One of the first hires an independent consultant often makes is an assistant. This resource guides you through how to hire a virtual assistant.
Benefits of having an assistant
- Protects your focus: Rather than jumping from task to task or being distracted by smaller administrative items, emails, or phone calls, an assistant to handle these things helps keep you focused on the bigger, revenue-generating work.
- Protects your time: An assistant can manage your calendar and schedule meetings, as well as be a buffer for interruptions.
- Supports value-creation opportunities:
- Grow your business development efforts
- Systemize your practice
- Deliver on client experience
- Oversee delegation
- Free you up to pursue opportunities, such as writing a book or starting a podcast.
Functions an assistant can support
When you think about the tasks an assistant can do for you, think about the routine administrative tasks in your business that can be easily delegated.
- Scheduling meetings
- Setting appointments
- Arranging speaking engagements
- Block time for business development or client project work
- CRM management
- Identify prospective clients for outreach
- Lead generation
- Schedule follow-up items
- Separate incoming emails by urgency (immediate, end of day, spam and unsubscribe, etc.)
- Identify emails that require your personal attention
- Redirect emails as needed to appropriate members of your team
- Reply on your behalf to routine email types
Bookkeeping and invoices
- General bookkeeping
- Prepare and send invoices
- Follow-up on past-due invoices
- Pay subcontractors or other vendors
- Organize receipts
- Track and categorize expenses
- Handle expense reimbursements
- Prepare reports (such as in Expensify or QuickBooks)
- Review files
- Organize them in client and internal files
- Ensure appropriate access is granted and removed
- Maintain folders by methodology
- Clean up documents
- Research travel options
- Book tickets
- Make reservations
- Manage your LinkedIn profile
- Make connection requests
- Respond to comments
- Produce graphics and captions for posts
- Manage other social channels (Twitter, etc)
- Venue research and booking
- Speaker booking
- Vendor management
- Manage invites and attendees
- Pre- and post-event communication
- Research for support of client work delivery
- Expert research and sourcing
- Vendor research
Podcast and newsletter support
- Conduct research in preparation for podcast episodes
- Identify, contact, and schedule potential guests
- Write up interview/episode notes
- Assist with newsletter production
- Maintain mailing list and email marketing
- Website maintenance/blog
Support client project work
- Produce PowerPoint slides
- Support preparation of proposals for clients
- Maintain and update your project list
- Prepare and send contracts
- Order supplies and gifts
- Develop and document standard operating procedures
- Schedule personal appointments
- Book personal travel
- Pick up dry cleaning
- Send out holiday cards
- Schedule home cleaning or maintenance services
Other administrative tasks include:
- Taking meeting notes & minutes
- Data entry
- Data analytics
- Recruiting and onboarding
Identifying what tasks to delegate
Make a list of the tasks you can potentially delegate to an assistant, then consider the following factors for each task:
- Frequency: How often do you do the task?
- Time: How much time does the task take?
- Complexity: How easy would the task be to delegate and train someone else to do?
- Trust: How much trust does the task require? (such as access to email, social media accounts, or financial information)
- Energy balance: Is the task one that drains your energy, or that you find fulfilling?
For example, perhaps one of your identified tasks is sending out invites to podcast guests. This is a repeating, time-consuming task that could easily be delegated — but you enjoy the outreach and personal interaction with the guests. Therefore, you may prefer to continue handling this task yourself.
On the other hand, perhaps preparing and submitting invoices to your clients is a task you find draining. This would be a good task to give to an assistant.
Delegate tasks that are done frequently, easy, and drain your energy. Hold on to tasks that are occasional, more complex or hard to delegate, and that you enjoy doing.
How many hours should you hire an assistant for?
Determining how much time you should assign an assistant depends on your needs and tasks. Here are some considerations.
Keep in mind that you need to provide an assistant with a minimum number of hours per week to make the job meaningful enough that they will prioritize it. Generally, this means at least 5-10 hours a week.
If your budget allows, booking an assistant as their only or primary client (or bringing them on as an employee) will ensure that you have their full focus and attention, rather than sharing them with other clients. Their availability is guaranteed and they are dedicated exclusively to your practice.
If you’re using a part-time virtual assistant, perhaps from a website such as Upwork or Fiverr, their availability can’t be guaranteed. Likewise, when an assistant isn’t exclusive to you, they are splitting their attention between various clients and projects.
