In going through my receipts, prepping for 2011 tax filing, I smiled to see one invoice in particular. It was the first one from Jess, my cherished assistant. When I hired Jess, I didn’t have excess cash in the budget to bring her on. I hadn’t “made enough yet” to do it. But I was also certain that if I didn’t get support that Pink Elephant could never grow. I’d keep doing the same things, feeling the same buriedness and overwhelm, keeping my head just above water… until I couldn’t anymore. Hiring Jess was one of the best business decisions I have ever made. She’s like the innertube that lets me float downstream, in the flow, supported, buoyant, eased. And happy. (She deserves a much better visual than an innertube but you get what I’m saying, right?)
When I speak with clients and other entrepreneurs who are feeling that same these-tasks-aren’t-what-I-started-my-own-business-to-do overwhelm, I am quick to recommend an assistant. “Even if you think you can’t afford it!” Because when you are freed up from e-mail management and appointment scheduling and blog formatting – or whatever you would enjoy having help with – you become so much more productive. You increase the number of revenue-generating hours available in your calendar. You have more time to write that blog you’ve been thinking about or to create that new teleseminar that you know will help so many people. The investment in the right support will be returned many, many times over. And you might just become more fun to live with.
The catch is finding an assistant who fits as well as Jess (and Nita, our newest addition!).
How I found Jess and Nita
1. I asked around.
I posted on Twitter, asking if anyone had a virtual assistant they would love to recommend. Right away, I heard from a few VAs directly and I heard from some fellow entrepreneurs I admire and respect.
Start your search with recommendations from people like you.
2. I reviewed their websites.
I was nervous about handing over the general inbox, which would be the primary responsibility of whoever came on board. It is so important to me that anyone who reaches out to Pink Elephant should feel very cared for which made it absolutely necessary to find a Welcome Ambassador who was in equal measure kind and compassionate, smart and articulate. A tall order! She (or he) had to feel the same appreciation and fondness for the people writing to me that I do.
Some of the VA websites focused on productivity and efficiency. Some were very matter of fact. Some emphasized low rates. Some described their services in ways that didn’t take into account any of my own concerns. I knew that that writing style and manner wasn’t what I wanted. Jess, though, had a beautifully written website – as beautiful as it was compassionate. She understood how important trust would be in our work. She emphasized the need for self-care, especially when you’re an entrepreneur – and saw that as her contribution to businesses. She mentioned efficiency too, but it was that she was able to relate to me – as only a reader – in such an emotional way that told me she’d be ideal for understanding the concerns of my clients. Before we even met, I knew she was it. (And did I mention she’s also a doula? LOVE.)
Before you scout VA websites, get clear about what you need and find someone who loves doing exactly that. There are VAs who specialize in website updates, social media, email management and client relationships, teleconference support and on and on.
3. Use your intuition.
For those of you who like the Myers-Briggs types, I’m an INFJ who leads with the N, representing intuition. I will often ignore facts (they’re so quaint!) in favour of my gut. It’s not a better way of doing things but I’ve learned how to use it to my advantage. From Jess’ first email to me, I knew. Like, I KNEW.
Whether you normally rely on intuition or not, when it comes to taking on new clients or finding someone new to work with, I always recommend getting quiet with yourself and seeing how your body feels. Sometimes the most perfect-seeming situation will feel off. For me, every time I’ve talked myself out of that “off” feeling, I’ve wished I hadn’t.
4. Check references.
As much as I trust my intuition, I recommend a complementary strategy. Sometimes my fear (especially the “you should” variety) can masquerade as intuition so I check with alternate sources as part of my choosing process. Information is good.
In the case of Jess, Allie the artist recommended her to me. That, alone, spoke volumes because Allie knows what working with me is like, what my personal style is… if she thought Jess would be a match, I trusted that. Allie also has impeccable taste in all things so I knew Jess’ work would be exquisite. And it is. Jess is currently on maternity leave so as we prepared for her temporary departure, she recommended someone she thought could step in and, given how intimately she understands my hopes and expectations, that meant a lot. As with Jess, my first conversation with Nita just felt so right. (And guess what else? She trains seeing eye dogs! I am wildly blessed that Pink Elephant gets to know people with that much kindness.)
It’s not enough to read the reviews on a website. If you don’t have recommendations you can trust implicitly, that’s okay. Ask your prospective assistant for the contact information of two or three of her clients. Ask those clients about their experience. You might consider questions like:
- What does your assistant love doing for you best?
- If I were to hire her, what advice would you have for me? Under what circumstances do things go most smoothly?
- Are there certain types of tasks you wouldn’t give her?
- What specific support does she provide and how many hours a week/month does that require?
This is an approach that could work for anyone you need to hire: research (clarifying what’s out there and what you really need) + gut-check + references = finding someone wonderful. (It could probably work for your love life too!)
Writer Carrie Klassen is a green tea enthusiast, novelist-in-progress, fine point pen aficionado, INFJ Scorpio, and president of Pink Elephant Creative, a website writing and design boutique for inspired entrepreneurs. She also writes workbooks and teaches workshops at Pink Elephant Academy for Entrepreneurs.