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Where to find a Virtual Assistant

Barnaby

Barnaby Lashbrooke

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

8 minute read

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Once you've decided you're going to hire a Virtual Assistant it's time to start looking for one - but it can be difficult to know where to start. There are several different ways to find a Virtual Assistant - all with different advantages and disadvantages.

Here we explore the top few ways to find a Virtual Assistant to join your team.

Online Marketplaces

One of the most popular places to find a Virtual Assistant is to search freelancing platforms like UpWork, Freelancer, or PeoplePerHour. There are dozens of sites that offer to connect businesses and enterprises up with a freelance VA for short or long-term work.

Depending on the platform, searching is pretty straightforward. You can choose by country, budget, or skills. Many of these platforms allow their freelancers to write fairly extensive profiles or bios that list their skills and proficiencies, which can save you a lot of time if you’re trying to get someone up to speed in a niche industry.

The other way you can connect with freelancers on these channels is through listing a job. Here, you can outline the terms, conditions, and minimum requirements and sit back and wait to be inundated with applicants. From there, all you have to do is pick the right person for the job.

However, choosing the best person for the job isn’t always easy. Some platforms have a tight screening process; others, not so much. While you will have many people to choose between, a large portion of them will not have the experience or quality to do the job.

Freelance platforms offer reviews or star ratings for their clients, plus the facility to browse the other jobs they’ve completed on the site. These can be useful for getting a sense of the type of worker you’re considering and can provide a warning sign of any potential problems.

If you run into problems with a hire from these sites, there are some protections in place. For example, UpWork requires you to escrow your payments to the site before releasing them to the freelancer. These escrows hold the money for the full job or even certain milestones, meaning funds are only released when you are satisfied the job is complete.

Should your VA perform the tasks below your standard, many of these sites offer a remediation process. However, below standard is somewhat subjective, meaning if they’ve done the work, the platform may side with them during a dispute.

While many freelance marketplaces are geared toward one-off jobs, recent years have seen them respond to the demand in the market and offer a bit more flexibility. Longer-term arrangements can be negotiated by the hour or by the total project price.

Pricing is something that you should consider. Freelance marketplaces charge a fee of between 10-30% of the freelancer’s earnings. Because of this, many freelancers build this percentage into their hourly earnings or bid price. You can see high prices on these platforms; however, they are mainly competitive.

One of the drawbacks of these platforms is that they will require a certain level of engagement on your behalf. You need to post the ad, sift through applicants, and then interview candidates before offering the job. This is time-consuming, and it occasionally happens that once you’ve gotten through all that administration and you’ve found the one, someone beats you to the offer, and now, they’re not available.

The competitive nature of freelance marketplaces means that applicants will frequently apply for many jobs per day. As a result, many use stock templates and don’t even read the job description. To weed out these applicants, state a phrase near the bottom of your ad that they should open their cover letter with. This way, you’ll know they’ve taken some time to read the ad, and they’re not just bombing out applications.

Overseas Outsourcing

One of the best things about the internet is how it enables remote working. And when you consider that the cost of living varies dramatically worldwide, this opens businesses and organizations up to a whole host of global talent — and often at rock bottom prices.

The main attraction of outsourcing overseas is the price. You can find perfectly competent virtual assistants who will work for $3-10 an hour. But, as with anything, sometimes you get what you pay for.

While quality control in these markets can be very hit and miss, there are diamonds in the rough. One tip that can help with hiring is to select from countries where while English is not necessarily the primary language, it is one of the official languages. Asian countries like India, Singapore, Pakistan, Singapore, Philippines, Sri Lanka, and Malaysia speak English in at least an official capacity.

Because outsourcing to Western countries is quite a mature industry, many overseas administrative firms are very experienced and have a strong understanding of business requirements. Again, reviews, testimonials, and recommendations can all be leveraged here to ensure that you get the right candidate.

Aside from price, overseas virtual assistants have several other pluses. Depending on the time zone they occupy, they can be available out of hours. Additionally, because they celebrate different holidays, you could call on them on Thanksgiving or even Christmas.

And because this is a well-established market that has been doing VA work since around the 1990s, often you’re drawing from a pool of experienced and highly educated assistants. If you get lucky with the right agency or assistant, your dollar can go very far.

However, there are a few downsides involved with shopping overseas. While the rock-bottom prices might be attractive, it can be something of a race to the bottom. When hiring a virtual assistant, you need to figure out what value and potential revenue they will bring and offset the costs against that.

Before automation became popular, outsourcing call centers to developing economies was popular. However, this soon became a point of contention for many customers who felt that it represented a significant downgrade in the service they expected. Ask anyone, and they’ll have a story of trying to resolve an issue with their bank or internet service provider but being left frustrated by a non-native speaker reading off a script. And it’s the same for Virtual Assistants.

Language can be a barrier, even in people who speak a second language to a high level. The nuances, the cultural specifics, the shorthand: there is often something missing, and it could reflect on your brand or organization. Additionally, when you are delegating tasks, you need to be sure your assistant fully understands what you are asking of them, or you could find yourself in a frustrating situation.

Understanding the culture, which could be general or specific to your business or area, can be crucial. Cultural attitudes and preferences often find a way of being expressed in the most surprising of ways, so depending on what task you need from your assistant, hiring overseas might leave you wishing you hadn’t.

