Transcript of Why You Need a Virtual Assistant (And How to Find One)
John Jantsch: This episode of The Duct Tape Marketing Podcast is brought to you by Klaviyo. Klaviyo is a platform that helps growth-focused eCommerce brands drive more sales with super-targeted, highly relevant email, Facebook and Instagram marketing.
John Jantsch: Hello and welcome to another episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast. This is John Jantsch. And my guest today is Melissa Smith. She’s the founder and CEO of the Association of Virtual Assistants. She’s also the author of a book called Hire the Right Virtual Assistant: How the Right VA Will Make Your Life Easier, Create Time, and Make You More Money. So, Melissa, thanks for joining me.
Melissa Smith: My pleasure, John.
John Jantsch: So I’ve been talking about virtual assistants actually for years. And in fact, certainly while it was kind of a novel idea a decade ago, I mean, now we have entire virtually-staffed companies. So in your work with this idea or this concept of a virtual assistant, how have you seen that evolve over, let’s just say, the last dozen years?
Melissa Smith: It’s evolved quite a bit. I think that it’s really just changed the name. We might’ve called it telecommuting before. And now that term is on its way out. It’s almost fully gone. We know we’ve talked about freelancers, remote working. Skype really started to change things. Really in the future with VR, that’s a whole other realm to get into.
Melissa Smith: But it’s really changed how a lot of executives and high-level people were doing work, right? Their time is so important. You have tens of thousands of people that report to you, basically, your company around the world. There’s time zones. There was a lot of travel, and so it really changed where we could be, how fast we could get there, the information that we could share, how personal it was.
Melissa Smith: It’s really changed a lot. But I don’t think what people really saw coming way back when was that it was also going to change the way many workers can get work done and report into work and start their own businesses.
Melissa Smith: When I talk about remote working, it’s nothing new. It seems different because now I’m outside the office and someone’s in their office. But the times when someone that I worked with was always in the office with me, I just can’t even remember those times. We were communicating by email, by text, by video chat. They were never in the office. So essentially we were remote working. I just happen to be remote working from inside the office and now I no longer have to do that.
John Jantsch: Well, and really the technology that’s kind of changed and caught up … I mean, really, as I referenced, I mean, you have entire organizations that have 100 employees and none of them report to an office anymore. And so that’s obviously … Even that behavior kind of has changed how people think about getting work done.
John Jantsch: So would you say … Let’s start with the definition. Is there a definition today of what a virtual assistant is and what it’s not?
Melissa Smith: Yes. So a virtual assistant is someone who is an independent contractor, a business owner. They are not an employee. So you can have an assistant that is an employee, but their title is not likely to be a virtual assistant. It is likely to be some type of other title, remote worker-
John Jantsch: Executive assistant, even. Something like that.
Melissa Smith: Possibly. I mean, there’s definitely executive virtual assistant, but typically, like I’m doing a search right now for a chief of staff, but that’s an employee position. You could have a chief-of-staff virtual assistant as well. But usually once you put that virtual assistant title on there, that’s what makes it into a different realm.
John Jantsch: But I guess that’s … I mean, you’re really hitting on the idea that you may be started out with what was … Defined how people viewed a virtual assistant. And now it’s almost every role, it can be virtual. And so I’m assuming that even in the Association of Virtual Assistants, you have people that are doing work, like virtual content people and virtual web assistants and virtual marketing assistants, not just maybe what people thought of as sort of admin work.
Melissa Smith: Oh, absolutely. It is a very, very wide range, from working with speakers [inaudible] solo entrepreneurs to working with those who are still very much in a C-suite and those who have brick-and-mortar companies, and their needs are just ranging, working with nonprofits, whether you need someone who can be an assistant or someone who can do some content, someone who can update your profile, some to reach out to those who want you to come out and speak at their event, or you’re reaching out to speak at more events.
Melissa Smith: I always tell people, if you have a need, there’s a virtual assistant out there. And for those who think they’re in these fields that think, “Oh, you know that would never become in my field. My field is highly regulated. It’s very secure, it’s very demanding.” From legal offices to financial offices, virtual assistants is everywhere.
John Jantsch: So, in terms of hiring then you make a good point, because I could see a lot of people thinking, “It’s time for me to get a virtual assistant. I need somebody about 20 hours a week.” But then they want them to do eight different sort of specialized tasks. When it comes to that type of approach. I mean, is there a right approach? I mean, do you hire somebody and hopefully, like a lot of employees, a lot of employees get hired, fill up the day and they’re asked to do things that there aren’t really in their skillset, but they’re there. So they’re asked to do that. So would you say that the better technique is to maybe hire four different virtual assistants for different specialized needs?
