Drop Ship Lifestyle’s Ultimate Guide to Hiring a Virtual Assistant
Is running your Shopify store taking you more than 30 minutes per day? If yes, it’s time to look into hiring your first virtual assistant.
Stop and think for a moment about why you made a decision to start an online business...
I’m betting that there is a good chance that at least part of your answer to that question is that you wanted to improve your lifestyle and build a business that would enable you to choose how you live your life rather than have that dictated by a job.
Whether your goal was to find location independence to travel or just to have more time to spend with your family. Your goal was more time (as well as a bit of money right?).
At the same time as finding more time, many of us want to build and grow our business, or maybe we want to have multiple businesses and income streams.
These two goals can lead to a conflict where the more your lifestyle business grows the more work it produces. When you add a second, third, even fourth store to your portfolio things can build up.
Things can quite quickly go from working an hour or two a day to finding yourself with enough work to cover the job you were originally trying to escape.
Wouldn’t it be lovely if you could clone yourself and let the duplicate you take care of all of that maintenance so you can focus on business growth (or even a week-long vacation) without having to stress about your store?
Sound crazy? Well, it's not. That's exactly what a virtual assistant is for.
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Welcome to Drop Ship Lifestyle’s Ultimate Guide to Hiring a Virtual Assistant
This outsourcing guide will get you started on your outsourcing journey and give you the tools and knowledge that you need to successfully hire your first virtual assistant.
Here, you’ll learn all the tools and knowledge you need to get started with a virtual assistant and successfully outsource tasks in your drop shipping business.
What is a Virtual Assistant?
You will notice is this virtual assistant guide that I am using the terms outsourcing, virtual assistant, and freelancer. All three are similar but mean different things.
Outsourcing is an agreement in which one person hires another person externally to be responsible for a planned or existing activity. Think of one-off projects like logo design or writing a single email campaign.
A virtual assistant generally is someone who carries out a range of tasks and may be either a freelancer (work for themselves) or work as an employee of a outsourcing company.
A freelancer is not always a virtual assistant. If you are hiring someone to do web coding for you they will not refer to themselves as a virtual assistant.
If they are self employed, they would be referred to as a freelancer in their chosen discipline.
Why You Should Hire a Virtual Assistant
Outsourcing is essentially the practice of obtaining a service from another individual or company that is not associated with your business.
This could be from a freelancer on Fiverr or Upwork or a virtual assistant (VA) that works with you full time through an outsourcing company.
Hiring a virtual assistant or outsourcing work for many can be a daunting prospect.
You are essentially handing over key work in a business you built from the ground up to someone who is a complete stranger in a country you have likely never been to.
How can you be sure that they are doing what they say? How can you be sure that they aren’t going to damage your business? How will you train them? Isn’t it all too much work and bother when you can do it yourself?
I’ve heard all of these concerns from online business owners.
They are valid but they are definitely not reasons to avoid outsourcing and automating your business. With careful planning and preparation, you can avoid these concerns and reap the benefits of outsourcing.
You don’t want to be working in your business…
You want to be working on your business.
Here are the 5 reasons why I think every online business should hire a virtual assistant.
You can make more money. You can start more businesses. You can’t get more than 24 hours in a day. Don’t waste your time doing things that someone else can do. Hiring a virtual assistant gives you back time.
Urban Dictionary defines hustle as “Anythin you need to do to make money... be it sellin cars, drugs, ya body. If you makin money, you hustlin.”
As entrepreneurs we talk a lot about hustle. It’s the thing we are always supposed to be doing. If you are spending hours of your day engaged in repetitive actions that could easily be done by someone else, you aren’t hustling, in fact I’m going to go so far as to say you are anti hustling.
See point 1, enlisting the help of virtual assistant services will give you the time to focus on the big picture, effectively hustle and significantly grow your business.
You aren’t the best
I’m not the best at most things. I know this and I’m more successful for knowing it. You aren’t the best at everything, by outsourcing you can find people that are better than you at certain tasks.
Your business will be better for it. You might suck at customer service, pay someone who is better than you to do it.
I’m constantly surprised by the ideas that my virtual assistants have shared with me to improve my business.
