I find that I have a lot more ideas of things I’d like to do than I have time to do them. I get all the important stuff done, but there are many smaller things that I’d like to accomplish that I simply don’t have enough time.
I looked at a lot of the companies that provide remote executive assistants, but decided I’d rather work with someone directly. I found a paralegal from Texas who was looking for work as a virtual assistant. My thinking was that someone who grew up in the US would be easier to communicate with than someone from a foreign country. I also wanted to keep the work in the USA if I could instead of sending it out of the country. When I spoke with I called one of her references and they were very pleased with her work, so I decided to try it as an experiment.
She said she was wanting to work from home to be able to spend more time with her kids. I could hear her kids very loud in the background and every once in awhile our conversation would be interrupted while she told them to stop climbing the walls. With the kids at home she wouldn’t be able to make phone calls, but most of what I needed done was going to be over email anyway. In retrospect the noisy kids should have been a warning sign.
The first thing I did was to setup a project management system. I used Basecamp because it was easy to setup and get running and the hosted feature meant I didn’t have to try to install something myself. Particularly I wanted to make sure I had a way for her to track her time on each task. When you are working with someone remotely it is easy to have very different ideas on how long something will take. If I give someone a task that I think will take 2 hours and it takes them 16 hours there is probably something wrong. The issue might be an unclear definition of the task or it might have to do with not providing proper training ahead of time. Regardless of the cause, a good time tracking system lets you keep track of exactly how long things take to get done and can give you a good idea of what type of tasks will best use your assistant’s skills.
We agreed to start off with 20 hours per week for $250. And I gave her several tasks to complete. One was to find 20 authoritative articles on a particular subject and write up 100 to 200 word summaries. Another was to find websites in a particular niche and put together a spreadsheet showing 3 or 4 metrics, the URL and contact information. The metrics were to come from places like Alexa, Technorati, Feedburner, etc. I sent an email with screen shots showing how to get these numbers from each site.
At the end of the first week, she had only logged 18 hours and she hadn’t accomplished much. I saw a draft of the authoritative articles she was supposed to locate and summarize were ok, but looked like they were chosen based on their ordering in Google rather than actual content. When I asked about the two missing hours, the reply I got was “well, it was about 20 hours.”
I emphasized the need for accurate record keeping and explained that the time tracking was a very important part of what I needed to be able to tell if the arrangement was worth while or not.
As we launched into the second week, I discovered that she was having significant difficulties understanding how to obtain the metrics for various websites. Personally I thought my instructions were very detailed and very clear–especially with all the screen shots showing exactly what I needed. For whatever reason, it had confused her. In retrospect, I may have been better off doing a screencast showing her exactly what I wanted done.
At the end of the second week, I asked her to send me everything she had been working on, even if it was only partially complete because I wanted to evaluate things before moving forward. I never got all the material. When I tried calling her, I discovered her phone had been disconnected. Emails went unanswered as well. I even tried calling the person who had been her reference, but he doesn’t seem to be answering his phone either. After a few weeks I gave up.
I was anticipating that it would take a few weeks to get someone up to speed anyway and I’ve learned quite a few important lessons along the way. Next Monday I’ll discuss some of the lessons I learned and how I’m going to do things different next time.
Andrew Flusche says
I’m sad to hear things didn’t work out so well with your assistant. I eagerly await your post on lessons learned, so we can all learn from your experience. This is timely advice for a lot of us!
Mark Shead says
@Andrew – We’ll I’d rather have things not work out well in the first few weeks and learn from it than go for a few months and then discover a huge problem. I’m trying some other options that will hopefully work out a bit better.
I have seriously been looking into Virtual Assisting, but from a career perspective. I have just begun my research and this is the first article I ran across discussing an employer’s real experience (and disappointment) using a VA. A little discouraging to say the least, but I’m hopeful your experience was the exception rather than the rule. From your description, I’m thinking that the end result would have been the same if you had hired her to work with you in person. I’ll be looking for your next article and in the interim, will be enjoying some of your past work.
Best of luck!
Kate V. Kerans says
As a virtual assistant myself, I must admit I am impressed with your dealings with a VA. Many clients come into the relationship without clear enough ideas of the expectations required or a sufficient knowledge of possible hurdles that may have to be overcome. You have dealt with all of these and more with your reference inquiries and additional use of Basecamp. I also agree that the noisy kids in the background might have been a bigger deterrent.
As a professional VA and not someone who treats her business as something to ‘fill in time’, I have an office space dedicated to my work and is reserved as such. Additionally, it is exceedingly important when working virtually to understand client’s instructions fully to ensure your client’s valuable billable time is not wasted spent figuring out how to do tasks rather than doing the actual work.
I am glad it seems you haven’t given up on Virtual Assistants and fervently hope you have a better experience the second time around.
Kate V. Kerans
Kerans Virtual Assistance
Crystal Redhead-Gould says
Ah the challenges of working with “individuals looking for work as a virtual assistant.”
Virtual assistants are business owners in their own right, they take their businesses seriously and will never conduct a consultation with kids screaming in the background. You are right, this should have given you a hint of what to expect.
I commend you for having your tasks outlined and providing instructions, these are some great steps to ensure the success of your virtual relationship. However I should make a couple points to you and your readers for future reference:
1. You will find it almost impossible to source a professional virtual assistant in the US for $12.50 an hour.
2. Most virtual assistants use their own project management and time tracking software.
Finally, I am happy to hear that the experience has not soured you and that you do still intend to find a good match for your business.
Feel free to email me or visit my website to request an ebook Work Successfully With A Virtual Assistant, is free for the asking. Best Wishes!
Karayn Eckerle says
I am sorry to hear of your experience. But I must agree with Kate. The type of operation you describe not only is unprofessional, it gives those of us who have worked hard in the industry for many years a bad name.
