Effectively Communicating with a Virtual Assistant (VA)

A good working relationship with a virtual assistant (VA) comes down to clear communication that leaves no room for misunderstanding.

Heck, I think you can safely say that good communication is so important on all fronts and facets of life, not just business.

Everyone wants to be cooperative.

But unless you know what is expected, it can be really hard.

This is especially true when it comes to a business relationship and even more so when it exists in the virtual world.

Effectively communicating is the key to success on so many different fronts.

In my Facebook Live Q&A Wednesday I talked a little about using VA’s and it seems that it really struck a chord. Over 6 thousand views.

I’ve been innunated with PM’s, emails and the odd phone call with anecdotes and stories of experiences with VA’s. Some were on the positive side, many were negative and some just wanted clarity on what tasks a VA could do.

VA’s can do almost everything that does not require a physical presence.

However, the key to having a successful relationship is nailing down your requirements. AND communicating them clearly.

This post, on Effectively Communicating with Your VA was written by dear Bibi, who unfortunately passed away earlier this year. Vale Bibi Van Heerden – your wisdom continues to assist so many travelling the business journey.

We’re very fortunate to have a team of excellent VA’s that work with us here at Dragon Sisters.

It’s taken trial and error.

We’ve honed our skills at briefing, and we’re continually learning how better to communicate with our team.

You also need to keep in mind that many VA’s do not come from English as a first language background. So although they have fantastic skills, unless the briefing is clear, the results may not be exactly what you expected (or wanted).

If you have stories to tell of working with a VA, we’d love to hear them in the comments below. Similarly, if you are a VA, we’d love you to share your best tips for successful client relationships.

Fly like a dragon

Michelle

 

 

 

My Secret Weapon

It’s Wednesday, halfway through the week, and rather than an ‘aha!’ moment, I’m having an ‘aaargh!’ moment.

When I was a fledgeling sales person, a trainer told me to avoid making cold calls on a Wednesday. He advised that at the mid-stage in the week, people started to feel a bit on the back foot and would give any sales caller short shrift, sending them marching, before there was the least chance of getting a toe over the threshold.

My problem’s rarely my feet (other than the one I tend to jam in my mouth fairly frequently), but rather, my hands – I reckon I could really rock the multi-arm Hindu goddess look.

Unfortunately, I don’t have multiple hands to juggle the week’s jobs.

Fortunately, I have something even better!

Want to know what my secret weapon is?

A Virtual Assistant.

Actually, Dragon Sisters has several VA’s, who are some of my favourite people on the planet. Especially when I get to off-load jobs I’m rubbish at, slow at, or stuff I just hate doing!

Having a VA is like having a fairy god person complete with a wand to magic stuff for you.

Sounds good, doesn’t it?

That’s because it is!

If you want to know more, here’s Michelle’s Free yourself up with a Freelancer article, which applies to selecting a Wunderkind VA too.

Plus, where to find them and how to pick a good one.

Now, I’m off to email my Aargh Moment into the ether where it will be magically transformed into an Aha Moment, by a very talented VA ???.

Nothing like breaking out your Secret Wednesday Weapon ?.

Fly Like A Dragon

Yvonne.

How to Effectively Communicate with your VA

Editors Note: The following article, a guest post, appeared in August 2016. We were saddened to hear of the passing of  Bibi Van Heerden in January 2017 – Vale Bibi.

Brilliant – you finally decided to get a VA! You might be terrified of letting go – don’t be. When you delegate, delegate fully. Make it work seamlessly by following these steps.

1. Make a great start

  • Don’t even consider getting a friend of family member as your VA – get someone who runs her own VA business. You will get a committed level of service, plus you get the benefit of her business experience. Win-win.
  • Don’t base your decision on cost. Think of it as an investment in your business – spend a little more to get more.
  • Get to know each other – mind-set & personality is half the relationship won. If you’re a little quirky, let it show. Concentrate of the positives of the relationship; don’t dwell on language or cultural differences.
  • Share mutual expectations & goals.
  • Be specific on what you require, & confirm your VA has the right skillset. You need to be confident that s/he will do what needs to be done.
  • Discuss how you will delegate work, communicate, and require feedback. Include exceptions and urgent work.
  • Step 1, after the initial interview, is to get a contract in place. Mandatory – don’t try to “wing it” by skipping this step. Include confidentiality clauses – this is your business, after all.
  • Step 2 in working together is to draw up a communication plan – a great way to test the waters with your new VA!