This might go hand in hand with point 3, but many freelancers and virtual assistants have worked with many other online businesses and may have fresh ideas that you can make use of. Always ask your VA if they know a more effective/efficient way of doing things and listen.
It’s what entrepreneurs do
Not outsourcing specifically, but one of the most regarded traits of successful entrepreneurs is that they bring together the right people to get necessary tasks done.
They don’t do it all themselves. When you run a new/small online business you generally can’t hire your own employees locally, hiring one or more virtual assistants is the next best thing. You are an Entrepreneur, act like it.
When Should You Hire a Virtual Assistant?
I am firmly of the view that you should start outsourcing and hiring virtual assistants as early as you can with the smallest and most repetitive tasks first, or, the tasks that you absolutely can’t possibly do yourself.
Get your toes wet early so that you know what to expect when it comes time to exploring more complex or longer lasting arrangements.
Like most people, the very first thing I outsourced was the design of my first business logo. I suck at logo design. I don’t enjoy it and it would have taken me hours. I paid someone $5 to do it and I am still happy with and using that logo to this day.
As always though, there is a balance here. Don’t outsource or hire a virtual assistant if you can’t afford it.
There is no point putting yourself under financial stress in the early stages of your business. Don’t put it on your credit card so that you can pay it off once you make sales. That’s a bad strategy.
If you’ve got the cash to put towards virtual assistant services early on, great. If not, don’t sweat it. Wait until you’ve started making profitable sales then reinvest some of that profit into outsourcing.
As a final point on when to hire a virtual assistant, it is generally best practice to outsource tasks that are specific to your business only once you have done them yourself and are familiar with them. It is difficult to set your freelancer or VA up for success if you are not actually practiced in the things that you are asking them to do.
You will be their go to person if they get stuck and if you want to retain good people you need to be able to support them. So don’t outsource until you know how to do it yourself, if you don’t find out first.
The above advice doesn’t apply to non-business specific tasks like logo or website design, you don’t have to know these things to outsource them. Only tasks which are specific to the type of business you are running, such as how you do customer service.
What You Can Outsource to a Virtual Assistant– and What You Shouldn't
There is almost no limit to what you can outsource or assign to a virtual assistant. There is however, a limit to what you should outsource to virtual assistant services...
Here is a list of the tasks that can be handled by a virtual assistant or outsourced:
- Logo design and creation
- Website design
- Banner image design and creation
- Product Image resizing
- Unique product description writing
- Supplier & Competitor product page scraping
- Research (just about anything you can think of)
- Product CSV building and upload
- Product page formatting and optimization tasks
- Custom webpage coding
- Direct Sales
- Content creation (blog posts, eBooks, lead magnets, social posts)
- Review gathering
- Video production
- Customer service
- Order processing
- Social Media Management
- Pay per Click advertising management
- Keyword Research
- Search Engine Optimization
- B2B lead generation
Here is a list of what should not be outsourced to a virtual assistant:
- Niche Selection. You need to own this. Yes you can use someone to do some of the grunt research collation work but you need to check it all. No other decision will determine the ultimate success of your business, don’t outsource it.
- Supplier Contact. Supplier contact is all about relationship building, you should build your own relationships with suppliers. Even if this is a difficult step for you, both you and your business will be much stronger if you always do this yourself. Your virtual assistants and freelancers can then go off your relationship and continue the work with your suppliers.
- Business Decisions. It’s your business and you need to be the one who makes the big calls, don’t let or ask someone else to do that for you. It’s a recipe for disaster.
Should you outsource Pay Per Click and Social Media Management?
Many of my members consider outsourcing their pay per click and social media management to external agencies.
This can be a profitable path to take and can be a quick way to get your advertising optimized and on track.
As always though there is a cost, if it is within your budget and this is not an area you are at all interested in, then external management may be a good option. It will save you time which is a large plus.
If you do go down this path always make sure that you have a clear understanding of the work and amount of work that is going to happen on your account.
Many PPC agencies promise “dedicated management” or your own “team” working on your account, often this amounts to said team working for about 8 hours per month on your account. Hardly dedicated.
Watch out for lengthy contracts that lock you into the agency and always ask questions. If you are paying for management you should also make sure that you are learning from them.
