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3 Reasons Why Entrepreneurs Don't Succeed With A Virtual Assistant


Barnaby Lashbrooke

Founder and CEO of Time etc, author of The Hard Work Myth

10 minute read

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Virtual assistants (VAs) continue to play a critical role in businesses of all sizes, with 67% of business owners outsourcing their tasks to these professionals in 2021. A virtual assistant can help entrepreneurs stay organized, save time, and increase productivity. These experts are also serious cost-savers, with companies that hire them cutting operational costs by as much as 78% compared to hiring a full-time employee.

However, if the partnership between you and your VA doesn't yield the desired results, it can be an incredibly frustrating process, not to mention costly.

But rather than give up on virtual assistants altogether and risk losing out on all the benefits that a VA can provide, let's take a look at the most common reasons that get in the way of a successful experience and what can be done to improve the situation.

What is a virtual assistant?

Virtual assistants are professionals who work remotely to provide administrative and executive support to clients. They are usually independent contractors and work on a freelance basis, often finding clients through dedicated virtual assistant services.

Virtual assistants can help entrepreneurs and businesses with various repetitive tasks, such as email management, scheduling, internet research, creating content, and answering customer questions.

Virtual assistants are not limited to one specific industry or job type; they can specialize in any area depending on their skill sets and experience.

For example, some VAs may specialize in digital marketing tasks such as social media management and creating email campaigns, while others may have a strong background in general executive support services, such as calendar management and making travel arrangements.

The main benefit of hiring virtual assistants is that it allows small business owners to focus on the key things that lead to more customers and greater business growth. By delegating certain tasks to a VA, entrepreneurs can save both time and money while maintaining a high quality of work.

How to tell if your VA support is working out

Realizing that you made the right choice in hiring a virtual assistant can be a fulfilling experience. But how do you tell if your partnership is actually working out?

Here are a few signs to look for:

Your most regular and repetitive tasks are offloaded

The kind of tasks you delegate to your personal virtual assistant can make or break the success of your experience. Your virtual assistant should be working on tasks for you at least weekly—but preferably daily—to get the best results (more on this later!).

Your communication is flowing regularly

Communication is vital for any working relationship, and it's especially important when you're working with a remote team member such as a virtual assistant.

The difference in productivity between teams who are well-connected and teams who are less so has been found to be around 20-25%. So while they may be out of sight, they should never stay far out of mind.

You're noticing a difference

"Productivity is being able to do things that you were never able to do before." – Franz Kafka

If you've nailed the first two steps, you will soon start to notice a clear difference in your day-to-day life compared to previously.

You'll find that you have more time to focus on tasks that require your specific expertise and add more value to your business, safe in the knowledge that the time-consuming tasks that used to dominate your to-do list are being handled by capable hands.

You're also likely to feel increasingly more organized and on top of things as your assistant helps you manage your workload. And when you're not constantly stressing and working overtime to tick everything off your to-do list, you're able to restore the balance between your professional and personal life and enjoy more much-needed leisure time outside of your business.

What are the most common causes of an unsuccessful VA experience?

Every entrepreneur-virtual assistant relationship is unique, but in our 15 years of experience working with over 22,000 small business owners and high-level executives, we've found that the reasons behind any partnerships failing to launch usually boil down to the same few pitfalls.

So if you can't tick the boxes that signify a successful experience with your VA, or you want to ensure a productive partnership from the get-go, these are the main offenders you should watch out for:

1. Thinking it works like magic

While it's true that virtual assistants typically come equipped with the right skills and experience to get the job done (a minimum of five years of prior experience in a relevant professional setting for all assistants at Time etc), a common misconception is that they can dive straight in and get started without any onboarding or instructions.

Although they are a “virtual” assistant working remotely and you may not see them physically in person, that’s pretty much where the similarities end between them and the voice-commanded AI technologies in our phones and homes.

So just like any regular hire that joins your company, even the most experienced assistant will need to get to know you, your business, your goals, your expectations, your processes for the tasks you'll be assigning them, and more, to be able to provide the high level of support you expect.

This may seem like another time-consuming process that you wished to avoid by hiring a virtual assistant, but the truth is that neither of you will get far without it. As the saying goes, "You reap what you sow", and investing this small amount of time at the beginning of your journey will pay dividends down the line.

It's also highly unlikely your virtual assistant will be able to stay one step ahead of your needs or anticipate future tasks unless you set them. This takes us on to...

2. A lack of clarity

A lack of clarity before or during the delegation process can lead to inefficiency and frustration for both parties—and even bring progress to a grinding halt.

One example of this would be handing over unsuitable tasks to a virtual assistant.

Although we at Time etc are firm believers in freeing up as much of your time as possible, working with VAs isn’t about handing off everything on your plate, but rather, strategically focusing your time, energy, and resources on the tasks that move your business forward. For instance, social media scheduling is a task that can easily be done by someone else if they had the right instructions, but devising a new marketing strategy should be the responsibility of your in-house marketing team or an external consultant.

In the same way, tasks that require your personal expertise or attention, such as performance reviews, personal employee matters, and business strategy formulation, are best left in your hands as the head of your own business.

Another example where a lack of clarity can affect your experience is how the task is assigned to the virtual assistant.

