The Comprehensive Guide to Hiring and Working with Virtual Assistants

July 23, 2016 in Investing In Real Estate

Working with virtual assistants

Hiring and working with virtual assistants doesn't have to be hard.

I have found that one of the biggest mistakes real estate investors make, it waiting too long to get help. I know because I was guilty of this. Whether it’s getting a part-time person or hiring a virtual assistant, you need to do it sooner rather than later.  That’s the reason I have put together this comprehensive guide to hiring and working with virtual assistants. I want you to just take the leap to working with virtual assistants.

 

The Problem

Let’s face it: one person just can’t do it all.  We need help if our businesses are to grow and thrive!  In fact, I would go so far as to say you need to outsource or die a slow, painful death from being overworked and overwhelmed.

So what do you do if you can’t hire an employee right out of the box (which by the way most people can’t do)?  You need to look at outsourcing some of the work.  Plan to start small, but make a plan now and get started.

 

Solopreneurs Are a Lonely Bunch

Successful businesses are rarely ones that are “solopreneurs” forever.  My goal with this guide is to make it easier for you to “let go” of some of the work, and to show you that it can be very affordable. Remember that you have to create a plan and just take baby steps toward your goal. You won’t get there without a plan, so make that your first step.  You will find that once you make the transition, working with virtual assistants is really easy to do.

 

You Need a Master Plan

Here it is; your master plan.

Your plan should be to fire yourself. That’s right. You want to make yourself irrelevant in your business. You do this by outsourcing everything (over time) except those tasks that require you to be the face of the business.

 

Which Comes First?

One question that I have been asked is which comes first?

Creating the work for a VA so that I can grow my business faster, or waiting to hire someone until I have grown my business and I am swamped?

Most folks with choose the second option. They will try to do it all until they feel like they are drowning. Hello; this is the “voice of experience” speaking.

I would like to propose to you that it should actually be the first option. Outsource something early on that will create leads and revenue for your business.  Begin working with a virtual assistant now so that he or she will grow with you.

This is probably the time to point out that it’s much easier to create these systems and procedures when you are not so busy.

 

But… I Can’t Afford It

Yes, you can.

You can get a quality virtual assistant for $3 or $4 per hour, and I will go into that as we put together your plan. You can also find local folks to help out such as college students and stay at home moms. Hiring and working with virtual assistants gets a little bit easier every time you do it.  Start out by outsourcing just a few hours at a time or even 1 job at a time.

 

I Don’t Know Where to Start

That’s actually a pretty common fear. So just feel the fear and move forward anyway. It’s important to realize that no two real estate businesses are alike.  The plan you create for your business will be unique to your particular situation.

In this guide, we will cover all the pieces to the puzzle such as:

  • Where do I find someone?
  • How much will it cost?
  • Which tasks should I outsource?
  • What should I outsource first?
  • How to create procedures ONCE that you can use over and over again
  • What is a task package and why do I need one?
  • How to create simple training videos in 15 minutes or less for your VA
  • And much, much more

 

How Do I Figure Out What to Outsource?

working with virtual assistantsTrying to figure out what to outsource is one of the first things that real estate investors get hung up on, but I think the answer to this question is really pretty simple.

I think the first couple of things you outsource should be something that at least has the potential to generate income for your business. Since money is the number one reason we don’t outsource early in our businesses, it’s not unreasonable to want to outsource something that will bring us income or leads that have the potential to generate revenue.

 

First Steps

Sit down when you have a few minutes alone so you won’t be distracted and write down every single thing that you do in your business.

Look at all of those tasks whether they are daily, weekly, monthly or even occasionally. You want to be sure everything gets on your list. Once you think you have everything written down, the next thing is to separate them into two lists; tasks that have the potential to generate leads or income, and those tasks that aren’t directly revenue producing activities.

Things like clerical work don’t generate income (unless this is your business). Those would go on the non-revenue generating list. We will talk about “boring or lower level tasks” later on, but for now concentrate on revenue and leads.

Once you have finished, you will probably have some of these things on your revenue and lead generation list:

Most marketing activities

  • Direct Mail
  • Bandit Signs
  • Flyer Distribution
  • Cold Calling
  • Putting “We Buy Houses Ads” on Craig’s List
  • Responding to leads from your website
  • Social media posts (for business). These can be pre-scheduled by your VA using a free service like Hootsuite

Some tasks have the potential to generate revenue, but it won’t be immediate.

