A few days ago I received a saddening note from the virtual assistant I’ve been working with for the past year. She’s been a fantastic part of my team. Her English was amazing and she was fantastic at thinking “outside-the-box” and coming up with suggestions and improvements. While we parted on very good terms, I couldn’t get a clear idea of why she was leaving. She said she needed to move toward “other projects”. I offered more money, but her mind was made up.
After a bit more review I believe she fell victim to something that has always been a concern of mine: I’m not providing my VA’s with enough consistent work. Going back and reviewing the past year I found that while there were spikes of 20+ hours a week, most of the time the average was only 5 hours a week. I can completely understand how frustrating this would be to a contractor that might be expecting more consistent work.
Assuming this is the problem, what are my options? Here’s what I came up with:
- Be even more clear that the assignment is for only 5 – 10 hours a week
- Guarantee a minimum number of hours per week and find ways to meet that minimum
One of the reasons I outsource work is because I’m so terribly busy as it is. The thought of always coming up with projects and ideas to keep my assistant busy just begins to feel like more work for me. I guess a really excellent “self starter” assistant would get to know my business and find ways to be productive… but that’s usually a “pipe dream” in the regular corporate world, so I’m not surprised it is a challenge in the virtual assistant world too.
On a related note: I’m often concerned that if I have someone that is really skilled, they will get bored with the menial type of tasks. For example, I see a lot of people with super amazing degrees in programming and design that sign up on oDesk to be virtual assistants. On the flip side, it also seems that the workers that don’t mind the repetitive stuff are often the ones that don’t have the skills to do a lot of other things. In a perfect world, I’d have someone that could design, program, do customer support, and data entry… and do all the tasks equally well and enjoy them all the same. Maybe I’m hiring the wrong people, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen this combination.
So, this gets me to the title of this post. Assuming I’m hiring a virtual assistant with basic VA skills: data entry, research, customer support, etc., how do I keep them busy for, say, 20 hours a week? As I was on instant messenger explaining to my friend that I was busy choosing a new assistant he said, “I really should find someone to help me with a bunch of my projects.”
Maybe I could “lend” my assistant to my buddy when things are slow. Obviously different assistants would have different feelings about this, but I started to seriously wonder why this couldn’t be a win-win-win situation? My assistant gets work, my buddy has temporary access to someone without having to go through the searching and hiring process, and I don’t waste time and money giving someone a bunch of dumb “time filler” tasks.
If I embark on this “virtual assistant lending” program, I figure I could do it one of two ways:
- Have my friends give me all the details of the project and I’d “manage” it for them. This releases me from having to put my assistant in contact with my buddy, but is obviously way more hassle for me.
- Contact my assistant and ask if they mind doing some projects directly for my buddy and working directly with him.
As I go through the process of hiring a new VA I think I’ll explore some of this with them. Hopefully I can find out if they prefer a set number of hours per week, and if they do, how can I fill that time every week with productive and meaningful tasks?
I guess the big question is this: Do you think most assistants would mind serving two masters? Is it bad form for me to even propose this to a potential virtual assistant?