A Guide to Hiring a Virtual Assistant for Your Architecture or Contracting Business
What would you do if you had more time?
Would you enjoy your work more if you didn’t have to do administrative tasks any more?
Have you ever thought of hiring outside help?
As someone who has used a VA for years, I can tell you it will change the way you work.
You will have more time, and be able to focus on the parts of your work that you love the most. They offer an incredible opportunity to hone in your focus, improve your work/life balance, and scale your business more effectively.
5 Ways Virtual Assistants Can Help You Build Your Business
- Manage your time better
- Reduce your costs
- Utilize your skills better
- Offer better customer service
- Work on projects with their specialized expertise
From menial administration tasks, to answering phones and emails, to setting up large scale online marketing campaigns—there are dozens of ways that virtual assistants can help you grow your architecture or contracting business, specifically by freeing up your time so you can focus on bigger, more specialized tasks.
But many people have fears around hiring a VA for the first time. Let’s explore them.
Worried About Hiring a VA?
Many people who are hiring a VA for the first time have these same fears.
Here are some of the most common concerns:
1. You don’t know who to trust
How can you be confident that the VA will actually do the work you’ve hired them for? Can you trust them with confidential information? How can you be sure they won’t just disappear halfway through a project?
2. You’re afraid to let go
Your business is your baby. You’ve spent years building it slowly and carefully, and the thought of bringing someone else in who could potentially ruin the work you’ve done it daunting. How would you make sure they don’t make mistakes? How would you train them? How can you find someone who cares as much as you do?
3. You don’t know where to look or how much they should cost
Maybe you’ve never hired someone online and I don’t know how. Are there online platforms? Which are the best ones? Should you hire someone who lives in another country? How do they get paid? Speaking of getting paid—how much does hiring a VA cost? Do you have a budget for it?
4. You are not sure how you’d use one
Often, small to medium-sized contractors and architects are so used to doing everything themselves, they just can’t imagine of how you’d use an assistant. Or, you think “They probably won’t be able to do the tasks as well as I could.” or maybe,““I am not 100% certain which task I would use a virtual assistant for or how to train them.”
If you are looking to scale and grow your business, you are going to need to take a step back and start delegating tasks to free up your time for bigger picture work. As an architect or contractor, you have a set of highly specialized skills, why are you wasting hours each weeks sending emails and invoices?
We have written an article “How Virtual Assistants Can Save Time and Help Grow Your Architecture or Contracting Business“ that delves into how VA’s can help architects and contractors specifically.
We will cover all these worries in this article, offering practical advice from my experience in hiring and working with VAs, but here is my most important piece of advice:
Go slowly and carefully, but just jump in and try it out.
Just Jump in and Try it Out
You have to start somewhere. Take the step and hire someone to help.
This being said, go slowly.
Don’t dump a million things on a VA you just hired.
If it is your first time, hire them for one task. Something straightforward that you dislike doing or don’t have time to do.
See how they get on with that task.
Then after a few weeks, give them another task. Watch how they do those two things. If it goes well, give them another task.
You will begin to build trust with them, figure out the quirks and wrinkles, and learn how to work together. Eventually, you’ll get to a point where it is seamless. You’ve got to start somewhere.
Learning how to work with VAs can transform your business leaving you with more time to focus on what you love doing, and less time doing repetitive, time-consuming tasks that aren’t fundamentally growing your business.
How To Do It: The Logistics of Hiring a Virtual Assistant
Still with me?
Ready to take the next step and actually hire someone?
Let’s figure out how to go from “this is a great idea” to practically getting someone hired.
In this next section, we are going to look at 4 essential things related to getting started with a VA:
- where to find and hire VAs,
- what questions to ask in the interview,
- and red flags to watch out for.
1. What is the Actual Cost for a Virtual Assistant?
Rates range from $2/hr up to $200/hr.
I wouldn’t advise hiring assistants for either of those extreme rates—you can find competent assistants who can do basic, straightforward tasks for $8/hr and on the other end, you can find very skilled experts for $50/hr.
Their rate depends heavily on these factors:
- Skill set and experience
- Hourly vs project
Impact of Location on Cost
Before we get into the breakdown of actual costs per task, we need to talk about hiring internationally, because it makes a huge difference.
One of the assistants I work with, Zahra, was raised and went to school to be an educator in Philadelphia, USA. After she married her husband, they moved to Lahore, Pakistan. At home with a young child, and not knowing the language or culture—Zahra was a little stuck on being able to work.