Personally, I wish more clients were as organized and insightful as you in presenting and tracking their projects. Working from a home office is, in my opinion, often more difficult then working in a “normal” office environment. Distractions abound. And when people first start working from a home office they often think multitasking is one of the perks. However, multitasking — as in doing laundry, running the dishwasher, chasing kids, etc., can chew up time quickly.
From a professional viewpoint we simply must not allow outside interruptions to prevent us from accomplishing our tasks. Accurate record-keeping and time management are also necessary. And last (but not least) projecting a professional image — be it by phone or by our manner of correspondence — is more important than ever for those of us who telecommute. Nothing kills a working relationship quicker — either with a client or with HIS clients — then to have screaming children waging war in the background or a washing machine pounding away next to the office door.
I’ll look forward to your continued articles on this topic. Believe me, there are many out there with the experience and skills you seek. And we appreciate your efforts to keep your work in the U.S.
Sarah Greene says
I enjoyed your article and am looking forward to the follow-up. The other VAs made some excellent points. I’d also like to suggest submitting RFP’s to VA professional organizations like the International Real Estate Assistant Association (IREAA) and the International Virtual Assistant Association (IVAA). You can look specifically for VAs that specialize in the type of work you are looking to have done, and will most likely receive several responses directly from VAs that can explain to you how they will proceed with the task(s).
Jeremy Brown says
I think, that you still need to meet a person at least once. Anyway being a manager it not just giving tasks. It’s about establishing relationships, so that people like working for you. Perhaps, this one was just not your type of person. Then, I think it greatly depends on software that you use. Basecamp is not the best variant for collaboration. For example, I use Wrike and manage to collaborate with 15 people, 10 of whom are placed overseas. The software is integrated with their email and never lets them forget important stuff. Feel free to check it out http://www.wrike.com/
Thanks everyone for sharing your feedback about Virtual Assistants or Remote Executive Assistants. I started up a company and was in need of such services on a limited budget. I learned about outsourcing to India after reading the 4 hour work week, and gave it a shot with 2 companies.
Unfortunately, outsourcing to India resulted in serious language barriers, timing delays and inconsistent results. I was paying $250 for every 20 hours of work which I thought was great at that time. I recently learned about another company called Red Butler which is based in the US.
I signed up with Red Butler for their VIP membership and now pay $165 per month for a dedicated assistant that will handle up to 100 of my requests each month. It has been remarkable and I try to inform people whenever I can about the service.
you should definteley try uassist.me they are fabulous! Ive tried AskSunday, Getfriday and other freelance virtual assistance and uassist.me is by FAAAAR the best one ever. I have my own line and the Virtual Assistants answers as if it were my office…
Visit their website. http://www.uassist.me
I think you can even get a free trial
Mark Shead says
Thanks. I’ll have to check them out.
Paula Stra.w says
I Disagree, uassist.me is the WORST va service. I found them for my boss so I could focus on the larger projects and have the VA work on what should be easy items. The staff at Uassist.me changes frequently, the manager and owner does not care and they produce sloppy work. Numerous errors, missed deadlines, etc.
We kept them because the price was cheap, but in the end it costs to have awful work. Uassist.me great concept, bad bad service
I fully agree with the article, as it resembles my experiences as well. However there’s an european alternative (www.morriscooke.com). It’s a company founded to deal with all those shortcommings that has been discussed. I use them eversince due to:
– no fixed fees, subsciptions etc – they use balance for settlement, which is minute-based
– they provide web-based project management system (which is previewed on their website) to allow clear information about stage of affairs (what done by who, how, what’s the progress). Basically all relevant information in one place.
– they charge 9 EUR (VAT included, which is 12 USD) per hour for professional service.
I just came accross this thread… kind of old but I agree with John. I have been with Uassistme since January… and OMG! its such a HUGE difference from Asksunday and Brickwork (I tried them on 2008 and 2009)… UAM is like the “Cartier” Of Virtual Assistant companies! LOL… Its amazing. First, their english is as good as it gets, some even are American! They also work the same timezone I do (they are in Central America and Im in florida)…Really amazing… I highly recommend them…
Lao Tzu says
I wouldn’t trust Americans, you definitely want to use the power of currency and spread the wealth around the globe. As your experience points out, most Americans (me too) are entitled and averse to hard work.
Sammi Henson says
There are a number of Time Tracking solutions available on the internet. As an employer of several virtual assistants, I found it challenging to make sure that they work as what they claimed. Virtual assistants’ work are mostly small and continuing tasks which cannot really be paid on a project basis, therefore, tracking time for hourly pay is a must. After trying out several software, I found Worksnaps (http://www.worksnaps.net) is the most useful. It not only allow me to collect the time spent by my virtual assistants, but also let me verify the time. How the software works is that it captures the work activities (including sample screenshots, application used, keyboard/mouse stats etc) to make sure that they are working on line and working on the assigned things. This way, I can be assured of the time spent on my tasks and pay them without any haggling. Of course, not all time spent are online, but with Worksnaps I can mostly get the unknowns out of the way.
Megan Daly says
Little late to the game here, but as a professional EA, it seems glaringly obvious that one of the main issues here is what you want out of your EA versus what you’re willing to pay. I would laugh at an offer of $12/hour; that’s downright insulting. On average, I make $35-45/hour. As with all things, you get what you pay for.
I’m also appalled at the talk of Americans being lazy, and the talk of outsourcing to India and other countries. Perhaps you are not finding quality help because your focus is more on the bottom line than on hiring the person who is most qualified for the job. How anyone could outsource EA work to India and then be surprised that there would be language barriers and time change issues is beyond me.