Full-time doesn’t mean 40 hours
Hiring an assistant or retaining them as their sole client does not necessarily mean you must full-time hours. Many assistants prefer an opportunity offering 20 or 30 hours per week.
You will likely find that once you start using an assistant, over time you will find their services valuable and identify more tasks to assign them. Discuss at the beginning their potential availability down the line for working additional hours.
Cost of an assistant
How much you will pay an assistant depends on a number of factors:
- The tasks they are performing for you
- Their skill and experience level
- Whether they are an admin virtual assistant or higher-level executive assistant
- The location where you work, and/or where the assistant is based
- Whether they are a contractor or an employee
Umbrex conducted a survey of independent consultants who use an assistant, and asked what they pay the assistant. The ranges, by geographic region, are:
- United States: $15-80USD per hour (with an average of $38)
- Europe: $40-70USD per hour
- Philippines & India: $4-10USD per hour
Steps to take before looking for an assistant
Before you begin your search, start with the following:
- Have a clear understanding of your needs and expectations. Sometimes people wait to hire an assistant until they’re overwhelmed. Take the time to organize your tasks and things to delegate, and can clearly communicate this.
- Know what you’re able to outsource — the methods above should help you identify this.
- Make a list of questions you want to ask any potential assistant.
- Know the turn-around times you expect for tasks, and make sure those align with reality and the number of hours you plan to retain an assistant.
- Make sure you have processes in place that the assistant can follow. If you do not have clear standard operating procedures, especially for your administrative tasks, this would be a good time to develop them.
How to find an assistant
Your personal network of contacts is one of the best places to start. Put the word out to colleagues and people in your circle, and ask for recommendations.
Numerous websites offer the ability to both search for an assistant who matches your needs, as well as post a job listing. Some recommended websites for this include the following.
This is often the best way to find an assistant, particularly if you need someone who is LinkedIn savvy to perform tasks on the platform.
Sheyi Lisk-Carew found her assistant this way, and recommends letting them shadow you at first to gain the best understanding of how you work.
Fiverr and Upwork
These service platforms can be good places to find assistants to perform one-time or occasional tasks, small projects, or if you just need someone a few hours per month.
The disadvantage of these platforms is that you’re locked into paying through the platform, which takes a commission from what they pay the worker. For ongoing work and more hours you would likely be better off recruiting directly.
This job platform only lists remote jobs, and can be a good place to post a virtual assistant position.
Luiz Zorzella posted a job on ZipRecruiter to find his executive assistant. First, he created an Excel spreadsheet with a list of the tasks and processes required, including their complexity, priority, frequency, and time table. Next, he identified the traits he required in an assistant.
Those two things became the basis of the job ad he posted. After reviewing applicants’ CVs, he conducted a Zoom interview with those he liked.
There are a number of Virtual Assistant agencies you can use. With these services, you pay the agency directly and it, in turn, pays the assistant. Consultants report mixed results from using such services. Companies that have been recommended are listed below.
This agency provides virtual assistants as well as accounting services, website specialists, and social media managers. Recommended by Kathryn Valentine, who used Belay for her first executive assistant hire because she “didn’t know what she didn’t know.” If the assistant didn’t work out, she liked the safety net of knowing Belay would replace them within two weeks.
“I reached out to Belay about six months before I was ready, and then again six weeks before I wanted someone to start,” Valentine says. “The process was great, and my new EA is good. The business has tripled since we hired her, which would not have been possible if I was still in the small details.”
Offering virtual assistant services for sales support, calendaring and scheduling, email management, blog and content creation, trip planning, social media management, bookkeeping, and more. myVA.rocks offers several packages starting at $299/month for seven hours per month, or on a straight $38/hour basis.
Recommended by Guillem Garcia, who reached out to founder Ashley Quinto Powell initially as a revenue consultant. “Upon discussing my case with her, she proposed to engage a VA as a complement to working with her on sales. That would both keep costs lower and reduce implementation effort on my end. Find someone you trust and who can advise you on how to structure the help you seek,” Garcia says.
CEO and Founder Kathy Goughenour developed a trademarked process for coaching and training expert virtual assistants, who are then a Certified Virtual Expert®. She offers matching services through her agency.
She is recommended by Toopan Bagchi. “I took advantage of a matchmaking package where someone posts the role for you, screens the candidates, and recommends finalists for you to connect with. The screening interviews were recorded and transcribed and a writeup was provided indicating why the candidates were recommended,” he says.
