Lots of indie authors find hiring a virtual assistant (VA) helps them make better use of their time and reach more readers, freeing them up to spend more time doing what they love best, while confident that all the essentials of self-publishing their books – including the many marketing tasks – are taken care of. It's common practice in the business world – and the business of being an authorpreneur is no different.
But hiring a VA is not a one-size-fits-all task. Historical novelist Clare Flynn, with a string of successful novels to her name, shares her experience of hiring not one but four VAs (not all at the same time!) and the lessons she has learned from the process.
Over to Clare…
I am now on my fourth VA since starting my self-publishing career. All have been authors themselves or have specialized in working with authors. I’ve used VAs in the past during my time running my consultancy business but mainly for booking travel, transcribing dictation and preparing presentations. Working with one as an author is a whole different ballgame! Here’s what I’ve learned.
Think carefully about what you want to delegate
Identify the tasks you find time-consuming and tedious or aren’t any good at. Every time doing something takes too much of your time or leaves you feeling frustrated, make a note of it. Make a list. Some things may be one-off tasks and others will be ongoing. Set priorities.
Be clear about the skillset you’re looking for
Do you need someone who understands how to operate mailing lists and build automation sequences? Manage your social media? Edit your videos? Analyse your Facebook ads? Identify Amazon keywords? Someone with knowledge of WordPress? If the individual lacks specialist knowledge but is smart and willing to learn that can be fine – as long as you are prepared for them to learn on the job.
Make sure the chemistry is right
All the VAs I’ve worked with have been delightful people, but a couple of them just didn’t fit my own operating style. One was rather bossy. I felt as though I was working for her not the other way round. Another was too laid back, so I became exasperated when I had to repeat my instructions and then found they were often misinterpreted. The other two combined competence with patience, enthusiasm and good organisation skills. Authors can be hard to work with (we’re used to working alone) so it’s important that your VA is able to put up with your personal style too!
Be ready to let go
There’s no point in delegating if you’re going to double check and re-do everything – although you’d be wise to do so in the beginning. Let them get on with it. Where the task is something (like emails to readers) that I consider needs to express my “voice” as an author, I get my assistant to draft it then I add“twiddly bits” to reflect my personal style. This takes a few minutes for a task that otherwise would take me ages.
Be patient while your assistant gets up to speed
You each need time to adjust to each other and find a way of working. Tasks may take longer (and hence cost more) while your assistant finds their feet. It can take longer to explain things than to do it yourself – so remind yourself you are doing this for the long term.
Prepare for calls
When I started out I did no preparation before Skypeing my VA. As a result I would ramble on, thinking aloud, contradicting myself – not very helpful to her and a waste of both our time.
Make sure you set expectations and goals clearly
My first VA was highly skilled, but more of a trainer than an assistant. She had me filling in spreadsheets to record my tweets and the Skype calls were coaching sessions. I realised she was creating work for me rather than taking it off my hands. Everything she suggested doing was excellent advice – it just wasn’t what I wanted.
Don’t overwhelm your assistant with too many tasks at once
Work through a prioritised list systematically – don’t tackle too many things at once. Get tasks ticked off the list before moving onto the next. This is important for the VA as well as you – they want a sense of achievement.
Good communication is vital
A regular Skype call is a good way to review progress. But bear in mind that often VAs are in a different time zone. All of mine have been in the USA and Canada while I’m in the UK. Working with someone in Vancouver when you’re in London requires planning. If you need something done urgently, it might be the middle of their night.
My current VA, Janet, prefers me to give instructions in emails which she transfers into a programme she uses to keep track of her work and her time. That works fine for me as long as we can have an occasional Skype if we need to discuss something in detail. Make sure you’re both happy with whatever system you use.
Start with a trial period
That way you can decide if the fit is right. It has to work for both of you. But don’t rush to judgment too soon – it takes time to adjust to each other.
Ask your VA for ideas
I asked Janet how she thought she could make most difference to me and what particular skills she had. She came back with a number of excellent suggestions I’d never have thought of myself. Among other things, it turns out she’s strong at analysing data and loves doing it. Hurray!
Share key documents and make sure they know and understand your goals
Use Dropbox or Google Drive to create a shared drive containing all key documents so your VA can access these easily. For example cover art, Facebook ads, blurbs, sample reviews, keyword lists.
Share information about your marketing strategy – including your target audience and how you want to communicate with them. If you have a business plan, share that too so your VA can see where their work fits in the greater scheme of things.
Agree fees upfront
Most assistants work on an hourly rate. Check out what it is in advance to make sure it fits your budget. They will charge the prevailing rates in the market where they live – so exchange rates can work for or against you.
Do you want to be billed for the time they spend getting up to speed at the beginning or learning a new skill? If not, you’ll need to make that clear. Or you can look at it as a long term investment. Up to you – but think about it.
I’ve just asked Alexandra (my former VA) and Janet to each tell me the one thing they consider most important in a good author/VA relationship. Both of them highlighted communication – being absolutely clear about what is to be done and by when.
How to Find a Great VA
Working with a VA can make a huge difference to your productivity, as long as you are prepared to invest time in the relationship.
OVER TO YOU Do you have experience of using a VA? How did it go for you? We'd love to hear about your experience.#Authors - thinking of using a VA to lighten your #selfpublishing load? Read @clarefly's top tips Click To Tweet
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