How to use a virtual assistant

How to use a virtual assistant

To create this guide on how to use a virtual assistant in your business, I sat down with Jane de Vos, who has developed her business from being a virtual assistant to an online business manager through to a Director of Operations.

Jane used to be my virtual assistant, and helped me build both the Joy of Business and Adventures in Products.

I often recommend bringing in a virtual assistant as one of the first steps in freeing up your time when you’re a one or two-person business trying to scale. Top tip – the other outsourcing I recommend at this stage is a bookkeeper.

In this video, Jane talks about how a virtual assistant works, and the different ways you can engage them. And we talk together about the different things you can delegate to a virtual assistant, plus how to get the best out of them.

How to use a virtual assistant with Jane de Vos

Video transcript (something else you can use a virtual assistant to organise for you)

Julia Chanteray 

Hello, everybody. This is me, Julia with Jane DeVos, who is my online business manager and does lots of brilliant things for me. And I wanted to talk to Jane today about virtual assistants, online business managers, how it all works, and how those people might be useful for you in your product journey.

So, Jane, first question, let’s start with the virtual assistants. What is a virtual assistant? And how does it all work?

Jane de Vos 

So, a virtual assistant is someone that works remotely, normally, especially in today’s world, and is normally a contractor and does admin and loves all the boring bits. So normally what business owners don’t like doing, the organisation, the admin, that’s where the virtual assistant comes in.

And normally, where they would start is having a look at, for example, diary management, sorting out customer service, if you’re selling or buying products, they could be your customer service person. So that’s probably the normal starting point.

Julia Chanteray 

Okay. And you call yourself an online business manager, what’s the difference between a VA a virtual assistant and an online business manager?

Jane de Vos 

Okay, so a VA normally works with more than one client, it’s very rare that you have a full-time VA on your team when you’re starting out unless when you expand and, of course, you would want to get one full-time. So, a VA has a mix of clients that they manage for themselves. And they work either on a pay-as-you-go basis or a retainer. And they’re very much task-focused. So, like I mentioned about diary management, setting up meetings, creating lead magnets, what we’re going to talk about later. And social media posts. Online business managers focus on projects as a whole. They can look after the teams. So, for business owners, they become the level in between. So that the CEO or the business owner doesn’t have to deal with the day-to-day stuff. It’s what happens in any office environment.

Julia Chanteray 

So would the online business manager be more like an office manager in a traditional setting, they would sort out, in a team situation, when people were going on holiday or post, it’s that sort of thing? But this would be the online version of that.

Jane de Vos 

So, a little bit, so how I work is there’ll be a VA looking like after all the office admin side of it, and then I will focus on the projects and delivering any new products. Yeah, so hiring people, restructuring teams, etc. So it’s more like the hire, project management side of things.

Julia Chanteray 

Okay. So, it would be somebody who is a bit further on in their business journey, and maybe has a team or has quite a lot of complicated things going on and different projects. Yeah. Okay, that makes sense. Yeah. Didn’t know that. Thank you. And are there different sorts of virtual assistants or different sorts of online business managers?

Jane de Vos 

Yes. So depending on a person’s background. For example, I work with a VA who specializes in social media. She loves anything to do with social media. So creating social media, scheduling it, creating really fancy leaflets and lead magnets. That’s her thing, she still calls herself a VA. So then you’ve got the other side, where you’ve got a techie VA who could be looking after your website, managing the e-commerce side of things if you’re selling products.

Julia Chanteray 

So there are different specialties definitely, and do they cost different amounts of money?

Jane de Vos 

Yes. So, I would say the average rate in the UK. I think last week, the subject virtual assistants published their annual survey, which is in the 12th year. So the average rate is £27.17. Which has gone up in the last two years, from £25. Normally starting, I would say £25 pounds at the moment for a normal, generic VA. If something more specialised it would be £35 to £40.

Julia Chanteray 

Yeah, that makes sense. And for an online business manager, I’m guessing that’s got more responsibility. So that cost would be at the higher end?

Jane de Vos 

Yeah. So normally business managers start at £55 and upwards, depending on what they have to do.

Julia Chanteray 

Yeah, that makes sense. So, let’s look at the sort of tasks that a busy business owner might want to ask a virtual assistant to do when they’re transitioning to a product-based business. And so a lot of the people that I work with are coming from a services business to start off with, they’re busy selling their time for money. And I might recommend that they get the help of a virtual assistant to free up some of their time in doing that. So that they then get some time to work on their product. And you’ve got experience with that, what might that look like in practice?