Melissa Smith: Absolutely. I would highly recommend that, one, you’re going to get better work. You’re also going to get more informed work. So the benefit of hiring someone that is an expert in a field is that they have to also keep up on the trends. So this is a really hot topic right now. Do you specialize or you generalize? And the workforce is actually going towards more specialization, although people are talking about generalization. And the reason why is because things change so fast. If I’m a generalist, can I do the work? Yes. Am I as likely to be in the know of what changes are coming and get to those changes before they happen if I’m not a specialist? Not likely.
Melissa Smith: And then the other thing you said is 20 hours a week. Most people only hire a VA five to 10 hours a week. The work that can be done virtually is very specialized. So again, you’re not looking at a lot of time. Do people hire VAs for more than that? Yes. But if you’re hiring a VA for 20 hours a week, chances are you’re doing a lot of business, a lot of business, it’s just not as common. And then the other side of it is if you have a lot of things that you need to do and you’re thinking, “Wow, I just don’t know one person that can do all these things.” Maybe you need bookkeeping, you need some social media and you need someone who can also be an executive assistant for you.
Melissa Smith:There are teams out there where you can just hire [inaudible] report to have a one person report to you but then have multiple people doing the work. And it doesn’t cost that much more than having a regular, like one virtual assistant working for you.
John Jantsch: So how do you recommend people go about finding [inaudible] fit? Because I’ve worked with probably two dozen virtual assistants over the years and, you know, some were a better fit than others. Some I did a better job of finding than others. I mean, what’s the best process? Because I do think I have at least experienced, there were definitely people that I felt like I got a lot more work out of. I felt a lot more comfortable with their work because I think they were a good fit. So, how does somebody go about, especially in the virtual world it’s … you’re sometimes doing these over email, how do you find a good fit?
Melissa Smith: So, the first thing you do is start with your communication strategy. It’s in your style, your medium, your manner, your tone. It has to be super easy for you. I’ve seen far too many people say, “Oh I have to communicate with my VA this way.” And that is the tail wagging the dog, if you’re spending the money, it has to be for you. So my example is if you’re walking through the grocery store and you’re like, “Oh, I totally forgot to tell my VA this,” how would you message that person? Would you call? Would you text? Would you Slack? You know, what are those things? And that should be the way that you get to do that.
Melissa Smith: The second part of it is that you should be your VA’s ideal client. They should have started their business to work with someone just like you. Because if not, a lot of VA’s can work and do their work for anybody, but they won’t want to. So when they get a full book of business, they’re going to drop you. So you want to make sure that you’re their ideal.
John Jantsch: Go back to that point again because I mean, how would I determine that? Like how would I find that person that I’m their ideal client?
Melissa Smith: Sure. You would go to their website, their LinkedIn profile, their social media handles. What are they saying? Who are they for? What does their message look like. If you don’t find yourself in that, if you’re not finding yourself sharing the same articles, reading the same books on the same platforms, using the same terms, that person did not create their business for you. You should definitely see yourself in there.
Melissa Smith: So if I work with podcasters, it should say virtual assistant podcaster. Now, I know that’s pretty vague. They’ll going to say more than that, but I don’t work with podcasters, so you won’t see that in my profile. I love podcasts. I’m a huge fan. They’re the way of the future in terms of SEO more than ever. But that’s not my specialty. So if I’m an executive coach and they come to my site and they want to see who I worked with and who I work with, they’re going to see their name on there. They’re going to think, “Wow, Melissa works with people just like me.”
John Jantsch: So in terms of productivity, I know a lot of times I’ve talked to people over the years that have hired a virtual, excuse me, assistant and just felt like it was more work getting them up to speed and I didn’t know what to tell them. I mean, is there a process, a timeline, a way that you should think about orienting and training to get a person to be more productive? I mean, a lot like you would an employee I suppose.
Melissa Smith: Yes, there should definitely be an onboarding process. Now, again, we go back to working with experts. I’m not onboarding them on how to use a certain software, how to use a certain system, that should not be part of the onboarding process. The onboarding process is, “This is how I like to do things. These are my preferences. We’re going to get our working rhythm down. We’re going to start to really dive on this level of communication.” But it should not be, “I can’t log in. I don’t know how to find this.” Those aren’t the kind of conversations you want to have.
Melissa Smith: But if you don’t have an onboarding plan for your VA, and this is something I share in my book and there’s a complete strategy for it, you want to know what good looks like so that you can convey what good looks like to your VA.
Melissa Smith: And the great part about it is you’re going to do like that one week or two. Here’s that point. We’re going to share information. You’re going to say, “Okay, here’s the logins,” share them through a secure site. You know, that sort of thing. Here’s what we should be up to speed. We should have our meetings down. And then through the next couple weeks you should be working on what it is that you want this person to be impactful for. If you just have this list of, “Gosh, I have like eight things they could work on,” you’re not going to be really satisfied with that. Really pick where you want to be at the end of 12 weeks and work backwards.
