Growing your business is exciting. Your hard work has paid off, and it’s finally time to work on the next steps in your overall strategy.

But business growth also means that there’s more work to go around. You want to focus on the big picture, but you need to handle the increased demands of your day-to-day operations.

Have you ever gotten to the end of a demanding week and realized that you didn’t finish anything you wanted to accomplish? Instead of negotiating partnerships or analyzing your sales funnel, you spent the whole week processing orders and putting out fires.

Hiring another team member isn’t always the right answer. If you hire at the wrong time, you’ll slow your growth instead of adding fuel to the fire.

Growth means there’s more work to go around, but it doesn’t always mean it’s a smart time to hire.

Spending that revenue on payroll means you have less capital you can use to grow in other areas. Plus, it’s hard to find a jack-of-all-trades that can fill in all your gaps.

Hiring a virtual assistant is a smart solution. Virtual assistants can pick up the slack without eating up too much of your budget.

Use these links to jump ahead in this article.

What is a virtual assistant?

A virtual assistant (VA) is an off-site contractor who completes a wide range of tasks for your business. They handle everything you’d expect from an office assistant, and many have more specialized skills like content writing or customer service.

Businesses use virtual assistants to fill in gaps. You don’t need a full-time receptionist, office administrator, or personal assistant. Delegating work to VA is more efficient and cost-effective.

Most of the time, virtual assistants are contractors. They are not considered employees of your business. You don’t have to withhold taxes, provide equipment, or handle human resources for them.

Use virtual assistants to fill in gaps.

Since they’re not employees, it’s okay if the workload is inconsistent since they can be hired on an hourly or a per-project basis. If your tasks tend to cluster at the end of the month, delegate work to your virtual assistant when and how you need to.

Why hire a virtual assistant?

Infographic: Why you should hire a virtual assistant

The more your business grows, the more valuable your time becomes.

You can’t pack more hours into a day. It’s crucial to spend your time wisely and finish the things that only you can do. Delegate everything else and focus on your highest priorities.

A virtual assistant can help you do that. Here are some of the reasons you might consider hiring a VA:

  • You need another person on the team, but you can’t afford a full-time hire yet
  • You need help with specific tasks, but there’s not enough work to justify a full-time hire
  • There’s not enough time to focus on your top priorities
  • Your workload is too stressful
  • Local candidates don’t have the skills you need
  • Though you need an administrative assistant, you don’t have office space for them

Your virtual assistant can be a temporary fix or a long-term partnership. It depends on the types of work you need them to do.

A great virtual assistant helps you get more done with less investment.

Some companies hire multiple VAs to handle different types of work. You might have a personal assistant that helps keep you organized, plus someone who specializes in social media management to help your marketing team.

The benefits are clear:

  • Save money – VAs usually operate as independent contractors. You aren’t responsible for a contractor’s payroll taxes or benefits. Save money by hiring someone based overseas who charges less than US-based VAs.
  • Gain access to a broader pool of talent – Hiring virtually gives you access to a wider talent pool. You’re not limited to local applicants.
  • Prevent burnout – If you’re one of those entrepreneurs who want to do everything themselves, you risk burning out and harming your health. A virtual assistant reduces your workload and decreases stress. With a manageable workload, you’re less likely to burn out.
  • Save on office space – If you work from home, hiring a virtual assistant means you don’t have to rent office space. If you do have an office, you’ll save money on supplies.
  • Address your skill gaps – You can’t be good at everything. Hire a virtual assistant that has the skills you don’t. They’ll get better results in less time.
  • Focus on growing your business – Entrepreneurs can spend too much time working in their business instead of on their business. If that sounds like you, you should consider hiring a virtual assistant to handle day-to-day tasks. Focus on growing your business.
  • Have more time for yourself – While growing your business is important, it shouldn’t come at the expense of your health or personal relationships. Virtual assistants reduce your workload, so you can spend more time on other things that matter to you. Spend more time with family. Give yourself space to recharge.
  • Around-the-clock availability – Wouldn’t you like to wake up and find that your work is already done? Hire an international VA and your business will keep operating while you sleep. They also work during holidays. There’s always someone to help if customers have issues or if there’s an emergency.

