Should You Outsource Email? Letting a Virtual Assistant into my Inbox for the First Time

It’s been nearly 10 years since my first “outsourcing” experience, yet just last week I crossed a new barrier I never had before:

My inbox.

In the past, I’ve had my virtual assistant send templated messages on my behalf, but they were sent from an alias account.

We had it set up so that she could send email “as” me. To the recipient, it would look as if it had been sent by me, and replies would ping my regular inbox, but all the action was from her account.

This time around, I’m trying something a little different. I’ve given up on those faux-individual messages because they didn’t generate much response.

Instead I’ve been drafting actual personal messages, though a much lower volume of them, and still based on a pre-written template.

This has become a bit of a chore so I was excited to learn about a Gmail feature that allows you to “delegate” access to your account without sharing your password.

Look under Settings > Accounts and Import > Grant access to your account.

(Currently the user you grant access to must also be a Gmail user. In my case, we just had her create a new Gmail account for this purpose.)

There’s a high level of trust involved because now when my assistant logs in, she can see my entire inbox and 10 years of Gmail history.

But I’m betting on the fact she has better things to do than to read my mail. Let’s hope so anyway!

It’s always something I’ve been a little nervous about, but finally the frustration and pain of this repetitive task go the best of me.

So what she’s doing for me is following a process to draft emails and save them unsent. She’s filling in the to and from fields, subject lines, inserting a pre-written template, and including some research about the individual which I’ll then use to personalize the message.

It’s been only a couple days but this is already a big time-saver and headache saver. Instead of pulling information from several different sources, now I just look in my outgoing drafts, write a couple lines of personal notes, and off they go.

It’s really streamlined and only took about half an hour to set-up and train her on this task.

I can revoke access at any time.

I’m curious, have you ever delegated email access like that before?

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Get Virtual Services

Get Virtual Services is a complete virtual assistant service provider in Mumbai, India. The company began in 2009, and has grown to serve a variety of clients around the world.

The company works with industry-trained virtual assistants who specialize in all types of knowledge-based and online work like market analysis, e-commerce transactions, advanced online technologies, web-maintenance, e-businesses, web-development, meeting arrangements, product marketing, client contacts, database administration, social media campaigning and more.

How it Works

get virtual services reviewGet Virtual Services follows a three-step approach towards building up a simplified workflow, through which customers can submit their requirements. The first step involves filling in a simple contact form that lists down business details, specific requirements and budget.

The turnaround time is 24 hours by which a complimentary consultation is scheduled, according to your convenience. Next, your immediate business goals are identified along with inherent issues that might crop up during execution. Simultaneously, a work outline is also traced out to defy obstacles and successfully complete the job.

Following the initial discussion, you receive a Welcome Packet that contains the Contract, Confidentiality/Non-Disclosure Agreement and Client Questionnaire. Soon after, a phone conversation is set up to gather more information on the first task that needs to be executed.

A couple points on their website confused me. The first was their 400 sq. foot office space with 25 desks. That seems like very cramped quarters and I’m guessing one of those figures is a typo.

The other point was that they provide support 6 days a week, but then on the very next line claim to be available 24/7.

Services

Get Virtual Services offers three service types:

  • Dedicated Assistance – Administrative Assistant services, Content Writing, MBA Assistance, Multi-tasking Assistance, Personal Assistance and Research Assistance.
  • Website & SEO – Website Maintenance, E-Commerce Solutions, Web Development, Paid Search Advertising, Social Media, Content Marketing, SEO Services.
  • Back-Office Assistance – Transcription Services, Medical Transcription, Business Transcription and Language Translation.

Plans and Pricing

Get Virtual Services offers four types of plans namely, Starter, Light, Part-Time and Full-Time.

All plans are extremely flexible in nature as you are free to upgrade or downgrade your plan whenever you want. The services take a minimum of 2-3 days before it gets activated. You can delegate both their business as well as personal tasks across all plan types.

