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Once you've figured out the high-value items on your To-Do list, you may be wondering how you're going to do all of those other tasks that you haven't listed as critical, but that are still important to the maintenance of your business.

Here's the short answer: You don't. Someone else does!
 
Oprah doesn't film her own show (heck, she doesn't even choose her own clothes!). Tony Hsieh doesn't answer the phones at Zappos.com. And Jay Leno doesn't write all his own jokes. These powerhouses know the secret to their success is to focus on what they do best – the things only THEY can do – and pass the rest onto someone else.
 
Before you hand your company passwords and your Rolodex over to your 16-year-old son and head out the door for that long-desired Tahitian vacation, let's review some of the basics of delegating and outsourcing. 
 
First, what's the difference? “Delegating” typically refers to handing tasks off to someone else in your organization, while “outsourcing” generally means you've contracted someone outside your company to handle specific tasks. You might delegate responding to e-mail to your assistant, while you outsource the janitorial services to a private firm. The distinction isn't a big one, but it's important because the cost structure is different. If someone's already part of your organization, they can take on additional tasks without having to be compensated for each and every one. But if you're outsourcing, passing more activities to another, outside party will mean you're paying more. 
 
As a work-at-home entrepreneur, you're likely flying solo, so you'll be doing more outsourcing than delegating. (You'll be hiring contractors rather than hiring employees who work for your company.) But the same principles still apply. 
 
Here are five questions to ask before you pass a task on to someone else: 
 
1.    Does it really need to be done?
What would happen if NO ONE did this particular task? Would it impact your business's credibility, profit, or customer service? If you can't answer “Yes” to at least one of those categories, then you might want to think about crossing this one off the master list and letting it go undone.
 
2.    Can someone else do it as well as or better than you can?
If so, then this is not your core competency, and you should pass the activity on to someone else. Let other people do their thing while you do yours.
 
3.    Will you ever have to do this again?
If this activity is a one-time deal (installing software, creating an RSS feed, registering a product with Clickbank.com), there's no value in you working your way up the learning curve. Let someone else do it for you.
 
4.    How much will it cost you to outsource?
We often overestimate how much we'll have to pay someone else to do the tasks that we can't or don't want to perform. Get an estimate before you write it off as too expensive. You may be pleasantly surprised how quickly and cheaply an “expert” can handle those tasks that are languishing at the bottom of your list.
 
5.    Do you enjoy it?
If you don't like doing it, find someone else to take it off your hands, pronto. Life's too short to spend your time on activities you detest. And even more important, your displeasure will show in the end result. Do what makes your heart sing and leave the rest to someone else.
 
Entrepreneurs are do-it-yourself types, and you may be tempted to keep everything under your own control. But by trying to do everything with your own two hands, you're actually stunting your company's growth. Let others help you out, allowing you to concentrate where you add the most value. It's the fastest and best way to grow your business. 

Every virtual assistant will need to assemble a team at some time in their career. A team increases your business possibilities and opportunities. But, handling all those people will take more than your stellar brain.

Putting the Pieces Together
Make a list. Whose skills will you use for what jobs? There are several ways you can do this. Let’s say that you want to hire someone to do article writing. You can use that same person for all your article needs across all projects, if they have the right qualifications. Or, you can use a different VA for each specialty that you handle, i.e. someone who is experienced with financial matters works with those clients and someone else who is experienced with website development can work with online businesses.

What you want to do is spread out the work so that deadlines are getting met. Even with one other person, burnout can come quick. Take inventory of how many people you will likely need to cover your overflow.

Getting your Mind Right
What’s this all about? Well, it involves how you will manage your team. Micromanaging is not what you want or need. That is just a fancy and roundabout way of doing all the work yourself. It is exhausting and not cost effective. You’ll have to let your team of professionals operate on their own with minimal guidance ONCE you are comfortable with their skills.

You already know that each person will have a different way of working. The important thing is that they can deliver for you. You can give each person a probationary period to evaluate their work. That’s another reason to implement your team approach while the overflow is light. You don’t want to test them under fire.

Tracking Projects
A project management system lets you keep track of not only the projects but the subcontractors as well. You can have them upload their work at various stages so you can see how they are doing and report to your client. Any documents that are needed by you and them can be uploaded to the project.

This system works well for asking questions, posting new information and hosting discussions with your team. There are options for you. Basecamp is a system that allows you to create client lists, post projects and add users. Each contractor can have their own username and password for the system and limited access to only their projects.

A similar system is SharePoint. This system was created by Microsoft and functions in much the same way. Here, each client can have access to a sub-site within the main site. They can view their work in progress and communicate questions or concerns right to you and the subcontractors.

