How to hire rockstar virtual assistants, and not have them flake out on you

At Lead Cookie and Content Allies, we have a team of over 20 virtual assistants who work with us. They are literally the backbone of our company and run a majority of the actions that our company takes on a daily basis.

And as of today, we have a 95%+ success rate when hiring new virtual assistants, and an extremely minimal turnover rate. Only two team members have left us since starting, and both were because they received offers that were at triple the pay rate we offered them.

But it wasn’t always like this.

In fact, in the early days of Lead Cookie, we were batting at 50% when hiring new VA's. Most didn’t work out. 

They would flake out, make mistakes, not show up… 

And on the content side, I had hired 4 freelance VA’s from Upwork to handle my content publishing processes before I figured this out. Each time they flaked out on me… 

It was a struggle. 

But we fixed this through a robust hiring process AND a rock solid company culture. 

In this article, I am going to dive into our hiring process, as well as explain how we keep VA’s engaged and happy with our company culture.

The Problem with Hiring Virtual Assistants

The idea of a virtual assistant sounds great to most people when they hear the idea.
So they go to Upwork, put up a post and think that this is going to solve all of their problems.

Yet most people are hit with a harsh reality as soon as they make a hire.

The results of the work is terrible. 
The VA’s disappear for days or flake out on them.
And they seem to miss all of the details.

And so people get fed up, and they just cut the VA’s and go back to doing everything themselves.

Yet what they don’t realize is that four things lead to this failure.

1. Attempting to send the VA the wrong kind of work

What most people don’t realize is that VA’s (especially offshore team members) are not great for just taking random requests. 

What too many people try to do is just take something they hate doing and send it to a VA… 

That typically doesn’t work.

Instead, VA’s are best utilized when you have a repeatable process in your business that you run on a daily or weekly basis. Here are just a few of the ways we use our VA team at Lead Cookie.

  • Sending Linkedin Connection Requests & Drip Messages

  • Updating the CRM

  • Scraping email lists for cold email

  • Publishing my blog posts to my website

  • Publishing my podcast to my website & iTunes

  • Publishing my daily blog 

  • Sharing my content on social media

  • Updating my CRM via email notifications

  • Sending me daily summaries of all of my upcoming calls with relevant links for each prospect

  • Handling steps in our customers onboarding

  • Cleaning up lists of data 

  • And many more…

All of these are repetitive tasks that are done on a regular basis. 

We train the VA once, document it, and then they handle it after that. 

2. Poor training and delegation

One of my mentors once told me a great piece of wisdom.

Whenever you are having a problem with a team member, 90% of the time you are the problem in how you are delegating and managing them.

That simple idea rocked my world. 

Too many people get frustrated when someone doesn’t produce the result they want. 
They blame the person and say “I can’t find a decent VA.”

In reality, you probably suck at delegation and management. 
You probably failed to set proper expectations or timelines.
Or you failed to invest the time into actually training them properly on the front end.

While there are flaky VA’s out there,
too often we blame them, when in reality we are the problem.

3. You hire poor quality VA’s

You can go to sites like Upwork and find thousands of virtual assistants who will work for extremely low prices. 

Yet not all VA’s are created equal. 

You need a systematic and predictable way to find high quality candidates, and weed out the bad ones. 

4. You treat your VA’s like shit

Lastly, even if you hire a good VA, they will flake out on you if you treat them like shit.

If you can’t give them consistent work.
If you don’t show up for 2 months, and then suddenly expect them to deliver 20 hours of work this week. 
If you don’t appreciate them and compliment them on the good that they do.

Simply put, even though they may be in another country on the other side of the world, they are people.

They are real humans, with real families, and real life.
Treat them like you would your neighbor, or a close friend.
If you do that, they will be grateful for you and stick with you for the long term.

How much should I expect to pay for a virtual assistant

Rates can range depending on what specific skills you want them to have, but for the purposes of this article I am going to be talking about an “admin level” virtual assistant.

This is someone without design or development skills. But instead, someone who simply has good communication, attention to detail and can do the standard tasks you need help with.

If you are looking to hire someone from the Philippines, Columbia, Southeast Asia, etc., then you can expect to pay rates of starting at $400 per month on the absolute low end for someone full time.

