So you know you need help with your business and you’ve decided that hiring a VA will help you. How do you know that you are hiring the right person – what are the key things to look out for and the red flags? I will take you through what virtual assistants need to have in place to operate professionally and explain why they are so essential.
Domain specific email
This might not seem terribly important but it’s something that you can check before you even make contact. Domain specific email addresses are relatively cheap, easy to set up and are more secure than free domains such as outlook, yahoo or gmail. Domain specific email addresses look more professional and if an individual isn’t willing to invest in their business for even the most basic of services, how seriously are they taking their business? What other corners might they cut when handling your client’s data or doing your work?
A website isn’t an essential attribute – desirable but not essential. I would expect some kind of online presence such as a LinkedIn profile if they didn’t have a website. From either a website/LinkedIn profile I’d want to see testimonials – are people willing to put their name to any feedback. This isn’t the be all and end all as people can obviously fake it, but it shows experience, can build trust and give you confidence in your VA’s skills.
Contracts and Due Diligence
Lots of virtual assistants offer a free “discovery call” to explore what support is required and to get to know their client. During this call I would expect the virtual assistant to take you through how they work, what they need to do to get started and take information to enable them to draft contracts and complete any due diligence that is required such as proof of identification and address for money laundering checks (if they are going to be helping you with financial administration).
Contracts are an essential part of business and professional relationships. They set out what has been agreed and are for the protection of both parties. If you don’t have this and the relationship breaks down, you have no record of what was agreed and what your recourse might be. I wouldn’t work with anyone without a contract in place and don’t think anyone else should too.
Not all virtual assistants that undertake financial administration need to register for money laundering supervision with HMRC as they may have qualified and applied for an exemption. However, if you are outsourcing any of your financial administration, I would definitely ask your VA’s status. If they aren’t registered or have an exemption it is unlikely that they are operating legally. If they are registered, they will have an approval document and you could (if you wish) ask to see a copy for your own due diligence.
As with running any business there is quite a lot of essential paperwork required, such as:
Insurance: I would expect professional indemnity and cyber insurance as a bare minimum. Professional indemnity insurance covers VA’s for errors or issues with their work and cyber insurance protects against internet based risks such as cyber-attacks or data breaches. Public liability insurance is desirable but not essential unless the virtual assistant works on-site as public liability insurance covers for losses or damage whilst at your business premises.
ICO Registration: A virtual assistant should be registered with the ICO for data processing. All organisations who process’ personal information needs to register and issue a certificate. You could ask to see a copy of their up to date certificate (as they need to be renewed each year) to prove their compliance.
GDPR: You need to be sure when hiring a VA that they are working in accordance with GDPR good practices and that they know exactly where their (and your) client’s data is stored to ensure that it is stored safely and securely.
If your VA has a website, does it have terms and conditions, privacy agreement and cookie policies. All these documents go to show that they are working in accordance with GDPR good practices.
If your VA will be working with your clients data they should be asking you how you process your clients data and you should set parameters for how your clients data is processed. For example: where do you store and share your client’s data DropBox, GSuite, OneDrive, how will you secure clients personal data i.e. passwords etc.
Cyber Security and Business Contingency Plan
When outsourcing you need to ensure that your virtual assistant protects and backs up their (and your data). Ask them what their strategy is to ensure that all information is secure as possible and backed- up appropriately. For example: I use OneDrive which backs-up automatically to the Cloud. As I back up to an encrypted hard drive regularly I have additional security so that data is retained across a couple of platforms. I also have anti-virus software which updates and scans regularly to protect my laptop (and client data). If my laptop breaks and ceases to function the data that I process shouldn’t be affected (I also have a back up laptop in the event the first breaks).
Ask your virtual assistant if they have a business continuity plan. Do they use associates? Do their associates have the same level of security and systems and they do? What would happen in the event they were hit by a bus? Do they have a system in place whereby they would be notified and services secured and disconnected etc. Whilst these aren’t anything anyone wants to think about, a professional business will have systems in place to be able to cope with and manage every eventuality.
Qualifications, Accreditation and Training
Has your virtual assistant achieved any qualifications, accreditation or training to enable them to complete the tasks that you are outsourcing to them? Don’t be afraid to ask – a professional Virtual Assistant will be able to explain their qualifications and any training undertaken to enable them to complete your tasks. For example, some virtual assistants are registered Bookkeepers, Xero Certified Partners, Infusionsoft Certified Consultants etc.
I am an accredited VIP VA member which means that I have robust systems in place, which have been checked and verified. This means that you don’t just have to take my word for it – VIP VA have checked and will vouch for me.
Qualifications, accreditation and training aren’t essential for business, but they are definitely desirable. The more that your virtual assistant has trained and invested in their business the more you should be able to rely on their professional service and they aren’t just winging it.
My mother used to say, “if something appears too good to be true, it usually isn’t”. As a guide, the average (according to the VIP VA survey) hourly rate for virtual assistants is around £25 per hour. To put all the above criteria in place costs. If your virtual assistant is charging significantly less than this, it is unlikely they will have the necessary, insurances, contracts, training, software and hardware in place to conduct a professional or secure service.
There are lots of things you as potential clients can do and look for to ensure that you are hiring the right virtual assistant to ensure that you are getting the best possible service. Knowledge is power and I hope that you’ve found this guide useful if you are thinking of taking on a virtual assistant to ensure that you are hiring the RIGHT virtual assistant for your business.
I’d love to hear what you think and look forward to catching you up next month.