This article which was originally published in 2016 has been updated.
Hiring and 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 working with 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 outsourcing and begin working with virtual assistants.
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. The way many people start this process is by hiring and working with virtual assistants.
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, hiring and working with virtual assistants is really pretty easy to do.
You Need a Master Plan
You really do need a master plan, and here it is in the simplest of terms:
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. When you cannot afford to hire an employee, working with virtual assistants can be a real life saver.
Which Comes First?
One question that I have been asked is which comes first?
Creating the work for virtual assistants 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 as your business grows.
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. Working with virtual assistants will make your life so much easier. Let's talk about the #1 reason people have for not working with virtual assistants.
Reason #1. But… I Can’t Afford It
Yes, you can. Just start small.
You can get a quality virtual assistant for $3 or $4 per hour for tasks that don't require special skills, and I will go into that more as we put together your plan. For upper level work like web security or anything that is more complicated (or requires a higher level of skill) you can expect to pay more.
You can also find local folks to help out such as college students and stay at home moms. Each time you get into hiring and working with virtual assistants gets a little bit easier. Start out by outsourcing just a few hours at a time or even 1 job at a time. If you are reluctant to start outsourcing by working with virtual assistants, find an intern at a local college. College students often need to do a certain number of hours as an internship for their college degree.
Reason #2. I Don’t Know Where to Start
When you talk about hiring and training virtual assistants, 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 for hiring and working with virtual assistants 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?
Trying 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. When you’re thinking about hiring and training virtual assistants the first time, think about revenue generating activities.
First Steps for Hiring, Training and Working with Virtual Assistants
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. Be sure to include things you should be doing but don't currently have the time to do. These are important things to note.
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 below on your revenue and lead generation list.
Most marketing activities can be outsourced like:
- 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 prescheduled by your VA using a free service like Hootsuite.
- Return mail. Most people are throwing these leads away. Try to find new addresses for these folks.
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
- Sending thank you cards to sellers once you have looked at their property
- Sending previously recorded video “thank you notes” to sellers
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. These are prime things to consider with hiring and training virtual assistants.
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
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 and ultimately need to get done.
Here are 4 things I would personally put on my list:
- Bookkeeping – it’s not hard but I hate to do it
- Entering contacts into my database
- 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.
- Research on properties that you can teach someone to do
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 Do You 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. Before you ever get to the stage of actually hiring and training a virtual assistant you have to find then.
The “White Elephant in the Room”
First of all, I want to address “the white elephant in the room”; hiring overseas workers.
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 these:
- Upwork (formerly Odesk)
- 99 Designs (for graphics
- Rev for transcription (such as turning a video into a blog post)
I have had good luck recently with Upwork when I needed some higher level work done on my website. Here's a tip for you. When you find someone good, try to hold onto them. Let them know they did a great job for you.
My First Experience with VA’s
Hiring and working with virtual assistants is usually pretty easy, but not always. Initially the problem was that I didn't do a good job of thinking through exactly what I needed.
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
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. The terminology turned out to be a much bigger problem than I anticipated. I finally got the job done, but not without a lot of headaches. Transcription is one job that I would only get done here in the US in the future.
You're Going to Pay More for Special Skills
This brings me to one point I want to make. The more specialized the skills are that are needed for a particular job, the harder it may be to find someone, and you will have to pay them more. Here's an example. I recently needed to have a website cleaned that had been hacked. I found out from one of my readers that Google had marked my site as “unsafe”. I had to figure out what the problem was immediately, get the files removed then resubmit my site to Google.
I will just tell you I had no idea how to do that. I needed someone good at solving this particular problem. I got estimates from folks on Upwork. US workers wanted on average $100 to $150 an hour. I knew this was going to take several hours at a minimum. I checked into the qualifications of some of the people on Upwork that were in other countries and let me tell you, I found some highly qualified people.
I interviewed a couple of them and before the day was over, I hired a man that said the job would take about 2 hours since he was skilled in this area of expertise. His charge was $30 an hour or I could choose a fixed price of $50.00.
Sold! $50.00 it is.
So how did it go? It went great. There was a time difference of about 8 hours, so he did the job the next morning (for him) which was my midnight. The job was completed before I got up the next day. He found 300 pieces of code for an ad for a particular drug used by men. These ads led back to a website. He removed all of them and resubmitted my site to Google. That piece of the job took around 24 hours to get my site off the blacklisted category. That was some of the best money I have ever spent. You can bet I kept his information.