How much does a virtual assistant cost?

Virtual assistant rates can vary greatly depending on the type of work, the VA’s experience level, location, and how long you plan to work together.

Skills and experience cost more. If you need specialized skills, expect to pay a specialized rate.

Some assistants prefer to charge a monthly retainer. This usually includes a certain amount of time and limits on the types of tasks they perform for you at that rate.

Whether you pay monthly or hourly, it’s still about the same amount for the same work.

Here’s what to expect.

  • Type of work – How much you’ll need to spend on a virtual assistant will depend on the type of tasks you want them to handle. If you only need your VA to keep an eye on your email inbox and do basic customer support, it might cost you anywhere from $5 to $25 per hour. More skill means a higher rate. For example, you can expect to pay at least $50 per hour for things like your marketing strategy.
  • Experience level – The more experienced the virtual assistant, the more they’ll charge. It’s often worth the expense to find someone with lots of experience in businesses like yours because they’ll get more done in less time. The quality of the finished work should justify the higher rate.
  • Location – Virtual assistants in more expensive areas charge more than those who live somewhere with a low cost of living, like the Philippines or India. Consider time zones, cultural differences, and language barriers when hiring a VA from another country. These things don’t matter for some assignments like accounting. But if you need them to communicate with clients or write social media posts, it matters.
  • Length of assignment – Just like software subscriptions, you’ll pay a little less if you commit to a long-term assignment. Expect to pay a premium for a short-term assignment that requires specialized skills.

Which tasks can a virtual assistant perform?

What can a virtual assistant do? Almost anything your business needs.

The best tasks for virtual assistants are important for your business but require little or no strategy. In other words, they probably shouldn’t design your marketing plan, but they can monitor the performance of your Google ads.

Discuss an assistant’s full set of responsibilities before you hire them. You should know exactly what work they do for the rate you pay. Use our free template to create a written responsibilities agreement.


Office management is a common VA task. From ordering your team’s favorite coffee to printing shipping labels, those tedious tasks are easy to delegate.

If you want to get the most value, consider outsourcing these types of tasks.

Bookkeeping

A virtual assistant is not an accountant, but they can make your financial management much easier. Delegate bookkeeping tasks like reconciling bank transactions and payments, tracking expenses, and creating budget reports.

If you do client work, your assistant can create and send invoices on your behalf. Ask them to follow up on outstanding invoices.

With some simple rules, you can also delegate bill payments and simple outgoing expenses. Get regular reports so you’re always aware of what’s incoming and outgoing.

Content writing

Content is an important part of your business. It’s also time-consuming to create.

Save time by delegating product descriptions, press releases, and other writing work to your virtual assistant.

Keep in mind that writing content that performs well in search and appeals to customers is a specialized skill. Expect to pay a higher rate if you want great quality writing work.

Even if you’re a great writer yourself, it’s a good idea to have someone else check your work. Your assistant can proofread and give feedback on the stuff you write.

Data entry

Data entry is simple and tedious. You shouldn’t be wasting your own time on it.

Your virtual assistant can collect and sort all your data and input it into whatever software you use. If you deal with sensitive customer data, make sure there are security protocols in place.

Hiring

Finding new employees is a time-consuming process. If you need to outsource the whole process, work with a recruiter. They’ll help you with your strategy and narrow down your options to the best candidates.

But for leaders that want to handle their own hiring but need to cut down on the time it takes, a virtual assistant is perfect.

Unless your VA has lots of recruiting experience, you should make the strategic decisions yourself. Take the time to review qualified applicants and choose top candidates. Leverage your assistant to take other tasks off your plate so you can focus on those important decisions.

Email and schedule management

How long do you spend answering emails every day? Studies show that most people spend 28% of their workweek reading and answering emails. That means that every week, you spend more than 11 hours on email alone.

Now, consider this: how many of your emails are really important?

Get help with your inbox. A virtual assistant can organize your inbox, reply to simple emails, and forward any urgent communications for immediate review. This means you spend less time on email and it’s less of an interruption in your day.

Scheduling appointments can big a big time drain. Stop asking for availability and let your assistant manage your calendar.