Get Virtual Services pricing

These rates make Get Virtual Services one of the lowest cost providers. The starter package at $120 for 20 hours ($6 per hour) is among the most affordable VA services for that amount of hours, and a full-time VA for $710 per month is a crazy value.

Lately a representative of Get Virtual Services, Andy Sharma, has taken to sending me cold pitches on LinkedIn, trying to get me to use their service. The approach doesn’t seem to be targeted or reference this site at all. Part of me likes the hustle but the other part thinks it’s pretty spammy.

Get Virtual Services Alternatives

Get Virtual Services promises fully-trained staff, a reliable infrastructure, and great flexibility and value in terms of plans and pricing with easy upgrade/downgrade option. However, you may still consider other virtual assistant companies in India, including the well-reviewed My Tasker and 24/7 Virtual Assistant services.

Before starting with any of these services, I’d see if I could get on a call with their leadership, describe the tasks you need done, and if possible, see if you can interview the proposed VA they want to set you up with.

Have you ever worked with Get Virtual Services? If so, please share a brief review of your experience to help others make an informed hiring decision.

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Text, and You Shall Receive: The Rise of Text Message Virtual Assistants

Do you believe in Magic?

Because that’s the name of the new texting-based virtual assistant service.

How it works is you text your requests to their special number and an anonymous virtual assistant makes it happen.

For instance, you could ask Magic to book you plane tickets, deliver groceries, or send a gift to your mom.

It’s free to sign-up and they just tack on a convenience fee to whatever purchases they make on your behalf.

To get started, just text “MAGIC” to 83489.

(I just texted and got a message back that there’s a waiting list 17,000 people deep! They say you can advance your position by tweeting about the service or skip the line entirely by paying them $100 a month.)

IMG_1455

Apparently there’s quite a pent-up demand for this kind of service!

That response is perhaps why Fancy Hands has joined the game as well, with their new Orri app (currently only available for Android devices).

fancy hands orri

Orri works similarly, though you can also include non-purchase tasks like research, appointment-setting, and making phone calls on your behalf.

Orri is available without a Fancy Hands membership and is just billed out at a rate of $0.34 a minute.

Some are calling it a glorified Google, but I’m sure there are use-cases where it would come in handy.

Hat tip to Stephen in Detroit for letting me know about Cloe, another texting-based concierge service. Currently on wait-list as well.

What do you think? Would you use this kind of on-demand virtual assistant service?​

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iWriter

If you need written content for your website, iWriter is an easy and reliable way for you to post projects that will be professionally and quickly done.

Located in Carmel, IN, iWriter includes a network of thousands of freelance writers from around the globe ready to work on writing assignments.

About iWriter

iwriter reviewiWriter is designed to help the business owner who no longer wants to or has time to write their own content for their websites. The company was launched in 2011 and was the first service created to exclusively facilitate the process of hiring a professional to write your articles.

As a client, requesting an article to be written is easy and costs as little as $1.25.

Pro tip: If you’re only paying $1.25 per article, odds are it will be illegible.

Once registered, click on a link titled “Submit a New Project Page” and input all the necessary information so the writer can produce a quality article.

iWriter Services

Clients that sign up for the service have a variety of options to customize their service experience.

iWriter Services Include:

  • An unlimited amount of articles
  • Articles on any topic
  • Turnaround time as fast as 1 hour
  • Article lengths of 150, 300, 500, 700, and 1000 words
  • Select the article language of English, French, Spanish, German, or Other
  • Easy download format
  • Select article quality
  • Select the article tone
  • SEO keyword selection

Because thousands of writers from around the world are available to write articles on iWriter, clients have the option to choose which writers they submit their project to. Clients select writers based how many stars they have earned and their reputation.

You can even request longer-form projects such as ebooks if you find an excellent writer who can get the job done.

iWriter Video Overview

Plans and Pricing

Pricing at iWriter depends on the requirements you need. The article length and the star-quality of your desired writer all increase the cost of the article. If you want SEO keywords in your article the price will also increases.

My take on it is this: Don’t stress on the keywords and just try and write naturally. The search engines are getting smarter and if your articles are stuffed full of keywords in an unnatural way, you may get penalized.

