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:
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.
I then create the TO DO folder under the Organize tab.
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:
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:
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.
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.
What systems or software do you use to communicate your systems and processes to your virtual assistant?