  • These are things like:
  • Posting articles to articles to your website
  • Creating videos
  • Video editing
  • Uploading your video’s and optimizing them on YouTube

There are so many more things that are perfect for outsourcing. You will need to make your own list but once you are thinking along the right lines, you will find this process comes pretty easily.

 

Planning for the Future

Once you have figured out what your income and lead generating activities are, you can begin making your second list.  These are things that are not necessarily revenue generating activities, but things you don’t want to do.

If you are brand new real estate investor, you will probably have to wait to implement the tasks on this list. But if you have been in business awhile, you might be able to outsource some of these types of tasks now.

So what are these tasks?

  • Things that you hate to do
  • Things that are repetitive that don’t require a lot of skill or knowledge to do
  • Things that you really aren’t very good at that someone else would be better at doing.

Once again, this list will be different for almost everyone. Once again, these are not revenue generating tasks, but they are things that eat up your time.

 

Here are 3 things I would personally put on my list:

  1. Bookkeeping – it’s not hard but I hate to do it
  2. Entering contacts into my database
  3. Regular updating of my lists. This is a tedious job and I really hate toing it. It is also one of the things I put off doing.

Your long term plan should include any tasks (that should be done regularly) that you routinely put off doing. These are things that should be outsourced.

Get rid of them!

 

Where Did I Find an Affordable Virtual Assistant?

So…exactly where do you find VA or part time worker for your real estate investing business? This is actually one of the easier parts of outsourcing.

 

The “White Elephant in the Room”

First of all, I want to address “the white elephant in the room”; hiring overseas workers.White elephant

It’s tough to find an affordable VA in the US.  Whenever possible, I will hire US workers.  Sometimes you get lucky and find a mom or student that just wants to make a little money.  I have found a few good people by posting ads on Craig’s List. But more often than not, that just isn’t the case.

If you need to look other places, you can find good VA’s with all different on all of the big outsourcing sites like Upwork (formerly Odesk), Fiverr and many others.  For awesome graphics there is 99 Designs.

 

My First Experience

Hiring and working with VA’s is usually pretty easy, but not always.

The very first thing that I tried to outsource was a transcription job.  I needed to have some videos transcribed.  I looked for someone for about a week scanning through resumes on several online sites. This wasn’t a job that required any special skills; just good typing skills.

Sounds pretty simple doesn’t it?  It didn’t turn out to be so easy.

Here’s the problem I had.  Most of the workers that I found that were willing to do this job fell into one of two categories:

They either claimed to have a reasonable rate but estimated the hours it would take to be 3 – 4 times longer than I knew it should take to transcribe a 30-minute video. Or, they asked for a rate of $18-$22 an hour which was unrealistic for this type of work.   I tried and tried, but I was unable to find a suitable candidate here in the US.

That meant that I had to look for someone on one of the outsourcing sites like Upwork.  That turned out to be a challenge, because I needed someone that was not only proficient in English but understood terms specific to my business.  I got the job done finally, but it was a challenge.

This brings me to one point I want to make. The more specific the skills needed for a particular job, the harder it may be to find someone.  When you do finally find the perfect person you want to be sure to show your app

 

My Awesome VA

I would like to go on record and say that I love my VA. She is awesome!  I also have several friends that have a VA (virtual assistant) that they love. My gal is from the Philippines. She is smart, very motivated, detail oriented, follows directions extremely well, and is efficient with her time.  At this point in time, I have been working with her for several years.

Whatever tasks I give her, and some of them are daily, recurring tasks, she does them exactly as I have requested. If she runs into any type of glitch she simply sends me an email telling me what it is. If she will be out of town or on vacation, she lets me know in advance about those sorts of things. She is the perfect part-time person for me. She is not only an affordable VA but she takes great pride in doing a good job.

 

So, Where Did I Find Her?

I found her on Upwork.

Upwork is easy to use, and they have good systems for tracking the time people on your “team” spend on your work. They send you regular weekly updates, but you can check your VA’s time log online at any time.

