Episode 196 | How to Use a VA in Your Startup

Show Notes

  1. Tier 1 email support
  2. Chat support
  3. Filtering your email
  4. Calendar mgmt and appointment scheduling
  5. Travel arrangement or planning
  6. Data entry
  7. competitor research
  8. lead generation / prospect research
  9. transcribe audio or video
  10. (HT) article approval
  11. audio/video editing (screencast editing, marketing vs documentation)
  12. Publish audio/video to blog
  13. Blog publishing management
  14. Twitter/Facebook/social media presence
  15. Turn blog posts into emails
  16. moderate blog comments
  17. find images for blog posts
  18. slide presentations
  19. proofreading/editing
  20. checking voicemail
  21. sending client invoices
  22. Upload videos to youtube or other
  23. Create slideshare presentations
  24. Migrating from one software tool to another (MailChimp to Drip, InDinero to Outright)
  25. Member management for membership website
  26. Concierge service for your app (installing tracking code for free, 5-day email mini course compilation)

Transcript

[00:00] Rob: In this episode of Startups for the Rest of Us, Mike and I discuss how to use a VA in your start-up. This is Startups for the Rest of Us, episode 196.

[00:08] Music

[00:15] Rob: Welcome to Startups for the Rest of Us, the podcast that helps developers, designers, and entrepreneurs be awesome at launching software products, whether you’ve built your first product or you’re just thinking about it. I’m Rob.

[00:24] Mike: And I’m Mike.

[00:25] Rob: And we’re here to share our experiences to help you avoid the same mistakes we’ve made. What’s the word this week, Mike?

[00:30] Mike: I’m getting ready to go on vacation next week. It kind of sucks because I’ve got a new version of the website for AuditShark that kind of really focuses on the desktop edition that I want to push live; but I don’t really want to push it live and then go on vacation for a week.

[00:43] Rob: Yeah, and you could potentially introduce 404’s or introduce something that Google – if it misindexes it and you’re not there and you don’t notice it. Because anytime I push a new site live, I’m going to be in Webmaster Tools once a day, just to kind of give it a once over and be like do I have any errors going on or anything like that, so. I probably wouldn’t do it, either.

[01:01] Mike: The thing is my build process pushes everything to a development area and then if everything is okay it copies it over to production; and right now my development area is having DLL issues. It just can’t figure out what’s what. I’m concerned about fixing it and then pushing it over to the live server because who knows what the heck’s going to happen there.

[01:20] Rob: I have a couple updates. One is, you know, we’ve rewritten HitTail and Rails but namely I couldn’t find developers to do classic ASP; so I wound up doing all the changes. You don’t have time and so stuff that needed to get fixed wasn’t getting fixed because it would sit in my queue and I have, frankly, more important things to do. So, couldn’t find developers; the servers were expensive and now I have three Rails dev’s, so it just made sense. It took just about two months of code time to completely rewrite it in Rails, which I was pleased with, that was the estimate. Then it took about another three to four weeks of other detail stuff, like getting the migration going, because you remember the database is really high IO and it’s about 200 gigs in size, so very hard to move. You know you can’t just back it up and put it across the wire. What do you think the fastest way is? We literally spent probably two weeks trying all these different ways to move that across the wire because we didn’t want to put it on a hard drive and FedEx it again. So what do you think the fastest way is to accomplish that?

[02:23] Mike: Do you have to move everything over, all at the same time? Is that the issue?

[02:27] Rob: Yeah. We do. We did it last night. So, yeah, we had about, let’s say a 10-hour window to move it all.

[02:33] Mike: I don’t know what you actually did. I probably would have thought about maybe writing some sort of little extension or something like that that runs on the current server so that you could call to it from the other one and make your queries from there, until you get all the data moved over.

[02:47] Rob: Yeah.

[02:48] Mike: That’s probably what I would have tried. I don’t know how well it would have worked, though, because you are using ASP. You probably could have thrown like a .net handler or something like that on there and it probably wouldn’t have been a big deal.

[02:57] Rob: We tried that. Yeah, we did that.

[02:58] Mike: Did you?

