Top 5 Lessons I Learnt from Running a Virtual Assistant Company for 5 Years
Other than yourself, can you name the most important team member in your business? How about your assistant?
Assistants are an easily overlooked and incredibly valuable part of your team, as they remove the noise from your day. I worked for Coca-Cola for 18 years and had an Executive Assistant for 10+ of those years. I was getting 200 emails a day, while in back-to-back meetings for 10+ hours a day, flying two to three days a week, plus my personal commitments with marriage and fatherhood. Having an assistant doesn’t magically make it all flow perfectly, but for me, it was one of the key components to managing it all and getting some of my time back. After all, whether you are in corporate or running your own business, you need all the time you can get!
However, when I left corporate to start my own business, I did it all on my own at first—no assistant. Being an entrepreneur was new and exciting, and I wanted to be hands-on with every aspect of my business. Then I quickly realised I could not scale my business unless I free up some time to sell and deliver. My solution: Hire a Virtual Assistant.
I started out with Australian Virtual Assistants, and they were ok but expensive. As many of you will relate as business owners, the budget doesn’t always allow for an assistant salary right out of the gate. I still needed to recover time in my day though, so I did my research and discovered the Philippines is a hot spot for Virtual Assistants. I got so excited, I jumped on a flight to experience it first hand and interview my Filipino Virtual Assistant in person.
I trialled two assistants at first—one from a startup VA agency and one from a large, established player. Indeed there were some teething moments, which I will go into in a moment, but overall it worked like a charm. I was able to pass on tasks that didn’t need my personal touch, and I started getting my time back. It was working so well that I got asked by my coaching clients if they could have what I had!
I tried to find a good Virtual Assistant company I could partner with, but either my standards were too high or I didn’t look in the right places. Either way, I thought I would give it a go and start my own Virtual Assistant company to share with my clients. So, for five years I ran a VA company serving global clients. I believe an owner should see their team at least twice a year, yet I was visiting three to four times a year. My health condition, which was part of the reason I left corporate, also put a stop to the travel and resulted in me downsizing and finding some suitable partners instead. Now I work with The Virtual Hub, Productivity Hub, Go VA, and Outsourcing Angel. (If you need a recommendation on which is best for you, email Paul@BuildLiveGive.com.)
After 10+ years of working with some of the best Virtual Assistants in the world—having had my own and helping hundreds of business owners find theirs—these are my top five lessons learned.
It’s about you.
Most people focus on the quality of the VA, but the most important part of a successful VA is how you prepare yourself. You need to be trained on how to work and get the best out of a VA. Everything from having important documents or information shared with them to providing structured check-ins and daily to-dos are decisions you have to make.
I don’t play favourites to anyone on my team whether they are in my office or thousands of kilometers away. You have to treat everyone equal, even down to your involvement and investment in them. Ask your VA questions like what motivates them, how they like to be lead, what they are looking for in a leader, what are their personal circumstances, and what does success look like for them. Get to know the person before the job, and as a result, your work relationship will be that much stronger.
Draw the line.
You’ve created a great foundation with your VA by treating them as an equal team member and getting to know them, so it’s important to share the same in return. Have a conversation to let them know, very clearly, what good looks like and what is not acceptable. Communicate your standards up front and draw the line whenever they get it wrong. Very similar to parenting, give too much wriggle room at the start and it is near impossible to get it back. Clear, open communication only builds a stronger work relationship between you and your VA.
Let’s face it, there is always someone willing to pay more than you. But, one of the reasons people love to work for you is not about the money, it is the skills and experience they get. So, deliver on that! Spend 30 minutes a week building on one skill your VA is good at to help them become great at it. If it’s unclear what skill your VA could develop more, have a conversation about it. Even just that intention and caring for somebody else’s development goes a long way. Obviously, this is once they have nailed the basics.
One of the best things I learnt at Coca-Cola: To motivate my team, surprise them in a good way! If somebody is working hard and delivering on a daily basis for you, especially a VA whose work directly impacts your day, then a small token of appreciation every now and then means a lot. Some examples, find out what they love to do in their spare time and purchase something for them; give them a day off; get them to take their family out for dinner; or, simply treat them to lunch or a coffee. All these actions, like deposits in the bank account, pay off in the long-run.
All five of these lessons come down to developing a positive work relationship with your VA, one built on trust, intention, and caring. Your assistant handles some of your most personal and important tasks and you work closely on a daily basis, so trust and a strong foundation is key. Here is a compelling personal example of how important this is: I was tired, on a train, and trying to get some work done. I accidentally wired over $34,000 AUD to one of my VA team members. After a momentary panic and my heart stopping, they simply wired it back. If I had not built trust with them, who knows what could have happened.
If there’s one final lesson learnt, it is that I believe that every business owner should have a Virtual Assistant. Yes, technology is getting better and there are apps and bots for nearly everything. But, when it comes to managing a business, personal life, and a hectic schedule, there is still a need for a human to do tasks for you.
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