Jul 19, 2011
Hiring a Virtual Assistant
I wrote recently about feeling a bit overwhelmed. After a few great comments and emails from people I trust, I came to a conclusion: it’s time to bring someone else into the mix here at JoshCanHelp. I’m on the lookout for a virtual (or in-person) assistant. The ad is here (quoted in pieces below) but I wanted to provide applicants with a little more information if they wanted it as well as share what I’m doing. Comments are perpetually welcome and completely invited.
I started by thinking about the hiring processes I’ve been a part of in the past and how they differed from what I’m trying to do. I also thought long and hard about what type of person I would want representing me and working closely with my process. It was clear to me that I needed someone I could trust and someone that wanted to be doing what they were doing.
So I put together the two Universal Lists of Job Searches: requirements and desirements…. or whatever. These are the things I have to have and the things that help people to stand out above the rest. I’ll list these below with a bit more explanation for each.
The point of posting here before somewhere like Craigslist is (a) to get feedback on what I’m asking for and how I’m asking and (b) put it out there for referrals from people I know. Do you know anyone that fits the bill? Send them my way!
It’s time to get a bit more help doing what I’m doing. I’m a freelance web developer, designer, and strategy guy who is looking for someone to help me with client support and some of the minutiae of running a business. Tasks might include:
- Responding to clients and potential clients to set appointments
- Doing minimal bookkeeping stuff like expenses, PayPal exports, and invoice tracking
- Working with website administration panels to enter content, make changes, and manage certain components
- Minimal data entry, spreadsheet parsing, and scanning
- Web research and compilation
I’m not sure exactly how to structure this because I may not have a steady number of hours each week. I can do one of two things: you can turn in a time sheet every 2 weeks/month/whatever or I can pay you in advance for a bucket of hours. It’s my hope that within a year or less that I can pay you on a much more regular basis but, for the time being, it has to be as-needed. As such, I’ll assume you have another job or other responsibilities so I’m not going to be calling you at 11pm to do something ASAP; I’m not that guy and I don’t want you or I to have that life.
I’ve listed a few requirements and desirements below. If you aren’t a right fit based on the requirements below, that’s OK, just don’t apply.
– Good communication skills (written and verbal) and an understanding of what good customer service is
This is self-explanatory but, unfortunately, so universal that I think people kind of ignore it. I consider myself a good communicator, written and verbal, and I know a lot of people who are the same. I have also interacted with a lot of people who are not particularly good at communicating. The difference is night and day and the impact it has on how people perceive your brand is, in my opinion, immeasurable. Having someone who can get a point across clearly, concisely, and positively is a must.
The customer service piece comes from my days working for a very large wireless telecom. I saw good customer service and abysmal customer service all around me. I practiced good customer service most of the time (in my humble opinion) and mindless robot service the rest. As soon as I saw the connection between my attitude, accountability, and tone of voice and the outcome of the call, I realized how easy it was to make my day and the day of a stranger that much better. I started teaching at that company and made it my goal to make sure the folks that I was responsible for knew that same connection. I wasn’t 100% successful in passing this lesson along but I did what I could to pay it forward to everyone I could. I still do this as best as I can and it’s critical to me to work with someone that does the same.
– Comfortable with personal technology and the web in general. This does not mean you can make web pages (see below) but it does mean that you’re not scared of technology or learning new things.
I see technology comfort at all levels; I also see technology self-evaluations at all levels as well. I would say that most people would downplay how comfortable they are with technology because they don’t want to be caught with their pants. What I’m looking for is not someone that’s a web developer or designer or anything like that, just that they are on-line, comfortable using their computer, and aren’t scared of picking up a few techniques. Bonus points if you use Netflix instead of Blockbuster, have a phone with a good browser, and know what “Yelping” something means.
– Have a good organization system and follow-through
I’ve learned that organization systems rarely translate. I can suggest a million different apps, tools, and sites that I use but, in the end, you probably have your own system that works for you. Even if it doesn’t make sense to anyone else on the planet, it keeps you sane, productive, and on top of things.
I need someone with some kind of system to help make sure that things don’t fall through the cracks. Whether it’s email tags or a to-do app or a moleskin, I need someone to help me keep on top of things. If I send something to do and I have to remind you a few times on a regular basis, that’s creating more work for me. Everyone makes mistakes, me most or all, but let’s work together to keep this thing going.
