Do These Five Things Before You Hire a VA

5 steps to hiring a virtual assistant


I love getting those frantic phone calls. The ones that go something like:

“I’m panicking, Jess! I need your help RIGHT NOW!!!”

Really, I live for these calls. They’re the reason I started this business. I love helping people find creative calming solutions in these awful moments of panic. I’m like the VA version of Ghostbusters. Who you gonna call…? DON’T PANIC!


But I don’t like to jump in with a fire, ready, aim mentality. In order to set my team up for success, I ask that new clients do a few things on their end first (after talking them off the ledge, of course!). This way, the client is in the right mindset to delegate and the assistant has a clear path to success.

1. Evaluate Your Insides

Usually, the nagging feeling of needing a VA starts because you’re simply stretched too thin. Maybe there are things going on in their organization that they’re missing, or there are meetings and flights and invoices that are being overlooked.

But hiring outside help isn’t just about you. If you’re an entrepreneur and run a business, or if you’re a manager with a team, you need to consider how a VA will not only change your life, but also the lives of the people you work with and the business around you.

Do an overall operations check-up of your entire organization, even if it’s just you, so you can see where the gaps are. We’ve had potential clients come to us when their business is in shambles, praying that a VA can solve not only their problems but also feed every hungry child. The reality is that if the gaps in your business require an operations overhaul, a firing and hiring spree, or a big branding challenge—expecting a VA to manage all those things for you is simply setting yourself up for failure.

Virtual assistants do best when they have clear lists of tasks and priorities, especially in the beginning. Larger company-wide challenges may require a specialized consultant or strategist to help whip you into shape first, allowing you to be set up for success when you start working with a VA.

2. Make These Three Lists

In order to stop running around like a chicken with your head cut off, you need to sit down and spend at least one hour looking closely at your workload and your goals to determine what you can do, what you should do, and what someone else can do for you.

Start here: Make a Venn diagram. Remember those from when you were a kid? Two circles next to each over that overlap in the middle. Make sure you have enough space; these lists might get long!

Everything I’m Doing Now: This is your left circle. This is your life. Write down everything, and I mean EVERYTHING that you do on a day-to-day basis in your business. This may include depositing checks to your business account, scheduling appointments, opening mail, checking on reports, talking to clients on Skype, etc. This will probably be your biggest and longest list. Be honest with yourself. Don’t leave anything out.

Everything I Want to Do: This is your right circle. This is your future. If you had all the time in the world, what would you focus on? What would you build? This is your wish list for your business, the list that will keep you motivated and help you make a difference in the world. Dream big, people!

Everything I Can Delegate: This is the overlapping circle in your Venn diagram. This list can be culled from the things you are doing now and things you want to do, but could delegate to someone else. You don’t have to physically re-write the things in the middle; you can simply underline or highlight them from your Everything I’m Doing Now and Everything I Want to Do lists. Most likely, there will be more from your “doing now” list than your “want to do” list, but remember that VAs can help you achieve your dreams by performing a lot of the grunt work behind big projects.

Be realistic about what you can and cannot delegate here. There are, for better or worse, certain things that only YOU can do, after all. And while some folks preach about outsourcing their entire business, I personally don’t see any fun in that. But that’s another topic for another day…

Note: Chris Ducker takes a different approach to making these sorts of lists that you can learn about here.

3. Prioritize, Prioritize, Prioritize

As much as I enjoy those frantic phone calls, the idea here is to put your mind at ease, not keep you panicking.

The best way to do this—especially if you’re behind on a lot of projects—is to set up Tier 1, Tier 2, and Tier 3 priority lists. It may look something like this (very short) example:

Tier 1 (Month 1)

  • Set up a calendaring system for clients to pick check-in call times
  • Set up new invoicing tool and let all clients know about the new process
  • Gather frequent flyer and hotel rewards information in one document
  • Set up a blog and social media editorial calendar

Tier 2 (Months 2 & 3)

  • Set up reporting template in Excel for client services activities
  • Create graphics templates for blog and social media updates
  • Set up late invoice reminder system (automated or manual)
  • Create a process for submitting for travel reimbursements

Tier 3 (Months 4-6)

  • Create a style guide for guest blog posts
  • Re-format old blog posts with new style guide
  • Schedule ongoing social media posts for evergreen content
  • Categorize expenses from the last three months

These are just some examples of tasks you may outsource in terms of priority, but of course your tasks and priorities will be different. The important thing is to not just say, “GO DO THESE ELEVENTY MILION THINGS RIGHT MEOW!” Instead, set actual realistic deadlines for each and every piece.