Although this is unlikely to be an issue in most centralized Asian cities, more remote or rural places may have an inconsistent phone or internet service. If you need your VA to be reachable at all times, this could prove problematic. Indeed, while different time zones can be an advantage, it can also work against you if your requirements of your VA generally take place during US business hours.

Another aspect to consider is security. Many countries have different regulations when it comes to handling personal and financial data. Understanding the specifics of a country you plan to hire from could save you a few headaches down the line.

While hiring overseas can be very cost-effective, sometimes it comes at the cost of service. There are fantastic options out there if you can find them, but for customer-facing roles, you’ll need to be extra vigilant. However, many of the functions of a VA — like data entry or scheduling — can be done to a high level at a low price. So delegate wisely.

Independent VAs

Along with agencies and online freelancing platforms, many virtual assistants advertise their services independently. These VAs can work from anywhere in the world, with many available in your local area.

There are a lot of advantages to employing an independent VA. If your service requires an element of local or geographical knowledge, you can hire someone from close by. Additionally, depending on how close they are, there is a possibility that you could meet up, and they could act more like an employee.

You can typically find an independent VA online or through a job board. Many will have a website to promote their service. But remember, even VA’s with a slick and professional-looking website won’t automatically be a high-quality hire. It’s the internet; anyone can set up a website and say they’re the best. Once again, you’ll need to do your due diligence to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Any trustworthy and legitimate VA will understand that security and privacy are significant concerns for an employer. They will be more than happy to provide evidence of their experience and worth. Once again, reviews, testimonials, and references are a crucial step in hiring the right person.

Because you will be going outside a platform or agency, special consideration needs to be made about payment. Make a clear agreement upfront on rates and hours. Work out the best way to pay for their services. Consider using something like PayPal for its excellent protection for buyers. Remember, this is not available on the “friends & family” option. So to stay safe, you’ll need to stay official.

Many local VA’s have a high level of experience in the corporate environment but have left the industry due to personal circumstances or family commitments. If you’re lucky enough to snag one of these operators, it could work out exceptionally well.

However, things don’t always work out so great. Some independent VA’s see administrative work as something that they can test out to see if it fits. As a result, they may have other commitments they are trying to work things around, which, depending on your business, might not suit.

Indeed, one of the drawbacks of going down this route is that a high proportion of these hires don’t work out in the long-term. For many freelance workers, making ends meet can be a difficulty. What seemed like a dream existence with no commuting and less pressure can soon turn sour when reality hits. Quite often, a good VA might return to full-time employment when they realize that they’re not cut out for a life without a stable income and benefits, leaving you high and dry.

In summary, independent VA’s can be a great choice when it comes to accessing quality service. But, a level of caution is advised. Handing over personal details, sensitive data, or payment cards is always a danger. Make sure an assistant has earned your trust before you expose yourself to this level of risk.

Remember, if things go wrong, there is no agency or freelance platform to help. Working without the protection of a contract can leave you vulnerable.

Premium Fully Managed Services

Premium Fully Managed Services are the pinnacle of virtual assistant services — but that is reflected in the price. Services like Time etc cost around $25-35 per hour. While this is far more than you could expect to pay overseas, many freelancers or independent VA’s may seek close to this level of compensation.

The upside with a fully managed service is that it is a solution to all of the problems that we've outlined with the other options. They're dependable, highly-trained, and experienced assistants. And because you can draw from a large pool of applicants, you can select to be set up with assistants with the specialist or hard skills relevant to your industry.

These services are very selective and screen potential agents thoroughly, choosing the best on offer. This results in an experienced and mature workforce who will understand your business or industry. Additionally, a significant selling point for these organizations is multiple years of experience at blue-chip companies, which is an attractive proposition.

Aside from access to experience and expertise, there are some other aspects of these VA's that prove popular among prospective employers. Payments and billing is made through the agency, which you can set up automatically. This reduces some level of risk that is involved with using an independent assistant.

Access to recourse when things don’t go to plan is another plus point. Employee screening is an imperfect art, and a few bad eggs can always get through. In these situations, it can be beneficial to have a provider to speak to and manage any fallout. If things aren’t working out with your current assistant or they need time off for holiday or illness — an agency can provide relief or a replacement without issue.

Depending on your industry, privacy or data governance could be an element that could influence your choice of an assistant. Agencies offer firm and legally binding contracts and confidentiality agreements to protect your data or intellectual property.

Hire an Intern

While this could prove to be the cheapest option of them all, it has the most potential to go wrong. For one, by hiring an intern, you are immediately resigning yourself to the fact that this person will lack experience. You might get lucky, they might be a fast learner, but your expectations should be low.

Secondly, there are strict employment rules around internships that you need to be aware of. Specifically, the Walling v. Portland Terminal Co ruling states that any unpaid internship needs to be educational and provides training.

If you are going down this path, local colleges have job boards to place a post. Additionally, sites like Internships.com, Idealist.org, Looksharp.com, or MonsterCollege are designed for this process.

While paid internships or work experience can work out, it can be a lot of trust to place in someone unproven. If the price is a significant barrier for you, overseas options are available at around the same rate as a paid internship. Additionally, even if you find a real diamond, you can’t expect them to stick around without being paid a fair wage. So, proceed with caution on this kind of hire.

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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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