Behind the Scenes with My Virtual Assistant

I started working with Tricia Welte, my virtual executive assistant (VEA), about fifteen months ago. She works for eaHELP. She has become an integral part of my team. So much so, that I don’t even think of her as “virtual.”

A Blue Curtain with a Gap - Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/wildpixel, Image #21964859

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/wildpixel

I thought it might be interesting to give you a “behind-the-scenes” look and interview her here on my blog. I started with the basics and then moved onto the deeper questions. If you are considering hiring a VEA, this might help you see how it works for me and how it might work for you.

Me: What kinds of things do Virtual Executive Assistants (VEAs) do best?

Tricia: There are many different types of VEAs with a variety of skill sets, making each one uniquely perfect for the right person. The key is in determining what you need and then finding the right person to meet those needs.

For example, in serving you, my main focus is on managing your calendar, processing your e-mail, tracking your expenses, and booking your travel. This is exactly what you need, and it works for me.

However, this might not be the right combination for others. Our VEAs at eaHELP typically perform a wide variety of tasks:

  • Meeting management—creating agendas, taking notes virtually, capturing actionable items, and distributing to the parties involved
  • Social media assistance—scheduling tweets, updating Facebook (or other services), and posting blog content
  • Writing and editing—creating first drafts or editing our client’s drafts
  • Editing and proofing—working on a variety of documents or other content
  • Project coordination—managing complex projects or simple task management
  • Marketing support and design—overseeing the process or, depending on the skills of the VEA, actually doing the work
  • CRM or database management—entering new records, tagging records, or organizing lists
  • Presentation creation—creating or editing PowerPoint or Keynote presentations
  • Online file management and data collection—organizing files, collecting responses, or managing surveys
  • Research and fact-checking—doing the “leg work“ on various projects and gathering the resources
  • Transcription—transcribing speeches, interviews, podcasts, or other audio or video content

Me: What are some examples of things VEAs can’t or shouldn’t do?

Tricia: There are certain areas that really require a specialist. These might include things like accounting or outbound sales efforts.

There are also the obvious tasks that typically require a person’s physical presence (e.g., sorting mail, running errands, physical filing, etc). And most importantly, we cannot read minds—though we are working on this at eaHELP!

It won’t be clear to your VEA what your needs and expectations are unless you tell them. Luckily, I have never found myself in this position with you. You are very clear with what you need, how you need it, and when.

Me: How does a person know when he or she is ready to hire a VEA?

Tricia: Well, here are some signs:

  • You cannot do the things you want or need to do because you are buried in administrative work.
  • Your work/life balance it out of sync.
  • You have a set of tasks you need completed that are outside your personal skill set or know-how.

At eaHELP, our mission is to free leaders up from these things, so they can invest time in the areas where they add the most value. We give them the time to focus on their passions and the things they are best equipped to do.

Me: What is the biggest mistake people make when hiring a VEA?

Tricia: First, it’s a mistake when clients hire merely on the basis of an impressive resume or the fact that the VEA seems highly motivated. While these are important, those two items alone do not guarantee a good fit or great performance. (See my blog about hiring a a Virtual Executive Assistant.)

You also need to consider work habits and style, strengths and weaknesses, and personality type. These are all critically important and may, in fact, be more important to a successful partnership than either someone’s experience or level of motivation.

One the reasons you and I work so well together is that we have a similar work-style and personality type. We both work at a similar pace and schedule. We both appreciate each other’s responsiveness and communication style. Rarely, are either of us waiting on the other.

Second, it’s a mistake when clients fail to invest the time upfront to make the relationship work. They haven’t thought through their expectations or clearly communicated those to their VEA.

Like anyone else, your VEA will perform best where she knows what you want and how you want it done. This will make her feel successful from the get-go and give you both the momentum you need to make the relationship work.

You did a great job at preparing for my start. You were thorough, and I felt I was setup to succeed. It laid a great foundation for our partnership.

Mike: What does the ideal VEA client look like? (In other words, what “markers” do you look for in assessing whether a relationship with a prospective client will be successful?)

Tricia: Our ideal client is comfortable with technology, a good communicator (responsive and detailed), relational, and believes in investing in people. He (or she) is self-aware and understands his strengths and weaknesses. He knows where his passion is and what he is trying to achieve.

Me: Where do your clients typically underutilize their VEAs? Specifically, where am I underutilizing you?

Tricia: Many leaders underestimate the value their VEA can bring to the table. When we are in a situation where we have a client who is overwhelmed and just unsure where his (or her) VEA can help, we ask him to sit down and make a list of all the things he does in a day, in a week, and in a month. Then we invite him to step back and review the list.

