Key Differences between VA’s and Regular Employees

Key Differences between VA’s and Regular EmployeesWhen deciding to hire a VA rather than a traditional employee, it is easy to overlook the fact that this is a radically different hire. The biggest difference is not simply that the VA works outside of your regular office, but rather that is simply one component of the drastically different working relationship that exists between you and your VA. In this blog, we will take a look at some of the key factors to keep in mind when hiring and managing virtual employees. Continue reading

13 Tips for Becoming a Rock Star Freelancer

13-Tips-for-Becoming-a-Rock-Star-FreelancerA couple days ago I received an email from my friend’s son, a relatively junior web developer who was looking for ways to make money and build experience working as a freelance developer on Elance or oDesk. Some of the questions he asked me were in line with questions I hear many times:

  • How can I get my first project given that competition is extremely high and I have no reputation/ rating?
  • What can I do to keep my clients happy and coming back to me?

Here are a some of the tips I gave to him, hopefully you will find them helpful: Continue reading

Outsourcing SEO – When to Do It, When to Stay Away

pros-consSEO, online marketing, social media exposure, PPC management, brand journalism … all are buzzwords used today to include everything someone interested in doing marketing on the Internet must know about. It looks like a lot of work and it is definitely not easy. SEO alone will have you think that you have your work cut out for you. The main question that comes to mind when evaluating how much work SEO entails is whether you should outsource, do it in house or do it on your own. Each of these options has its pros and cons and to make the right decision we need to take a few criteria into consideration.

When to outsource SEO

The first question

Outsourcing, as a field, is a great alternative to many boring things you do not want to do in house, or you do not want to waste precious resources – human, as well as material – on. SEO is a very particular area of interest, and getting someone in your company to become a SEO expert overnight, even if they are some kind of whizz-kid, is hardly doable. Continue reading

Where To Find A Great VA

where-to-find-a-great-vaIf you have ever hired a Virtual Assistant you would probably agree that finding a good VA can be a daunting task. And if you haven’t, I assure you there is nothing easy about it! There are a ton of websites, companies and agencies that all promise to connect you with the best Virtual Assistants available.

Truth be told, a fantastic Virtual Assistant means different things to different people. They could all offer high quality VAs (not every one does) but their skills, availability or rates might not be what you need. It is important to understand the differences between the wide range of VA sources. You wouldn’t shop for new shoes in a grocery store, right? This is exactly the same with hiring Virtual Assistants. The best source completely depends on what you are looking for.

Let’s take a look at the 7 best places to find a Virtual Assistant:

  • Freelancing marketplaces
  • General purpose job boards
  • Temp agencies
  • VA Agencies
  • VA Recommendation services
  • Blogosphere
  • WOM

Now, let’s take a close look to see what we can expect from each of them:

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How to Find Great Developers on Freelancing Sites Like oDesk, Elance or Guru

How-To-Find-Great-Developers-on-Freelancing-SitesFinding good developers has never been easier! Hundreds of thousands of first class developers are waiting to bid on your project.  Submit your idea to our marketplace and have dozens of qualified developers bidding on your project in just a few hours.   Some of the brightest minds from all over the world have come under one roof to offer their services for rates as low as $8 an hour!…    NOT!

While the above commercial sounds great, the old adage is still correct – if something sounds too good to be true it most likely is.  No world-class developer is going to work for $8 an hour.

Great Developers are Hard to Find

The good old days of $5 Ph.Ds. are long gone and never coming back. As a matter of fact someone once said, “What makes them good old days is a great imagination and a bad memory.”

Yes, the world is not yet completely flat and there is a significant difference in standards of living and that can greatly affect the rates offered by developers. Take a look for example at the comparison here. Today the difference between the average web developer in India and the USA is staggering. So it is conceivable that you can find some solid developers that are charging their average local market rates through market places like Elance or Freelancer (see, here for a comprehensive list of freelancing marketplaces).   It is also conceivable that in order to compete better that developer will reduce his or her rates. But let’s examine the chances… Continue reading

The Mystery of ROI for SEO Campaigns

ROI imageThis blog used to attract a lot of visitors and then due to circumstances beyond my control I had to shut it down for almost a year. When I was finally able to bring the blog back to life a large portion of the traffic was lost, various popularity rankings were down, and I realized that restarting would be even more complex than what I had to go through when starting from scratch a few years ago.

I had to undergo many pains including inevitable investment in SEO, a potential bottomless money pit, and the first question on my mind was its financial impact, budget I need to allocate, and the ROI to expect.

