MANAGING A VIRTUAL ASSISTANT
Often it seems business owners expect to be able to delegate tasks to their virtual assistants and that the tasks will be automatically completed, correctly and on time. But just as for an employee who works out of the same location as you do, VAs need to be managed and coached on your overall operations and their specific business tasks. We are breaking it down below, from when they first join your team through their ongoing development.
Onboarding Your Virtual Assistant
Effectively onboarding your virtual assistant sets the tone for your ongoing working relationship, so you’ll want to make sure you start off on the right foot. It’s much easier to kick off your relationship headed in the right direction than to course-correct after a rocky start.
But what exactly is onboarding? According to Wikipedia, “Onboarding…refers to the mechanism through which new employees acquire the necessary knowledge, skills, and behaviors in order to become effective organizational members and insiders. It is the process of integrating a new employee into the organization and its culture.”
Unlike employee orientation, which is a one-time event, onboarding is an ongoing, strategic process designed to help team members not only to understand their role and your expectations for their day-to-day tasks but to bring them fully into your business vision and culture. How their work contributes to your business is revealed during onboarding, and it’s an excellent way to demonstrate to your virtual assistant that you value, respect, and appreciate them.
Why is Onboarding Important?
In addition to making your new virtual assistant feel welcomed and valued, an effective onboarding process produces a bunch of benefits for business owners. You want to ensure everyone on your team feels valued, knows the direction they need to take, and how to get there successfully. They need a leader they can look up to and help them drive the vision every day. Effectively onboarding team members is the first step on your team success journey.
In fact, the research demonstrates that companies with well-planned onboarding processes reap the following benefits:
- 54% higher new hire productivity
- 50% higher retention rates, with 69% of their new hires reporting their willing to stay for up to 3 years
- 60% improved revenue
- 63% improved customer satisfaction
By investing the time to effectively onboard your virtual assistant, you set your VA and your business up for long-term success!
How to Onboard Your Virtual Assistant
Many entrepreneurs hope to set their new virtual assistants to task right on day one, but it’s far more important to put your initial focus on the relationship and the big picture than on the work itself. So, spend the first few days building that human connection.
Make the Connection
On their first day, you absolutely must meet with them via Skype or Zoom to make that “face-to-face” connection, even though it’s virtual. You’ll want to spend the first day – or even the first several days – sharing your business vision and helping them understand their part in it. You want to make them feel like a real part of your team, starting day one.
Clarify Your Communication Style and Rhythm
Let your virtual assistant know the best times of day to contact you with questions, as well as the best ways to reach you. Consider whether you want to be available to respond to issues and questions throughout the day, as issues arise, or if you’d prefer for your virtual assistant to reach out to you at specified times you’ll set aside to reply. We’ll dive deeper into communication in a subsection below.
Introduce Your Tools and Systems
Over the first few weeks of working with your virtual assistant, you’ll train them on your processes and using any software they’re not already familiar with. But to get started, give them “a tour” of your digital world. Explain which software programs you use for which purpose and show them where they can find documents and other resources they’ll need.
Break Down the First Six Weeks
We’ve seen many business owners, eager to get their new virtual assistant to work quickly, just fling individual tasks at their VAs on their first day or even dumping the entire task list on the VA all at once. This strategy tends to fail miserably. If you really want to have success, we strongly advise you to avoid doing that – to resist the temptation to hand everything over at once.
Breaking down the first six or more weeks into weekly parts, where you gradually introduce them to the tasks and workflow in your business, is a much more effective strategy for training your VA on his or her responsibilities. These first six weeks should focus solely on introducing the VA to the recurring tasks list – those routine, repeatable daily, weekly, and monthly tasks. In the next few sections, we’ll get into detail about how to train your virtual assistant, but here an overview of how to break down the recurring task list over your first six weeks together.
For example, the first week (or at least the first few days) with your VA should be focused on giving them a feel for the business and communicating your style. Then you can introduce them to a couple of tasks at a time. Take one area of the overall task list, and really start to work together on getting that bit right.
On our blog, we include a handy visual “Day One Checklist” that could help you and your VA get off on the right foot!
During your second week, review what you accomplished together in week one. This provides the opportunity for any troubleshooting you need to work through as a team. Then, once you’re both confident they’ve mastered the week one tasks, train them to do a few more. In week two, they’ll repeat any weekly tasks they learned in week one and add in the next handful of tasks you trained them on.
