My Outsourced Life, as told by AJ Jacobs

In 2005, when personal outsourcing was in infancy, Esquire editor AJ Jacobs decided to run an experiment.  Why let Fortune 500 companies have all the fun?  If they’re able to outsource their work overseas he reasoned, so should he.  And so he set about outsourcing as much of his life as possible, with predictably hilarious and sometimes surprising results.

Jacobs is a gifted storyteller, and you can read his account of the events here, but it’s funnier to listen to him tell about them in person in the video.

Have you ever had your VA plan your wife’s birthday for you? Or read bedtime stories to your kids?

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How to Hire a Virtual Assistant: Download the First-Timer’s Guide

Since launching this site, I’ve received several requests for a “how-to” guide on hiring a virtual assistant.  In response, I created a short but detailed 8-step guide built from my own personal experience.  It’s perfect for first-timers and other outsourcing rookies.

The 8 steps are:

  1. Know Thyself
  2. Know Your Requirements
  3. How to Write the Perfect Virtual Assistant Job Description (to attract the best candidates)
  4. How to Post Your Job (to get the most qualified applicants)
  5. How to Thin Out the Herd
  6. How to Ask for Trial Tasks (like taking a test drive)
  7. How to Interview a Virtual Assistant
  8. You’re Hired!

Enter your email below and you’ll get instructions to download your FREE copy in no time!

Yes! I Want to Learn How to Hire a VA:

no spam, I promise.

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Xceed Agents

Xceed Agents is a virtual assistant and full-service outsourcing company based in Noida, India. Founded in 2008, the company has grown beyond the normal virtual assistant business model and expanded into a wide variety of service types. In addition to providing the regular services that most virtual assistant companies offer, such as transcription, emailing, customer support and basic administrative tasks, Xceed Agents can also do design work, programming, writing, and much more.

xceed agents reviewBut a couple red flags jump out at me that would cause me to hesitate before hiring Xceed Agents though. The first is the trademark at the bottom of their website – last updated in 2009. This is something of a common theme; the last customer testimonial was from late 2010, as was the last post on their blog. On top of that, I made a couple attempts to contact Xceed Agents and have yet to receive a response. Are they still in business? If not, there are plenty of other Indian virtual assistant companies happy to help.

If they are still around, their services are aimed at helping small and medium sized businesses in the US and around the world. Customers will like the flexibility afforded by their pay-as-you-go pricing (from $8/hr) and around-the-clock support.

With Xceed Agents you are hiring a person, not a website. Dedicated virtual assistants are available on a full-time or part-time basis for $7 an hour, or $1120 a month.

Senior agents command a slightly higher price tag, but presumably have more experience and are more productive. The company has added a 20-hour trial pack for $160 for customers interested in testing their services.

One of the more interesting Xceed Agents services I found was live chat support. You can add live chat to your company’s existing website and have these guys handle the service for you. Since you have a dedicated virtual assistant, you can train them to give customer service just as though they were you. Your VA can be available for work in any time zone you specify.

Their website lists some big-name clients like Volvo and Merck. Have you worked with Xceed Agents? If so, please share your experience below.

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Catch Friday

Catch Friday is a UK-based virtual assistant and outsourcing company with an overseas office in the Philippines. The name comes from the idea of shortening your work week and being able to “catch Friday” a little earlier. The company was founded in London in 2004 by Lawrence Perry, and has no connection to the more well-known virtual assistant company Get Friday.

catch friday reviewA full-time virtual assistant from Catch Friday runs $1500 a month, which is considerably more than other VA companies in the Philippines. Catch Friday also has pay-as-you-go plans for virtual assistants; a 10 hour pre-pay plan is $105 ($10.50 an hour), and a 15 hour pre-pay plan is $170 ($11.33 an hour). Strange how the bigger plan carries a higher hourly rate as the opposite is normally true. The company also can handle more high-value tasks out of their London office, including web design, technical support, and programming.

When you contract with Catch Friday, you are assigned a single point of contact (your virtual assistant), but they may not always be the person performing the work. This could create difficulties if you have a task that requires specialized instructions, but I’m sure they would find a way to make it work.

UPDATE: The new design of Catch Friday’s website is a huge improvement, and no longer features the annoying pop-up trying to sell you the founder’s ebook. However, transparency took a hit as none of the above pricing is listed anymore. They require you to contact them for additional information, and don’t have any online sign-ups.

Along with the redesign, I started following Catch Friday on twitter. They literally tweet the few same things every day. I’m no social media expert but I would certainly keep this in mind if you’re considering hiring them to manage your social media presence.

Have you worked with Catch Friday? Please share your experience using the comment form and star-ratings below.

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Virtual Hires

Virtual Hires is a remote-staffing agency based in the Philippines.

Since 2008, they have specialized in providing full-time virtual employees in four categories: writers, virtual assistants, link builders, and site administrators.

Virtual Hires calls these virtual workers “mavens” and show a few samples of what a typical virtual assistant might look like. The human touch is nice because it personalizes the experience and also gives a little background on the employees including their college studies and an IQ score. Virtual Hires positions their workers as educated professionals, not just warm bodies doing menial tasks.

virtual hires reviewThe downside of Virtual Hires is that it is similar to hiring an in-house employee. They have to go out and find a qualified candidate for you, which can take up to two weeks. It’s good that they take their time finding a good fit for your business, but not an ideal solution if you need someone to start right away.