[02:59] Rob: We did that. And I did it in .net. Yeah, essentially that and it wasn’t fast enough, but that was the first thing we tried as well. We started doing exports and trying to figure out a way to get the data out because the biggest bulk of the 200 gigs is indexes, and it’s all the stuff that comes with the database and since we’re moving it from SQL Server into PostGres, you don’t need that, right? You’re not just going to copy it across and restore it. You just need the data out of it so we tried the remote copy, like you said, across the wire. Then I started writing a little thing to basically do a dump of insert statements, kind of like when you do a MySQL dump, how it just writes out insert statements into a text file? I did that and there’s about 180 million rows in one of the tables so we did that and tried to break it up into 10 million rows at a time and then Zip those files and then FTP them and then import them and that was taking a really long time to run so we kept honing on that and in the end we found that the biggest hang up was on the insert side, right? Inserting into PostGres, not actually getting it out of the database. So we found out that PostGres has just a basic copy to function, right? So it’s just a bulk import and you have to put it in a certain CSV format and in the end that was it. The end file for the biggest table was 150 million rows in CSV file,15 gigs CSV, and the punch line is that Zipping it would have taken longer than just copying it across the wire because the connection between Amazon EC2 and our old host was so fast, because they’re both in Virginia and they must both be on trunk lines. It took like six minutes to copy a 15 gig file across. So it’s crazy. So we didn’t even have to zip it and then it took 30 minutes to copy it in. So, it was cool.

[04:42] Mike: Interesting. Yeah, I know that if you’re inserting into a transactional database and if you can get away without the indexes, then you’re golden. I mean, it’s the indexes that take so long when you’re building those tables.

[04:55] Rob: That’s right.

[04:56] Mike: One of the things that I’ve found is, some of the enterprise software that I install, it just creates these one megabyte databases and then it expands it and it adds in like two or three gigs-worth of stuff, but in doing so it creates like 2 or 3 thousand chunks that are only one meg in size because of the way SQL Server is usually set up out of the box, and you have to do all this extra waiting time, and what I have found the easiest thing to do is pre-create the database and you allocate several gigs-worth of space more than you need. Then you just run the install and it will just push things in faster because it doesn’t have to reallocate space on disk.

[05:28] Rob: Right. Yeah. And we did, we actually dropped the indexes before inserting, just dumped it all in and then we had to recreate the indexes. So inserting took 20 minutes and creating the indexes took like six hours. That was my adventure last night, so by the time this goes live, which is about a week and a half away, we should have all the kinks worked out, still have a few minor issues, but it feels good to be closing down on the days of classic ASP. The other thing I did yesterday is I recorded an explainer video, you know one that kind of explains how your app works and what it does. It’s for the homepage of Drip, and I’ll link it up in the show notes. I did it with the figures that you move on and off and the hands are actually in the video. It was pretty fun, actually. It took a while. I need five of these videos because I’m creating a different one for each kind of niche or market I’m going after and I didn’t want to pay the bazillion dollars. After getting the first one done I kind of have a script that I can reuse and paper that I can reuse and all that stuff. I was shocked at how hard it was to find good artwork. That was probably the most time-consuming thing. Aside from the actual recording.

[06:28] Mike: I watched a preview of that video. It’s really well done. It was very seamless, first of all. It very clearly explained, in what? It was like a minute and 25 seconds, exactly what the problem was that it solved and it was very clear because you didn’t have to scan a wall of text and try and figure out if it was applicable to you because it was just like the first 15-20 seconds it really talked exactly to the pain point and it gives you that ability to clearly push your message in a much shorter time frame. As video, I think that it will capture people’s attention.

[07:01] Rob: Yeah, cool, thanks. I appreciate that. That was the intent. I have a long-form sales page now in Drip, but I was trying to figure out how to convey that Drip now handles marketing and trial emails and post-sample download emails, if you’re letting people download a sample chapter, and customer emails. It’s across that whole spectrum, trying to figure out the best way to communicate it. What I’ve noticed is that as I’ve talked one on one with people who are coming on with Drip, a lot of folks in my network – I’ll explain it to them via email and they’re kind of lukewarm, but then I’ll show them a screen cast of what it does and I’ll just kind of walk through a five-minute, seven-minute look at their specific use case and how I would implement it in Drip and almost every time people are like, oh my gosh, I’m leaving Mail Chimp or whatever other provider I’m on and I’m coming to Drip because of that. So I realized that there’s something about the actual demo and showing the concepts that I needed to do and I feel like screen casts are just a little bit too boring, right, for your home page? 80 seconds was my goal. I told the story instead and I’m pretty pleased with the way it turned out so far.