Weeks Three Through Six
Over the next four weeks, repeat the process from weeks one and two. Each week, you’ll review the tasks completed the week prior, clarifying expectations and answering any questions, and training your virtual assistant on a few more tasks. By repeating the process week after week, it will reveal what it looks like to be really successfully together. Plus, you’ll begin to discover where your processes lack steps or clarity, allowing you to make modifications and improve efficiency. By the end of the six weeks, you should have that recurring task list working beautifully and efficiently for you!
Beyond the First Six Weeks
For the first six weeks, you slowly roll out the recurring tasks list because it’s one of the most important projects in your business to get right with your virtual assistant. Those recurring tasks and the small to-dos are the things that have been tripping you up and paralyzing you. When you get those streamlined and you have your VA working on those effectively and efficiently, that’s when you’ll be in a position to hand them over in a stress-free way. That is, although you’ll still review your VA’s work, you can begin to let go of those tasks because you’ll be confident your VA can perform them effectively.
Then, the six-week mark is where you and your virtual assistant may be ready to add new projects to the list. From planning product launches to webinars to events – whatever is going on in your business – you can start introducing your VA to your projects and getting their assistance on those projects.
New people come to the team and tend to get really overwhelmed.
Brian Casel, Audience Ops Founder
Delegating to Your Virtual Assistant
Above, we explained that after six weeks working through the recurring tasks list with your VA, you’ll be in a position to let go. Finally! You’ve trained them to do your recurring tasks – and they’re doing a great job of it – and freed up time to work in your genius zone. This is what you’ve been waiting for, so it can be tempting to assume your VA can now work through the tasks 100% on their own. This is the second big mistake entrepreneurs make with their VAs, and we want to make sure you avoid this pitfall. Delegating effectively means maintaining a balance between letting go and maintaining control, and we have two rules for you to create that balance.
The #1 Rule of Delegation
Obviously, you need to remain the leader in your business, and the number one rule of delegation helps you to do just that. The number one rule of delegation is:
YOU are 100% responsible for everything that happens in your business, even if you’ve delegated it to someone else.
Your business is your business, and at the end of the day, you are 100% responsible for every single thing that goes through that business. Yep, even those things you’ve delegated to your VA and they’re now doing it.
The key to benefiting from this rule is accepting it internally. That means you never say things to yourself or others like:
- “Oh, but I told her earlier…”
- “Oh, I’ve already told him that….”
- “I’ve wrote that out for her…”
(And yes, we’ve actually heard statements like these from our clients!)
You take responsibility. And you do that by checking in and doing oversight on their responsibilities. And that is being a real leader.
The Oversight Rule
Next, we have the oversight rule. Simply put, “oversight” is the responsibility you have for making sure the output of processes, systems, and tasks are effective, efficient, and correct. It’s overseeing or managing the performance of a person or a group.
The oversight rule applies the Pareto Principle (i.e., the 80/20) rule to delegated tasks. Although you’re beginning to delegate tasks to your virtual assistant, 20% of each task remains your responsibility. Part of your 20% is creating the task, assigning it to your VA, and training them on it. The rest of your 20% is process and progression oversight.
Process oversight involves checking your VA’s work and also asking questions, such as:
- Is this process really working?
- Is it efficient?
- What is the progression of the process?
- How is the task progressing towards the deadline?
Oversight doesn’t have to be a daily task. But it’s worth have a weekly meeting with yourself, and probably your VA as well, where you go over the work and try to troubleshoot along the way. (We’ll get into daily and weekly meetings here shortly!)
So that’s your 20%, and the other 80% – obviously – belongs to the virtual assistant. Their 80% of the job is implementing or executing the task at hand, but also reporting and updating you on the progression on challenges they may be facing or on roadblocks that have come up. Communicating back and forth like this is critical. During onboarding, as well as thereafter, encourage your VA to communicate thoroughly and frequently with you. Make sure they understand you’ll need them to report back on tasks and provide updates and that it’s critical they let you know when a roadblock comes up. A roadblock might be something you can help them with, or maybe it’s just letting you know that a task is going to be delayed for some reason beyond their control. Together, you’ll be able to remove the roadblocks or adjust your plans accordingly.
Be open to the fact that other people won’t come to a task or a project the same way I will. I try to put myself in their shoes. You have to account for how people tend to learn and pick things up.
Brian Casel, Audience Ops Founder
How to Train Your Virtual Assistant
So far, we’ve talked about how to invite your virtual assistant into your business, how to divvy up the recurring task list over the first six or so weeks, and provided some general rules for effective delegation. That is, you may have noticed that we haven’t yet shared any advice about how to keep track of tasks you’ll delegate to your VA or how to train them to perform the tasks and to do it to your standards. So let’s dive into that now!