4. Determine a Budget

How much will you gain by hiring some help? Could you put your time into business development to get more clients? Build a profitable course?

Budgets aren’t just about potential earnings, of course, but actual income and expenses in your business. Remember that you can start small, but also remember that the fewer hours you have, the less you’re going to be able to get done with a VA. Consider setting aside a monthly budget that you can pay a VA for an estimated number of hours. After all, virtual assistants work best when they’re used on a daily, ongoing basis.

As you set your budget, it’s also important to make sure you understand the market. VA rates range anywhere between $3 and $300 per hour. It always depends on where the VA is located, their experience, and their specialty.

In general, if you’re looking for an experienced, reliable VA that you can trust in the long run, you should expect to pay between $25 and $50 per hour—depending on what you’re having them do. If you need someone to simply take direction and do basic tasks, you can pay in the $3-$10 per hour range for someone overseas.

And finally, think of hiring a VA as an investment in your future. Imagine all that stuff you could do if you had five or 10 or 15 hours of your week back! Virtual assistants take tasks off your plate so you can focus on what’s important. How much is that worth to you?

5. Figure Out How You Will Measure Success

Here’s a question I ask in every new business meeting:

“Let’s say we start working together today. In three months, how will you be able to determine whether or not the relationship has been successful?”

It’s an important question because we do a three-month contract to start, with a month-to-month commitment after the intial three months. That’s because we feel that three months is an appropriate amount of time to actually make a difference in someone’s business. But when I ask this question, I’m often met with, “…….”

It makes sense. People often don’t even know what they need yet, let alone how they’ll know what’s going to work. And in addition to getting actual tasks accomplished, a successful relationship, to you, may be measured in something like trust, which is an intangible benefit.

After going through the first four steps on this list, however, you should have a pretty good sense of what benchmarks you want to use to measure success in the first three months. These success metrics can help you throughout the hiring process as well as the evaluation process.

Once you’ve hired a VA, talk to them about those benchmarks for success. This helps them feel like they’re accountable to something more than checking off task lists, and it helps you feel like you’re making a good investment. Your benchmarks will also make determining a fit and terminating a contract much easier. All you have to ask yourself at the end of the three months is, “Did I give my VA everything they needed to be successful?” and if so, “Did they hit the benchmarks that we set out in the beginning?”

If the answer is “no,” and you held up your end of the bargain, then it’s time to move on and find someone else to help you. The goal of this entire exercise is to avoid choosing the wrong person, because turnover is painful for everyone. So don’t skimp on the prep work here. Now, go get yourself poised and ready for the best VA relationship ever!


Get tasks off your plate faster with the VA Starter Kit!

Jess Tyson, CEO & Director of Calm

Jess is the founder and proud Director of Calm at Don’t Panic Management. (And yes, she invented that title because that’s what you do when you’re the boss!) She wrote the book on how building a successful relationship with a virtual assistant can make all the difference in helping business owners get to the next level. Her life is often a whirlwind of wrangling her toddler, speaking at conferences (virtual and beyond!), researching productivity hacks, and meticulously making matches between overworked entrepreneurs and focused virtual assistants. Jess's first book, Panic Proof: How the Right Virtual Assistant Can Save Your Sanity and Grow Your Business is available now:

  • Current location: Redding, CT
  • Go-to Karaoke song: “Hand in My Pocket” by Alanis Morissette
  • Favorite kind of cheese: Aged Goat Gouda
  • Beverage of choice: Champagne
  • Pronouns: She/Her/Hers
  • Superpower: Delivering miracles, especially when all hope is lost.

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