Are you plagued by negative ideas of working with virtual assistants? Are these thoughts holding you back from taking your business to the next level?
It's easy to get wrapped up on the notion of what working with a VA might mean. If it's your first experience, you just don't know what you don't know. If you've worked with VA's before, the experience may have left a negative taste in your mouth.
Most business owners dread the thought of training a new virtual staff. Apart from the apparent lack of physical presence, it conjures up feelings of migraines and misunderstandings. However, the monsters you have created in your imagination are much bigger than reality.
Virtual assistants are quickly replacing secretaries or in-house administrative assistants. The flexible work environment and freedom to pick and choose their clients makes working remotely appealing to many.
Businesses of all sizes are beginning to understand the benefits of working with virtual assistants. However, like all things, there is some work you need to do to get the best possible outcome.
Once you've found and hired your first virtual assistant, the next step is to get them trained. Of course, if you haven't hired your first VA yet, Virtual A Team can help.
So let's dive in to a little training of your own, how to train your virtual assistant...
Get Out of Your Way
Are you ready for a little brutal honesty? Did you know that YOU are the biggest problem when it comes to training your VA? Yes, go ahead and gasp. Mouth the ‘who, me?’ question with your eyes widened in disbelief.
But it's true. To your credit, you probably don't know what you don't know. You might be the biggest problem but it's not entirely your fault.
So let's see how to get yourself out of the way.
First step, making up your mind to fully train your VA.
The problem with training your VA is neither overtraining nor incorrect training. The main problem is the absolute lack of training.
Most people think that hiring a VA and putting them to work immediately is the way to go. Well, dear, that way only leads to yelling, aspirins, and weekends spent watching Sharknado reruns because you are too tired from work to change the crap on screen.
VAs are not laptops that you can just turn on and start using. Neither can you wave a wand and have them doing exactly what you want. You’re no Professor Dumbledore, but if you are, my apologies, please.
For other mortal humans like me, whose only superpower is turning off alarms and going right back to sleep, it’s time to get out of your own way. And here are three keys that will help you do just that.
Define the Role
Don’t hire a VA without understanding the role he or she will play.
What do you want your VA to do for you? What will be the main responsibilities of the VA? Do you want your VA to fight trolls on social media? Define the role in the clearest of terms before placing that job ad.
Next, you should consider the skill-set the VA needs to possess in order to fill the role properly. Will your ideal VA be fluent in troll-speak? Put that down.
Lastly, will you be interacting with the VA or is there anyone else on your team that will take the responsibility? Whatever your decision, ensure that your choice is a good tag-team partner with your VA.
This is the main key that ensures a smooth collaboration between you and your VA for as long as the deal holds. Setting expectations leaves no room for guesswork.
Try not to assume your VA will know what you are thinking or what you want without saying. Only husbands are supposed to be held to that responsibility. So ensure you S-P-E-L-L out exactly what you expect from the VA.
However, the bulk of the expectations does not rest on your assistant alone. You also have to hold up your end of the deal.
So how do you go about setting expectations? Here are some things you should consider:
- Remuneration: You bet I was going to start from there. How much are you willing to pay your VA? Figure out the amount and ensure your VA is okay with it before doing any other thing.
- Payment time: When do you plan on paying the money? Will it be daily, weekly, monthly, or when the full moon rises? P.s if your VA chooses the full moon option, you are dealing with a werewolf in disguise. Cease all communication and go off the grid immediately.
- Progress report: How do you plan on tracking the progress of work being done by your VA? Will you be micromanaging every minute and risk being hated by your VA? Or will you take the laissez faire approach and hope it does not turn out disastrous?
- Response time: Are you one of those who gets frustrated at having your messages left unread? Then pay attention! What is the response time that is expected between you and your VA? Two hours interval? 30 seconds interval? Or no interval at all? Do you want them replying as soon as you hit the send button? Then write it down in stone. And I mean that figuratively.
