LONG POST ALERT - This is a comprehensive post that will save you time and money and make your life easier, I promise you it's worth taking the time to read. On Demand vs. Dedicated I've written numerous times about the wonders of virtual assistants. There is no question that they make your life easier and enable you to be more effective. By offloading all sorts of tasks that take too much time, disrupt your workflow, and generally mess up your mojo, you can focus on what's important. There are two basic kinds of virtual assistants, on demand and dedicated. I've written before about my favorite on demand service, Zirtual but after months of work and testing, I have reached a new evolution in Virtual Assistants, using an on demand assistant (where you have a different person assigned to your task each time) and making it seem to you and the outside world as if you have a full time, dedicated assistant. Enter Fancy Hands.
Where to Start In the overall framework of Less Doing's Optimize, Automate, and Outsource, Fancy Hands falls somewhere between the second two steps. It's obviously outsourcing because it's a virtual assistant service, but using it to it's fullest requires a lot of automation. I find that people have a lot of hesitation when it comes to using a virtual assistant. At $280 for an Outsource Everything assistant for 5 hours a week, price is usually not the issue.
The two biggest concerns I hear from people are that they don't have the time to train someone new and that they don''t know what tasks to have the assistant perform. With plans starting at $25 dollars for 5 tasks, there's no excuse not to give Fancy Hands a try, you will be hooked, you will want more, and you will become more effective through the process. As far as taking the time to train an assistant, I recommend that everybody work with a virtual assistant at one point or another because it's as much of a learning experience as them as it is for the assistant.
A "task" by Fancy Hands standards is anything taking up to 20 minutes. Can you imagine how efficient you would need to become to get most of your tasks done in less than 20 minutes? By communicating your ideas through email, you naturally start to notice, and eliminate inefficiencies as you realize that steps 2 and 4 make no sense and steps 6 and 7 are repetitive. Remember we need to optimize before we do anything else. Getting a task down to it's bare essentials makes it bombproof. If the majority of your tasks can be done by someone who has no prior experience working with you then you are never held at the mercy of an assistant who calls in sick or moves on to another company. It's like the virtual assistant version of Dropbox. Furthermore, since your tasks are no longer limited to one person, scaling becomes automatic and painless. Communicating exclusively through email means that you can assign tasks whenever and wherever you are but my favorite is to do a complete "brain dump" at the end of the day before bed. I'll often shoot off 10 or 12 tasks that would otherwise bug me for hours and affect my sleep but by utilizing an external brain as far as I'm concerned the task is done the second I send the request and I can rest easy. Furthermore this creates a searchable record of all your tasks and Fancy Hands has a dashboard that gives an overview of all your requests as well as the status, communications, and exchanged files of each specific task. Also, all of Fancy Hands assistants are US or UK based so their English is impeccable and I have had them call clients on numerous occasions with only positive results.
How Do I Achieve Evolution? Two years ago after working with a dedicated virtual assistant in India for over a year, she informed me that she was being promoted and would no longer be my assistant. After three days of sheer panic, I took a hard look at the tasks she had been performing for me and after some analysis realized that some were not necessary, the vast majority could be automated without human intervention and what was left could be done by an on demand assistant if I utilized the right tools. Since a non dedicated assistant won't have access to your calendar or email and complicated tasks would have to be explained each time, a little creativity is all it takes to get everything done.
There is a great list of common requests on Fancy Hands and my eBook on Virtual Assistants lists over 100 tasks you can have a VA perform. I'm going to examine several example tasks and show you how to achieve them given your new setup. If no explanation is given it means it's just a straight request with no additional input needed because the VA can handle it. Hopefully I'll give you enough of a framework that you can attack your specific tasks that aren't covered here.
Straight Requests with No Additional Tools Needed
- Web/Phone Research
- Make Dinner/Travel Reservations
- Follow up with a client by phone
- Update Document/Excel/Powerpoint Presentation
- Cold Calling - Provide a script
- Create Excel spreadsheet from provided or found data set
- Product comparison
- Content summaries
- Grocery Delivery orders
- Donating items to charity and arranging pickup
- Add your website or business information to search directories
- Document formatting/conversion
- Customer service
- Fact checking
- Travel research
- Find the nearest store with an item in stock
Tasks That Need Additional Tools
- Schedule Meetings - Use ScheduleOnce to share your schedule with the VA and allow them to make appointments for you. Your Tungle link should be in your email signature.
- Check, transcribe, and respond to voicemails - Use Google Voice to get voicemails by email and simply forward them to the assistant.
- Transcribe audio / take dictations - use your favorite voice recording program (I like DropVox) to send them an audio file for transcription. It could be a short blog post or letter, or just an idea you want to get out of your head.
- Mail Letters - Using PostalMethods, remote assistants can send pdfs through postal mail to individuals or entire mailing lists.
- Share Passwords Securely - Use LastPass.
- Perform Complex Tasks and/or Repetitive Tasks - CannedResponses allow you to create template emails in GMail so you can write something down step by step and save it as a template so it's just one click away the next time you need it done. For repetitive tasks you can use BoomerangMail to send recurring messages, which may be one of your CannedResponses. An example would be having an assistant login to a site (with detail provided in template), check stats, and give you a report each week.
- Real world physical tasks - Use TaskRabbit for general stuff and RedBeacon for home services
- Bookeeping - Combine weekly checkins with the virtual bookeeping services of Less Accounting.
- Lead Generation - Using CannedResponses, BoomerangMail recurring messages, and a script, they can do systematic, weekly lead generation work.
- Blog Content Moderation - Use CannedResponses to provide log in information and Boomerangmail to have it done on a regular schedule
- Craigslist or eBay Postings - CannedReponse to provide log in information and template, you just provide specifics and photos
- Expense Reporting - Use Canned Response and a shared Google Docs Spreadsheet to allow you to send a photo of a receipt and have it parsed and entered into an expense report.
- Sort and process postal mail - Use Virtual Post Mail to receive physical mail virtually
- Incoming check management and deposits - Using Virtual Post Mail, checks can be reconciled, and deposits can be made by mail.
- Research interesting blog/news items - Star an item that you find interesting in Google Reader or favorite a tweet and use ifttt to automatically archive and share it for further research
Taks That Should Be Automated
- Wake Up Calls - WakerUpper
- Waiting on Hold - Fast Customer or Lucy Phone
- Add Business Cards to Address Book - Evernote
- Make Dinner Reservations - OpenTable
- Follow up by Email - FollowUp.cc
- Send Thank You notes - Postable
- Dealing with paper - Blog Post
- Meal Delivery - Factor 75
- Text message/Phone reminder/Escape call - ifttt
- Order a car service - Uber or GroundLink
Obviously there are plenty of tasks that require longer than 20 minutes, like extensive research projects, social media management, ghost writing, financial modeling, travel planning, and graphic or web design work. For these kinds of projects you are almost always better off hiring a project based specialist on Elance. A specialist will have the best matched talent for the job and in the long run be the most cost effective. Are You Ready? So there you have it, you've got nothing to lose and everything to gain by giving a virtual assistant from Zirtual a try. Rid yourself of the minutiae and start focusing on the things that make you happy.