Virtual assistants have been a hot and contentious topic since Tim Ferriss’s The Four Hour Work Week (aff link) came out ten years ago. I first read it in December 2008 but the virtual assistant thing struck me as “Oh that’s nice but not realistic” because I was working a 9-5 and was 24 years old.
I wish I had actually been interested and dug into it then, because now I’m nine years later and finally understanding the power of getting others to help you with things and spending money to create time and focus in your business and life. That reality, which was reiterated in me when I read The E-Myth Revisited (aff link) shortly after being laid off in 2015, has recently come to fruition in that I’ve hired three great part time people to help me scale Credo.
It feels crazy to say, but I am actually at the point where I’m asking myself what my job is and what I need to be doing next to take this business to the next level.
My Personal Assistant Journey
When I met my coach Andy at the beginning of 2017, one of the first things we did was identify the positions I needed to hire at my company and in my life to allow me to get out of the low value tasks (tasks worth $5-$30 an hour) so that I could focus my time and energy on the tasks that will return $1,000+ per hour of work done. You can get to $100k in business revenue by doing the lower value tasks yourself, but if you want to 10x or more that number then you need to shift your mindset and ways of operating.
I found my assistant Jess on Nextdoor.com actually. I have her in combination with FancyHands.com, which is a subscription service that you can use for more online-related tasks like research and scheduling. Unfortunately FancyHands does not offer a dedicated person, so the research/work you get is only as good as the person that takes the task. Sometimes they’re done quite well, but sometimes they’re completely off if you have preferences.
Where I started
When I re-read The Four Hour Work Week in 2016 after I had been self-employed for about a year, I was in Prague with my wife. I remember sitting at a coffee shop (Monolok in the Vinohrady neighborhood if my memory is correct) and doing a bunch of research into virtual assistant companies. I contacted a bunch and had a lot of conversations with them, but three things kept me from purchasing:
- I could not interview the person they would assign me before signing up. I felt like I might have to go through 3-4 (essentially firing some) before I found the right person, and I didn’t want to deal with that;
- They wanted a monthly subscription ($600+ a month) up front and did not have a lower tier. I’m perfectly happy to pay a monthly subscription for something that is worth it, but $600 at the time was a lot of money;
- I was not super clear on what exactly I would have them do.
So, I stopped looking for about a year. Then through my work with Andy we defined an assistant as a pretty key hire for me, as it would would remove a lot of day-to-day and more manual tasks (CredoCast guest outreach, picking up business mail, interfacing with business-related vendors like bookkeeper) that I was doing so I could focus on other parts of the business.
The reality is that it took me another year to hire and I did it after filling another vital role within Credo (customer success/sales) that was taking more of my time, and once I had that role hired I was able to focus on hiring an assistant which happened in approximately two weeks from start to finish.
What I use my assistant for
When I was hiring Jess, I knew that I needed someone I could work easily with, who has a can-do attitude, and someone who has done the tasks before even if they have not been an assistant before. I hired Jess because she had a can-do attitude and had experience with all the tools I currently use. I interviewed a few other potentials who had a can-do attitude but more in a “If you want me to do it I can do it” way rather than a “I am excited and love doing this kind of work” way.
I also knew that I wanted someone located in Denver and ideally who lives near me. This is because my online life is pretty well in order (I just wanted to offload some admin tasks that I put off and weigh on me) but we do have some location-based needs and help needed because we’re super busy and my company is growing.
Here are some of the tasks I will use my assistant for (and this list with undoubtedly grow over time):
- Pick up my business mail every week from my PO Box and drop it at my house (learned from Dan Martell);
- Occasional errands around Denver (get watch batteries replaced, pick up something from a store, pick up groceries from time to time);
- Scheduling of podcast appearances/guests, requests for calls/advice. She’s my schedule’s gatekeeper now, and we review the requests every Monday for the upcoming weeks (learned from Dan Martell);
- Reviewing bookkeeping monthly to look for charges that need my attention;
- Sending gifts to customers as needed;
- Planning/scheduling travel.
Concerns about delegation
One of the most common things I hear from others who are considering hiring an assistant is this:
I don’t know what I’d delegate to them. I just know how to do everything and it’s easier for me to do it than to train someone else to do it.
I can relate to this because I felt exactly the same way. But let me tell you two things.
First, I always find it amazing how once you have someone that you can delegate things to, you do. We’re only a couple of days into working together and so I’m sure some processes will need to change, but I am already finding things that I had not even realized I was doing where I think “Oh wait, I bet Jess could do this”.
Second, think about training an assistant as an investment. When you’re first bringing them up to speed, you will have to spend more time with them than you will in the future once they have learned you, your business, their tasks are more set, and they’ve been with you for a while.
Over time, I am working to build out email scripts for Jess to use to do things like interview guest outreach and scheduling. She has view-only access to my calendar (so she can see that I’m not available, but not necessarily what the event is) so she can schedule things for me.
How I arrived at these tasks
I mentioned the 8-10 tasks that she is currently doing for me above. But how did I arrive at these tasks?
Andy had me record everything I was doing every 30 minutes for one week. Here is an example of one day (a random Tuesday):
As you can see, there is a mix of business and personal in there. Some of them, like event sponsorship business admin and booking restaurant/travel can be easily outsourced and are either in my Competence or Incompetence (low return on time) category. On this day alone, I spent 3 hours on tasks that I can pay someone $15-$20/hr to do.
The reasons we did a full week is because no week is the same and sometimes you get distracted by tasks that really only happen once. So we wanted to get a full picture across a week of the things I was doing consistently that were taking my time and energy away from the things I am really good at – marketing, writing, sales, speaking prep.