2. Set up shared software

  • Virtual face-to-face communication and email are the minimum you require. In addition, you may add in workload management software, collaboration software, etc. Some ideas: Slack, Skype, Google Hangouts, Evernote, DropBox, eBuddy, Trello, Yammer, Lastpass, Google Calendar, etc.
  • Ensure you can both view the workflow, and agree on times for updates – especially if you are in different time-zones.

3. Keep communication lines open

  • Set up a daily stand-up to discuss the day ahead – a quick convo: a) What tasks are in progress? B) What new tasks will she begin today? c) Are there any obstacles?
  • Restrict each email to one topic, for clarity.
  • Clearly outline your requirements, expectation, time-lines, and deadlines. Don’t forget your budget.
  • Follow-up, and confirm everything in writing. Reconfirm understanding with each delegated task.
  • Bear in mind that your VA likely has other clients, as well – so ensure that she is comfortable with meeting your deadlines.
  • Be patient – it may take a little time for you to adjust to each other’s methods.

4. Track progress

  • Be prepared to step in to clarify your expectations, especially at the start of the relationship; it takes a little time for the process to settle in & run smoothly.
  • Review in-progress results where appropriate. It feels a little sad to be given a large chunk of work, and left alone until delivery – show interest in what your VA is producing for you.
  • Depending on the terms of your contract, get interim figures on your usage hours – you don’t want an unpleasant surprise at the end of the billing period.

5. Provide feedback & encouragement

  • Treat your VA as a part of your team – value his skill-set.
  • Express appreciation & provide positive feedback – in terms of productivity, efficiency, and your positive outcomes as a result of her efforts.
  • He should feel comfortable reaching out to you any time he feels stuck.

6. Have regular reviews

  • Your VA needs to know your level of satisfaction.
  • You need to know your VA’s level of satisfaction.
  • Discuss concerns, better ways of communication or delivery, or processes.

Fabulous – you’ve freed yourself up from repetitive tasks & things you hate doing – think of all the time you now have to spend on revenue-generating activities!

Let us know in the comments how your VA has helped you in your business. Or, if you don’t have one yet, what’s stopping you?

AbouBibit the Author – Bibi Van Heerden (dec)  founder of Small Business Crux. A dedicated Success Coach, she relied on her experience as an IT project manager to improve her clients’ profitability through focused productivity and time management tools & techniques. As a solopreneur, she understood the demands of running a small business, and provided support through her services and blog.

Free yourself up with a Freelancer

Working for yourself is great.

It’s wonderful not to have a boss and just have yourself to answer to. It also means that you need to be really organised, as you alone are responsible for your income. The buck stops with you.

It can be really tough and there are a myriad of tasks to take care of – this can be quite a shock when first starting out in the world of self employment. As someone who is self-employed, time is money.

Effective use of your time is imperative to your success.

Meeting The Challenge

I know first hand the challenges involved and what a juggling act it can be.

I also know that the best way thrive in challenging circumstances is to surround yourself with experts.

In fact, it’s the only way to thrive and grow your business.

Use people who are good at doing the tasks you can’t handle, that you don’t like or that are simply too time consuming to be taking up your precious time which is better spent on other areas of your business

By this I mean things like creating graphics, doing your bookkeeping, monitoring social media, blog posts, editing, proofreading, marketing and a raft  of other tasks right through to having a virtual assistant – it really does depend what your profession is as to what those tasks might be.

Sure, you need to know what is going on and you can’t just hand stuff over willy nilly.

You need to be confident you’ve got someone decent working for you. There are plenty of sub-standard contractors out there! A glossy website and a slick sales pitch should never be what you base your decision on.

In the case of my business, I make sure everything that goes out to a client under the Dragon Sisters banner has my sign off.

But I don’t physically do all the tasks myself – I simply don’t have the time.

However,  I know how to do most things, or at least have a very good idea of what is possible, but making it all happen is outsourced to those more skilled in that area. They’re faster than I can ever be, and my time is better spent creating content, consulting and providing guidance or training in the field where  I am an expert.

Benefits of Outsourcing

As a business strategist, I frequently see clients who are so bogged down in the day to day running of their business that they have failed to take a helicopter perspective.

They are drowning in a deluge of the mundane. It’s like being bogged in mud, and  literally dragging themselves through the mire of tasks that are choking the life out of them.

They are so overwhelmed with keeping their business operations going from day to day, that they fail to lift their heads, making it almost impossible for them to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Unless you are able to come up for air and take a helicopter perspective of your business, you’ll never be able to really grow your business.

You’ll just be on a treadmill going nowhere fast.

An obvious solution is to get some help: outsource!

How to successfully outsource?

Word of mouth is a great way to go. There is nothing like a personal recommendation from someone you trust.

