The Full Guide to Scaling Your Business with Virtual Assistants

Virtual Assistants: Scaling your Business through Outsourcing

The words “outsourcing” or “virtual assistants” don’t sit well with the majority of people.

That’s no surprise provided that most of us have had a really bad experience trying to find even one person who is reliable and willing to help our business grow, let alone a team of them. We’ve all found that person who seems pretty skilled but one day they just don’t show up, never to be heard from again. You’ve probably tried several solutions, looked in various places… only to end up with the same lackluster results.

But I’m here to tell you that there is a solution. I’ve been able to build three (3) multi-million dollar businesses with outsourced teams, and in this post, I’m going to lay out exactly how we do it the right way.

Learn how outsourcing work to a virtual assistant can help you scale your business Click To Tweet

The truth is that there are millions of people all over the world who are incredibly skilled and willing to work for rates that you can afford. When done right, you can have a team (small or large) of highly-skilled, trained pros cranking on your business while you are sleeping.

Over the years, I’ve hired around 30 virtual assistants and, historically, the success rate has been about 50%. I’ve had my fair share of failures. However, at this point, I’ve got a process where the success rate is getting closer to around 90%.

Sounds good? Read on to learn how we do it.

Let’s start at the beginning.

Why you need a virtual assistant

Most people hear the term “virtual assistant” or “VA” and they think this is about hiring someone to help with tasks like email handling, scheduling meetings, etc. I do that stuff myself. Instead, when I hear the term “virtual assistant,” I think marketing, customer support, design, SEO, and outreach.

Email handling and scheduling are not repeatable tasks in my world. Most of them require direct answers from me to my contractors or to real people looking for a real response from me. I don’t know how I could outsource that.

What I do know how to outsource are repeatable processes in my business that produce ROI and growth. Here are the way the numbers break down:

We pay on average $4 USD/hour for our virtual assistants whom we typically hire full-time and who are mostly based in the Philippines.

  • $4 an hour * 8 hours a day = $32 a day.
  • CLV of a client at Hubstaff is over $500.
  • $32 per day * 20 working days in a month = $640.
  • So if each VA can get Hubstaff 1.28 ($640/ $500) paying clients per month we are at breakeven, not taking any viral growth into account.

So the takeaway here is that we are using VA’s for marketing and support related tasks that help us grow profitably (support is a growth channel at Hubstaff).

Outsourcing is not just about getting your email and scheduling done. It’s about running and growing your business at scale.

What tasks can a VA do?

Virtual assistants are best suited for tasks that can be blueprinted and done on a repeatable basis. I believe that almost anything can be blueprinted given enough effort (OK, maybe without scheduling and answering emails).

At Hubstaff, we have process maps and blueprints for the majority of marketing and support functions our team performs. These include:

  • Obtaining feedback from customers upon cancelation and organizing the data
  • Creating blog images and infographics
  • Answering customer support questions
  • Finding potential clients to reach out to
  • Adding comments to relevant conversations online (producing traffic and links)
  • Creating support articles
  • Minor video editing
  • Content recycling (creating graphics, slideshares, video, etc. out of existing content)
  • Any kind of research (finding potential clients, Twitter accounts, any kind of lists, keyword research)

The great part is that, in most cases, the same person can do all of the above so there is very little downtime for each virtual assistant. We keep all the documentation and tasks a VA can work on in a Trello board. We let VAs know what the main priority is and then allow them to work on any of the items they want after their main job is done.

For example, we will tell a VA that their primary job is support and that if a support question comes in they need to get on that question immediately. If there are no support questions in the queue, then they can take their pick of the extra tasks to work on. This has the effect of giving each person plenty to work on, but also mixes things up a bit so that they stay happy working for us.

Give your VAs a primary focus, but mix things up to keep them happy working for you Click To Tweet

The key thing here is that you can’t just say, “I need you to do keyword research.” They generally need an exact process to follow. This means documenting in very clear terms how you define success and how to perform the process in a step-by-step manner.

We do this through blueprinting.