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How to Find Someone to Build an App

How-to-Find-Someone-to-Build-an-AppA few days ago an old friend of mine called me with a question that I’ve been asked many times before. It typically goes something like this: “I have an idea for a great app, but I don’t know anything about programming. How can I find someone who can develop that app for me? And, I don’t have much money to spend on it”.

Jane (the friend of mine) is a physical therapist with over 20 years of experience. She is great at her craft, but has zero knowledge about building software, outsourcing, and building apps. I wasn’t completely sure where to start when answering her, because there are actually a lot of questions behind the question here, and to answer all of them in detail would require me to practically write a book! In this post I will attempt to answer this very question without going into every detail so I can keep this at a blog post appropriate length.

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Should You Hire a Virtual Assistant Through a VA Company, a Marketplace or Go Direct?

Taking on the task of hiring a Virtual Assistant can be incredibly daunting! Literally millions of people of all levels of skills and walks of life are ready to offer their help. Ratings and reference systems help filter out the supply of workforce in some way, but still, far too many to chose from.  And who can guarantee that VA you’ve chosen had not played  the system somehow or won’t outsourced their job to someone else?  You have no clue – they are virtual!

virtual-agentsFor this reason, you might choose to hire a Virtual Assistant through an existing VA service. This can be attractive because, ideally, they have already pre-screened their VAs and will provide them with the infrastructure they need to get the job done, such as a PC, internet connection, etc.  But there are also some pitfalls to going this route that you need to be aware of.

Before hiring a Virtual Assistant through a VA company, you should consider the a few important factors:

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5 Traps of So Called Cost Effective SEO

5-traps-of-cost-effective-seoIf being found on the web is essential for you or your business, you are probably no stranger to Search Engine Optimization (SEO). SEO, an extremely complex and comprehensive set of activities, has become a major component of marketing strategies for most companies today, and a source of revenue for countless (offshore) SEO providers.

For most businesses SEO is not their core activity and that makes SEO a good prospect for outsourcing. Also many aspects of SEO are somewhat mechanical and labor intensive, so it’s no surprise that many companies elect to outsource SEO. With a large number of SEO providers out there the cost of it is alluringly low.

However, cheap outsourced SEO is not the brightest idea you can try; chances are you will “get what you paid for”, and often even less. Paying just a few hundreds of dollars per month for someone to handle your SEO efforts is likely to be a complete waste of money. As the common saying tells, if something sounds too good to be true, then it most probably is. Here are 5 potential traps to think about whenever you are assaulted with promises of boosting your Google rank overnight: Continue reading

Let a VA Plan Your Next Vacation

travel

For years I have been outsourcing technology tasks to offshore companies all over the world.   But it was only recently that I truly embraced the idea of out-tasking and started using Virtual Assistants. And now I am finding myself getting increasingly attached to using VAs to “outsource my life”.  I plan to write more about it and look at various aspects of using virtual assistants for mundane, laborious, and annoying tasks that may clatter your day and take your mind off important aspects of your personal and professional life.

Few things in life are better than going on a truly great vacation. You can spend time with those you love, in a beautiful and exciting place, as you and your family take a break from the many demands placed on us in our every day lives.   Of course we are talking about perfect vacation, not the one which ends up costing you too much, or the one which turns out so exhausting due to mishaps and issues that you need another vacation afterwards.  The key to avoiding that is good planning and it’s amazing how much time and efforts it takes to plan a vacation.

There are many different travel sites that promise to book you the best hotel for the best price, but how can you be sure if it really is the best deal available? And then you need to check out TripAdvisor, find the right tickets, and arrange for a taxi… And what if you want to drive around Europe for a couple weeks and stop in 10+ cities?  Where are all those locally owned travel agencies with beautiful brochures and smiling advisors!?  Oh, yeah – just another casualty of the Internet age.

This is where hiring a VA can help you tremendously.  Your VA can plan your vacation and given the focus and hopefully experience they can do it fast and possibly better than you would…

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How to Stay on Top of a VAs Work Without Micromanaging

MicromanagerEveryone who uses VAs on somewhat consistent basis  has been burned at some point, and I am no different. In fact, a few years ago I had hired a VA to work on SEO. Initially her work was good but at some point it became spotty, and eventually, downright bad. As it turned out, she had “outsourced” her job to her 9-year-old son. Apparently she thought kindergarten was enough of an education to tackle the job. While this story might seem shocking, it is not unique, and after you have been burned once or twice, it can be easy to fall into a trap of micromanaging.

While staying closely on the top of your VA’s work might seem necessary, in the end of a day you just want to ensure that you are getting what you pay for, it is quickly become bad for both your working relationship and your overall bottom line.

