Virtual assistants are fast becoming a key component in business development strategy design. Globalization has made business more uncertain, unpredictable and competitive. Regardless of your size, scale or type of industry, you have to continually look for strategies that will improve productivity without compromising your operating budget. Outsourcing work to virtual assistants is one such strategy. But given the size of the industry, there are definitely challenges to hiring good virtual assistants.

  1. The Purpose of the Virtual Assistant

Before starting the process of finding a Virtual Assistant, ask yourself why you need a Virtual Assistant.

There are many reasons businesses hire virtual assistants:

  • Reduce cost of business.
  • Increase productivity.
  • Improve quality of work.
  • Enhance business flexibility.
  • Reduce risk of business expansion.
  • Capitalize on technical competencies.

Businesses could hire virtual assistants for one or a combination of these reasons. The answer to the question “Why” determines more than just your reason for hiring a Virtual Assistant; it also determine the purpose.

Purpose aligns your Virtual Assistant’s work with the objectives of your business. If you are not sure why you need a Virtual Assistant, do this simple exercise:

On a piece of paper, write down a summary of all work; duties, responsibilities and everyday tasks needed for your business. Identify three functions which you believe should only be handled by you. The rest you can outsource to your Virtual Assistant.

  1. Setting Realistic Expectations

Many outsourced engagements fail simply because expectations were unrealistic to begin with. You may hear disgruntled clients say hiring a Virtual Assistant was a big mistake because they ended up doing most of the work themselves. Or the venture did not yield the expected ROI.

As talented and experienced most virtual assistants are, clients have to remember, they are not miracle workers. They will render work according to your prescribed guidelines and will endeavor to consistently meet your guidelines. But at the heart of this engagement is a relationship. And as with all relationships, you have to work at it.

Before commencing work with your Virtual Assistant, have a video conference call and exchange work expectations. Open up with your Virtual Assistant and candidly share what you believe are realistic expectations. Encourage your Virtual Assistant to share his or her perspective of your expectations and opine if these are indeed realistic.

Engaging your Virtual Assistant into a discussion on expectations is a great way to clear the air and arrive at a realistic middle ground. By doing this, you are elevating the arrangement from a client-service provider relationship to a strategic partnership.

The advantage of a strategic partnership is having shared interests. You can be rest assure, your Virtual Assistant will do his or her best to make your business succeed.

  1. Is Your Virtual Assistant the Right-Fit?

The three most common mistakes made by clients when trying to hire good virtual assistants are as follows:

  • Hire the first candidate that comes along.
  • Hire a candidate that was recommended by an agency or associate without the benefit of due diligence.
  • Hire the candidate with the best Curriculum Vita.

The reason why you should not hire the first candidate that comes along is that it denies you the benefit of a comparison. You should have a short-list of at least three candidates then subject them for testing.

You should not remain complacent by assuming a candidate referred by an agency or an associate is the best one for you. In addition to the interview and testing; conduct due diligence by asking for character references, checking the social media accounts or running a simple Google search.

Finally, do not place too much emphasis on the Curriculum Vita. Each and every project is different and personalities may not jibe. You can hire the candidate with the highest recommendations and most number of certifications but if your personalities clash, the engagement will fail.

Bottom-line is when qualifying your Virtual Assistant make sure he or she is someone you can work with every single work day. You need a Virtual Assistant who is “Right-Fit”. He or she must be aligned with your values, acknowledge your purpose and is willing to subscribe to your vision.

  1. Communication Breakdown

One of the bigger challenges which the client must overcome is working through the virtual world. If this is your first time to hire a Virtual Assistant, you may have concerns on the logistical limitations on close collaboration.

But in truth in the physical world, most of our collaborations have already gone the virtual route. Businesses have adapted flexible and mobile business strategies. In the sales industry, the company corresponds with their agents through mobile or online channels such as Skype, Slack, Messenger or Viber.

Thus, when hiring good virtual assistants make sure the infrastructure or a system is in place to ensure strong communication.

In addition to the aforementioned media, you can also set up a closed group in Facebook where team members can share and correspond with one another. You can use project management software like Asana to set up tasks and track the performance of your Virtual Assistant.

You should also schedule video conference meetings once or twice a week. Ideally, you should bookend the video conference meetings.

An orientation of tasks to be done can be scheduled on Monday and a weekly recap can be scheduled on Friday or Saturday. You can use Skype, gotomeeting or WebEx for the video conference call.

  1. The Cultural Conundrum

If you are hiring virtual assistants from a remote location such as the Philippines or India then this section is for you.

Talent is not the monopoly of a single region or country. You can find amazing talent just about anywhere in the world. In outsourcing, the Philippines and India are the consensus top two destinations for virtual talent. Not only are they highly skilled but the cost savings generated by hiring from remote locations can be significant.

However, you have to deal with social and cultural issues. How a people behave is largely a function of their own culture which has been shaped by its history.

For example, Filipinos are identified by strong family ties and values deeply influenced by faith and spirituality. They are generally more reserved. Thus, if you are a client from New York do not expect your Filipino Virtual Assistant to relate to people like the typical upfront, frank and direct New Yorker.

Instead of asking “Do you have any questions?” or “Did you understand?” ask your Filipino Virtual Assistant to relay the instructions back to you. Then make corrections as necessary.

You will also have to accommodate their spiritual belief systems which dictate that may not be able to work on certain “days of obligation”. It is not because they are “lazy”; it is because it is part of their culture. This can easily be resolved by making the work calendar in advance and marking down the religious holidays.

There are indeed challenges in hiring good virtual assistants. But these challenges can easily be overcome as long as you put in more effort in qualifying candidates and at the same time establish the ideal conditions for a successful working relationship.