Blueprinting and processes make it possible

The bad experiences I mentioned in the opening paragraph above happen for one of 2 reasons in most cases:

  1. Poor skills on the VA side
  2. Poor blueprinting and documentation on the management side

Blueprinting and documentation should be done before finding the VA so that you can confirm you have the right person who can complete the tasks.

Our hiring process involves what we call “assigning test tasks” and we find it that to do this trial effectively, we need to have a blueprint for the task at hand.

For example, here’s an example of a live testing document that our team used to vet two different support agents. When we go through this process, we are looking at the general quality of the answer, the ability to solve the user’s problem, and the level of English.

Support is a little different because all we have to do is take real questions that we are asked in our support system (in a Google doc so that we don’t need to provide live access to our tools), provide them with training on how to answer the questions, and then let them do it in the Google doc.

Here’s what the beginning of our support document looks like:

Support doc | Virtual Assistants: Scaling your Business through Outsourcing

If you are hiring for marketing, the process would be similar. You would have a process document for a particular task, say finding and reaching out to potential clients that fit your customer persona. Then you would have the agents start to go through the process of finding potential fits, and then you could even have them start reaching out to these leads.

Note that we usually test two or three people for each position and then choose the best. Many times what seems like the best fit in the interview will not be the best fit when it comes to getting work done. I would say that more than 40% of the time this is the case.

When developing the blueprint for a process, it’s important to document 100% of what needs to be done from the contractor’s perspective. This includes login information for the tools they need to use, recorded videos of how to complete the process, examples of what you consider success and anything else the team member needs to complete the process from start to finish.

The cool thing about developing these blueprints is that you can take a first shot at completing them, and then give a contractor the ability to go through the process. Ask them to make comments in the Google document when they have questions (this means that your process doc was not clear enough). Instead of just answering in the form of a comment, simply adjust the process document so that it clearly answers the question. Now have them go through the process until they can get through it 100% from start to finish.

Now you’re ready to scale the process. Select the VA that you feel the most comfortable with and hire them full-time (8 hours a day). The key is that since you now have a process document that clearly documents success, any shortfallings should be on the contractor. You cannot judge the quality of the contractor’s work until you have a process for them to follow, but once you do have that process and they’ve confirmed they understand it, it’s on them to complete it consistently.

How to find great virtual assistants

Now that you have the documentation for a specific task (or several tasks preferably) laid out, the next step is to find someone to do the work.

It’s important to have the documentation done first because it provides a very easy way for you to write a job ad to post on one of the freelancing sites or to describe the work that needs to be done to the people you’ll be interviewing.

Here’s a quick list of where you can find virtual assistants / marketers to work for your company:

  • Hubstaff Talent – this is a completely free directory, which we created with the aim of connecting the best talent in the worls with the most interesting projects
    Hire Freelancers & Remote Workers For Free - Hubstaff Talent - Google Chrome 2016-09-01 12.10.54
  • Google search – a simple google search for ‘virtual assistant firms in the Philippines’ for example can lead you to potential partners or help you get an idea about market rates and other critical information.
  • Linkedin – Here’s a search you can do on Linkedin:
    LinkedIn | Virtual Assistants: Scaling your Business through Outsourcing

    • If you have the premium account it’s easy to contact people. You can reach out and ask about rates, describe what tasks you need help with, and so on.
    • If you do not have a premium account, it’s a bit trickier, but still doable.
      • You can proactively ask to connect with people, use the invitation to include a short message about the purpose of your request (you would like to work with them).
      • You can also message your 1st connections and in addition, many of the profiles have other accounts listed on LinkedIn (twitter and personal blogs).
  • AngelList – We’ve had great luck on AngelList posting positions and starting conversations with marketing and development pros

AngelList | Virtual Assistants: Scaling your Business through Outsourcing

  • Freelancer
  • Virtual Staff Finder is a service founded and run by Chris Ducker that helps with finding VA’s from the Philippines. They have a structured process for sourcing, interviewing, and hiring workers. They charge $300 per staff member hired
  • Outsourcely – Probably the easiest platform to find talent by skill or skill rating and immediately start a conversation with them. Best of all Outsourcely allows you to hire workers directly and pay them directly. Outsourcely does not charge any fees.
    Outsourcely
  • Facebook groups – Another great place to look for team members. In the past, I’ve found the groups for entrepreneurs and/or marketers to be a great place to post that you’re looking to hire. On top of those who reach out to apply directly, recommendations by previous employers can be a great way to find team members.