The baseline advertised cost may be just $1.25, but expect to pay more than that if you want anything readable. Think in the ballpark of $5-20 for a 500 word article. Naturally, writers with better feedback history command higher rates.

iWriter Alternatives

Alternative outsourced writing services do exist where business owners can have articles written, including on-demand services like HireWriters and subscription-based models like Copywriter Today.

Freelance sites like Elance.com and oDesk.com will also connect you with writers, but these sites are more complex than iWriter because freelancers will bid on your project while iWriter will assign your project directly to a writer. In my mind, those are definitely more trouble than it’s worth for a single article.

Your Turn

Have you worked with iWriter? If so, please share a quick review of your experience below to help others with their decision.

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Should I Hire a Virtual Assistant or an Intern?

Every business reaches a point where it needs to expand. This is usually great for the business; expansion means more customers, more income, and ultimately, a more successful business model. However, it comes with its own set of challenges, one of the largest of which is the need for help running the business.

If you’ve reached the ceiling of your own capacity — after all, there are only so many hours in the day — what do you do?

We’ve already covered the benefits of a virtual hire over an in-house employee, but what about another option — an intern?

If the work you need done doesn’t require specialized training, such as paperwork, filing, scheduling, or organization, maybe an intern is a reasonable option instead of a virtual assistant.

For businesses, the notion of getting potentially free help in the form of an intern is what makes the idea so attractive.

But both interns and VAs come with pros and cons, and different businesses may value one over the other — but both can be an invaluable help for your expanding business.

Hire a Virtual Assistant?

A virtual assistant is one that works from home and provides his or her services remotely, without coming in to your business’ location. Virtual assistants are usually self-employed, although there are also virtual assistant companies that oversee dozens or sometimes hundreds of VAs.

Virtual assistants work as independent contractors and not employees, which means that they offer their services to their clients and then bill them later; clients do not need to pay employee taxes, insurance, or benefits, and are not bound legally under an employer-employee relationship.

Compared to an intern, a VA will usually have several years of business experience, although backgrounds will naturally vary. They provide their services through communication means such as email, phone, fax, Skype, or online work spaces.

Although virtual assistants can perform a variety of tasks, they are best suited for work that can be done virtually, such as scheduling or organizing a calendar.

They can also conduct business calls (such as contacting clients), or do writing and work online. Virtual assistants do not take up office space and may not require as much training as an intern, and can usually be available throughout the day.

According to Chris Ducker, “I think interns tend to focus too much on ‘the experience’ and ‘learning’ rather than actually ‘performing’. I’ve had two – both didn’t work out the way I wanted / needed. So… now I hire team members!”

When I was looking to make my first hire, I explored the idea of an intern since we live very close to a community college campus. But after some research I found that a remote worker would be a better fit since I was working from my home office.

However, the lack of physical presence can be a drawback; for example, if you need to explain something in person, or have your assistant do work that can only be done in the office.

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(img source)

Hire an Intern?

The other option is to hire an intern, which can be paid or unpaid. A paid internship is a temporary position that has the eventual goal of hiring the employee full-time with the company; however, this is not binding.

An unpaid intern, on the other hand, works without being compensated. Since the U.S. has stringent labor laws, unpaid internships must meet very strict requirements in order to be considered legal.

An unpaid internship must meet criteria established by the court case Walling v. Portland Terminal Co. in order to be legal by U.S. federal law; among these include the educational nature of the internship, as it must provide training to benefit the intern instead of exclusive benefits for the company.

Unpaid interns usually work in order to receive this training so that they can have experience to apply for paid positions.

In college, I had a couple paid internships and interviewed for a couple unpaid ones. Ultimately I decided against working for free even though I know the experience would have been valuable.

Interns, paid or unpaid, can do work for the business that requires an in-person presence; they can file, alphabetize, or sort paperwork, as well as maintain the office space and help with any other work around the office. Even if they don’t physically work from your office, interns are generally local hires, which may sit better with you than hiring someone overseas — especially if the rates are comparable.

