Deciding that you want to take on a Virtual Assistant (VA) is a big step in growing your business and can be quite a daunting prospect. So, you need to make sure that you find the right one. Someone who is the best fit for your business, that you can relate to well, has all the right things in place and is skilled in all the right areas.
Plan in advance of searching.
Before you start looking for a Virtual Assistant you need to know what kind of things you will ask them to do, how you plan to work with them, how many hours can you afford to pay them for, how will you communicate with them, and just generally get all your ducks in a row. And whilst this can seem like quite a daunting task, it is actually something you can work through step by step, and it is a good exercise for any business owner to work through, looking at what tasks they do, which ones are time consuming and how long it takes to do them.
First of all, think about whether you want to take on a Virtual Assistant that will just carry out work on an adhoc basis, for example small projects here and there or an audio transcription when required? Or do you need a Virtual Assistant who can be available for a certain number of hours per week to carry out ongoing work for you, for example, managing your emails, general admin tasks or answering calls?
It may be the case that you know you need someone as you are suffering with general overwhelm and find yourself working late. In this case it is worth talking to the VA you find and work together to look at what you do; a good Virtual Assistant will be able to work with you to find out where you need help and offer ideas about how they can assist with that.
Also, before finding your potential VA, it is worth having a think about your budget, how many hours can you afford to pay your VA for, say each week? Bearing in mind that the average UK VA charges anywhere around £27 per hour*
Most Virtual Assistants are happy if you say to them “I want you to stop at a certain number of hours per week or per month”.
One thing you will also need to bear in mind is how they charge; do you want a VA who will operate on a pay as you go arrangement (charging by the hour) or one who sells time in packages?
Also, have a think about the type of work you want your VA to do, as this will help you to find a VA with the right skills and someone who will be able to recommend the right tools and systems that could be available to make things easier.
Another thing to consider is whether you want to work with a VA who is local to you or one that is further afield. Do remember that, as the name suggests, Virtual Assistants work ‘Virtually’. If you want someone to come and work in house then really you need to look for a PA or admin Assistant in an employment position, otherwise you are risking a breach of the IR35 regulations. One reason however for choosing a VA in a certain location can be price, as VAs in different areas of the UK charge different prices. Prices in London being much higher than prices in Cumbria, for example.
According to the UK VA Survey published this month* the average price of VA’s in London is £27.66 per hour, whereas in Cumbria the average VA charges around £24.81 per hour. I am based in North Cumbria, and I have quite a few clients based in the South of the UK who don’t wish to pay the higher southern prices, and that’s fine, they are great clients and that worked best for them.
A quick side note on International Virtual Assistants. Many people are aware that there are exceedingly cheap VA’s in foreign countries, such as the Philippines and Indonesia. If you are passing on work of a confidential nature with any form of personal data or financial work, DO NOT send it to a Virtual Assistant outside of the EU, as you may find yourself in breach of the GDPR and Data Protection laws. Your insurance may also not protect you for loss of data sent abroad either. Having said this, if all you want is a graphic creating, a logo design, video editing or anything that doesn’t include the element listed above, then it can be a good option. Bear in mind though the old adage, ‘you get what you pay for’. It’s not always true, some foreign VA’s are fantastic (I know some great one’s in the Philippines), but remember their English spelling and grammar may not be as comprehensive as a UK based VA. Plus, you or they may be subject to fees if you are paying them from a UK bank account.
Where can I find a Virtual Assistant?
There are several ways of finding the right Virtual Assistant for you, and now you have armed yourself with the knowledge above, you can set about finding one. So where do you start?
Word of Mouth / Referrals
Lots of people already use Virtual Assistants, so ask around. People who work with a good VA will usually be more than happy to share their details and chat to you about how it all works and recommend them to you. Word of mouth and referrals are very often the best way to find a Virtual Assistant as it is unusual for someone to recommend a VA that isn’t worth their salt.
Networking is a great way to find a Virtual Assistant, if there isn’t one already in the group, somebody will know one, so do ask when you give your 60 second pitch.
These are great places to find Virtual Assistants, but do exercise some caution when looking. Ideally you want to be visiting directories that only accept Virtual Assistants that meet their strict criteria.
On the Society of Virtual Assistants directory, all Virtual Assistants must adhere to the following to be included in the directory:
- Have professional email addresses and websites to ensure client security.
- Back up data securely off site.
- Answer phone calls or emails received within office hours next working day or to have an answerphone or autoresponder telling clients of their return date.
- Only take on tasks which they are fully capable of completing and carry suitable professional indemnity insurance.
- Be registered Data Controllers with the Information Commissioners Office.
