The concept of delegating tasks to an assistant, or even outsourcing them to another business, has been around forever.
What’s changed in the Internet age is the availability of these time-saving tactics to small businesses and even solopreneurs with smaller budgets. Bloggers and small website publishers have more options than ever before to farm tasks out, and regain more control over their time—and their lives.
What is an hour of your time worth to you? Think about how else you might spend that hour if you don’t have to use it checking email or making phone calls. What if you could entrust a simple task like finding the right Web hosting or keeping your social media updated, to someone else?
There’s potential to generate more revenue if you work on your business, not in it. Or it’s another hour you could spend with your kids, or catching up on reading. The point is, you get back much more than you spend.
Sure, some apps and software cost money, and no virtual assistant (VA) works for free. But it’s not strictly a matter of saving money. It’s about getting a return on your investment.
The key to saving both money and time with a VA is to prioritize. Identify your low-priority tasks, and make those the first things you hand off. Then identify those things that are important, but time-consuming, and ask whether they’re the best use of your time. Can your VA handle billing? Take care of your website hosting account and setup? Manage your social media accounts?
Three important facets of your business, no doubt. But instead of billing your current clients, you can be building relationships with new ones. Instead of searching for a hosting provider, you could be creating content for your new site. Instead of tweeting, you can be completing a client’s project.
Outsourcing can even extend outside your business and into your daily life. Services exist that will take care of your grocery shopping, write out thank-you cards (good for both business and personal relationships), and even return purchases for you. To maintain security and protect your privacy, many of those services perform background checks on their employees, so be sure to choose a reputable one.
Before you dismiss the idea of outsourcing, think about what you can gain from spending your time on more worthwhile—and profitable—pursuits. Then your biggest question will become what to do with your newfound freedom.
The Lazy Geek’s Guide to Outsourcing Everything
We’d like to think that we can do it all, but by outsourcing our day-to-day tasks, we’re able to focus on important activities such as generating new business, focusing on our health, and spending quality time with our loved ones. To help make your life less hectic, we’ve compiled our favorite tips, tools, and tricks for making the most of your time by letting someone else do everything for you…well almost everything.
The Golden Rule to Outsourcing Your Life
If in doubt, delegate. Test drive it, and if it doesn’t work, rollback. Many people underestimate how much can be delegated effectively.
Email is the 2nd most time-consuming activity for American workers.
28% of the average workday is spent on email — that’s 2.5 hours per day and doesn’t include time spent outside of work.
Take a tip from Tim Ferris, author of The Four Hour Work Week (fourhourworkweek.com), and use your virtual assistant (VA) to manage your email inbox as a first point of contact.
Try apps like SaneBox (sanebox.com) to automatically filter your email and weed out spam and unimportant messages.
Setup simple email priority rules to “outsource to Gmail.” This way, known time sucks go to a “non-urgent” folder.
Create email filters to send messages of certain topics to specific folders. And use a different email address for different tasks.
Install the Rapportive (Rapportive.com) plug-in or Boomerang app (boomeranggmail.com) to remind you about emails you have yet to reply to.
Educate your contacts and VA on “The Email Charter” (emailcharter.org/).
In 2010, people spent an average of 7 or more hours per week coordinating appointments.
Have your VA be the first point of call to determine if the issue can be handled via phone instead of a meeting.
Consider using PowWowNow or GoToMeeting for a virtual meeting to avoid travel if you are required to participate.
Face-to-face is last course of action unless there’s a strong reason for it (e.g., client meeting, important partner).
Have your VA use Doodle.com to help find dates that will work for all participants.
Booking Travel Arrangements
Never book for travel yourself except in an emergency! Travel planning is the ultimate “oh I lost my whole day” task.
Use FlightFox to outsource your trip planning. Or rely on your VA.
For emergencies, use Hipmunk.com or Kayak.com to search for flights.
Check out apps like HotelTonight and AirBNB’s “Tonight” app for accommodation if you have to plan something yourself.
