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In my effort to free up time,work smart and smell the roses, I use a Virtual Assistant. When I first heard of Virtual Assistants, I was hard pressed to know how to use them. The more I thought about them, the more I realized how useful they can actually be. Furthermore, I began to realize how much time they could save me. Fast forward to today, I’ve tried and still use Virtual Assistants to help me with my busy life. When I talk to my friends and colleagues about Virtual Assistants, most of them think a Virtual Assistant is nothing more than a super computer some place doing my bidding. How wrong they are! A Virtual Assistant is a real person working out of their home as a freelancer or working for a Virtual Assistant company in an office environment someplace. Unlike the traditional administrative assistants who for the most part work in the same office as you do, virtual assistants are a long way away and often in a different country and time zone working for you. Because they are working in different countries some of which have different economies to ours, they are very often less expensive to hirer than local labor.
What can a Virtual Assistant do and how to use them?
So, I’ve explained in a nutshell what a Virtual Assistant is, but what can they do and how to use them? To answer this question, we first have to think and implement how we work. If you work smart and travel as I do, this is not much of a problem since you are already doing most things using cloud services over the internet. But if you aren’t using cloud services, then perhaps you should read some of my previous articles such as the Electronic Filing Cabinet, Using a Virtual Mailbox, The New Way to Send Postal Mail when Traveling and my article about FileThis a service that retrieves documents and statements from banks and service providers. If you are familiar with or using these types of services, then read on.
One of the first things you need to be doing is storing your files in a way that a Virtual Assistant (I’ll use “VA” from now onwards) can easily access them. I use a file storage service called SugarSync that stores files in the cloud, but they are others out there such as DropBox for instance. If you want to use a VA for book keeping, use an online book keeping service such as Quick Books On Line or the one I use for my small business Wave Accounting. To have a VA keep track of your customer or contacts and do your scheduling, use a online contact manager such as Zoho or Google Contacts and Google Calendar. I like using Google Contacts and Calendar because both sync with my Android based smart phone in real time, the changers are instant. And if you want to really think outside the box, you can have a VA check your postal mail for you. All you need is a Virtual Postal Mail Box from a service provider such as The Traveling Mailbox. Just some ideas of how a VA can help you in your busy life or give you some free time to enjoy your travels.
Finding , Hiring and Training Your Virtual Assistant
Not all VA’s are created equal, some are more technical than others, and some speak perfect English while others speak broken English with an Indian accent. You have to think about what tasks you need a VA to do for you and shop accordingly. For instance, if you are going to use a VA to call your customers and confirm appointments; you don’t want one with a thick heavy Indian accent. Just call your cable company after hours if you don’t believe me on this one. If you need a VA to help with technical documents, you don’t want a secretary; you need a VA with some technical experience. I run a small Website development company, so I use a VA with an understanding of HTML, PHP and Java Script and so on. Because he doesn’t speak to my customers, I don’t care about his accent. On the overhand, if I need a VA to make or receive calls for me than I would want one with good English speaking skills.
Before hiring a VA or a VA company, you need to interview them. Skype is a good platform for this because the audio is high quality and you can use video to see the person. I find when using Skype with video it’s much easier to understand the other person as accents don’t get in the way as much. This is because of Skype’s high voice quality audio and being able to see the person talk. In seeing the person talk, my brain uses facial expressions and a lip movement to help interpret what is being said. Also, you get a good idea of the VA’s personality.
After hiring your VA, you need to train him or her. You can do this a number of ways but I use three basic ways/methods: written procedures, interactive using TeamViewer and video recordings. I prefer video recordings and written procedures as I can keep these in my SugarSync account for easy access by my VA. Furthermore, if my VA is in a different time zone, I’m not up in the middle of the night trying to train them during their normal working day. To record a video for my VA, I use a video capture program to record my desktop or laptop screen. I use Replay Video Capture by Applian Technologies but they are many on the market and some are free. Just Google “screen video capture software” for an extensive list of both free and paid programs.
How about trust and security? First and foremost, VA’s are human beings so treat them as such. Treat them like you would treat any other person working for you either in an office, on a factory floor or in a shop. They may not do the job the way you would, but if the end result is the same so what. If you do need to criticize your VA, do it in a positive manor. For example, if I’m to send my VA an email asking them do go about a particular job a different way, I would start the Email with something positive like “Thank you for working on this for me today“. Then I would go into the correction, “It would be more beneficial if you could do the job this way next time as it would save both of us time and it would be easier for you”. Finally, a positive closing: “Thank you again for all your help with this project, I very much appreciate it”. The basic rule, Thank them, correct them, and thank them again. This way you will build a good rapport with your VA and trust won’t be much of an issue. As for security and sharing passwords, I use LastPass. LastPass has a wonderful feature for sharing usernames and passwords to your online accounts with your VA’s. When both you and your VA use LastPass, you can share your account login information with your VA and your VA will not be able to see your passwords but will be able to login to your accounts. Furthermore, with LastPass it’s easy to revoke your VA’s access to your accounts when the relationship ends.
I’ve used a number of VA services and Freelancers. I found that a Freelancer is best suited for one off jobs such as Engineering CAD design, Web Design, Logo Design, Article Writing ( by the way, I’m writing this article myself and not using a VA), Software Coding, Data Enter and Translation just to name a few. My source of choice for a freelancer is Odesk. A VA service company is best suited for ongoing work which you require a long term commitment. I prefer to use a VA companies for long term jobs as they have back up VA’s who fill in when your own VA is out sick or on vacation. The two best VA companies I’ve use so far are MyTasker and Uassist.me. MyTasker based in India have good technical orientated people to do research work, work on engineering documents, graphics and web site support and design. Uassist.me is more administrative type of VA company and have VA’s based in El Salvador and in the United States. My Uassist.me VA, Samantha; who’s based in El Salvador writes and speaks perfect English. I used her to call my customers to confirm or make appointments, check and respond to my Emails, send birthday cards, make travel arrangements, send quotations/estimates and a whole host of other things.
Remember that the intent of using a VA is to free up your own time so that you can concentrate on other more meaningful things. Below is a short list of jobs and matching services a VA can help you with:
|Sending Greating Cards||www.Cardstore.com|
|Paying Bills||Online Banking|
|Checking Postal Mail||https://travelingmailbox.com|
|Appointment Making||Google Calendar/Google Contacts|
|Book Keeping||Quick Books Online|
|Email’s||Any online Email Provider|
|Customer Management||any online CRM|
|Travel Planning||any online travel site|
|Help Parpair Presations||Power Point|
|Voice Mail Checking||telephone|
|Invoicing||Quick Books Online|
For a more complete list of what a VA can do for you check out the article “101 Tasks You Can Outsource to Virtual Staff to Grow Your Business!” by Chris Ducker.
Also, be sure to check Virtual Assistant reviews at virtualassistantassistant.com