[08:04] Music

[08:07] Rob: We got an email from Jacob Norton, and he says, “Have you guys done an episode talking about how to use virtual assistants and when to get one? I’m thinking I’ll need one in the future, but I’m not sure what exactly I’d have them do or when I’d need one. I get the feeling I’d want to do too much on my own to make it worth it. I know you’ve done an episode on how to hire them, but I don’t recall this being discussed.”

[08:25] So, he’s referring back to episode 68, we talked about how to hire and manage a virtual assistant. Then I also created a video course, it’s up on Udemy, and that’s at startupvacourse.com, and there’s a lot in there about how to hire and there’s some in there about why you would need one and how to manage and how to delegate and all that kind of stuff.

[08:49] But today I wanted to talk through, basically some ideas of how to use a virtual assistant in your startups, specifically. If there’s one article I could recommend it’s chrisducker.com. You’ve heard of Chris Ducker, he’s an expert in the VA space. He runs a big virtual assistant staffing firm. He has a couple good ones. One is called “101 Ways to Use a Virtual Assistant”. I actually took some ideas from his as well; but frankly, most of the ideas in this episode are from my experience, and I’m sure, Mike, I know that you share a lot of these as well. It’s my experience using virtual assistants and how, the ways that I’ve found I’ve gotten the most benefit out of them as a startup founder.

[09:28] So we have 26 ways total. I was thinking that maybe first we’d start off, you know we had one question that was kind of parallel to this and he says, “when should you get one?” Do you have an opinion or thoughts on at what point you should think about getting a virtual assistant?

[09:43] Mike: I think it depends a lot on your situation. I think the inclination, for me, would be to start looking for one when you feel like you’re doing a lot of busy work. Whether that’s answering emails, looking at some of your different stats, if you’re going back and forth between a bunch of different platforms. What you can have a VA do is kind of aggregate some of that data. Anything that’s labor-intensive where you could theoretically write an application to do all that stuff for you but it’s not cost-effective to do it. Especially if it’s stuff that you’re only going to do once. So, for example, if you’re trying to gather data or do research of any kind. Those are all things that, yes, they take time, but they’re definitely things that you could outsource to a VA and have them do it. I would look to see what sorts of things you’re doing and wait until you get to a point where you’re going to probably regularly need one. I think that if you try and hire somebody and you bring them on, you have them do one or two tasks and then you never use them again or you don’t use them for six or eight weeks or something like that, your chances are really good that you’re going to experience a lot of turnover with those people. That’s good in the respect that it gets you experience delegating some of that stuff, but it’s bad in that you don’t necessarily get experience delegating to the same person over and over again.

[10:57]So you’re almost restarting the relationship every time you have to hire somebody for it. Then you get into the situation where you are spending so much time doing hiring that you’re not actually delegating enough stuff to them to make it worth your time investment. So part of it’s a learning experience and part of it is saving you time. And you kind of have to balance between the two.

[11:15] Rob: That’s a big part of it, I think, is finding someone that you can work with on an ongoing basis, even if it’s one or two hours a week, which is how I started with my very first virtual assistant. It was very low commitment, and it worked great. I didn’t have a ton of tasks at the time. I had enough money that it didn’t really matter to pay someone $5 or $10 an hour. I think it’s hard to be too early unless you have nothing that you could hand off to someone; but if you look at your task list, like Mike said, and you find that you have anything that you feel like someone else could do, especially someone who has kind of knowledge and administrative knowledge, I think that’s the time to start thinking about doing it because your time is limited, especially if you’re launching something on the side and so you need to try to take as much advantage of your hours as you can.