At those rates, you should not expect to find someone with a high caliber for creative decision making. These tend to be people who can execute a process you teach them on and deliver a consistent result every time.

Even at that rate, you will occasionally find some higher caliber people with strong communication and problem solving abilities. These may even be college educated individuals in these countries. When you find these people, I would plan on giving them a bit of a raise over time to keep them around.

As you move up the scale, you get into the range of $500-750 per month. At these rates, you are looking at someone with phenomenal communication abilities. They can learn quickly, and handle much more creative decisions as opposed to just executing a process that is handed to them. 

At Lead Cookie, we have a mixture of both of these levels of candidates spread across our team.

The Perfect Virtual Assistant Application

This section is going to outline the perfect application. I have picked up pieces of this from various authors such as Mike McKalowicz, Russ Perry, Chet Holmes, and probably others who I can’t even remember today. 

But the point is that it is powerful and it gets you to the right candidate fast. Here is the outline.

  • Write your post as if you are “Selling the job to them”

  • Include 1-2 “Easter eggs” to find attention to details

  • Create a small “test project” that they do when applying

  • Ask questions that demonstrate your values

  • Have them send an audio / video message with their application

Write your post as if you are “selling the job to them”

So many people write job posts as if they are just these boring bulleted lists. They just list out the job description, and skills required.

That’s not very exciting and it will attract all sorts of random people to your company.

Instead, you want to “sell the applicant” on why they should apply.

Talk about your culture.
Talk about how you are growing.
Talk about your values.

Show your personality in the job post. This will help you attract the right kind of people to your company.

AND it will get you higher quality candidates and more candidates than a boring old job post.

Several of my team members have said “When I saw the job posting for Lead Cookie, I thought to myself ‘Is this even real?’ It sounds too good to be true.”

But they applied, and here they are with us.

Include “Easter eggs” to find attention to detail

Within any job post I put up, I always include “Easter eggs”.

These are small hidden instructions that are meant to catch someone's attention to detail, and weed out people who don’t actually read your job post and decide to just send you a blanketed cover letter… 

Here are the Easter eggs I typically use.

1. Inserted in a random paragraph of the job posting, I write the following sentence. “For the first word of your cover letter, write the word ‘Moist’” 

That alone will disqualify 80% of the applications that come through before I even open up the email or job application.

2. Include a funny YouTube video with your application. It must be no longer than 30 seconds. 

One of our values is “Have fun” and so this helps screen for people who will be a culture fit, and see who actually catches the 30 second detail.

3. For the first word of your voice memo say “Moist” and for the last word say “Toodaloo:”

More on the voice memo a bit further down, but these are once again simple details to catch people's attention to detail. 

On a funny side note, we have had applicants write to us complaining about the word “Moist”… I find this absolutely hilarious and a great filter for those who are not a fit for our company culture. 

4. Ask them to upload their voice memo / application video to Dropbox and make it the LAST piece in their application

Anyone can set up a free Dropbox account, so this should be no problem. Yet this is the kicker that weeds out a ton more applications. Whenever I open an application, I look for two things before even reading it.

Is Moist the first word of the cover letter? And is the Dropbox link the last thing on their application?

Lots of people will not listen and upload it to Google Drive instead. Eliminated! 

And even those who do put it in Dropbox miss the detail to make the Dropbox link the LAST piece of their application. We include the Dropbox application as step 3, but instruct them to make it the last link.

This once again weeds out so many applicants who do not have that attention to detail.

Ask them questions that demonstrate your values

So this is a tactic that I will admit I am now working into our process. For a long time I didn’t have this, so any of the current hires we make that we fail with tend to be due to a values misalignment.

Recently I attended Russ Perry’s Business Summit where he shared his hiring process for Design Pickle. In their applications and interviews, they have a series of questions that demonstrate their values.

For example, Design Pickle asks “What is one thing you are obsessed with?” 

They found that their best team members all have some hobby or interest that they are passionately obsessed with. This question helps them find people who align with their culture.

Another friend, Jon Tucker, of asks the question “What are the last three books you have read about personal or professional development?” 

One of their values is personal growth and improvement, and this question helps filter to people who are actively reading and aiming to improve themselves. 

We are still working these into our hiring process, but I’m confident this is the final piece we need to eliminate any bad hires. 