Interns usually need to be trained, but once they are, they can conduct specialized work for the business.

Paid interns are usually hired by large businesses that can take on the extra cost; however, a small business can look into hiring an intern if they are looking to expand and would like to train an employee before hiring him or her full-time.

An unpaid intern can also be hired by either, and works well in an environment where he or she can receive one-on-one training.

Some of the benefits of an intern can include training an employee without having to shoulder the costs of having him or her on the payroll full-time, while that person is producing less work than he or she would after the training.

Interns can also allow for a slow ease into expansion instead of hiring multiple full-time employees at once. Because they often provide an in-person presence, communication is easier than with a virtual assistant (and there’s rarely a language barrier), and physical tasks can be carried out. However, the main drawback is training; your business will have to put in the time and effort to train the intern to perform whatever task is needed.

Scott Barlow, of Happen to Your Career, offers this advice:

“I’ve hired many more interns than I have VAs, 10 Vs 2. There is a different motivation set. Not in a good or a bad way just they want different things. Interns primary focus is to learn and gain experience.

“This can work out really well if you hire an intern that has a track record of being able to teach themself AND you are far enough along that you have clearly defined and have available for them the “training materials” they will need so it doesn’t take up all your time trying to teach them. Now obviously that last statement is also beneficial for a VA or anybody you hire.

“Interns can work well if there is potential that you might hire them afterwards in a more permanent position. This allows you to trial them at a lower rate while they are learning. Keep in mind the in the US both state level and federal level government agencies have cracked down and are in the last 18 months, really enforcing the definition of what’s considered an intern (for unpaid internships).”

Ultimately, the decision of whether to hire a virtual assistant or intern is up to each individual business. Each has its own benefits and drawbacks, but both are an essential help for an expanding business.

Your Turn

Have you worked with virtual assistants or interns?

Which did you hire? Would you make the same decision again?

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Ziptask

Ziptask.com is an innovative way to send your computer tasks out for specialized completion without the trouble of finding a freelancer yourself. There is only one point of service to deal with, because Ziptask has their team of professionals in place.

Its headquarters are in Anaheim, California, but their employees come from all over the globe and have backgrounds in multiple disciplines from research and PowerPoint presentations to graphic design and programming.

About Zip Task

ziptask reviewTwo enterprising techs, Shawn Livermore & Jeff Sherwood, came up with the concept for Ziptask. Both men have intensive backgrounds in software and information technology, and each worked for mega-companies before joining forces.

They founded Ziptask.com in 2010, and have about one dozen employees to run the business, aside from their virtual assistant task experts.

Services

Virtually any computer job, including creation of ads, translation services, tutoring, editing, and video-design can be handled by Ziptask experts. Formatting resumes, graph and table conversions, creating company letterheads and hundreds of other jobs are handled quickly and easily. Creating company presentations are another function of Ziptask, including use of PowerPoint, animations and translation to other languages.

Privacy and safety for all work is through use of symmetric-key encryption with 128-bit certificates. All employees sign non-disclosure contracts and are well screened prior to working for Ziptask, and their systems are monitored by security.

Small and large businesses love getting back the time it once took to outsource their work. Consequently, Ziptask.com is poised to meet the next challenges presented by the digital workforce.

How it Works

This is the first service of its kind, and its design gives the utmost efficiency to the client. Additionally, with the per-minute fee structure, Ziptask believes that more people will use their services. After downloading their Ziptask Assist for Windows, clients just click once, submit their order and they are done.

Later, downloading the free iPhone App lets the client see how their work is progressing. It is the first of a new wave of hyper-specialization, which theorizes that experts, who focus on their own niche of technology, perform more efficiently and more competitively. The customer is the big winner in this fast-developing wave of digital business.

Ziptask Intro Video

Plans and Pricing

So how much does it cost? The service starts at $0.39 cents per minute for most basic jobs. That calculates out to a little more than $23 an hour, which isn’t outrageous for a talented virtual assistant, but definitely isn’t a super-bargain either.