This goes without saying, but when you do finally find the perfect person, you want to be sure to show your appreciation. Hiring and working with this virtual assistant was really easy.
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 was located in the Philippines when I first started with her. She has since relocated to New Zealand. Sheila is smart, very motivated, detail oriented, and follows directions extremely well. She is also very efficient with her time. I have been working with her for several years now.
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.
When I needed to set up an iTunes channel, her husband who is a highly educated computer person took on that job for me. He set up my channel and uploaded my first 5 or 6 podcasts for me.
So, Where Did I Find My VA?
I found her on Upwork which was called Odesk at the time.
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 love Fiverr. I guess you could say that I kind of have a “Fiverr addiction”.
To date, I have ordered over 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.
I am currently using a gal in Britain to edit my podcasts. Each one is $5.00 plus a $1.00 service fee. What a bargain and I don't have to do it.
How Do You Decide How Much to Pay Your Virtual Assistant?
We 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 and for my recent work on my WordPress site. I really wasn’t interested in an hourly rate person for those particular jobs. 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. Most of those folks are open to talking about their listed price.
What If No-One Is Interested?
Someone will always be interested.
I like to go on the site and look for someone that has the qualifications I am looking for, rather than post a job and get responses. The reason for this is that suddenly everyone has the skills you are looking for. So I like to look at the candidates and then reach out to them.
If you want to do it the other way and place an ad you can do that.
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. Pay special attention to their rating and satisfaction level when you're hiring a virtual assistant.
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- $5.00 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 $5.50 an hour now, but she started at $4.00. This was at a time when most people were asking $3.00 to $3.50. 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, give them raises just like you would do for an employee, and they will do a good job for you.
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.
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.
Outsourcing Your Direct Mail
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 about $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
Like a lot of other things, we tend to make the screening and hiring process a lot harder than it actually is. Before we go into the hiring process, let’s go over the first four pieces of this puzzle we have covered so far:
- Creating a “Master Plan” for Outsourcing
- Figuring Out What to Outsource
- Finding an Affordable VA or Part-time Person
- Paying Your VA
I think getting this 5th piece right is crucial, and it is 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 when you are hiring someone locally. Sometimes you need to think outside the box. Here’s an example for you.
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.
Whether you are interviewing someone locally or in another country, the same procedures will work. Here is another example based on my experience hiring someone for transcription.
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. You want to use the same screening process no matter where they are located.
Next I looked at the skills the applicants 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 post an ad and 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!
When I was looking for someone to work on my website, that job also involved my server. The server company told me I needed a lamp stack technician for my problem. Now, I had no idea what that was, but I was able to look for that specific person. I found someone pretty quickly in another country. His rate was $30 an hour. Remember that you will pay more for expertise. Comparing that to the US based folks which were $100-$150 and up, my guy was very affordable.
The Next Step – The Interview
I went back at this time and looked at their “resumes” again, and I also sent each one an email saying I would liketo 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, so I thought there was a good probability that her transcription skills would also be better than average. She presented herself as an intelligent, very professional, detail oriented person that wanted to do a good job. The one thing I got wrong was she didn’t understand the terminology used in real estate.
Overall she was still 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.
As I said, I would always recommend doing a video interview. Virtual assistants won't have any problem with that request.
Have I Ever Regretted My Hiring Decision?
My main VA was the right person for me, and she is still with me after several years. I was also happy with all of the computer/server techs. The key thing here is that I took my time and stuck to my criteria.
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 or Zoom for creating these screencast videos. Both are really easy to use. There is a free version as both of these programs well as really affordable paid versions if you need to create longer videos.
At the time I got it, the paid version of Screencast-o-matic it was less than $30 for 3 years. The paid versions of both programs allow for longer recording times. Zoom has a free version that you can use to record up to 40 minutes. I have a paid version that is less than $15.00 a month that allows me to make longer calls and record longer trainings. I love Zoom because you can just sent someone a link to meet with you.
Communicating with Your Virtual Assistant
Once you start hiring and 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!
If you’re not already outsourcing, change that today. Pick one thing and as Nike says, “Just do it”. For more tips on working with virtual assistants and some cool tools to use, JUST CLICK HERE.
If you want to schedule a 1 on 1 call with me to talk about specific strategies for building your brand and creating more effective marketing for your business, you can do that here by clicking this link.
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