Hiring your first Virtual Assistant

Ever since Joel introduced me to FancyHands, I’ve been hooked on delegating. For the uninitiated, FancyHands is a service that connects you to a network of virtual assistants—all U.S. based—that can cater to your every whim (well, almost). Whether it’s doing research, scheduling appointments, or making calls for you, FancyHands assistants are ready to help you be more productive.

I used the service for two months, and was enamoured. Suddenly, tasks I hated doing (calling my landlord, researching graphics for website designs, etc.) could be easily delegated to someone else. Awesome. Still, I had a few problems: because you aren’t assigned a single assistant, the quality could vary wildly. Most of the FancyHands assistants were great, and went above and beyond the call of duty. Occasionally though, your task would be picked up by someone less enthusiastic, and the results would suffer. Further, I never felt appropriate delegating recurring tasks (e.g. email me a report every Monday) because FancyHands is based around single, one-off tasks. The price was a little off-putting too: $25 for 5 individual tasks per month. That’s not bad, unless you take into account that many tasks might take substantially less than an hour (presumably, that’s where FancyHands makes its money).

With this in mind, I decided to ditch FancyHands and go for the gold: I was going to hire my own virtual assistant.


I started off by doing extensive research on my options. Virtual assistants have exploded in popularity over the past few years (thanks to The Four-Hour Work Week, which I highly recommend) and there are plenty of articles and blogs devoted to the topic.

Here are a few resources I found particularly helpful:

  • If you haven’t read The Four-Hour Work Week, you should. It’s not all about virtual assistants, but there is plenty of great advice in there that can help get you into the right mindset.
  • Chris Ducker has an excellent blog about outsourcing. There’s also great information on his website Outsource to the Philippines, and the website of his VA staffing service Virtual Staff Finder. Some of the information he provides is specific to the Philippines (where Ducker is now based) but there’s plenty of general info too.
  • If you mention “virtual assistant” on Twitter, you’ll get plenty of leads from virtual assistants looking to sell you their services. It’s a great opportunity to get a sense of how VAs charge, as well as learn more about the types of tasks they can do.

Hiring options

After I researched, I compared my hiring options. There are several methods you can use, including:

  • Multi-VA services, like FancyHands, TimeSvr, or GetFriday. These services don’t assign you a single virtual assistant, instead giving you indirect access to their entire network of assistants. This means that your tasks are generally taken care of more quickly because they can have the task delegated to any open assistant. It also means that you don’t get to build a relationship with an assistant who can anticipate your needs and understand your working style.
  • Single VA services, like Zirtual, TaskBullet or AskSunday. These services assign you a VA from their network of assistants. You pay through the service, as opposed to paying your VA directly. These services are great because they tend to staff higher quality assistants (and some use all U.S. based VAs, which is nice). Still, there’s extra overhead with these services, and you generally can’t commit to less than one month chunks of time (e.g. no hourly billing).
  • Virtual assistant staffing agencies, like Virtual Staff Finder. This option is similar to single VA services, except they bow out once you’ve selected your assistant. There’s also overhead here, as you’re essentially paying for their expertise and access to higher quality VAs.
  • Freelancer networks, like Elance or oDesk let you post your own job listing and get applications directly from virtual assistants. You hire, pay, and can communicate with your VA all through these services. The overhead is lower than a VA service or staffing agency because you can pay hourly and these services operate at scale (only taking a small cut of the payment). Your applicants may wildly vary in experience though, especially at lower price points. Both Elance and oDesk offer reviews, which helps you filter results.
  • Finally, you can also hire directly through job boards like Craigslist. You have to handle payments and communication, and results won’t be filtered in any way. No reviews, testimonials, etc. (unless they’re provided by the applicants).

After evaluating these options, I decided to try my luck on Elance. While the quality of results would vary, I was able to directly hear from a number of VAs around the world and communicate with them before hiring.

Prepare your Virtual Assistant job description

When you hire through Elance (or oDesk), you have to put together a job description. Elance can also provide you with a template, but I highly suggest writing your job description yourself. This will help you to clarify exactly how you’re going to use your VA, and you’ll be able to offer specifics, which are more helpful for serious applicants.

I also recommend including a curveball question, like “what’s your favourite food” (or something a little more related to your job). Often, job applicants will simply search for a few keywords and then copy and paste their cover letter into each job without reading the description. Including a curveball question can help you separate the VAs who are simply applying to jobs en masse from the VAs who are actually taking the time to read your requirements.

