How to Find a Virtual Assistant

Hire a total stranger to help with your business? It can work if done with care.

FE_DA_080325productive_virtual.jpg
By SHARE

Now that you're Linking In, Twittering, and posting to your blog and your Facebook group, maybe you don't have time to keep the books or handle your correspondence. There's a raft of virtual assistants out there waiting to help you.

Do a Google search on "virtual assistant," and you'll come up with over 1 million listings. Some of those million plus, naturally, are better than others. You can use a VA in the same town—handy if you want to meet in person before you give the assistant the virtual keys to your business information—or use a VA in the Philippines, India, and many other countries.

Costs vary. Cal Evans, a Nashville-based editor of a site for Web developers, paid only $12 an hour for a virtual assistant he found on Guru.com and $10 an hour when he hired his daughter to do data entry from her college dorm room in Savannah, Ga. But $30 to $50 an hour isn't unusual, especially for complex tasks like building or maintaining websites.

If you're going to try out a VA, learn from the pitfalls of people who have gone before you. Always get references and talk with the VA—don't simply E-mail—before you sign a contract. Michael Port, author of Book Yourself Solid, advises hiring a company, not an individual. "What happens if this individual goes down?" he asks.

But perhaps the best advice is to be aware of your communication style. If you're used to giving direction only to experts, you'll be in for a shock directing far-flung generalists via E-mail. When Evans hired both of his VAs, he expected that they'd be able to follow his cryptic directions—for instance, to talk with potential speakers for his upcoming technical conference. But neither knew anything about programming.

"If I shot off a quick IM, they would have no idea how to do it," he says. "They were speaking a foreign language." Once he explained his directions more clearly, both did excellent work, he says. Although, he adds a little ruefully, "I did have to learn not to start messages to my daughter with cute little nicknames."