Additionally, a monthly user fee applies to on-going clients who desire multiple user capability. The fee also covers additional built-in services, such as API access, enterprise integration and developer phone support. No monthly fees apply for individual users who submit common computer tasks. Furthermore, they offer a free 90-day trial period and a 100 percent money-back guarantee if the work takes longer than expected.

Pricing goes up in increments of .10 cents per minute for more advanced types of work. Programming may run approximately $0.69 per minute. However, work only starts after the client gives their okay. Clients also have the option of selecting a time limit for the ZipTask crew to better manage their budget.

Ziptask Alternatives

The closest comparison I can think of is it’s like Mechanical Turk, except for jobs that require a higher level of thinking and expertise. The advantage over oDesk and other freelance sites is you don’t have to weed through candidates and do interviews.

Your Turn

 

Have you tried outsourcing with ZipTask? If so, please share your experience below.

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5 Star VAs

5 Star VAs is a virtual assistant recruiting service with a twist. The Philippines-based company offers both “unmanaged” and “co-managed” matchmaking services.

The company was founded in 2013 and has attracted a growing client base since then. When the co-founder, Neil Cass, reached out to me, my initial reaction was that the company sounded a little like Virtual Staff Finder, the VA recruiting service run by Chris Ducker.

Services

Like VSF, 5 Star VAs will source talented virtual assistant candidates tailored specifically to your individual needs. But unlike VSF, which now only recruits General Virtual Assistants, 5 Star VAs will help you find a dedicated team member to meet a wide variety of skillsets.

For instance, you can use their service to find general VAs, SEO specialists, content writers, bloggers, social media marketing specialists, web designers, web developers, and more.

They can provide VAs on a full-time (160 hrs per month) or part-time basis (80 hrs per month), and target startups, small businesses, solopreneurs and other entrepreneurs who need help getting it all done.

With the Unmanaged Service, you interview the candidates provided by 5 Star VAs and make your hiring decision. Then, you work directly with your new virtual assistant and train and pay them directly. There is no markup on their salary and they report to you with no intermediary.

With the Co-Managed Service, they help negotiate the salary on your behalf, handle the VA’s payroll, and pay their PhilHealth premiums (the national health insurance program).

In this case, the company also serves in an ongoing HR capacity, as a point of contact so if there are any issues at any time the client can speak to us directly.

Neil explains, “I feel that this is important as some clients may feel overwhelmed at times and not know how to approach the VA, usually it would just be a case of getting to know each other and work style, adapting to the clients way of doing things, but if this is not addressed it could lead to misunderstandings and the client deciding that working with VAs is not for them.”

It should be noted that even in the co-managed relationship, you are still in charge of managing and overseeing your VA’s work.

5 Star VAs Intro Video

How it Works

As with Virtual Staff Finder, the VAs they seek to place will be thoroughly vetted and skill checked, have a solid college educational background and converse well in English. With each recruitment, they aim to match your desired skill set and requirements before the interview process.

All 5 Star VAs work from their home offices, and have gone through a working environment checklist to make sure it is quiet, free from distractions, and has good DSL connection speeds.

“We will only endorse VAs with a proven track record of experience and a genuine willingness to work for overseas clients in a professional manner,” Neil explains.  “We are here to build a reputation for providing talented, reliable, professional VAs.”

Plans and Pricing

The fee for the Unmanaged matchmaking service is a one-time payment of $385. For this price 5 Star VAs promises to provide three top-notch candidates for you to interview via Skype and then ultimately decide which one you would like to hire.

The fee for the Co-Managed service is the same $385, however, you will earn a $200 credit towards the VA’s third month’s salary.

Un-managed General VA hourly rates typically start from around $4 an hour and go up from there depending on experience and skillset. Naturally, virtual assistants with more advanced skills command higher rates.

The Co-Managed service starts at $800 per month for a full-time VA, and payments are easy through PayPal or Credit card.

VAA Exclusive: Mention referral code VAA for 10% off your VA’s first month’s salary on the Co-Managed service.