I also use Fiverr all the time; I guess you could say that I have a “Fiverr addiction”. To date, I have ordered close to 100 “gigs” as they are called.  You have to admit, that “gig” sounds a whole lot sexier than “job” or “task”.  If you aren’t familiar with Fiverr it is a site where you can get just about anything done for $5.00 so be sure to check it out. Every once in a while, I will get work back that wasn’t exactly what I wanted, but by and large they are great.

 

How Do You Decide How Much to Pay Your Virtual Assistant?

House-and-dollar-signWe have covered a lot of ground when it comes to hiring and working with virtual assistants. Now it’s time for the big question; how much do I pay a VA?

There are typically two ways you can pay folks. You can either pay them by the job or by the hour.

By the Job

You can post a job opening and offer a set amount of pay for the job needed like I did for transcribing a set of videos. I really wasn’t interested in an hourly rate person for that particular job. I wanted a price for the whole job much like you would ask for if you got bids to paint the exterior of your house.

If you have a job like this, you can post the job and set the amount you would like to pay such as $50 or whatever the amount is.

By the Hour

The second way is to post the job and set the hourly rate, then wait to see who applies for your job posting.  You can also do that in reverse. You can post the job, and see what the interested individuals charge per hour.  You can always negotiate their desired salary if you find someone you really like.

 

What If No-One Is Interested?

Someone will always be interested.

Typically, a number of people will respond to your posting, so you will always have candidates to choose from. You want to look at their skills, check their ratings on Upwork, and I like to find someone that has worked for another person for a long time. That usually means they are a good, reliable candidate.

Once I find someone that I think would be a good fit for me and my business, it’s time to look at how much they charge. I may agree with that amount or I might negotiate a rate that I feel is more appropriate for the job.

I will go over screening these folks in a bit.

 

On average, how much will it cost me?

You can find a VA for somewhere around $3.00- $4.00 an hour. The average wage in the Philippines is around $3.00-$3.50 per hour.

My recommendation is to pay them more than the average wage.  I pay my VA about 5.00 an hour. She is very good at what she does, and I want her to choose me to work for. I also give her a bonus from time to time. Take good care of your VA, and they will do a good job for you.

 

Payment Methods

Most of the bigger outsourcing sites will let you pay your Virtual Assistant through PayPal. You can also pay with a credit card, but I personally like to use PayPal.  I feel like that is safer for me.

Upwork sends you the time sheet well in advance of when the person will actually get paid so that you have ample time to review the hours they have worked.  You also have time to dispute any charges or the number of hours they report.  I haven’t personally had any problems with the hours reported when working with virtual assistants.

I know about how long each task should take once they have a little experience. I have actually found my VA to be quite efficient. You can also go into the site every day and check the time that has been logged that day.

 

Other Ideas

I have all of my postcard mailings done by postcard mailing service. That is one of the easiest things to outsource, and there are a number of different companies you can use. You can pretty much set that up so that it is on autopilot.

For some of my niches like probates, I only use white computer generated letters with hand-addressed envelopes. Those letters are printed in-house because it is so much cheaper when you are mailing letters. I also didn’t like the fact that these mailing services often used window envelopes.  Those envelopes make your mail piece look like junk mail.  People will just toss it in the garbage.

Once the letters are printed, I have a young woman that takes care of the rest of that process for me. She is a graduate student that folds, stuffs and hand addresses my mail for $11.00 to $12.00 per 100 pieces.  She gives them back to me and I put the stamps on and mail them. Don’t give anyone stamps.

I would recommend that you follow this procedure so that you have control over your mailing process.  (You want to be sure they are actually mailed).

It’s not too hard to find a responsible college student or stay at home mom that wants to earn some extra money each month. Start by asking friends and relatives. You can also place a free ad on Craig’s List.  One mistake I made when I first outsourced this job was to hire someone too far away from me. It was cumbersome to drop off and pick up the mail pieces.

Once again, it doesn’t have to be perfect. The most important thing is to just get started.

 

The Hiring Process

Let’s dive right into the actual hiring process. Like a lot of other things, we tend to make the screening and hiring process a lot harder than it actually is.

Let’s go over the first four pieces of this puzzle we have covered so far:

  1. Creating a “Master Plan” for Outsourcing
  2. Figuring Out What to Outsource
  3. Finding an Affordable VA or Part-time Person
  4. Paying Your VA

I think this 5th piece is crucial; the actual hiring process.

