How to Work with a Virtual Assistant: The Ultimate Guide

by | November 1, 2022

Virtual assistant tasks can vary from data entry, scheduling appointments, to personal errands. A good virtual assistant will offer administrative support for any busy business owner.

How productive are you in running your business? There comes a time in every manager’s life when that to-do list simply gets too long to accomplish. That might be at least partially due to the fact that according to one survey, the average U.S. employee only spends 45% of their workday on primary job duties.

That’s problematic for any employee but downright devastating for small business owners and entrepreneurs. Here, the primary tasks are simply too important to ignore. And yet, emails, scheduling meetings, data entry, and other administrative tasks just keep getting in the way.

Of course, you might not have the resources to hire a full-time assistant. And yet, you need to grow your team in order to grow your business. That’s where virtual assistants enter the equation.

The name speaks for itself, but the concept bears explaining further. In this guide, we’ll dive deeply into the core advantages of hiring a virtual assistant, the typical tasks they can accomplish for you, the steps to take when hiring virtual assistant services, and more.

Stay tuned; we’ll even share some free interview templates to make sure you get the best possible professional by your side and for your business.

Virtual assistants work remotely from around the globe which makes constructing a virtual assistant salary somewhat flexible.

Why Should You Hire a Virtual Assistant?

In simplest terms, hiring a virtual assistant makes sense because they allow you to free up your time without devastating your budget. But in reality, it’s more complex than that.

Hiring a virtual assistant makes sense for several reasons:

You can free up time for your essential tasks. While they organize your emails, schedule meetings, and manage your calendar, you can focus on growing your business, engaging with stakeholders, and working off that to-do list.

The resource expense is minimal. You’ll likely hire a VA for a limited number of hours per week, and won’t need to worry about extra expenses like benefits or physical office space. You get the time and expertise of a qualified professional, without the investment of a full-time employee.

You’re not limited by your company’s location. Depending on where you’re located, finding qualified talent for the tasks you need can be difficult. Virtual assistants can work from a remote location anywhere in the world, so your talent pool for the role increases dramatically.

Here’s how

You gain agility in personnel decisions. A bad hire can be devastating to small businesses, with significant tangible and intangible costs. If the virtual assistant is not the right fit, you can simply look for another one without major sunk costs.

You might even get some technical expertise. Depending on the assistant you hire and the process you go through, you won’t just be able to find help with simple tasks. Some assistants come with significant technical expertise, able to help the company with anything from social media strategy to website maintenance.

Of course, all the above benefits are somewhat conditional. They all depend on finding the right professional and the right fit for your company. That’s why we’ll focus on the right places, steps, and onboarding for your virtual assistant throughout this guide.

Consider hiring a virtual assistant for calendar management, email management, managing social media accounts, or general administrative work

What do Virtual Assistants Do?

Virtual assistants take the role of any administrative professional but perform it virtually through the Internet instead. Depending on where you look, you’ll find assistants with any number of skills and experience levels that could help your business.

When you hire them, these assistants tend to work a set number of hours per week. During that time, most will be able to perform basic tasks like managing your email inbox or calendar and scheduling meetings on your behalf.

With the right training and onboarding, they should also be able to help with data entry as well as expense and invoice management. Frequent travelers can also depend on their assistants to book hotels and flights.

Of course, that’s not the extent of it. Depending on your business needs, you can also find specialized virtual assistants who have more advanced skills in helping you run your business.

Here’s an example

For instance, you might be able to find professionals who can help you build and execute your social media strategy. Some candidates may be experienced enough with content management systems to maintain your website, or be able to perform industry and customer-based research. Finally, they might be able to develop content, market that content, and plan company events on your behalf.

You might even find assistants who are dedicated to your industry, such as those with existing training and experience in medical terminology.

The extent of potential expertise for virtual assistants is only limited by their background beyond the basic skills you should expect. Again, that makes finding the right assistant a crucial part of the puzzle when looking to benefit your business.

Virtual assistant skills vary — some are more like a personal assistant, some are more of an administrative assistant.

Where to Find Quality Virtual Assistants

There are multiple ways to find virtual assistant services. Some CEOs work through referrals, while others simply post the job through their company channels. Most commonly, though, you’ll find a professional either through a good virtual assistant service or a freelance marketplace.

Virtual Assistants on Freelance Marketplaces

These marketplaces are the epitome of the gig economy. Contractors can set up their profile and pitch their work to anyone interested in virtual assistant jobs. You can either sift through the many profiles on there or post your job and wait for them to apply to it.

