Outsourcing is difficult.
Managing remote teams is tricky. It's easy to fall short of your goals, even if you feel like you're doing everything right. Hiring your first Virtual Assistant (or your next one) is a daunting task... whether or not you realize it yet.
I know from personal experience, because I've spent in the 7 figures investing into outsourced projects & campaigns for my own companies. From marketing, to customer service, to administrative tasks and more, if you can outsource it - and even if you can't - I've probably tried it. And I've probably failed at it, at least once.
In today's post, I'll be going over some key criteria to keep in mind whether you're just hiring your first Real Estate Virtual Assistant, or whenever you're adding to your off-site workforce. In part one, I'll be focusing on what you need to consider:
BEFORE You Hire A Virtual Assistant...
Outsource existing tasks you already know well.
A lot of people come to us looking to outsource tasks they've never done before. Whether it's a telemarketing campaign you've never attempted, a marketing method you've never tried, or an additional service you're planning to add to your repertoire... if you've never done it before, it's going to be tough to outsource it.
While a company like ours is expert at many of the common tasks found in real estate companies, everyone still does these tasks slightly differently. If your plan is to outsource something new to you & your business, you are going to be taking the most difficult path.
If it's your first time outsourcing, start by delegating something that's already going on in your day-to-day operations, something you know well & can describe in elaborate detail to any new employee (in-person or otherwise). This will help you learn what it's like managing a virtual team by delegating tasks with which you have intimate familiarity... making your job of training & monitoring someone who is off-site much easier.
Have a clear goal in mind, framed by desired outcomes.
One of the most obvious & easy issues to avoid is clearly setting out your goals and expectations before you even consider hiring a Virtual Assistant.
In the same way that you'd set out specific expectations, quotas, rules, values, and other core company objectives & guidelines for a local employee, you need to do the same for your Virtual Assistant. Indeed, you might even need to go that extra mile when it comes to defining outsourcing success, since all the powerful non-verbal communication that is easily achieved in-person will be lost on your virtual teams.
The simple way to do this is to focus on the details of your successful outcome, and plan backwards from the end game. For example: "I need to achieve a $50 Cost Per Lead or less," or "I need the VA to complete each document in 40 minutes or less."
Pick ONLY ONE TASK to start!
The single most common cause of outsourcing failure is overload during the initial setup & launch phases.
My explanation is always the same: start with only one (or at most two) high-priority task(s) to outsource to your VA.
Pick tasks which you understand well and can explain clearly to a new employee. Outsource these to your Virtual Assistant, keep a close eye on them during the set-up and incubation period, and make sure everything is working smoothly without requiring much (if any) input from your end.
New VA users get over-excited about all the opportunities, and end up with a chaotic, mashed together task-list, requiring intensive explanations & training just to get started. Your likelihood of outsourcing success is inversely proportional to the amount of tasks you delegate to your VA(s).
Once things are up & running smoothly, then is a good time to add more tasks to your outsourced team.
DURING Your VA Hiring Process...
How to choose the right Real Estate Virtual Assistant.
While this isn't simple, the basics are the same across the board. First of all, think about the Two Types & Three Goals.
You need classify if you're going to be starting with an Admin Task, or a Voice Task. I recommend picking one or the other to start, as mentioned above: start with only one task! Usually, going for a VA who can do Voice Tasks is the more difficult hurdle, so you should probably start with that. Ask your VA the usual interview questions to get a better idea of their background. Check references.
But then, you need to do a voice test. Run a mock call with your VA before hiring them, to role play several scenarios for any calls you might be delegating to them. Ideally, you'll have a proven script from which to train them & run your mock calls.
A Virtual Assistant's ability to do well in this type of simulated live call environment can be one of the single greatest indicators of a good potential hire.
Hire a Virtual Assistant who is a good culture fit.
You can't just hire a VA because they are good for the task-list at hand. If things go well, you're going to be working closely with this person for a long time. It's important that you can get along.