It’s always difficult to hire someone that will be a good fit for you and for your business. It’s a difficult job even in hiring and working with virtual assistantsthe1

I know someone that has a group of retired ladies that answer his phone from about 8:00 am until 8:00 pm each day. These ladies decide among themselves who will be on call on any particular time or day (a true sub-contractor situation). They don’t live in his city, but that really doesn’t matter. He has found that this works very well for him and I might add, that it works very well for this group of women. They are running their own little business according to their needs.

 

Finding Someone

Whether you are interviewing someone in a remote location of the US or even in another country, the same procedures will work. When I started looking for someone on Upwork, I posted my job and waited to see who applied. Then I sorted through those online applicants in the same way you would if they were actual job applications sitting on your desk.

I looked at the skills they had listed to see how closely they matched the job I had to offer. When I had 4 or 5 interested job applicants that I thought might work for me, I emailed each one of them. I had a list of questions specific to my job which was transcription.

They were questions like how long they had been doing this type of work, and how long they estimated it would take them to complete the transcription of one 30-minute video/audio.  You will notice I didn’t ask them about their typing speed. I’m pretty sure the answer would have been “I am very fast”.

I have a different procedure today.  I have found over time, that when you list a specific skill set, everyone suddenly has those exact skills.  Now I look for someone specifically on Upwork that has listed the skills I’m looking for in their online resume. Then I will move forward with the interview process. I have found this works much better for me.

 

Narrowing Down the Applicants

I asked each one of the applicants how long it would take them to transcribe a 30-minute video. One gal’s answer was 3 ½ to 4 hours. OK; that was way too long for a 30-minute video.  One told me about 2 hours which was also too long.  Next I got 2 people that said they should be able to transcribe a 30-minute video in approximately the same length of time or around 30 minutes.

That was the answer I was looking for!

 

The Next Stepvirtual assistants

I went back at this time and looked at their “resumes” again, and I also sent each one an email saying I would like to do a “Skype Interview”.  Doing the Skype interview made my decision much easier. One of the people I was most interested in had indicated that she worked just over 2000 hours for one person the previous year. (Hours worked is actually tracked by Upwork on their site). This was ultimately the person I chose in part because of her ongoing relationship with one employer. She also had a number of other jobs listed she had done for other employers.  All of the reviews on her work were excellent.

One of the biggest reasons I chose her though was due our Skype interview. So what did I learn from this?

Her English was very good. This meant there was a good probability that her transcription skills would also be excellent. She presented herself as an intelligent, very professional, detail oriented person that wanted to do a good job.

She was a good fit for me and my business.  Her skills would give me the opportunity to use her in the future for other types of tasks. I was looking to establish a long term, ongoing relationship with one or more persons over time.

 

Have I Ever Regretted My Hiring Decision?

Never! She was the right person for me and she is still with me after several years.

Here is a tip for you. One other important question for you to ask is your candidate is, “What type of work do you like to do the most”? If they say math and you are looking for an article writer, well … you need to keep looking; at least until you need some bookkeeping done.

 

Training Your VA

You need to be really thorough when it comes to training virtual assistants. You can’t expect them to do a good job if you don’t have procedures in place for training them.  I like to put together what I call a “task packet”.

What do I include in this online packet of information?

  • An overview of the job I want done
  • Step by step instructions
  • Any login information needed to do the job
  • A screen capture video for further clarification

Some might call this a little bit of overkill, but I have found that it makes this process a whole lot easier for everyone involved. The other things is that when you thoroughly document everything needed to perform the task or project, you have a procedure in place if you should ever need to train someone else down the line.

I use Screencast-o-matic for creating these screencast videos. It’s really easy to use. There is a free version as well as a really affordable paid version if you need to create longer videos. At the time I got it, the paid version was less than $30 for 3 years.

 

Communicating with Your Virtual Assistant

Once you start working with virtual assistants, it becomes all about making the process easy. Asana and Dropbox are two of my favorite tools. They work together seamlessly. I use Asana to communicate with my virtual assistants, and Dropbox to store files like videos and audios.

The beauty of this is you can now attach files from Dropbox right in Asana. You can also have multiple teams.

Here’s a really cool thing too; it was one of my VA’s originally told me about Asana. It’s a perfect collaboration!

 

Final Thoughts

If you’re not already outsourcing, change that today.  Pick one thing and as Nike says, “Just do it”.

 

 

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