We did an in-depth post on how we find and recruit virtual talent. In summary, we look equally for specific personality types and the skills that we need. To pass our screening process, a hiree needs to be a fit for the team personality-wise first, and then they must pass our skills requirements. The two very much go hand in hand.

Managing your Virtual Assistant

The final piece after you’ve documented the tasks and you’ve found a few people to test is to manage the work they do. Naturally, we do this through Hubstaff, but there are other options.

No matter which solution you choose, the important part is that you collect:

  • The hours that your team spends working
  • What projects they are working on
  • Automatic updates of what your team is doing

You need to gather this information because the work for virtual assistants should be hourly instead of on a full-time basis. Having access to this data not only ensures that you only pay for the work completed, but it also makes it easy to understand what to pay your team because the hours are there at a fingertip, and it helps you understand what was actually worked on at a glance. Here’s a screenshot of the data captured by Hubstaff:

Hubstaff activity | Virtual Assistants: Scaling your Business through Outsourcing

Here are some of the frequently used tools that gather this data for you:

  • Hubstaff ($5 or $10 per user flat depending on what you need to track)
    • Time worked, screenshots, websites visited, applications used, integrations with your project management software, automatic payments to your team
  • Upwork (10% of payroll)
    • Time worked, screenshots, automatic payments to your team, find workers
  • Harvest ($10 per user flat)
    • Time worked, invoicing, integrations with project management software. You won’t get screenshots and monitoring with these solutions but some companies are not looking for those features.

Outsourcing can make or break your business

It is really hard to make outsourcing work if you don’t have a structured approach to follow. The one I shared with you in this article is what I learned and developed thanks to my experience as a remote entrepreneur. Getting it right is what has allowed me to grow my businesses and I believe this can also be the case for you.

If you have any questions about outsourcing and hiring VAs, please don’t hesitate to post them in the comments section – I would be happy to answer them. I would also love to hear about your experience with hiring virtual assistants – what was your biggest challenge and how did you overcome it?

Related posts

If you enjoyed this post, you may also want to take a look at our Ultimate Guide to Hiring a Virtual Assistant7 Awesome Virtual Assistant Companies in the Philippines, or 10 Essential VA Software Tools we recommend.

  • Shantae White

    I am CEO of Virtual Care Assistance LLC. I am most definitely going to check out Hubstaff.

  • emmerey

    Nice article! this a great help for me and especially to those who are not familiar yet with how VA work is done and those who are aspiring to be one. I will definitely refer this article to my friends who are having a hard time managing their VAs. Thanks a lot!

  • Yani Lacaba

    This is a very helpful article, Dave. I’ve been working as a virutal assistant for a couple of years now. I am happy that you are giving information about virtual assistance to the employers especially on how they can get help from VAs. Hoping for more guides in the future.

  • Vanessa

    Really helpful article. I’ve been working with VA’s for about 18 months now, and I have to agree. Document everything, and then it’s up to the VAs to follow the procedures. The quality of the work that you get back is directly related to the quality of your procedures, I find.

  • Meg

    Thank you for this useful article. I am only just starting out but I know some people who have or are considering hiring VAs and who will find this very interesting and helpful.

    • Thanks Meg, we hope they also find it useful and that they share their experience with us

  • Love it! Great article.

    I have been outsourcing for a few startup projects that I have worked on before and now I am building up my virtual team from scratch again for my latest project.

    Documenting the process is definitely the key. I have created a list of Standard Operating Protocol (SOP) documents so everyone on the team knows how each task is done.

    It takes a substantial upfront time/efforts investment but in the long run it pays off.

    • “Standard Operating Protocol documents” sounds really hardcore, Tony, but we know exactly what you mean 🙂

      Part of my job as Hubstaff’s content lead has been to produce similar documents for our channels that deal with content production and once you invest the initial amount of time, it really helps with streamlining the process later on.

      Thanks for sharing your experience!