We got in contact on UpWork, because I needed a little help managing my inbox, scheduling social media posts, and replying to comments and messages on social media.
Zahra said she was looking for about 5-10 hours a week, and her rate was $10/hr. In Lahore, the minimum wage is Rs15,000/month, which works out to $1.64/hr.
While the $10 was very economical for me—it was nearly 10x the minimum wage in Lahore, so it also felt fair to her—she was able to have work flexibility, take care of her little one, and earn enough to make it a very viable income. Zahra’s English is flawless, she has a quirky sense of humour, and has no qualms calling me out on (and fixing) my typos and grammatical errors. It is a win-win situation, and we have been working together for 2 years.
There is a considerable cost difference between hiring VAs from first world countries and developing countries, even if they have the exact skills and experience because the cost of living is simply different.
Simply put, if you are looking for less expensive, start by looking for VAs from developing countries.
Impact of Tasks on Costs
UpWork has gathered a ton of data on average rates for various tasks, which will give you a general idea of the costs you can expect.
Essentially, it is a real sliding scale—the more complicated and nuanced the task (think: web design) the more expensive it will be. The more repetitive and basic the task (think: updating an excel spreadsheet) the less expensive it will be.
Impact of Experience on Cost
How many years a VA has been working will have a significant impact on their rate, and that extra experience can make a difference on how long it takes them to get up and running, as well as the quality of their work.
Likewise—if they have a very specific skill set, such as advanced bookkeeping or Google AdSense, their rate will be higher.
While it might be tempting to go for the cheapest option you find, it could end up taking you a lot of time training them, having to redo tasks yourself, or double/triple checking their work, especially if it is your first time hiring a VA.
Look for VAs with 5-star ratings, client testimonials, and ask for a few emails of past clients you could potentially contact. An experienced VA should have these, and it could be worth your while to double check.
Hourly vs Project
Paying hourly means you will agree on a rate per hour, then they will track and report to you what they used those hours for.
Paying per project means you will give them a defined budget for the project and then pay them that agreed amount at the end of the project.
When it comes to hiring virtual assistants:
Hourly is best if:
- The project is long-term or ongoing
- The scope of the project is not 100% clear and might change as the working relationship goes along
- You are new to working with VAs and might have changing expectations
- You are not certain how exactly to measure the success of the task (like responding to emails or social media comments)
Project is best if:
- Is a shorter term, one-off project
- Include hours and time that’s difficult to track or estimate
- Come with a well-defined scope. The project has one set deliverable, like a singular blog post, or a design for your LinkedIn profile page, which won’t require many revisions
- You need to know the exact price of something to ensure it fits your budget (keep in mind you could still do this by capping/setting the hours of your VA)
Hourly is best for most VA work; however, it is not without risks.
While hourly will probably make more sense for hiring a VA—if you are not careful you could end up paying a lot for very little value. It is essential to check in regularly with hourly VAs and get detailed reports on what they are working on.
A few months ago, I hired a VA from Brazil named Dora to help me with a social media marketing campaign.
The first week went well, I explained to her exactly what we needed, she had a lot of great ideas, and I not only felt we were on the same page, I was excited to work with her.
However, after radio silence for two weeks, I suddenly got an invoice for $550 in my inbox.
I quickly replied that I needed a breakdown of what she was doing.
It turned out that she had spent a bunch of hours creating a crazy in-depth and over-complicated posting schedule and then created dozens of designs for the posts, while no actual time online posting content or engaging our audience.
What was the kicker was that she was a novice designer, and we had already hired a designer who had made over 30 gorgeous design for us.
Additionally, we didn’t need an overly complicated posting spreadsheet. We needed someone who could be online for an hour or two each day to create posts for our channels, monitoring and encouraging interactions. Not someone who would just throw some posts into a scheduling tool and walk away.
The thing was that she had spent the time working for us on the project, even if it is was not what we needed.
Here is what I learned:
- Even though it may seem like they understand exactly what you need, you absolutely need to have regular, if not daily, check-ins with them to find out what they are doing and how it is going.
- Share with them the entire scope of what you are doing. If I had told her that we had the 30 designs, she wouldn’t have spent any time creating more. She thought we had a need that she could help with, even though in reality, we didn’t have that need.
Once you have a rough idea about what kind of rates to expect—it’s time to look at who is available to help.
