VAs can be an invaluable resource and contribution to your business, right? Well, not everybody seems to think that way, and that’s absolutely legitimate. It does help at times though, to evaluate WHY exactly your experience might have not worked out for you before engaging in negative judgment. Some of them, ouch!, do even hurt and I can’t help taking them a little personal, knowing that a majority of VAs out there are actually doing an outstanding job and have to fight a tainted reputation as well as defend their terms, conditions and pricing on a regular basis which is: a little sad. And: unnecessary.
I’m not trying to sweep a chunk of outsourcing reality under the rug, there surely are a few black sheep everywhere who are messing up the flock. Often these negative experiences are not based on a lack of professionalism but the absence of good and clear communication. Working well with a VA has nothing to do with luck, as some people might put it, but more with the ability of communicating clearly and open and about understanding individual expectations well. Many ‘bad’ experiences can be bypassed with a little consideration and clarity upfront.
Who DOESN’T like moving straight on to enjoy the benefits of having a great business relationship with each other?
A few tips along the way that might make working with a VA less ‘painful’ but more ‘great’!
Be Clear About Your Needs and What You Require From a VA
The first and most important step is to brainstorm all the activities you currently are doing and that you would like someone else to do for you. Easy?
This can be a big thing to ask when you’re feeling overwhelmed and stressed, and you’re wondering why you should do that, having just turned to a VA who is supposed to do this FOR you. Note: although VAs understand this dilemma too well and will, in most cases, do everything possible to save you more grey hairs, they need to know what exactly you require help with in order to actually be able to help you. Nobody knows the business the way you do, and if you don’t have a clear picture, a VA surely wouldn’t either.
We’re unfortunately not superhuman – as much as we try. And picking up a crystal ball isn’t that easy nowadays anymore.
This sounds terrible, but it really is not that bad. You’re over the biggest hurdle of actually having asked for help (which can be hard for many), and with a goal in mind: a little preparation should not worry you at this stage anymore.
Back to the preparation process: Examine the areas that are causing stress and evaluate if these tasks could be outsourced. You’ll be amazed at how much less stressful they may be if you’re not trying to do all of those by yourself. The mountain is already getting smaller…
After having brainstormed the activities you’d like to outsource, add a list of things you aren’t getting done and which you would like to do when you had more time (by having a VA taking on the ‘awful’ work). That’s where the fun part comes in, as these might be the tasks you enjoy the most and which actually help your personal development and your business grow.
This method also allows you not only to evaluate and/or find a VA that has the skills and experience matching your requirements, but more to actually be able to receive the help you need.
It’s also a good idea to outline all of the tasks and areas of your business that are and are not outsourceable, even things you’re not considering to outsource. It is not only important as a business owner to have a clear picture about what tasks truly require your attention, but also which ones could be handled by someone else down the track.
Assess Your Needs To Find The Right Fit
You’ve probably hired a VA to do more than just ‘make a good cup of coffee’ (in a virtual sense), so it’s important to find the right ‘fit’. When it comes to business it is very important to ask yourself questions about your own work style, your personality and what you are going to require from a VA in order to find the right one for you.
Are you a micro-manager? Can you assign tasks to somebody else to complete? Do you require step-by-step updates or will one weekly update be sufficient?
Are you comfortable with communication that is mostly done via e-mail?
If you tend to micromanage your business and don’t have ‘time’ to prepare and work on your collaboration with a VA, working remotely might not be your thing. But in saying that it is not required to be the complete opposite – the key ingredient is about being realistic, reasonable and respectful within the collaboration to create a healthy and successful work-relationship. A VA is not an employee, which can be something you need to get your head around in the early days. It is important to collaborate at your best and to communicate: open, clearly and often!
Articulate Your Personal ‘quirks!’
When you are used to doing ‘everything by yourself’, most of your work happens ‘inside your head’. Having somebody else taking some of these tasks over for you requires you to articulate all these things – which often is easier said than done. We are all different (which is invaluable) and what might make sense in your thinking processes, might not necessarily do so for somebody else.
To make matters worse we all tend to forget that things might not be clear to somebody who is ‘new’ to your game, which you have been playing with blindfolded eyes for years.
Especially when your project is more complex and you’re after long-term help for your business, it takes effort, time and good collaboration to ‘learn the same language’ and understand your processes and systems. That is an investment you need to be very clear about when considering to take on a VA, and it’s one you need to be willing to take.
Be Explicit With Instructions And Deadlines
This may seem to be stating the obvious but astoundingly often this is the point where communication goes wrong! Remember to provide deadlines which could be as specific as ‘Wednesday, 5pm’ or as general as ‘by the end of this week’, but make sure you have one so it can be integrated into the workload of a VA and the project can be ready for when you need it.
A VA serves several clients and schedules their projects throughout work periods, which often need to be planned ahead. So you need to be a little organised in terms of providing projects and the instructions for deadlines, often well in advance, as an extra fee might be charged for rush projects otherwise. Most VAs will do their best to help you with your needs, but depending on workloads it might be impossible to give you an immediate turnaround on a task.
Remember, much of what you do is habit, and unfortunately VAs cannot add telepathic powers and mind-reading gadgets to their skill-set – quite yet.
A good rule of thumb is: describe the projects as detailed as possible, provide all the resources and specifics (or let us know where we can find them), communicate an expected turnaround time and outcome and how you’d like to be contacted when there is a problem.
Lots of it! It is CRUCIAL and I cannot stress this enough, that you give feedback promptly or as soon as you get a chance (we’re not talking a week here)! Not primarily because VAs need to boost their self-esteem – although good feedback is always nice and everybody would love lots of it all the time – but more so that your VA knows she’s on the right path in providing what you are after and can avoid errors. And also:
… because we believe it is good business etiquette to give feedback when you work with somebody – there is always time in the day you can allocate for brief feedback.
In terms of the feedback type, either is important – if there is something you’d like to be improved, please communicate this as ‘silence sadly is acceptance’ in most cases and we cannot grow and improve as professionals (or human beings) if we don’t know where we’re going wrong.
Get On The Same Page In Terms Of Workflow Processes
It is invaluable to brainstorm workflow processes ahead in order to have the same understanding and be able to collaborate in the best way. How would you like to share information? How will we ensure things don’t slip through cracks or get double handled? How would you prefer to issue instructions – verbally or in writing? Again, would you send requests as they happen or save them up in batches, i.e. entering them in a work/task-log and submit weekly?
Discussing these things up front will minimise the chances of things going wrong.
Be Willing To Let Go
My embarrassing confession is: I am a self confessed control freak and a little OCD to accompany the mix – so I know it takes some preparation and training to learn to let go and trust into the abilities of your VA.
This can be very daunting at first, but if you have decided to outsource, this is a crucial lesson to learn. Be prepared that some things might go wrong for whatever reason, so start with little projects first – projects that won’t let you loose all your assets straight away and secure you a shopping trolley under a bridge!
Communicate things when they go wrong, despite ‘only’ being human, there might have been another reason at hand, i.e. wrong or not enough good communication in the first place (which often is the culprit).
If you are ready to plan and prepare a little ahead, collaborate healthily and communicate open and often, there should be no reason of not enjoying a healthy and successful work-relationship with a VA – unless you weren’t able to differentiate black from white in the flock!
What are YOUR thoughts on working successfully with a VA?