After reading “The Four Hour Work Week,” and hearing author Timothy Ferriss extol the virtues of a virtual assistant, I figured I’d give it a shot, after all, I’m game for an inexpensive way to offload the more monotonous aspects of my work, such as reporting on client coverage and handling mailings.
Let me tell you, it seems like I need an assistant to help me track down a virtual assistant. My criteria were, I thought, pretty simple - inexpensive to moderately-priced support for about 20 hours per month. Well, you’d be surprised by how this can be a challenge to find.
First off, i went with the sites recommended in Ferriss’ book, starting with TasksEveryDay.com. They offer some good pricing plans, but none quite matched what I wanted. They wanted to set me up with a permanent assistant, someone specifically assigned to me, which meant I needed to lock in a set amount of hours per week, and guarantee 40 hours per month. After some less-than-masterful haggling on my part, I got them to agree to 20 hours per month, but they wanted it split over two 10-hour weeks. Knowing that my needs don’t just fall at the end of the month, I began the haggling process anew with them. This time, they agreed to let me split it out on a daily basis, if I bought a 40 hour plan, agreeing to 2 hours max usage per business day. That seemed agreeable, until I found out that time does not “bank” if it’s unused. So, for example, if I didn’t use my assistant on Monday and Tuesday of a week, those four hours were lost, just “poof!” - gone. Knowing the way the PR biz works, some days you need no help at all, and then some days you need someone ASAP. Thus, I headed off to try something else…e-lance.
E-Lance was another site recommended in the book, and while it’s definitely more expensive than something like TasksEveryDay, it lets you find people better matched to your needs, and more accommodating to your scheduling. For example - I just found someone to help me with end-of-month reports, which can take 10-20 hours. But it’s not the quickest, nor easiest process in the world.
The process started out simple enough - just post a “job” and wait for the bids to roll in. After waiting a few days and getting no bites (and I wasn’t even trying to be cheap!) I started to search e-lance for specific providers and directly offer them the option to bid. This worked better, but for five offers I sent out, only one replied. Thankfully, she’s worked in PR in the past, and knew exactly what I was looking for. Easy enough, right?
Wrong…next up, the actual follow-up process. First, you have to put money in an e-lance escrow account. The amount is based upon the person’s bid, so you’re pre-paying, but it sits in the account until you both agree the work’s done.
Once the funding is done, you are expected to use their internal contact system to upload instructions, supporting documents, messages, etc to the bidder. It’s fine if you’re into a system that looks like it was written back in the Web 1.0 days, but I needed more immediate results, especially since e-lance seems to take several hours to a full day to send you update emails. Thankfully, I found my new assistant’s email, and we started corresponding directly. Much more efficient, and via Google Docs and Zoho Creator, I was able to set her up with all the info she needs. We’ll probably still use e-lance for the “bidding,” just so e-lance can do the legwork of producing 1099’s for her, but to get the work done, I’m working directly with her.
Oh, and if you’re looking for a pretty good book on time management, check out “The Four Hour Work Week.” There’s some pie-in-the-sky stuff in there (like really, a four hour work week?, c’mon!), but the sections on time management are very helpful.