Virtual assistants in other countries
Many companies, including Umbrex, utilize virtual assistants based in the Philippines, for example.
- Do some vetting with the use of tools such as cognitive tests, personality tests, and English proficiency tests.
- Request that the candidate do a voice recording, especially if they will be talking with clients, vendors, or other team members.
- Request work samples relevant to what they’ll be doing for you. For example, presentations they’ve done, social media campaigns, copywriting, etc.
- Ensure they are set up with the critical infrastructure such as reliable internet and power, perhaps a back-up generator.
- Discuss time zone and working hours; most VAs in other countries will work your operating hours.
- Decide how the assistant prefers to be paid and what works for you. Popular options include PayPal, Payoneer, Wise, and Calm.
Making the most of your assistant
Once you have identified and brought on an assistant, there are some best practices that will help you make the most of their services.
Have a clear contractual agreement, with terms surrounding confidentiality, non-compete, etc. detailed.
Have clear expectations of what you expect from the assistant — and make sure these are communicated and transparent. Perhaps start the working relationship off with an introductory interview to set up these expectations and the assistant’s workload.
Set definable measures of success. David A. Fields developed an approach he calls “3 Rocks”:
- What signals your consulting firm’s performance is “Rock Bottom” and demands immediate corrective action?
- For each metric in your dashboard, what performance level will you consider “Rock Solid” and indicate that no changes to your approach are needed?
- What “Rock Star” level of achievement warrants recognition, double-dipped chocolate celebration and, perhaps, additional investments to build on your strengths?
Set tactical goals for both your assistant and yourself, and review these on a regular basis. Using a task/project management tool such as Asana or Monday helps organize the tasks you assign to a virtual assistant.
Give your assistant constant feedback — but also be open to feedback yourself. You will likely have to test and iterate as you go along. Give your assistant permission to be your accountability partner.
Make your feedback clear and actionable, particularly with tasks that don’t fully meet your expectations. Provide specific instructions or examples so they know not just what they’re doing wrong, but exactly how to complete their work to your specifications.
You could also have your assistant provide you with a recap of their completed and in-progress tasks, perhaps via email, on a daily or weekly basis. You may also want to set up a regular phone call or Zoom session to review.
Tips from other independent consultants
In a survey conducted by Umbrex, many independent consultants shared their experience and advice for utilizing assistants.
Consider virtual, in-office, or hybrid
Most people use a virtual assistant, but some consultants find that in-person or a hybrid role has advantages.
Luis Zorzella hired a virtual assistant through ZipRecruiter, but next time would hire someone geographically close so they could sometimes meet in person. “From time to time, there are things where proximity or the option to meet makes a difference,” he says.
Take the time to match needed traits and experience up-front
Ritam Biswas’ boutique firm requires an assistant who understands the start-up culture and specific needs of his clients in that space. “It is a high-pressure job. Searching for the right EA who can understand the pressure, how start-ups work, and take ownership was a difficult task.”
Zorzella identified the three key traits he needed in an assistant, and during the interview process asked candidates to describe a concrete experience reflecting those traits.
Start with a short assignment
Biswas found that trying someone out with a short, paid assignment first helped him to understand how the assistant would perform.
Ulrich Riedel suggests developing small tests in XLS, PPT, and Word that the assistant can solve with screen-sharing. “It gives you a tremendously good sense not only whether the person will deliver your technical demands, but also how clever the person works, and to some degree how good he or she is in problem solving.”
Have a good system for organizing and tracking
Zorzella created an Excel spreadsheet with a list of tasks and processes for his assistant, including complexity, priority, frequency, and time.
Make your assistant feel part of the team
“Getting the assistant up to speed and feeling like a co-worker is important and takes time,” Zorzella said.
Give the assistant a sense of ownership
When your assistant has proven their capabilities, giving them ownership of their work helps cement their commitment and fulfillment in the role.
Give it some time
Initially you will need to invest time and effort into training your assistant and getting processes running smoothly. Riedel says this is time well spent.
“It’s tough in the first weeks and months — but then suddenly you hardly need any interaction anymore, because things just work like clockwork.”
Develop and use SOPs
Riedel also recommends having your assistant develop Standard Operating Procedures for just about everything that is repetitive at least annually, saying it saves time in the long run and greatly helps to eliminate mistakes.
It also makes it easier for future assistants or employees to learn your systems and train more quickly.