Create a small test project / question that simulates real life work

At Content Allies we have created a simple test project that involves having the VA set up a free blog on Tumblr, and then creating a post with specific information based off of instructions that we give them.

This is meant to create a uniform test project for all applicants which lets us have a benchmark for their success.

This was another tip I picked up from Russ Perry’s Business Summit. 

Another thing we did previously at Lead Cookie was ask “You are working in one of our client's accounts and you make a mistake and accidentally send the wrong message. What are your next steps?”

This is a very real scenario many of them may face, so we put this in our application to see how they think through running into a scenario like it.

Record a voice memo or video sharing why you would be a good fit for this job

For the first word of your video, say the word “Moist” and for the last word say “Toodaloo”. In the background, have Mozarts’ 5th Symphony playing. This can be done via post-production or just playing the music.

This is a pretty challenging Easter egg and honestly takes a lot of time. This will weed out so many people, yet it is one of the most telling things in an application.

These videos show us so much into someone's ability to communicate, and for a virtual assistant this is incredibly important.

It also shows someone's commitment and interest.

As crazy as it sounds, lots of people will show up and say “Moist. Ok, so I am recording this video to meet all your requirements here. I don’t really know what to say here. Toodaloo!”

And then you have other people who share their background, credentials, and life stories with us. 

Can you guess which one we hire? 

Keeping your VA’s around - The key to a good culture and relationship

How do you keep your VA’s around? I can’t seem to get anyone to stick with me for more than a month or two?

I got this question from a fellow entrepreneur the other day. 
The answer is simple. 

If your VA’s are turning over or leaving you in 1-2 months, it is probably because you are an ass. 

You probably treat them like crap and therefore, they don’t want to work for you.

We have over 20 VA’s at Lead Cookie & Content Allies combined.

Only 2 have ever left us.
One was approved to immigrate to Australia and the economics of our employment no longer made sense.
The other was offered a job with triple the pay rates.

Other than that, everyone has stuck with us.

The reason is that we treat them like a part of our team. 
And that is because they are! 

All of our VA’s are invited to our stand-up meeting every single week.
They all share weekend updates just like the rest of our team.
They are all allowed to speak up and share ideas or challenges.
And they are all given the ability to take time off just like the rest of our team in North America.

We give them bonuses at the holidays.

And we even have a “VA of the Month Award” where all of our North American team votes on whoever is stepping up, and they receive the award along with a small cash bonus.

We recently started a “Personal Development Fund” for all team members where they get $50 per quarter to spend on personal development.

And we extended those exact same funds to our team abroad. 

To keep it simple… we treat our VA’s just like everyone else on the team.
We treat them like the amazing and wonderful humans that they are.

That may seem like common sense, but most offshore team members are NOT used to this.

Here are a few of the horror stories my team has told me about past employers…

  • One team member was in a job where he was REQUIRED to work 60 hour per week just to keep his job

  • Other team members said that they would freelance for several people but found their bosses were inconsistent and would randomly send them bursts of work after going cold for weeks at a time, and then get upset when it wasn’t perfect.

  • Others have had to spend 2-4 hours PER DAY commuting to and from call center offices

  • Most of them could literally not comprehend the idea of taking time off without having a pay cut

  • And almost none of them had ever received any type of personal development fund from an employer

That is the work conditions most offshore team members go up against every day. They are treated like total and utter shit. 

So simply put, don’t do that.
Instead create a culture and a work environment that honors and respects them.
Do that and they won’t leave you.

It doesn’t cost you much.
All it takes is just a little care and compassion.

That is how you keep your team members around. 
Actually care for them. 

Virtual Assistants can change your life

I’m not joking when I say this. My entire business would not be possible without their help.

A good team of virtual assistants can be a business all on its own.
Or they can enable you to free yourself up to build the business you have dreamed of.

Virtual Assistants create freedom. 

They take the low value work off of your plate, so you can focus on doing higher value creative work.

It takes time and work to get them set up.
But once you do, it will change you forever.

One of the biggest areas I was able to build virtual assistants around is my content publishing and promotion process. That is why I eventually created Content Allies to help take the same freedom I experienced from doing this and bring it to others.

But regardless whether you hire my company, or build your own team, all I can tell you is to do it.

Your life will be changed by virtual assistants.
And you will change their life by the opportunity you provide them.

So quit putting it off, and get the help you need today. 

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