Virtual assistants are awesome. And you should be using more of their time, to free up more of your time.
Why? For 3 really, really good reasons:
Reason 1) Your personal time and energy are finite
If you're truly, genuinely serious about growing your MSP, then you must focus the vast majority of your time and energy on doing the things that only you can do.
Chances are that right now you're doing stuff that really, someone else could and should do on your behalf. So long as they're briefed properly (which we address later on in this article).
Do you really personally have to:
- Faff with invoices?
- Deal with first line tickets?
- Answer emails?
- Schedule social media?
- Or handle any basic, repeatable task?
The answer is NO! You don't. But you probably keep doing this stuff anyway.
Maybe because you don't want to let go. Because "no-one can do the job quite as well as you can...?"
Hey - I get that - I'm a business owner too! One of the reasons we start our own business is to achieve total control, right? So we can do things exactly the way we want them to be done.
This is perfect thinking for the big things. But for the small things, our job is to lay out exactly how stuff should be done... and then get other people to do it for us.
Or perhaps you keep doing these small things because you don't have the spare cash to hire people to do jobs for you?
The beauty of virtual assistants (VAs) is that they scale up with you. You can hire someone for a couple of hours a week or month. And increase their hours as you need more help.
Here's a little exercise to do to realise just cheap VAs are:
- Write down how much you charge out your personal time per hour. Let's say £100
- Write down the cost of a VA per hour. Let's say £20
- Do the obvious sum: £100 - £20 = £80
- So hiring someone to do stuff so you don't have to, gives you the earning potential of £80 per hour
I realise that you probably won't invest the hours saved into "billable" time. But you still come out ahead, so long as you invest the time into working ON the business, and not just getting caught up working IN it with other tasks.
There's also a lot to be said about hiring people to do stuff that you don't enjoy. At home, I don't clean my house. Nor iron my shirts. I don't even do any gardening any more. Nor do I wash my car; wash my windows. Or paint walls.
I can do these things. But I choose not to. Because I'd rather pay someone else to do them for me (and, frankly, do a better job) so I can enjoy my time.
This is a great mindset at home and at work.
Reason 2) It's a buyer's market right now
One of the advantages of the pandemic is the flood of talented virtual assistants to the marketplace recently.
Highly motivated and skilled people, with great mindsets, are suddenly available to work for you, for as little as a couple of hours a week. Being a virtual assistant is no longer unusual. It's become a valid career choice for people who want flexibility, working from home.
One of the beauties of remote VAs working for you on a freelance basis is that you have little commitment to them. It sounds brutal, but if they're not quite right for you, then you walk away and go hire someone else.
There are more VAs available than there is work for them, right now. That gives you the opportunity to find the perfect people who fit the best with your IT support business.
Reason 3) Life is really short
Sobering fact... on average, you and I only have about 4,000 weeks of life... how many weeks do you have left? 😱
When you do something new for the first time, it's absolutely right to do it yourself. Figure out how it should be done. And make it perfect.
But then, give that job to someone else. Brief them properly, of course, and put checks in place (we'll talk about that in a bit). But let them do that job for you.
So you can spend time getting your Happy Balance right.
What's a Happy Balance? There are 5 things that we need in our lives to be happy... and we have to get the balance of them right. They are:
- Meaningful work
Note that the word "meaningful" is critical in front of the word "work". Work for the sake of it is not rewarding. It needs to be meaningful; whatever that means to you.
I love work. I adore it. It keeps me sane. I know this, because I took 6 months off when I sold my business in 2016 and it made me miserable.
But I also love spending time with my 10-year-old daughter. And going to the cinema (when they're not shutting down, anyway). And reading. And sitting in my garden. And developing my photography skills. And drinking wine🍷😊
The biggest pressure on my Happy Balance is lack of time. I use VAs to help me get that balance right. You can too.
You need to develop a mindset of DOA. Not:
- Dead On Arrival.
- Delegate Outsource Automate.
What you can use a VA for
Anything, that anyone of average intelligence and ability can be trained to do; and coached to do well.
(and actually, my experience is that many VAs are way above average intelligence and ability).
Even basic first line tickets can be done by a VA for you. If you were to take on an apprentice tomorrow, you'd train them how to set up a new user, change a password, etc. It's mostly documenting a Standard Operating Procedure, and making sure they follow it, right?
Bingo. Any time you can break down a simple task into a Standard Operating Procedure, you can get a VA to do it for you. This might be the answer to taking some of the pressure off your existing team, without hiring another tech. Now there's food for thought.
Let me give you an example of the kind of work VAs can do. As of time of writing, I have three VAs working for me, all remotely. Overall they probably add up to a single full-time position.