Presentations

An excellent presentation might help close your next deal. That doesn’t mean you need to create it all on your own.

Your assistant can compile data, design slides, and add speaker notes. Give them a clear outline of what you want so they can do a great job the first time.

Research

There’s no shortcut to get information into your head — we still can’t download knowledge directly into our minds like The Matrix — but you can still save time by delegating research tasks to a virtual assistant.

Ask for research on prospects, competitors, industry news, or almost anything else. Your assistant will filter out sketchy sources and articles that don’t have the exact information you want so you can get right to the point.

Travel plans

If you do a lot of business travel, you know how tedious it is to book trips. There’s so much to coordinate. Plus, if you want to take a business partner out to dinner, you need to research good restaurants in an unfamiliar town.

This is the perfect type of task to outsource to a virtual assistant. It saves you a ton of time, and there’s a low risk of something going wrong because the work is fairly simple.

Where to find a virtual assistant

It’s easy to find a good virtual assistant. Unfortunately, it’s also easy to find a bad one.

You can filter out a lot of unqualified candidates by looking in the right places.

Referrals are a great place to start. Ask your network for recommendations. Some of your peers probably use an assistant they really like.

If you don’t find someone through a referral, here are some reliable places to look.

Freelance marketplaces

Hubstaff Talent

Freelance marketplaces connect employers with people who do contract work. Choose a reputable platform like Upwork or Freelancer.com. These platforms have rigorous standards so that you only find reliable, properly vetted candidates.

You can find great virtual assistants on Hubstaff Talent. It’s our very own database of remote talent. We created it to help businesses find high-quality remote team members like virtual assistants, developers, and graphic designers. Filter listings based on location, skills, and hourly rate.

When you search for a virtual assistant, use keywords and filters to find people who are most qualified to work with you. For example, if you run a dropshipping website, look for people who specialize in e-commerce.

Post your open position on a freelance marketplace to find virtual assistants that are actively looking for work.

Virtual assistant agencies

Delegated

Virtual assistant agencies like Delegated and Boldly are convenient and reliable. Instead of hiring an individual, you hire the agency and get access to their team of virtual assistants.

There are pros and cons to this type of arrangement.

An agency can handle a wider variety of tasks because they have multiple people to service your account.

On the other hand, you may not work with the same person consistently even if you want to. Agencies may charge more than a freelancer for similar work because they have more business expenses.

Job boards and job search engines

Indeed

Another way to find a virtual assistant is to post a job posting on a career site like Indeed or Monster.com.

Since these sites attract millions of job seekers every day, posting there gets you in front of a large pool of virtual assistants.

However, it also means that you’ll need to spend lots of time reviewing applications.

If you plan to hire on a contract basis, make sure that’s clear in your job description. People come to these boards looking for all kinds of assistant jobs. Be very clear about the estimated hours you expect and the type of working arrangement you offer.

Skills to look for when hiring a virtual assistant

There are a lot of virtual assistants out there. You can hire from anywhere in the world, after all.

Since most virtual assistants work on a freelance or contract basis, they often differentiate themselves with unique skills or certifications. How do you know who is the best fit for you?

Look for these qualities in any potential candidate:

Communication skills

Since you don’t see your virtual assistant face-to-face, they need excellent communication skills.

Most of your communication will be in writing, so look for someone who can get their point across clearly.

Make sure they can understand you and will ask questions if they need clarification. A great virtual assistant knows when to ask for help.

Industry experience

An assistant who understands your industry needs less training. You’ll finish onboarding faster and get better quality work from someone with relevant experience.

This also applies to the specialized work you want your assistant to do. For example, if you need someone to help write product descriptions, look for a VA who has written product descriptions for similar items.

References

Asking each candidate for references before you hire them. Verify these by reaching out to the people they listed as their references.

If you find an assistant through an agency or a freelance marketplace, the information page will often include references. You can’t call and verify them, but you can read comments from other business owners.

Responsiveness

A different time zone is no excuse to leave you hanging. You should never wait two or three business days to get a response unless they’re out sick or on vacation.

