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Finding a VA Service for a Very Small Business #MicrobizMonday

Or, the increasingly frustrating experience of finding the right VA

So here’s my story of the day.

Until this month I’ve been in need of a virtual assistant (and also a personal assistant, but that’s another story for another day.)

I often oversee teams of temporary or virtual workers of up to 500 to work on projects for my clients.

Which is why, even on my Spoonie days, work that I have planned for still gets done. I do the part that requires expertise, then I break the less important or less urgent tasks into miniscule jobs. After the work is done, I check that it was done correctly, as I would for any team I manage.

Of course I eventually realized that having assistants for my client projects, but not my own company, has turned me into a project manager. As such I spend most of my time working IN my business instead of ON it.  Besides the fact that it’s just not what I want to be or do.

Yet and still, project based VAs that work in preset teams, here in the US or abroad, basically saved my business.

I didn’t have time to sort through resumes in ODesk or Elance- and I didn’t have to if I hired a company that already has teams of trained workers one can just send tasks to on an as-needed basis.

First, I vetted them with detailed instructions to execute tasks the way I wanted them done on my own new site launches. I asked for new people if the ones I got weren’t up to snuff or were taking an unreasonably long time.

If they proved to be good learner and self starters, I would then slowly integrate them into client work, as one would with a permanent, in-house employee.

Getting VAs to work on growing my business, not just having one

If I don’t have time to send out resumes to find the perfect person to work one-on-one with me as a personal assistant, I realized, then I definitely need a VA also, and not only to free up that time.

The situation of having virtual assistants who work on my projects but not my business was fine when I was just content to have steady income as a freelancer.

After all, to achieve a steady income as a freelancer, you only need to get a few consistent benchmark clients, much in the same way a law firm does. Those clients keep coming back each month, to continue old projects or start new ones. And of course, as time permits, you can also have a few other side projects that come and go.

Sadly that no longer contents me.

I miss the days when I could consistently release products to help very small businesses get ahead as well as service larger companies.

In the past few years since a near-death experience, I’ve realized that I want to expand, both in products and in services. And I have a plan for growth – which is to mimic the accidental rapid growth I had in the past but was too under-staffed to handle.

So now I need my own virtual staff, and later, an in-person assistant.

(Spoonie sidebar: In the past few years friends and colleagues have volunteered to pick up my slack when sudden attacks put me out of commission. However, I’ve gone past what favors and profit-share can cover.

Remember no one successful does life alone, so don’t be too proud to accept help, especially if you can compensate them. But know where to draw the line and when to create an ongoing system.)

Finding an ideal VA was about getting the service I wanted in the way I wanted to pay

Of course I went out to my network first, at the end of December of last year. I have heard great things about Zirtual, but I want to wait a couple of months so my company can afford to pay for a year of their basic plan out of profits.

Speedlancer also seemed promising, but it seems to be for immediate short term projects, though I have confidence that I’d eventually find someone willing to work half time or full time by occasionally using their service.

Then I was referred to a company by a friend who could help me get a small virtual team offshore for about the same monthly price. I signed up with them, and after a rocky start, they’re taking care of my most hated administrative tasks.

I’m also interested in another firm that has a mix of offshore and USA workers.

Before that, I’ve been using resources like Fancy Hands for the kind of tasks I assign to them. It was the kind of service I’d pay for monthly, but wouldn’t use for months. Then when I did need their help, I needed it very badly and really quickly.

It worked for a while but the new 15 minute per task rule in the “scope of tasks” section screwed up my groove.

Especially since things I can do in 15 minutes, even with on the days when I have limitations due to a flare-up in my condition, somehow falls outside their definition. (I eventually wrote to the CEO about it when I got that “why did you leave” email. Never heard back.)

Imagine thinking you’ve found the answer – only to wait months for the response you need

Before that, I was using TimeSvr’s dedicated plan. We’d negotiated a lower cost per hour when I bought in bulk. But I couldn’t keep it up, and my tasks were too complex for the personal plan.

Just when I was giving up the idea that there was a virtual assistant for someone like me, whose prices and setup would allow me to scale, someone in my network responded.

This was in January.

I was ready that day, after all my frustration, to whip out my credit card and pay for the first month, rather than raise the money and pay for it out of profits, as I usually do whenever I want something that’s outside my operating budget.

I’d had a virtual assistant before, and though she proved to be untrustworthy and tried to steal money from me, I realized that having her working for me freed up 60 – 80% of my time before the project turned left.

And for once, instead of spending my freed-up time on more necessary but time-consuming minutia, I assigned those things to her, and began to work on only the most profitable tasks in the business.

Clearly having an assistant was worth the cost- having the help paid for itself. I got bigger gigs with clients and had more time to commit to them. I could create more products.

In fact, I had not only the time to address the technical aspects of getting the projects out of my head and on to paper- I also had the freed-up mental space to create the best possible ebooks and video guides.

That’s why I was so ready to take a chance on this person. But when I went to the page on her site that she referred me to, there were extensively detailed packages, but no buttons for signing up to pay.

I’ve seen this many times- people who are absolutely incredible at what they do, but somewhat lost at the finer points of running a business, the essential issues that determine whether you’re looking at a profit or a loss at the end of each week, month, quarter or year.

So I was patient. We corresponded again and again. Sometimes the delay was on my side, but most of the time it was on hers. This month she finally mentioned why there were no pay buttons on her site. She said she believed that she should talk to her clients before they signed up.

If this is the case for you, and you have standard packages and rates, you can build a hidden page at your site that allows the people you have spoken with to sign up. Or you can have a form that feeds into your online support so the query can be tracked, and the customer will know that their email has been received.

At the very least, some kind of email form with an estimated turn around time.

You may even find that you can increase repeat sales simply by having a list of your services and the sign up buttons on your site. Even if they must remain hidden, people who buy from you over and over need not go through a screening process first. Let them use those forms to pay you again.

Otherwise you face the same danger as the person I wanted to hire- three months is too long of a wait. I’ve found another solution- at least for now.

She may get a second chance, as I prefer to work with people I know.

But if you’re not selling to your customers the way that they buy, will you get a second chance? Just something to think about, while we’re on that tangent…

In future days I’ll be building a resource list of services with pre-trained virtual employees as well as places to find a dedicated VA. You’re welcome to leave a comment if you have one I haven’t mentioned to add to the list.