be launching or doing a major systems upgrade and you’ll need her to work special hours for you, let her know as far ahead as possible and ask her if that works for her. Mostly likely she’ll say yes, but she may also tell you she’s got a dream trip to Europe planned during that time and you’ll have to decide to change the date of your launch or to go through the launch without her.As your relationship grows and you’ve shown her that you won’t be calling her at all hours of the day or night, she’s more likely to be flexible with you. When one of my clients would travel, for example, I would drop everything to take a call from him or her. I knew they’d only call in an emergency and they knew I’d answer if at all possible.
  2. Give her positive feedback as well as being honest about what she could have done differently. If you have to fix something she worked on, explain what you’re doing and send her the video or have her watch a video of you doing it. When possible, let her fix it so she learns the process. Above all, remember there is a learning curve and give her the benefit of the doubt.
  3. Don’t expect her to fix things on her own time. People make mistakes. People working in a brick and mortar business make mistakes. You would never expect someone to stay late to fix something she’d done wrong and then not pay her for the time. Working virtually is the same way.
  4. Don’t expect her to pay for training in your systems. The VA you hire may know the systems you use and she may not. A really amazing VA who doesn’t know how to use your mail delivery system is a better hire than a so-so VA who’s a champion in ActiveCampaign. Anyone can be trained and there is no way for a VA to know every system that’s out there. Don’t expect that she’ll do the training on her own time.
  5. There’s an old adage that you should be slow to hire and quick to fire. This may work some of the time, or most of the time, but trust your gut. If your normally terrific VA suddenly starts acting strange or not getting her work done on time, ask her if something is up. You’ve put a lot of time into training her, it’s worth it to find out what’s going on ASAP.In much the same way people have a tendency to be much braver in what they post online in social media, I’ve found online business owners can be very quick to throw a VA to the wolves if she makes a mistake or isn’t understanding something. Be patient. She’s a real person, not an anonymous robot. Treat her the same way you would someone who was working in the desk right next to you each day.
  6. Don’t show up late to calls. She is a business owner too. Respect her time the same way you want her to respect yours.
  7. Listen to her perspective. A great Virtual Assistant has been around the block a few times. She’s worked on other projects and she may have a better way of doing what you’re asking of her. Make sure you take her suggestions into consideration. Not only will it make for a stronger bond with her (which will make her more loyal to you and your company), she’ll feel respected. And everyone wants to be respected.

Deciding to work with a Virtual Assistant is one of the best moves you can make in your business. It won’t be quick and it won’t be easy, but the time and work you put in to making her a valued member of your team will be valuable to you in ways you can’t imagine. 

Let me know in the comments below: What is the most surprising thing you learned about how to work with a Virtual Assistant in this article? 

This is the third part in a four-part series on how to hire and work with a Virtual Assistant. Next week: “Using Your Virtual Assistant in a Launch.” 

  1. Kami McBride says:

    I am not setting up a procedures manual and need to do that. Thanks for that tip!

  2. lani says:

    Love this! I will look into ViewEdit and already see the wisdom in communicating this way. Agree with Kami re: procedures manual! Mahalo for great article!!!

  3. Beatrice says:

    While I generally agree with your article, I do not agree with a client having to pay for a mistake I make. If I don’t know how to do something I should tell the client and ask whether the client can introduce me to a solution so that next time I know the process. In a case that I make a mistake that’s caused by me (perhaps not paying close attention etc.) then I could not ever expect a client to pay for the time to fix that mistake. I have made my share of mistakes, and every client of mine knows that I “fix” it in my own time; unless it’s something that the client asked me to do in a specific way and didn’t work out – then the client pays.

    1. Tracie says:

      Beatrice, Thanks for your thoughtful reply. I think we’re on the same page. To me, it depends on how the mistake was made. If I have a VA who doesn’t follow instructions and makes a mistake despite the information she’s been given, it is a different situation than if she’s doing something for the first time or forging a new path on my behalf. In particular, if I ask my VA to research or try something new and it doesn’t work out the way we’d planned and needs to be corrected, I would never expect her to absorb the cost of her time. Thanks for helping me to clarify.

  4. You do us proud. 🙂 Thank you for continuing to share the good stuff.

    1. Tracie says:

      You’re so welcome. I’m glad you enjoy the articles!

  5. ortizarw says:

    I love this advice! One I think is key is to treat them as though you trusted them… I have a question. I’m at a spot where I’m confused about where my VA’s time is going. Very simple and quick tasks seem to be taking 8hrs, which to me seems 6-8x too long. She has a fantastic attitude, some amazing design skills and a heart of gold so I can’t imagine it’s on purpose. But after talking with her multiple times somewhat directly, I’m really confused because it seems somewhat constant. Do you have recommendations on 1-a automated tool that can track them 2-how to put it in place without making them feel completely UNtrusted. Maybe it’s that she’s spending tons of time on design and I’d really like to find out exactly how much so I can rearrange her priorities or if I need to, hire more help.

    1. Tracie says:

      That’s a great a great question!

      It’s not automatic, but My Hours does time tracking. There are several sites that do time tracking that also screen shots what the person is working on, but I’ve not used those. If you hire using Upwork, that type of tracking is included.

      Could it be that she’s learning to do the tasks and including that time?

      I would suggest that you record short videos showing her how to do something using a free program like Loom. Then there will be no question about how the task should be accomplished and you’ll have an idea (because you just did it while recording) how long it will take. You’ll be faster than she is, so don’t expect her to get it done as quickly, but you could then say, “I’m thinking this will take about x hours based on what I know about the task. If you feel like it’s going to be longer, can you let me know so I can help you along or answer any questions you might have?”

      I’ve also found that there are sometimes cultural issues that make it hard for a VA to ask questions. If that happens to be the case here, instead of asking you how to do something, she could be researching so that she appears to know how to do it. You may need to have a gentle conversation about this with her.

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