All You Need To Know About My Firsthand Experience With Hiring Virtual Assistants

Finding and hiring virtual assistants (VAs) depends on where you live, what sort of activities do you need to be covered by your Virtual Assistant (VA), how would you expect to interact with them, the level of proficiency in English or the requirements to deal with a specific market.

People delegate different activities to their assistance – from website maintenance, social media, and content production through scheduling appointments and helping out with travel plans to dealing with paperwork, hiring, organizing events and whatnot.

In fact, I’ve seen paralegals, web developers, accountants who sell themselves as virtual assistants simply because they land more business as VAs in their own field due to the ambiguity of the term itself.

Some entrepreneurs and business owners delegate phone calls or support to their VAs. Time zone coverage and proficiency in the local language are obviously required.

Some countries have vague definitions for VAs and said VAs may be more experienced in some areas than others. Some do offer design or development services but a professional designer or developer will promote themselves as such instead of welcoming general administrative assistance work through their title.

What Tasks Most Virtual Assistants Work On

hiring virtual assistants

Virtual assistants are, by definition, supposed to assist a small business owner or a professional with general activities such as:

  • Filtering and forwarding emails
  • Basic (1st level) customer support or live chat
  • Posting updates on social media
  • Data entry or research
  • Travel arrangement/planning
  • Organizing content or sorting our your documents
  • Helping out with presentations
  • Uploading videos or updating content based on predefined requirements

But I also have VAs who do several things that support my content work such as:

  • Compiling relevant industry news worth commenting on/sharing
  • Create images for attaching (or within posts)
  • Turn quotes into images with my photos
  • Repurpose video content into text snippets
  • Extract audio from videos as podcasts
  • Aggregate multiple small pieces into larger posts

It ends up being my content but saves a lot of time.

When you need a writer, you hire a writer.

Looking for a designer? Hire a designer.

Eager to invest in development? Hire a developer.

That is not to undermine the virtual assistant position. We have 4 VAs on staff who are instrumental in various activities surrounding the business needs. However, we do employ the right people who have spent years and years on a subject requiring focused expertise for the designated roles.

I wrote a detailed guide for Entrepreneur.com on searching, vetting, hiring and onboarding VAs after interviewing over a hundred candidates and working with VAs for a few years now: Hire A Smart Assistant And Focus Only On Increasing Your Business Value

Virtual Assistant vs Onsite Admin

This depends on what you need them to do. Cost is not necessarily a factor, except for having to allocate an office space, a computer, desk, chair, and the like.

If your business is fully in-house, i.e. you conduct meetings locally, need them to arrange some shopping and delivery, help with governmental paperwork and customs, then a remote VA would not really be of use.

That’s especially valid in the event of a language barrier. For instance, I live in Bulgaria, and certain activities need to be conducted in Bulgarian (so a foreign VA is unlikely to be able to help).

That said, I hired my first remote VA early in 2015. Most of their day-to-day was research, compiling content for email newsletters, helping with social media monitoring, creating images with Canva — tasks that don’t require being able to help locally.

I also hired another VA a few months ago who is an American living about 300 miles away from me. She can help with some phone calls and arranging purchases locally as she knows the local language, even though she isn’t at the office.

We have someone locally who deals with paperwork, shopping, washing cars and other admin activities that usually don’t require a computer at all. It’s a different assistance role that often requires coordinating service firms (air conditioners, ordering doors or chairs for the office, receiving packages from the customs).

The bottom line, a VA may be just as helpful if the nature of the work is fully remote. Otherwise, a local team member may be required for practical reasons.

Virtual Assistant Company vs An Independent VA

Would you rather hire a virtual assistant company or an independent VA?

If price is a considerable factor, certainly an individual.

Every organization has its own operative overhead. There’s no way around it. So hiring a person half- or full-time from a company isn’t always the cheapest deal.

A company offering VA services (or learsing staff) excels in other qualities such as:

  • An established and proven process for conducting basic VA activities
  • Preselection, hiring, onboarding, generic qualification
  • A legal entity that could be seized in the event of a violation (of all sorts)
  • Flexibility in the form of ad-hoc tasks, employing multiple people per account, and different payment plans

One other flaw of companies is revealed with long-term contracts for critical assignments — think of an Executive Virtual Assistant or other responsible activities (compared to menial tasks).

Top tech companies don’t lease engineers from outsourcing firms.

Top marketing agencies don’t offload a contract to a random employee in another marketing firm.

A personal approach is required, which requires a thorough interview, a test phase, and building a level of trust that can later be built upon.

Some agencies “may” offer that personalized option, but most don’t. And even so, especially for non-full-time tasks, it gets trickier to ensure a smooth ongoing process.