Virtual assistants should answer your messages in 24 hours or less. Often, overseas assistants will work odd hours in their local time zone to match their US-based clients.

Read our thorough guide about remote and asynchronous communication here.

Ability to handle feedback

The best team members want to get better. They appreciate feedback because it helps them understand what you expect and do a better job.

A person who wants more feedback is eager to learn. That’s a great quality in any member of your team.

Assistants who are good at taking feedback create more value for your business as they hone their skills. Practice giving valuable, actionable comments with good communication habits.

Attention to detail

Hire a virtual assistant that pays attention to detail. This person should take the extra time to find and correct mistakes like spelling errors in emails or duplicate transactions in your bookkeeping software.

Detail-oriented assistants make fewer mistakes.

Efficiency

Whether you pay by the hour or by the month, a good virtual assistant must work efficiently. When work takes longer, it costs more.

Efficiency comes with experience. It also comes with a higher price tag. As long as your virtual assistant really does get more work done in the same amount of time, a higher rate makes sense.

Resourcefulness and proactiveness

While you can’t expect your VA to be a jack-of-all-trades, you still want them to be resourceful and capable of learning things as they go. Hiring a VA who’ll ask you a thousand questions every day will drain your energy and waste your time.

Look for someone proactive and capable of figuring things out on their own. At the same time, make sure you document all your processes so that the information is there to find.

Great candidates take the initiative and figure it out. They’ll still run things past you, but they don’t need you to hold their hand.

Ability to work well under pressure

Things won’t always go according to plan. There will be times when you’ll need to assign a lot more work to your VA than usual.

When deadlines loom and the stakes are high, your assistant should come through.

Time management skills

Look for someone who understands prioritization. Deadlines exist for a reason, and a virtual assistant should be capable of managing tasks and priorities without missing due dates.

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How to hire a virtual assistant

A virtual assistant can be a contractor or a part-time employee. In most cases, it makes sense to hire on a contract or freelance basis so that you assign work as needed.

Hiring contractors is a similar process to hiring employees. The exception is with virtual assistant agencies. If you work with an agency, it’s more like subscribing to a helpful software service — you pay an hourly or monthly fee, and they provide whatever you need.

There are a few nuances when hiring a virtual assistant through a freelance marketplace or job board. Here’s how to do it right.

1. Document the tasks and processes you want to outsource

Make a list of all the tasks and processes you might want to delegate. It’s okay if that’s a long list.

Now, consider this: if your virtual assistant needs you to walk them through each one of those tasks, are you actually saving time and labor?

Documenting processes is a good idea even if you’re not planning to hire a virtual assistant. Those guides are valuable to help you train new employees and keep your current team consistent.

Start with the highest priority tasks. Write down each step that has to be completed before you consider the project done.

It’s a good idea to give your documentation a test drive before handing it over to a new virtual assistant. Try it yourself or give it to a member of your team to use as a checklist while they work. If you missed anything, it will be obvious when you’re actually doing the job.

2. Create a virtual assistant job posting

Unless you hire an assistant from a referral or an agency, create a job posting. You can use versions of the same posting for job boards and freelance marketplace websites.

Cover all of these points in your posting.

  • Company overview – Talk about your company size, industry, and the products or services you offer
  • Position summary – Briefly describe the duties and responsibilities for this role. Clarify your expectations so candidates know what to expect
  • Job requirements – List requirements like previous VA experience, education level, or time zone restrictions
  • Pay range – Be clear that this is a contractor position. You’ll receive more qualified applications and filter out people who aren’t a good fit if you mention the hourly rates you’re willing to pay

Effective job postings are detailed and clear. A person should be able to tell whether or not they qualify. Give them enough information that they can decide if they want the job and how likely they are to be a good fit.

Share your job posting to LinkedIn and in any business-related social media groups in which you’re active. Your network may come through with a great referral.

3. Review applications

Reviewing applications is tedious, but it must be done. Doing this by yourself will remind you why you wanted a virtual assistant in the first place.

Since a virtual assistant is a detail-oriented position, look for attention to detail in the application. Good candidates are thorough. They fill out every part of the application and check for errors before submitting it.

