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.

Read More

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.

Read More

Mechanical Turk

Amazon Mechanical Turk is an outsourcing platform perfect for small, repetitive tasks that can’t otherwise be automated. The service launched in 2005, primarily as a way for Amazon to cheaply outsource some labor-intensive projects.

mechanical turk reviewAfter the initial launch, interest in Mechanical Turk waned until it discovered by the corporate and entrepreneurial set as a way to improve their business processes.

The platform can be a little tricky, and support is minimal, but no other service gives you access to such a large army of virtual workers. There are over 100,000 workers from every corner of the world ready to tackle your project.

My Experience with Amazon Mechanical Turk

I was working on a project that I was NOT looking forward to. You know the kind: hours of tedious mind-numbing work with no foreseeable shortcuts or efficiencies or automation.

About Mechanical Turk

mturk review

Just when I was about to start I remembered hearing about a service from Amazon I’d been wanting to try. Amazon Mechanical Turk is a marketplace for a “cloud-based” outsourced labor force that will handle your most simple and boring tasks for pennies.

Alternatively, you can sign up as a Mechanical Turk worker and make money doing these jobs for others.

Each job is called a HIT, or Human Intelligence Task, and at the time of this writing there were more than 400,000 HITs available. Mechanical Turk has become a thriving crowdsourcing marketplace. It’s not exactly a virtual assistant service, but you can access an army of low-cost workers willing to do your most mundane tasks for just pennies.

In total, I had over 1100 of these HITs I needed done. Specifically, workers would have to take input from a spreadsheet, perform a search, and then enter the result into the next cell.

Simple and easy, but time-consuming and boring, especially to do 1100 times. I priced these 1100 mini-jobs at $0.01 each — not knowing what was fair, I figured I’d start low.

Mechanical Pricing and Fees

The cost varies by the task, but you get to set your own price. I’ve seen HITs ranging from $0.01 for really quick and easy tasks to $5 for more time-intensive requests.

If you submit a batch of work and no workers are jumping on it, that’s probably a sign it’s either priced too low or your instructions aren’t clear.

Some of the common tasks people outsource on Mechanical Turk are filling in spreadsheet data, tagging images, transcribing podcasts, and rewriting sentences. You might even find people offering a few cents to like their page on Facebook.

Amazon takes a 20% fee from every HIT, with a $0.01 minimum. It adds a little bit to your cost, but is still a small price to pay for access to the cheap labor.

The billing is conveniently linked to your Amazon account, but you have to fund your Mechanical Turk account before any work can get done.

Since the tasks are generally very basic, the quality of work is usually not a problem. Workers are anonymous, but subject to feedback ratings from their “employers.”

Troubleshooting

I had some trouble figuring out how to set up my “HIT Template”, and after probably a half hour I was wondering if I should just bag it and do it myself. Shortly after that though, I found the source of my problem and I was off to the races.

Hint: if you’re getting a weird error that says, “Dhtml template Must contain a question”, it means you’re not providing any place for your workers to put their “answer” to your task. For my spreadsheet task, I used code like this:

${Column_Name}  <input type=”text” size=”35″ id=”Answer” name=”Item_Name”/>

This created a unique HIT for each row in the spreadsheet, where the value to be searched by workers is in the {Column_Name} column, and the result will go in the text box next to it.

My Mechanical Turk Results

After I got this figured out, the results were amazing. Almost immediately after posting my job, an army of workers started filling in the data.

The page was updated in real-time so I could monitor progress as it happened:

I uploaded 3 batches of work, and all were completed in a little over 2 hours.

  • Batch 1 took 15 seconds per job (367 jobs)
  • Batch 2 took 24 seconds per job (332 jobs)
  • Batch 3 took 21 seconds per job (408 jobs)

A total of 25 workers helped out on this project, on a Sunday afternoon, completing an average of 44 rows each.