Where many of the other virtual assistant companies offer their services with no long-term obligation, Virtual Hires requires a minimum four month commitment. I found that pretty intimidating and imagine it is a big barrier to entry for many potential clients who might like to test out the service without signing up for a four month contract.

Also, I found it strange that Virtual Hires does not disclose their pricing on their website, when most of their competition is very open about their hourly and monthly rates. Perhaps it is because different workers earn different salaries and those are passed on to their US clients. Oddly enough, the only mention of pricing is that a 20% surcharge will apply if your Virtual Hires maven is needed during US business hours (night-shift in the Philippines).

One thing to be wary of is that as of this writing, their website has not been updated since 2008. Aside from their home page, it seems like other pages on their site are missing their title tags.

This might not be a huge deal, but it makes them look less professional than other virtual assistant companies. I sent them a note using the contact form on their site to inquire about pricing but never heard back, which I would consider another red flag. Honestly I’m not sure if they’re even still in business.

If you’re considering a virtual assistant in the Philippines, be sure to check out OnlineJobs.ph and Virtual Staff Finder.

If you’ve worked with Virtual Hires, please post a review and comments here.

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Craigslist

Several entrepreneurs have discovered an opportunity using Craiglist to find virtual assistants. They simply go to the Craiglist site for where they hope to find a reliable but affordable assistant, and post a help wanted ad detailing their job requirements. Manila in the Philippines is a particularly popular location.

craigslist logoThe benefit of using craigslist to find a virtual assistant is that you can find talented workers for a very low cost, but it is not for the faint of heart. In contrast with the other freelance virtual assistant resources, using Craiglist leaves you no feedback mechanism or avenue for resolution if things don’t go the way you planned. At that point, someone half way around the world has your money and there’s little you can do.

To prevent this worst-case scenario, there are a few steps you can take. First and foremost, you’ll need to interview for the position as if you were hiring an in-house employee. That means reviewing resumes, evaluating both written and oral English language skills, verifying work history, and checking references. It is very possible to find a rock-star virtual assistant on Craigslist, but just be prepared to deal with the unqualified candidates, the spammers, and the scammers.

There are also the issues of data security and tax implications. With someone working from their home in Manila, how secure will your personal and business information be? Also, not being a tax professional, I would be nervous directly hiring someone overseas because I don’t know what kind of paperwork burden that would create for me down the line.

Still, you can’t argue with the allure of Craigslist, and the potential to find great help for as little as $3 an hour. If you’re up for the challenge, you can definitely save some money over other established virtual assistant companies and freelance virtual assistant platforms.

If you’ve had any experience, positive or negative, with a Craigslist virtual assistant, please share it here.

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My Business Assistant

My Business Assistant is an outsourcing company aimed at helping small to medium sized businesses streamline their processes. The theory goes that if business can free up time, money, and resources spent on non-core processes, it usually makes sense to do that. And that’s where My Business Assistant comes in.

my business assistant reviewWhere most virtual assistant and outsourcing companies focus on serving the needs of busy professionals or solo entrepreneurs, My Business Assistant wants to help small companies take their business to the next level.

What’s unique about My Business Assistant vs. other VA companies, is that they have two working locations; one in the United States in Frederick, Maryland, and the other overseas in India. They call this the “Right Shore” approach, and assign tasks to the location best-suited to provide the most effective results.

My Business Assistant co-founder and CEO Gourab Nanda created a video on Tips for Successful Outsourcing. It’s nine minutes long, but definitely worth the time if you are seriously considering investing in a virtual assistant solution.

The services of My Business Assistant may be above and beyond the scope of what a “typical” virtual assistant company provides. Instead, they are a solution for a full-scale virtual workforce, for outsourcing entire aspects of your operation.

For example, if you run a small e-commerce website, you can hire My Business Assistant to manage all your phone orders, customer service, and live chat queries. The rates are higher than what you’ll find at AskSunday and other virtual assistant companies, but the level of service is greater as well. A US-based virtual assistant ranges from $24 to $32 an hour, depending on how many hours you need, and an India-based virtual assistant ranges from $9 to $12 an hour.

As you can imagine, this requires dedicated assistance, training, and customizable service plans, all of which My Business Assistant does. However, all this specialization comes at a price. If you need specific content written, such as an article for a website, it will run between $30 and $40. For the sake of comparison, I have purchased article writing on Fiverr.com for just $5, and have been happy with the results.

That said, plans are flexible, and you don’t have any long-term commitments. My Business Assistant is a BBB accredited business, and offers several customer testimonials on their website. For certain services, a free trial period is available, so it might be worthwhile to give them a test drive.

UPDATE: My Business Assistant has taken to posting spam comments on this site. If you plan to hire them for SEO, my advice would be not to. In the past few months they’ve posted the following generic and irrelevant comments under the names “Phone Customer Support” and “Outsource Customer Support”:

  • I just wanted to take a minute to tell you that you have a great site! Keep up the good work.
  • The theme of your blog is very beautiful and the article is written very well, I will continue to focus on your article.
  • Thanks for sharing these thoughts. This has been very helpful to me. Looking forward to read more informative topic.

These tactics are considered extremely low value and can really hurt your brand!

If you’ve had any experience with My Business Assistant, positive or negative, please share it here.

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