Why 5 Star VAs?

They have a small management team on the ground in the Philippines on a year round basis, which isn’t always the case with many other VA companies.

Neil is passionate about helping fellow entrepreneurs and has a background of running small businesses in both the UK & Australia and he understands the way clients from western countries like things done and can relate to their business requirements and needs. This coupled with the local support and knowledge of his wife Imy leads to a smooth process from start to finish.

5 Star VAs Alternatives

Aside from Virtual Staff Finder (mentioned above), the other service to consider would be OnlineJobs.ph. With OnlineJobs, it’s a do-it-yourself service in that you post the job yourself, screen all the candidates, conduct interviews, and hire your favorite.

Your Turn

Have you worked with 5 Star VAs? If so, please leave a quick review of your experience below to help others with their hiring decision.

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Bolton Remote

Founded 2013, Bolton Remote is an offshore staffing solution based in the Philippines. They’re not so much a virtual assistant company as they are a simplified way to build a remote support team for your business.

The team is led by Patrick Linton, an entrepreneur with experience in helping Fortune 500 companies expand and improve their global operations. When I spoke with Patrick, his team had already grown to more than 80 full-time members, working out of their modern office in Manila.

Bolton Remote Services

bolton remote reviewBolton Remote is positioned as an alternative to hiring staff at any level locally or work from home freelancers.

They’re aimed at both high growth startups as well as more established businesses. If you’re suffering from talent shortages in expensive hiring markets if you’ve been burned by freelancers or other VA companies in the past, Bolton may be worth a look.

The value proposition here is the ability to find a wide range of talent all under one roof, and quickly on-board your new remote staff onto your team. Among the specific skillsets available are marketing, sales, SEO, social media, writing, customer support, graphic and web design, software development, and more.

In each case, you get a full-time virtual employee and Bolton’s model allows you to scale up as growth necessitates. Many customers end up adding 5 team-members or more, though single hires are OK too.

VAA Exclusive: Get 5% off your remote team for the first 6 months with this link!

How it Works

One thing that’s cool about Bolton is instead of inundating you with resumes that all start to look the same after a while, they actually show you their candidates, with high quality pre-recorded “video resumes.”

After you review the videos, you can set up interviews with those who look like the best fit for your team and make your hiring decision.

Team members work in your time zone and you are free to collaborate with whatever project management and communication tools you like.

Bolton Remote customers are also assigned a dedicated point-of-contact on their 24-hour Customer Happiness Team, and first-time remote staffing clients will appreciate the built-in teambuilding coaching and support.

Plans and Pricing

Rates begin at $9 an hour, or $1440 per month. Experienced staff members and those with higher-level expertise command rates in the $2000-2500 per month range.

As far as the “virtual assistants” in the Philippines go, those rates are quite high relative to many of the other companies. But a couple things to keep in mind are the overhead of the office and support staff, and the location in Manila, where the cost of doing business is higher than in some of the outer provinces.

VAA Exclusive: Get 5% off your remote team for the first 6 months with this link!

Bolton Remote Alternatives

With their focus on long-term relationships, an in-office work environment, and investment in infrastructure, the most similar company may be VirtualEmployee.com in India.

In the Philippines, TaskUs and Prialto run similar operations aimed at startups.

Your Turn

Have you worked with Bolton Remote? If so, please be sure to share a quick review of your experience below to help others with their decision.

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HourlyNerd

HourlyNerd aims to revolutionize consulting by matching qualified professional and top MBA students to your business. The Boston-based company was founded in 2013, and describes itself as “the future of consulting.”

Founded by 3 Harvard MBA students, the goal was to fill a void in the marketplace dominated by “old school” and high cost consulting firms.

About Hourly Nerd

hourly nerd reviewIn the way Elance matches you with qualified freelancers, Hourly Nerd offers a similar service for consultants.  In just a short time in business, they’ve already landed big name clients like Microsoft and American Apparel.

The “nerds” are rated on their communication, timeliness, work quality, and more. That helps keep the system transparent, similar to other virtual jobs platforms.

