Hiring a virtual assistant felt like an overwhelming hurdle to Ella Ritchie, founder of Stellar Communications Houston

But after 10 years as a solo entrepreneur, she was beginning to feel burnout and couldn’t give everything the necessary attention. 

“I decided to start small and hire an editor on Upwork for assistance with a single project,” Ella says. “I like the crowd-sourcing approach to vetting assistants because it’s a low-commitment way to test several prospects.

When solo entrepreneur @EllaRitchie14 couldn't give everything the necessary attention, she contracted with a #VirtualAssistant to help her business. Click To Tweet

Whether you choose the online marketplace route or seek alternatives, you need a plan. Let’s dive into the who, where, what, and how of hiring a virtual assistant who can help your business

Identify the type of virtual assistant you need

Erin Booth, a virtual assistant mentor, says entrepreneurs usually hire a VA to serve as a jack of all trades or for specific skills needed for their business.

General VAs typically offer admin services, such as managing calendars, travel, inboxes, digital organization, bookkeeping, etc. “Think of them like the admin wheels that keep your back-of-house running,” Erin says.

Specialty VAs offer services on top of general administration work, usually based on their education or prior work history. “It’s not uncommon to find VAs who specialize in things like brand management, social media management, copyediting, video and podcast editing, community management, and more,” Erin says.

Rates differ for the two VA categories. According to Erin, a typical general VA rate is $20 to $35 an hour in the US, while specialty VAs can charge $40 to $75 an hour.

Virtual assistants in the US usually charge $20 to $35 an hour. Specialty VAs can charge $40 to $75 an hour, says @ErinBoothVA. #ContentEntrepreneur Click To Tweet

Find virtual assistant candidates

While Ella went the Upwork route, Erin outlines several other hiring options to consider:

  • Ask your network for recommendations. Having a trusted person in your network recommend a VA takes care of the social proof right away.
  • Post a job listing on your social accounts.
  • Use the search bar on LinkedIn, including “virtual assistant” and the specific services to find specialized VAs.

“To get quality candidates, however, you need a quality job listing. If your job listing isn’t precise, explicit, and thorough, you’ll end up sorting through piles of resumes from candidates that don’t meet your requirements,” Erin says.

What does a quality job listing look like? Erin says it should incorporate the following:

  • Exact skills necessary
  • Expectations for their work
  • Logistics of the job
  • Budget
  • Detailed instructions about how to apply for the job

After sifting through the application, it’s important to hop on a phone call or video chat with the finalists. “Ultimately, virtual assistants are business owners themselves. A call between the entrepreneur and the VA is important for both parties to get a better sense for cultural fit,” Erin says.

During the interview, consider asking questions such as:

  • How long have you been a virtual assistant?
  • What services do you offer? Do you have any specialty or niche skills?
  • What is your availability? Do you prefer synchronous or async work?
  • What are your rates?
  • What is your work style?
  • How do you handle challenging clients?
  • What would you do if I gave you a task that you didn’t fully understand?
  • How do you handle mistakes that you make?

“Behavioral questions can help assess a VA’s problem-solving skills and how they handle challenges. Don’t be afraid to ask these tough questions,” Erin advises.

Behavioral questions can help assess a VA candidate's problem-solving skills. Don't be afraid to ask the tough questions, says @ErinBoothVA. Click To Tweet

Hire the virtual assistant who you think best fits your needs and with whom you feel you could work well.

Think outside the box

Ella originally hired her VA for editing help, but the person was working so well that she thought about how the editor could fit into the business’ bigger picture. “I pitched in a message via Upwork pitched in a message via UpWork the idea of her becoming my virtual publishing assistant,” she explains.

The recipient of that pitch – Stephanie Lund – checked all of Ella’s criteria boxes – professional, meticulous, conscientious, accurate, responsive, and totally committed to meeting the needs.

The two met over Zoom and discovered a stable, more permanent arrangement worked for both of them. They agreed on 10 hours per week. “I wanted to make sure it was a win-win and that I could keep my commitment to her,” Ella says.

“I wasn’t able to articulate what I needed in a VA until I saw it in action,” she says. For example, she didn’t realize the importance to her of having someone close to her time zone who could communicate in real time. 

“Since then, it’s been absolutely fabulous – even better than I imagined. She has become an integral part of my business,” Ella says.

Sample outreach email for a VA candidate:

Ella shares excerpts from the VA pitch outreach email she sent to Stephanie, who originally applied to be an academic editor for a dissertation for one of Ella’s clients:

Hi Stephanie,
I loved meeting you via Zoom last week and had some time over the weekend to consider how we might work together and how I might articulate my needs. 

On your end, it seems you really enjoy copyediting. On my end, I would appreciate help with a variety of roles, including writing, editing, proofreading, social media, and administrative details.

I wear all the hats for my business, and it’d be helpful if someone can fill some holes for me. Essentially, I’m looking for an admin assistant who is willing and capable to jump into anything. I wouldn’t expect experience — I would provide help and instructions as we go along. 

Ideally, I’d like to work with someone who is interested in growing together over time and becoming an integral part of my business. Two questions: (1) Does the catch-all variety of this arrangement appeal to you, or would you prefer to stick to copyediting opportunities? (2) Are you looking to develop a long-term working relationship, or are you working temporarily without plans for anything longer term? If yes to these, would you want to jump on another call to talk about next steps?

– Ella

Working with your virtual assistant

Here are some tips from Erin on how to build a successful relationship with your VA:

  • Establish clear expectations and goals from the start.
  • Ask your VA to create standard operating processes for tasks. Having them co-create a process for how work gets done is a great way for you to start relinquishing some control and building trust. 
  • Set up regular check-ins and provide feedback regularly.
  • Use project management tools to track tasks.
  • Give the VA relationship some time. 
  • Have contingency plans in place in case your VA is consistently not meeting expectations. 

“A great VA wants to become your right-hand person, your confidant, and your partner in growth. But this kind of partnership takes time and trust to build,” Erin says. “Don’t feel discouraged if you and your VA aren’t on the same page from day one. Give yourself time to learn how to be a clearer communicator and better delegator, and give your VA time to learn your work preferences and communication style.”

Her final tip for hiring a virtual assistant? “Learn to let go. I know how scary that sounds, but micromanagement gets you absolutely nowhere,” Erin says.

About the author

Ann regularly combines words and strategy for B2B, B2C, and nonprofits, continuing to live up to her high school nickname, Editor Ann. An IABC Communicator of the Year and founder of G Force Communication, Ann coaches and trains professionals in all things content. Connect with her on LinkedIn and Twitter.