What can a virtual assistant do?
I have been running a virtual assistant company called TaskBullet for 3 years now and I get asked all the time, “what can a virtual assistant do?” and my answer to that is, “I don’t know, what can wood do?” It depends on the carpenter. I have had a virtual assistant set up art in photoshop after watching one screencast video of the process, when she had never before used photoshop. So the better you are at delegating tasks and the more you understand exactly what you want and have the ability to explain that clearly to your virtual assistant, the more your virtual assistant can do.
To continue the wood analogy; the better you understand the strengths and weaknesses of wood, the better able you are to create something you can rely on. I have outlined some of the reasons people fail when using a virtual assistant in hopes that it will give you an idea of what a virtual assistant can do for you and what they can’t. If you can learn how to avoid the weaknesses and take advantage of the strengths, you can use a virtual assistant to their full potential.
Virtual Assistant not available or unresponsive
There are a number of reason your virtual assistant might be unavailable or unresponsive: asleep, power outage, internet is down, there could be a storm knocking out the power and internet. However the most common reason they aren’t available is, they are working with another client. A virtual assistant needs to fill an 8 hour day, and if you only need them for a few hours per day or week they will need to work with multiple clients to fill their time. If you need an assistant to be at the ready when you want them, you will need to pay them to sit and be ready for you. This is typically less effective, unless you have a lot of work to keep them busy.
Solution; If you know you will need them at specific times during the day or week, set a schedule for them to be available during those times. A great resource we offer at TaskBullet.com is, we have managers who are available during your business hours, so if your virtual team member is unavailable, you can contact the manager and give them a task that is time sensitive and they can assign a temporary team member to do it.
Task not done correctly
When a task is not done correctly we can almost always lay fault at the feet of poor communication. Without going into an enormous amount of detail, which any discussion on communication would certainly warrant, let me just say this; we know that communication over email or messenger is the least effective form of communication, therefore when we use it we need to expect that what we wanted to communicate probably got lost along the way. Bottom line is, the virtual assistant didn’t understand what you wanted, and therefore delivered a task that was not correct. Whether you didn’t explain what you wanted well enough or the skills of the virtual team member weren’t sufficient to grasp what you wanted them to do, the communication process ultimately broke down.
We see this communication breakdown happen all the time, I even find myself doing it. I may not completely understand when someone is explaining something to me, but I expect that I will figure it out along the way, and sometimes I do and other times I have to go back and ask more questions. Where we fail as humans is in the asking questions part, we don’t want to appear that we don’t understand something, because that may mean we aren’t smart enough, however just because the person giving the information understands what they want doesn’t mean that we the receiver should automatically understand. It is just as much the fault of the giver of the information as it is the receiver if what is delivered isn’t understood. For communication to be effective both the giver and receiver need to understand each other.
Albert Einstein said, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” Which leads me to the solution.
Solution; Make sure you understand what you want and can clearly explain it to someone who may not have ever done it before. Make sure the virtual assistant clearly understands what you want by having them explain back to you what you want them to do. Talk to your virtual assistant over the phone whenever possible.
Another great practise that we do at TaskBullet.com is called “The Check Back,” this is where we have the virtual assistant do part of the task and check back with the client so they can check to make sure they’re doing the task correctly. This will prevent the virtual assistant from spending 4 hours doing a task wrong, it also gives the client the opportunity to give added explanation if needed.
The VA missed the due date
Nothing is more frustrating than a missed due date. It usually means the client needs to frantically try and do the task themselves at the last minute. A few things can contribute to this very frustrating situation. One of the main reasons a due date is missed is because there was no due date set. I am guilty of this, because when I assign a task I expect that the one doing the task knows that I want it done ASAHP (As Soon As Humanly Possible). The thing I failed to consider is; if a virtual team member has 2 tasks and one has a due date for tomorrow and the other has no due date, the tomorrow due date gets done first. I was essentially putting myself at the back of the line when I didn’t set a due date. Assigning a task with “ASAP” still doesn’t get me in the front of the line, because it lacks a specific date and time.
Another missed due date culprit is the problem of “insufficient information.” The problem goes like this; client gives a task to their virtual assistant and expects everything they need to complete the task is in the description and goes home for the day. The virtual assistant receives the task and goes to work only to find out that the needed username and password to login weren’t given by the client. When the client gets to work the next morning to see the task not done and a message from the virtual assistant to; please give me the login information, they huff and puff, throws their hands up in the air and swear off virtual anything ever again. Whether it’s login information or just a simple clarification question, insufficient information can lead to frustrating missed due dates.
Power and internet outages can delay tasks, as well as an influx of last minute tasks by other clients, whatever the case, let’s get to the solutions.
Solutions; Always set a due date that gives the virtual assistant a specific date and time to have the task done by. Set a due date that will give ample time for the virtual assistant to finish the task, you don’t want them rushed to finish by the prescribed time and lessen the quality of the finished product. Second is to allow yourself enough time to be available for “The Check Back” so the virtual team member can get back in touch with you to solve any last minute issues that may arise due to insufficient information. Third, don’t wait till the last minute to submit a task, give yourself and your virtual assistant enough time to do the task properly and still have time to do any revisions, if needed. It’s a good idea to set the due date a day or two before you actually need it just incase things happen that are outside the control of the VA.
- Screencast Video; A screencast video is a recording of your computer screen. You can do a task or process and record it for a virtual team member to watch and reference later. This can dramatically cut down on the time it takes for a virtual team member to learn a new process or task. We use screencast-o-matic, but there are a number of free options out there.
- Detailed Instructions; Detailed instructions are just that, detailed. Keep in mind, this may be the virtual assistants first time performing this task in the way you want, so there will likely be questions and a learning curve. The better and more detailed the instructions are the less time it will take for the virtual assistant to learn and become proficient in performing the task. A screencast video is the best option for this when applicable.
- Examples; Having examples for the virtual assistant to reference will help clarify what you expect and give them something to check their work against.
- Due Date; Having a due date is one of the most important elements a task can have. This will set the expectation you have for the completion of the task, without one and you leave the urgency up to the virtual assistant who has other tasks that might have a more urgent time constraint. Don’t put yourself at the back of the line, set a due date.
- Approximate time a task will take to finish; Knowing how long a task should take will help you gauge the effectiveness of the virtual assistant. It will also set an expectation for the virtual assistant; if they find it’s taking a lot longer to complete the task then you specified, they can follow up with you to see if more training or clarification is needed.
- Check Back; The Check Back is when a virtual assistant does part of your task and checks back with you to make sure they are doing it correctly. This will allow you the opportunity to check their work and see if added training or clarification is needed. This also will help guard against a virtual team member spending 4 hours on a task that they’re doing wrong. You can catch mistakes early and correct them before too much time is wasted.
I hope you have a better idea of what a virtual assistant can do for you, and how to solve most of the potential problems. As the leader of your business, the success and failure ultimately rest with you. The more you know about how to effectively use a virtual assistant the better you will be at using them to their full potential.
See how it works and let’s build something together.