Pay special attention to candidates with experience in your specific industry. While a lack of industry experience doesn’t mean a candidate would be a bad fit for the position, having experience in your industry is a big plus.

Top applicants should have at least two references. If they applied through a freelance marketplace, you can see those references on their profile page.

Narrow down the pool of applicants to about five people who look like good candidates, then start interviews.

4. Schedule interviews

Once you’ve narrowed down the pool of applicants, schedule interviews. Video interviews are best, but a phone interview is a good backup plan.

Read each candidate’s resumé thoroughly before the interview. Don’t waste time asking candidates to repeat information already in their resumé. Instead, use the interview to ask for more details.

It’s easier to compare candidates if you ask similar questions in each interview. Keep a list of questions that you always want to ask, like:

  • What are your core skills?
  • How do you avoid errors when you do routine tasks like preparing reports?
  • How do you keep yourself motivated when doing repetitive tasks?
  • Have you worked with a client that had a hard time telling you what they wanted? How did you deal with them?
  • How do you prioritize tasks when you don’t have specific deadlines assigned?

Great candidates have questions for you, too. They want to know what it will be like to work with you. Give them enough time to ask what they want to know.

Remember — while you’re interviewing a candidate, they’re interviewing you. Tell candidates what their core duties and responsibilities will be so they can decide if they’re the right fit for this job.

5. Test top candidates with a trial project

If you only plan to use your virtual assistant for routine tasks like data entry, you can skip this step.

But if you need someone with more advanced skills, a test project is a great way to help you make the final choice. It’s a great way to assess skills and learn how they handle deadlines.

Assign a test project that is either actual work or is very similar to something you’d normally assign as real work. For example, if you need your virtual assistant to answer customer service tickets, you can give them a sample of 5 questions you already addressed to see how they would respond.

Read more about hiring remotely and assigning test projects in our guide here.

Trial projects are not a way for you to get free work from job seekers.

Pay for all the real work that people do for you. If you use a hypothetical project, it should be something that the candidate can finish quickly. Respect their time and effort.

6. Offer your contractor agreement

Some virtual assistants have standard contracts. Make sure you read those thoroughly. You should both be able to step away without consequences.

Most virtual assistant agencies have a standardized agreement that they’re not willing to alter. If you don’t like the agency’s terms, your best option is to find a different agency or hire a contractor yourself.

For companies that deal with sensitive data, it might be worthwhile to ask your virtual assistant to sign a nondisclosure agreement.

Whether you use their contract or yours, make sure you set the right expectations.

Define what success looks like. Your virtual assistant should know what you want them to do. Check-in with them regularly during their first 90 days to answer questions and give honest feedback. This will help them get to know you and do a better job.

7. Build a relationship with your new virtual assistant

Once you’ve hired a virtual assistant, help them feel comfortable working with you. Since they will handle a lot of personal work for you, it’s worthwhile to invest in that relationship.

Stay in touch. Ask for their opinions. Whenever it makes sense, leverage their experience and knowledge to help you make decisions. They’ll see that you respect and value them.

It might make sense to invite your virtual assistant to attend some meetings. For example, if you have a meeting with your team to discuss a big project and you know you’ll want your VA to handle some of those tasks, include them in the conversation. They’ll have more context and feel like part of the team.

You’ve hired your VA. Here’s how to manage them

Managing a virtual assistant isn’t rocket science, but there are a few things to keep in mind.

Since they’re not a full-time team member, your VA can feel like an outsider. Feeling disconnected makes it harder for them to perform like the rest of your team.

Here’s how to fix that.

Train effectively

Training sets your new assistant up for success. It’s not fair to dump a bunch of work on their virtual desk and expect them to figure it out. You’re a leader, and you should invest enough time and effort into training to create the results you want.

Make training more efficient by using your process documents — we talked about those earlier — as a resource. Put them in a shared folder that’s clearly labeled and easy to find.

Recorded training videos are a major time-saver. You can record your screen and talk through the steps while you’re doing work that you want to delegate. It’s like a shadowing exercise, except you don’t have to be there at the same time.

Give your assistant detailed information on every task. List desired outcomes and address any issues that may arise.