Chances are at least half of those things can be done by someone else. Sometimes it is just a matter of perspective and letting go. The question to answer is, “Where can you add the most value?” Hang onto those items and delegate everything else you can.

If you invest the time upfront to train an VEA on a set of tasks, you will reap the gift of time in the long run. The mentality of “it will be faster if I just do it myself” will kill a relationship with your VEA.

By the way, we see many leaders do tasks that a VEA could do for them because they want to feel a quick sense of accomplishment. As a leader, they are typically dealing with long-range projects or projects that take forever to accomplish. Checking an item off a list creates a psychological sense of accomplishment, but it can also be a distraction to getting more important work done.

In terms of how I support you, I think most people would be surprised to know that I do not assist you in your social media in any way. This may seem ironic because it is where you spend much of your time.

We spoke about this many months ago and determined that although you spend a ton of time there, it is what you enjoy doing, so it does not make sense to delegate it. It is a perfect example of how the other things I take off your plate allow you the time to spend doing this.

Another area where I see opportunity for additional support would be project coordination. You have a management team that spearheads those things, but I could see being more involved with those projects and assisting your team. (Hint, hint.)

Me: What do clients sometimes do that drive VEAs crazy (or at least make their lives more difficult)? Specifically, where could I improve?

Tricia: The things that drive me nuts are poor response times and ambiguity or vagueness. Luckily for me, you are neither. Whew!

I think each EA has a different set of “what drives them crazy” based on who they are, but generally speaking, here are a few that come to mind:

  • Not giving enough detail on a task to get your VEA going.
  • Not giving deadlines and VERY clear expectations on when you need things completed. Clarity is KEY.
  • Not allowing enough time for the big projects to get done. No one loves a pressure cooker situation.

As VEAs we can help bring clarity to an assignment by asking questions. We can ask who, what, when, why, and how. This will usually fill in the blanks.

Me: What is the one thing clients can do to take their VEA relationship to the next level of effectiveness?

Tricia: That’s simple: communicate, communicate, communicate. And when in doubt, communicate! This is especially important in the first two to three months. It may feel like you are over-communicating, but it is essential to success.

And do not be afraid to use your technology to do so. Whether it is e-mail, instant-message, text, FaceTime or Skype, use it. Whatever it takes, stay connected!

Without a consistent flow of information, the relationship will suffer. Challenge your VEA to suggest where else she may be able to help you. You may be surprised with what she suggests.

I would also suggest clients explain the why behind the task at hand. This is so helpful. It communicates respect—the client regards the VEA as a full partner, rather than merely a task hungry subordinate. When a VEA knows the why, she can shift her focus to delivering outstanding results rather than simply checking off an item on a list.

Finally, clients should be gracious when something doesn’t work. You have done a good job here. You have been understanding about the things I am just not good at and honestly, never will never be. You focus on my strengths and we have found other ways to cover my weaknesses.

Me: If someone is interested in exploring a VEA relationship with eaHELP, what should they do next?

Tricia: They should visit our website and then click on the button that says, “Get a proposal.”

Question: What questions do you have about how a relationship with a VEA works? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • http://www.leahadams.org/ Leah Adams

    This is superb information. Thank you. If the Lord takes my ministry to the next level, I will definitely be re-visiting this post. With my ministry tasks, plus the non-ministry things I have on my plate, I feel I am nearing the point of needing an assistant.

  • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

    That’s a great story, Mark. Thanks so much for sharing it.

  • annepeterson

    Michael,

    Noticed a typo and thought you’d want to know.It is in your ad at the end of your post about a podcast producer.  Anne Peterson    goal 

    Our goals was to create a simple way for users to share my posts with their friends and business associates.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      Thanks. I have corrected it.

  • http://www.danerickson.net/ Dan Erickson

    Wow, I didn’t even know about virtual assistants.  I don’t think I’ll need or could afford one at the time, but it’s good knowledge for the future.  Thanks.

    • http://www.thedailyretort.com/ TorConstantino

      I agree Dan, this exposition really opened my eyes to the scope of skills that a virtual assistant offers!

      • http://www.clayproductions.com/aaron/ Aaron Johnson

         And just seeing the conversation between Michael and Nicole demonstrates a level of professionalism beyond what I thought was possible with a VEA.

