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How Agencies Are Scaling with Virtual Assistants

The myth that virtual assistants—otherwise known as remote workers—are for start-up companies operating on a shoestring budget while they get up and running was blown out of the water last March w...
How Agencies Are Scaling with Virtual Assistants
Written by Brian Wallace
  • The myth that virtual assistants—otherwise known as remote workers—are for start-up companies operating on a shoestring budget while they get up and running was blown out of the water last March when the pandemic hit.

    As a matter of fact, big name companies are announcing the decision to keep remote workers in place permanently. Facebook, Novartis, and Shopify barely touch the tip of the iceberg as companies continue to join the ranks. Some are keeping staff on-site. Others switched their companies to 100% virtual pretty quickly after the onset of the pandemic.

    That’s because employers realized that once the kinks all worked out—both at the management level and by staff adapting to an entirely new groove—having remote teams was a totally viable option for their company. In fact, companies that had never considered a remote workforce now state it’s how they stayed afloat this year.

    Robert Nickell, the founder of Rocket Station, a leader in the virtual assistance industry, isn’t a bit surprised. “Lots of employers accepted the myth that VAs could only be used to complete simple tasks—like keeping track of scheduling appointments or making scripted phone calls, for instance. The pandemic forced them to discover for themselves that isn’t the case,” he said.

    Robert continued, “Remote teams dispersed on the fly and were expected to handle every aspect of the business possible. They did it by utilizing zoom and other available technologies. HR teams scrambled to make sure new processes got documented to keep everyone on the same page. It was pretty amazing to see everyone pull together and get the job done.”

    Taking the plunge

    Of course, it was chaos in the beginning—that tends to happen when you’re hit with life-changing events overnight! Once everyone had time to adjust to the changes—and for many that included figuring out how to homeschool their children at the same time—the new routine fell into place pretty quickly.

    It didn’t take employers long to discover the benefits of having a remote workforce.

    A Stanford Business study of 16,000 remote workers determined that their productivity increased by 16%.

    Overhead costs reduce by as much as 40% too. That’s because you don’t need as much—or any if you decide to go 100% virtual—office space. Moreover, when hiring new employees, many candidates are willing to take a cut in salary when offered a remote position. That’s because they realize the value of not having to commute, buy lunch, or the need to purchase business attire.

    Not only that, but the idea of having a flexible work day is especially attractive to millennials. They aren’t into a traditional “nine-to-five.” They want to fit their work day around their outside interests.

    It’s not just a personal assistant

    A lot of people still connect the term “virtual assistant” with someone hired to manage a calendar, confirm appointments, and provide necessary reminders. Taking over email correspondence and handling travel arrangements also fall into the typical job description.

    Another bad rap that VAs have incurred is that you’ll wind up with someone living in another country who doesn’t have a very good grasp of the language. In the beginning, the language barrier alone caused employers to abandon the idea of hiring remote workers. Not to mention the havoc it wreaked in following a set process.

    However, lots of things improve over time, don’t they?

    Today, the term virtual assistant encompasses a workforce with a wide array of skill sets. You can hire a VA to perform virtually any type of task that you can imagine.

    All you need is a thoroughly documented process and a stellar onboarding process. You want to make sure you provide your virtual assistant with all the necessary information and training that they need to be successful right out of the gate.

    Take advantage of all that technology has to offer. You can start small or put together a stellar team of employees that can work together from remote locations around town or around the world!

    Sailing into scaling

    Fifty-one percent of the U.S. workforce was working from home within a month of the pandemic hitting. Overall, the only real downside of the experience for most is that co-workers miss each other.

    Make sure you check in with your virtual employees to see how they’re doing. Isolation is hard for some people. Find creative ways to boost morale. It could be as simple as encouraging team members to surprise each other with “just saying hi” contacts. No business discussion allowed!

    “The virtual workforce is going to continue to grow worldwide,” Nickell said. “At Rocket Station, we work with employers to develop teams that are equipped with the skill set necessary to handle the job. We set them up with employees who will enhance their businesses and promote company growth.”

    He continued, “Business owners tell me all the time that they’ve tried using virtual assistants but the experience didn’t go well. That doesn’t mean that it’s not going to work for them. It just means they need to fine-tune their process.”