Observe and learn how they do what they do so that one day you can do it for yourself.
Where You Can Find the Best Virtual Assistants and Freelancers
You have two choices on where to find virtual assistants, you can either find a freelance virtual assistant or you can hire one via an outsourcing company.
There are pros and cons to both arrangements. While there are definitely pros to working with company based virtual assistants there are many shady companies online that will not deliver as promised.
There are plenty of places online to find both freelancers and virtual assistant services. Here is a selection of the ones we always recommend:
- Fiverr: A great low cost option with plenty of hidden gems. You can find people to do pretty much any task. There is a focus on Fiverr for one off tasks on a per task payment. Still, ee’ve seen great results on Fiverr for logo design, graphic and banner design, keyword research, video production and editing, audio editing, research tasks, webpage scraping, content creation and more.
- Upwork: Upwork is great if you are looking for someone for either a short term or long term job. There is a good mix here of virtual assistants and freelancers and it can be a good place to find freelancers for coding work. Upwork’s platform is good for tracking ongoing work performed but it comes with sometimes annoying fees.
- 99Designs: The focus here is on design. Use 99Designs if you have a bit more money to spend and want higher level graphic design produced. Run on a competition system you will get access to a pool of designers who will submit work and you get to choose the winner.
- Storetasker: Different from Upwork, Storetasker is where you go to hire freelancers for Shopify-specific tasks. This company vets qualified Shopify marketers, developers, and specialists so that you can stay focused on growing your store– not screening and hiring short-term help. Get a free estimate for expert Shopify support over at Storetasker.
- Onlinejobs.ph: The Philippines is a great place to find virtual assistants and freelancers with good to excellent spoken and written English language skills. Online jobs.ph is a great place to find ongoing virtual assistants who will be undertaking customer service, product description writing or other content creation. You can also find freelancers for a range of web development work.
How to Successfully Identify and Hire the Best Virtual Assistants
There are thousands and thousands of virtual assistants worldwide, with that number only continuing to rise. Which means you can rest assured that there are hundreds of thousands to choose from.
But how are you going to ensure that you find the best that you can afford with your budget or that the best will apply for your job?
Follow these steps where appropriate to help you identify and the select the best.
Make a high quality job posting.
High quality postings attract high quality performers. If you are posting a job for people to apply for make sure that it clearly expresses the requirements and expectations of the job.
You need to be clear on budget, timeframes, quality expectations, outline of the task(s), interview requirements, potential for future work. Most of all sell your job!
Make it sound exciting, make it sound like the kind of job that people should want to do. Even if it is a small job this is a good habit to get into.
Most freelancer platforms allow previous customer to leave reviews of their experience with the freelancer. Check these.
Don’t be afraid to ask a virtual assistant to sit an interview with you. This is especially important if you are hiring in an ongoing sense.
The best way to get a feel for someone is to have a conversation with them. More tips on interviewing virtual assistants below.
Run a trial
For large jobs or ongoing jobs set up a test or trial of the tasks with your shortlisted or preferred virtual assistants or freelancers. Get them to produce a limited sample of the work you want them to do.
For example, if I am hiring someone to write product descriptions I will ask them to write some for a random selection of products.
Ask for an example of previous work and/or references
Ask the virtual assistant or freelancer to provide access to a portfolio of work that they have complete previously and/or ask them to provide contact details of other businesses that they have worked with before.
This is really important to do for freelancers who will be working on content creation, web design or coding work.
How to Set Up and Run an Interview a Virtual Assistant
It is always recommended that you interview virtual assistants before allowing them to start working for your business. While this is not always necessary for small and simple tasks, it is important for larger jobs or ongoing jobs.
In my experience, most virtual assistants and freelancers will be happy to participate in interviews. those that aren’t, are just self selecting out.
Make sure that your original brief for the job states clearly that candidates will be expected to interview if this is what you intend. Don’t make it a surprise.
I recommend that interviews are conducted by video rather than just voice although voice will do if video is not available. Use a service such as Skype, join.me or Google Hangouts for your interviews.
Your goals when interviewing virtual assistants are to
- Ask questions and listen. You should not do the majority of the talking.
