Most agency owners have tried using virtual assistants, or VAs, at least once, and many of them have had a bad experience.
Maybe that describes you.
Maybe you tried but couldn’t find the right people, couldn’t get them to do the work the way you wanted, or couldn’t effectively measure their performance.
Today, I want to fix that for you because I know exactly how powerful virtual assistants can be.
And I believe that if you can get this part right, you can make your agency exponentially more productive and profitable.
But before we get into that, I want to dispel a few myths.
The first myth is that virtual assistants are only useful for very simple, menial tasks.
The reality is that you can find VAs to do just about any task as long as you properly screen, and, if necessary, train them.
I’ll talk a little more about this in some of the later sections, but they can regularly handle complex tasks such as:
- Replying to customer service emails.
- Compiling and analyzing data.
The key is to find and train the right people.
Another myth is that virtual assistants have poor communication skills.
While it’s true that the vast majority of VAs do live in developing countries, many of them have excellent communication skills.
In fact, some even have a better command of the English language than a lot of the people who were born here in America.
And one particularly dangerous myth is that all virtual assistants are the same.
I hear this all the time … “Robert, I’ve tried VAs before and it went terribly. They don’t work for what I do.”
I’m willing to concede that you may have used a virtual assistant before, but I’m not willing to agree that they don’t work just because you had a bad experience.
Or even several bad experiences.
Here’s a better way to look at that – most of us can walk, right?
And that’s because when you were a toddler trying to figure out how to walk, you didn’t fall on your ass, then simply throw up your hands and declare “Well, I tried to walk, but it doesn’t work for me!”
You kept trying until you figured it out.
And your parents probably helped coach and guide you along the way, too.
Working with virtual assistants is the same.
You need the right approach.
And that’s exactly what we’re going to cover in this article today.
You can use the following seven steps to effectively use VAs in your agency so you can achieve higher productivity and profitability.
This is the same framework we use in my 500+ person virtual assistant agency – and it’s something you can implement in your own SEO agency.
1. Identifying Your Needs
Start by figuring out what you need to do at a high level.
Maybe you’re just doing an audit.
Maybe you’re executing a comprehensive content and backlink campaign.
Or maybe it’s something in between.
Once you know what needs to be done at a high level, you can then start breaking out smaller, individual components of that goal.
For example, if we are going to execute a link building campaign, we might need to:
- Conduct a backlink audit for our client’s site.
- Conduct a backlink audit of their competitors.
- Conduct research to identify new link building opportunities.
- Develop strategies to acquire new links.
- Develop outreach scripts.
- Review all preliminary data with the client.
- Implement toolsets for outreach and tracking.
- Conduct outreach and follow up to acquire these links.
- Track and analyze the performance of our efforts.
- Review performance data with the client.
It’s important to remember not to get too deep into the weeds here.
As a data and process guy, I know how easy it is to go down that rabbit hole, but it’s unproductive at this point.
Once we’ve identified our needs at a high level, we can begin scoping our project, where we start getting more granular.
2. Scoping Your Project
At this point, we’ll start breaking things down in more detail and determining who does what.
Scoping our project requires us to identify individual tasks.
For example: instead of just looking at link building as a broad concept, we’ll start breaking that down into the higher level subtasks.
Some subtasks might include:
- Compiling a list of website owners, contributors, and journalists to pitch.
- Setting up and configuring your toolsets for outreach and follow up.
- Setting up data/tracking tools, such as SEMrush, Google Search Console, Google Tag Manager.
- Setting up Google Alerts to catch unlinked references.
- Writing your outreach scripts.
- Conducting outreach.
- Modifying your list of website owners, contributors, and journalists as your campaign progresses.
- Building local citations.
- Compiling data on links earned.
- Tracking the impact (from a ranking and/or traffic perspective) of your link building efforts.
We’ll also evaluate which tasks here can be handed off to a virtual assistant versus which require specialized knowledge that can’t be conveyed in a documented process and must be handled by you or someone else on your internal team.
