Hiring and Working with Virtual Assistants
Hiring and working with virtual assistants doesn't have to be hard.
One of the biggest mistakes real estate investors make is waiting too long to get help. I know because I was guilty of this. Whether it’s hiring a part-time person that is an actual employee 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 and get started.
I am reading a book now called “Who Not How” by Dan Sullivan. This is a great book that will help you find your “Whos.” Your whos are the people that will do the work you need help with. Rather than learning how to do something, find a “who.”
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. Once you dive into hiring and working with virtual assistants, it can change your life.
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. You can start small, but make a plan now and get started. Many people start this process by hiring and working with virtual assistants (or VA's, as they are commonly called).
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 for hiring and working with virtual assistants, 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 can't afford to hire an employee, hiring and working with virtual assistants can be a real lifesaver. Some of us actually prefer having VA's rather than actual employees.
Which Comes First?
One question that I have been asked is which comes first?
Is it creating the work for virtual assistants to grow my business faster or waiting to hire someone until I have grown my business and I am swamped?
Most folks choose the second option. They will try to do it all until they feel like they are drowning.
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. I Can’t Afford It!
Yes, you can. Just start small.
You can get a quality virtual assistant for $4 or $7 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 more complicated (or requires a higher level of skill), you can expect to pay more. A highly skilled VA will be in the range of $20 an hour.
You can also find local folks to help out, such as students, college interns, and stay-at-home moms. Start out by outsourcing just a few hours at a time or even 1 job at a time. College students often need to work a certain number of hours as an internship for their college degree. I had an intern reach out to me through my lead generation website, and I can tell you she was great!
Reason #2. I Don’t Know Where to Start
When you talk about hiring virtual assistants, that’s actually a pretty common fear business owners face. 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 using Zoom, Loom or Screencast-o-Matic
- 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 real estate investors get hung up on, but I think the answer to this question is really pretty simple.
The first few 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 generate leads or at least has the potential to generate revenue. When you’re thinking about hiring and training virtual assistants the first time, think about revenue-generating activities. The other thing to outsource is things you hate doing or are really bad at. This frees up time for you to focus on things you are good at that you enjoy doing.
There is a great book on this topic called “Clockwork” by Mike Michalowicz. After reading this book, you will be crystal clear on which tasks you should be focusing on and which tasks you should outsource.
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 everything you do in your business. Be sure to include things you should be doing but don't currently have the time to do (or you're just avoiding). These are important things to note.
Look at all of those tasks, whether 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, I want to concentrate on revenue and leads.
Once you have finished, you will probably have some of these things listed below on your revenue and lead generation list.
Most marketing activities can be outsourced like:
- Direct Mail
- Bandit Signs
- Cold Calling
- Responding to leads from your website
- Social media posts (for business). These can be prescheduled by your VA using a free service like Hootsuite, Coschedule, or SmarterQueue.
- Return mail. Most people are throwing these leads away. Try to find new addresses for these folks using Google or by skip tracing them. These leads are golden!
Some tasks have the potential to generate revenue, but the result 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
- Creating lead magnets or freebies for your website
- Sending video “thank you notes” to sellers using a service like Bonjoro.
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 your income and lead-generating activities, you can begin making your second list. These are not necessarily revenue-generating activities, but they are things you don’t want to do. These are prime things to consider when you are hiring and training virtual assistants.
If you are a new real estate investor, you will probably have to wait to implement the tasks on this list. But if you have been in business for a while, you might be able to outsource some of these types of tasks now.
So what are these tasks?
- Things that you hate to do
- Repetitive things 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 doing it. It is also one of the things I put off doing.
- Research on properties that you can teach someone to do
- Help with my podcast and my blog
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 a 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 hiring and training a virtual assistant, you have to find someone to interview.
Here is Where to Start Your Search
If you are looking to hire someone, here are some places to start. You can find both short-term and long-term help from sites like Upwork. For graphics and other occasional things you need to have done, I have used all the other sites listed below.