- Assessment: How will you react if the work done by your VA does not meet your standards? Will you fly off the handle or send your VA flying to where he or she came from? You decide.
Remember when your mom told you that assumption is the mother of all mistakes?
She was absolutely right!
I know, we are in the world of autocorrect and smart keyboards that know the next thing we plan to type. But carrying that mentality into your business can spell tragedy.
No leader, worth his salt, should ever assume their staff knows what they should have said or what they meant to say. Not heeding to this can be a recipe for disaster.
In essence, your VA is not a mind reader. Please ignore this statement if your VA is auditioning for a place in Hogwarts. However, for muggles with non-wizarding abilities, don’t expect your VA to do anything different from the instructions you have given him or her.
Nevertheless, this does not mean your VA cannot connect the dots or is bereft of common sense. It simply means that you should be concise and clear about what you want.
I truly want you to understand this fact, and so I am going to illustrate with two common assumptions in the workplace.
“My VA will know what I mean by doing this (insert task here) in a reasonable amount of time.”
What is your definition of a reasonable amount of time? Is it an hour? Three hours? A whole day?
Whatever it is, I can guarantee that it will be much different from your VA’s definition. So instead of giving such vague instructions that is open to many interpretations, take a definite stance that is clear to both parties.
Therefore, don’t say: “Please do ____ in a reasonable amount of time. But don’t let it take too much of your time.”
Instead, try this: “Please do ____ in an hour. If you need more time, let me know.”
Can you see how clear the second instruction sounds?
One advantage of setting time limits is that your VA will try to finish whatever task you have assigned within the given time. However, don’t throw up your hands and reach for the drinks cabinet if you are asked for extra time. Apart from the fact that it gives you a shameless excuse to drink, your assistant definitely needs it or they would not have asked.
“My VA will ask me for help if a task is too difficult.”
Humans are hardwired to not fail each other especially someone they see as a superior. Most people would rather want to figure out how to do a seemingly difficult job than ask for help.
Asking for help is seen as a sign of failing or letting others down. To counter this, let your VA know that you are open to all questions except those dealing with your bowel movement.
Never assume anything. Be concise and clear.
Now that we have gotten you out of the way, let’s look at the three methods you can use to train your virtual assistant.
Methods of Training
Write Them Down
Contrary to opinions from millenials or generation Z, email is not old-school. Its speed, efficiency, mobility, and reliability has sustained its popularity, in spite of the numerous messaging services available now.
Most of the communication between you and your assistant will be through email. So it’s important that you get your writing skills up-to-par. I am not suggesting that you write like Shakespeare, just ensure that you can leave simple and clear instructions for your assistant to follow without guidance.
You could also make use of the editing programs in Google Drive that allows feedback and comments. Better still, take advantage of screen capture software like Jing, Snagit, or Morae. What these guys primarily do is to take screenshots of your computer display which you can then forward to your VA.
Some additional tips
- Every email should have a clear objective. Don’t lump two or three tasks in an email.
- Use a separate folder to store important documents.
- Be generous with bullet points. Last I checked they are free, so make ample use of them.
Do you despair at the thought of writing and feel some things might get lost in translation? Then audio recordings are the way to go. All it requires is to record your message on a laptop using software such as GarageBand for Mac or Audicity for PC devices.
While recording your instructions, resist the temptation to bark orders like Mein Führer ordering his troops to their death. Simply talk as if you are face-to-face with your assistant.
Some additional tips
- Don’t ramble. The only person who wants to hear you talk for hours is your mum. And even she may have a breaking point. Just get to the point.
- Be clear. Ditch the fake British accent for when you are cosplaying as the queen and pass your message in clear tones.
- Use labels. Don’t title your audio files instruction 001, instruction 002, and so forth. Apart from being blah, it's a massive time waster. Instead, put a title on all your recordings. Each title should summarize what is contained in the file.