Melissa Smith: And then the benefit to this is you’re also going to say, “Okay, these are the things that I think might derail me. This is what good looks like. This is my rich goal and this is what I would consider a failure, if we didn’t hit this, if we didn’t get this done by the end of 12 weeks, I would not be happy with that.” And once you know that, it’s much easier not only to manage the process, but it’s also manage the VA. So if you don’t hit those timelines, then you know exactly where to manage. Like why did this not happen? How did this fall through? And at the same time, if you’re ahead of schedule, it gives you something to be really excited about.
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John Jantsch: This kind of fits into that same vein. How much expectations should there be that this person’s going to just wait for me to tell them what to do versus they’re going to come back and say, “Hey, here’s a better way to do it.”
Melissa Smith: This is a hot topic. And the difference between a real assistant, any type of assistant, whether it’s AI or human, is the ability to anticipate your needs. If they can’t anticipate your needs, then it’s not a real assistant. That is a task-taker. That’s someone that you’re going to be delegating to. I’m not a fan of delegation. Delegation is work. Some people are really good at it. So if you’re good with delegating and just giving people tasks, then by all means, that’s a different kind of person.
Melissa Smith: But if you’re looking for a true virtual assistant, that person is going to be able to anticipate your needs. And they will start picking up the clues. They’ll start looking at your calendar. They’ll start seeing patterns the same way that AI will, right? And that’s how we do things.
Melissa Smith: My clients, even though I matched them with virtual assistants and I train other virtual assistants, I anticipate what they need before they need it and even hiring. Because I know I can see down the road because I’ve done this before. And the more clients I work with, the more clients I can see. And then I start to anticipate new things and I start to see new trends and I start to anticipate those and I ask the right questions and see if it’s applicable to them. But the idea that you’re going to be just waiting on someone, or someone’s going to be waiting on you to give them work, that’s just more work.
John Jantsch: So I heard you mention 12 weeks. Is that a realistic goal to think somebody’s, and maybe you just used that as an example, but is that a realistic goal to think yeah, we should be on track to get up to sort of full speed by then?
Melissa Smith: Absolutely. In many cases it can be done before that. I use 12 weeks because it’s really easy to break down. And it accounts for holidays. It accounts for vacations. It accounts for illness. But if none of those things are happening, you can easily get something done and get your VA onboarded before that time and reach your goal.
John Jantsch: So I’ll ask this in two separate questions. I was just going to ask a two-part question, but I’ll ask in separate questions. When am I ready to hire? How does somebody know that they need to get somebody?
Melissa Smith: The best time to hire a VA is before you need one. And this is the perfect time to get all those little details about how working with you is going to go, what value you want your clients to receive, how you like to communicate. It’s a really good time to get that rhythm down while it’s not an emergency situation, while you’re not already working against a deadline.
Melissa Smith: And then now, this person can come up and you can really just start using them maybe five hours a month, 10 hours a month. And then when you start getting more up to speed and you’re really starting to ramp up your business, now you have someone who can already be with you and already know everything so that you can take part of opportunities.
Melissa Smith: Part of the biggest thing that I see when people don’t hire a VA before they need one is opportunity lost. They’re just not at a place to get up that landing page, to get out an e-book, to say, “Oh yes, I can go speak at that event because someone is taking care of this thing over here for me.” Or just even feel like they’re looking professional enough to have those things in place.
John Jantsch: So the second part of this then is, is there an exercise you run people through to help them understand, “Okay, how do I know I’m going to get the value based on the cost?”
Melissa Smith: So you start with your budget, right? Working with the VA is an investment, it can’t be an emotional decision. So you start with your budget and you say, let’s just talk about a really low budget. We’ll have a $200 budget for the month. What do I need that I could have a virtual assistant do for me for $200? How could this change? And maybe that is getting some things that are evergreen in place, like that FAQ that your clients are always asking you for and you’re sending out the same email over and over again, or that video editing where you could now create seven clips from and have social media content for three months. Something that was really going to save you time and you know exactly how you’re going to use it, where it’s going. It really is a budget of not only your money but also your time and how it’s going to be used in the future.
Melissa Smith: So if I think about a vacation and I think about how I’m going to use that money, how much money I’m going to save to go on vacation and how it’s going to be spent and what I’m going to get out of it. A VA is the same thing. I got to know, is this an ongoing thing? Is it just going to be like a monthly thing that I can do? How can I get the most out of it? What is it going to be tangible for me? And once you know that, it creates a whole world of opportunities for you. And now you know, “Okay, now I’m going to get this client, this client will pay for three months of this kind of work and now I can hire a VA for the next three months for sure.” And then it just starts to snowball from there.
