Do you find yourself agreeing in principle that using the services of a virtual assistant (VA) is a good idea but just don’t know how to get the process started? Comments that I often hear are “What would I give a virtual assistant to do?”, or “How would I go about working with someone virtually?” Effective delegation does not come easily to everyone and those who find it difficult often find themselves putting off asking for help and then running around in ever decreasing circles as they try to be a jack of all trades.
A good working relationship with a VA requires input from both sides. They should have the skills required to execute your instructions and the ability to work on their own and use their initiative while you need to be good at delegating if you want to get the most out of your working relationship.
The psychology of delegation
The old adage that ‘If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself’ is growing out-dated. Managers and entrepreneurs should instead be asking themselves, “What tasks can only be done by me – and what can I ask others to do for me?” The greatest barrier to delegation for most people is, however, fear. The fear of the consequences should that delegation go wrong makes some people argue “I can do it better myself”. However, the consequence of not ’letting go’, especially for a sole trader or small business, is that you are in danger of holding up the development of your business as you become the bottleneck impeding its growth.
To overcome this fear, find a recommended virtual assistant to help you and start small. Give your assistant some of the simple, routine, day-to-day tasks to handle on your behalf and as you build confidence in their capabilities gradually involve them in the more complex aspects of your business.
The Pareto Principle states that 80% of the outcome comes from 20% of the input, or to put this another way – most people achieve 80% of their results from 20% of their effort. You can apply the 80/20 rule to almost every situation and, when considering delegation, it can be used to your advantage. If you haven’t already got one, compile a ‘to do’ list. If you do have a ‘to do’ list, think about exactly how comprehensive it is. A good way to start is to take a few days to write down everything you do over that period of time. According to the Pareto Principle if your list has 10 items on it for you to action today (and lucky you if it’s only 10!), 2 of the tasks will have equal value to the other 8 combined. You should concentrate your time on the 2 high value tasks and have a good look at the other 8 and ask yourself – does this have to be done by me or could someone else do it with a bit of instruction? You will soon identify all of the opportunities that you have within your daily/ weekly routine to delegate to your VA.
If you are the sort of person who struggles to ‘let go’, put a process in place to make it easy for yourself to outsource to your VA, otherwise you will find yourself coming up with excuses for not doing so. Decide how you are going to communicate, perhaps set up a single inbox using a free email service such as Gmail where your tasks will be dropped. If you use Outlook open a folder in your inbox and set up a rule (your VA should be able to help you with this) whereby any emails received from your VA will automatically be filed so that they don’t get lost amongst all of the other email traffic. You can then check-in on progress regularly. A free service such as Dropbox can be invaluable, set up a shared folder where each of you can store the documents that you will both need. When working on documents together put a version control in place; it can be as simple as labelling each incarnation of a document ‘Draft 1’ and then ‘Draft 2’ etc. to ensure that you are working on the latest version.
With the online technology now available there are many ways to facilitate an effective working relationship with your VA. Find the way that best suits both of you and monitor tasks closely at first then, as your confidence in your assistant grows, the time that you both spend on reporting in and giving instructions should decrease. After all, a good virtual assistant should make your life easier, not more difficult.
Another thing to think about is planning how to use all of the time that your new-found skill of delegation will generate. Is your goal to spend more time on developing your business and working on the areas that only you can? Or are you going to factor in more leisure time (equally important) to try to achieve a better work/life balance? It could be that you want to try to achieve a bit of both. Either way mastering the art of delegation will help you achieve much more out of the same amount of time.