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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