- Get a feel for the candidate. Can you work with them, what is your gut feel?
- Test their attitude. Often the best candidate is the one with the best attitude not just the best knowledge. People can learn new skills but you won’t be able to teach someone a positive and proactive attitude.
- Discuss their knowledge and prior experience. Ask them to provide examples and ask questions about these
- Reiterate what the job involves and what your expectations of them will be. Measure how they react to this.
- Without giving too much away, find out how they will complete the job. You are looking for the ability to display initiative and thinking skills. These are highly prized attributes of the best VAs. You want someone who will fix issues without having to constantly check with you.
- If you are interviewing for customer service you should propose a few scenarios to them. How would they turn around an angry customer? How would they go about making upsells? Ask them to walk you through how they would deal with the customer, then consider whether this matches the sort of service your business provides.
- Find out what drives them, you are looking for proactive people who are happy to share their ambitions and what drives them in life.
Before you start your interview make sure that you write out a series of questions and talking points to cover of these goals. Have fun with it, this should be an enjoyable process for both you and the candidates.
How and What You Should Pay Your Virtual Assistant
How and what you should pay your virtual assistant or freelancer is a huge question that ties many people up in knots.
The first thing that you will notice when searching for virtual assistants is that there is a huge variation in price. On top of this you need to decide whether you are going to pay by the hour or by the task.
If you are working with company based virtual assistants you won’t have to worry about setting a price as these will be set by the company.
They will provide you a quote based on your needs and you may have some room to negotiate.
The first question you will need to answer is whether you are paying an hourly rate, or, whether you are paying by the job.
Some examples of paying by job might be, paying $X to resize X amount of images or paying $X per product description.
Under this system the virtual assistant or freelancer does not get paid anything until the agreed job is complete to the agreed standard.
Paying by the hour is where you pay the virtual assistant or freelancer $X for every hour that they work. If this is for task based work you should always agree upfront on how many hows you expect them to take to complete the task.
This is usually also the system you would use where a virtual assistant works for you regularly or full time.
Our experience shows that for tasks with a defined start and finish, paying by the job rather than by the hour is the most effective method of payment.
There is an inherent quality to this arrangement that encourages the virtual assistant or freelancer to complete the work in the agreed time frame as they won’t get paid until the job is done.
Paying by the hour is more risky as there is no inbuilt urgency for the freelancer to complete the task in order to receive pay.
Even if you set an expected number of hours for the job to be completed in, you will be setting yourself up for confrontation and on certain platforms such as Upwork it can be a nuisance to enforce. Paying by the job eliminates this problem.
The main task that you usually need to pay by the hour is customer service. If you have hired a freelance virtual assistant to work for you during business hours, answering your phone, online chat and/or email you will need to pay them by the hour or a daily/weekly/monthly rate.
How Much to Pay Your Virtual Assistant
Most freelancers will advertise a rate that they will work for. Almost always this is open to negotiation (with the exception usually of Fiverr & 99designs) but don’t be tempted to see this as an opportunity to screw the price down. You will not attract the best people with that approach.
At the end of the day what you pay your virtual assistant or freelancer will be determined by your budget, the market rate and the value that you place on the work that they will perform.
I don’t know about you but I am personally happy to pay a good amount of money for people to write high quality, unique product descriptions for me, why?
Because I dislike doing it myself so I place a higher value on having someone do it for me.
Here are a few tips to help you work out what to pay your freelance virtual assistant or freelancer.
You should always pay attention to your budget. Work out what you can afford to spend and then work to get the best virtual assistant or freelancer that you can for that budget.
Don’t overextend yourself.
Be careful of long term hourly rate arrangements, these can sap your cash flow if you don’t yet have regular income.
If you don’t know how you would pay for an full time virtual assistant every working day of the week then you shouldn’t have one.
Have a look around the marketplace to see what an average price is for the tasks that you want completed.
Use sites like Upwork to get an idea of what freelancers are usually charging. This will give you a good base to work from and measure against your budget.
Keep in mind that rates can often vary based on the location of the freelancer. So you may find that you can afford virtual assistants from the Philippines but not the United States.
Consider the value that you will get from the job that you are paying for.