Jane de Vos 

Probably everyone’s done their zone of genius exercise with you. Yeah, it’d be a list of things that people have on their “I have to do it, but I really don’t like to do it” list, which normally is sorting out their inboxes, having standard operating procedures, and how things are done. Diary management, contacting customers, sorting out meetings, organizing events, that sort of thing a VA could do very easily without that much background.

Julia Chanteray 

So you could get stuck into those kinds of admin time-sucking things. And in your experience of working with lots of people, how much time would a small business owner, say one person in a business is coming from a services-type business, they’ve got a bit busy. How much time would it save them over a week or a month?

Jane de Vos 

I would say. For anyone starting out, I would recommend doing a retainer. So, anything between 10 to 20 hours per month, to start off with, to review all the activities and then normally get at least a day back a week, when they’re not sorting out their own admin.

Julia Chanteray 

Okay. And what sort of things do people say when you or one of your VA friends goes in and starts to do that work and take it off the shoulders of the business owner, what sort of things do people say?

Jane de Vos 

How much more time they’ve got, that they didn’t know that, sort of like rules could be set up in, you know, Gmail, or Outlook, you know, where things automatically go out of your inbox. So you haven’t got, you’re not looking at 5000 emails each day. You know, you could have labels like this is, Julia, this is for you to action, this is what you’re waiting on. And this is what your VA is sorting out, you know, so you don’t need to see it brings that calm already when you log in, that it’s all dealt with.

Julia Chanteray 

So do you think that helps people with attention management as well, if you’re going through, say their email inbox, or you go through LinkedIn for me, so I don’t have to pay attention to LinkedIn, I don’t even have to look at it. But if there’s something urgent, you can point it out.

Jane de Vos 

Exactly. Yeah. So that saves people’s brains from being used up so they can focus on the bits they need to, and enjoy. Yeah.

Julia Chanteray 

Okay, that makes sense. I like the use of the zone of genius within there as well because there’s lots of things that we’re either not very good at or we’re okay at it, but we don’t really enjoy it. And what you’re saying is that for the things that I don’t really enjoy, or I’m not very good at. There are people out there who do really like that, and they’re much better at it.

Okay, so how might a VA help make the first parts of the product ecosystem, so if somebody wanted to make a lead magnet, and/or a simple trip product.

I think there’s a bit of a myth that people talk about, that I see written on the internet along with all the other internet myths, that you can just set up a products business, particularly digital products business, and you just get a VA to do it all. And I’m not sure that’s really the case, you can just give it all to them.

Jane de Vos 

So I would say that the idea would come from the business owner with a sort of rough outline. For example, a lead magnet or some mini thing that they all have on their website, the VA could then create it either in Adobe or Canva accounts, if it’s like a PDF download or something that’s fillable. And also then be able to put it onto the website. Or using software like MailChimp to start creating the email list. Because they need to build their own audience, basically.

Julia Chanteray 

Yeah. So that technical part of formatting a lead magnet, getting it set up so that people can actually get the lead magnets and get added to the list. Plus setting up the MailChimp or email distribution, you could give all of that to a VA, and you wouldn’t have to learn that stuff yourself.

Jane de Vos 

No. So if you don’t want to learn it, and you haven’t got the time, then there are VAs that will do, for example, a lead magnet package, newsletter package, you know, in their rates even, or you can have as part of your retainer with a VA, one of their monthly or weekly jobs is to do the automation and the lead magnet.

Julia Chanteray 

Right, perfect. So that’s a really good tip on how to handle it, but the business owner still needs to think of the idea and write it.

Jane de Vos 

Yes, or also you could get a copywriter on board.

Julia Chanteray 

Okay. And would a VA help with that? Find a good copywriter?

Jane de Vos 

Normally, yes, I think there are Facebook groups and your networks that sort of work, where I hang out as well, there are VAs that specialize in copywriting as well. So it just depends, I wouldn’t say there’s a VA that does everything amazingly. So you need to make sure that you have the right resources in place.

Julia Chanteray 

So it sounds like you all hang out together and you say, Oh, can you help me on this project and get people who’ve got really good skills, so you bring in other freelancers? Because you can spend hours trying to look for a trustworthy person to do some copywriting or do the technical thing. The time saver.

Okay, when somebody is more ambitious, and they want to scale quickly, would you say a VA could handle setting up multiple lead magnet funnels? Complex automations? Is that a fair thing that your normal VA can do? Or is that a specialist thing? Or is it a particular sort of VA? What kind of help would you need for that?

Jane de Vos 

I would personally get a more senior techie VA that’s got experience in it, because you don’t want to faff about in time if you want to do it quickly.