One more thing… follow up is really key for me. I try to help other people remember these tasks and stay on top of their sites. This is a big part of what I do and an important reason that people come back to me. If you can help me do this better than you’re exactly who I’m looking for.
– Straight-forward and honest… just tell me if you can’t do it
This is a big one. I really don’t need some kind of superhero, I just need someone who can get things done in the time that they say they can. I like it when people underpromise and over deliver. My wife and I joke about our expectations all the time but I think it’s an important thing to keep in mind. I believe that plans should be made to direct your actions and decisions but sometimes they go off-track, get changed, or get tossed. As long as we’re on the same page about availability, capacity, and due dates, we’ll be just fine.
– Active online and in social media somehow
Trust me, I an not trying to track anyone for any reason. But being active in social media and a regular content creator (blog posts or online reviews or comments) means you understand what I do a lot better. You might use Flickr to share pictures with people or Facebook to keep in touch. Whatever it is, if you’re online contributing to the conversation, good on you and bonus points with me.
– Comfortable with a WYSIWYG, possibly even HTML
A WYSIWYG is an HTML editor that works like a word-processor in a way. It helps you format content in a way that will appear as it should on a web page. You might have used one of these in WordPress or Drupal or in a web application that helps you create content. These things are never perfect and require a bit of finesse to use properly. If you’ve never used one before, it’s going to be a learning curve to get it right but that’s fine. If you have, that just saves us some training time.
The big things are:
- Never paste from Word
- Try to compose in a plain text editor then format on the page
- Keep it simple, stick to bullets, numbered lists, headlines, links, bold, italics, and a few others
– Know WordPress/Drupal administration
If you don’t even know what those words are, that’s OK. When I say “administration,” I just mean clicking around in the menus and changing settings. Also, I may need you to create content in the system and publish posts. Neither system is hard to learn which is why it’s not important to be an expert here. Still, we’ll save a bit of time if you know your way around.
– You don’t use Outlook
It’s OK if you do, I’m not going to judge you too harshly. This is just a mindset, in my opinion. I find Outlook to be slow, bloated, and more trouble than it’s worth. A lot of people that are very capable use Outlook but there is a better way and it’s called Google Apps. Stick with me and you’ll see the light.
– You do use a Google Account (Gmail, Google Docs, Google Calendar)
My Google Account, including all the apps above plus Reader, Analytics, Sites, etc, is huge piece of how I stay productive. This suite of tools from Google is invaluable and it would be great to have someone that is already familiar with how it works. Gmail is less important than being familiar with Google Docs, at least in my case.
– Seattle Metro area a plus
I’m all about working virtually so even if you are in Seattle metro, I’m not going to be asking you to drive to my office (house) all the time. It would just be nice to meet you in person before we go and get all cozy together.
How to Apply
Here’s how I asked people to apply:
1) Send me your info… name, email, resume-type-thing, location, a reference or two would be nice
Just the facts, ma’am.
2) Tell me about how you fit my requirements and desirements
I’d rather not have to tease out why you’re applying for this, let’s just get all that nonsense out of the way, shall we?
3) How do you communicate best? Phone, text, email, something else?
Just good to know, I can conform to anything. I slightly prefer email because I can handle it at on my own time but I understand the need for a phone call in certain cases and texts can be a major time-saver.
4) Where are you online? Twitter? Facebook? LinkedIn?
Links to profiles are great. I swear to god I’m not going to be tracking you, I’m way too busy tracking my friends and family.
5) What’s an hourly rate that would make you feel comfortable for a while?
I don’t want to set an hourly rate so I’ll let you tell me what you’d like to be paid. Hours might fluctuate up and down so keep that in mind. This is not a trick question at all, I want you to tell me what your time is worth to you.
6) When do you work the best? Morning? Evening?
Again, just nice to know, no right answer here.
So, that’s the list. and the breakdown. If you have any feedback or experiences you can share, please do let me know in the comments below. If you’re someone that’s applying for the spot, put “I read your post!” in the subject line when you answer the question above and you’ll get considered before everyone. If you want to know a bit more about who I am you can read about me and this company on my about page.
Thank you in advance!
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