Where To Find A Virtual Assistant

company hiring

If you have decided to work with Filipinos, OnlineJobs.ph is a good place to start.

OnlineJobs

The OnlineJobs search filters for VA roles allow you to fine-tune your requirements. Most people are looking for full-time (or at least half-time) opportunities as well. This is important for long-term roles.

You can see their full-time salary expectations and take it from there.

Upwork

I’ve found that Filipino VAs on Upwork are primarily looking for one-off jobs. This commands higher rates, just as freelance fees are significantly higher than the average hourly rate of a full-time hire.

Otherwise, you’ll likely receive a blended fee for a full-time job that’s about twice the average on Online Jobs for a similar profile.

Plenty of Filipino VAs hadn’t signed up for Upwork, too.

But if you look internationally, Upwork definitely provides diversity (compared to a local market).

Other than that, there are specialized websites and leasing companies like Zirtual, Red Butler, Fancy Hands that offer VA services for a few hours a week, half-time, or full-time. 

Why Most Entrepreneurs Prefer Filipino VAs

I hired my first Filipino VA 3 years ago.

It wasn’t a top priority for me but I stumbled upon a webinar by John Jonas who runs OnlineJobs.ph

The gist of the lengthy webinar was the following:

  • There are plenty of online activities that are tedious, take time, and don’t require a lot of expertise/background.
  • Some processes are fairly standard. This means that a VA has probably performed them at some point in a previous job.
  • Filipinos are more affordable when compared to VAs in the US, UK, Australia or other first-world countries.
  • Their English is fairly good – for the most part. I’ve spoken to some who really couldn’t handle basic writing, let alone activities such as live chat or even scheduling appointments.
  • Virtual Assistance is quite common in the Filippines as BPO is popular there – so people often have the right background and thinking process.
  • Their culture is friendly. Most of them are really family-oriented and religious, less entrepreneur-ish, passionate about finding online opportunities to work-from-home and working in different fields (including an international company).

All in all, it was a safe bet. Since John has mentioned Online Jobs, I did enjoy the ability to filter through a long list of CVs and their payment expectations. I generally don’t enjoy the negotiation process during interviews so it was a win for me.

interviewing virtual assistants

Issues When Working With Virtual Assistants

We had a part-time assistant on-site, but her role was primarily related to office assistance tasks, communication with clients and the like. Hiring someone full-time in charge of certain research, data entry, formatting and editing activities, social media support, etc. was worth it.

We’ve also had some issues down the road. Some of our trial VAs required a lot of training or lacked basic skills (or were somewhat “lazy” in terms of figuring out the connection between two basic steps).

Due to the weather conditions in the country, electricity or Internet outages are not uncommon at all in some areas. The worst part is that seems “expected” and “normal” to some candidates, who have been out of touch for a few days and then come back to work, as if nothing happened. This required some adjustments in our interviewing process.

Some had repetitively apologized for sick leaves, an ill parent, obituaries and what not. I really feel compassionate about those things, but being off 6 weeks in a 2-month period due to 6 sick relatives may be a bit stressful on the other end, too.

You may end up working with a slow typist using an old laptop with a slow Internet connection. It’s generally a problem for many jobs so take that into account.

So it may still be worth working with a Filipino VA. There is certainly a culture difference if you aren’t used to working with them. 

It’s worth noting that some countries have a slightly different VA culture than the norm. It’s not uncommon for starting VAs to receive “on the job training” for any type of specialty – from lead generation through accounting to web development.

Some of those VAs have spent 5+ years mainly specializing in a single field and this may be the case with one of the VAs you’ve been looking into.

But with the right background research and a proper interview and trial process, it could be a great opportunity.

How To Maximize The Benefit of Hiring VAs

reasons virtual assistants fail

Start with one clear and easily measurable task.

Could be research, social media planning, image editing, whatever you deem important yet less confidential and fairly trivial.

Ideally, the task should be:

  1. Repeatable, i.e. once put in motion, they can follow and execute on your behalf.
  2. Easy to follow, dependent on common skills and a simple process.
  3. Limited in time, or taking equally long once repeated.
  4. A good case study for the rest of the day-to-day work.

Most VAs I’ve tested fail very fast because of one or more of the following reasons:

  • Lack of basic web/digital skills (including a Google search mojo)
  • Major or easily noticeable grammar or “attention to detail” problems
  • The inability to follow simple steps or instructions
  • Take a ridiculous amount of time on basic tasks

Needless to say, you need punctuality, crisp communication, and quality work done in a timely manner.

Make sure you gauge these as early as possible. Find a VA that could execute and convince them to stick around.

Want to get more hiring tips? Check out The Practical Guide to Hiring Employees.

Your thoughts?