But I get so much more out of these three superstars, than I would out of a single person. The main reason for that is that I can batch tasks and responsibilities into clusters, matching up to specific skillsets.
With the caveat that I run an MSP marketing consultancy and not an MSP itself, here's a cut down list of what my superstars do for me:
Christelle: Frees my personal time
- Reads my email. Deals with what she can. And prioritises the rest so I can whizz through it at speed, twice a day
- Retrieves invoices and sends them to Xero. Makes sure I pay the few manual payment invoices on time
- Checks out people who want to join my MSP Marketing Facebook group, to make sure that vendors or non-IT people don't sneak in
- Adds post topics, and acts as first line moderator for that group
- Checks out people who've requested a free copy of my book, to ensure they're an MSP
Becky: Financial stuff (sits between me and the bookkeeper)
- Sets up new clients in our order book and Xero
- Matches up payments and records them in the order book and Xero
- Spots and solves problems to save the bookkeeper time and hassle
Ami: Delights clients of the MSP Marketing Edge
- First line support for clients, answering all basic membership questions, and escalating more advanced questions to my colleague James (2nd line) and me (3rd line)
- Sets up new clients in our system, and sends their bonus welcome gifts
- Monitors the client-only Facebook group, suggesting answers and copying articles and videos from our client Knowledge Centre
- Co-ordinates pulling together the humongous amount of content we supply to clients every month and week (a total of 310 files a month, from 7 different suppliers, going through 2x editors and 2x proof readers 😱)
Remember, every single thing here is done more or less the way I want it to be done, with a Standard Operating Procedure written for each task.
I handed over tasks slowly - one thing at a time, waiting until I was sure they understood and were happy with that task - before introducing something else.
Also remember, that I also have a network of freelancers who do very specific technical tasks for me (technical in the marketing sense).
Both specialist jobs that a general VA couldn't thrive at. Don't expect your VA to be a brilliant specialist unless that's their specific skill set.
Where to get your VA
There are 3 options for you:
- Hire a freelancer: Typically this is a one person band who has set themselves up as a VA. My experience of these kind of VAs is that they're either utterly brilliant, or... the other end of the scale 🤣
- Hire through an agency: Two of my VAs are from Time Etc. The downside of an agency is that you pay more. The bigger upside is that they have done all the hiring, vetting and training for you. And when someone doesn't work out, they do the dirty job of "firing" so you don't have to. The first couple of VAs I got through them just weren't right. But I had a brilliant account manager, and we worked closely together to get the right people on board
- Hire someone from overseas: A couple of my MSP clients use VAs in the Phillipines, where the exchange rate means they can pay very well, and still pay less than they would here.
How to properly brief and organise your VA
Keeping your VA well briefed, trained, and organised is your job.
I organise work for my VAs into four different categories:
- One off tasks
- Monthly tasks
- Weekly tasks
- Daily tasks
And we use our project management software Basecamp to brief them, and track when work has been done.
There's nothing to stop you using Teams or whatever your favourite software it. We see huge advantages in including our VAs in the same software my full-time team use. More on that and how it positively affects engagement, later.
For every new task I prepare a written brief along with a checklist and/or flowchart. There's a full video brief as well showing them me doing the job.
Yes, this is duplicating information. But I've found that briefing someone in the most comprehensive way possible is the only way to get them to do the job exactly as you want it to be done.
How to keep tabs on your VA's work
Using project management software is critical, as it's a central place where everyone can see what's been achieved and what hasn't.
We use the live chat facility of Basecamp to give the VAs direct access to me if they're stuck on something urgent. With clear rules of what's appropriate and what's not appropriate (for example, they can't use it to ask questions that need context - that's what the various projects are for).
It's also important that you check their work on a regular basis. I schedule every other week to just drop into a random piece of work that they have done, and quality control it. If I'm happy, then I move on. If I'm not happy, then I check some other pieces of work.
Typically if something's not as it should be, the fault is mine - I wasn't specific enough, or forgot to give them the level of detail, or context they needed.
How to keep your VAs happy
Just because your VAs are outsourced help, doesn't mean they can't and won't become valued members of your team. I think of Becky, Christelle and Ami the same as I think of my full-time staff (I just don't have the burden of managing them 😃).
So treat them in the same way you treat the rest of your team.
Give them feedback, good and bad. Praise publicly, pick up performance issues privately. Communicate what's happening. Involve them in business decisions. Check in with them now and again with video calls. Send them unexpected thank yous.
Like most people that work with you, the more you put into them, the more you will get back.
What questions do you have about virtual assistants?
Please feel free to ask any questions in my MSP Marketing Facebook group.
Or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I'll answer you personally (but don't forget to say hello to Christelle).