2. Where to Find VAs
Here are some of the most popular platforms for finding virtual assistants:
UpWork: This is one of the largest platforms for all kinds of freelancers worldwide, however, with the strongest presence in the US and Canada. Hiring people through UpWorks comes with the advantage of a built-in time tracking tool, secure escrow payment and a support team standing ready to help you in case of any trouble.
VirtualEmployee.com: This platform specializes in offering virtual architect and engineering services and may be worth checking out if you would like to outsource some of the tasks you’d typically give to an architectural assistant, however don’t quite feel you can afford one yet.
Guru: With more than 3 million freelance experts offering their services, Guru is similar to UpWorks and Freelancer.com in its setup. It includes four types of payment structures (per hour, upon task completion, milestone payment or recurring payment). With the recurring payment option, you’re better off choosing to work with the Guru platform if you’d like someone to take over repetitive tasks for you on a regular basis.
Donetown: Donetown is a platform where you can hire a trained virtual assistant. It is a great place to find ongoing virtual assistants who will undertake collecting data and online research, scheduling and calendaring, working with your incoming emails, managing expenses, social media management, travel&event planning and all the administrative tasks.
Freelancer.com: This is a comprehensive platform where you can find freelancers specialised in pretty much any task you could perform remotely. You can pay your assistant using a milestone payment or when they finish a task.
PeoplePerHour: This platform has an algorithm do the matching work for you to suggest the best freelancer matches for the tasks you’re looking to outsource. Offers are pre-set bundles from freelancers, so this is a excellent place to go if you’d like to buy a packaged solution (for example, a logo design).
TaskPigeon: This platform focuses on on-demand completion of tasks such as getting a 500- or 1000-word article written for your blog. You can also pre-purchase virtual assistants and then let the team at TaskPigeon know what your needs are. Packages vary between 1 to 20 hours of virtual help per week.
Fiverr: Fiverr generally focuses on offering inexpensive freelance services that can be bought for as little as $5 a gig (hence the name). It’s a good place to go for very specific one-time tasks such as creating a short animation or generating a list of leads in your area.
99Designs: This platform focuses on graphic design and design-related services. This is the place to go for a new logo design, images, presentations, photoshopping, and creating portfolio pdfs.
3. What to Discuss in the Interview
After you find the platform that works for your budget and needs, set up a brief description of what you need to be done, and then you can invite VAs to apply for your job. Once you have a few potential people who are interested in working for you, it is time to set up some short interviews.
Here are some topics you’ll want to discuss in the interview:
- Who you are: A great VA will check out your website before getting on a call with you. Help them along by sending on some information about your business before you schedule an interview. When you have the conversation, explain the details about your business, including values and structure. Tell them a bit about who you are; you are building a working relationship with this person, so be friendly and professional.
- Who they are: Ask about their experience, where they are located, and a bit about who they are as a person, such as their likes and dislikes.
- Communication styles: Find out how they communicate. Explain to them how often you want to be communicated with on the task and which channels and platforms you prefer.
- Hours expectations: Explain the task and ask the virtual assistant how many hours they expect it would take. Agree on a set number of hours for them to work on the task per day, and for the week.
- Availability: Make sure their availability suits your needs. Are they working another full-time job? Do they have other clients? Are they completely free and available to work solely for you? Make sure you have an idea going in what your needs are, for example, decide whether it is crucial that they are available during your weekday or whether you are happy so long as the projects get completed weekly.
- Your business goals: Tell them exactly why you are hiring them, and where you see your AEC business is headed in the next year, including the major goals you are striving to achieve. The more involved you can make the virtual assistant feel in the long term benefit of your business, the more they will understand what is expected of them and how they can help.
- The daily goals: Make sure you are clear straight off the bat what your goals are. Work on setting some potential goals together during the interview, it will indicate how much experience they have on a topic. Make sure results will be measured straight out of the gate. For example, if you hire a virtual assistant to research new potential client leads for you, ask them what their process would be for finding the new leads and how many leads they could find and contact in an hour.
- Invoices and billing: If you are using one of the platforms from the list above, managing your billing will be rather straightforward and simple, but if you choose to work independent of a platform, make sure that the virtual assistant knows how to bill their hours and when they will be paid.
Ultimately, you are looking for someone who is competent and who you can get along with. They should have the availability that suits your needs, and are able to communicate with you and your team easily. If they don’t fit the above checklist, move on to the next applicant.
4. 8 Red Flags to Watch Out for When Hiring a VA
In the past 4 or 5 years, I have hired about 8 different VAs, working with up to 3 VAs at a time for various tasks.
