Avoiding Virtual Assistant Performance Pitfalls – Part II

Jul 26 22:49 2007 Gayle Buske Print This Article

How can we avoid virtual assistant performance pitfalls?  How can we protect ourselves and the virtual assistant when hiring?

In my last article,Guest Posting Virtual Assistant-Hiring Pitfalls we explored the common hot water items companies face when hiring virtual assistants and how to avoid them. Now it's time to talk about possible performance pitfalls and how we can protect ourselves and the virtual assistant when hiring.What's really most important when hiring a virtual assistant is doing your due-diligence before you make the hire. Just like anyone else, virtual assistants come with their own personality, life issues, and family situations. Making sure they mesh with what you need are paramount to ensuring smooth sailing after you've finally agreed to work with the VA.

Virtual Houdini - The Virtual Assistant Disappearing Act

Yes, it can happen. Back when you worked in the retro bricks-and-mortar world, how often did someone simply not show up for work? They quit, right? Unfortunately this can happen with virtual assistants as well. Perhaps not as often as in the bricks-and-mortar world but it does happen.

Why do virtual assistants quit, disappear, and move on? They do, for the same reasons they quit, disappear, and move on in the bricks-and-mortar world. Maybe they needed more money. Maybe they became ill and could no longer work. Maybe a better offer came along. Maybe they didn't like the work. You can't entirely avoid the situation itself but there are things you can do to minimize the damage if and when it does. Protecting yourself ahead of time for when it does and realizing that it could happen is your best defense.

  • Online files. Not only does putting your files (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc.) online facilitate working virtually, but it also protects you if and when a virtual assistant leaves. Simply change the passwords then she's locked out and you don't lose any files or have to go hunting them down. Check out www.xdrive.com or speak with your website administrator about putting your files up via ftp.
  • Pay withholding. Why not put something in your contract with the virtual assistant that says you reserve the right to withhold pay until work files are returned?
  • Passwords. As soon as a virtual worker leaves or is let go, remember to change your passwords on everything he or she had access to!

What I Say Versus What I Can Do

Would you hire someone to watch your children just because they say they're capable of doing so? I didn't think so. Then why would you hire a virtual assistant (or anyone for that matter) without first finding out what they can do and if they can do what they say they can do? I recommend several steps be taken to test a new virtual assistant contractor before contracting with them. These steps are modeled after our own company's interviewing process, which has evolved over the years. It's a lot of work on your part but very worthwhile. If you don't want to take all of these steps then look for a good virtual staffing agency, like Team Double-ClickSM who does all of the work for you.However, be absolutely sure that you send the virtual assistant a 1099 Miscellaneous Income tax form (in lieu of a W2, which employees only receive) each year.

  1. Job posting. In your case you'll either need to make a posting on a job board, such as CareerBuilder.com, Monster.com, or Craig's List. Or you can search those boards for virtual assistants looking for work.
  2. Typing test. You want to know your new virtual assistant can type...accurately, right? Send him or her to www.typingtest.com and ask for the results back. Look for a high level of accuracy coupled with high speed.
  3. Computer skills test. Again, you want to know your virtual assistant can use Word and Excel. Send her to www.expertrating.com, ask her to take the free Word and Excel (and any others you want to know about) tests and send you the scores.
  4. First interview. Agree on a time and date for the first telephone interview. Then give the potential virtual assistant your number and have her call you. Have your questions ready. Did she show up on time? Did she answer your questions to your satisfaction? Do her skills still fit?
  5. Work personality. You simply must know if the person you are about to contract is honest, has a high level of integrity, is a team player, and so on. We recommend www.totaltesting.com, where you can ask the potential virtual assistant to take such a test. Now this one costs a few bucks. It's up to you whether you want to pay for it or require the virtual assistant to pay for it. Just remember - if you ask her to pay for it and you don't hire her she's not going to be a happy camper.
  6. Second Interview. The cool thing about Total Testing's work personality tests is that they give you another set of questions to ask the candidate during a second interview. Have a friend, spouse, or colleague interview this person the second time. Compare notes. How does each of you feel about this person? Will she work out?
  7. Contract. If you're ready to contract this person it's time to pull out the non-compete, non-disclosure contract we discussed in the last article. Send it to the virtual assistant for review and signing. Be absolutely sure this is signed before putting him or her to work.
  8. EIN and W9. We also discussed, in the last article, requiring the contractor to obtain a (free) EIN (employer identification number) to further protect you from possible employer/employee claims later on down the road. Now's the time to ask for this, along with a completed W9 form.

