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Smart Move for Your Home Business: Hiring a Virtual Assistant

Six months after Tamara Schumer, of Fairfax, Va., opened her home window treatment business in 2016, she took off. “I got lucky,” says Schumer, owner of Budget Blinds of Arlington & Alexandria. “But it was very stressful trying to manage customer service, scheduling, follow-up, orders, sales – all on my own.”

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So she decided to hire a few virtual assistants to help her run some of her stuff from their home. What a relief that turned out to be.

“It’s my second career, and I wanted to have fun with my work.”

“I needed someone to answer my phone and answer my emails,” Schumer says. “I have a voicemail service, but they were very impersonal. I wanted to tell someone enough about the business, so they could help me screen calls and qualify opportunities.”

Schumer hired FlexProfessionals, a recruitment and staffing firm for the Boston and Washington, DC areas, which hired a woman to be its virtual office manager.

“She answers the phone, makes appointments, and protects me from myself,” Schumer says. “If I answer the phone, I always say ‘yes’ to the customer and push myself. She takes care of customer service issues and orders, so I can really focus on generating revenue. It’s been extremely helpful .”

Then Schumer added a part-time remote accountant to the fold. Although Schumer had previously served as the administrative vice president of M&T Bank, handling accounting details, she hates these kinds of tasks and wanted to offload them.

“It’s my second career and I wanted to have fun with my job. I’m spending money to have these women support me, but it allows me to focus on sales,” Schumer says.

Hire an assistant to focus on your priorities

If you have a home-based business or are planning to start one, hiring one or more part-time virtual assistants can also give you more time to focus on what you want to do and where you need to go. what you are the best.

“Our phone rings daily with calls from small businesses, many of them independent contractors, stressed about getting their business off the ground,” says Gwenn Rosener, partner and co-founder of FlexProfessionals. “Some are running around with their hair on fire, trying to juggle everything from bookkeeping to marketing to filing taxes and doing nothing right. Some are locked in paralysis; they have so much to do that they don’t know what to focus on, how to take a step forward.”

In fact, one thing the entrepreneurs I interview tell me frequently is that when they look at what they would have done differently when starting their business, they wish they had delegated tasks sooner.

But forcing yourself to do so is difficult.

As someone who runs a media business from home, writing books and articles, and speaking in public, I get it. Asking for and paying for help can be a psychological and financial dilemma. It’s easy to get into the superman or superwoman mindset that only you can do what needs to be done.

Additionally, uneven revenue streams (particularly at the start of a business) can make it difficult to justify costs.

A smart investment

But experts say one or more virtual assistants can be a wise investment.

“As an entrepreneur, your most valuable resources are your time and attention. It’s best to reserve your time and attention for activities that are truly core to your value proposition,” says Daniel Forbes., Associate Professor at the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota and EIX Editorial Board Editor at the Schulze School of Entrepreneurship at the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis. (Full disclosure: The Schulze Foundation is a funder of Next Avenue.)

Most likely, according to Forbes, the activities you’ll want to focus on are those that relate to your product or service and your customers.

“They are less likely to involve administrative tasks such as bookkeeping or shipping,” Forbes says. “Dropping those less central activities can give you more time to focus on your critical tasks.”

Plus, he notes, outsourcing certain jobs can allow you to take advantage of the skills and passions of others. “You can leave it to them and reap the rewards of their skill and expertise,” Forbes says.

Just ask Crissie Agnew, who works around 30 hours a week as an accounting manager for two clients, including LRZ Consulting, an accounting and bookkeeping firm the owner runs from home.

Agnew has the chops for the job. Before returning to work in May after a care break, she had held senior positions at Host Marriott and MedImmune as head of external financial reporting and technical accounting.

Hiring a virtual assistant doesn’t have to break the bank.

According to Rosener, general back-office support, such as an administrative or operations assistant, can cost between $25 and $35 per hour; accountants typically start around $30 per hour and accountants with an accounting degree and/or CPA cost around $40 to $50 per hour. A controller works $50 to $60 an hour and a CFO costs $70 an hour or more, Rosener says.

If you’re using a company like Rosener’s, the rates would also include a fee to cover recruiting and vetting candidates for the position and handling contractor billing and payroll.

4 tips for hiring a virtual assistant

Here are four tips for hiring and working with a virtual assistant:

1. Do an MRI on your daily tasks. Write them all down, including mundane email correspondence, purchasing office supplies, and creating and executing sales pitches and presentations.

If a task isn’t generating revenue, chances are it could be done by someone else.

If a task isn’t generating revenue, chances are it could be done by someone else.

2. Tap into your professional and personal networks to find potential candidates. CV screening, interviewing and onboarding an assistant can be a zap of time. A reliable recommendation from a colleague or friend can be an easy way to find one.

To streamline the process, you may also consider posting a position on your professional association’s website or contacting recruitment agencies such as Boldy, FlexProfessionals, Work at Home Vintage Experts (WAHVE),, and We Work. From a distance.

You can also post a virtual job posting on social media platforms, like Twitter or a Facebook industry group.

Another route is to post your opening on sites like RatRaceRebellion (if it passes their review).

3. Write a specific job description. Be transparent about the duties the position entails and what it’s like to work with you – your management style or work style. This requires serious self-assessment, but providing a realistic picture of the work is essential.

Remember: Hiring a motivated part-timer also depends on communicating what you can offer, such as intriguing projects or opportunities for growth and development.

4. Build trust. It’s vitally important, says Maria Cindea, of Vienna, Va., who practically works as a part-time accountant for four companies.

“Some of my clients had a hard time letting go, I noticed. But little by little, others came to me,” says Cindea. “When they dropped something in my lap, I would take the ball and go with it. A lot of it is about building trust. Now I’m like a member of their family.”

As a small business operator, Schumer wholeheartedly agrees.

“You can’t be a control freak and be afraid that they can’t do [the job] pretty well,” Schumer says. “You have to get over yourself. You have to have a little faith that if you show them and teach them, it will only benefit you.”

If you keep trying to do it all yourself, adds Schumer, you’re just going to go around in circles and get by. “But if you have someone to help you, it will give you the opportunity to do other things. It’s adorable.”

Editor’s note: This article is part of America’s Entrepreneurs, a Next Avenue initiative made possible by the Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation and EIX, the Entrepreneur and Innovation Exchange.

Photograph by Kerry Hannon
Kerry Hannon is the author of Great Pajama Jobs: Your Complete Guide to Working From Home. She has covered personal finance, retirement, and careers for The New York Times, Forbes, Money, US News & World Report, and USA Today, among others. She is the author of more than a dozen books, including Never Too Old to Get Rich: The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Start a Business Mid-Life, Money Confidence: Really Smart Financial Moves for Newly Single Women, and What’s Next? Finding your passion and your dream job in your 40s, 50s and beyond. His website is Follow her on Twitter @kerryhannon. Read more

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