When I was new at hiring, I made a lot of mistakes. I spent a fair bit of money on freelancers who didn’t work out.
Over the years, I got faster and better at recognizing who was going to be a good fit versus who probably wasn’t.
And I want to share what I’ve learned—so you can avoid making the same mistakes I made.
1. They are unresponsive or take too long to get back to you
If they are doing this in the first stage, it will not get better.
You want someone who is attentive and quick.
If you ask them if they would like an interview, and it takes longer than 24 hrs for them to get back to you, move on.
2. Spelling and grammar errors
Multiple errors on their profile, messages, and email communications means that they either do not have a good handle on the language, that they lack attention to detail, or they are rushing things.
If you’ve noticed it, your clients will notice it. Look for people who put care and effort into their work.
3. Arriving late or unprepared for the interview
Oh! If I could count the number of times I have set up an interview with someone, and then had to wait 10 to 15 minutes after the scheduled time for them to arrive, have the video chat open and ready, and their camera and headphones ready.
If the VA is late or unprepared to the interview, it means that they either inexperienced, have trouble managing their time, or that they don’t care very much. All major red flags.
4. They haven’t researched who you are
If you have included the name of your architecture or contracting business, they should have looked you up online.
If they come in without knowing a thing about you—and that information is available online—it means they probably don’t care very much, aren’t very good at using the internet, or that they’re inexperienced.
5. They don’t have specific work examples or past clients they can refer
I remember once I was hiring a VA and we talked extensively about his experience in working with different email marketing platforms. He told me he had worked with several different systems for various clients, however, when I asked him if he had any reference I could contact, there was a long pause on the line, and then he fumbled an answer as to why it wasn’t possible.
It left me feeling like he had either lied about having had lots of clients, or things had not ended well with the client he did have.
Either way, it was enough to leave me feeling like he probably wasn’t the right fit.
6. Bad mouthing past clients
While it is not a requirement to like everyone you have worked with—it is a major red flag if a potential virtual assistant starts talking negatively about their past clients.
If they are professional, they will know to keep the complaints to a minimum. We want people who have had great experiences working with other clients.
If they have a list of reasons why all their clients were horrible, it says more about them then it does their clients.
7. Up-front demands
Virtual assistants that immediately start outlining their demands during the first interview will most likely be difficult to work with.
I hired a VA who wasn’t overly enthused with the rate I was able to offer her, and said she would only accept the rate if she could have an evaluation and raise within the first 3 months. She also told me she would only be available to work on Tuesday evenings and Sunday mornings.
At the time, I remember thinking that it was off-putting, but she seemed to have a lot of experience in a specific set of skills we were looking for.
However, I should have taken these as warning signs, she ended up being challenging to work with; unresponsive in her communication, and handing over sloppy, rushed work—it was clear that she didn’t care.
Maybe she didn’t think she was getting paid enough to care. Either way, we didn’t make it to the three-month mark. However, I learned a valuable lesson in what to watch out for.
8. Poor listening skills
Virtual assistants who ask repetitive questions, reply with answers that are unrelated to the questions, appear lost or distracted during the interview, talk too much, and ramble out long-winded and incoherent answers are probably not going to be great to work with.
Don’t waste your time on people who are not attentive, respectful, and who don’t have a genuine interest in your company and the role you are offering.
To be honest, I still sometimes hire VAs who don’t fit from time to time. Someone can seem perfect in the hiring stage, then as soon as they get their foot in the door, you find out they are the wrong fit, or they aren’t exactly who they appeared to be.
Don’t sweat it.
Just end the contract and move on to the next applicant.
Don’t get bogged down by one or two misses, finding the perfect VA who you can work with for years on end is a little bit like finding a soulmate—when you do find the right person, it will all have been worth it.
To Sum Up
Virtual assistants can help you manage your time better, improve your customer service, reduce your costs, help you with specific projects where you lack the skill set, and free up your time so you can focus on the big picture.
With so many virtual assistants from all around the world, it is possible to find someone who fits your budget (even if it is small) and who can help you scale and build your business with varying skill sets.
While the thought of hiring one might make you a little nervous at first—once you find someone who meets your business needs, they can transform how you work and save you loads of time, making your work easier and more enjoyable.
Additional articles on Saving Time and Scaling your Business
- How Virtual Assistants Can Save Time and Help Grow Your Architecture or Contracting Business
- 11 Tips that made me an Insanely Productive Person
- Work ON your business, not IN your business
- Stop Managing and Learn How to Delegate
- Done is better than perfect – also for architects!
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