Hiring a Virtual Assistant Grew My Business, and Changed My Life
Entrepreneur's New Year’s Guide
Let's say you’re an ideas person. You have approximately 17 ideas a minute and aren’t famous for the, er, completion of your projects. You have what I have: creative chaos brain, which means you get easily overwhelmed and your ability to prioritize effectively basically disappears and everything starts to look important.
When I launched Baby Got Booked in August 2014, I knew I had to do things differently. And I was going to need more than just willpower and my addiction to business blogs.
I needed structure brain. Basically, I needed to hire someone to be the boss of me.
I hired my first virtual assistant about two weeks after I launched my business. At the time I had little money (about $300 in my bank account) and no idea how I was going to pay her. But I knew I had to make the leap, because if I didn't hire her, I’d never be able to afford the help I needed.
Over the course of several long runs (I like to meditate on the move), I got clear on the kind of person I wanted to work with. I wanted someone who was hungry, coachable and eager to learn and grow. I wasn’t hung up on specific skills or tech savvy (I was learning these pieces myself and knew they could be taught). I wanted someone who, though drawn to my high-energy visionary style, was more of a structure person: a list maker, a note taker. Someone who thought things through and was more detail-oriented than me.
I put my intention out into the universe. Some people call it manifesting (it’s something I’ve come to believe in more and more). It basically means I consciously asked (in my head) for this person to be sent to me. It’s a bit like writing a mental letter to Business Santa.
I admit it also helps to tell folks in your circle. This works as much for clarifying your vision as it does for putting the word out.
A day later, I get an email from a woman at a non-profit who was looking for some media advice. She happened to be in my city, so we went for a walking meeting to get to know each other. I didn’t know she was looking to quit her job and take on part-time flexible work so she could go back to school. She didn’t know I was looking for someone exactly like her.
We tried a couple of different systems for our daily to-do list. Ultimately, we found that I did best when I had just one big task to do per day. If I got it done early, I could either take the rest of the day off or add stuff in. But I wasn’t allowed to deviate on our pre-decided list that we hashed out at the beginning of each week.
Our Monday meetings started with a celebration of all our wins from the previous week. This is something I’d never done before and it helped balance the desperation I’d sometimes feel about the never-ending list of things I wasn’t getting to while also teaching us what worked and what we should focus on.
Juniper took a serious pay cut to join my fledgling company. It was as much a leap of faith for her as it was for me. But her ability to keep us on track and keep my energy focused allowed me to quadruple her hours and double her rate within six weeks of her starting.
Looking back, I still can’t see how I’d have pulled that off without her help.
As her hours grew, so did her responsibilities. At this point I was even more grateful that I’d hired for attitude and aptitude rather than a specific skill set. As a novice leader, I made all the usual mistakes: I’d delegate without a clear enough explanation. I’d allow myself to get so tied up with my own tasks that I wasn’t helping Juniper plan hers. At this point she actually sat me down (she was the boss of me, after all) and we had a long discussion about her expanded roles as well as where we wanted to take our company.
Juniper has since returned to school full time. She’s pursuing her life’s passion and I’m so thrilled that I had a chance to experience her brilliance. I’ve since hired three more teammates and greatly enjoy work with them. Here’s what I’ve learned:
1. You need to be brutally honest with yourself.
Nobody’s perfect and having a clear sense of your failings will allow you to hire to fill the gaps. This helps you focus on the stuff you rock at -- what business growth coach Dan Sullivan calls your Unique Ability -- while your team focuses on theirs. This is when money starts to fall from the sky.
2. Hire for attitude and aptitude rather than skills.
To supplement my intuition now that we’re hiring more frequently, I make all potentials take the Kolbe Index test so I can make sure I’m hiring them for the parts they love and will excel at rather than what they say they’re willing to take on just because they need the hours. This post will help you understand why this helps.
3. Stop expecting people to read your mind.
A truly brilliant tool I got from a business coaching program I’m taking is called the impact filter. If your creative chaos brain has ever gotten you in trouble with your team because they are frustrated and puzzled by which of your many ideas you actually want them to implement, you will love this. It has changed my life. I now do impact filters for all my ideas and even for tasks and responsibilities when I hire someone new.
Doing an impact filter on every new project or task I am thinking of assigning helps me get crystal clear on exactly what outcome I’m after, the consequences of not starting, the best and worst case scenarios and more. It basically forces me to stop “impulse starting” stuff and making my team nuts. And for my mostly virtual team, the impact filter acts as a reference they can return to if I’m on the road or in lockdown planning a presentation or writing this column.
4. Hire before you’re desperate.
My final tip is to get help before you’re drowning in deadlines and dropping too many balls. If you’re waiting to be “too busy” so you have “extra” budget, you’ll likely squander any money you do spend because you won’t have the time to properly select, train and set up your team.
Even if you’re nervous about platforms such as Odesk or Fiverr, think about the new moms in your circle -- highly qualified, trustworthy career women who would happily take a pay cut for the flexibility of working a few hours from home.
The help you need is out there. Start with just a few tasks and as little as three to four hours a month. Spend that time focusing on your area of genius and before long, you’ll be hiring even more teammates.