John Jantsch: Yeah. I think there’s a key component of that is know what your time’s worth.
Melissa Smith: Absolutely.
John Jantsch: Because one of the justifications is it could just allow you to do more high pay off work. And so, that could certainly turn around and pay for itself so that you get out of doing the work that that VA could do for you. So, in terms of finding, there are lots of marketplaces now, I would suggest that to some degree the Association VAs is a bit of a market place. Upwork is a market place. There are companies, staffing companies, now that are placing people in virtual roles. And then obviously there’s that independent person that you might find on LinkedIn or Facebook or something. What’s the best process that you have found for starting the search?
Melissa Smith: The best process is to make sure it’s a transparent process. It’s part of the reason why I created the Association of VAs because I just didn’t find that there was enough transparency. And the biggest question clients have when they work with me is, “Where do I find the right VA?” Yet, ironically, virtual assistants have the same question, “Where do I find the right clients?” And I thought why aren’t these two people meeting? They’re looking in search of each other. But they just were not meeting up. And you just have to go where that other person is. Right.
Melissa Smith: If I want to have a cup of coffee, I’m going to go to Starbucks. It’s just that simple. And so if I’m thinking, “I’m on LinkedIn, I like to work on LinkedIn, my clients are on LinkedIn. I would expect a VA that I hire to also be on LinkedIn and I would search for them there.”
Melissa Smith: If I want to create more of a presence on Instagram, I’m like, “Gosh, I’m not really comfortable on Instagram, but it’s definitely a popular platform. I’m missing out by not being there.” I’m going to go get on Instagram and I’m going to find a VA on Instagram and I’m going to look through all their stuff and I’m going to look through all their past videos and their photos and I’m going to find someone that says, “This person is consistent. This person knows what they’re talking about when they speak and they write. That’s something I would say, I think they’re professional. I think they could represent me well.”.
Melissa Smith: But knowing that and then really writing out a job description that makes people want to work with you and then sharing it with your colleagues and your friends and showing them what good looks like for you.
Melissa Smith: Because simply saying, “I need a VA,” and sharing it with your colleagues and your friends. There’s no shortage of people that are working with the VA [inaudible 00:21:32], “Oh I know somebody,” but someone else’s VA may not be the right one for you. This happens all the time. They’re like, “Gosh, this person worked with them and maybe I’m just not right for a VA because I didn’t get the same results as they did,” but they might be using their VA for something completely different than you need.
Melissa Smith: So really saying, “This is what good looks like. This is what I would really want in my VA. If anyone knows anyone send them my way.” And that’s a great way to do it as well. But looking on the platforms where you want to be, where you expect that person to be, and then checking up on their profiles and making sure that they’re responsive. If I reach out to a VA on LinkedIn and she doesn’t get back to me for two weeks, clearly this is not a good fit.
John Jantsch: Well, I tell you, over the years, I’ve learned this the hard way. In some cases that, when working with anybody virtually the more information I can give them, be the designer or a writer or, that if I take the extra 10 minutes to really thoroughly explain what I want, I always get it. And if I don’t do that and I try to just kind of rush through something, then it’s hit or miss, and I think that that take that extra 10 minutes and you’re going to get 100% better results.
Melissa Smith: Absolutely. And then there are some steps that you can’t skip after you think you found the right person. And that is getting those references, checking references and doing a background check. Don’t ever go with your gut. I mean, I would love to say that it’s 100% right all the time, but I’ve been doing this for a while and I always do the reference checks. I always do the background checks. And it is just another layer of peace of mind. And you would be surprised what people will share with you both good and bad about this person you’re about to hire. It might give you that extra nudge.
Melissa Smith: It’s like, “Oh my gosh, I’m so excited now I can really get started with them because they had such stellar references.” Or they might just say a little something and you know, just say, “You know what, you really have to give her permission to give feedback to you.” That’s also a really good piece of advice so you know that going in.
John Jantsch: I just think everybody, I just like everybody and trust everybody. So that advice is something I need to hear too. So Melissa, where can people find out more about the Association of VAs as well as your work?
Melissa Smith: Sure. You can go to associationofvas.com, of course we’re on LinkedIn and Facebook and Instagram. You can also reach out to me at [email protected], thepva.com. I’m on LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter. However easy it is for you to communicate. Feel free to do that, and I promise to get back to you.
John Jantsch: Well, thanks for joining us, Melissa, and hopefully we’ll run into you someday out there on the road.
Melissa Smith: Thank you for the opportunity.