The more you explain at the start, the less often your assistant has to interrupt you to get their job done.

Equip your VA with the right tools

You want your virtual assistant to be as effective as possible. Equip them with the right virtual assistant software.

Here are a few tools you should consider getting for your VA.

Process.st

  1. Buffer – If your VA manages your social media pages, make everyone’s job easier with a social media management tool like Buffer. Your VA can use Buffer to plan and schedule content across all your social media pages.
  2. Calendly – This is a great scheduling tool. If you have a lot of meetings, especially with people outside your company, this is a big time-saver. Teach your virtual assistant to set limits like time buffers and daily meeting limits.
  3. Slack – This is one of the best virtual communication tools for back-and-forth conversations. It’s also powerful for virtual assistants because you can securely add a non-employee to your workspace. If you part ways later, they’re easy to remove.
  4. Process Street – Do you want your VA to perform tasks in a certain way? Create checklists and standard operating procedures for them using a tool like Process Street. Checklists reduce uncertainty and errors.

Communicate regularly

Communicate with your VA regularly, especially during their first few weeks.

Start by checking in on them daily. See how they’re doing. Ask if they’ve run into any issues.

As they get used to working with you, you won’t have to check in on them every day. However, you should still talk to them at least once or twice a week. They have other clients, and the more visible you are, the more attention you get.

Track virtual assistant hours and projects

Hubstaff and Hubstaff Tasks can help you manage your virtual assistant hours more effectively.

Hubstaff

Hubstaff is an employee time tracking solution that can track your VA’s hours and maximize their productivity. You can use it to:

  • Track time – Understand how your virtual assistant spends their time on the job
  • Measure productivity – Analyze your VA’s productivity and optimize the way you get work done
  • Manage payroll – Integrations with several payment processors (including PayPal, Wise, and Payoneer) mean you can pay your virtual assistant right from Hubstaff

Use it to understand how much time your assistant needs to complete tasks. This is a powerful tool to help you clear bottlenecks and make sure you’re getting the work that you paid for.

Add Hubstaff Tasks to your tech stack for an even bigger productivity boost. Manage all of your projects, tasks, budgets, and timelines in one place. Delegate work to your virtual assistant easily.

When you assign work to your VA, they can see the history of that task and have access to everything they need to get the job done. It’s easy to pick up in the middle. When they finish work, their notes are visible to everyone else who needs to know what’s going on.

How to pay your virtual assistant

There are several ways you can pay your virtual assistant. The best method depends on where they live and what kind of payments they accept.

Here are some of the most popular options.

PayPal

PayPal

PayPal is one of the most popular payment processors in the world.

It’s easy to use and puts great emphasis on protecting the buyer (in this case, you). The system is intuitive and fast.

PayPal’s main drawback is its high transaction fees. Virtual assistants often refuse to accept PayPal payments because the fees nibble away at their profits.

Payoneer

Payoneer

Payoneer is popular among freelancers. It supports more than 200 countries and over 150 currencies. With lower fees than PayPal, it’s an attractive option for contractors who take payments from multiple clients.

The main issue with Payoneer is that businesses need to make at least $20,000/month in payroll payments to use it. This is a high bar, so most startups have to use something else.

Wise

Wise

Wise (formerly TransferWise) is fast and easy to use. It has the lowest transaction fees out of all the options on this list.

The main problem with Wise is that it’s currently only available in 59 countries.

See our blog post comparing Payoneer, Paypal, and Wise here.

If your VA is not from one of the supported countries, you’re out of luck. Either look for a different payment solution or hire only in countries that you can pay.

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Next steps

Ready to hire a VA? Here’s what to do right now:

  • Determine what you need your VA to do – Do you need help with data entry, order processing, content writing, or something else? Write down all the tasks you’d like your virtual assistant to handle.
  • Start documenting your processes – With your task list in hand, pick the two or three that are most important to your business. Write down all of the steps that a person needs to complete to finish that task. This might take a while, but it’s important to be thorough and accurate.
  • Bookmark this post – There’s a lot to think about when you work with a virtual assistant for the first time. Come back to this article for reference.

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This post was originally published in November 2015. It was updated in March 2021.