Set your job listing to close after no more than 5–7 days. Most candidates will apply within the first two days after your listing is posted, so there’s little point to keeping it open much longer. It also keeps the hiring process quick, so you can get right down to work.

Find the top candidates

Once you have a good list of candidates (I generally wait until I have between 15-25), you can start filtering. Elance offers the ability to privately rate applications (the applicants never see this rating) so you can easily hide mediocre entries. Start by filtering out applicants who didn’t remember to answer your curveball question: it will likely cut your list in half. Then filter by price (on Elance, you can set an hourly price range, but you’ll still receive applications from all price ranges). Filter out anyone who is charging outside your limits.

You should be left with a good list of candidates. At this point, I read each application carefully. Try to get a sense of the candidate’s English, spelling, experience, and skills. If a candidate has reviews and ratings on their profile, I’ll read through those, as well as any other information their profile provides.

By now, you should have a pretty good idea of which candidates you’re leaning towards. At this point, I recommend getting in touch with your top candidates and asking them questions. This is something I neglected my first time around. Although my first hire worked out fine even without doing this (and yours may too) it can be a great way to make sure you’re not making a mistake before it’s too late. Some applicants will also be willing to give you a trial, so you can assess how well they complete a certain task. If you’re split between two candidates, perhaps work with them to arrange an extended trial period. It’s not wrong to ask for a one or two week paid trial before deciding!

Time to hire

Once you’re ready to select, go ahead and reward the job. In Elance, be careful and make sure your job terms are correct. Freelancers are able to suggest different terms for the job compared to what you set in your application, and you don’t want to let that slip through and suddenly find yourself committed to 60 hours per week. Once your hire has approved the terms, you’re all set! You have a new virtual assistant.

That basically sums up the process I used for hiring my first virtual assistant. I lucked out in finding a very affordable U.S.-native using this process (get in touch and I can refer you), and just recently hired a second assistant based overseas. In my next post, I’ll talk about how I work with them both, how I choose what to delegate, and how I created some new projects using them.

Like this? Have questions or your own tips for hiring a VA? Share your thoughts by contacting me on Twitter or by emailing me.

Published by Chris Van Patten

I'm an entrepreneur and product lead, and owner of Tomodomo, through which I help companies build their digital publishing platform.

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    1. Hi Sebastian –

      The assistant I mention in this post has moved on to bigger and better things (very excited for her!), and I’m still in the process of training my new VA so I don’t think it would be fair to recommend her yet. Check back in at the end of January or so and I’ll have a proper opinion 🙂

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

    1. Hi Krishna –

      That depends on how much you’re willing to pay, and how much you’re going to use your assistant. Dedicated assistants can range from $5 per hour for someone based overseas (Bangladesh, the Philippines, etc.) to $25–$50 per hour for someone based in the U.S. I currently use an overseas assistant for about 4–6 hours per week, and spend roughly $30–$45 per week.

      Hope this is helpful!

  1. If you are looking for a virtual assistance, i highly recommend http://www.virtualteam.ph/. There are based on Philippines, I always hired them for my web project. The cost of their virtual assistant is much cheaper than the other companies in other countries. And the quality is really unexpected, they really good and can meet your expectation. The communication is really great, they keep you updated of their progress on every projects.Just check if you have time! Thank you for sharing this!

  2. Been with Get Friday since September 2014, and have tried hard to make this relationship work. Spending enormous amount of time outlining tasks and responsibilities, but they still fail to deliver. With repeated changeover of admins who struggle communicate at a basic level of English, forget to execute tasks handed over, and an overall poor level of management supervision throughout.

    I would not recommend any business to suffer the damage this company will cause, as the level of service is very amteur.

    There are better companies out there that won’t cause you the stress

  3. Hiring virtual assistant it is one good option, if you want to have your day back, for doing more important tasks and expanding your business.Anyway by my opinion it is good, to have a plan and specific view about what exactly you will want from the VA.Most people they assumed the VA will simply jump and start run the business.It is more helpfull when you have clear idea of what tasks they might be able to take over from you.

  4. Do you have a link to the post “In my next post, I’ll talk about how I work with them both”. its says the next post is “hello world” on the bottom of this page.

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