    • http://theordainedbarista.com/ Barry Hill

       Dan,
      I am with you on the cost piece! I KNOW I have enough stuff that needs to be done by an assistant, but overcoming the mental hurdle of cost/value is a hurdle for me. I know it would be worth it! My only other concern is that Tricia has already been taken by Michael! Ha!

      • http://www.danerickson.net/ Dan Erickson

        I wonder if the virtual assistant can do the housecleaning and yard work?   That would give me more time to work on my blog.

        • http://theordainedbarista.com/ Barry Hill

          That would be great!

        • http://www.MicheleCushatt.com/ Michele Cushatt

           And make dinner, fold laundry, go to the grocery store … ;)

          • http://www.danerickson.net/ Dan Erickson

            Yes, and as a single parent I do it all.

          • http://www.MicheleCushatt.com/ Michele Cushatt

            Been there. NOT easy. But worth it.

  • http://www.eahelp.com/ Tricia Welte

    Thanks Mark.  It has been a great pleasure working alongside you.  Our team, including Lisa, appreciate you for sharing your story. 

  • AlGetler

     This is a great post. After reading “Four Hour Work Week” the concept of
    a VEA seemed plausible, but a bit luxurious. Your references to Triciain the past
    have brought the idea of a VEA back to the surface. This post fully
    explains the VEA relationship and paints the real picture.

    The
    one problem I see in the equation is that Tricia is already YOUR VEA.
    Can we assume that eaHELP has an army of talent as good as Tricia?

    I will underscore the praise Tricia gave you for being
    prepared for her at the start.

    When I was promoted to a position that
    finally allowed me an EA, I called my boss the first day and said, “How
    do I do this?” He coached me to build trust and then to begin turning my
    life over to my EA. Over the years, I have coached others to do the
    same. Some busy people are busy (or busier) because they can’t delegate.
    Delegation is key.

    Great post, MH. Wait a minute…Great post Tricia!

    • http://eaHELP.com/ Nicole- eaHELP

      Hi AlGetler!  We actually do have a whole “army” of assistants that are very talented.  No doubt, Tricia is great and she serves her client very well, but Tricia may not be a good fit for every client that comes to us.   We understand that each leader, each business, and each opportunity is unique.  We work very hard to match each client with the EA that best fits their needs.

      • http://www.thedailyretort.com/ TorConstantino

        Tricia/Nicole – what about email list management, segmentation and growth – would that be a function/skillset that a virtual assistant could run with?

        • http://eaHELP.com/ Nicole- eaHELP

          Tor- Yes, we do have EAs with Marketing/Media backgrounds that can help you with these tasks.

          • http://www.thedailyretort.com/ TorConstantino

            Fantastic – I just went to your site and submitted a proposal!

          • http://eaHELP.com/ Nicole- eaHELP

             Great!

    • http://www.eahelp.com/ Tricia Welte

      You are right!  We have an “army” of talented EAs.  Each with a different skill set, personality type and strength.  There is a uniquely perfect VEA out there for each leader, based on their needs. 

  • http://www.thadthoughts.com/ Thad Puckett

    Thanks for doing this interview.  When I had to interact with her getting ready for my guest post back in June she was amazingly responsive.

    With that said, I also appreciate the depth of this interview.  I can see a real need for VEA’s for my boss and now have more info to provide.  Thanks!

  • http://twitter.com/quirkycity Heather C Button

     As I’m in a new role at work teaching students how to do certain tasks, I found myself really drawn to your VEA’s comments about what drives them nuts. All three I don’t do, and I need to remind myself to be clearer, especially because they need to learn this for future employment and their field.

  • http://www.thedailyretort.com/ TorConstantino

    I’ve not yet reached the “critical mass” of where my site requires a virtual assistant, but I’m curious if a VA has the expertise to manage email list growth and segmentation via opt-in boxes/squeeze pages. Any insight would be appreciated!

  • http://www.chrisjeub.com/ Chris Jeub

    I’m on board with the VEA idea, looking forward to making it happen in January. I’m remodeling my office and setting up a B2B relationship to reposition my business, then VEA here I come. Your VEA posts have been EXTREMELY helpful.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      Awesome. I’m so glad they’ve been helpful. I keep thinking I need to write an e-book on this.

      • http://www.chrisjeub.com/ Chris Jeub

        Not a bad idea. It’d be worth a $20 download.

      • http://theordainedbarista.com/ Barry Hill

         Agreed!

      • http://www.clayproductions.com/aaron/ Aaron Johnson

         You have my vote for the ebook as well :)

  • http://twitter.com/xpastoronline Kevin M. Stone

    I’m going through the “matching” process now with eaHELP. Can’t wait to get started.