Creating Your Initial Task Lists
In the section on what you must do before you hire your virtual assistant, we discussed selecting a project management tool. Your project management software will allow you to keep track of tasks to be completed, as well as to communicate about those tasks with your team. To get started, we recommend creating two lists – one called “Repeatable Tasks” and another titled “Quick To-Dos.”
Repeatable Task Lists
You’ll start by adding a project named “Repeatable Tasks” within your project management tool. The next step is to create sections for daily, weekly, monthly, and quarterly tasks so that the tasks are divided by how frequently they occur.
This list is critical. It’s where you’ll focus all your efforts during the first six weeks of working with your virtual assistant, and it’s likely this is where they’ll spend most of their time beyond the first 6 weeks. This list is where you’re going to have all the things that happen on a regular basis, in the same way, using the same process. At The Virtual Hub, we call them the “non-negotiable, no excuses tasks.”
Once you’ve trained your VA on these routine tasks, according to the processes you’ve set up, your VA should be able to repeatedly perform these tasks without additional input of help from you. The tasks are set up on autopilot as the things that simply have to be done. And unless a technical breakdown or similar occurs, the tasks will get done, properly and on time, without you having to think about them!
Enter Repeatable Tasks into the List and Assign Due Dates
So, after you create the project and its sections, enter the tasks within the appropriate frequency section and set the project management tool to assign a repeating due date for each of them. Project management systems typically include repeatable due date settings where you can determine the interval for which you want the task to come up on the list again.
Some project management tools also offer the ability to set start and end dates for tasks, but it’s often on the paid version of the tools. So, if the ability to track both start and end dates is important to you, make sure the tool you’re using allows that and it’s included in the level of your subscription.
Here are some examples of repeatable due date options your project management system should allow you to set:
- Daily on weekdays
- Weekly on Wednesdays
- Weekly on Tuesdays and Thursdays
- Monthly on the first Friday of the month
- Monthly on the 15th of each month
For instance, if checking your company’s “info@” email inbox is a task you want your virtual assistant to do daily, you’ll set the first due date and then select “daily” from the ‘set to repeat’ options. When your VA completes and checks off the task, it will reappear with the next day’s date on it.
Let’s take that email checking example a bit further. It might seem like a very obvious task, and one that a team member shouldn’t need to be reminded to do daily. But doesn’t matter how obvious the task is. Put it on the list! You’ll want to have EVERY single thing in there so that your VA has to tick it off every day to say that they did it. And by using the project management tool (instead of email), it’s impossible for her to say that she forgot. So for your daily tasks, you want to include even the most basic tasks in that section of the list.
Enter Additional Task Details
As you add tasks, be sure to also assign the task to your virtual assistant so that it appears on their tasks list or dashboard every day when they sign into the project management system. If you’ve assigned due dates, set them to repeat, and assigned the task to your VA, there should be no reason the task doesn’t get done when it needs to be completed.
After you’ve entered the task name, you’ll also want to add a description of the task or a checklist that describes how to complete the task. When you’re writing your descriptions, avoid writing big, long paragraphs. Instead, use bullet points, use clear, concise language, and start with a verb that indicates the action to be taken. Here are some examples of how to phrase task steps:
- CHECK email.
- DELETE spam.
- SEND a daily end-of-day report.
- SCHEDULE social media.
- FORMAT blog headings.
Be sure to also include specifics needs. For instance, the specifics of the end-of-day report you want them to share with you might include tasks achieved, questions you have, roadblocks you’re facing, and feedback. Whatever the details are, spell them out.
Note that it is a bit onerous to enter all of the tasks, set the correct repeat dates, add the process details and documentation, and assign tasks to the right person. However, the good news is that you will only have to do this once. Of course, tasks may change or you might have a repeatable task to add to the list from time to time, but this list is created in your project management tool, the list is pretty much ‘set it and forget it.’
Quick To-Dos List
The next second must-have task list for getting started with your virtual assistant is called “Quick To-Dos.” You’ll use this list to capture little one-off ideas that pop into your head for things that need to be completed and are simple to hand off to your VA. For example, “Please update out hours of operation on the Facebook page to reflect our summer schedule.” Quick To-Dos are tasks that need to be completed just once or on rare occasions or at irregular intervals.
Since these tasks are typically one-time-only items, you don’t need to set repeating dates. However, you must absolutely set a due date. When your virtual assistant sees something new pop up on the quick to-dos list, they’ll need to know if it’s something urgent that they need to fit in today, if it’s something they can plan to do tomorrow, or if they have some additional wiggle room for completing the task.
