As a savvy business owner, you know you can’t do everything yourself. You understand that your time is most intelligently focused on activities that grow your business and generate revenue. And these days, outsourcing your administrative work to a Virtual Assistant makes it easy to get the amount of support you need without having to hire in-house staff. Virtual Assistants are professional experts who partner with clients in ongoing, collaborative business relationships. But how do you find a highly skilled, truly qualified Virtual Assistant?
Below are points to consider and questions to ask as you go about the selection process.
1. Consultation You naturally want to find a Virtual Assistant you can work with well, and whose personality and style is compatible with yours. You also want to gain some insight into whether this is a person offering a professional level of skill and service. You want to choose a Virtual Assistant who gives some indication that he or she will be professional, responsive and easy to work with. In making contact, take note of these clues:
* Does she/he respond to your inquiries in a timely manner?
* Does she/he answer the phone professionally?
* Does he/she follow-through exactly as promised?
2. Expertise Not only do you want a Virtual Assistant who is masterfully skilled and can provide superior service, but you also want someone who demonstrates excellent business sense, especially since she will be instrumental in helping you in your business. During the consultation, information you should expect the Virtual Assistant to cover with you should include:
* Significant time going over your needs, goals and challenges
* A clear overview of how they work with clients;
*What support the company provides (as well as what it doesn’t);
* What both of your values and expectations are for working together;
* Discussion about fees.
3. Personal and Professional Traits Listen for the cues that tell you this is someone on whom you can depend. How professionally the Virtual Assistant handles their business correlates directly with how well they will handle your work and business relationship. Some things you should pay attention to include:
* Does he or she ask lots of questions about you and your business? Are those questions smart and purposeful? This demonstrates an expert’s understanding that this information must be obtained before he or she can determine how she can help.
*Is he or she confident and articulate? This tends to indicate someone who is competent, knowledgeable and will be proactive in supporting you.
* Does she/he inspire feelings of comfort and trust? Listen to your gut.
You have to fit together well on a personal level before anything will work at the business level.
4. Skills and Experience The Virtual Assistant profession expects those who enter its ranks have at least five years upper level administrative experience earned in the real world. That said, it is an unregulated industry and although industry leaders work tirelessly to promote high standards, anyone can slap up a website and call themselves a Virtual Assistant—including those with little or no qualifications, or only entry-level skills that do not equip them to meet the demands of your very real and important business needs. Asking some of the questions below will help you discern the difference:
* What was your professional background prior to opening your Virtual Assistant practice?
* How many years of administrative expertise do you have?
* How would you rate your skill level with _____? You might ask this in reference to certain skills or software competencies relative to the specific support you need. For example, a client who needs ezine support will need a Virtual Assistant versed in autorespnders and perhaps HTML.
* What kind of work and skills do you currently utilize with clients?
* How would you characterize your level of understanding with regard to business principles and operations? Keep in mind that Virtual Assistants are independent professionals—not employees. Just as you would not ask an accountant, attorney or any other service professional for their resume as if they were applying for a job, it is inappropriate to ask a Virtual Assistant for hers or his, and the request would be considered ill-mannered.. The company's website and marketing collateral acts as a resume, and testimonials from current or former clients her references.
5. Business Commitment Look for a Virtual Assistant who is actually IN business to best serve your needs and expectations. If a Virtual Assistant only freelances or dabbles in this work on the side, that lack of business commitment can definitely cause you many headaches, wasted time and an all-around unsatisfactory experience. This is often manifested as longer turn-around times, lack of continuity, poor communication, conflicting priorities, interrupted progress, and long or inconvenient periods of unavailability. Some important facts to take note of include:
* How long has the company been in business?
* Is it a full-time or part-time practice?
* Does the practice have well-thought out policies and business standards that will support you in working and communicating together effectively?
6. Testimonials A successful, experienced Virtual Assistant will have client testimonials on their website. They should be willing to provide prospective clients who are in active consultation with and contact information of satisfied clients who are willing to speak with you about their perceptions and experiences.
7. About the Virtual Assistant Virtual Assistance is a collaboration, a “partnership” so to speak. That means it’s a two-way relationship. Many Virtual Assistants provide an “About the Owner” page on their website as a way to share important aspects of themselves with prospective clients. It’s intended to provide you with a view into their personal ethics, belief systems, personality and goals. This information can be helpful in determining whether you share similar values and sensibilities, and want to talk with the Virtual Assistant further. Since you will be choosing each other, make an equal effort to get to know the Virtual Assistant by reading that page.
8. Pricing Virtual Assistant average market rates range between $2
5 – $70 per hour. Virtual Assistance is not the type of service you want to price shop. Certainly, we all are interested in getting the best value we can. But we’ve all heard the saying “you get what you pay for,” and this is very true in the Virtual Assistant profession as well. Take yourself for example. You know you aren’t the cheapest, and you wouldn’t want to be. You know that delivering expertise and quality comes at a price, but the value of that caliber of service extends far beyond mere dollars, and, in turn, saves your clients money. You know this. And the same is true with Virtual Assistants. You will find Virtual Assistants who charge very little—so little, in fact, that they can’t possibly be running a profitable, sustainable practice, one that’s going to be around long enough for you to depend on. Inappropriately low rates also signal a lack of business sense, which most often translates to poor quality, and lack of skill and experience. The consequence of hiring a Virtual Assistant who falls in this category is that your investment in her is unstable and ever at risk. Virtual Assistants who don’t price their services profitably quickly begin to fail their clients. In their last gasps, they may end up taking on a day-job or more clients than they can handle just to break even, becoming overwhelmed in the process. To cope, they might turn to subcontracting much of your work out to others which typically results in longer turn-around times, less availability, and inconsistent service, delivery and quality of work. You want ability. You want someone you can work with well. You want great customer service. You want your work cared for by the person you intentionally chose to handle it. And you want someone who’s going to stick around. So look for quality and value—it’s an investment that will literally put money back in your pocket.