Free concierge services provided by hotels and some credit cards such as American Express will simplify your traveling experience.
Making Phone Calls
Have your VA screen your calls to avoid unnecessary (and costly) conversations.
Never give out your “real” number to non-trusted contacts or sales people.
Use call centers like AnswerConnect or AllDayPA as first point of contact. An email transcript is sent so that you know if the call was important.
Or test out an app like Grasshopper (Grasshopper.com) to create a number for your business, record a greeting, setup extensions for departments and employees, and run it all from your mobile phone.
Try services like VoiceCloud (voicecloud.com) or Yap (yapinc.com) to auto-transcribe your voicemail to email or SMS.
Use a project or task management tool such as Basecamp (basecamp.com) or Asana (asana.com) to remind you of uncompleted tasks and deadlines.
Have your VA organize your day — don’t let small tasks (like prioritizing your to-do list) balloon into taking an entire day.
Remember, VAs are trained professionals. Some tasks that are likely to take you 3 hours, will only take them 1.
Tackling Low-Priority Tasks
Batch low-priority tasks and assign them to your VA (e.g. responding to the 10 people who keep calling).
Set fixed schedule for repetitive tasks, such as data entry, paying bills, etc.
Use online billing and invoice programs with “auto-chase” for nonpayment such as Xero (xero.com), KashFlow (kashflow.com), Kashoo (kashoo.com), or Wave (waveapps.com).
Outsource tax and bookkeeping tasks to a professional, you’ll save weeks worth of time in a year.
Managing Social Media
eMarkerter reported that in 2012, U.S. consumers spent an average of 37 minutes daily on social media.
According to a study by Experian Marketing Services, 27% of time spent online is spent on social networking.
Rather than subscribing to RSS feeds, apps like Zite or Flipboard let you browse feeds based on your interests, or content shared by your social media connections.
Use services such as Buffer (bufferapp.com) or Hootsuite.com to schedule all of your day (or week’s) social media messages at once.
Outsource the management of your business’ social media accounts to a freelancer or your VA. Just make sure it’s someone you trust and that you keep an eye on it.
Searching and gathering information is the 3rd most time-consuming activity for workers, taking 19% of an average workday, or more than 7.5 hours a week.
Don’t read 50 articles, have your VA review dozens and find 3 or more key articles on a subject. You can deep dive if required.
Ask your VA to give star ratings to research sources so you can read in order of usefulness.
After trying out a VA with small tasks, test drive delegating more.
Hire quality staff who are more comfortable with self-directed work.
Audition 10 people on the same task and find the 1 that can do it, and does it better than even you!
You can also hire an outsourced broker to recruit, interview, and manage the services you need.
Facing Everyday Tasks
With services such as TaskRabbit, you can hire someone to do your grocery shopping, hand write thank you cards, return your purchases, pack, move, and so much more!
Zirtual (zirtual.com) and Fancy Hands (fancyhands.com) are also great services for finding an assistant to help with everyday’s daunting tasks.
To ensure safety, these services conduct background checks for you for an extremely reasonable price.
6 Tips for Hiring a Virtual Assistant (VA)
- Know when to hire outside help. Be cognizant of when you’re wasting money by taking on miniscule tasks instead of focusing on the core business.
- Take advantage of the (large) available talent pool. Leverage services available to find the help you need, such as Zirtual, oDesk, and Elance — they all offer a variety of preference options.
- Be strategic when setting a budget. Too low a budget may eliminate some of the better candidates for your project.
Freelance professionals won’t want to waste time with price haggling; be straightforward about what you’re willing to pay.
- Be specific in the job description. The more qualified applicants you get, and the easier the next steps will be.
- Be thorough when hiring. Interview just as you would for a full-time candidate. Ask for samples, an online portfolio, and request a phone or video interview with specific questions prepared.
- Don’t micromanage. Spend more time at the beginning onboarding your VA and establishing processes, then let go and let them do their work. They are experienced professionals and small business owners after all.