Sometimes business owners come to us quite nervous.
Why? Often because they’ve tried outsourcing their work before and had a painful experience with it. Sometimes they’ve been unlucky and struck someone who was completely unsuitable for the job, other times, they’ve found that outsourcing seemed to make them busier than ever. It felt like they were spending more time finding things for their virtual assistant (or other contractor) to do and that they were no more productive than when they began.
We’ve been there too. It took some years of trial and error to figure out what it really takes to have a valuable partnership with virtual assistants and other outsourcers, lessons which led to the forming of The Virtual Hub.
So entrepreneurs, take a breath, here’s what we’ve found is crucial for success, even before hiring that virtual assistant:
We know you’re busy. We’re living in a world where digital has taken over and along with it, expectations of 24/7 connectivity, snappy decision-making and that being busy, busy, busy is something everyone should aspire to.
This includes things like the decision to hire a virtual assistant and outsource some of your work.
A key mistake that we’ve found among many of those nervous business owners who’ve had bad outsourcing experiences is that they took a dive right into hiring without considering:
a) Am I really ready to hire someone? And;
b) What do i need to have in place to ensure outsourcing is a success?
You can’t really expect to be able to decide to hire help as quickly as you might make a decision on your lunch order; you need to have prepared your business ahead of time to create the optimum conditions for success.
This is why we say “slow down now to speed up later.”
A well-executed plan for hiring and putting a virtual assistant to work can pay dividends in terms of productivity and business growth down the track. You can seriously inhibit that growth if you go into this too hastily.
The idea of hiring someone is to make your life easier, to delegate out those essential tasks which tend to bog you down. If you go into this without a solid plan, you can end up creating an extra job for yourself in “managing” the new hire. When I interviewed Brian Casel recently for the Virtual Success Podcast, this was his observation from his first experiences years ago:
“When I first hired outside help, I hired a virtual assistant, but I found that I was spending a lot of my time finding things for them to do.”
After this experience, Brian got smart about looking at his business needs and ensuring that he had the systems and processes in place to get the best from outsourced help, without creating extra work for himself. This is a crucial step…
Look at your growth systems and processes first
You don’t want to create extra work for yourself in any way, so take a moment, slow down and examine your business before you dive into hiring help. Here are a few thoughts on what to look at:
What problems do you need solving?
Besides the general problems like “I don’t have enough time” or “I never seem to be able to take a day off,” what specifically do you need help with? You could start out by thinking about those tasks that must be done in your business and would immediately give you some kind of “bang for buck” if they were taken care of.
When we interviewed Hubspot’s Matthew Barby, a great point that he made was to begin by getting one thing done very well, rather than trying to solve all of your problems at once. There’s a danger of overloading a new hire if you try to get them to focus on every problem you have right from the beginning.
A suggestion from Matthew was to start with the simpler processes in your business and prove that they work well when delegated. You can work your way up from there, building more rigid processes and using a virtual assistant or other virtual team members to help you scale.
Actionable tip: Clearly define and list some key issues which you’d like to prioritize first with a VA. Which are your simpler processes that you’d like to test for delegation first?
Have realistic expectations
Sometimes the root of the business owner’s discontent with their last outsourcing experience was the magnitude of their own expectations. You can’t expect that new VA to be the magic salve that your business needs if there are underlying problems or important systems missing within the company.
Your virtual assistant is a human being – they can work magic within their particular skill set, but they do so best when the business has laid the foundation to make that happen.
Among the unrealistic things we’ve heard:
- “Shouldn’t they just hit the ground running?” Not necessarily, as with most jobs, there is usually a brief period of getting up to speed with the inner workings of the business.
- “I shouldn’t have to always tell them what to do.” You shouldn’t, but do you have clear processes in place which they can easily follow without referring to you? VAs are many things, but they’re not mind readers!
- “I thought they would get more done for the time given.” Okay, sometimes you might strike someone who doesn’t work efficiently and won’t be a good fit, but you’ve also got to have realistic expectations about what the work entails and how long it might take to get it done well. There’s always that old saying; “Fast, cheap, or done well.” You can have fast and done well, but it won’t be cheap. Cheap and fast won’t be done well. Done well and cheap won’t be fast. You can only usually have two out of the three and let’s just say, we wouldn’t be sacrificing the “done well” part!
Think back to when you might have started a new job – you needed a period to settle and learn, right? You can get a long way toward a harmonious relationship with your VA and other outsourcers if you treat them as human beings.
Actionable tip: Have systems in place to make onboarding a new hire easier. For example, you might create a handbook for new team members to familiarize them with the inner-workings of your business.
Plan for growth
It’s often a mindset shift for business owners, as we explained in a blog post about firing yourself from your business. Fear is natural, but it can be a catalyst that causes you to contract, rather than think bigger in your business.
When you plan for growth, you naturally tend to gravitate toward the sorts of systems and processes that will facilitate that growth and make delegation possible.
A growth mindset means that you create a platform for yourself from which it is much easier to attract talented people to your business. You have to be able to afford to hire the best, right? So think bigger picture – plan your systems and processes with future explosive growth in mind.
Actionable tip: Look at all of the essential tasks within your business. How can you put in place processes which will remain solid, whether you have 100 clients or 1000? Think of streamlining and automation where possible.
Put the right systems in place
Another area where businesses can fall down when hiring help is that they either don’t have solid systems in place, or whatever they do have is grossly outdated. If you’ve got some kind of convoluted system that relies on a lot of manual data entry or many disconnected parts, you’re setting up a new hire to make mistakes.
Actionable tip: Examine your current essential business systems. Are there better solutions available that would automate key tasks and reduce the risk of error? Are the systems generally intuitive, or do they involve a steep learning curve for new team members?
Create processes to take yourself out
If you don’t want to have to be involved all the time or always be asked the same questions, then you need to take processes which are designed to take yourself out of the business. Dream of “switching off” for an extended vacation? You can make it so if you have processes that are clear for others to follow and inherently repeatable.
This might take some trial and error, it may even take a few months to be able to remove yourself completely, but the point is by starting this process in the first place, you can eventually have a team that is confident to take over where you left off. (Start booking that getaway!)
Actionable tip: Take a look at every process that is essential to keep your business running well – which ones require your input to keep moving? Find a way to “manage yourself out” of them.
It may sound a little crazy to slow down while you’re trying to grow a business, but “busy” doesn’t always mean productive and if you want to be in the best position to successfully hire help, you need to take stock.
The businesses which enjoy the most success from hiring a virtual assistant and other outsourced roles are those which have growth systems in place to smooth out the work experience. This includes processes which are easily followed and repeatable.
Make sure that hiring someone isn’t just creating an extra job for yourself – be prepared ahead of time. And if you want to learn more about virtual assistants before actually hiring one, our Ultimate Guide to Virtual Assistants will teach you all the ins and outs about how they operate and how they can help YOU grow your business.