It's vital that the VA understands their tasks in detail and how to complete them correctly. If the VA is given tasks with no clear instructions or expectations of quality, it's unlikely they'll be able to deliver the results you expected.

3. Forgetting the bigger picture

In our experience, the most successful entrepreneurs who hire virtual assistants are always mindful of the reasons why they chose a VA in the first place, rather than an in-house employee.

For most small business owners, these usually boil down to:

  • Cost
  • Flexibility
  • Talent availability

Virtual assistants are usually much more cost-effective than their full-time, in-person counterparts because you only pay for a VA’s productive time completing your tasks, as little or as much as you need, down to the minute. And due to their remote nature, hiring virtual team members makes it possible to fish in a much larger pool for skills and talent to find the right person for the job. What's more, most entrepreneurs find that hiring a portion of someone’s full skill set to match specific tasks is more effective than paying for the full package of a full-time employee for the same task, giving you even more bang for your buck.

Based on average annual compensation alone, hiring a virtual assistant ($7,224) is around 85% cheaper than an executive secretary or administrative assistant ($50,069). And when you consider the additional cost of recruitment, employee benefits, office space, supplies, and equipment, the more money you save means more money that can be reinvested back into your business.

Whatever your reasons for hiring virtual team members, it goes without saying that you'll want it to work out so you can experience the benefits. And as with all good things in life, a little time and effort are needed to get there. But investing this time and effort will be a struggle if you lose sight of the "why" that's powering your decisions.

Key tips to keep you on the right track

Regardless of the current state of your VA partnership, there are always steps you can take to make sure it’s successful. To ensure that your experience is a positive one, here are some key tips to keep in mind:

Find the right tasks to delegate to your virtual assistant

Start by identifying just one or two routine tasks you do every day that zap your energy, take up your valuable time, or that you simply don't enjoy!

This might be managing the emails in your inbox, scheduling your calendar, writing social media posts, creating spreadsheets, or responding to new leads or inquiries from prospective clients or customers. You’ve got to think about how you are going to get the most value from your assistant every day, so whatever you choose, the key is that this task needs to be done every day in your business.

Chances are, you'll have plenty of other tasks that fit the bill, but focus on just one or two for now—you can always add more later.

See: Delegate These 25 Recurring Tasks To Save Time Every Day

Document your tasks

As soon as you have identified the specific tasks you'll be handing over to your virtual assistant, make sure you document them properly. Providing instruction is a critical step that can't be ignored.

Open up a Google Doc (or whatever tool you like to use) and just start typing. No need to worry about fancy fonts or formatting, simple bullet points will suffice. The idea is to make sure that your virtual assistant has everything they would need to do the job. Try to be as specific and detailed as possible, so the virtual assistant knows exactly what needs to be done, and how it should be done. If the task requires specific access or login details, be sure to include them, too.

This can seem time-consuming initially, and while it's certainly tempting to think that it'd be quicker and easier to do the task yourself, the fact is that it will save you both time and energy in the long run. Having a set of clear, easily accessible instructions to refer to not only helps your virtual assistant perform your tasks confidently and competently but also significantly reduces the likelihood of you having to repeat the same instructions over and over again.

And of course, once your assistant is used to your tasks, the time that you would have usually spent doing them yourself will be freed up forever!

See: Five Essential Tech Tips For Getting Started With A Virtual Assistant

Be there for your assistant

While providing clear instructions is vital, even the most detailed handover document might not cover every scenario.

Patience and openness to communication are critical during the early days of a partnership with your virtual assistant. Being available to answer their questions and provide support when necessary should be among your top priorities when you first start working together.

Just like any new starter to a role, it might take a little time for them to get used to your work. But as we all know, this phase doesn't last long.

Once your virtual assistant is completing your tasks confidently and competently, it's still beneficial to schedule regular check-ins to discuss tasks, new ideas, or just how things are going in general. These sessions make it much easier for you to stay on the same page, and can go far in helping to build and maintain a successful, long-lasting working relationship.

See: How To Form A Successful Relationship With Your Virtual Assistant

What's the bottom line?

If you’ve decided to hire a virtual assistant, chances are that it’s because you want to dedicate more time and energy to focus on your business growth instead of sinking it all into routine administrative tasks, or because you want to regain control over your work-life balance and reduce your daily stress, or both!

We've seen time and time again how working with virtual assistants can be an incredibly beneficial, even life-changing experience for business owners—but only when it’s done right.

To make sure you reap the benefits of a successful virtual assistant experience as soon as possible and for as long as possible, it pays to be prepared so you can avoid falling victim to the common pitfalls that could stop you in your tracks.

Following the advice in this guide will set you up for a long-term productive partnership with your VA that helps you achieve your business goals and take your company to the next level.

If you want to take back control of your time and get more done each day, speak to our expert team to get started with a virtual assistant. We’ll set you up with a dedicated professional based on the skills and experience you need.

Or try us out for free today!

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About the author

Barnaby Lashbrooke is the founder and CEO of Virtual Assistant service Time etc as well as the author of The Hard Work Myth, recently recommended by Sir Richard Branson. Barnaby is a Forbes Columnist on productivity and is also an accomplished entrepreneur, selling more than $35 million worth of services.

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