“Make a list of repetitive client tasks that you don’t want to be doing,” according to Dennis Yu, founder of BlitzMetrics, who has long been a vocal proponent of using VAs to scale an agency. “Figure out what those tasks are worth per hour and look to outsource at 1/3rd that price.”
That’s a great starting point, but with the right screening and structure in place, you can hand off even more to your team of virtual assistants.
Keep in mind that at this stage, most agency owners falsely believe that most or even all of their tasks are so complex or specialized that only they can handle them.
They are wrong. That kind of thinking hurts their growth. Don’t be like them.
At the same time, be careful not to go too far in the other direction by giving a virtual assistant too much at once.
It’s important to start small and hand things off to your virtual assistants incrementally rather than dumping everything in their lap at once.
This is where a documented process comes in.
3. Documenting Your Process
Having a clearly documented process is, without question, the most important part of working with virtual assistants.
In fact, it’s critical for your own internal team as well, because it takes the process out of your head and puts it into a centralized resource that everyone can access and follow.
This ensures consistent results because your entire team is able to follow the same steps every single time, eliminating any guesswork or personal interpretation.
And because they don’t have to waste time overthinking what to do or how to do it, they’re more productive and their mind is freed up to focus on more important strategic thoughts.
This is a really important benefit because when you’re not bogged down with mundane details, you become a more effective problem-solver.
Ideally, your process should be documented in a location where all applicable team members, both internal and virtual assistants, have access to.
Cloud files are perfect for this because you don’t have to worry about any versioning issues, and all updates are instantly reflected for all of your team members.
There are a variety of ways to do this.
In a project management system, you might create templates for certain types of projects, with all of the tasks and associated instructions already in place and ready to be assigned.
You might simply document your process in a Google or Word document.
Or you might develop a detailed flow chart using a tool like Diagram.net to clearly map out all possible paths from start to finish.
Most agencies will use a combination of these approaches, and possibly other tools as well.
Ultimately, that all comes down to your workflow.
4. Sourcing Your Virtual Assistants
This is a critical component because even if you have everything else nailed down, getting it wrong here can derail your efforts.
We’re going to break this into two components – where and how.
Where to Source Virtual Assistants
Your first step here is to determine if you want U.S.-based VAs, or you’re comfortable with overseas VAs.
Either can be equally effective, but there are pros and cons in each case.
U.S.-based VAs will be in the same (or close to the same) timezone as you and your customers, so communication will generally be easier, but they will also be more expensive.
On the other hand, because overseas VAs are typically either several hours ahead of or behind us, communication is sometimes more difficult.
This can sometimes slow projects down if critical information needs to be communicated back and forth with several hours or more in between messages.
But you can achieve considerable cost savings by employing overseas virtual assistants.
You’ll need to carefully evaluate your situation and workflow to determine which is right for you.
How to Source Virtual Assistants
There are a lot of ways you can source your VAs:
- Both general and VA-specific job boards.
- Gig sites.
- Through social media and other contacts.
- Through virtual assistant agencies.
As with the previous section, there are pros and cons to each approach.
I’ll generally lump job boards and gig sites into the same general pros and cons despite some small differences.
These platforms give you access to a lot of potential virtual assistants in one shot, but the downside is that there will be a lot of profiles/applicants to sort through.
Unfortunately, there is generally no real screening in place to ensure you’re getting qualified applicants with the appropriate skills and qualifications.
So you’re left to interview them all yourself to find the right candidates.
That can be massively time-consuming, and if we’re being completely honest, frustrating.
But on the upside, you could find a few rockstars and save yourself some money in the process.
That usually requires a bit of luck and a lot of time and effort though.
If you’re on a tight budget, this might be a good choice for you.
Sourcing virtual assistants through social media and other contacts can be effective because they are already prescreened by other people you know who have worked with them.
However, people are generally unlikely to refer a great virtual assistant to others because they want to keep them as a resource for their own agency.
One exception to this is when an agency may no longer need to or be able to retain that VA.