Be prepared to pay a small premium for tasks that will deliver a high value to your business within your boundaries of affordability.
For example, I am happy to stretch a bit to pay for high quality, unique product descriptions and great customer service because I know that these will have the most direct impact on sales.
How to Set Your Virtual Assistant Up for Success
Many people who experiment with hiring virtual assistants and freelancers complain that they didn’t get what they were hoping for out of their investment.
When you dig into this further it usually becomes apparent that this is due to two things; either poor recruitment practices or poor instructions, or both.
If you are hiring a virtual assistant and hoping that they will by some process of osmosis be able to straight away read your mind and get the work done with little to no input from you then you are setting yourself up for disappointment.
Providing your virtual assistant with clear, and easy to understand instructions and training on how to complete every task that you are asking them to do is crucial to their success and ultimately yours.
You must also provide them with a clear understanding of the rules and boundaries that they are to operate within. What are they authorized to do and what are they not authorized to do.
For example, if you have a virtual assistant performing customer service duties, do they know what the maximum discount they can offer a customer is to close a sale?
The point of a successful relationship with a virtual assistant is twofold, they must be able to complete their work to an acceptable standard and they must be able to do it without coming to you with questions or seeking authorization 20 times per day.
This would defeat the purpose of working with a virtual assistant to begin with.
Bottom Line: Set clear instructions that outline the limits that your virtual assistant is authorized to work within and you will find that after an initial settling in period, your virtual assistant can get on with the job with very little daily input from you.
There are two very effective ways that you can provide instructions for your virtual assistant. You can do either or they can be used in combination.
You can provide written instructions in the form of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) or a Manual or you can record videos of yourself and your screen.
SOPs are great for laying out rules and authorizations that need to be set in stone for your virtual assistant to refer to or to record information that has no visual element to it.
Video recordings are especially useful if you want to walk your virtual assistant through a series of steps to completing a task.
Training Your VA
Just because you have hired a kickass virtual assistant with tons of experience doesn’t mean that they are familiar with your particular business.
Make sure that you take the time to train them, a few hours invested here will save you many hours down the track.
Once you’ve got your SOPs or videos put together make sure you schedule time with your virtual assistant to take them through those documents and videos. I recommend doing this once again via a video service that allows you to screen share.
This way you can actually walk and talk your virtual assistant through the important tasks that you need them to do.
Allow the some time between when you provide them SOPs and videos and when you run the training so that they can have time to review and build a list of questions to ask you.
Doing this will significantly speed up the amount of time taken in the actual training.
Giving Your Virtual Assistant Access
Your virtual assistant or freelancer won’t be successful without proper access to the systems and tools that they need to get the job done.
While it can be daunting to give a near stranger access to things that to date only you have had access to, it is necessary.
This is particularly important for full time virtual assistants who you are hiring to essentially manage your store, they need to have near full access to everything to be successful.
I like to think of my virtual assistants as employees, you wouldn’t expect to go to a new job and be locked out of the things you need to get your job done properly.
Here are some of the things you may need to give your virtual assistants access to:
- Company email accounts + their own account. If your virtual assistant will be answering or sending emails they will need access to your existing emails and I would suggest creating an individual email address for them. This will make them look more like an employee of your business and will add credibility.
- Shopify. If your virtual assistant needs to work in Shopify managing orders, creating products, Blog posting or creating discounts they will need to be added as an employee. In your Shopify admin, go to Settings > Account and select “Add staff account” under the Accounts and Permissions section. The great thing about this is that you can choose what they have access to. There are very few reasons why you would give a virtual assistant access to the following; Settings, Domains, Navigation and Themes.
- Bank and Credit Card details. If your virtual assistant will be paying for orders or booking shipping they will need access to either your bank account and/or they will need your credit card numbers.
- Supplier logins. If you want them to place orders with suppliers who have online ordering portals be sure to give them the login details for these sites.
- Product Images. Prices and other details. If your virtual assistant will be working on or adding new products they will need access to the product image files, prices and other information. Use a file sharing service like Dropbox to share these files with them. It’s often also good to give them files like your logo files.
- Shipping accounts. If you arrange your own shipping you will need to give your virtual assistant access to your shipping account logins.
