I have been using a virtual executive assistant now for over a year. It’s one of the best business decisions I have ever made. Tricia, my assistant, has enabled me to focus on what I do best and less of what I either don’t do well or don’t enjoy.
As a virtual executive assistant, she is really no different than what I was accustomed to in the real world. She can do anything that doesn’t require her physical presence (like running errands or bringing me coffee).
- She screens my e-mail. She checks my main email accounts, handles what she can, and “redirects” the messages that require my personal attention to my private account. She has reduced my email load by 90 percent.
- She books my travel. She handles all the details, including airline reservations, hotels, car rental, etc. She sets up a trip in TripIt, so I have everything I need in one place.
- She make calls on my behalf. She makes appointments (both personal and professional), confirms my appointments, checks my voice mail, and follows up as needed.
- She manages my calendar. Almost nothing gets on my calendar unless it passes through her first. We have agreed together that I will only accept appointments on Fridays, and she works to stay within those boundaries.
- She handles other projects as needed. For example, yesterday, my accountant and I decided we want to start using a hosted QuickBooks solution in the cloud. I gave Tricia the requirements and then asked her to do the research and make a recommendation.
Best of all, I don’t have to employ her full-time. I am currently contracted for just fifteen hours a week. Yet, it feels like I have access to her 24–7. She is uber-responsive and efficient.
My experience with Tricia has made me a big believer in the value of virtual executive assistants (VEAs). Naturally, when I share this with other business leaders, they are intrigued but often skeptical. This is unfamiliar territory to many of them.
Over the last year, I have catalogued the ten most common objections they have voiced. I thought I’d address those here in the hope of getting you the help you and I both know you need!
- I’m not sure about this whole virtual thing. Before I had a VEA, I was used to dealing face-to-face with the people who work for me. But increasingly, most of my interactions with others are virtual—via phone, Skype, or e-mail, webinars—regardless of where they live. This is no different.
In fact, when you eliminate the requirement of physical proximity, it opens tremendous possibilities. Suddenly, you can source world-class talent from anywhere on the planet. Plus, new technologies make you feel even more connected.
- I’m not exactly sure what I would have them do. The most important thing is to think about yourself first. What are the three or four activities you do well and which add the most value to your organization? Literally write these down.
For me, it is “writing, speaking, and consulting.” Everything not on your list is a candidate for delegation. By the way, to stimulate your thinking, here is a list of the most common tasks assigned to VEAs.
Frankly, this kind of delegation is the key to leadership effectiveness—and making more money in your business. Stay focused on what you do best and figure out how to offload the rest.
- I’m afraid my VEA will be too disconnected from my day-to-day business. I was concerned about this too. But then I realized so many of my relationships are virtual. This was true even when I was in the corporate world. I had salespeople on the road, departments in other buildings, and entire divisions in other cities.
Like everything else, you just have to be intentional about managing them:
- You can schedule a weekly “calibration call” to make sure you are on the same page.
- You can use Skype to replicate face-to-face contact.
- You can use a private Facebook group to connect your VEA with your team.
You can also include your VEA on corporate calls and invite them to be part your corporate annual retreats and other meetings. Before long, you will forget your VEA is virtual. I have.
- My company won’t approve access to our systems. This is a legitimate concern. Good IT people work hard to control access to sensitive data. But this too can be dealt with if you are thoughtful about it and ask your technical people for help in finding a solution.
(By the way, this is also one of the reasons I use a domestic VEA provider. I just have more confidence in someone from my own county of residence. I realize that 90 percent of this is psychological.)
Most modern systems do a great job of providing tiered access. You can start you VEA at the level of access that makes sense and then increase it as you gain experience and confidence. With so many companies utilizing outsourcing, this simply isn’t the obstacle it used to be.
- I don’t know how many hours the work will take. Most of us don’t. This is why we default to a forty-hour work week when hiring employees. But does every job require this amount of time?
You really won’t know how long something takes until you determine what you are asking your VEA to do. Take ten minutes to write down all the things that you would like to delegate.
Don’t worry about prioritizing the list. Just get the tasks/projects out of your head and onto paper. This is a critical first step in assessing time.
Now estimate how long each task will take. For example, do you want your VEA to screen your e-mail? How much time are you spending on that now?
And, don’t assume it will take your VEA as long as it takes you. This has been a pleasant surprise to me. In most cases, once your VEA is trained, she will be much more efficient than you.
- I don’t know how I would monitor whether my VEA is really doing the work. Fair enough, but how do you know whether or not any employee is really doing the work?
The issue is not how long she spends at her desk but the results she achieves on your behalf. In other words, you evaluate her performance just like you evaluate any other employee—the results.
You can also do status calls or reports, leverage project software like Basecamp or Asana, or simply ask yourself, “are things getting done by my VEA the way I want?”
- I don’t want to commit to something before I try it. I totally understand this. I am much the same way. This works when you are trying out a new car or testing some new software. It doesn’t work so well with people.
Why? Because people don’t perform as well without a commitment. Without it, you are saying, “You work for me, and, if I like you, I will keep you.” Try this with a traditional employee and see how far you get.
The best VEA services (like the one I use) don’t just assign you a VEA at random. Instead, they find out what you need and then go through a rigorous process of selection. In essence, they are professional “matchmakers.” It requires a commitment by both parties to work.
- I’m not sure I like the idea of someone else picking my VEA. I understand this. This kind of hands-on management and attention to detail is what got you to where you are today. But it’s also one of the things keeping you from going to the next level. Let me explain.
Remember what I said above about focusing on your strengths? You are probably not the best person to scour your local community looking for the perfect assistant. And why would you want to do the preliminary interviews and screening? You have better things to do.
The best way to hire is to articulate the objective and then trust others to manage the process. This is why God made HR departments and executive search firms. I never—and I mean, never—made a better decision by going it alone.
- I’m concerned my VEA might misuse my credit card information. This was my biggest obstacle. Heck, I even wrote a book on the subject of privacy and how to protect your personal information. This issue is very important to me.
Frankly, this is something you need to ask of any firm you are considering. You need to be assured that they have:
- A great reputation and come highly recommended
- A well-defined process for screening new VEAs
- Appropriate policies in place for protecting your data.
My VEA has access to my most sensitive data: credit card info, website logins, e-mail accounts, etc. She must have this to function well. But I only turned this over to her once I was confident I could trust her.
- I’m not sure this will improve my bottom line. This was difficult for me too. I hate spending money on overhead.
But think of it this way:
- What is your lack of focus and loss of productivity costing your business?
- What could you be doing with your time if you were not buried in administrative detail?
- What could you create that would truly advance your business if you didn’t feel so overwhelmed?
If you see this as just an expense, you’ll never take your business or your career to the next level. You can only do so much. Hiring a VEA is a less expensive, less risky alternative to hiring a full-time employee.
If I didn’t believe in the value of hiring a VEA, I wouldn’t have spent this much time addressing these objections. I honestly believe this is one of the best investments you can make to become the leader you were meant to be.
If you are ready to take the next step, visit the eaHELP website and request a proposal. It is the firm I have used for more than a year. I recommend them unconditionally.
By the way, if you are looking for a position as a virtual executive assistant, eaHELP is currently hiring in all four U.S. Times zones. However, they only hire U.S. citizens living in the U.S. You can find out more here.