Do you think you aren’t guilty of micromanaging?  Ask yourself a few questions:

  • Do you often find yourself frustrated because your VA didn’t do exactly what you told them?
  • Do you spend a lot of time making corrections and cleaning up your VAs deliverables?
  • Do you notice that nothing that your VA does is good enough?
  • Do you need to know exactly where your VA is and what they’re working on?
  • Do you need frequent and detailed updates?
  • Does it always take your VA longer to do the task then it should or would’ve been if you’d done it yourself.?
  • Do you spend a lot of time reconciling timesheets and deliverables?
  • Do you prefer to be cc’d on all emails?
  • Do you think that getting a VA was a bad idea?

If you answered “Yes” to 3 or more questions in this list, chances are you are micro-managing your VA. If you said “Yes” more than 5 times, then I need to tell you that you, my friend, are a micro-manager without a doubt and you will lose some really great employees if you don’t stop. Alas, while this is great advice, it is not easy for many of us to instantly stop micromanaging. So just take it easy and start letting go one piece at the time. Continue reading

Afraid of Using a VA? Here are Proven Tips To Minimize Your Risk

halo-cortana-1Even though using a Virtual Assistant is now considered to be common practice for many entrepreneurs and companies, delegating tasks that you’ve always done yourself can still feel scary. It is a frightening concept to give important tasks to someone you have likely never met in person. It might make you feel like you are losing control. The most common thought is probably an old cliché – If you want something done right, do it yourself. It’s old, but not good. In fact, for many of us “DIY” is pronounced as “die” :) Being a superhero (superworker) rarely pays. And I promise you, using a VA can actually be very rewarding.

There is always a risk when hiring a new employee of any kind, and there are steps you can take to minimize the risk you take on. Here are some tips to help you minimize your risk:

Start with the right hire. Remember it’s not about the best VA. It’s about the right one.

  • Take the time to do your prep work. Before you ever begin the hiring process with a new VA, you should know exactly what you want from them. This helps to minimize confusion, find the right person for the job, and maximize productivity for both of you in your working relationship.
  • A great way to know exactly what you want is to record what you do. You can use screen-capturing software such as TinyTake to record your actions and use it to explain the tasks to your VA.
  • If the scope of work your VA will be doing is likely to expand (which is often the case if the VA is good) you want to look for someone who can deal with more complex tasks that those you currently have on the plate. Don’t aim too high though, because your VA may be costing you too much or even worse be under-challenged and unmotivated to do their best work from the beginning.
  • When you are evaluating VAs for your new job, it is important not to focus on the rate.  Rate (however important) is secondary, because the quality of the VA and the work he or she will provide should be your main focus and motivation.
  • Get your paperwork in order. Before your VA begins doing any work for you, make sure you have an established contract with specific deliverables and requirements attached. This would include pay, hours per week, when payment should be given, the start date, specific tasks, quality expectations, and reporting frequency.

Once you believe you have found the right VA, it is important to spend the time needed to establish the best possible work environment for both of you. Continue reading

The Secrets of Getting the Best Price for Your Virtual Assistant

Virtual-AssistantWhere hiring a virtual assistant used to be out of the norm, it has now become much more mainstream. Every day, thousands of companies and individuals are hiring Virtual Assistants to complete a variety of projects for their business. And even more, these companies are finding that hiring a Virtual Assistant is beneficial to their business in many new ways, often far beyond of what was originally expected.

There are many questions that come to mind when you are first considering hiring a VA. One of the questions that you might ask is, “what kind of rate can I expect?” And unfortunately there isn’t an easy answer.

Can you hire a Virtual Assistant for $5 an hour? Absolutely! But will that person prove to be a beneficial member of your team? Maybe. Maybe not. The point to hiring a Virtual Assistant needs to be getting the biggest bang for your buck. You want to use your dollars wisely to hire the best assistant possible for the least amount of money. Continue reading

Finding VAs just got easier

Activities that call for out-tasking, ad-hoc outsourcing or “outsourcing your life” inevitably bring us to a not so easy to resolve dilemma – where and how to find a decent virtual assistant (VA). In some cases we can engage resources from oDesk or elance, in some cases we need to find an established VA company. And like with most of vendor selection challenges choosing VA vendor is a task not for the faint of heart. Sheer number of resources that fall into VA category makes proper selection a seemingly daunting task. For example, a search for “virtual assistant” brings 29K entries on oDesk and 19K on eLance.