[12:00]I think the other thing I’ll say before we dive into the actual tasks that you can delegate is when I say virtual assistant, I don’t mean a specialist. I don’t mean a developer. I don’t mean a designer. I don’t mean a really, really good audio or video editor. I mean a general administrative virtual assistant, kind of like someone you would have working for you in an office, like an administrative assistant. Maybe a little more technical skill than that, but as soon as you get into someone writing code for you, then I call them a developer, I don’t call them a VA anymore and as soon as someone’s doing heavy design work for you, then in my mind they’re a designer. So, while I do have some light technical tasks in this list that we’ll cover, most of them do involve things that just a light technical person could do. If I’m going to hire a VA, it’s going to be for recurring tasks. That’s where you’re going to get the most value out of it because you can explain the task once and then every week, every month, it’s done for you.

[12:54]So, the number one item on my list is tier one e-mail support. That’s if you have an app or you sell an e-book or you have a membership website or a WordPress plugin, if you’re still handing your own support after maybe, let’s say a month or two after you go live, then, even if it’s only a trickle of e-mail, it’s not the time that you’re giving, it’s the distraction, right? The distraction is what you can’t afford to give to this stuff. So, that’s a point where I encourage a lot of people to get VA’s to help them with email support. And every time I’ve done it the person, I’ve heard this so many times, well, no I only get like an email a day or a few emails a week, it’s not that big of a deal and then as soon as they hire someone and it’s off their plate and they’re not answering the same questions over and over and doing non-founder activities, it’s always the same thing, it’s like wow I should have done that sooner.

[13:40] Mike: A lot of these tasks, you look at them and, at a glance you might think that you’re the only one who can do them because, especially when it comes to some of the e-mail support, for example. If you’ve got a very technical product, especially if you’re marketing to people and saying, hey, you get to talk directly to the developers, that’s something that you kind of have to not do when you’re outsourcing your tier one email support to a VA because they’re not a developer, so they’re not going to be able to answer some of those questions. As Rob said, anything where you’ve got this repetitive process in place, that is manually labor-intensive, and that can be data entry or it can be something where you have to have somebody interacting with your customers, either one of those it doesn’t matter, there’s obviously different skill levels involved, but you still have to have a human doing it. You can’t delegate it to a computer. That’s definitely a place where you can leverage a virtual assistant for answering some of those support e-mails.

[14:31] Rob: We used to do support for The Micropreneur Academy several years ago, and I hung on to that for a while because I felt like, man, this is our community, these are our people, how can I possibly find anyone who’s going to care as much about this as I do and answer these questions well; and we found someone. Andy is our support guy, and if you’ve emailed Academy support you’ve talked to Andy. And you know what, Andy does a better job than we’d do because he’s focused on it and that’s what he does all day is handle support. He handles support for that, Drip, and HitTail and he’s now a core part of my team. I wouldn’t have given him all that responsibility from day one, until I got to know him, but what you’ll find is that if you find someone who does a decent job, they’re probably going to do a better job than you will as a founder because you’re in so much of a hurry all the time that you can’t do the focused, step-by-step stuff that a virtual assistant, a trained one who’s actually focusing on things, can do probably better than you can.

[15:25] Mike: Well, the other thing is they can also afford to spend an extra five or ten minutes polishing up an email to send it to somebody who’s emailed in to support because they have the time to do it, whereas you’re distracted. I mean any time you’re answering those support emails you probably, not only have you got it in the back of your mind, “oh I’ve got to answer these support e-mails”, but then you go into start answering them and you have it in the back of your mind, “oh, I’ve got all these other things to do.” So you’re continually distracted when you’re trying to respond to these customers. So, you’re right, a virtual assistant is going to do it a lot better than you will, just because they’re not distracted.

[15:56] Rob: The second task you can think about delegating is chat support. So if you have like a chat widget on your website, this is another no-brainer one. You’ve got to train your VA and teach them how to answer questions, and answer questions specific to your app so they don’t always have to say, “well, we’ll have someone contact you”. If you get someone decent then they can definitely monitor this during business hours.

[16:17]The third task is filtering through your e-mail. This is one I haven’t done. I’m thinking not support e-mail but actually going into your G-mail account and deleting stuff that’s irrelevant and taking a lot of the work off your plate. Have you done this, Mike?

