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How to document tasks and processes for your Virtual Assistant

Barnaby

Barnaby Lashbrooke

Founder and CEO of Time etc, author of The Hard Work Myth

8 minute read

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In this article, we're going to cover the importance of documenting and outlining the various tasks and processes your new virtual assistant is going to be responsible for.

While it is exciting to make a list of all the items you are going to be delegating, you must implement a thorough and detailed transition plan.

You may be surprised to discover how much knowledge and information you contain that now needs to be passed on to someone else.

What Needs To Be Documented?

Before your virtual assistant starts, you need to document any task or process that involves multiple steps. This can include a variety of tasks including bookkeeping, invoicing, inbox management, travel arrangements, scheduling meetings, or anything else that includes following several steps and coordinating with various people or departments.

Below is a list of the potential processes you can document for your new Virtual Assistant. Again, your list will be based on the tasks and responsibilities you plan on assigning your Virtual Assistant.

Tasks and Responsibilities

  • Inbox Management
    • Managing your inbox including answering lower level e-mails and bringing important ones to your attention
  • Scheduling Meetings
    • Sending internal and external meeting invites that include time, date, location, call-in information, and meeting agenda
  • Bookkeeping
    • Keeping track of receipts, paperwork, and additional expenses that need to be documented and shared with your finance department
  • Travel Arrangements
    • Arranging your travel including flight, hotel, town car, and trip itinerary
  • Submitting Expense Reports
    • Tracking and submitting all expense receipts into your designated system
  • Compiling Status Reports
    • Gathering status reports from your department heads and compiling them into one condensed report
  • Processing Invoices
    • Staying on top of all internal and external invoices and ensuring they are processed in a timely manner
  • Communicating Department Updates
    • Communicating your updates with the department heads
  • Customer Service
    • Answering customer questions and concerns
  • Event Planning
    • Planning events such as birthdays, employee appreciation events, and conferences

For example, a common process that should be documented for your new Virtual Assistant is how to make travel arrangements for yourself and your co-workers.

This includes understanding aspects such as: how far out to book, your travel budget, the airline you prefer to fly, payment method, and travel arrangements. This documentation should also include who needs to be contacted and what types of approvals they’ll need to secure before booking. Sometimes, this means they just have to give you a heads-up, but if you’re scaling, they might need to reach out to a finance department or your accountant.

Below is a sample of what this type of documentation could look like:

How To Make Travel Arrangements

Step #1: Confirm both arrival and departure dates as well as desired flight times from CEO, John Smith

NOTE: Do not book any flights that leave before 9 am or after 7 pm unless directed otherwise

Step #2: Confirm the location of where the event or meeting is taking place

NOTE: Do not book a hotel that is more than 15 minutes from this location

Step #3: Log into our corporate 'Travel Well' account using the log-in credentials shared in the locked password document.

NOTE: Do not book any travel outside of ‘Travel Well' without prior approval

Step #4: Search JetBlue flight first. If none are available, you may check Delta. Never book Spirit Airlines. If neither JetBlue nor Delta is available, check back with CEO John Smith.

Step #5: Book both arrival and departure flights at the same time. Always book first-class if available. If first-class is not available, book business class over economy. Always select more legroom. Choose an aisle seat whenever possible. Never choose the middle seat.

NOTE: If the economy and/or aisle seat are the only options, check with CEO John Smith before booking.

Step #6: Book a hotel room within 15 minutes of the event location. The room should be non-smoking and include a king-sized bed.

Step #7: Book necessary transportation from home to the airport, the airport to the hotel, and hotel to even location.

Step #7: Send flight, transportation, and hotel information to Jane Smith in the finance department.

Step #8: Use the following e-mail template to send information to CEO John Smith. Including all documentation including information and confirmation numbers via a hyperlink in the e-mail where appropriate.

Flight

  • Airline
  • Airport
  • Arrival Date and Time
  • Departure Date and Time
  • Confirmation Number

Hotel

  • Hotel Name
  • Check-In Date and Time
  • Check-Out Date and Time
  • Confirmation Number

Transportation

  • All pertinent transportation information

What To Include In A Process Document

The goal of a process document is to make it as simple as possible for the person reading it to achieve their objective in the shortest amount of time. Therefore, you want to include as much information as possible.

When writing out steps, do not assume your Virtual Assistant will know how to do something, regardless of how simple or easy you may think it is. Every single action you want the Virtual Assistant to take must be written out in its own step. Be sure to include any log-in information they may need to complete a step and the contact information of the best person to talk to if they have any questions.

You also want to consider including screenshots to accompany every step to ensure they are doing it correctly.