The volume is definitely there. Post a job, and you might get anywhere between 15 and 100 applicants, some more qualified than others. Don’t have time to sift through that many options? Maybe this route isn’t right for you.

It’s also important to understand that on an online marketplace, the professional relationship will be directly between you and the assistant. The website acts only as the initial way to connect you, but doesn’t claim responsibility should something go south. For that initial connection, you’ll pay a small fee on top of whatever hourly rates the contractor demands.

Virtual Assistants Through a Dedicated Service

The alternative to a marketplace is one that comes with quite a bit more structure to it. A dedicated service, like Zirtual, acts as the agency that not only connects but also manages the relationship between you and the assistant.

That leads to a few important distinctions compared to a marketplace. First, you don’t have to source applicants yourself but can rely on the service for the initial screening and qualifications check. The actual application and relationship are also managed through the service’s platform.

As a result, you’ll likely have to pay higher fees. In exchange, you get more support in the process of hiring the assistant. And isn’t handing off some of those tasks a reason you want to go this route, to begin with? You’ll also have more of a guarantee that the virtual assistant you’re hiring fulfills all the necessary qualifications.

Most virtual assistants are an independent contractor and prefer work from home jobs. The is great for a small business owner on a budget for hiring.

5 Steps for Hiring a Virtual Assistant

It’s not as simple as finding an assistant and hoping for the best. As with any other position in your company, the process is more complex. More people are getting hip to the wonders of the virtual assistant job market and want a piece of that sweet independent contractor pie.

If you truly want and need reliable help on the backend of your business and plan to hire virtual assistants to fill that void, it pays to be strategic about it. These 5 steps will help you hire the right professional to help your company.

1) Prepare Yourself and Your Company

Believe it or not, hiring a virtual assistant can go horribly wrong. You can’t simply explain some basic processes via phone call or email and hope they get it right, so virtual assistant training is a challenge. Instead, before you even start the hiring process, prepare yourself with a few simple steps.

Such as:

  • Define which processes and tasks you’re looking to outsource.
  • Document the process for each task in question to improve both candidate selection and onboarding.
  • Put the appropriate resources to the test. Everyone who will work with the assistant should be at least somewhat involved.

2) Build the Job Description

With the basic tasks and needs defined, it’s time to think through the job description. The more specific the description, the better.

Consider including at least these pieces:

  • The education level and experience you’re looking for
  • The scope and type of your company to set expectations
  • The apps and platforms they’ll use to perform their job
  • The audience they’ll be speaking with; if that’s fellow executives or investors, let them know now
  • Language requirements, if applicable
  • The exact tasks you’ll want your assistant to perform; refer to both your tasks and processes above and the typical skills assistants should have

Pro tip: if this is your first virtual assistant search, find virtual assistant jobs that are already listed and familiarize yourself with that job description — this will help get a better sense of what your company needs as well as help define the lines of the position for potential candidates.

Where possible, keep it succinct. That ensures that any candidate will find the most relevant information quickly, and apply based on their own best judgment.

3) Determine Your Budget

Next, think through the money you have available to hire a virtual assistant. We’ll go through the various cost structures and expectations below. This step helps you to set expectations so you know exactly what type of assistant you can both afford and attract.

Determining your budget also allows you to understand whether a freelance platform or dedicated service for virtual assistants is the best route for your specific situation and company. While you should not post salary expectations within the job descriptions, it’s important to know that budget internally as you go through the process.

The virtual assistant business has been growing in recent years, helping with social media management, basic administrative tasks, fielding customer dataor customer inquiries, content writing, or assisting potential clients.

4) Screen Potential Applicants

The first three steps get you to post the job. You’ll begin to receive applicants as a result. The next step, naturally, is to screen those applicants to make sure you find an assistant that fits your needs.

Consider starting with an applicant test. Depending on what tasks are involved in the actual job, ask applicants to write emails or some social media posts on your behalf. That test can be basic but helps you better understand whether the applicant has the skills required to perform as needed.

The other screening step is the interview. Keep scrolling to look for specific interview questions to ask as well as some free templates to screen and select the right candidate.

5) Take Time for Onboarding

The hiring process is not done when you choose a candidate. The final step is onboarding, during which you train your new virtual office assistant and get them on task with everything they’ll need to accomplish.

If you’ve taken the right steps, you’ll have found a contractor who has the requisite skills. But they still won’t know the nuances of your company or its processes. Take some time to introduce them to your culture, your way of working, and your communications processes.