[16:30] Mike: I have, in a way. So I’ll argue that you actually have. So, you subscribe to a service called Unroll Me.

[16:38] Rob: That’s right.

[16:39] Mike: So that’s essentially Unroll Me going in and automatically figuring out what it should roll up and aggregate and present to you in a list that basically shows you a bunch of e-mails that are probably not nearly as important as a lot of the other ones. And if you think about it, in a way, you’ve outsourced part of your email in that mechanism.

[16:57] Rob: All right. Good point. I know folks who actually have virtual assistants who, you know, in Gmail you can give someone non-administrative access to your G-mail. So they can’t do all the settings, but that they can log in and filter and label and reply and do that kind of stuff. I have absolutely toyed with this idea many, many times but every time I do I go through my inbox and I realize I don’t know how I would delegate any of these emails that are left’ but every year around the first of January when we do our goals episode and I do the retreat, I try to think about how I can make this work. And so I think one of these years it’s going to be something I dive into. Another thing you can outsource to VA’s is calendar management and appointment scheduling. I know a lot of people who do this, especially if they run podcasts where they have to coordinate with guests.

[17:42] Mike: Yeah, I outsource this to a service called Doodle Me.

[17:45] Rob: So you’re finding software replacements.

[17:47] Mike: It’s actually called Doodle.com, I believe, but basically it just integrates with my G-mail calendar and just shows people when I’m available and lets them pick a couple of different times, that way I don’t have to go back and forth with them and I can say, “hey, here’s a link to my calendar. Set up a couple of times that work for you and I’ll pick one that also works for me” because there’s probably stuff that’s not quite on my schedule. Like, if I want to go to the gym I don’t necessarily put it on my calendar but it also integrates and allows me to combine my wife’s calendar and any other shared calendars in there; so it blocks off all those times that I’m not available, which is really kind of nice.

[18:19] Rob: Right. The next one is travel arrangement or planning and I’ve definitely had a couple of different virtual assistants help with some fairly complex travel stuff that I had when me and the family were going oversees. I had him investigate visas and look at passport stuff and then try to get the best plane flights for the best times and then look at some Airbnbs because we were going to four or five different cities. And put together a short list. It was pretty complicated. But, you know, he spent several hours and kind of put together a Google doc together for us that turned out to be useful in the end. So, I think if I’m just doing a straight-ahead flight and I just need to book a ticket, it’s going to take me longer to explain to a virtual assistant than it is to actually do it. As soon as it gets complicated that’s the kind of thing that I would see outsourcing.

[18:59] Mike: Yeah, I think that kind of ties in to the next one, which is competitor research. When I was targeting banks I hired somebody to go out and look for all the banks that were within 50 miles of me. And they came back with a list and it cost me I think $18 or something like that. And I just got a Google docs spreadsheet, which was kind of nice.

[19:17] Rob: Yeah, that is cool. I think another thing that ties into that is number 8, which is lead generation. It’s kind of like prospect research, right. It’s trying to put together a list of people who you’re going to be targeting. Put together a list of potential customers that you’re either going to cold call, cold email, somehow get in touch with.

[19:34] Mike: Yeah, and that’s all just data aggregation but it’s time consuming to actually go do it. You just give them some parameters, say this is generally what I’m looking for. The thing is, you can use it as an iterative process, too. You can say, okay, here’s what I want you to do and do five of them, or ten of them or something like that, and then come back to me and let me take a look at them, kind of validate the quality. And then you can give feedback. Then they can go back and keep going so that way you don’t have this span of 20 hours that you don’t know what they’re doing and they come back and everything’s wrong because you didn’t correct very early on in the process.

[20:05] Rob: Yeah. Another thing I’ve outsourced is data-entry. And whether you have hard copies of something, I’ve had that before where I’ve only had a hard copy and OCR wasn’t doing a good job and I just scanned it and sent it to the virtual assistant and I was like, “look, I’m sorry to do this to you but can you please type this out? Can you get it into a format that I can actually use?” Then I think you do this with a bookkeeper, right? You have physical paper coming to you and she’s essentially paying your bills and entering that into your bookkeeping system.