- 99 Designs (for graphics)
- Rev for transcription (such as turning a video into a blog post)
- These are just a few places you can find someone to help out in your business
I've had good luck with Upwork. When I needed some higher-level work done on my website, that's where I found a talented specialist. The person helping me with my blog and my podcast also came from Upwork. Here's a big shout-out to Carol. She is awesome!
Here's a tip for you. When you find someone good, try to hold onto them. Let them know that you appreciate them.
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 who 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 or 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 could not find a suitable candidate here in the US since their spoken English was an important part of this particular job.
That meant that I had to look for someone on one of the outsourcing sites like Upwork. That turned out to be a challenge. 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 using a service like Rev. Rev is a great resource for transcription, but it wasn't yet a business at that time.
You're Going to Pay More for Special Skills
This brings me to one point I want to make. The more specialized the skills needed for a particular job, the harder it may be to find someone. You can also expect to pay them more because they have special skills. However, from my experience, if you find the right person, they will literally change your life. As entrepreneurs, we don't need to be doing “all the things.” Another point to consider is whether you want to spend months training someone to do higher-level work, or do you want to pay someone who is already good at these things what they are worth and move on?
That's exactly what you want to do. Hire a specialist.
Here's an example. A while back, I 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 immediately figure out the problem, get the files removed, and 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 some of the people on Upwork, and I found some highly qualified people outside the US.
I interviewed a couple of people, 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 in the middle of the night where I am located. 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.
More recently, my VA referred me to a very talented web person I have worked with many times. I now have a go-to person for my websites whenever I have a problem which is a huge weight off my shoulders. You can expect to pay about $18-20 an hour for this level of expertise from someone outside the US.
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 these virtual assistants was really easy.
My Awesome VA's
I have a VA that I mentioned before that keeps things up and running on my websites and my server. My main VA, Carol, is located in the Philippines. She is amazing. Carol does higher-level work for me. She is smart, detail-oriented, really good with software, and she is very efficient with her time. I'm very lucky to have her.
I had another person named Sheila, who was located in the Philippines when I first started working with her. She has since relocated to New Zealand. Sheila was also very detail-oriented and followed directions extremely well. She started working for me probably 6 or 7 years ago doing lower-level tasks. Since relocating to New Zealand, she has limited time as she was required to get a job as part of her immigration. I think of her as “family” now as I watch her children grow up through the magic of Facebook.
Your VA is a valuable part of your team, and it's important to work with them much like you would an actual employee that works in your company. Good communication is critical. For instance, if one of you plans to take a vacation, the other one should know.
So, Where Do I Find My VA's?
I find them primarily 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 love Fiverr. I guess you could say that I (kind of) have a “Fiverr addiction.” To date, I have ordered more than 100 “gigs,” as they are called. You have to admit that “gig” sounds a whole lot sexier than a 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 plus a small service charge, 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. Understand that these folks are in addition to your virtual assistant(s).
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 transcribing a group of videos. I had also done that in the past when I needed work done on my website (that nasty code that got on my blog). I really wasn’t interested in an hourly rate person for those particular jobs. I wanted a fixed 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, for instance, $50 or whatever the amount is for this job. You are asking who will do the job for this price. They may also come back with a counteroffer that is acceptable to you, so be open to that.
By the Hour
The second way is to post the job, set the hourly rate, and 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 may be able to negotiate their desired salary if you find someone you really like. Some of those folks are open to talking about their listed price.
The way I typically do it now is I find the right person for the job, then I determine if I can pay them the hourly rate they want. I would like to point out one thing at this time. It has been my experience that a higher level (and therefore a higher-paid person) is almost always more skilled, more efficient, and actually saves me money in the long-term. Quality, skilled workers cost more than entry-level workers.
What If No-One Is Interested?
Someone will always be interested.
I like to go on the site and look for someone with 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. 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, several people will respond to your posting, so you will always have candidates to choose from. You want to look at their skills and check their ratings on Upwork. Good ratings are extremely important. I look for applicants with a 98%-100% positive rating. Look at the recommendations from past clients.
