An agency owner recently asked in coaching: “How do I ensure I have enough tasks to justify hiring a virtual assistant? I’ve considered hiring a VA, but I’m not sure I have enough work for them to do, and I don’t want to hire someone to do busywork.”
He didn’t need a full-time assistant—but as we dug into his challenges, it appears his delay in hiring admin help had made things worse.
Having on-call admin support can be life-changing for you as an agency owner. Once you start looking, you’ll likely find plenty to get off your plate.
I believe any business owner should have admin support, whether from a freelance VA or an employee—your time is best spent on non-admin activities.
Let’s look at how to run the numbers, my experience, and what my agency owner clients have seen from hiring a virtual assistant.
Opportunity Cost over Cash Cost
Any business decision typically comes down to cash cost vs. opportunity cost. That is, what will you need to pay (in cash… or your time) versus what else could you accomplish instead?
How much will you pay your virtual assistant?
Getting a VA’s help ranges from $5/hour (if overseas in a developing country) to $60/hour (for someone highly skilled and experienced, typically with expertise in marketing or other freelance-ish skills).
The direct ROI depends on whether you’re billing your time, or primarily focused on overhead activities like business development, agency strategy, and team management. Here’s a deeper dive on how much to pay your VA.
Running the numbers for your agency
VAs typically work as freelancers, rather than as your employee. Let’s say you have someone on a regular basis who costs you $30/hour total. (Note that Katie, my former VA, is more expensive than that—and you’ll pay more for the turnkey convenience of a VA agency.)
- If that hypothetical VA spends 8 hours a week to reduce your workload by 5 hours/week, and you can bill $200/hour for the time you save, you’d get an extra $1,000 in revenue while spending just $240. It’s an easy argument.
- Even if you don’t bill any of the time they save you, you still likely come out ahead—because you can focus on more of your “$1,000/hour” activities instead of doing admin things like expense reports, presentation photo research, background research, and meeting scheduling.
Not sure how much help you’ll need initially? Hire a VA who’s open to a flexible weekly workload (for instance, a range of hours), or perhaps hiring via a VA agency for flexibility. My clients have had a good experience with VA agency Don’t Panic Management, including Don’t Panic’s in-depth vetting process.
My experience: You’ll find plenty to justify hiring a VA
My experience is that once I have someone helping on admin, I keep giving them more to do (and they also take initiative to find other high-value things, too).
Indeed, your VA may not have a VA title—and their contribution likely extends beyond “admin” work alone:
1. My original freelance VA, Katie Connors, started at 5-7 hours a week; within two years, it was more like 8-12. (She now does a few hours a month, primarily around finances.)
2. My copywriter and editor, Rachel Go, has taken a lot off my plate. Beyond the hours, a key benefit is that she does a narrower range of things than I do—so she can stay on top of those tasks.
3. My marketing freelancer, Melissa Breau, kept doing more and more. I eventually moved some of it to Katie and to Rachel, as Melissa shifted her freelancing business.
My colleague Diane Stadlen helps on project management, in addition to her billable work as VP of Agency Services.
You can use Swim Lanes to help you avoid creating busywork—in this case, reviewing what they should and shouldn’t do for you.
You need someone who’s competent and conscientious, of course—and not every VA is equal in skillset. But everything my team does is something that needs to happen (to run and grow my business) but that I generally shouldn’t be doing (or can’t do as well) myself.
Finding tasks for your Virtual Assistant
In our coaching, the agency owner noted:
“For this sort of stuff, I’m keeping an eye out for repetitive tasks. Maybe I should do another audit and see if there is enough to keep somebody busy five hours a week. I just don’t want to be in a position where I’m creating work and managing it, when it should be eliminated.”
To some extent, our PM has acted as a VA when things aren’t as busy, but we’re going through a busy phase and it may be time to look at everybody’s hours and see if we can’t get some low value stuff done at a cheaper rate.
I’ll have to set aside some time to do an audit of what we’re doing and whether it makes sense to bring someone in. I can tell you that last week I was working on stuff I wish I had a VA to [complete a specific in-depth research task].”
Doing a task “audit” sounds like a good start—you can evaluate if the impact might be worth it.
Do an “audit” to identify potential VA tasks
You can also determine (in the post-audit analysis) if it’s something that fits a single person’s skillset. For instance, a VA who does bookkeeping is typically not a marketer, and vice versa.
Be sure to include (perhaps in an adjacent list) recent and upcoming one-off tasks like a research project. Here are other examples of things you can delegate to a VA.
Once you have someone on board, it’s way easier to delegate new tasks (because you have someone under contract, they’re in your system for assigning-out work, and they know your expectations).
You don’t have to delegate everything—for instance, Jay Baer shared how he still sends invoices himself, because he enjoys the activity. (For sure, it’s nice to see the money coming in.) That’s the thing once you have a VA on board—now you get to choose.
Case Study: The impact of hiring a VA
Another agency owner shared an update after he attended one of my in-person workshops:
“I just wanted to reach out and say that as a direct result of your workshop, I have found and retained an assistant. It’s only been about a week and a half, and already it is blowing my mind and making everything better. So thank you again for the fantastic advice, and the push I needed.”
I asked him how his assistant made life easier. He shared:
“I have someone to handle things I just don’t have time for and would otherwise put off. Any time I wonder how to handle something logistical, she has years of experience with dozens of clients from which to draw best practices.
She’s meeting with me weekly to talk through ongoing issues. She’s available via Slack on a daily basis and can jump on a call pretty much whenever I need her.
Working with my project manager, she’s helping me organize my PM software and better tie it to internal processes. She’s also doing some low-level marketing support work for my clients, including sending e-newsletters and doing data entry.“
Although specific to his agency, that recap is similar to the results I hear from every client who hires an assistant—having on-call admin support reduces your stress and lets you increasingly shift to working “ON” the business.
Question: What would help you justify hiring a Virtual Assistant (VA) at your agency?