[20:34] Mike: Yeah, I have her go log in to my different bank accounts and everything. People find this weird that I give my bookkeeper complete access to my bank account as well. She’s got PIN numbers, she’s got signatory authority, so she could actually go into my bank, ask them to open up an account and they’ll do it because she’s on the paperwork and authorized to do it.

[20:55] Rob: People think it’s weird because they’re scared? They think that she could steal from you, I guess?

[20:57] Mike: Yeah.

[20:58] Rob: Next item you can outsource is transcribing audio or video. Now we’ve tended to use a transcription service, but I have had a VA transcribe a couple things for me. I think if they’re not a specialist in this they’re kind of slow at it, so it may or may not be worth it to you, but I’ve definitely known some folks who’ve done that. Something that piggybacks on that is audio and video editing. We heavily utilize that with our podcast, obviously we don’t do the audio editing. In fact our editor both edits and then spits out the MP3 file, puts the metadata into it, uploads it to the server, schedules the WordPress post to go live at the right date and time, and gets the transcript done. She sends it out to a service and then posts it for us. So, it’s not just editing, it’s like the full life cycle, and that’s the only way that we’ve been able to put out a podcast every week because if we had to do those steps they just wouldn’t get done because we’re too busy.

[21:52] Mike: Yeah and in a way she’s essentially outsourcing that part because she doesn’t want to do the transcription, either, which I can’t say I blame her. But, you know, she’s turning around and hiring somebody else to do that. It’s great the way that that whole process works and it gives us the ability to put these out every week.

[22:06] Rob: Right. As long as we don’t have to deal with it. I don’t think we really care how it gets done, you know, as long as it’s done well. Another way,a kind of a unique one within HitTail, we have articles that people can order, right? They’re one-click articles. And they go out to this group of writers, the writers write them, and then they submit them. Early on the articles were going straight back to our customers. Well, some of them weren’t of very high quality. So, I talked to you know my tier one support guy, virtual assistant and said would you be willing to vet these articles and do a little bit of editing if needed or to request rewrites as needed and to basically be an editor, right? It’s kind of like copy-editing and checking to make sure this stuff is decent. And with a little bit of training he’s done a fantastic job. It saves us money because the service that we use to get all the writers, they were going to do it for us, but it was pretty expensive so he’s able to do it at much less cost, we’re able to maintain the control, and he’s really committed to maintaining control because if he misreads an article or it isn’t very good, he’s going to hear about it. So it’s interesting that the motivation is tied, for him, to keeping it high quality so that he doesn’t have to deal with more support requests.

[23:13] Mike: I’ve actually gone out and ordered things to put out on some of my different product websites and have had to have written and then published and then had my assistant go in and take a look at those things that are coming back and essentially critique them and do the back and forth on my behalf so that I don’t have to do it. If something is below a certain level of quality, it’s pretty obvious to anyone and you don’t necessarily need a lot of training to be able to recognize that. So that’s definitely something you could also outsource if you wanted to.

[23:40] Rob: Yeah, I agree, Like proofreading slash editing. All right another one is I put blog publishing management. Basically the idea is I will often go into HitTail and I will see a bunch of keyword suggestions and I will order like 10 articles all at once and I’ll just spend the time to figure out the titles and the keywords that I want and I’ll order them all. Then I’ll let my virtual assistant know, as those articles come in, because they’re going out to writers who are going to write them, once they come in take them all and put them in WordPress in our articles section and schedule them out so that one goes out every week for the next five or ten weeks. Then I’m able to walk away from it and forget about it and he does a good job of it. He goes in and finds an image on, Creative Commons, Flickr, and credits the author, and does all that stuff and takes care of it and as a result I’m able to build this nice footprint of content and all I had to do was just go in and specify article titles and keywords based on suggestions that it gave me.

[24:37] Mike: I used to do this for my personal blog. If I were writing a new article, I’d have somebody go in and take a look at it and do all the publishing and then submit it to a bunch of different websites where it would get at least a little bit of publicity. And back links and things like that, but I haven’t really kept track of that stuff lately. I’ve really got to do a better job of that.

[24:57] Rob: Another thing I’ve seen outsourced from startups who have VA’s to basically manage their social media presence like to do their Twitter and their Facebook stuff and they’re either writing original thoughts or a lot of times they’re link aggregating based on a topic and as long as you give them enough knowledge and they understand your business, it’s not that hard to get this kind of thing going.