- Phone number. If they will be answering the phone, you will need to hook their phone up to your website phone number so that if forwards to them. It’s also best that you give them the access to the backend of whatever phone system you are using. This will allow them to troubleshoot issues with the phone if you aren’t available.
- Online chat. If they are going to be monitoring your online chat you will need to add them as a new user or agent in your chat system. Or you could just give them your login and they can pretend to be you.
Regularly tracking, discussing and giving feedback on the performance of your virtual assistant, particularly full time ongoing VAs, is a great way to ensure they have continued success.
Make time to regularly get together for a chat to review what they have been doing, how they are feeling about the work, what opportunities they see to improve and any feedback you have for them.
A good rule of thumb is to recognize two great things they are doing for every one thing that you want them to improve on/isn’t up to scratch.
Performance management gets easier if you have set reasonable and understood expectations and requirements at the start of the relationship.
When your virtual assistant is starting have a think about what performance indicators you would like them to work towards.
Maybe it’s X number of product descriptions per week at X quality. Or answering X number of customer inquiries first time.
Write these down in a document, give these expectations to the virtual assistant and discuss them. Ask if they see any problems and seek their agreement to them.
You can then refer to these performance markers in subsequent discussions and there will be no room for misunderstandings about what it is you actually expect of them.
Build a Relationship to Retain the Best
Finally, when you’ve found a great virtual assistant and you’ve put in the work to get them up to speed on your site and the work that you need them to complete, the last thing you want is for them to move on and have to start from scratch.
You need to treat this relationship with respect. Remember this is usually their full time job, it’s what pays their rent and puts food on the table.
Many will live in developing countries where good jobs are hard to come by, make this a great experience for them and they will repay you with hard work and loyalty.
There are a few really simple things you can do on an ongoing basis to make sure that you can retain your virtual assistant and form a long and productive relationship.
Set clear expectations– and stick to them.
Right from the start your virtual assistant needs to know what you expect of them and where they stand. Make sure you are clear and once you set expectations don’t change them without notice.
If you want to change the goalposts make sure you discuss this with your virtual assistant first and genuinely listen to and acknowledge any concerns they may have.
Put yourself in your virtual assistants shoes (you should do this with everybody really). Think about what would make your life easier if you worked for you and then do it.
This is a great skill to exercise, also particularly useful for hard to get dropship suppliers…
Get to know your VA.
There’s no need to go overboard here, in fact you don’t even need to go out of your way. Every time you talk with your employees find out a little bit more about them.
Form a relationship, just like you would with any other person that you work with.
On a Monday ask how their weekend was? In the morning as how their evening was. Ask after the health of their family or kids if they have them.
Be genuine and you will form a bond with your virtual assistant that will make them more likely to stick around and go the extra distance for you.
Recognize and reward.
If your virtual assistant does something great (and they will) make sure that they know it. Recognize their achievements and where appropriate reward a job well done.
This doesn’t have to directly involve money. Some options to reward your virtual assistant could be to give them some paid time off, pay for some online training to grow their skills in an area that also benefits your business, send them a small gift.
At least once per year you should consider increasing their rate of pay, I do this every six months if I feel that performance has been good. Give a bonus during their local festive season.
As your virtual assistant continues to work with your business and becomes more familiar with the standard tasks that you set, make sure that from time to time you give them new tasks and responsibilities.
Take the time to train them if they don’t know how to do new tasks and give them the space to grow and thrive.
This will be seen and felt as a sign of trust in your virtual assistant that will encourage them to stick with you long term.
Stay within easy reach of your virtual assistants so that they have confidence that they can reach you if need be. This will give them confidence and actually encourage autonomy.
I chatter all day with my virtual assistants via Skype messages and Slack just because I enjoy it. We don’t often talk and I can message them from my phone no matter where I am.
If you are using virtual assistants to help you build and launch a store use a project management tool like Asana or Basecamp to keep everyone on track and communicate about the different tasks they are assigned to.
So what do you think? Are you ready to hire your first virtual assistant?
If you have any questions, please ask them below. And if you think this virtual assistant guide would be helpful to anyone, do share it with them.