A word of caution here, there are several business network groups where individuals recommend other members within their own group. I’ve been caught taking a recommendation without realising what was going on. It was not a brilliant experience.

So my advice now is – make sure you clarify whether they are linked via a network group, and if they are, specifically ask “has this person done work for you?”

 If it’s a task that can be done remotely, platforms for freelancer services are becoming more widespread. They seem to be popping up everywhere!

Most of them do pretty much the same thing.

There are lots of benefits to freelancing and hiring a freelancer. In my book, the two biggest benefits are:

  •  It’s cost effective
  • You gain access to a really deep pool of talented freelancers

These two benefits make good business sense, especially for solopreneurs and small-to-medium size businesses who do not often have big budgets and cash flow available.

The ever increasing number of individuals choosing to freelance means you get an excellent job done at a fraction of the cost of hiring an on-site staff member.

Being a freelancer has so many benefits including the ability to work remotely.

The challenge is how do you choose the right platform and the right freelancer?

There are lots of horror stories out there. But on the flip side, some great relationships are happening too. I’ve been in the global freelance world for 2 years now, both as a freelancer and as someone hiring services.

For the most part my experiences are positive – of course there have been a couple of demanding clients that I would rather not have had – but, hey, it keeps life interesting and there’s nothing like a challenge to keep me on top of my game.

 My 5 top tips for ensuring you’re picking a great freelancer:

Make sure you’re using a respected and trusted platform – I’ll be including a section on the freelance platforms I’ve used further on in this blog.

  • Check out the freelancer’s profile and pay close attention to the feedback from previous clients. It’s always best to start with a small trial project and see how well they perform. Or if you’re the freelancer, start with a small job to test if this is the right client for you.
  • Be clear about your job specifications, e.g, give clear and concise instructions, be sure to explain what you expect as a finished product and your deadline. Similarly, as a freelancer, be upfront about how you work, timelines and expectations.
  • If you’re using a freelancer in a third world economy, you’ll usually do better using at the higher end of the market. So if the average is $4.00 an hour, when you pay $8 – $10 an hour you’ll usually get a top class freelancer. Similarly, if you’re working with freelancers in countries with strong economies, those who charge $50 and upward are generally better performers than those at the bottom end of the scale.
  • Consider conducting Skype/phone interviews, ask the right questions and you’ll get a quality freelancer for your job. The same goes for when contacting a client, speaking to them gives a much better insight about how you can expect them to treat you.

Of course, there are always exceptions to all the above.

For instance, a new freelancer to a platform will often start at a low rate simply to build a reputation. Sometimes, it’s worth having a conversation to determine if they might indeed be the golden nugget you’re seeking. Trust your instinct!

Freelance Platforms

These seem to be popping up everywhere, but here’s a quick run down the platforms that I have personally used. Each has a slightly different approach, pricing plans, payment options, posting, applying to jobs, and talent sourcing.

Fiverr

As the name suggests, this is a marketplace for goods & services starting at $5. Fiverr is a tremendous resource for small jobs. You’ll be surprised at the variety & depth of $5-services. It’s a myriad of services ranging from blogs to graphics and everything in between!

The website has loads of loyal users, from buyers to sellers, so it’s a very healthy community.

Registration at Fiverr is free. However, you can’t do anything unless you register. Once registered, you’ll have access to an amazing micro-job market.

UpWork

This is my favourite site. UpWork is very user-friendly, and posting a job is easy and free. The sheer number of freelancers offering various services, ranging from customer service reps, graphic designers, project managers and software developers right through to ghost writers and virtual assistants, can be quite daunting.

However, the rating system and feedback from other clients is extremely helpful. When hiring you’ll be presented with the highest ranking contractors for the job you’re posting.

UpWork also has its own testing system so you can check out the scores of various freelancers and offers the choice of fixed price or hourly jobs that come complete with the option of using a time tracker that takes screenshots every 10 minutes.

UpWork has an excellent system that manages all billing hours. You can check your contractor’s work via screenshots, time tracking, and real time chat – another of the reasons I love this platform!

Freelancer

Freelancer is based in Australia and has been around since 2004. It’s a good place to find web developers, software engineers, writers, and marketing professionals for project based work.

Freelancer’s platform is easy to use for both employers and contractors, and both are required to sign up to be able to use the services.

Fixed-price jobs are paid when the task is completed. Hourly jobs are tracked in a similar manner to Upwork.

Guru

I have not used this site myself, but I hear that it’s very good if you need a freelancer based particularly in the US.

According to Guru, they have over 1.5 million registered freelance professionals (or gurus, as they call them). You can hire technical, writing, marketing, and many more professionals.