- Be organized. A person who would dump long minutes of recordings containing several instructions on someone is no different from one who puts pineapple on their pizza. Both are unforgivable offences in my opinion. So, try not to be that jerk. Create different folders in Dropbox and save the instructions by topic. It makes searching easy.
- Save. Don’t throw your recordings in the trash because you feel your VA is now an expert. You can use it to train other VAs you choose to employ later on.
- Skype. How can I forget this? Skype can be used to organize live trainings and they don’t have to be videos. Just select the audio option and you are good to go.
Work That Cam
If Google directed you to this page because you want tips on working your camera as a cam-girl, I’m sorry for the “misleading” caption. It can be like that sometimes.
Now to my audience.
You can also use video recordings to disseminate information to your new VA. And there are variety of options to choose from.
First option is to make a recording of yourself so your VA can see what you look like and also notice how you place emphasis on certain tasks. One advantage of this method is that it builds rapport between the both of you.
If you are not interested in revealing your face or you’re video-shy, then shoot screencasts. Don’t worry, they don’t require a Mensa IQ to do. Screencasts are simply videos of only your computer screen and they are preferred by most for reasons given below:
- There is little or no room for confusion. The combination of audio and visual recordings makes it super easy for your VA to grasp your message.
- Absolutely anyone can produce them.
- Training is done whenever you feel like it. You don’t have to worry about timing your schedule to sync with that of your VA.
- It can be stored for future reference.
Also, a live webcam session can be right up your alley. I highly recommend it if you are training more than one assistant. Just get on Skype or Google Hangout, and have a group session where everyone can see each other.
Before you make a single video, check YouTube. Not for cat videos, mind you, but to see if the training you want to make has already been created. YouTube is a motherlode of useful information.
You can find videos that cover everything under the sun. Whether it is customizing your website or learning advanced Excel, YouTube has it. So feel free to leverage on it in order to save time and, of course, money. Just don’t get distracted with the cat videos.
How to Simplify the Training Process
In this section, we shall adopt two practices that will make the training as easy as devouring pizza.
Know the repetitive tasks
One of the ways to simplify the training process is to single out the repetitive tasks that your VA will be required to do. Yup, identify those activities that have to be done on an ongoing basis to keep everything going smoothly. It does not matter if the task is done daily, weekly, biweekly, or monthly.
After the identification, create an easy-to-follow template for your VA. Doing this will help you avoid needless problems in the future. Whenever your VA encounters any issues with the daily tasks, he or she just needs to consult the template you have already made.
Lest I forget, don’t make your template over the top and complicated. Keep it simple. Virtual A Team has procedure templates that can be a great start for you.
Make your own Special FAQ
As a smart business person, like I know you are, you obviously have a FAQ section on your website for your customers. If FAQ looks strange to you, well you are about to become smarter because I will do a quick summary.
FAQ means frequently asked questions about your products and services. It is basically a life and business saver. Your business website is just not complete without it. But I digress.
What do I mean by a special FAQ?
Every organization, including yours, usually have situations that come up again and again. However, unless there is a set of laid down rules for dealing with them, your staff might just invent ways to get answers for themselves. Answers which you might definitely not like.
This is where your special FAQ comes in.
It is almost the same thing as the easy-to-follow template you prepared earlier. But whereas that template deals with repetitive tasks, the special FAQ solely focuses on situations that may constantly repeat themselves.
Confused? Let me help you with some instances:
- An outraged client sends a nasty email filed with f-bombs and cuss words. How would you want your VA to react? Should your company’s customer procedures be followed or should you be informed?
- A client asks for a large discount. Should the request be considered, ignored, or turned down?
Get the picture?
I told you training your VA is not as hard as it looks. You only need to be informed and then you are good to go. It might look daunting at first, especially if you’re doing it for the first time. But you don’t have to get it perfect on your first try.
As long as you keep at it and look for ways to continually improve, it will soon become a walk in the park.