But there are no ‘when you have the time’ type tasks on your virtual assistant’s task lists! Tasks without due dates don’t get completed. Assign a date that fits the urgency and importance of the task.
Finally, be sure that you assign the task to the VA and that you include descriptions and any details they’ll need to complete the task effectively.
Final Notes on Your Initial Tasks Lists
First, keep in mind that these are task lists. That is, make sure every item on these two lists is truly a task and not a big project. Each item on these lists should be tasks that can be completed in 5-30 minutes, max.
Next, make sure you focus those first few weeks with your virtual assistant on the recurring task list and don’t expect them to be able to jump into any random tasks you want to pop into quick to-dos unless they happen to be similar to tasks they’re already learning during their onboarding (e.g., a task that can be completed using a tool they’re already using to complete their repeatable tasks).
Finally, hold off on introducing any new tasks, especially project-related tasks, until your virtual assistant is fully familiar with and working effectively through all of the routine, repeatable and easy, one-off tasks. Ensuring that your virtual assistant has mastered the basics and performs the tasks efficiently and without errors before piling on additional tasks will be worth the wait. Once your virtual assistant can complete the ongoing task list “on autopilot,” then you can bring them further into your business and begin to get them involved in project-related tasks.
The Training Process
So, now that you know how to set up the tasks lists and assign tasks to your virtual assistant with your project management tool, you need to start introducing the tasks a few at a time and showing your virtual assistant how to do them.
Please don’t think that because you invested a bunch of time, created detailed steps and instructions, and added those details to the tasks in the project management tool that your virtual assistant can take it from there. You do need to have a training process for the tasks that you and the VA work through together.
It might be helpful to think back to when you were a student. When you’re learning something new in a classroom, it typically goes list this:
- The teacher provides information and explains concepts.
- The teacher demonstrates how to perform the task or skill by working through an example.
- The teacher and the students work through an example together.
- The students work through an additional example independently, with the teacher available to offer support and answer questions.
- The students complete a new task on their own and hand it in for feedback and grading.
- The teacher reviews the work and corrects and explains any mistakes made by the students.
For training your VA, take that process and apply it to the tasks at hand.
- Introduce the task and explain what it is, why you do it, and how to do it.
- Demonstrate how you do it, explaining the steps and decisions you make as you complete the process.
- Ask the VA to complete the task with you there to help out.
- Clear up any mistakes or misconceptions.
- Assign the task to the VA to work through on their own.
- Check their work.
- Discuss it with the VA (i.e., correct mistakes, note what was done well)
Be sure to continue to review their work and discuss outcomes, especially over the first few weeks. You’ll want them to get the processes right the first time, rather than to need them to relearn a process because they didn’t learn it correctly initially.
Training Tips and Tools
As your virtual assistant is, well, virtual, you need to get creative about how you can provide clear instructions and walkthroughs of your processes and tools. Unlike in a traditional office setting, you can’t pull up a chair next to your VA’s desk and watch them demonstrate their tasks. So what are your options?
Adding a virtual assistant to your team provides you with the perfect opportunity for documenting all your processes and tasks and for developing standard operating procedures (SOPs). These documents will not only help your first team member learn their job and support them on an ongoing basis, but they will also become your go-to documents for training others up, as your team grows. Of course, you will have to update your processes from time to time, as your business or the tools you use change. But investing the time to document everything now will pay off in the future, making it even easier to add new members to your team.
In the section above on creating tasks in your project management tool, we described how to write an effective task. It’s worth repeating that you ensure every required step is included in the task, that you stick to bullet points of short, clear text, and that you use action verbs. Once the processes are documented, consider where you’ll store the information. For simple, repeatable tasks, simply having a checklist in your project management tool may be sufficient. Your VA can simply tick them off the list, step-by-step as they perform the work.
For more complex tasks or tasks that are performed infrequently, a “just-in-time” checklist that can be viewed online or printed and kept handy is a great idea. Regardless of the specific format, be sure to store documents so your virtual assistant knows where to find them and how to access them. For example, you might create a task folder on the Google Drive as a central repository for your business processes.
And don’t limit you and your VA to bulleted checklists of text. Think about whether a flow chart or another visual model of a process might be a more effective solution. For example, if your virtual assistant will be responding to various customer inquiries, a decision tree would guide them to the right choice among possible responses to a given customer’s question. Canva includes many free templates for flow charts and infographics, and there are a variety of mind mapping and decision tree tools, making it easy for you to create effective visuals, even if design isn’t your thing.