There are no hourly tasks at Guru, only fixed-rate jobs paid in escrow, then released to the contractor upon completion of the task, eliminating a buyout option if ever the employer is not happy with the output. It is crucial then, on the part of the employer to very picky during the hiring process.

Do you outsource tasks?

I’d love to hear your feedback and your favourite platforms.

Michelle

PS – if you liked this and want more tips from me, sign up for my mailing list here


The changing workplace…working remotely

Each place you work leaves its mark and shapes you in some way. Over the course of my career, I’ve worked in many different environments ranging from luxurious, top flight corporate offices in the City of London, through to run down one room dog boxes, complete with a leaky roof!

Nice offices are a bonus, but as a rule, you really don’t worry too much about the trappings of your surroundings as long as you enjoy the work. The exceptions being when it is stinking hot, freezing cold or the water is dripping from the leaky roof onto your desk!

You remember different things about each place. For instance, at Lombard Odier, I learnt the meaning of absolute confidentiality. Working at St John Ambulance I discovered how to overcome my own personal feelings and just get on with the job at hand because people needed me.

In between places there have been other lessons learnt. You continue to learn each and every day of your life when you are open to what is happening around you. Some things are easier to learn than others.

Certainly, keeping up with all the latest technology presents challenges to folks like me, but it also presents amazing opportunities. BeforePCsThe workplace has changed enormously since the early day of my career. But the biggest change I’ve seen is in working remotely.

I remember when people had the odd day of working from home, but working remotely is a different kettle of fish. It’s definitely changed the workplace environment.

Working from remote and distant locations that are outside your traditional office such as home, local coffee shop or even a hotel room is continuing to gain more and more traction thanks to the ever expanding information technology capabilities. Don’t you just love wi-fi and smart phones? I do!

I love working remotely – so much so that it’s become the bulk of my business – and I really strive to master the technology that makes this possible for me.

There are heaps of benefits, but there’s also a downside. The pros and cons from my perspective are:

Benefits
1. There is increased independence. If you’re working from remote and distant locations—away from the traditional office—you won’t be distracted by others and there is less chance of becoming involved in the usual office politics.

Lack of distractions should mean an increase in your productivity, but it’s easy to get sidetracked.

2. Increased flexibility. If you are a working-from-home parent, or a caregiver to someone ill or an aged parent, you can organize and schedule your commitments around family obligations.

I’m not saying it’s easy. It does require discipline, but it can definitely be achieved.

3. As an employer, you can have a pool of workforce talents from diverse geographical locations as opposed to conventional working.

I love working with my remote team of VA’s! With the time zone differences it means pretty much round the clock productivity and fast turnaround times for clients.

4. There is a massive increase in savings on several fronts.

– Travel costs, travel time, vehicle running costs and parking fees.
– Clothing and dry cleaning bills as you have a more informal dress code.

ID-100125904
Image courtesy of Marin at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

BTW – adopt a routine of getting dressed rather than sitting at your desk in your PJ’s all day! Make a point of getting up, showered and dressed every day that you are ‘working’. You don’t want to get caught short, if you have to dash out or someone drops by!

– If you have a Virtual Assistant (VA), you only pay for the hours they actually worked. No issues with leave, superannuation, workers compensation and so on.

Disadvantages

1. It’s not easy to develop a relationship with other team members. Not everyone thrives on working alone and some people actually need personal interaction with colleagues.

2. The technology may fail. A backup plan is essential! That means using regular, automated backup for all your work, and having a second device to access Skype, internet etc.

3. It can be challenging to provide oversight and give clear instructions to remote workers as there is no direct supervision. I use a handy little tool called “Snag It” when I need to send visual illustrations of what I need – it’s magic!

4. Family and friends need to be educated that you are ”at work” and cannot be disturbed just because you are at home.

My Conclusion
The bottom line is that it very much depends on the individual, the business and the personalities involved.

Some of us thrive on remote work whilst others really struggle.

On a personal level I thoroughly enjoy working remotely with my global team and the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages.

Strong self discipline is an absolute must!

Of course, nothing can beat face to face contact. It’s important to make sure to schedule a regular get together with your team, and that you get out and about to network.

Michelle

Michelle Hanton is a multi-award winning bespoke business strategist, working internationally as a consultant, coach, speaker and writer. She has a keen interest in the not-for-profit sector and is the former CEO of Lifeline Top End, and founder of Dragons Abreast Australia, a national charity dedicated to the promotion of breast cancer awareness.

A version of this article was originally published on Simple Team Meeting as Pros and Cons of Working Remotely