Hiring a Virtual Assistant

03/21/2013

photo 2I was recently asked to speak at an event at Elance on Working Differently. It was an awesome event that discussed the future of work and the tools we used. Huge shout out to my co-panelists Jon Acosta (left) and Jonathan Fleming (right) who kept the night rolling with me – it was a great panel! If you didn’t know, I am a huge fan of Elance and have had a Virtual Assistant (VA) from Elance for the past 4 years or so. The question I always get, however, is how do you find a good one? How do you find the rock-star who can really make a difference in your life. So, I decided to share my hiring process that I used for my latest VA, and yes, she is fantastic!

The first thing to figure out is what you want your VA to do. If you were at the event, you heard me say over and over again, is to let go! (I think my actual suggestion was “Just give them your credit card and let go.” Jon, I’m looking at you…Haha!) Get over the fear of needing to do everything and just let go. Yes, you are probably great at doing everything yourself, but that doesn’t mean you are the only one who can. Here’s a challenge: throughout the next week, every time you finish a task, ask yourself, “Did I need to do that or can my VA do this?” Whenever the answer is ‘My VA’, write it down. You will find that many tasks don’t actually need you. Tasks such as scheduling, answering emails, internet research, customer service, even training.

I’ll give you an example, I have a client who wanted to have a Skype meeting, but didn’t know how. Not only did Audrey, my fantastic VA, schedule the appointment, but called the client and trained her on how to use Skype. Now she was all set for our appointment. Really challenge what you have to do and what your VA can do. My measure of success is when she comes back and says I am needed to complete the task.

So, now onto hiring. Here is the process I use. This of course is specific to Elance, but can be translated to work on any platform.

  1.  Post your project and begin getting bids.
  2.  Get rid of all of the bids that are way above or below your price listed.
  3.  Weed out any with 1-3 star reviews. Leave the no-rating ones still – they may be new, but that doesn’t mean they’re bad.
  4.  From here, you can filter out by location or by individual/group if you choose. Both are optional. You can also weed out any that look bad or that were copy and paste responses. This entire process should take you about an hour. For all of them, just hide the ones that meet one of the criteria above so you don’t have to see them. You should now be down to about 15 or so people.
  5. Next, send them all a questionnaire. I’ve put mine down below for example.
  6. This is where it gets a bit tougher. Now you have to read their responses.  Once again, get rid of the ones that seem pretty standard or didn’t answer your questions at all. Then, really take the time to read each response. You’ll find ones that match your personality and needs.
  7. Ask followup questions if need be and decide on 3 or 4 that you want to contact.
  8. Setup a time to chat over phone or Skype and just talk with them about who you are, learn who they are. Tell them what you are hoping they will be doing for you and let them ask questions….they will have questions. =)
  9. Finally, make your decision. Award them the project and try it out for two weeks, starting with smaller tasks. If you find that you really aren’t happy (which would be unlikely if you’ve followed those steps above) then just cancel the project, pay the freelancer, and go back to your list of 3 to 4.
The most important thing with all your freelancers is to be clear and concise with your tasks. What are you looking for, what does success look like, have you done this before so they have examples. Expect that you are going to have to walk them through a few things the first time. Make sure they take great notes and start a Google Doc where you can share best practices. You have to learn all of your quirks so that you can share them with them!
I have hired a lot of talent on Elance and not once have I had a bad freelancer by using this process. Remember, finding a good freelancer is both the responsibility of the freelancer and the client. You will have different needs then everyone else, so be flexible and take the time to find the right one – you will be greatly rewarded.
So, what tips and tricks do you use for hiring freelancers? Share them below in the comments.

Update: One of my wonderful co-panelist, Jon Acosta, has written his thoughts on the Elance. Be sure to check out his blog post here.

My Questionnaire:
This is the questionnaire that I send out to my final 15. Of course, this is specific to my needs so adjust it to fit your needs and what you care about!

Hey there {InsertName}!Thanks for applying for {ThePosition}. I have reviewed the proposals submitted and really liked your submission. I would like to ask you a few follow-on questions based on the specifics I am looking for. Be honest, open, and, and add any additional information that you think would be valuable.1. This position will be sporadic in its needs and will vary from no hours a week to 10 hours. Are you comfortable with this?2. Use of “new” tools like Dropbox, Google Biz Apps (Voice, Docs, Calendar, etc.), Skype, Evernote, etc. will be used often. Do you currently use any of these products?3. What is your process for learning a new tool like those listed above?4. What is your learning style? What is your organization style?

5. About half of the tasks will be internet-research based. What sources and mehtods do you use to find, collect, and organize information about a topic?

6. I am hoping this is a long term relationship, my last VA was with me for over 3 years. As things progress, I learn more about you (and vice versa), and we build trust, you will be handling a lot of personal information. What measures do you take to keep that information secure?

7. It’s important to be happy and healthy. It’s also very important to me that I work with a human being, not just a robot. 😉 (It produces better work) Tell me about yourself? What do you do outside of work? Do you have kids? What inspires you to work everyday?

8. And three logistical questions:
a) Are you on a Mac or PC?
b) Hourly Rate? And do you round to the nearest hour or use WorkView?
c) Are you comfortable signing an NDA?