Tracking your team is a matter of project management. To ease your mind, know who is doing what, when and how.

When you started your business you had a plan, a business plan. It no doubt mentioned something about future expansion. Now is the time to put those plans in place.

The best time to think about expanding your business is before it actually happens. Then, you can put your plan into action much more quickly and seamlessly. Part of expanding is outsourcing.

Now you are ready for a VA team. It was a team of one, but now you are happily getting too big for a one-man or one-woman show. To keep moving upward, you’ll need others to make it happen.

Choosing your Team
The team will be comprised mostly of other virtual assistants. These aren’t just any virtual assistants – they think like you do and have a similar work ethic. Just like your clients did with you, you’ll want to do some research and interviewing to find just the right people.

You may have already thought about what jobs you will outsource. Keeping it simple is a good way to start until you get a feel for how the team will work together. Interviewing is only the first step. Keep in mind that you may want to outsource more delicate matters later. Look for a variety of skills in the people that you choose for your team. The more skills that they have, the more useful they will turn out to be to you.

Starting off on the Right Foot
Get all of your ducks in a row from the beginning. This includes contracts, agreements and instructions. Each virtual assistant will need a contract that spells out, but is not limited to: pay per hour, pay schedule, job description. Agreements between you and your subcontracting VAs stipulating confidentiality and non-compete clauses are essential. You don’t want to be fleeced for your client list right under your nose.

Written instructions about how to do what you ask avoids as many mistakes as possible later. Even though your subcontractors know how to say, write a report, they don’t know how you write reports for your clients. Pleasing your clients is the important part here.

Crossing all the Ts
One “T” in particular is taxes. You are not just responsible for yourself but others who work for you. Hiring subcontractors is considered freelancing. This is another area that needs to be specified in any contracts with your team. As a subcontractor, they will be responsible for their own taxes and insurance. What you will provide (for US workers) is a 1099-MISC form for them that specify what you pay them so that they can use it to file their taxes.

The cost of subcontracting will figure into your hourly or per project rate for your clients. The last thing you want to do is undercut yourself because you are paying your contractors more than you are getting paid yourself.

Planning ahead for business growth will make you healthy, wealthy and wise.

Who says that outsourcing is strictly for work? As you grow your business, you still have other responsibilities that need to be taken care of. Check to see if these duties can be passed on to someone else.

When work and home collide, it can become insane. You will be folding laundry in your home office between emails and researching articles. Or, you’ll be going over reports in your head while you cook dinner. This is not what you had in mind when you decided to go into business for yourself.

Get Some Help…Again

You’ve already turned a big corner by outsourcing your virtual assisting work to other VAs with the right stuff. Now, turn your attention to your home. Those activities can also be outsourced to others with the right skills to do the job.

1. Childcare – Part of owning a home business like virtual assisting is that you can spend more time with the kids. You may have even worked out your business day around keeping the children at home. As the business becomes more demanding, you’ll want to rethink that scenario. Hiring someone to look after your kids, even on a part-time basis can make a huge difference. You have options: a nanny in the home, a part-time babysitter from the neighborhood or a childcare center.

2. Housecleaning – No one wants to clean even if they have the time. You might be sitting at your computer working but don’t let that fool your family. You can become mentally tired just like you can become physically tired. After a day of managing clients and typing your fingers off, you won’t want to pick up one more thing whether its clothing or a dirty dish. Budget in to hire a maid service. You don’t have to be the Rockefeller’s to afford it. If you do a thorough cleaning of your home, a service can come in just to touch things up once a week or twice a month. It will make a big difference.

3. Bookkeeping – You’ll need to balance those books if you own a business. All those numbers may start running together after a while. Waiting until tax time to handle them is an accident waiting to happen. Hire a freelance professional or another VA who specializes in bookkeeping to help you keep the business finances straight all along instead of at the last minute.

4. Your Business Needs – While you are building your business, administrative tasks seem to fall by the wayside. You’ll feel more at ease when you can find someone to do these things for you. Tasks like the following are perfect for someone else to handle for you.

  • Updating your website
  • Writing content
  • Answering emails
  • Sending out newsletters

What’s that? It’s the sigh of relief you’ll breathe when you outsource your needs so you can spend more time growing your business and doing the things in life you enjoy (yes, I mean more than working). 

As a business owner, you already know how important it is to communicate effectively. Your relationship with your clients depends on it. But, as an employer, you will need to be even more transparent to get the job done.

Your business brand is probably built on quality and timeliness. Your clients depend on a high caliber of work from you as well as meeting their hectic deadlines with time to spare.