Those processes you documented above? They become especially relevant now. Instead of simply sending them to your new virtual hire, take the time to walk them through it at least once. From there, move into that first project, as described below.

What to Ask Your Virtual Assistant During the Interview

As is the case for any new hire, the questions you ask during the interview can make or break the process of hiring the right assistant. With these questions, you can determine some basic facts alongside in-depth insights into the candidates’ skills.

Ask questions that both verify what’s on the applicant’s resume and go beyond it, into the intangibles.

Below are just some examples of those questions:

  • What would you say are your most important skills?
  • What skills in the job description do you not feel comfortable about?
  • What are your English language skills? Are you a native speaker?
  • What are your available hours, and how do you tend to track them?
  • How would you react if you don’t know how to complete a task?
  • Let’s say I give you five different tasks in short order. How do you prioritize which to tackle first?
  • Do you have experience working virtually? How would that relate to this job?
  • How do you handle priorities that are shifting and changing while you work on a task?
  • How comfortable are you with [the tools and apps used by the company]?
  • How do you manage stress?

Looking for more guidance? Good news! Our FREE virtual assistant interview templates can help you make sure that you get the right candidate.

Virtual assistants specialize in general admin tasks, but expand from there to more time consuming projects they spend hours on.

How to Structure the Initial Project

The initial project your virtual assistant will help you with is a crucial part of onboarding. Beyond helping to accomplish the task at hand, it also sets the tone for all future projects and serves as a mutual introduction into the way both you and your new hire will work together.

That means finding a project that’s a balance between tasks that would be typical but also straightforward and relatively easy to accomplish. A project with already-documented processes, as established in the steps above, is the perfect fit here.

If possible, find a project with tangible outcomes. That allows both you and your new hire to benchmark their performance and find areas of improvement that can help everyone involved going forward.

Finally, schedule regular check-ins into the project timeline. Your new virtual assistant will have initial questions as they get used to working with you. Check-ins allow you to not only monitor progress but also answer these questions and evaluate the progress while course-correcting as necessary without introducing any delays.

What to Pay Your Virtual Assistant

As you might expect, there is no simple ‘best rate’ or single price for this profession. Hourly rates for virtual assistants can range anywhere from $3 for a non-native speaker to $50+ per hour for a high-level, specialized executive assistant.

When you hire your own freelancer, expect the hourly rate to dominate the conversation. Cheaper, of course, is not always better; professionals charging higher hourly rates tend to have more experience and credibility, and might also be able to work faster.

When working with a dedicated virtual assistant service, you’re more likely to pay a monthly rate based on a given tier. At Zirtual, for instance, pricing tiers range from $449 per month for 12 hours and a single user to $1,499 per month for a five-user team and 50 hours every month.

When determining what to pay your virtual assistant, always keep the experience and expertise level in mind. That usually disqualifies the cheapest options, whose quality of work might require you to redo much of their projects. Another way to judge credibility is through client testimonials; getting a third party’s opinion can be invaluable when determining whether the price is right.

If you're looking for a virtual assistant company, look no futher. Zirtual has many virtual assistants with professional communication skills ready to help organize customer data, help with bookkeeping tasks, or book travel arrangements.

How to Decide if You Should Replace Your Virtual Assistant

Let’s say that, through all the above steps, you’ve hired your first virtual assistant. Congratulations! But the work is not all done. Now, the evaluation of whether that VA is actually helping your business and positively contributing to your bottom line begins.

If your virtual assistant just isn’t working out, either through communications barriers or by not getting the tasks done in the way you need them to, don’t be afraid to cut ties with them. You should have a good reason, but if that good reason exists, taking this step earlier rather than later allows you to prevent future problems with your outsourced tasks and projects.

Look for signs that it’s just not the right fit. Those signs may be a lack of communication; if you assign them a task but don’t hear back in time for the deadline, that suggests an underlying accountability problem. Communication is at the center of any VA’s work, and needs to be right for the hire to work out.

Quality of work, of course, is another important warning sign. Especially in the beginning, some course corrections on your end are expected. But if those course corrections begin to become time-prohibitive and make you question the value of having someone else work on the project to begin with, it might be time to find a replacement.

Finally, look for those obvious red flags. If your virtual assistant communicates with others on your behalf, ask them how it’s going. Any concerns shared here might apply on a broader level, as well.

As you grow your business, a virtual assistant can make sure that those administrative tasks don’t either fall by the wayside or take over your life while more important tasks remain unchecked on the to-do list. As long as you hire the right assistant and ensure quality work, they can be an invaluable part of the business for both entrepreneurs and small businesses in general.