[25:16] Mike: Yeah I have this set up for my AuditShark Twitter account. Mostly just automated and I have somebody go in and aggregate a bunch of stories from a bunch of different sites and then put them through and just schedule them out into the future and it works pretty well.

[25:29] Rob: Another thing I’ve seen people do, and I actually do this as well, is you know there’s this RSS to email thing where it’s software that will take your RSS feed and then put it in emails and send it out in order to keep your list warm and talk to people on your newsletter. I don’t like those things because I don’t think they make the e-mails look very good. I don’t think they do a good job of kind of teasing and putting the image there and then making people click through to your blog. It really requires, typically requires, a human’s involvement to do it. And so that’s a really good task for a virtual assistant. If you train them where the cliff hanger is, you know where the point is at which point the email should leave off. This is kind of a no-brainer task for them to do this every week as blog posts go live.

[26:09] Mike:  Yeah, and that kind of falls back into the blog publishing management because you could just add that in as part of your process and say, “okay, here are the 10 different steps that you do as part of posting something to the blog”. Then step number 9 might be to take it and turn it into an e-mail that goes out to a different set of subscribers.

[26:26] Rob: Exactly, and relating to that is moderating blog comments. As soon as you get any type of traction you’re going to start getting a lot of comments and that’s something that’s just enough of a distraction that it can be a pain and it’s a no-brainer to outsource that. Something you referenced earlier is finding images for blog posts, that’s an item I had here. Now there’s also one, slide presentations. It’s funny, I found a guy who called himself a virtual assistant but he had some good Keynote skills, so I used him to help put together my last couple of Microconf talks and he did a great job of finding images and getting just enough animations in there. I tweaked stuff at the end but he probably saved me 10 hours of work, each year. So for me that was just a total no-brainer.

[27:09] Mike: Yeah, that’s a huge time saver. And what I find is that it’s really helpful to have it done far enough in advance of any presentation that you have to do so that you can get used to what those animations are and then tweak them; because what you’re really trying to do is, you really want a VA to get you at least 80% of the way there. So in this particular case you create the content, you hand it off to somebody, and you can even create it in Word, which is what I’ve done. Hand it off to somebody, they give you back a mostly finished presentation and then you essentially tweak it from there. So if there’s animations that you don’t like, you can rip them out or put different ones in and it still gives you time to work with the content a little bit, but the reality is that they probably saved you 10-15 hours worth of work of putting together that presentation and you don’t have to do all the little tiny toggles and stuff that they had to in working everything together.

[28:01] Rob: Exactly, and so number 20 on our list, if you’re still dealing with voicemail, have your VA check it and just take the message down. Last few here. One is sending client invoices. I think that’s a no-brainer, right, if you’re still invoicing your own clients. Something’s wrong. Uploading videos to either Youtube or other video hosting. I do this all the time, holy cow, I’ve been recording screencasts lately. A lot of the screencasts I record are for training purposes, internal, and so I never edit those and I just use screencast.com. The hosting is not that great, but it works. Recently I’ve been creating a bunch of documentation screencasts for Drip, so I’ll walk through a concept and I need it to be edited pretty tight. It doesn’t have to be as tight as a marketing screencast, where it just has to shine and everything has to be polished but it has to be good enough that it’s respectable and professional. So what I’ve been doing is recording it and then giving that source file over to my virtual assistant and then he edits out the little bleeps and the um’s and the ah’s and stuff and then he uploads it to the video hosting and gives me the embed code. Next step I’m posting it to the knowledge base but the next step is to train them how to post it all the way to the knowledge base. Then it’ll be pretty much me recording and then magically seeing that go into the knowledge base a day or two later. That’s a great feeling. It really is a great feeling to be able to know that if you have to create a new knowledge base article that it’s you sitting down and recording for five minutes instead of the five minute of that and then 30 to 45 minutes of editing and then the upload. I mean, just all that stuff together, you save yourself a lot of time at that point.

