Should You Outsource Social Media?

There’s no doubt that to “do” social media right, it takes a lot of time and energy.  Because of this, social media management is one service nearly every virtual assistant company offers.

The question is, is social media something you should be outsourcing?

The Case Against

Think of the primary rules of social media engagement — be yourself, listen, be authentic, and most importantly, care.  Will any outsourced social media manager care as much as you?

For personal brands, I think hiring someone to run 100% of your social media presence is risky.  After all, your brand is about YOU, and the various social media platforms give people an honest chance to connect with the real you.  If they find out someone else is calling the shots it could hurt your brand and your reputation, and ultimately your bottom line.

Yes, it can be time-consuming to reply to twitter comments, but it’s not that time-consuming.  Will a virtual assistant be able to portray your brand the way you want it?

The Case For

You can’t do everything yourself.  Well you can, but only up to a certain point.  Once you reach that ceiling you’re going to have to get some help if you want to keep growing.

Companies are still taking care of their customers and maintaining a valuable social media presence, even though the founder isn’t personally posting everyday.

It’s naive to think a virtual assistant couldn’t do as good (or better) a job managing your online profiles.  Especially if they have more experience with the various networks and tools.

I’m confident you can find a VA that will be a great steward for your brand online.  They might charge more than $5 an hour, but that’s the price you pay to stay active and engaged in social media, while protecting and promoting your brand.

And by outsourcing social media, it will force you into a more managerial role of working on your business instead of in it.

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Virtual Assistantville

Virtual Assistantville is a unique directory of professional virtual assistants. The Dearborn, Michigan company matches employers with qualified VAs in a variety of fields. The site is an offshoot of the popular Virtual Assistant Forums, a trusted resource and gathering place for VAs everywhere.

If you’re looking for a VA, you can browse through the directory and view the profile of each one. You can also sort by specialty if you have a specific task or project in mind. In addition, Virtual Assistantville allows you to submit a request for proposal, and several virtual assistants will bid on your job.

virtualassistantville reviewThe virtual assistants listed with the company are, and can be, from any part of the world, but I found most are US-based. They use the Virtual Assistantville platform to advertise their services and find new clients.

The most common VA tasks on the site include editing work, article writing, data processing, managing social websites, taking care of emails and more. The responsibilities and work description may increase and change as trust and confidence grows between you and your remote assistant.

Virtual Assistantville gives you the flexibility to hire your VA on a one-time basis or on as an ongoing engagement. That said, the site is merely a meeting place for connecting you with potential workers; they don’t handle any of the transaction details.

Because the majority of VAs are in the US, I found the rates to be significantly higher than what you might find with other virtual assistant companies or on freelance sites like oDesk. Another disadvantage is that Virtual Assistantville doesn’t provide any feedback loop or ratings system, so it can be more difficult to fully research a potential hire.

Have you found a VA through VirtualAssistantville.com? If so, we’d love to hear about your experience in the review section below.

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Virtual Assistant Gifts

This Year, Give the Gift of Time

Are you struggling to find the perfect gift for that hard-to-shop-for person on your list? What do you get for people who already have everything they want?

Well there’s one thing everyone wants more of: time.

It’s our most precious asset, yet it’s so often squandered.  Up until a few years ago, the idea of giving someone time would have seemed pretty silly, if not downright impossible. But today, several virtual assistant companies allow you to do just that.

A gift membership to a virtual assistant service is a really unique way to show how much you care. The recipient will be able to use their VA to do all their virtual chores, like scheduling meetings, researching things online, and arranging travel. It’s like having your own personal assistant!

1. For just $69 a month, TimeSvr.com offers a gift membership with unlimited basic tasks. I’ve had a positive experience with TimeSvr and found their aides to be intelligent and hard-working. And for this price, it really makes a fun gift.

2. Red Butler is a really cool personal concierge service that also has a gift membership. Their “Basic” plan is just $110 for 3-months of use. Plus, at the time of this writing, Red Butler was offering a 25% promo for all gift membership purchases that use the promo code “happy” at checkout! The membership includes 15 tasks per month and access to nearly 1500 Red Butler “privileges” nationwide – great stuff like hotel, spa and restaurant discounts.

3. Ask Sunday is another VA service that offers a gift membership. Their gifts start at $119 for 10 hours of virtual assistant time. Ask Sunday has received some poor reviews lately, so they wouldn’t be my first choice, but you’re welcome to check them out.  Also their starting price seems pretty high for what you get.

So there you have it: turns out the gift of time is remarkably affordable.  The only downside is your recipient might get hooked and want to renew the service after their gift expires!

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5 Things Your Virtual Assistant can do for you During the Holidays

The holidays are a busy time for everyone, and we could all use an extra set of hands. Thankfully, if you have a virtual assistant, you do! Here are five things your VA can help take care for you during the holiday season.

1. Brainstorm Gift Ideas and Find the Best Prices.

For me, gift-giving is the most stressful part of the holidays. I like to give presents but I hate shopping and I never know what to get for people. Thankfully there are dozens of online resources for finding the perfect gift. Give your VA a list of people you’re shopping for and a little about each person and let them find a thoughtful present for everyone on your list. After picking out each item, have them comparison shop the results to find the best deals.

2. Arrange Travel Plans.

If you’re traveling over the holidays, why not let your virtual assistant handle the flight and hotel reservations? And if you’re staying with relatives, maybe they can book you a relaxing getaway for when you get home!

3. Research Year-End Tax-Saving Tips

Each year there are certain tax strategies to take advantage of. Even if your VA isn’t a financial professional, they can research various tax sites for the best year-end tax breaks to be aware of. This small investment could end up saving you big come April 15th.

4. Order and Mail Holiday Cards

Christmas cards are a fun tradition but can be time consuming to create and and send on your own. Instead, send your VA some pictures and have them create a few designs using the built-in software at Shutterfly or TinyPrints. Once you pick out the winner, your VA can order them for you. If your VA is in the same country as you, they can even address, stamp, and mail the cards too!

5. Take Care of Business While You’re Away

It’s always a good idea to take some time off over the holidays to spend time with family and friends, reflect on the year, and mentally recharge for upcoming challenges. But for many of us, it’s hard to leave work behind. Your virtual assistant can be a good crutch to really let that Out of Office Reply fly – arrange for them to cover for you while you’re gone.

If your virtual assistant has been helping you for most of the year or has added significant value to your life, consider paying them a year-end bonus or giving them extra time off for the holidays. After all, they have a family too. These small gestures can pay big dividends when it comes to long-term success and loyalty.

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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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