    Here are a couple of industries that could easily utilize the remote workforce.

    Web development

    Using virtual assistants to develop a website for your company or for those of your clients is an excellent example of how the industry is evolving. That’s some high tech stuff!

    You can hire a virtual assistant experienced in handling any aspect of web development.

    Front end web development entails managing what a user sees when first arriving at your site. A front end developer, also referred to as a Javascript developer or web designer, should be fluent in front end languages, such as HTML, CSS, and Javascript. They’re responsible for analyzing code, web design, and debugging applications coupled with creating a seamless user experience.

    Back end web development manages the server side of an application which includes writing code for all the communication between the database and the browser. They monitor a site’s responsiveness and speed. Back end developers may understand front end languages, but they’re experts in back end languages such as Java, PHP, Ruby, Python, and .net.

    These languages are used to create dynamic sites. A dynamic site stores database information. The content on these sites is constantly updating and changing.

    Full stack web developers are capable of building applications for both ends of the site. This might be the best fit for employers looking to hire virtual assistants to develop sites for clients. They could assign a set number of clients to a specific VA and hire others as necessary as the business scales.

    The demand for full stack developers is high and that doesn’t look to change any time soon. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the occupational outlook for software developers shows an anticipated growth of 22% over the next decade! That’s much faster than average—and this study was done pre-COVID.

    Once you’ve determined what position you’ll be looking to fill, it’s important to document your process before hiring a VA. This ensures consistent results because the entire process is layed out from start to finish. Nothing falls between the cracks.

    There are a number of ways to track your process using cloud files. You won’t ever experience versioning issues because all updates are reflected instantly.

    Which of the following would you choose?

    • Create templates for certain types of projects
    • Load the information into a Google or Word document
    • Develop detailed flow charts— is a great tool for this.

    Actually, you don’t have to choose a method and stick with it. Most agencies use a combination of these approaches.

    SEO agencies

    Robert said that many SEO agencies don’t think they can find the right VAs to carry out the needed tasks. He disagrees saying all they need to do is find the right approach.

    Nickell laid out this example for executing a link building campaign.

    • Conduct a backlink audit for our client’s site.
    • Conduct a backlink audit of their competitors.
    • Conduct research to identify new link building opportunities.
    • Develop strategies to acquire new links.
    • Develop outreach scripts.
    • Review all preliminary data with the client.
    • Implement toolsets for outreach and tracking.
    • Conduct outreach and follow up to acquire these links.
    • Track and analyze the performance of our efforts.
    • Review performance data with the client.

    Once you’ve mapped out the broad scope of things, you’ll want to hone in on the details like determining who does what. For instance, some tasks require specialized knowledge that can’t be conveyed in your documented process. In that case, someone on your internal team would take them on instead of handing them off to a VA.

    Next, determine how you will document the process and once it’s completed you’re ready to source! You can post on job boards, gig sites, social media and other contacts, or use a virtual assistance agency—like Rocket Station for instance.

    Insert your company here

    No matter what type of business you own, you can utilize a remote workforce. The key is to determine exactly what your VAs will be responsible for handling. Then, create a detailed plan for them to follow.

    Robert shared the framework they use in his virtual assistant agency and said it’s something all employers can implement within their own businesses.

    • Identify your high-level needs
    • Scope your project and determine who does what
    • Document every step of the process
    • Source your virtual assistants—Determine if you will use an agency, like Rocket Station for example, or onboard your remote employees directly into your company.
    • Communicate throughout the project—You want to make sure nothing falls through the cracks.
    • Measure performance by defining effective KPIs—You don’t want to have teams wasting time meeting KPIs if they aren’t moving the needle for your clients.
    • Scaling up—As you see a need for growth, repeat the above steps so your new VAs can hit the ground running.
    • Be ready to adapt and implement an entirely new process if the old one breaks as your business moves into a new environment.

    The remote workforce has become a very diverse industry and will continue to grow. Employers are discovering ways to outsource and use VAs for certain aspects of their business to free up their high paid employees to focus on other tasks.

    It might take a bit of trial and error to get in the groove, but once you’re there—look out!

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