7 Common Mistakes to Avoid When Working with a Virtual Assistant

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Virtual assistants (VA) are remote office assistants. They provide administrative, clerical, and support services that can range from scheduling conference calls and sending invoices to more complex tasks regarding PR, marketing, and project management. Here are seven common mistakes to avoid when working with VAs.

1. Hiring for tasks instead of filling roles

Outsource a task and you may save yourself an hour. Outsource a role and you save yourself a job. Until the real AI revolution sweeps the world, the best VAs are people who can think for themselves. When you hire people to perform tasks you’re not taking advantage of this phenomenal human trait. When outsourcing tasks, once each is complete you must then spend time to delegate a new one. When you hire someone to fill a role, he or she can be trained to perform all the tasks associated with that role, keeping management time to a minimum.

2. Micromanaging a VA

We all know we shouldn’t be doing it, but if you’re a perfectionist it can be difficult to let someone else handle the reins of a business operation or task. Yet micromanagement is one of the most damaging habits an executive can have. When you micromanage, you become an operational bottleneck within your organization. It’s not that the buck shouldn’t stop with the boss, but when the buck’s been chopped up into too many indistinguishable pieces, teams can’t possibly predict your expectations and make independent decisions. VAs are supposed to free up your time, but if you micromanage you’ll end up spending more time delegating specific tasks than you gain from their help. Which brings us to our next mistake…

3. NOT USING A SYSTEM

Ever wonder if there was a way to have your cake and eat it too? In the context of virtual assistants, it may be possible to retain your perfectionism without succumbing to the pitfalls of micromanagement. By creating clear step-by-step procedures for how certain tasks should be performed, you can remove the guesswork and confusion that usually prevent teams working under micromanagers from being proactive and productive.

4. Neglecting to define a clear role or scope

When you’re working with a VA, or any other remote freelancer for that matter, it’s important to clearly define the role and the project scope. You can accomplish this by writing a clear project description for hiring a VA. Make a list of the specific tasks—social media posts, booking travel arrangements, scheduling meetings, etc.—of the role you’d like to outsource. Create a picture of the responsibilities, skills, and experience required of that role. Clarify whether this is a long-term hire or a one-time gig. Transparency will save you headaches and unmet expectations in the future.

5. Thinking you can 100% set it and forget it

Just because you don’t want to micromanage doesn’t mean you want to be an absentee manager either. You’ll still want to check in periodically on the projects and tasks you’ve assigned to your VA and provide feedback on his or her performance. How else is your VA supposed to learn how to better meet your business needs? Fortunately, plenty of project management tools are out there to help you better manage your VA and other members of the team. There are even freelancer management systems especially geared toward helping you work with VAs and other remote freelancers.

6. Failing to build trust

Virtual assistants can wear many hats. They can relieve you of all the repetitive, administrative, and clerical tasks associated with marketing, accounting, IT, sales, and so much more. But to take full advantage of a VA’s skills, you’ll need to be able to trust him or her. Trust has to be built; it’s a two-way street. You have to first ascertain whether you’re actually ready to delegate responsibilities to a VA. Then you have to be able to screen your short list and judge intangibles such as personality fit and attitude. Consider using test projects in your hiring process to help you select the right VA for your team.

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7. NOT REALIZING VAs ARE MORE THAN COSTS ON A SPREADSHEET

Yes, it’s important to factor in the cost of hiring a VA; budgets must be balanced. However, it’s even more important to remember that when you hire a VA you’re really investing in a person, a new member of the team who can help take your business to new heights. Congratulate your VA on his or her successes. Keep your criticisms constructive. The VA you bring onto the team today could grow into a full-fledged project manager tomorrow. Nurture your investments and they’ll pay dividends in the future.

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Yoshitaka Shiotsu

by - Technical Copywriter & Digital Marketing Consultant

Yoshitaka (Chris) Shiotsu is a technical copywriter and digital marketing consultant on Upwork. He brings the researching prowess and technical savvy of an electrical engineer… more