I also like to find someone who has worked for another person for a long time. That usually means they are a good, reliable candidate. I will go over screening these folks in a bit.
On average, how much will it cost me?
You can find a low-level VA for somewhere around $3.00- $6.00 an hour. The median annual salary in the Philippines in 2021 is just under $13,000 a year, which is around $6.00 an hour. Many people make less than the median salary, and others make more than the median wage.
My recommendation is to pay your people more than the average wage if they do a good job. You want them to stay with you over time. You should consider giving them a bonus from time to time. Take good care of your VA, give them raises or bonuses 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 timesheet 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 logged that day, but I don't do that.
The Hiring Process
Like many 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 sometimes difficult to hire someone who will be a good fit for you and 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 an investor that found a different solution. He has hired 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” at 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.
Starting the Hiring Process
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 first 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 the candidates 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 contacted each 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 who said they should 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 move my website to a new server, the new server company told me I needed a lamp stack technician for this job. Now, I had no idea what that was, but I could look for that specific person on Upwork. I found someone pretty quickly in another country. His rate was $30 an hour. Remember that you will pay more for expertise. Comparing that rate to the US-based folks, which were $100-$150 and up, my guy was very affordable.
The most important part, however, was that he was skilled at doing this type of work. Moving my blog with over 800 pieces of content (at that time) was terrifying. I had no idea what would happen to the layout, the content, and other things involved. Hiring the right person for the job was key to this going perfectly.
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 video Interview.”
Doing the Zoom 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 several 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 to our Zoom interview. So what did I learn from this?
Her English was excellent, 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 allow me to use her in the future for other types of tasks. I was looking to establish a long-term, ongoing relationship with someone over time.
As I said, I would always recommend doing a video interview. Virtual assistants won't have any problem with that request. They do these all the time. Doing a Zoom interview also lets them check you out.
Have I Ever Regretted My Hiring Decisions?
Never! My VA's are the right people for me. 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 good procedures for training them. I like to put together what I call a “task packet” for lower-level workers. You generally don't need to do that for more skilled workers.
What do I include in this online packet of information?
- An overview of the job I want to be done
- Step by step instructions
- Any login information needed to do the job (I use LastPass for sharing password links)
- 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 thing is that when you thoroughly document everything needed to perform the task or complete the project, you have a procedure in place if you should ever need to train someone else down the line.
I typically use Zoom or Screencast-o-Matic for creating these screencast videos. You can also use Loom. All of these are really easy to use. There is a free version of these programs to get started with. There are also very affordable paid versions if you need to create longer videos.
Communicating with Your Virtual Assistant
Once you start hiring and working with virtual assistants, it becomes all about making the process easy. Asana, Dropbox, and Trello are a few 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. Trello helps keep me organized.
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 that originally told me about Asana!
Outsourcing Your Direct Mail
I have all of my postcard mailings done by a postcard mailing service. That is one of the easiest things to outsource, and there are many different companies you can use. You can pretty much set that up so that it is on autopilot.
Today, it's also cheaper to outsource your direct mail letters to a company for printing and mailing. My go-to company for direct mail marketing is Open Letter Marketing.
The type of mail piece matters!
For some of my niches, like probates, I only use (mail merged) white computer-generated letters that look like the envelopes have been hand-addressed. Also, I didn’t like the fact that these mailing services often used window envelopes. Those envelopes make your mail piece look like junk mail, which people will just toss in the garbage.
DIY: What if You Want to Do it In-house?
We did the mailings in-house for many years due to the cost of outsourcing them in the early years. Once the letters were printed, I had a young woman take care of the rest of that process. She was a graduate student that folded, stuffed, and hand addressed my mail for about $12.00-$14 per 100 pieces. She gave 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 an ad in a local publication. One mistake I made when I first outsourced this task 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. Before you commit to doing your mailings in-house, check with Open Letter Marketing and get a price. I think you will choose to outsource this task.
Want a PDF of this Guide?
If you’re not already outsourcing, change that today. Pick one thing, and as Nike says, “Just do it.”
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