Julia Chanteray 

Okay. And if you had a VA, who was helping you with admin, would I be right in saying that, if you gave it to them to do it might be asking them to do too much? And they might get a bit like, oh my god, what’s this?

Jane de Vos 

Yeah definitely. Sometimes you can, especially if they’re starting out, if you’re a business owner that’s got, for example, all the procedures documented how you do things. VAs are very good at following what’s there and learning on the job. Because that’s part of why they love what they do because they want to learn all different systems and be able to serve more customers. But I think if it’s more techie, I would definitely go for a more techie route. And you can have more than one at the same time. And there are also people who have agencies where they have all different parts of the team. So then they can call on the person that they need to service that client as well.

Julia Chanteray 

All right, so that would be a VA agency, and they would have specialists. Yeah? Is that more expensive?

Jane de Vos 

Normally, you would get a retainer of 20 hours. But for example, you could go to them and say, I’m setting up a new product, I need to sort out the launch and the marketing. And they would have the whole project plan and they will put in the resources that they need and then give you a quote.

Julia Chanteray 

Excellent, good. And what about the promotion side of things? So we talked about setting things up on your website and if you look after LinkedIn for me, and when I give you stuff to publish on LinkedIn, you do that. Although that’s one of my weak points about putting stuff out there. But tell me about the sorts of things that a VA might do to promote the business and get the word out there.

Jane de Vos 

So depending on where your target customers are, you could have a scheduling tool in place. So something like if it’s more creative, or putting a product-based plan in for Instagram, or smarter cue does all the different social channels so that things are scheduled. So the VA could actually be creating the content in Canva, or other places or taking your photos of products or testimonials, putting them into software, which then you would either approve or if you know how they work, you just go and get on with it. And they can have it all scheduled. And it’s all done.

Julia Chanteray 

So, yeah. So definitely promotion on social media, putting all of that together. And what about other promotions, like networking or finding referrals?

Jane de Vos 

Yep, that’s possible as well. I think there are lots of mainly Facebook groups, and also LinkedIn groups as well, that they have access to, that they could help with. Okay, or setting up a Facebook group and making sure that people are nice in it, and it’s all up to you. So they could be like the moderator or admin on the client’s behalf. So also go in and proactively encourage people to discuss things and give feedback on products.

Julia Chanteray 

Okay, so lots of things. And overall, what would you see as the investment level that somebody might make at different business stages on getting a VA or an online business manager to help them?

Jane de Vos 

So I think initially, when you’re literally starting out, the VA is the first person you’re bringing on board, I would get them to do like all the admin bits. So as I said, you know, start off with maybe 10 to 20 hours per month, just so that you get used to also delegating and giving the work out because that takes a bit of time. And then depending on when you’ve got the product launches, get some other contractors as required on board. And they can be just project-based. So I’ve worked with people, where it’s a three-month stint because we know that’s when the launch is. So I come on board, I manage the team of the contractors, while they’re getting that done, and then I finish and then they carry on with the normal day-to-day.

Julia Chanteray 

And tell us about the money side of that when you’re thinking about how much investment that would be because I know that’s a concern for somebody, especially if you’ve not had a team or freelancers working for you before. You get to keep all the money in your business and you get used to that. And then suddenly, it’s like, oh, well give somebody else money. And you don’t necessarily want to do that. What might that look like?

Jane de Vos 

So I will say normally sort of general VA, I think probably budget anything between sort of £500 to £1000 a month. Initially working with OBM, I would budget £1500 pounds a month as a starter. And that’s like the basic stuff. And then if it’s a project leading up to a product launch, probably inject another sort of 25% on top timewise.

Julia Chanteray 

Right. So that would be quite a lot of involvement there, but you could also just dip your toe in the water and go for somebody at the lower end of the scale and it would be like £250 – £300 a month. Just to get you started.

Jane de Vos 

What I’ve seen for a biweekly newsletter and social media posts. Normally it’s about £250 per month, as a package from a VA.

 

How to get help from Jane de Vos

Jane has moved on from being a virtual assistant, and is now helping clients as a Director of Operations, working more at a problem and process solving level. Here’s her website.

How to use a virtual assistant in your business

I’ve worked with several virtual assistants and can’t imagine running my business without someone to help in this way. It means that you can move so much faster and get so much more done. Including all the tasks which are not in your Zone of Genius.

Whether you want to be able to concentrate on client work, be more productive or get help with building your product ecosystem, working with a virtual assistant is one of the first steps to building a successful business.

Radical delegation

Once you’ve got a virtual assistant in place, it’s useful to start thinking about what else you can delegate even more to them, or bringing in other people to help get things done. Here’s one story of a client who tried out radical delegation. 

 

 

 

 

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