    Thanks for the insight!

  • http://www.clayproductions.com/aaron/ Aaron Johnson

    I’ve heard about VEAs a lot since reading Tim Ferris’ 4-hour work week, but had no idea where to start, or really, how it would work. The discussion here really gave me a starting point and a vision for how I’d engage a VEA.

    Question: What’s the process for dealing with a VEA/Client mismatch?

    • http://theordainedbarista.com/ Barry Hill

       Aaron,
      Great question!

    • http://www.mattmcwilliams.com/ Matt McWilliams

      That is how I “discovered” VEAs too Aaron. 

      I’ve worked with the same one for…gosh…more than five years (didn’t realize it had been that long). She has moved with me from one company to another, back to the previous one and then on my own.

      I can’t help from experience with your question as I have no personal experience with that since I have only used one and she has been amazing, but I think the simple answer is to get a new one. If he/she is with an agency, just communicate that to the boss. Doesn’t mean the VEA is bad, just a bad FIT. I liken it to the hiring process, you must do a little vetting first and so should the agency. Use personality types, interviews, etc. to find the right person.

    • http://eaHELP.com/ Nicole- eaHELP

       Aaron, the way that we like to resolve any issue is through relationship and conversation.  We work very hard on the matching process and our team is very skilled at doing so, but if there were to be an issue, we would work through that together as a team.  As with any good relationship, when the situation varies from what was expected by one party or another, you discuss it and come up with the best resolution together.

      • http://www.clayproductions.com/aaron/ Aaron Johnson

        It comes back to what you were saying about the client being a clear communicator, but it also sounds like the staff at your VEA company does a lot of work on the front-end that helps make things a match from the start. Thanks.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      It’s as simple as letting the account manager know. They will deal with the uncomfortable aspects of this.

  • http://theordainedbarista.com/ Barry Hill

     Great post, Michael!

    What was it that initially sold you on eaHelp? I know you looked around at other companies, (even some out of the US) so what was it that sold you on eaHelp?

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      They were SUPER responsive. That spoke volumes to me.

      • remus

        Michael, can you mention something about the price ? 

        • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

          No, but you can request a proposal. They will quote you a price based on your needs and circumstances. Thanks.

  • Kyle Sheldon-Chandler

    Excellent article. I am so glad you did not mention price. As a VEA, I have been doing this for more than 10 years, have 24 years of Executive Assistant experience and two business degrees. My rates reflect that, as well as the fact that I run a business. Most people who read the “Four-Hour Workweek” think we should only be charging $10/hour – which is not a living wage let alone a profitable business for most people. 

    I thought this was very informative and well-written.

    Thank you!

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, Kyle. I have tried the cheaper, non-domestic service. It was okay but not up to my standards.

  • http://www.clayproductions.com/aaron/ Aaron Johnson

    OK, another question :)
    How is important info like passwords, site access, and personal information handled in these relationships?

    • http://www.eahelp.com/ Tricia Welte

      Aaron, we can use a few different methods for a client to share passwords with their EA safely. A password protected document, LastPass website, or simply a shared file via Dropbox and /or Evernote.  

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      It is important to have confidence in the people you are doing business with. That’s why you want an established company like eaHELP with impeccable credentials. It’s also why I preferred hiring a domestic company.
      By the way, I think handing your personal information over to a reputable VEA is safer than, say, handing your credit card to a waiter who disappears with it for several minutes. ;-)

      • http://www.clayproductions.com/aaron/ Aaron Johnson

         Thanks Tricia and Michael. It’s good to know some of the methods EA is using. It also makes a lot of sense to go with a VEA that has a reputable company behind them like eaHelp because they have a brand to protect that is bigger than just one person.

  • Chris

    I’m interested in getting a job as a virtual assistant.  What are the qualifications that are needed, or skills?  

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  • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

    That’s the beauty of a service like eaHELP. They do the vetting, the hiring, the training, and the ongoing monitoring of the relationship. Thanks.

  • http://www.jaysonfeltner.com/ Jayson Feltner

    Very cool interview!  I speak frequently with Tricia via my use of eaHelp as well.  She is an amazing and wonderful person.  She is an expert in all things VEA!

  • Jan Udlock

    Michael, Thanks to your blog, I became a Virtual Assistant to Speakers and Coaches. With having extensive experience  as a freelance writer, I’ve blogged for clients. I also help another client edit her articles as well as set up CRM programs like Infusionsoft for another client.

    Virtual assistants are becoming more and more popular and Michael, you’ve always been a supporter of VAs. Thank you.