This is not a “virtual assistant” service in the traditional sense of the term, but instead gives small business owners a chance to get qualified expert help on an on-demand basis.

In most cases, your consultant will not be local to your business and you will communicate with them remotely.

How it Works

You post your project and students from the top 20 business schools in the country and select international institutions bid on the work. HourlyNerd takes  a percentage of the project fee. There are more than 500 MBAs on the platform, and the number is steadily growing.

The service is aimed at small business owners who may not have the budget to hire a “full-fledged” consulting firm or an entire team of analysts.

HourlyNerd gives them access to bright young minds at affordable rates. On top of that, the students/consultants have the opportunity to gain real-world business experience and earn some money at the same time.

HourlyNerd Intro Video

Pricing

The competitive bidding system keeps rates affordable, with even the top-pedigree consultants topping out around $100 an hour. Depending on the type of project you need done, you may find rates as low as $10 an hour — and everything in between.

Compared with the hourly rates of McKinsey or other “brand name” consulting firms (think $300/hr and up), you can see the attractive value proposition made by HourlyNerd.

With all Hourly Nerd projects, your funds are held in escrow until the project is completed to your satisfaction.

HourlyNerd Alternatives

Aside from Elance (mentioned earlier), a couple companies offer similar services. MBA & Company helps match MBA consultants with smaller companies for one-off projects, while SkillBridge also links independent contractors to companies in need (though an MBA is not required).

Have you worked with HourlyNerd? If so, please be sure to leave a quick review of your experience below to help others with their hiring decision.

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How to Use Google Docs to Share Processes With Your Virtual Assistant

This is a guest post by Korbett Miller, a virtual manager extraordinaire.

If you need help turning your business systems into a well-oiled machine, check out his book De-Mythify: Finding Freedom in Your Small Business.

I know I have had some great experiences with hiring a virtual assistant.  I know I have also had some horrible ones as well.  When I started to create Forms and Checklists with systems I have had a great results from the people who work with me.

This reminds me of a great story from a friend of mine named Thomas. His first job was cleaning police cars in the small town where he grew up.

His instructions were minimal:

“Clean the cars and whatever you do, not get the car wet.”   

What that really meant was do not get the radio equipment wet on the inside of the cars. But when Officer Bob came back and saw that Thomas had only lightly dusted the inside and outside of the cars, he was unceremoniously relieved of his car-washing duties.

We make assumptions about our descriptions and instructions of work for our staff.

Nick’s Notes: I was definitely guilty of this with my first VA hires. I’d been doing certain tasks for years and couldn’t comprehend why my brand new hire just wasn’t getting it!

When we take the process of creating our systems very clearly for our virtual staff, it may take more time on the front end, but the time savings for you over the long haul will help immensely. Investing in your process documentation may not be the most exciting activity, but it’s one that will certainly pay off many times over.

One of the most useful ways of creating a system in your business is using Google Drive. Anyone can get a free Google Drive account with up to 15 GB of storage, which is more than enough to create  very clear standard operating procedures with pictures, videos, charts, and checklists.

The system is accessible from anywhere with an Internet connection and can be easily shared and edited amongst team members.

So what are the qualities that make up a good system?

A Good System is Teachable

A system is useless unless it is taught to others. If you make it so easy that it can be taught to someone in elementary school, it has the best chance of succeeding in the long term.

It’s almost like creating a perfect recipe. You must be able to measure the results, change the process when needed, and always be on the lookout for better ideas.

I recommend to the readers of my book to use the free Camstudio program.  I think there are some more elaborate options, but for most people Camstudio will allow them to record tasks and train their VA or staff members.

Nick’s Notes: I use Jing for videos up to 5 minutes, and Screencastomatic for longer videos.

You need to learn how to use the screen capture program. CamStudio is a free program that is available for download. All you do is record your YouTube video by creating a movie of what is going on your screen and giving a voiceover narration of the steps you are taking.

Nick’s Notes: You can set your YouTube videos to “Private” or “Unlisted” to limit who has access.