Interestingly enough an approach here could be using another layer of outsourcing – getting an assistant who can find an assistant… And as luck may have it a few days ago I run into someone who offers exactly that kind of services – Nick Loper, the founder of Virtual Assistant Assistant, the leading directory and customer review database on personal and small business outsourcing companies. Nick also wrote a book “Virtual Assistant Assistant: The Ultimate Guide to Finding, Hiring, and Working with Virtual Assistants” that is now available on Amazon and published a white paper that discusses the current state of the personal outsourcing landscape. Here is a summary in his own words:

It looks at some of the macro trends impacting the industry, including large scale geographic shifts in supply, and the growing confusion over what exactly is a “virtual assistant.”

The study also addresses the demand side of the equation with an analysis of proprietary never-before-released survey data from prospective outsourcing clients. This includes information on desired work functions, anticipated workloads, preferred working relationships, and more.

As demand for outsourcing services has increased, so has interest from venture capitalists. A number of high profile companies and startups have raised funds to grow their business.

Finally, the paper looks at some of the demographic data on website visitors seeking out information on virtual assistants.

Outsourcing service providers may be able to use this data to better cater their offerings to meet the demands of the market.

VA market is going to grow considerably and selecting companies that can match your specific needs would become increasingly different. In that light services like VAA could be extremely helpful. I hope Nick continues growing his business…

“Outsource it!” is now in beta

A couple days ago my first full size book went into beta and is now available at the publisher website – http://pragprog.com/book/nkout/outsource-it. I feel very happy and relieved that the book is finally out, writing it was far more challenging than I’ve ever anticipated. At the same time I feel happy and proud, proud to be one of the authors of the pragmatic bookshelf, the group of technology writers that earned respect across very broad and demanding technical audience.

It will take a little while before the book hits the shelves of Amazon and other bookstores, but you don’t have to wait and get your e-copy of it today. While the book is in beta your comments and suggestions would be taken quite seriously and could result in changes and additions to the content, hopefully making the book even better. I am not sure how long the beta would take but hopefully much less than it took me to get here –

Roughly two and a half years ago I came up what seemed a great idea at the time – compile my blog material into an easy to read eBook. In a couple months I produced the first volume that was dedicated to making decisions on whether and how to outsource. In a short order I received substantial feedback that made it apparent that just recompiling the blog and doing surface level clean up won’t add too much value, and probably was not worth the effort. Continue reading

Things Not to Outsource Even Though They Say You Should

“51 ways”, “101 tips”, and even “1000 and 1 ideas” on how to Outsource your Life. It seems like there is a non-stop competition in blogosphere to come up with a bigger list. Of course VA companies promoting wonders of life outsourcing directly or through “independent” blogs add their list of ideas and justifications. No matter whether you agree with him or not you gotta give it to Timothy Ferriss, he’s a true trend-setter.

While there are many ways to outsource most annoying aspects of your professional and personal life working with VAs is by no means a panacea for all your errands and chores. I will cover rules for “not outsourcing” in another post, at this point I just wanted to highlight a few areas that VA firms would suggest you outsource while you really should not. The list below is fairly small mainly because I wanted to concentrate on tasks that are highly advertised as VA-friendly tasks while they are not. So, here it goes

10 Things Not to Outsource Even Though They Say You Should

1. Website development. If website is primitive, it takes just knowledge of MS word and few clicks to create a website. If you have no clue how to do even that you should spend a few hours googling, otherwise you are leaving yourself wide open to fraud and over-billing. If the website is very simple yet above a one-pager you probably will spend more time explaining to VA what you want then creating it yourself using DreamWeaver or FrontPage, and if website is a bit higher in complexity you will be lucky to get your money and time worth by working with VA. Find professionals – there are plenty of them (see ideas on how to find one in Best Places to Find a Freelancer.

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Outsourcing Your Life – the Scope of Outsourcing

A couple days ago on my way to NJ I bought an excellent book – The 4-Hour Work Week: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich (Library Edition). 6 hour flight plus an hour of circling around NYC and a few more hours at corporate apartment were more than enough to digest this fairly small guide to a way of life distinctively different from mine and probably from the one most of people I know follow. Living life to its fullest without postponing it to some uncertain date that would likely never comes. The book was quite entertaining and even though chances are I will never live the lifestyle Timothy is promoting I found it exceptionally educational.

Well, there are a few, if not a lot of hidden traps in the methodology Timothy proposes. I bet the rate of success in following Tim’s footprints is quite low. As a matter of fact if I cared I could write a set of rebuttal articles on many of T propositions ;) What’s good in doing something like that though? I love T’s passion and with the best to those who try, I am sure with number of his readers in millions he’ll make 1000s happy NRs (Nouveau Riche / New Rich).