The accuracy was very good. I spot-checked a few of the results and found no errors, and only had to reject 2 out of 1100+ for being returned blank — a 99.8% approval rate.

If I didn’t use the Mechanical Turk workforce, and instead did the work myself, it would have taken over 6 hours!

How Much Does it Cost?

Each completed row was worth $0.01, so the hourly rate for the workers ranged from $2.40/hr on Batch 1 to $1.50/hr on Batch 2.

My total outlay for the labor was $11.05, but Amazon has to make some money too so they add their fee on top of that. The fee is 10% of the job, with a minimum of $0.005 (half a penny) per task.

Since my tasks were so cheap, I was subject to the minimum fee, which amounted to a 50% surcharge on each HIT. It seemed like a steep increase but it’s all relative; I was getting a ton of mind-numbing work done for 1.5 cents each.

Overall, my cost was $16.58 ($11.05 to the 25 workers and $5.53 to Amazon). It took the workers 22041 seconds (6 hours, 7 minutes) to complete the tasks, and I don’t think I could have done it much faster.

So essentially I outsourced my work for $2.71 an hour with Mechanical Turk.

Is Outsourcing to Mechanical Turk Worth It?

Absolutely. With the data collected I think I can save far more than $16 over the course of the next few months. It’s an investment I hope will pay for itself many times over.

On the downside, I did spend a decent amount of those 6 hours I saved analyzing the work and writing this post.

Who Are These Workers?

Who are these penny minions? I wish I could tell you, but they were anonymous to me (and I assume I was anonymous to them).

All I could see was information like worker A1G**********9 completed 105 tasks. It would be interesting to see a geographic breakdown of where my workers were located. In some parts of the world, where people are living on less than a dollar a day, $2.40 an hour isn’t a bad wage.

I’ve also heard stories of people logging on to do some work while they’re watching TV. Most of the time I imagine the work is pretty brainless, so if you can earn a few extra bucks in your spare time, why not?

And when a job is too hard for the reward, they can simply move on to a new one; at the time of this writing there were 73,909 HITs available.

Your Turn

Have you ever used Mechanical Turk? If so, please share your experience below.

Read More

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.

Read More

VirtualEmployee.com

VirtualEmployee.com goes above and beyond other virtual assistant companies in that they set you up with a full-time dedicated remote employee, at a fraction of what one would cost locally.

virtualemployee.com review

You can specify your requirements in advance and VirtualEmployee.com will send you the resumes of qualified candidates so you can screen them or even interview them yourself. This feature alone sets VirtualEmployee apart from its competition.

About Virtual Employee

virtual employee reviewThe cost of your Virtual Employee will vary based on their level of experience and skills. A legal professional or web developer will command a higher salary than general administrative support. The overall price range for VirtualEmployee.com’s service is $1095 – $1995 a month.

And that is a key point to make as well – even though your remote worker will be working only for you, he or she is technically an employee of VirtualEmployee.com, not your company. That means they handle all the tax filing, payroll processing, and labor law management so you don’t have to. As you can see, it is a very valuable service and can be useful for any work that does not require a physical presence.


Sponsored Link:


VirtualEmployee.com Review

Since starting in 2007, VirtualEmployee.com has grown to a large team that now serves over 100 companies around the world. Their founding principle of “same quality but significantly lower cost” seems to have translated into a successful business model.

Because they have to source an employee specifically for you, VirtualEmployee.com service can take a couple weeks to get started. After that however, there is no long term commitment or contract to sign. I was surprised by this, especially because rival VirtualHires.com requires a 4-month commitment. Of course, VirtualEmployee.com wants to impress you with their professionalism and results to maintain a lasting relationship.

VirtualEmployee.com also has half-time options and discounts for hiring multiple workers. You can choose the office hours of your virtual employee to meet your needs.

Your Turn

Have you worked with a virtual employee from VirtualEmployee.com? Please share your experience here.

Read More

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.

Read More