Although it is true that a professional Virtual Assistant is not typically an employee, it does not mean that you should skip the interview process, when trying to select the right one to begin a partnership with. Since most interviews of Virtual Assistants will not be face-to-face, here are the three most likely options you will use for the process:
There are some very successful Virtual Assistants who do not have an online presence. However, since your partnership will be a “virtual” one, it is a very good idea to consider Virtual Assistants who have a website, since it gives you the ability to learn things about them that you would not, if there is no website. Once you’ve located the website, here are some clues you will want to look for:
- Does it have what you consider a professional look?
A professional looking website , free of typos etc. is usually a sign that the Virtual Assistant considers him/her self to be a professional and will likely work accordingly.
- Is it easy to navigate?
This suggests that the Virtual Assistant has thought through the process and is thinking about visitors to the site, which is usually a sign of a client oriented business practice. (Some business miss this point and create websites that forget about the people for whom the site should be geared)
- Do they have any testimonials?
While this is not a must, seasoned Virtual Assistants who have good client relationships and have provided satisfactory services in the past, can usually secure testimonials to support their business. This is a great way to get a feel for what others think about the Virtual Assistant and their services. These should include links to clients site so that you are able to see that they are real people who actually run a business. (Bear in mind that someone new to the Virtual Assistant industry may still be well qualified and suitable to meet your needs.)
- Does it provide Company and Personal information
Since working with a Virtual Assistant is a partnership built on trust, a good Virtual Assistant should be willing to provide some level of detail about her business and her personal achievements, etc. to her online visitors. After all, often, the only way many Virtual Assistants will ever meet clients is virtually!
- Does the site provide an easy way to connect with the Virtual Assistant?
A sign up form to request an appointment or more information or, a live link to an email address is a must. Additionally, once you have submitted your request, there should be some response mechanism which immediately provides information about what you should expect next. Having this promise of what you should expect is important so if you end up in a partnership with the Virtual Assistant you will have a quick reference point for an evaluation: did she act in accordance with what was promised in the initial response or any other responses you received to your initial request? I believe this is very telling about what is to come.
Once you have checked out the website and believe that there is a possibility this Virtual Assistant might be a good fit, the next phase of the Interview is the Email Interview.
You should use the mechanism provided at the website, to send an initial request for more information or to set up an appointment. Included in the email or the place provide for comments, should be an outline of what you are looking for. It is not enough to say “I need a Virtual Assistant”. Instead, you should provide some details like “Business Coach in need of virtual assistant services to help with setting up and distributing my e-zine. Help with other administrative tasks as well” This way, the prospective Virtual Assistant has an idea of what the focus of a consultation needs to be, which saves you both time.
What if you wish to post a RFP (request for a proposal) to the list of an organization like IVAA ? You will want to provide much more information about what your needs are.
Some sample RFPs:
Looking for a virtual assistant to help write HTML code for my newsletter and announcement templates. If you are interested please let me know your fees, terms and experience. No phone calls please and respond no later than 1/1/99
Looking for a virtual assistant to run our social networking sites; submit information to literary agents via email ; build an email database; general administrative tasks; market our WordPress website, and set up landing and sales pages for our digital products. Please include links to social networking accounts that you currently manage and any WordPress sites you created or manage. Respond via email only before 1/1/99.
Looking for a virtual assistant to customize my WordPress site, and provide on-going maintenance. Including maintaining my blog calendar and updating posts I will created, as needed. If you are able to provide help with graphics for my blog that is a plus.
Once you have submitted your RFP, you will want to first look for compliance to your instructions and immediately eliminate anyone who does not follow them to the letter. This is often a sign that they do not pay attention to detail and are probably not likely to follow instructions very well.
Now that you have, either through their website or response to your RFP, created your short list of prospective Virtual Assistants, you are ready for the last phase of the interview process. Here is a recommended list of questions to ask during this process:
- What services do you provide? – Although you may already have read this information on a website or it was provided in response to your RFP, it is a good idea to ask again, since the information on a website might be outdated and response to your RFP might not include some potentially important information.
- What are the skills that you have that make you good at what you offer? – This will give you an insight into what might be available to you beyond your immediate need. Also it might reveal a skill that you had no idea a Virtual Assistant could provide.
- Are there any kinds of requests you absolutely will not fulfill? – It is a good idea to know up front if the relationship will have limitations. For example, some virtual assistants will never manage a client’s bank account or, will not write content even if they manage your social networking sites
- Besides yourself, what resources do you have in place in the event of any absences or if you are unable to fulfill a request yourself? – this will let you know what to expect in the event your virtual assistant is unavailable for any reason (some virtual assistants do take vacations, fall ill, have family emergencies etc.)
- How do you communicate with your clients? – many virtual assistants have little or no phone contact with clients and this works well for those involved. Others use a variety ways to communicate with clients, including Skype, project management software, specified telephone hours, specified email response times etc.
- How long have you been offering virtual assistance services? – many virtual assistants may not have been in business for a long time but may have many years experience providing services in a traditional office environment, before staring their virtual assistance practice. However, it is still good to know since, when you put all of the pieces together, it should factor into the decision – for example, if someone says they have been in business for 5 years but have no website or no testimonials if they do have a website, it might be a red flag.
- What lead you to this business choice? – the answer to this question may provide insight into the level of commitment the virtual assistant has for the business which will ultimately affect how they work with you. For example, if they say “I needed the extra income”, period, that might signal that they are not fully committed and may not give you the attention you deserve.
- Who is your ideal client? – a good virtual assistant will be able to share with you some idea about what her preferred client type is – for example, she might say she likes working with independent coaches or other “Solopreneurs” as opposed to authors or people who work for a corporation
- What is your niche? – many virtual assistants have niches and even if their niche is not in your are of business, it does not mean they will not be a good fit, instead, it can mean that the experiences they have developed as a result of their niche, they can bring valuable skills and knowledge to the table
- What are your strengths and weaknesses? – if a virtual assistant tells you she has no weaknesses, you may as well end the interview at that point since she is obviously in denial. Instead, a good virtual assistant will be able to describe with confidence what she brings to the table and, the areas where she might be challenged, how she conquers those challenges.
- What is your availability? – be wary of any virtual assistant that says she is available 24/7. That is not realistic and you are setting yourself up for frustrations. Instead, a good virtual assistant will have a well-defined schedule and information about office hours and work policy
- What is your turn-around time? – simply put, you need to understand what you can expect as it relates to your specific tasks
- Do you require clients to sign a contact? – although some virtual assistants work without contracts, it is always a good idea to work with a virtual assistant who does, for your own protection. Any contract you sign should include a confidentiality clause since it is likely that you will have to share private information with your virtual assistant.
- What is your pricing model? – costs for virtual assistance services vary . Current trends show that US-based virtual assistants charge around $35 – $75 per hour for project-by-project work with discounts for retainer contracts. There are many overseas based virtual assistant agencies that charge as little as $3 per hour. However, that age-old truth “you get what you pay for” is especially true in this industry so buyer beware!!!
- What form of payments do you accept? – you will want to understand if you are expected to pay with a credit card, PayPal, check etc.
Once you have asked the questions above, a good Virtual Assistant should have some questions of her own and initiate any follow-up, based on the complete telephone interview.
Happy VA hunting!