None of that is going to change when you enlist the aid of subcontractors. If you want these VAs to provide the same high level of work, they need to know exactly what you expect from them and the system you want followed.

Being transparent is not about laying your soul bare. It’s more about leaving no stone unturned in the pursuit of client satisfaction. That sounds very technical doesn’t it? Here’s what it essentially means.

Stating Your Case Up Front
Let’s begin at the beginning. There are tons of virtual assistants out there, but not all are created equal. You will work better with someone who has a personality and working style similar to yours. It’s not just experience that you are interested in here.

Let any prospects know about how you like to work. Let them know from day one (or interview one) how you handle work with your client. If you provide periodic updates for big projects then any subcontracting VAs need to know that their work will have more than one deadline.

What are you going to outsource to others?
Know what skills you are looking for and ask for those particular skills from your assistants. For example, articles can be written on an variety of subjects. If one of your clients is a real estate broker, you don’t want to hire someone with experience writing only gardening articles. Just the ability to write is not enough.

You have set the bar for your clients. They receive information from you in a format that has been mutually agreed upon. To receive the same from your subcontractors, they will need instructions. Writing detailed documents seems tedious, but in the grand scheme of things, this will ensure there will be no mistakes or misunderstandings. Not to mention, it makes it easier should the initial person you hire not work out for any reason. You’ll already have the instructions ready to send to the one who takes their place.

Here’s what can happen if you don’t. First, you will receive the completed work. When you look over it, you find several things wrong. Either you send it back to your subcontractor or you fix it yourself. If the time it takes to rework the work is over what has been agreed with the client, then you have to suck it up and lose money. If it puts you over your deadline, you have to explain to your client why it is not ready. Nothing about that is going to sit right with you, or, and most importantly, your client.

Transparency is good when you want need to outsource to other professionals. The work gets done right the first time and your clients remain happy. That’s the cornerstone of a successful service business. 

Sometimes your workload as a virtual assistant can get quite heavy. One of the best ways to handle it is to outsource some of your work to other virtual assistants. But, where do you start with that? Let’s dig a bit deeper to get your mind wheels spinning. If we can get you out from under some of that heavy load of working all the time, life will be a whole lot sweeter, right?

What Jobs to Outsource
When you work with clients, there is a measure of confidentiality going on. Companies trust you with their databases, email correspondence, meeting schedules and legal documents. These can’t fall into the wrong hands. So, as the person who won the client and is responsible for keeping their information safe, you have a decision to make about what you will allow others to do for you.

The first important decision that you made was to hire someone else who can provide the same service that you have for your clients (more about that in a moment). Congratulations on letting go of the reins just a little bit. Now, what will you give them to do?

The jobs that you will probably be looking to outsource at first are those that don’t involve a lot of contact with confidential information. And, the jobs will be small at first so that you can get an idea of your new helper’s work style and ethic. Here’s a short list of tasks to help get the juices flowing:

  • Article submissions
  • Article writing
  • Creating reports and presentations
  • Creating newsletters
  • Internet research

Article writing can be used for website content or article submissions. Clients with websites like to keep it up-to-date with fresh, pertinent information and if you find someone who can help you whip out that content in a timely and top-quality manner, you’re in business.

Companies use reports to send to their clients and also for internal use. Creating reports involves knowledge of tools such as spreadsheets and databases as well as how to pull information together for presentations using PowerPoint. Depending on the information contained in the reports, this may be the perfect job to let go of and pass on to someone else.

Internet research is used for many things: writing manuscripts, articles, preparing reports and more. It is a unique skill to be able to entice search engines to give up their treasures. If you have someone helping you who doesn’t mind digging into research and possesses the skills to find what you need quickly, you’re on the right track.

Even if you don’t outsource any job that involves confidential material, it is wise to get any subcontracting virtual assistant to sign a confidentiality agreement. This way, as you get more confident and need more in-depth help, you don’t have to worry about anyone selling trade secrets. On that same note, you may want to consider having all your assistants sign and Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) depending on the nature of your work. While we won’t go into detail about NDAs, this can help protect you should your assistant decide to leave and pursue his or her own career and become your competition.

Choosing the Right Person
Who you work with all depends on your personality and their level of proficiency with the task. First of all, no two people will do the same job exactly alike. Let’s get rid of that preconceived notion right now. If not, you will drive yourself crazy and nitpick over everything they do. What you are looking for is someone who knows what they are doing and can demonstrate the skills needed to get the job done correctly and on time.

Outsourcing is the perfect way to get the help you need from other competent virtual assisting professionals. Start with small jobs and progress to more delicate assignments as you see fit.