If you want, you can do it for two weeks to get a broader picture. I’ve done this exercise twice (I try to redo it about every six months now), and both times I thought I’d need two weeks of data but in reality I only needed a week both times. Your mileage may vary.
Next you categorize each task into one of the following:
- I = incompetence (hate and drain you)
- C = competence (can do, draining and time intensive)
- E = excellence (do very well, but draining over time)
- G = genius (love, mission critical, energizing)
As you can also see, we assigned a dollar value to each level of task. At my business’s current revenue, my time is worth at least $240 an hour. So, anything in the Incompetence or Competence levels need to be done by someone else.
If you’re looking at the match, if I pay someone $20 an hour to do I tasks then I am breaking even on money but I am net positive because I am spending less time on those and can spend more time on higher value tasks. If I pay them $20 to do a $50 task, then I am even more net positive on both money and time.
Here’s how a week broke down for me:
As you can see, I spent:
- 11.6% of my time on $20 tasks
- 29.46% of my time on $50 tasks
- 19.84% on $250 tasks (break even for me to be profitable)
- 39.29% of my time on $500+ tasks
If you add it up, this means that a full 40% of my time was spent on tasks that were not really profitable for me to be doing. The reality is that those numbers should have been higher because there were business admin tasks I quite simply was not doing, which long term were hurting my business.
For example, I discovered in December 2017 that I was spending $600 a month on subscriptions that I was not using. By taking an hour to review my expenses from the previous 4 months, I was able to save my business $7200 over the next year by cancelling unused subscriptions. What if I had been doing that all along? I would’ve saved a few thousand dollars.
I am more than happy to pay someone $20 an hour to spend an hour each month reviewing my books and telling me about charges I need to look at so that I can potentially save thousands of dollars. I will do that every single day happily.
Staying on the same page with my assistant
One concern that a lot of entrepreneurs have about an assistant is staying on the same page with them. This concern most often comes up from people who have not managed employees before or have not been managed in good ways.
I have implemented a few things to keep me on the same page with my assistant:
- Get them on Slack and text message for quick requests, with the understanding that they will let me know when it is done;
- Weekly catch up to review the requests that came in the previous week and to talk about the upcoming week;
- Consistent tasks that happen weekly (pick up mail, etc)
This is exactly the same way that I manage other employees.
We make sure to do a half hour 1:1 every single week so that we are on the same page and other than that quick asks happen via email/Slack. Time sensitive tasks happen via text message. And consistent tasks just get done every week.
Some of my favorite resources about assistants
Hiring an assistant can feel like a daunting task. I think the entrepreneur world thinks too much about a “virtual assistant”, as in someone overseas that you pay $6 an hour to do things for you, and therefore we’ve done ourselves a disservice.
I pay my assistant way more than $6 an hour. She’s in my same city. She’s a full time student but is in her late 20s or early 30s so she has work experience and I don’t have to train her on email etiquette or how to use Google Calendar.
Here are some of the resources I have found most helpful in figuring out the tasks to delegate and how to hire them:
- Discovering your zone of genius
- Get more time by tracking your time
- How to manage an assistant by Dan Martell
- The Four Hour Work Week (aff link)
- The E-Myth Revisited (aff link)
The places I recommend using to hire a personal assistant are:
- Nextdoor.com (if looking for someone in your area)
- Craigslist (if looking for someone in your area)
- Andy uses https://www.onlinejobs.ph/ for a virtual assistant
I tried Indeed and some other job boards, but honestly did not find many great candidates there.
Here is exactly what I posted on Nextdoor:
Subject: Looking for a local part time (4-5h a week) exec/admin assistant
Hi neighbors! I am looking for a local executive/admin assistant to help me out with various tasks related to my businesses and my wife’s and my personal life in the Lohi/NW area of Denver. Most tasks can be done from the comfort of your own home, though I will have a few where I need you to order and pick up things (or deliver things to me like mail from my PO Box).
This would be ideal for a stay at home parent! I’d rather not have someone who already has a FT job, as things will need to be done during the day. I am ok with someone doing shift work.
You need to be incredibly detail oriented, reliable to a fault, communicative to a fault, and must love large dogs as I have a very large black labrador who works from home with me and is super friendly, just a giant.
Tasks will vary, but there will be a few that are consistent (pick up my mail for me every Monday, pick up groceries on Mondays and deliver to my house) and others that are more research and scheduling oriented (doctor appointments, house viewings, etc).
Previous EA experience is preferred!
Please message me privately if you are interested with your experience, your qualifications, your hourly rate requirement, and a good phone number to reach you on.
These are the important parts to note:
- The time investment required
- Who the job is right for (stay at home parents/someone not working FT already)
- Get them to send you their experience, qualifications, hourly rate expectations, and phone number.
You should already have in mind what you are willing to pay. If their hourly rate desires align with yours, then they’re potentially a good fit. If they do not send you their hourly rate desires, contact info, or qualifications like you ask then immediately disqualify them.
You need someone who can take direction and get you what you need without asking twice, and this is a huge red flag at the beginning if they cannot follow these simple instructions. You can use a similar tactic of asking them to send you an email with a specific subject line. If they don’t pay attention to that detail, how can you trust them to manage your calendar or other detail-related tasks?
That’s my story of finding an assistant. I’ll be updating this post over time as I have new learnings, but I feel confident that I have found the right person and have done my sufficient research and asked enough people with experience hiring an assistant to have done a good job of it.
What other questions do you have?