While these screenshots may not be needed after the first few tries, they will be invaluable if someone needs to step in for your Virtual Assistant in an emergency situation. You also want to include the e-mail of any individual who needs to be contacted before, during, or after the completion of this process. This could include someone in finance, shipping, or sales depending on the objective of the task.

Once you have written out all the steps to this process, it is important to outline how often this task needs to be completed. If it must be done every Friday or at the end of each month or quarter, you can suggest your Virtual Assistant put a recurring reminder on their calendar so they don’t forget it. Lastly, be sure to walk your Virtual Assistant through each process to see if they have any questions and if any of the steps could be made clearer.

Know What You Are Looking For

Creating the necessary documentation helps you understand what you are looking for in a virtual assistant.

It’s very possible that you have been doing some of these tasks for so long, they have become second nature. It is easy to forget the skills you need to complete these tasks effectively and efficiently. By writing them out, you can begin to make a list of what your Virtual Assistant will need to be successful.

For example, let’s say you write out ten processes and you discover that almost every single one requires advanced knowledge of a specific tool such as Microsoft Excel or Salesforce. This will now become a key requirement you will look for when scanning through the applications that come in. You may discover that the majority of your processes require communication with external vendors and partners. Therefore, your new Virtual Assistant must have strong communication skills and experience talking to people outside of your company.

Documentation Avoids Mistakes

It may be tempting to skip the time-consuming act of writing all of these processes out and simply give your new Virtual verbal instructions or a basic outline of what to do.

Essentially, you are asking your new assistant to “wing it” when it comes to executing the important tasks you hired them to complete. This type of behavior increases the probability that your Virtual Assistant will make a mistake that could cost the company both significant time and money.

For example, let’s say your Virtual Assistant is responsible for handling customer questions that come in through your website and social media channels. To avoid confusion, you may want to create a document that includes pre-written responses or a list of people in the company to pass the comment off to. If your Virtual Assistant is not supplied with this information, they may feel inclined to attempt to answer the customer themselves and end up saying something that is incorrect.

First, you may have to end up honoring whatever your Virtual Assistant promised in her response.

Second, you may have to go back and apologize for sharing incorrect information. The customer may get frustrated and think that you are an unorganized company and incapable of serving your customers. If this happens more than once, you may begin receiving negative reviews on Google and your social media pages. All of this could have been avoided by supplying your VA with a document that clearly outlined how to speak to customers on various topics.

In order to set your Virtual Assistant up for success, they need to be given all the information they need to do their job correctly. It is unreasonable to expect someone to excel at something without giving them documentation to refer to when they have questions. It is also unreasonable to think they will automatically reach out whenever they have a question. They may be hesitant to reach out with questions out of fear of being seen as someone who cannot retain information or do their job properly.

Documentation Saves Time

Not only does proper documentation of your processes avoid mistakes, but it also saves you and your team valuable time.

If you do not provide detailed instructions on how to complete something, your Virtual Assistant will be forced to interrupt you or a member of your team every single time they have a question. This defeats the purpose of hiring someone so you can get back your time and assign it to more important tasks. Furthermore, your VA may begin to get into the bad habit of simply asking you any time they have a question instead of trying to remember what you told them for next time.

When they have a document to reference, the number of questions they ask will drastically decrease.

When they do ask a question, you can refer to a specific step in the process instead of spending time explaining the entire step from scratch. In the event that you are not in the office, your Virtual Assistant will have a much better chance of figuring it out on their own if they have a document to refer back to. The last thing you want is a crucial task being delayed because you didn’t have the time to explain something.

Again, this defeats the purpose of hiring a Virtual Assistant in the first place.

Getting Organized

Once you have created your process documents, you want to make sure they are all stored in an easy-to-find place.

This will make your Virtual Assistant's onboarding phase considerably easier because they will know exactly where to go when they have a question. It is also helpful to have these documents stored in one central location in case someone needs to cover for your VA and you do not have the time to walk them through the process.

We suggest creating each process in its own separate Google Doc. This way, you or your Virtual Assistant can update the document whenever needed and you will always have the most up-to-date version. Then, you can store the link to each document in one master Google Sheets file. This file should include the following columns

  • Name of Task
  • Link To Document
  • Log In Information
  • Key Point Of Contact
  • Frequency of Task
  • Key Points To Remember

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About the author

Barnaby
Barnaby Lashbrooke is the founder and CEO of Virtual Assistant service Time etc as well as the author of The Hard Work Myth, recently recommended by Sir Richard Branson. Barnaby is a Forbes Columnist on productivity and is also an accomplished entrepreneur, selling more than $35 million worth of services.

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