So, you know that any Virtual Assistant on that directory is running a sound business and knows their stuff.
There are other directories out there too that use criteria or only add Virtual Assistants who have achieved certain awards. Our top three recommendations are:
If none of the above options are for you, then a good old fashioned online search would work for you. Using search phrases such as “Virtual Assistant [and your county/town/city]” is a good place to start. When you are searching however, there are a lot of misleading adverts on Google that state they are based in your town, when in fact they are not, so try not to go by the paid adverts and look at those that appear in the organic search results instead.
Important things to check before signing that contract
So, you’ve found a VA or two who have captured your attention, and now you need to do some research. Some of this can be done online, information can also be found on their website and social media channels, and you can speak to them directly with any other questions you may have.
These are the things you need to look for before working with a Virtual Assistant.
All Virtual Assistants should be registered as a Data Protection controller with the Information Commissioners Office. You can check to see if someone is registered here, either by searching for their name or their business name:
You don’t want to be working with a Virtual Assistant who is not registered.
Your future VA should also have a good knowledge of GDPR. It’s not so easy to research this one, unless they talk about it on their website. When speaking with them, ask how they ensure that they are GDPR Compliant and if they have a Data Protection Agreement as part of their contract. There are certain things that all businesses should have in place and Virtual Assistants are no exception. A VA who takes the time to understand GDPR and take care to comply is the kind of VA you want to work with.
Again, all Virtual Assistants need to be insured, at the very least with Professional Liability insurance. You are quite within your rights to ask if they are. Although it may not seem like something you need to worry about (them being insured), if they are not insured then what else have they not put in place?
Many companies wanting to outsource their work are wary because of IR35. It is the Virtual Assistant’s responsibility to check that they are working with you within the boundaries of IR35, so ask them about this. Bear in mind also that they may need to ask you for certain information in order to run their checks. A good VA will know about IR35.
Contracts and Terms and Conditions are there for both your protection and the VA’s protection. If there is no contract, then don’t entertain working with them. It is vital that something is put in place to protect both parties. The contract should include a Data Protection Agreement as well.
Please also read the contract before you sign it and make sure you are happy with everything. Most Virtual Assistants are happy to sign an NDA if you ask them, as long as it doesn’t restrict them from working with any of their present or future clients.
It is not usual for a Virtual Assistant to sign your contract, remember this is outsourced work and not an employee that you are taking on and by dictating hours or holiday allowance in a contract of your own, could push you and the Virtual Assistant outside the realms of IR35.
Anti-Money Laundering Registration
If you require any kind of financial services from your VA, whether that be bookkeeping, invoicing via an online accounting system, etc. Then your Virtual Assistant absolutely must be registered (or carry an official exemption) with HMRC’s Anti Money Laundering Register. You can check to see if they are registered here or ask them if they have been offered an exemption:
Testimonials / References
It’s not unheard of for clients to ask VA’s for references from their existing or previous clients. You can usually find these on their website, but the best place to look for testimonials is on Google or LinkedIn, as these are left directly by the clients. You are well within your rights to ask for a copy of them.
What services could I ask a Virtual Assistant to help me with?
There is a VA out there for pretty much anything and everything, and many VA’s offer a range of services, whereas some specialise in certain areas, in fact the words ‘Virtual Assistant’ is really an umbrella term. So, depending on what you want, you could look for a VA that specialises in that area.
Examples areas that VA’s can specialise in are:
Managing emails, diaries, typing, communications, etc.
Industry specialises e.g. Property, Hospitality, Outdoor education, event planning, HR, Law…
Creative / Graphic Design
Have a conversation with your prospective Virtual Assistant.
This is probably one of the best ways to work out whether a VA is for you is to speak to them, get to know them. By doing this, not only can you ask them about any of the above things, but you can also get a good read of someone just by having a chat. You may find that you have a lot in common and that you really click or you may think, “hmm something just isn’t right here” and decide that it just wouldn’t be a good fit, and that’s ok too. Trust your gut and go with the one that feels right. I firmly believe that there is a right VA for everybody out there, but sometimes it takes a couple of goes to find the right one.
At the end of the day, you need to have a good relationship with your virtual assistant as you will be working closely together, you need to trust them implicitly, have good two-way, open communication and this can only work if you know they have everything they should have in place, they are skilled and experienced in their area of expertise and you are both a good fit.
So, it is really worth taking the time to research the above points before signing that contract and ensuring that you have done everything you can to ensure that you are outsourcing to a professional and reputable Virtual Assistant with whom you can build a strong, long-term relationship with.
*Source: UK Virtual Assistant Survey v12 – for more information please visit www.societyofVirtualAssistants.co.uk