Outsourcing is scary - I know from both sides of the coin. Not only is it an additional expense, it can feel like a gamble to hand off tasks and logins to another person - like leaving your new baby with a babysitter for the first time! In this article I’ve put together some guidelines about what you can do to make sure you pick the right service provider for your needs and how to create an awesome working relationship.
Note: I’m not going to discuss pricing in this article, as it varies wildly depending on experience, skill level, location, specialization, company size, etc. It’s up to you to comparison shop, but remember that price should not be the ultimate deciding factor of who you hire. Make sure whoever you hire is trustworthy, efficient, effective, and your workstyles click.
Understand What Type of Service Provider You’re Looking For
You don’t know what you don’t know, right?
Online service providers are popping up at an exponential rate and it can be difficult to search for the right ones when there is no industry standards. The term “Virtual Assistant” is most common but the majority of people seem to associate VAs with low-skill admin tasks and balk when they have to pay more than $10/hr. The fact is there are VAs out there charging $100/hr, and rightly so, because they are providing very highly specialized niche services.
Then there are online service providers who are vehemently avoiding the term “virtual assistant” because of the low-skill low-price connotation, so a general Google search is going to miss them all together.
Don’t get me wrong, just because someone is charging $10/hr doesn’t mean they aren’t fantastic at what they do - you just have to understand what you’re getting and what you need. In most cases, someone who is on the low end of the price scale is going to be relying on you to provide detailed instructions and to tell them when/how to do the work. Someone on the high end of the price scale is going to work with you to come up with the best way to do things (or even provide that blueprint to you!) and then be proactive about their work, anticipating issues and future tasks that will be required based on your business activities.
Here is a quick guideline:
If you already have all of your tasks/steps worked out but don’t have time to do them each week/month: you need a service provider on the low end of the scale who is great at following instructions (task oriented).
If you are new to business or doing something new in your business: you need a service provider who has experience with that activity so they can provide recommendations about how to do it effectively, or can do it for you (goal oriented).
Give Them a Heads Up ASAP
Everyone underestimates how long projects will take to complete. This is especially true if you are unfamiliar with all of the steps needed or potential issues that could arise. When you give a task to your service provider with a tight deadline and they tell you it can’t be done that quickly, they are not trying to make your life difficult. Sometimes these situations are unavoidable and your service provider will love you 3000 if you do any of the following:
Ask them what would be the minimum steps to complete the task within your timeline (and then work on the optional parts of it later)
Make it clear that this is the priority and they can drop all other tasks they are currently working on for you
Offer to pay extra if the work is taking place outside of business hours
Send a small gift after the work is completed - it’s amazing what a simple $10 gift card can do for goodwill
Alternatively, they might bend over backwards to meet all your deadlines and burn out, and nobody wants that!
The farther ahead they know about a deadline, the better they are able to schedule the tasks or advise you if there are going to be conflicts. And if a deadline changes, even if it’s being bumped back, also let them know!
Provide the Context
When you are assigning or proposing tasks & projects for your service provider, provide the context or the why behind the task. This allows your provider to be more effective because, as the expert in whatever you hired them for, they may think of issues that you can’t see or wouldn’t have anticipated.
The added benefit of this is that knowing what’s going on in your business makes your service provider feel more like part of the team, which is important for long-term, loyal relationships.
If you have a provider who actually doesn’t want context, that is OK as long as their role is more task-focused and they are working on lower level admin projects. But I’d question their commitment if they don’t seem to care about your business :/
Give Your Service Provider As Much Information As Humanly Possible
Following up on the section about context, this applies more to situations where you are providing direction/feedback or having some sort of technical issue.
Do you know why help desk and IT support people are so grumpy? Because a million times a day they deal with people who say something “isn’t working” but can’t provide any details about what went wrong.
Want a webpage created? Send examples of other websites you’ve found that you want to take inspiration from.
Want a sales funnel created? Describe an example of one you signed up for that works the way you want yours too.
Trying to do something in your software and get an error? Screenshots are your best friend! Plus give a few bullet points of what you did right before you got the error. Oh, and don’t forget that random glitches happen - close the program or restart your computer and try again. If the error happens again then send it on. If it doesn’t happen again don’t worry about sending it.
The more details you can provide up front, the faster things will be resolved because there won’t be so much back and forth.
Make Sure You’re Clear on What Your Service Provider Can & Can’t Do
If your service provider says they can do anything then they better have a large team of subcontractors - if they are a solo operation they probably mean that they can figure anything out - are you OK paying for people to figure things out or do you need someone who already knows how to accomplish your tasks?
When you are hiring people for 1 off tasks or projects it’s important to find someone who can do exactly what you need. When you are hiring someone for a set of recurring tasks then it’s reasonable to have to train them or have them figure it out the first time, then be able to complete the task quickly going forward.
When you are hiring people long term or as general support chances are the scope of what you ask them to take on is going to shift and/or expand. It’s important to be clear about what your service provider is comfortable with or willing to do. If they have been with you a long time and know your business well, having them spend time figuring out another related task could be more beneficial than bringing in a 1-time specialist. If the task is a little too far out of their wheelhouse then you might have to bring in the 1-time specialist to either complete the task or work with your service provider to complete it.
You know you’ve got a good relationship when your service provider is honest about telling you what they can’t or don’t want to do. Unfortunately, many providers will say yes to anything for fear of being replaced.
Don’t Abuse the Emergency Contact Method
If your service provider has good boundaries, they should have given your their office/support hours, primary contact method, and what to do in case of emergency.
DO NOT ABUSE “IN CASE OF EMERGENCY”.
When it comes to tech & online stuff people have a tendency to panic. Just because something isn’t working doesn’t mean that you need to call your service provider on their honeymoon and demand they fix it.
If you think something might be an emergency, ask yourself these questions:
Is this issue impacting your clients in a significant way (i.e. they are contacting you, complaining, they can’t access their product/service, etc.)?
Is this issue going to damage your reputation/relationship with your clients or audience?
Is this issue something that is definitely going to cause bigger problems (see the first two points) if not dealt with asap?
If you answered yes to any of these then you might have a genuine emergency on your hands. If you answered no, then send your issue via the normal channels and wait for a response.
The more you send urgent/emergency messages that aren’t really emergencies, the more you are damaging your relationship with your service provider.
What Would You Add?
I invite you to comment with your own tips or experiences (no name bashing please!).