Why a VA isn’t going to solve your problems
Updated: Oct 21
Today’s post is going to be about why a virtual assistant (or VA) is not going to help you with the problems that you have in your business (including a lack of time). And what they CAN help with.
So I want to say that I'm like you and I have absolutely fallen for this idea that there is this magical thing you can do, which is getting a VA that is based offshore that you pay in a different currency. And because of it being different currencies and different bargaining power with your currency, you can get somebody to be working full time at a fraction of the cost (1/3) of working someone over in this country. And it's all totally legal and it's all aboveboard. Which is great because fitness businesses don't churn in truckloads of cash.
However, we have got to think about a few things. I can see in certain businesses, why virtual assistants would be a really great solution. Some of these businesses are ones that require you to be doing the same repeated tasks over and over again. Ones that potentially if you got someone over here in Australia to do it, or New Zealand, they might get a little bit bored and distracted coming in to work to do the same things everyday and they might be on Facebook or online shopping instead. I can understand that or I can understand why it would work really well. Or if your business has a lot of tasks to do. Yours might not, you just might be too busy to spend the 2 hours a week on FB.
If it's tasks that are potentially pretty low grade tasks. I don't mean that they're not meaningful, I mean ones that do not require your (CEO) input for. I mean, things like answering messages on Facebook or liking comments or liking posts or, you know, checking that posts have gone up properly or putting scheduled posts into the system. Oftentimes, this would be things that you could get a VA to do, but I could not see that these things, despite the fact you have no time, and you scheduled in your posts for the day takes you an entire week to do because you're so busy doesn't mean that someone needs to be working full time on it to do. That is all possible in a couple of FOCUSED hours. Do you really need to spend $400 USD on that?
Hear me out with this a little bit. I'll give you some examples of what I've seen in practice. And yes, I've got three VAs. I paid for them upfront for a year. So I'm navigating my way through this stuff. They've been working with me for about eight months and I have had some that I've had to unfortunately, let go and replace in that time as well. So I have had a bit of experience and I've got to say in the crux of it again, I was sold the dream. I was told that it would be a really amazing thing to do. And guess what, I could only see that it would be really great for 40 hours of work if you did not have access to the level of systems that I've built in my business. And what I mean by that is I've got:
1. automations built into the software and the platforms that I use for the booking systems for people being onboarded,
2. people inquiring get prompted and reminded to book,
3. social media posts scheduled as I draft them,
4. Auto-responses on all social media messages and texts until I can get to them
for all of these sorts of things. I have automated systems, so I actually don't need a person to go and email these people back.
And on top of that, I don't even think that I want a human to do the above tasks because it's very easy to drop the ball for these sorts of things. And I'll discuss this a little bit more later.
Storytime with things that I'm doing in my fitness business, I would actually compare what a lot of people do in the fitness business to be more like a startup entity. And that absolutely is saying nothing towards the amount of income that I can generate from my fitness business. But what I mean is, the role is varied at all times. And it requires you to be a bit of a jack of all trades when it comes to admin. Now when I started my first round of VAs, I spent time training them. I also put them through training systems that were provided by outside sources. And there were two of these courses and continual upskilling that I put the VA through, and I give them access to further learning tools that I created myself via a video with notes. And on top of that we did video calls as well. There's ongoing training that I provide and that all is stuff that I put a lot of time into, because I wanted it to be right from the start.
And you may be reading this thinking that I just have very high levels of expectation, but let me elaborate some of the things that can potentially go wrong for you.
So number one, I was migrating a database from one system to my new system. And I did a video for my previous VA to teach them how to create a comma separated variable and upload it to the new software. I also had a backup training that was created by the exact programming software and I allocated time for them to watch it on the time that I was paying for. Fast forward to the day to where there's more than those tasks allocated but that was one of the tasks allocated and in following up on how the VA was doing, I realized that the VA had spent the last 15 hours (2 days) manually uploading each person into the database as in typing in the name and all of the other details that I was teaching them how to do with a few clicks. I'm not kidding. That's an expensive 5-10 min task despite the VA only costing 10-13 USD per hour.
Also on top of that, I've found that a lot of VAs (just like any staff member) have very varied skill sets, but a VA may not be very willing to tell you what they will take a longer time to do regardless of time budgets allocated. There's a lot of onboarding and training that's required for this. So if you're someone that already struggles with having time to be able to do things, having a VA is gonna take you more time than not having a VA and for the example that I just told you about the tasks that needed to be done as well as the CSV file it actually would have worked out a third cheaper to pay someone in Australia to come and do that one task for an hour. Because if it's taking more time for a VA to do it, because it's not something that they can do, or they say they can do it and it's just taking them a longer time. Three extra hours is going to be three times the amount and you're closer to just employing someone in this country. Remember, all of your costs will mean you might not get paid yourself for your own long anti social hours work for the week which is probably very frustrating!
Another story: Furthermore, I had set a task and expectations with what I thought was clear instructions on client check ins. The previous VA was supposed to email each client. I give them the template to email and then the client was supposed to check in for the week. And that was great. Sounds pretty straightforward, right? However, what I was finding was my VA didn't think it was very important to actually tell me if someone replied back. So I had clients that would tell me that they replied and they were still waiting on a response days after they'd already done the check in. So my clients thought that it probably was me, and when I asked the VA if there was any response to the email, she answered no, but did not log into her email for the 3-4 days to be able to check. So even when I give the feedback to make sure that I getting the emails that are responded back to the check ins, and to put it into a chart I was still manually having to chase up emails that people said that they had sent and then the VA hadn't responded to.
