A Beginner's Guide to Delegating Tasks to a Virtual Assistant

Delegating tasks to a Virtual Assistant can be a life-saver for a small business owner Do you feel like your VA isn’t the answer to all of your business problems like you had once hoped? Guess what, it’s probably your fault.

One of the biggest issues I see is difficulty delegating tasks to a virtual assistant. Managing a virtual assistant (VA) is the exact same as managing anyone else. Therefore, poor results from a VA often stem from a management problem.

It is important to understand how VAs work. Most VA companies are based in countries other than the US and the average virtual assistant is a very competent individual who is juggling a number of tasks from potentially dozens of clients. Even if you have a dedicated VA who is based in the US, chances are that they do not work with you directly enough to really get a feel for how you work and what you expect. Therefore, many of the soft expectations we communicate simply by working in the same office with someone will never develop while working with a VA. However, this doesn’t have to be a deal-breaker.

Delegating work to a virtual assistant is as much an art as a science. If you follow some basic rules, you will find that delegating work to a virtual assistant can be highly productive and advantageous. I will use some examples of actual tasks I have delegated to VAs.

Define your context

Most virtual assistants do not understand what you do on a day-to-day basis. Especially if they are in a pooled working environment, they will likely not know even what line of work you are in. Therefore, the very first thing you should do is define your context. Some examples include,

  1. "I am in the process of pitching a major project to a large, local municipality…"
  2. "I am in the middle of some contentious business litigation…"
  3. "I need to spend a lot of time focusing on my business right now, so I need some help performing some personal tasks…”

Detail the task

Describe the task to be performed in moderate detail. Remember, these VAs are people, not computers to have an equation plugged in. Let them use some of their personal expertise to better your results, so on a scale of 1-10 with 1 being no guidance and 10 being micromanaging, give them a 6 level of detail. For example:

  1. “I need you to draft me a proposal to present to the municipality. I have attached a rough outline of the specs as they make sense to me, but feel free to add to it if it is difficult to understand”
  2. “I need you to perform some research on this company to see if they are doing _______. Search their social media, website, press releases, or anywhere else you think might be worth looking.”
  3. “I need you to do some research on a trip to San Francisco for a trip I would like to take in a few months. Give me an idea of flight expenses, hotels, attractions, and other sites of interest around Sonoma Valley."

Define success and failure

Because most virtual assistant will not learn the nuances of your work from the short periods of time in which they work for you, they often will not get a clear picture of what you expect in terms of success or failure. Therefore, be sure to make it clear examples include:

  1. "The proposal should be concise and attractive, and a bad proposal will be difficult to read and lengthy.”
  2. “Research should be concisely presented in a memo in word format with links to the items you’ve found. A bad memo will be lengthy and mention items outside the scope of this particular issue.”
  3. “I don’t need information for the city of San Francisco itself, so don’t spend any time there. Just shoot me an email with the length of the flights and some of the price ranges and some good 4-star hotels in Sonoma.”

Set deadlines

One of the biggest mistakes people make working with VA’s is not defining deadlines for when you should expect the final product and, especially, how long to spend on the task itself. I’ve seen some VAs spend an entire day on a simple task, and spend less than an hour on a project that needed much more detail work. It’s important to define how much time you expect them to commit to the task. Here are my deadlines I put to the above tasks:

  1. “Spend about 1-2 hours working on proposal and get me a draft for me to finalize by the end of the day.”
  2. "Spend about 4-6 hours working on this project over this week and get me your results by Friday. This is not an urgent matter.”
  3. “I would like to be able to present some of this to my wife tonight, so take a look at it for no more than an hour and send me an email as soon as you get a feel for it, but no later than 5:00 today.”

Bottom Line

Delegating tasks to a virtual assistant effectively can be life changing for your small business. Managing a VA is like managing any other team member, and like any other team member, they will have their own motivations, skill set, and work style. Once you get a feel for how your VA works, you can tailor your tasks to fit their competencies. Therefore, most individuals do not have VA problems, they have management problems. However, by clearly defining the task and your expectations, you can add many hours to your day and dollars to your pocket.