As your business grows, it’s time to think about hiring a team, and inarguably one of the best options for entrepreneurs is to get a virtual assistant. They can do tasks like replying to customer service emails, editing blog posts, managing your database, writing copy, and more. Sounds perfect, right?
But there’s a risk to hiring a virtual assistant, a dark side if you will. One bad virtual assistant can completely ruin your online reputation, in irreparable ways in some cases.
So, with that in mind…allow me to make an argument for hiring a virtual assistant anyway! With a little thoughtfulness, you can manage the risk and even improve your reputation online.
The biggest worry most people have about hiring a virtual assistant is that they’ll do something unprofessional and it will reflect poorly on the entire company. While this is a very real possibility if you hire the wrong person, this is actually a risk when you hire any employee, virtual or not. The reason why most people are more worried about it with a virtual assistant is because it can be difficult to hire someone who you never meet in person.
When you hire an employee, they are representing your company. Someone who has a bad interaction with an employee doesn’t care if the person wasn’t following the company policy. They care that they had a bad interaction. This is especially a problem for your reputation on social media sites, where unprofessional comments can go viral in a millisecond.
Easy: don’t hire someone who might act unprofessionally! While this sounds hard, it’s really not. Think about it this way: if you wouldn’t be comfortable letting a potential employee send out messages on Twitter or Facebook, you shouldn’t have that person working for your company at all. Today, everyone on your team is a social and customer service representative, not just the people you hire for those tasks.
In the case of a virtual assistant, work with a firm that cares about finding you the perfect fit, not a firm that sends you someone based on who they have available. If you’re hiring someone full time, you should be able to interview candidates via Skype to get a feel for whether or not they’ll be a good fit for your company. Remember, just because someone can do certain tasks doesn’t mean they are right for your company.
Sometimes, there is no warning that a virtual assistant is going to do something crazy. Have a plan in place for dealing with these instances. Respond to complaints as quickly as possible. Provide other employees with pre-written scripts so they can respond quickly to show that the company is listening until you’re available for an actual response. Do not make excuses, and make sure to take action so the rogue employee can’t continue to damage your reputation.
Virtual assistants have this bad reputation of turning in low-quality work. This isn’t always the case; in fact, it’s usually not the case. However, the common thinking for many entrepreneurs is that it is better to work with someone in-person to keep a closer eye on his or her work.
At some point, you just have to let things out of your control. Part of being a good boss is knowing how to trust your employees instead of micromanaging.
You shouldn’t micromanage, but you should put your virtual assistant through a trial period where you are closely checking their work before it goes live. Every job has a learning curve, but if someone’s not getting it after a short trial period, move on to someone else. It’s not personal; it’s business.
People have bad days. If a virtual assistant turns in low-quality work, have a meeting via Skype to talk about the problem. Always talk it out rather than sending an email, since tone can be unclear. Have a plan in place to correct mistakes as quickly as possible and apologize to customers if they are affected by mistakes.
Lastly, because you’re communicating with virtual assistants online, it is fairly easy for them to simply disappear on you. “Houdini assistants,” as I like to call them, commit to doing a certain amount of work, but end up never meeting deadlines.
If you pre-paid for the work, you’ll lose money if someone simply disappears. However, even if you didn’t pay yet, this could be a problem. Sometimes, you simply won’t have the time to redo the work or others are waiting for the virtual assistant’s tasks to be completed before they can start their leg of the project. It might also mean that customers’ questions and complaints go unanswered.
Set communication expectations in place and have regular check-ins. For example, you might ask your virtual assistant to respond to your emails with 3 hours during business hours and attend a weekly planning meeting every Monday. Also make sure to define the hours your virtual assistant will be working, since they might be in different time zones, and have a system for your virtual assistant to alert you of any upcoming vacation time. With larger projects, make sure to set milestones so you aren’t blind-sided with a huge amount of work that hasn’t been done.
Have clear consequences for virtual assistants who miss deadlines simply because they aren’t doing the work and who don’t communicate with you when there is a problem. You don’t have to continue working with a virtual assistant who is unreliable.
I’m a strong advocate for hiring virtual assistants. In my experiences, they aren’t any more or less problematic than employees who work in your office, but the advantage is that you have a pool of potential employees from around the world, rather than being limited to the people who live in your neighborhood. Deciding not to hire a virtual assistant is not the best option for protecting your online reputation; you simply need to know what you’re getting into and prepare for potential problems.
Do you have virtual assistant success stories or horror stories? Leave a comment below!
About the Author: Allison Boyer is a content marketer who blogs regularly about blogging, email, social media, and more at AllisonBoyer.com.