So, forget questionable suggestions and dubious propositions… There are plenty of great ideas in the book, most of them are time proven as they have been around for a very long time and even popularized by self-improvement industry giants such as Tony Robbins.

One of the areas close in topic of this blog is about outsourcing – outsourcing your life. While outsourcing one’s life is a very generic topic I decided to cover several aspects of it as they apply well to people in my line of work.

The idea is quite simple – using personal assistants to free up time for more meaningful activities. In particular virtual assistants (VAs). What you do with the time freed up by VA is 100% up to you, hopefully it more than pays for the money you pay to VA – either in hard cash or in quality of life.

So, what can be outsourced to VA? Well, almost anything that fits the following criteria:

  • The task can be done remotely / doesn’t require physical presence.
  • You can provide a definition of the tasks that doesn’t leave too much room for interpretation.
  • It takes (substantially) longer to do it than explain how to do it.
  • You can provide clear deliverable, timeframe and quality standards for the task execution.
  • The task doesn’t require unique skills / abilities / background.

I compiled a couple lists after reading few posts, blogs and article first one is about your professional life (see 25 Aspects of Professional Life to Outsource) and second about your personal life (10 Aspects of Personal Life to Outsource).

Also while reading posts / books and articles I came up with the list of tasks not to outsource despite the fact that those are highly recommended by other authors. The list is not complete. I will post it as soon as it’s ready.

10 Aspects of Personal Life to Outsource

The list below covers a variety of personal tasks that could be reasonably easy outsourced to a Virtual Assistant.

1. Vacation Planning. Pick a destination and have VA to book your tickets, find hotel, arrange pick up / drop off, car, excursions, etc. VA can develop plan of your trip to excruciating level of details.

2. Event Planning – Evite.com is a great tool for event planning but adding a human touch can greatly improve the experience. Especially if you meeting with a large group of not very close friends. VA can cover multiple aspects of event – meal planning, finding a catering company, arranging entertainment, etc. VA can also support people coming to the event, e.g. finding great place to stay for your parents in law.

3. Online Shopping – With online shopping becoming mainstream of shopping adding a VA can save you tons of time and surprisingly a lot of money. Whether you shopping for skis, used car or groceries price research alone will pay for all your VA costs.

4. Contractor research, selection and managing – whether it’s a plumber, wedding band, landscaper VA can assist you with finding one, negotiating terms, setting appointments and following up with providers.

5. Preventive maintenance of your assets. Do you remember that garage doors need to be greased twice a year? VA can create and maintain maintenance plan for all your assets and make sure that you do not forget that oil change for your car, schedule appointment and follow up if necessary.

6. Health and Fitness – Let VA being your “loving Jewish mother” in every good aspect of it (and there are plenty of those). Diet planning, schedule your annual checkup, finding you a chiropractor or personal trainer, and reminding to wear your sweater.

7. Personal Social Networking – many aspects of our personal social lives can benefit from VA involvement. Never forget to send flowers to your grandmother, stay in touch with your friends, and even remember about your friend’s son graduation party.

8. You love life :) – Let VA help you with maintaining your online profile(s), respond to those interested, set up date, buy gifts, etc. You might become a Virtual Casanova in no time!

9. Bill management – VA can audit your bills and pay them exactly on time, save time and late fees.

10. Cost management. While working with your bills VA can take it further and undertake cost management finding savings for you in multiple aspects of your spending. For example they can do analysis of your cell phone bill and find a better plan.

25 Aspects of Professional Life to Outsource

The list below covers a variety of tasks that could be reasonably easy outsourced to a Virtual Assistant.

1. Industry / Market / Vendor / Product Research. Even though you can ask your VA to check library you are better off keeping the research to Web though. Research could be of a broad nature, for example top 5 firewall vendors, or very focused such as Nick Krym cell phone number.

2. Subject Matter Briefs – If you’ve ever been scheduled for a meeting on a topic about which you know very little, a virtual assistant can be a great help. Have them find or write a short, five-page summary of the topic, major concerns and implications for you, and recent news.

3. Calendar Management – setting appointments, making calls, rescheduling meetings, reminders, etc.

4. Contact management – cleaning up your outlook contact database, verifying / finding facts, addresses, emails, etc.

5. Email Management – email removing unnecessary (spam, useless elements of chain email, etc.), sorting, categorizing, follow up, response on your behalf, etc. – possibilities and time savings here are pretty amazing.

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