When we hire VAs for ourselves, their interview process is two phased. Phase One consists of the basics: questions about their similar past experiences, job qualifications, and skill levels with a variety of common tasks & tools. Phase Two, however, is what has made us the masters of managing real estate VAs: the culture-fit test.
While your company culture is unique, and therefore cannot follow the recipe from anyone else... the basic idea is simple. You need to ask questions to determine if this is the kind of person you can work with! If you're fastidious & detail oriented, but your VA is big picture & entrepreneurial, or if you're artistic & creative, but your VA is strictly "by the book," then while you might get short-term results, the long-term relationship is doomed to fail.
Be careful to keep your outsourcing & insourcing compatible.
Believe it or not, we've lost clients who were 100% satisfied & getting excellent results using our VAs. They didn't leave because of the VAs.
They left due to one simple reason: Incompatibility.
Some businesses - especially smaller ones - just aren't set up in a way to effectively outsource certain activities. If you're not an experienced manager, not used to working with remote teams, or not used to delegating tasks you only vaguely understand yourself, then you might be surprised to learn how tricky the whole process is.
You not only need to hire the right VA for the right task, you need to be sure your local operations are prepared to harmonize with your off-site teams. You need to set up an outsourcing effort that is compatible with your core business.
AFTER Your VA Has Started Work...
Continue to train your VAs on an ongoing basis.
"Being too busy to train is the moral equivalent of being too hungry to eat." - Ben Horowitz
Even though your VA might have some experience doing real estate virtual assistant tasks, they haven't had experience doing these tasks in your business. You need to set aside an incubation period to train the VA regularly in the beginning to make sure they get acquainted with your culture & core values. Don't just put the VA to work, help them understand the "why" and "how" of their job so they feel committed and aligned to your goals.
After the incubation period, you still need to regularly revisit core concepts your VAs (at least monthly or quarterly depending on circumstances). This will help them keep growing as a member of your team, as well as build a more valuable asset for your company as the VA becomes more skilled & committed to your mission.
One of the most obvious mistakes, which can be tricky to avoid at first, is neglecting the ongoing tracking of your VAs' stats.
In my experience, if you get the hiring process right, the tracking is really just icing on the cake. A good culture fit for us will show up to work on time, do their job without being told, and continue to do so with little or no "management" ... but that takes practice. And even in the best cultures, it is important to track certain key metrics for ongoing optimization & improvements.
There are tons of time tracking softwares out there, plus popular outsourcing portals like Elance & oDesk have their own built in. Any auto-dialer, or even Skype will have call logs with things like timestamps & time-on-call stats.
But the most important stat to track, whatever you're doing, is the bottom line. You need to monitor the key ROI generator(s) for your VA campaign with rigor & consistency. In lead generation, track your Cost Per Lead (assuming decent closing ratio). In administrative work, you'll usually live & die by records per hour. The reason this is important is that it will be the stat that lets you (a) calculate Return On Investment / savings, and (b) contrast VAs with your in-house team's price:performance ratio.
Build for long lasting relationships.
The most difficult part about outsourcing is building lasting relationships that will be consistently profitable & sustainable for the long-term.
It's (comparatively) easy to reap short term success by launching with basic procedures and decent fanfare. Everyone will be excited about new beginnings, and your campaign can get off on the right foot.
But what about when the problems arise? Be careful to resolve them in a way to keep your VAs accountable, but motivated. And what about when your VAs start getting bored with their repetitive duties? You'll need to find ways to align your virtual team with tangible, longer-term goals. You'll need to manage the relationship just like you would with your local employees... except without ever meeting in-person.
The biggest success factor for long-term VA success seems to be a good culture fit from the beginning. By taking extra care in who you hire to be sure your VAs are not only technically capable, but also aligned with you & your company's core values. They need to not only buy into the job, but to your grander mission, so they'll be truly excited to work for you and help you achieve your business objectives for years to come.