Nearly every remote business owner works with a virtual assistant. People rave about how they help save time, but for every startup guru who swears by their effectiveness, there are small business owners and contractors who have worked with a virtual assistant, or VA, and been unsatisfied.

Some people have legitimately bad experiences. Perhaps a person working remotely doesn’t complete work efficiently, or communication is difficult because of language barriers. Others successfully assign their VA work but feel as though everything they’ve read about a virtual assistant describes a level of productivity and timesaving that they’re just not getting.

In reality, an entrepreneur’s key to getting the most out of a VA and turning him or her into a key part of the business has a lot to do with the entrepreneur’s understanding of the different types of tasks in the business and the ways to assign appropriate work for a virtual assistant.

Preliminaries: Core Versus Auxiliary Tasks

To develop a strong working relationship with a virtual assistant, it’s important to be able to divide the tasks that make a business work into core tasks and auxiliary tasks. Core tasks are to a business what the skeleton and muscles are to the body – without their structure and energy supporting everything, it all falls apart, and there’s no movement anywhere. Auxiliary tasks are like the skin, hair, teeth, and nails. A body could theoretically hold itself together and move around without skin and hair covering the outside – but it would look like a mess. Similarly, a business has dozens if not hundreds of auxiliary tasks that might not directly generate revenue, but without someone doing these auxiliary tasks, the business becomes sloppy and haphazard, not to mention extremely stressful to run.

For an entrepreneur, the key to knowing the difference between core and auxiliary tasks is to ask the question, “Is it absolutely essential that only I should be doing this task?” In the case of real estate, a good example would be the difference between scheduling viewings and showing houses. A realtor could get another person to schedule her appointments, but she’s the only one who can show a house for her own real estate business.

Essentially, anything that uses a virtual method of communication via the internet or phone is auxiliary. If you make a list of all the tasks that consume your time in your business, you’ll find that most tasks that happen via virtual communication are nonessential, and they’re the ones eating up most of your time.

Level Up: Beginner’s Delegation

Once it’s clear which tasks are auxiliary, it’s time to start delegating the easier ones – basically, testing the waters and making sure you can communicate with your VA about getting simple things done. Examples include:

  • Inbox checking and filtering
  • Contacting prospects
  • Requesting quotes
  • Social sharing/syndication
  • Scheduling

Once you’re happy with how your VA does these things, it’s time to move on to the second step.

Intermediate Delegation: Task Refinement and Tracking

At this point, it’s time to refine your delegation and progress tracking skills before moving on to more advanced tasks. Working with VAs becomes truly valuable when you create procedures that help you fully leverage their talents. If you have to constantly spend time catching errors and cleaning up mistakes, you’re not really saving time or avoiding the work you don’t like.

  • First, create detailed procedures for tasks that include every step the VA needs to take, breaking the tasks down to a granular level when possible. It can take a while to write everything out, but once it’s done, it’s there forever, even if you decide to work with another VA. You’ll have to deal with fewer questions about how to get things done and more time to focus on the key parts of your business.
  • Second, when delegating, assign tasks a deadline or level of urgency. That way, your VA will know exactly what the priorities are.
  • Third, use a productivity and time tracking tool. It’s essential you use a tool such as Hubstaff to track and monitor your VA’s progress on slightly more complicated tasks, especially as you institute procedures to speed up the learning curve.

When you’ve got the system in place, it’s time to move on to the really exciting part of working with a virtual assistant.

Advanced Task Delegation: High Level Tasks

You know you’re happy with your VA’s work.  He or she understands your business and knows all the information and procedures needed to do the job quickly and efficiently. Now it’s time to start assigning higher level tasks and enjoy the fruits of your earlier work. Good examples include:

  • Turning raw data into presentations
  • Researching and writing blog articles
  • Identifying and contacting potential new business

Any relationship – personal, professional, or otherwise – gives returns in proportion to an investment. In the case of a VA, your return – the amount of time and energy you save by delegating tasks – is equal to the energy you put into following these steps we’ve set out. Once you invest in building up your working relationship, you’ll see returns in terms of your own available time for business development or personal wellness. By freeing up more of your time, a VA can help you invest that energy elsewhere, helping you to work smarter, not harder.

Learn More about Hubstaff


Dave Nevogt is the CMO and Cofounder of Hubstaff, an integrated productivity and time tracking tool that works with many different task management systems.

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