17 Tips to Manage an Offshore Virtual Assistant

As an entrepreneur trying to build an online business, you know there’s a LOT to do! In the beginning most new entrepreneurs do everything themselves, but eventually it becomes obvious that we need some help.

A virtual assistant (aka a “VA”) is the perfect solution to take care of the million little things the busy entrepreneur just can’t seem to get to. Getting that blog posted, researching customer pain points, organizing the friends lists, making appointments with prospects or clients. The list goes on. 

Offshore assistants are a fantastic resource for the busy business owner. They’re generally low cost, they’re eager to please, they take directions well, and are in general really nice people to work with. 

If you’ve never worked with an offshore virtual assistant before (or you have but it didn’t work out), here are 17 tips to help you manage a virtual assistant to ensure a long and successful relationship.

  1. Be interested in, and caring about, your VA’s personal life. Make sure they know you value them as a person. They’re not just your worker-bee. They’re unique humans with interesting lives. They have kids and families and challenges of their own. Everyone likes to be appreciated and understood. This is a small thing that goes a long way and it’s my #1 tip for good reason.
  2. Be clear and concise when giving instructions on what you want them to do. Assume they know nothing about the task and be as detailed as possible, but get to the point. Focus on the specific outcomes you are looking for. I use a method called “Acceptance Criteria” in my VA’s tasks, which is the list of things that must be true in order for me to accept that the task is done the way I need it to be.
  3. Use appropriate levels of delegation. Productivity guru Michael Hyatt uses a delegation hierarchy that is perfect for managing VAs. You can read about it here. Specifically look at Levels I and II because that’s where most of your VA delegation will fall.
  4. Be willing to train them in new skills. Most VAs are looking to uplevel their skills so that they can become more valuable and charge a higher rate. Training them, or paying them to get trained, is a great way to expand what they can do for you. Not to mention making them a happier assistant and less likely to bail on you when they get other opportunities. (Also see Tip #17.)
  5. Give them work that energizes and excites them. Make it a point to ask what they like to do most and what they want to learn, and then give them work that matches their passions. Not only will they finish the work faster, you’ll get higher quality work.
  6. Set clear expectations about when you expect the task to be done and what check-ins will be needed. (Also see Tip #10)
  7. It will take some time for them to come up to speed. Your patience and kindness will go a long way. Let them make mistakes with grace and learn from them.
  8. Be honest without criticism. If they did something wrong, point it out without judgement, and explain how to do it right the next time.
  9. Make sure the skills they have fit the work you are giving them. I will have another blog post about how to hire a VA, which will go into more detail about this topic. But for now it’s worth remembering, especially if you already have a VA you’re working with.
  10. Be clear about the hours each of you will be available for communicating updates or asking questions. Find where the overlap is and agree on a plan.  If you can’t find an overlap, be willing to negotiate and figure out a way to create some overlap, even if it’s small.
  11. Be willing to work “off hours” if needed.  Many VAs have other jobs and work all sorts of hours or are in different timezones. I get up early every Tuesday to meet with my VA at 7:30 am. I could meet with her earlier if I had to, but this works for us.
  12. Set expectations about how many hours you expect them to work in a week, including minimums and maximums. 
  13. Meet via video at least once a week for 45 minutes to an hour. Go over last week’s work, do any necessary training, make any needed adjustments or corrections, and plan out the next week’s work.
  14. Internet connections can be very unstable in foreign countries. Have offline work available. Be understanding of last minute cancellations due to weather and connectivity issues. Be open to paying for a pre-paid portable Wifi device as a backup plan. Consider giving your VA a stipend every month to pay for extra smartphone bandwidth. There are lots of alternative solutions available that could meet your business’s needs.
  15. Don’t use your VA for business-critical tasks or anything you need urgently. If you need clarity, re-read Tips #7 and #14. Trust me, you will be disappointed — most likely at the worst possible time. Don’t let it hurt your business.
  16. Be flexible and willing to renegotiate deliverables and timelines. (See Tip #7, #8, and #14)
  17. Give them small bonuses, or even a small raise occasionally. This is one of the best ways to show you appreciate them. And while we’re on the subject of money, be prompt with your payments. I pay my assistants every other week on Sunday. If their timesheet isn’t completed by late-afternoon Saturday I send them a reminder.

I have one final note. This may sound pessimistic but it’s happened too many times not to mention. Be prepared for them to bail on you. I mean literally disappear without notice or communication. It’s happened to me multiple times, and I’ve heard others say the same. Interestingly I had a VA disappear on me last year. I paid her last timesheet anyway, and then a couple months later she came back and apologized and wanted to work with me again. I set very clear expectations that she can’t disappear on me again or she would not be paid.

I expect she may go away again at some point. But she’s a good worker with excellent skills and so I’m willing to go with it for now. I drink my own Kool Aid and don’t give her anything critical or urgent. I treat her well and help her learn new things and in return she delivers good value for my business.

It took me years to learn these things, and I made lots of mistakes. I hope this helps you avoid the same mistakes I made. 

If you have additional insights to share from your own experience, please let me know in the comments.

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