A Good System is Predictable

Are you getting the results you envisioned for your efforts?

Be very careful not to confuse activity with results. When creating a system, you should have the outcome in mind. What are you expecting the process to accomplish? You should be able to see your workplace clean, cupcakes made to specifications, error-free payroll, or whatever it is you expect.

If you are not getting the results you seek, go back to the system.

Nick’s Notes: After a few weeks of errors and “unexpected results,” I had to revisit my process documentation and teaching. I actually had my virtual assistant explain to me their system as they understood it, and filled in the gaps from there.

In my profession, I have trained police officers. When interviewed after being shot or when trying to resolve some unbelievably intense situations, almost all of them responded, “I just fell back on my training.” Amazing.

You need to create training and accountability systems to ensure that all work done in your business has predictable results.

When you delegate work to your staff, they should feel responsible for the segment they are in charge of.

Nick’s Notes: Indeed, cultivating a culture of responsibility is really important, even in a virtual team. You’ve got to find some way to make your VA care about the end result of their work and how it fits in the big picture.

A Good System is Reliable

A system can be wonderful, but only when it functions properly. Just as the phone needs to be answered appropriately and a customer complaint handled in a particular manner, systems are created for uniformity and reliability.

How do you ensure this?

Training is a crucial step that ensures the reliability of a system. In fact, when a new system is created at work, even the existing staff will need training. The role of ongoing training in the business world is enormous.

Reliability is achieved from the capacity to perform a task.  This happens only when you make sure that everyone understands the system and you have proper accountability practices (checklists) in place.

From my 18 years of being a business owner, it seems that the more cumbersome a system is, the lower the chances it gets executed as intended.

1. If it’s difficult for your staff to know when a system should be triggered, there is a low probability that it will be consistently ran.

Google Docs allows you to assign the forms to be ran by placing them in a folder.

Another way for you to make sure that the system is run consistently is to have a staff member create a bookmark for the form.

You will first need to view the live form to get the link address. Note that the staff will not be able to modify the form, unless you give them that permission. I will show you how to do that in the next section.

The live form should look like this:

google docs form process checklist

Once I have created the live form, I would copy the web address.

I would have your virtual assistant create this system of folders and bookmarks to organize their tasks. (We are going to work from within the Chrome Browser for these examples, but any other browser will work as well.)

From the Chrome menu, I choose Bookmarks, then Bookmarks Manager.

chrome bookmark menu

I then create the TO DO folder under the Organize tab.

Adding a To Do folder

Once this folder is ready, your VA can drop the web address for your Google Doc Form.

For example, when your VA now opens the link in their browser, they will see the “Clean the Bathroom” instructions.

Several other strategies can be implemented using that folder.  You could create “Monday-Friday” sub-folders in “TO DO” if you have different tasks for each day of the week:

creating bookmark folders in chrome

2. If there is not a way for you to check at a glance the output from a system, it will be difficult to follow up with the systems.

  • You can monitor checklists remotely from your computer or tablet.
  • You will be able to see if the system was run.
  • You can check everything even when traveling.

If you want to check if the checklists were run, choose “View responses” from the toolbar:

view responses in google forms

When you open the form, you will see the responses in a spreadsheet. You can pan left and right with the mouse or cursor to see the responses. The first Column A is a timestamp as to when the form was submitted, so that you can see when the system was run.

google forms responses spreadsheet

I have one challenge with this though. Every time a form drops the responses in this table, it puts the new response at the bottom. I get around this by manually sorting all the data in the sheet by the timestamp column “Sort sheet Z-A.”

In teaching you how to create systems using various features, I may have inadvertently made the responses lengthier than they need to be. For most of the tasks that you ask someone to do, a simple yes or no response is perfect. It helps you get a load of information by just scanning the document. If I need the question ‘why’ answered for anything, I chat with that staff member. It’s a simple way to monitor. For each 20-step checklist, it should take your eye 5 seconds to see if there is a problem.

Your Turn

What systems or software do you use to communicate your systems and processes to your virtual assistant?

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