// When PT meets VA - 5 tips for working with a virtual assistant

by Linda Anderson

Some time ago I came to the realisation that my small business could not keep growing if I was the only person working on it. I was running out of time and energy because I was devoting so much of my working week to administrative tasks that really aren’t my forte. It was at this moment that I began to explore the idea of engaging a virtual assistant (VA).
 
‘A what?’, you ask. That’s what many people say, and no, it’s not a software program. A VA is someone who can do all of the admin stuff for your business that you don’t want to be spending your own precious time on. These tasks may include invoicing, accounting, chasing payment, coordinating miscellaneous mailings and almost any other admin tasks that that eat into the time you would rather be devoting to what you do best – improving the fitness and lives of your clients and growing your business.

And the difference between a VA and an actual assistant is that the VA works remotely from their own premises and you simply pay them for the work they do for you, when you need it done. So if you hate spending a day each month processing invoices and chasing outstanding payments, why not pay someone else to do it for you while you dedicate your time to training five more paying clients instead?

Since I engaged the services of my VA she has become an invaluable resource and contribution to my business – she even babysat my business for four and a half weeks when I went overseas on holiday.

Many people I have spoken to have shared stories about their difficulties making their VA relationship work well and have asked me how I got so lucky. I can tell you that luck has had nothing to do with it! If you think that a virtual assistant could be beneficial to your sole trader or small business, the following five tips will help you create a successful and productive relationship with your VA.

1. Be clear about what you want your Virtual Assistant to do
The first thing I did was to brainstorm all the activities I currently did that I wanted someone else to do. I then compiled a list of all the things I wasn’t getting done, and these fell into two categories:

• the things I wasn’t getting done and would like my VA to do for me
• the things that I wanted to do when I had more time (thanks to my VA taking on the existing work that I didn’t want to do).

This allowed me to find a virtual assistant with the skills and experience to match my requirements.

2. Articulate your personal quirks
As a sole trader or small business owner, a great deal of information about the way you work will be inside your head – such as how you like your day structured, what your response times to enquiries are and how you word your e-mail correspondence – effectively the ‘culture’ of your business. of course, some of these things may not be necessary considerations for you – it depends on the level of virtual assistance that you require. However, if you do use the services of a VA, you will need to articulate your working processes to ensure they are carried out in a way that is consistent with your personality.

3. Be explicit with instructions and deadlines
This may seem to be stating the obvious but it never ceases to amaze me how many people issue a request for work to be done without a deadline attached. Then they get annoyed when the work is not completed when they want it! Deadlines can be as specific as ‘Wednesday 3pm’ or as general as ‘by the end of this week’; just ensure you have one.

You also need to be explicit with instructions as this will reduce the chance of miscommunication or error. Remember; much of what you do is habit and you can’t assume someone else will think the same way you do.

4. Agree on workflow processes
Spend time in the early stages of your working relationship agreeing on workflow processes. How will you share information? How will you ensure things don’t slip through cracks or get double handled? How will you issue instructions – verbally via the phone, or in writing via e-mail? Will you send requests as they happen or save them up in batches? Discussing these things up front will minimise the chance of things going wrong.

5. Be willing to let go
Like many small businesspeople I am a self-confessed control freak. The most challenging thing for me was to let go of tasks and trust my VA to do a great job. I didn’t want to drive my VA crazy by always checking on work and timelines though, so to help soothe the control freak within me, we created processes which ensure I am updated regularly on the progress of work.

Your clients pay you to improve their fitness because they know you are a professional who can achieve their needs more time and cost effectively than they can do themselves. The same reasons apply for engaging the services of a virtual assistant. A VA can be a wonderful addition to your small business if you take the time to create the structures that will support it being a great experience for both of you.
 
Is a virtual assistant right for you?  

If you think that engaging the services of a Va may benefit your business, it’s worth doing a little research to find the right fit for you. To get you started, check out the web sites:

www.vadirectory.net
www.virtualadmin.com.au
www.outsauced.com.au
www.adminonthego.com.au
www.virtuallyyours.com.au
www.outofsiteservices.com.au
www.yourvirtualpa.com.au 


Linda Anderson
Linda is a Certified Professional Coach dedicated to helping people live bold and rewarding lives. She has an energetic and direct style of coaching which suits people who like to be challenged. She currently works with clients in Australia, New Zealand, Philippines, South Korea, Japan and USA. For more of Linda’s tips read her column on www.flyingsolo.com.au, Australia’s online community for solo business owners.

PERSONAL TRAINER NETWORK • SPRING/SUMMER 2008 • PP6-7