[29:40] Mike: Yeah, I think people underestimate how much time you lose in doing all the context switching or just getting interrupted. And it’s easier just to outsource a lot of that stuff and just put a process in place and hand that off to a VA.

[29:53] Rob: Another thing I’ve seen Startups use VA’s for is to create SlideShare presentations from existing content. SlideShare is a pretty good marketing platform if you publish decent slides on a decent topic. If you already have good content on your blog or in an Infographic and you just need that translated into SlideShare, that’s kind of an easy way to do that. Another way I’ve seen them used I’ve actually used them is migrating from software tool to another. Do you remember when you moved from Indinero to Outright?

[30:20] Mike: Yes.

[30:21] Rob: I think you had a VA do it for you, didn’t you?

[30:22] Mike: Yes, I did.

[30:24] Rob: Yeah. Also, you know I moved from Mail Chimp into Drip and now that we’re moving more and more people I’m using the same virtual assistant to do that. So if you have a SaaS App there’s always that switching cost, but what’s interesting is you can cut some of the sting out of that if you have someone who you can show how to do that and then let them do the repetitive steps. Last two here, number 25 is member management for your membership website. Realistically it’s close to tier one support if you have a membership website, but especially with our software, WishList Member, which let’s just say it leaves a lot to be desired, there’s a lot of manual processes that have to happen so there’s some intense stuff that our virtual assistant has had to learn in order to keep that going well. There’s a lot of manual processes and some repetitive things that need to get done every month and even every week. So that’s something that I would think about outsourcing to someone.

[31:14] Mike:  Yeah, the interesting thing is if you take a look at the Micropreneur Academy and how everything’s set up in there, the vast majority of the things that happen, most of them are systemized and outsourced to somebody because they’re labor intensive. It’s not just that they’re repetitive tasks, but it’s also that there are decisions that need to be made while performing those tasks. So you might need to process a payment or an email or something like that but there’s all these little things that factor into it and it’s very difficult to write code that’s actually going to take all those things into account. It’s easier to just give somebody some guidelines and say, “hey, if this happens then do this, but generally just use your best judgment about what to do in these specific cases.”

[31:56] Rob: And the 26th way to utilize a VA in your startup is to have them do the concierge service in your app. So, with HitTail we need tracking code installed or we used to need tracking code installed, and that was no-brainer for me to have the virtual assistant do it for free in order get people using the app and same thing with all of the five-day mini-course compilations and creations that we’re doing with Drip. I did those very, very early on. I did both of these things just to get enough experience with it to learn how to teach someone and then it was a no-brainer to hand it off. I am a big fan of concierge services in general. I think it sets you apart from your competitors and getting someone in there to help you with it and like a VA is a great way to do it.

[32:40] Mike:  Well, Jacob, hopefully this episode helped answer your question. If anyone else has a question for us, you can call it in to our voicemail number at 1-888-801-9690 or you can email it to us at questions@startupsfortherestofus.com. Our theme music is an excerpt from “We’re Out of Control by MoOt” used under Creative Commons. You can subscribe to us in iTunes by searching for startups or by RSS at startupsfortherestofus.com where you’ll also find a full transcript of each episode. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next time.

 

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3 Responses to “Episode 196 | How to Use a VA in Your Startup”

  1. Hey guys,

    Love the podcast and listen to it every day…57 episodes to go until I’m caught up! :)

    I just published a post on my blog outlining how I use oDesk to grow my business and linked to this podcast also within that.

    For anyone interested in seeing a walkthrough of how I use it – you can check it out here: http://justinmcgill.net/how-i-use-odesk-to-manage-freelancers-and-virtual-assistants/

    Cheers guys and keep up the great podcast!

  2. Hey Guys,

    Just curios what sources you use for finding a VA? ODesk? Elance? I know Pat Flynn has endorsed Virtual Staff Finder but that would be for more of a commitment. Thanks in advance.

    Just a note: I love your podcast and listen to it every week. In fact I’ve created a podcast app that displays all the content that is mentioned in your podcasts. I’ve enhanced over 40 of your podcast episodes so far. Maybe check it out when you have a second. EnhanceCast.com

    • oDesk. See StartupVaCourse.com for a video course I created on how to hire a VA (basically, everything I know about the topic).