  • http://www.revivallifestyle.com/ Daniel Vogler

    What a great interview! I’ve been contemplating hiring a virtual assistant for quite a few months now. This definitely brought me one step closer!

    • http://www.MicheleCushatt.com/ Michele Cushatt

       Me, too. What do you think will finally push you over the edge?

  • Brenda Strohbehn

    Excellent, practical information! Thank you for giving us a clear picture of the value of VEAs! A few months ago, I happened to see a re-tweet that Michael had posted from Tricia. Soon after that, I began the interview process with eaHelp, and I was sincerely impressed by each person I spoke with throughout the process. They were friendly, professional, responsive, and the type of communicators they want their clients and VEAs to be. For me, it was highly impressive that each one seemed to be a good listener—a rare, but important, quality indeed…let alone a company-wide characteristic!

    It was actually bittersweet for me that my freelance work took off at that same time, and I had to withdraw from the process. I had looked forward to working with this outstanding group of individuals, but I look back and count myself blessed to have “met” them. I recommend them highly from this side of the fence!

    A new element in my “life plan” is to need my own VEA within two years! You can be certain I’ll head to eaHelp when that time comes!

    • http://www.MicheleCushatt.com/ Michele Cushatt

       Great recommendation, Brenda. Thanks for sharing your story.

  • http://www.MicheleCushatt.com/ Michele Cushatt

    Excellent interview, Tricia and Michael. Clear, informative, geared toward the questions you anticipated we’d have. My only question is about scalability. What is the minimum number of hours you can contract? How quickly can you scale that up, if needed?

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      Tricia can correct me if I am wrong, but with eaHELP, I think the minimum is five. I am not sure how fast they can scale, I bumped mine to ten after a few weeks and it was no problem.

  • Trish

    I am a VA, with my own business and have the similar attributes that one can get via a brokerage firm such as eaHelp.  One can visit the International Virtual Assistants Association website to view their directory of professional VAs.  My point is one doesn’t have to consider eaHelp as their only option for finding a VA. 

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  • http://twitter.com/PastorZakWhite Zak White

    Michael,

    GOt a VA finally but we are having issues syncing calendars. tried google…have issues…we are trying to sync 3 people and two calendars…my calendar and my wife’s calendar to me, my wife and my assitant….can you offer any advice / help?

    • http://TillerFamily.org/ John Tiller

      Hi Zak,

      In that scenario, the three of you should each have separate Google (gmail) Accounts and Calendars. In the Calendar settings for you and your wife, you should go to Settings/Calendar tab/Share This Calendar and under Share with Specific People add your spouse and assistant.

      Then each of you return to your Calendar and look for the shared Calendar in the left sidebar. You can turn on and off each calendar overlay by clicking on the name.

      It works great for me, my wife, and my team!

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      I use Google calendar. I’m not sure what else to suggest. Sorry.

  • http://www.friv10.co/ friv 10

    What is really interesting here. Thanks for the post and what the site has brought to us.

  • Tara

    Michael, the link to their page shows “page not found” on your site. fyi.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      So sorry about that, Tara. It’s now fixed. Thanks.

      • Tara

        Thanks – I just signed my contract with EA and look forward to working with my new team member soon. I’ve recently launched my blog – taraszen.com. Thanks for all your guidance – if it wasn’t for you I wouldn’t have done it. Keep sharing and I’ll keep following :)

  • http://ideal-helper.com/ Francis

    Michael & Trisha, thanks so much for sharing this interesting look behind the scenes. It’s always nice to see the people behind the screen, so to speak, are really human beings after all.

    I cannot agree enough with your points about setting up a good working relationship and great communication style before expecting big productive results.

    For best results in communicating with my virtual assistants, I have found out that showing the assistant what I want using screen recording was the fastest and most efficient way to go around it. Writing an email can often be misunderstood.

    One danger is still there if you will record your voice for instructions. For one, you have to have the ability to express yourself in a clear understandable way. On the other hand, if you have an angry voice or sound, displeased without meaning ill; it can be frightening for your virtual assistant.

    But on the other hand, there’s nothing more honest than spontaneous, non-rehearsed voice recordings so that your virtual assistant will get to know you over time. It’s also very easy to fill in some personal chit chat which always deepens the bond between two business partners.

    Anyways, great interview! Thanks for that.

  • http://www.cloudstaff.com/ Armie Cabrera

    A very interesting read on the behind scenes that is happening with your VAs. It is really nice to know that you indeed have a great relationship. Thanks for sharing.