Another thing that I was finding (this is funny) is when I was creating resources that were specifically towards information for new potential clients is that the images were always slightly off-kilter for the demographic that was of interest for our clients, despite briefing on the type of demographic of clients that we're looking for. To give you an example of this. I created a postpartum exercise book with some suggested exercises that may be useful if you would like to retrain your abs again. And I gave photos to go in there and I really just wanted this to be placed on a page in a pretty way with the logo on it. And when I first came back a week later, the VA had change out the photos that I had sent and instead put these very big bodybuilders with flexing their biceps beside exercises that were labeled as being post partum instead of the demonstration for the exercise in the photo. And yet these photos that were replaced instead with a really veiny man. Not quite what I'd expected.
Another issue that I ran into, which is kind of cute in some instances was that when I was migrating content from an old website to my new website, and I had lots of blog posts that I'd created on the old website we wanted to shut down the old website so I had asked the VA to get the content from my old website and just copy and paste it to the blogs of the new website, which I had said that it was my website in the first place. And the VA was very hesitant to do it and actually wouldn't do a straight copy and paste because they felt it was plagiarism even though it was my own words. And then I said if you feel the need to be writing, where this is from at the bottom you could say this was originally written for and include a link to the website. However, all of the posts ended up with a caption at the bottom that said “this has been copied from” and had a link to my old website which was sort of annoying in some respects because we wanted to kill the old website and not pay for the licensing anymore and we wanted to put the domain onto the new website. But then it meant all of those links were broken, which then you have to pay for more time for the VA to actually go ahead and undo the work that you told them not to do in the first place.
So, overall, with these stories, I hope you can hear that there can be a lot of unnecessary hair pulling out moments if you don't have lots of space in the day to be able to check in on your VA at regular interval, and this is not specific to a VA it is to the level that the VA can do without being able to read your mind. And for me, I actually need someone who I don't have to micromanage all the time, given that if something starts to go wrong when I'm taking four sessions back to back I can't afford for my VA to be charging me for just sitting and waiting for all of my sessions to be finished. Or if you're in Melbourne for instance and it just so happens that your VA is working past when you're asleep, then you may have instances where something that can be nipped in the bud pretty early on in the procedure can go very badly wrong given that you're not there specifically to give feedback or check in on the VA as well.
So that's another consideration. I guess for me, I'd wanted to be able to free up time. And there was a lot of tasks that I felt could be delegated to an admin assistant. And I thought, hey, well if one person over here would take maybe five to 10 hours a week to do this, imagine how much more work I could get done, even if the person wasn't as efficient if I was paying them for 40 hours a week, whereas now what I've ended up with is more of a scenario where I'm unsure what work is good to allocate when I'm unable to respond. So 8 months later, some new VAs, (that are lovely don't get me wrong), and Im still trying to work it all out. Ive created myself new problems.
And also you end up with circumstances where it's very hard to follow up on the tasks that have been allocated to the VA, for instance. One of the previous VAs was given a procedure for adding clients to Instagram. And there was criteria for these people, these followers that we were looking for, and because it's very hard without individually going into each person that we're following to see whether it met the criteria. For a while the VA was getting away with adding just random people from Zimbabwe and Bangladesh that had no posts no followers, and I don't even know how my VA ended up even finding them in the first place. But it wasn't via the method that I had trained them to do.
So all that is to say, here are my lessons for you going forward.
Number one if someone is going to profit from you hiring a VA do not listen to them about how awesome it is to have a VA because they will have one exception that will prove their rule and they probably will have very many failures that definitely go against the rule
consider trialing a person for a weekly set time of five to 10 hours to do the tasks, the admin tasks that you're looking for so that you can have a better handle on what they're doing and also so that you can coincide the time that they're working potentially with times that you might be able to answer questions from them in real time, as well as being able to do it outside of your own session times.
any tasks that are susceptible to human error, automate them. People in this day and age, potential clients expect you to get back to them immediately. And when you don't get back to them immediately they move on to the next person that will get back to them immediately. So go ahead and get software that will be able to do it for you. I've got one that's really amazing. Just click here and get that all happening because that's what you really need at the end of the day.
There are plenty of VAs in Australia that do really good stuff when it comes to design and I can link you up with someone who is based in Victoria. There's some really great stuff for a number of gyms, and she knows exactly what you're after. But on top of that she works with a high level of accuracy that could be worthwhile as well.
When you do decide to get a VA, it might be worthwhile deciding earlier than I did after hiring whether it is a good fit. Also allocate one task at a time and regroup after the task.
Unless you do a lot of work online and on your computer, you will not be able to find 40 hours of work for a VA
You must be ready (after trialing staff) to spend 1+ year at this before you will have the balance right, and THEN you'll start seeing a change if your business is a certain size.
My learning points from above was that I'm actually looking for an EA and for the amount of time an EA can do something they will take the pressure off you and actually add to your business bottom line. So get a good EA and let them take over the orders while you steer the ship.
After you build automations and solid systems, work out what are the great tasks for a VA to do (now that you have time to spend training). Not all VAs will be a bad experience of course but hey, if you do not have strong systems in place and you are as busy as someone who wants help full time from a VA... well, you don't have time for a VA, they can't fix your processes!
Here are some things that have been AWESOME about my VA (if she reads this) and my graphic designer and copyproofer:
Shes organised and notices posts that need to be done for FB/Instagram that I haven't shared.
I can allocate tasks that require trust to do
I have been able to learn more about her experience of other VA tasks she does.
She's very dedicated and willing to learn tasks
Transparency of the hours shes working and how long tasks are taking
What else would you like to learn from my experience? I'm writing another book (I have 6) and the next one is going to be on being a great personal trainer and business owner. Reach out with your ideas you want covered.