Though you may not be sitting side by side, technology makes it easy to provide task demonstrations to your virtual assistant. We already recommended regular video meetings with your VA, and the video conferencing tools allow you to demonstrate online actions. Zoom, for example, allows you to share your screen, so you can walk through how you do something, and your VA can watch in real-time. Plus, after you demo a task, you can switch and have the VA share their screen with you, as you watch them repeat the task you’re training them on. Finally, Zoom allows you to record and save your meetings, so your VA can re-watch what you have walked them through if they get stuck.
Loom is another fabulous video tool that allows you to create screen sharing “explainer” videos. This tool records whatever is happening on your screen with voice-over narration. Say for example you want to demonstrate how to change an element in a Canva graphics template to a different hex color code. You’d simply open the template in Canva, open the Loom app and click ‘record,’ and perform the steps to change the color code while explaining what you’re doing!
Within Loom, you have the choice to record as “screen only” or “screen + camera,” where the latter includes you face-to-camera on a small portion of the screen. It’s a nice option for making a personal connection with your VA, even though it’s not in real-time. Just as for your process documents, you can create an online “bank” of Loom training videos your VA can access whenever they need to.
Documentation + Demonstration
When you put everything together – checklists, visuals, and demonstrations – you’ll have a rich source of training material that taps into multiple senses, allowing your VA to read, see, and hear how to perform the tasks they’re learning. Create your training materials to be as clear and vivid as possible, and your new VA will be mastering tasks in a flash!
Take Ownership of Oversight
Earlier, we defined oversight – reviewing and assessing the work of your virtual assistant and others on your team – but its importance bears repeating. There’s a notion out there that once your virtual assistant knows what to do, they don’t need to be supported and managed on an ongoing basis, and the idea couldn’t be further from the truth.
Imagine your past experiences as an employee or think about how you would treat an assistant you hired to work in your physical location. Obviously, employees report to their bosses and have their work reviewed and approved. Conversely, their bosses provide ongoing feedback and coaching so that work is performed effectively. When we think what the experience would be like if the VA was sitting right next to us, it sounds absurd to think we wouldn’t check their work and manage their progress!
Whether team members are virtual or sitting beside you, as the business owner, you’re like the conductor of the orchestra. Every seat has its talent and an important role to play for making things work in harmony. But without the conductor’s direction, you end up with noise.
So, really embrace oversight and the 80/20 rule for overseeing work. Remember that you own the processes and systems, but 80% of the work of the delegated tasks is done by the person you assigned it to. You are always going to have the remaining 20% of the responsibility, which involves you requesting and receiving the reporting you need to review and approve the work.
Keep in mind that initially, your oversight might look more like 70/30 or even 60/40, for the first six weeks to a few months, while you acclimate your VA to your business and train them up. But if you properly and thoroughly onboard, train, and manage your virtual team, you may even find that your oversight eventually only represents about 10% of the work, and your team is able to be responsible for 90% of the work!
If you think you won’t have the time for this oversight concept, then you need to delegate more until you do have time! That is, like it or not, you’re stuck with it! It’s not something you can taper down to 0% responsibility. And it’s not something you can delegate. If someone works for you, your job IS oversight. If you’re not sure you’re willing to take responsibility for oversight, then stop reading now, forget about VAs, and go find yourself a job! (Just kidding – we know you have something important to offer the world.)
Celebrate Wins Together
Entrepreneurs are high-achievers who often are ready to jump on the next big challenge as soon as they score their latest win. But we shouldn’t just “move on” to the next goal without commending ourselves and our teams for achieving goals. When we keep pushing ahead toward the next big thing, without stopping to praising the team for successes, it can lead to burnout, resentment, and other negative consequences.
People who are highly appreciated also become highly loyal and motivated to perform. Take the time to acknowledge and celebrate when projects are completed or even when you simply reach the next milestone along the way. Let people know how they were integral to the successes experienced and that they are appreciated, valued members of the team.
This may seem counterintuitive, but don’t limit the celebrations to occasions when you’re winning. When your team experiences a setback or faces extra challenging times, boost their morale by celebrating how far you’ve come together and by recognizing how you’ve overcome difficulties in the past. Reassure your team that you know you’ll pull through this together because you’ve come through other difficulties together. Sometimes a pep talk is exactly what’s in order when you and your team need to push through roadblocks. Plus, it shows that you are confident in your team and that you’re all in it together – when things are good and when things are bad.