This is the abbreviated version of our process. We throw in a few things like setting up a company email account, and we have a review process, which each virtual assistant goes through. A team of three HR pros discuss each candidate and determine if a contract will be offered. Because we're a staffing agency, your screening process will look a little different from ours.

Give Me All You Got

Never send a virtual worker a ton of materials (letterheads, envelopes, brochures, etc.). It's just a safeguard. While it is very rare that someone would leave and not return those materials to you, if they did, how much money would you have tied up in replacing all of those expensive printed materials? It's just better not to do it in the first place. Send a virtual worker slightly more than what they need to perform the task at hand.

The Five Finger Discount - Identity Theft/Credit Card Number Theft

One of our clients' biggest concerns has always been identity theft and credit card number theft. In all the years we've been staffing virtually, we've never seen this happen. It may be that the work personality profile is weeding out the people who might be tempted and our HR department is further ferreting out those who are less-than-desirable, but the other half of it is the contractor mentality of a virtual assistant as opposed to the employee mentality of an...employee!

You can minimize your risk by not giving out your credit card information to a virtual assistant. If you need to give the virtual assistant a credit card number for ordering products or services on your behalf, get a separate card that is used for nothing but items the virtual assistant orders for you. It's much easier to check over your bill for erroneous charges this way.

Hours Availability

When hiring a virtual assistant, not only do you need to make sure their skills and abilities mesh with you and your business, but you must also be sure the virtual assistant has enough time to take care of your needs. Very simply ask the potential virtual assistant how many other clients she has, how many hours per week she is working, and how many hours she has to devote to you. Does it work with what you need? If not, move on.

The Rate

I don't know about you, but I've never bought something without first knowing what it was going to cost. Important questions to ask before contracting a virtual assistant:

  1. What is the rate per hour?
  2. Are there different rates for different tasks?
  3. If so what are they?
  4. Do you round to the nearest hour or the nearest minute? To the nearest minute is the most desirable.
  5. Is there a start up fee?
  6. If so, how much?
  7. Is there a termination fee?
  8. If so, how much?
  9. Is there a minimum usage?
  10. If so, how much?
  11. Can you work within my budget? In other words, if I can only afford 10 hours per week, what happens when you've reached 10 hours? How is that handled?
  12. What are your future plans? How long do you intend to be a virtual assistant? Is this a career for you or a short-term venture for some extra cash?

My philosophy when hiring anyone, virtual assistants included, is to hire slowly and fire quickly. Trust your gut. If you don't feel that a virtual assistant is working out, let her go immediately and don't look back. Your gut is probably right. But do take your time hiring. Go through the paces to determine if he or she is the best fit for YOU; it'll minimize the risk that he or she won't work out for you later.

Note: Please look for another article in this series titled "Avoiding Virtual Assistant Performance Pitfalls".

Team Double-ClickSM provides virtual assistance for small and home-based businesses. Visit Team Double Click's Web site at http://www.teamdoubleclick.com or phone 888.827.9129.  Click to receive your free report, 101 Ways To Work With A Virtual Assistant.

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About Article Author

Gayle Buske
Gayle Buske

Gayle Buske is a co-founder, President and CEO of Team Double-ClickSM, the country's foremost virtual staffing agency. As the head of a virtual staffing agency with over 20,000 virtual professionals in its pool, Ms. Buske is uniquely qualified to aid clients' growth through virtual outsourcing as well as speak to the ins and outs of the industry. Gayle enjoys spending her free time with her husband, business and life partner, Jim, their daughter Madison, practicing Yoga, reading, off-roading, hiking, flower gardening, and playing with the family's three dogs and two cats.

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