Over the past month or so I’ve been sharing a few key secrets to building a successful relationship with a virtual assistant. In the first four, I’ve shared tips for determining your business and personal needs, preparing yourself and your business and some of the places where virtual assistants can be found.
Today we move on to Top Secret Tip #5- Don’t Skip the Consultation
Hopefully, after doing your initial search you’ve narrowed the field down to between 3 to 6 possibilities. Most virtual assistants should offer a free consultation, normally conducted via phone or e-mail. This consultation can loosely be compared to an interview.
Consulting with a virtual professional is going to be much different from interview processes you may have come to know in the traditional sense. For each of the possibilities, you will want to compile information in some form. When I teach ‘How to Work with a Virtual Assistant’ classes, I provide my ‘students’ with a Consultation Form template and suggest that they create one for each of their possibilities. It gives them a place to compile information about each virtual assistant that they think might be the right choice.
Right now all you might have is a name and e-mail or phone number. Your initial response is going to be to write or call, but don’t do anything yet. It may be the fastest way, but in order to get a more complete picture and thus find the person that fits you and your business the best, you’re going to need to do a few extra steps.
I can hear you groaning now, but trust me, you will be glad you did. In fact, it might even save you a long distance charge or two.
A little research can go a long, long way.
First search for them and their website on a search engine like Google, Bing or Yahoo. Do a search on their name and their business name.
The next step is to check out those forums I spoke of in Top Secret Tip #4. Both sites have a search feature, take advantage of it and do a search for their name and/or their business name. With any luck, you’ll find a post or two. I’m not suggesting you dig too deeply, but by reading a post or two you might be able to get a feeling for their personality as well as their level of knowledge.
Then search Google Blogs for them. You might think that just because their blog is on their website, which you’ve already seen; that you’ve exhausted that avenue, but don’t forget that many bloggers do guest posts or post on more than one blog.
Think of their website and combined web presence (all the places you can find them on the web) as a type of virtual resume. Compile all of the information you find into some kind of document that you can refer to later.
You started with 3 to 6 names, after doing your research you may or may not have weeded out a few at this point. With a better picture of whom you’re dealing with, now you can contact those that remain.
Start out with a brief e-mail, letting them know what you’re looking for as far as services are concerned. No need to get too detailed at this point. Ask them if they have any additional information about their services that might not be listed on their website. For example, I have several informational sheets that I send to potential clients when they contact me regarding services, including my rate sheet and services levels which I do not include on my website.
They should respond in a timely manner, within one business day at the most, after all this is initial contact. They should mention setting up an e-mail or phone consultation at this point. **Note: if you’ve used a contact form rather than sending an e-mail, I’d suggest sending them a direct e-mail. Lots of things can go wrong with an online contact form, so don’t assume the virtual assistant you’ve contacted is lacking response skills in this case.
If an e-mail consultation is your chosen method of consultation, you give details of what you’re in need of, how many hours of service you feel you’ll need, etc. and they will respond giving details on their processes and if they feel your time estimate is realistic for them.
If a phone consultation is your preference, the same things are addressed, except by phone. Many people think that the phone consultation gives them a better feel for the professionalism of the virtual professional. While this may be true, one should also be able to judge professionalism by the tone and content of the e-mail as well.
Be sure you have your research in front of you for the consultation so that you remember to ask about things you may not have found out via your research phase and so that you can take notes on each prospect. For example, if you felt one VA was more professional, knowledgeable or experienced than the others you can make note of it, along with any other impressions you may be left with.
You may feel confident in working with the first one you consult with, and that’s fine, but don’t be afraid to consult with all of the virtual professionals on your list if you’re not sure.