And because these virtual assistants have a solid track record and are currently working for one or more agencies already, they will generally cost more.
And the last option is working with a virtual assistant agency.
This will always be the most expensive option on the front end, but it also comes with several advantages.
The first is that every VA is already prescreened, so you know exactly what type of tasks they will excel at and can place them accordingly.
Another is that because we have a pool of people ready to go you’re able to scale almost instantaneously.
When it comes to sourcing your virtual assistants, you have to evaluate your needs (current and future), time, and budget, to make the right decision.
5. Communicating Throughout the Project
Modern business is complex and moves fast, so effective communication is essential to the success of your projects.
You need to clearly communicate expectations with your virtual assistants at the start of a project.
You also have to ensure everyone is on the same page throughout the project to maximize productivity, efficiency, and performance throughout the project.
And finally, you have to communicate where performance and expectations didn’t line up, both throughout and at the completion of the project.
It’s important that the communication lines up with your workflow.
You already know it’s easy to send a text message or a DM on Skype, but how do we effectively track or follow up on that communication later?
So you need to ensure that all communication takes place through a system that ensures nothing falls through the cracks and that you’re able to review it later if you need to.
A project management system like Teamwork or Monday can be an effective way to do this, in conjunction with traditional email.
For email communication, you may find it helpful to add third-party tools like Boomerang that help you stay on top of emails without clogging up your inbox.
Constant communication throughout the project helps to keep everyone on track and avoid unwanted surprises.
6. Measuring Performance
Defining effective KPIs, or Key Performance Indicators, is a vital part of maximizing performance.
KPIs are simply a way of measuring the outcome of the work you and your team are doing.
And even if you’ve never heard of KPIs, you deal with them every day from an SEO perspective.
For example, DA and PA are KPIs you’re probably very familiar with.
They are two metrics created by Moz to simulate Google’s PageRank by measuring the impact of the links pointing to your website.
The number of daily visitors is another KPI that SEO pros look at, as is ranking position.
But not all KPIs are as obvious. And some are ineffective in certain contexts.
Word count is an example of a bad KPI when we’re talking about measuring marketing performance.
Sure, we generally need to set a specific word count if we assign the task of writing an article, but does the number of words someone writes define success or failure?
I say no, as would most experienced SEO professionals, because word count doesn’t equal traffic, or more importantly, customers.
However, on the back end (where all the work takes place), we often have to measure things that don’t directly define success or failure from a marketing perspective but do from a productivity perspective.
And word count could be an example of a useful KPI from that perspective.
The tricky part is determining how best to measure work completed by your virtual assistants so we can improve the operations side of our business without pushing our team to waste their time in ways that meet the KPIs, but fail to move the needle for our clients.
What you need to do here is figure out exactly what you need to do in order for your clients to succeed, and then reverse engineer a set of KPIs throughout your process that will deliver that outcome.
7. Scaling Up
This is one of my favorite parts of what we do, because once we get here, the framework is in place and we can start turning the dials up.
It’s critical that before you attempt to scale up, you first ensure you have all of the previous elements I outlined in place already.
Otherwise, you will have a catastrophic failure.
Once everything is in place, though, you can start adding new virtual assistants slightly ahead of new clients.
That way, you have a chance to get them integrated into your workflow and process so they cant hit the ground running before you hit capacity.
At this stage, it’s critical to be even more attentive to both the KPIs you’re measuring your VAs by and the performance of your efforts from a marketing/revenue perspective.
This is because as you scale, some of your processes will break and you need to be ready to adapt your process to your new environment.
You’ll also need to retrain your internal team members and virtual assistants, which will take some time.
Identifying issues and adapting to them earlier in the process helps to minimize their negative impact.
It’s best to look at this all as a living, breathing creature because that’s exactly what it is.
As you scale your agency, you’re trying to keep a balance between:
- Numerous clients.
- Their competitors.
- Internal team members.
- Virtual assistants.
- Search engines.
- Your own competitors.
In other words, you’re juggling a lot – and that’s exactly why you need a team to support you.
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