I’ve tried having virtual assistants twice — and I failed both times.

We’ve all been told the virtues of having an assistant.

It starts with the 80/20 Principle.  80% of your results are generated by 20% of your efforts.  80% of your work time is wasted on generating only 20% of your results.  It goes both ways.

Free yourself from the menial tasks that are in that 80% generating only 20% of your efforts, and you’re able to focus on the most important activities.

You can devote more time to the 20% of what you were doing before, that was generating 80% of your income, results, and success…  And presumably multiply your success many times over, without working more.

We all have Unique Abilities — using the language of Dan Sullivan at Strategic Coach.  We all have those things we do that we’re irreplaceable at.  Where we contribute a unique value that can’t be outsourced.  The more time we spend in our Unique Abilities, the more profitable and productive we become.  The more we’re drawn away, the less value we create in the world, and the less success we experience.

And presumably having an assistant is the way out of that mess.

I’ve tried.  Believe me, I’ve tried.

First, I tried to hire local.  I found a Lincoln, Nebraska-based virtual assistant, who helped me with a bunch of tasks around the podcast I once ran (prior to Breakthrough Marketing Secrets).

It worked okay.  She did a lot of scheduling and follow-up.  She helped make sure things were relatively in order for that.

But I got frustrated.  Because I was taking as much extra time to manage my assistant as she was saving me on those tasks.  I’d often have to do 90% of the work I hoped she’d do, and then hold her hand as she did the last 10%.

I don’t want to blame it on her.  I was probably a pain to work for.  I like things to be a certain way.  I have high expectations.  And I don’t always communicate those well, as I expect you to be able to fill in the gaps.

Let’s call it a miss-fit.

So I went a while without a virtual assistant.

Then as I was looking to scale up certain aspects of my business, I decided to try again.

So I went with a service that said they specialized in process.  They said all the right things on their website.  They told me they’d help create processes to take things off my plate.  And for a fixed fee, I’d have a ton of access to not one but an entire team to help me with my business.

It started off pretty well.  They did help with process.  But they also pushed me to create work for them.  Which led to going down some paths that were a distraction for my business.  In a world of unlimited time and possibilities, the paths we pursued were really exciting.  But, I don’t have unlimited time.  I have limited time and have to prioritize.

Not only that — the things I really wanted them to focus on that would have added to my core business were a bit outside of their skill set.  Without that, it was hard for me to redirect them back to what what would help me focus on my Unique Ability.

80/20.  I realized after a few months that I was doing a lot of 80% activities with this assistant service, because I had allowed myself to prioritize creating work for them overt taking care of my business.  Bad news.

So we parted ways.  Again, I think it was a miss-fit, more than anything else.

Now I’m considering trying again.

Here’s what I’ve learned from my failure — so hopefully you can avoid some of my mistakes!

I think the #1 thing that is necessary for assistants or adding to your team in any way is CLARITY.

What do you want out of bringing this additional support on board?  What are your expectations that need to be met for you to be happy?  How, specifically, do they need to help you move toward your goals?

I have a lot going on in this area right now.

First off, I’ve been using the Traction system for my business, from Gino Wickman’s book by the same name.  This is a short- and long-term planning method to really focus on what’s important to pursue in your business.  I’ve known about it for a few years, but this first quarter is my first close-to-by-the-book application, and it’s going well so far.  Later today I’ll also be attending a meeting of local entrepreneurs who use it, who meet quarterly to share ideas on how to do it even better.

What does this have to do with bringing in an assistant?  Simple.  I have a lot more clarity and focus on what needs to happen today to drive my business forward toward achieving much bigger long-term goals.  This will prevent the distraction that derailed my second attempt at working with an assistant service.

Second, I’m learning from my mistakes.

At one point I thought just having an assistant would be good enough.  That was a lot of work, and didn’t help all that much.  Then, I thought having an assistant plus process would be good.  Now I’ve learned that even that didn’t meet my tough expectations.

So what was missing? 

Skill set.  With process plus skill set, I am confident I will get better results, even if I don’t get my ideal results right away.  The better I’m able to define the process, broken down into every little component tasks, the more clarity any help I retain will be able to meet my expectations.  And if that help comes with the skill sets required to perform at a high level at each item, I am confident this next experience will be at the very least an improvement on the previous.

What does this mean though?  Be ready to pay more.  Anyone with a talent in a specialist skill set will be more expensive than a generalist assistant.  However, if I consider it an investment rather than a cost, and focus them on activities that add to my bottom line, I have every reason to believe this will get me closer to a very attractive ROI.

The good news?  I’ve long known about a business that is focused on process plus maintaining a team with the kind of skill sets I believe will contribute very high ROI to my business.

The business is Leverage — formerly known as Less Doing.  It was created by Ari Meisel, the author of Less Doing, More Living, and his partner Nick Sonnenberg.  They’re tied into the direct marketing world enough that the kinds of capabilities I need to take Breakthrough Marketing Secrets to the next level are well within their grasp.

Plus, they have a bill-by-the-minute model, leveraging a large network of skilled outsourced talent.  What does this mean?  Well, they manage a network of the best talent with the skill sets to do each task.  When they put someone on your task, that person clocks in.  When they’re done, they clock out.  This could be 5 minutes, or it could be 5 hours.  It doesn’t matter.  You’re only billed for the time you use.  You pay a monthly fee for access to the network, plus a handful of other resources.  But then you’re only paying for their high-value team when you’re using the time.

I’m confident this solves the biggest challenges of my previous assistant attempt that led to failure…

Even so — this is how I’m going to test this new service to see if we’re actually going to work…

I have to be careful.  Because if I go in expecting a magic button (as I admittedly did when I’d hired assistants previously), I’m sure to be disappointed.

Not only that, if I try to get them to do too much, too fast, I’m sure to be disappointed as well.

So what I did was to fill out an Impact Filter for the service, to test one specific but highly-useful and highly-leveraged process with them.

Instead of wondering what they could do for me, or bringing them all the things I hope they can eventually do, I defined one project.  This has a clear set of steps, requiring a mix of talents, with a clear beginning and end.

Then I asked:

— What is the purpose of this? What do I want to accomplish here?

— Why is it important? What’s the biggest difference it will make?

— What’s my ideal outcome? What does the completed project look like?

— What are the success criteria?  What has to be true when this project is finished?

— What’s the worst that could happen if I don’t take action on this?

— What’s the best thing that will happen if this is a huge success?

And note, this isn’t for the service as a whole, though some of my notes imply the relationship’s value if successful.  Rather, this is all for the single first project I will ask them to complete, to test the working relationship and their capability to handle a number of different but highly-relevant tasks for me.

By the time the week is through, I expect to at least start the conversation with them.

Big picture, if you’re considering getting an assistant…

— First, make sure you know what you expect — get clarity on why they will accelerate your success.

— Second, get crystal-clear on the one project you want to use to test them.

— Third, be ready to create the process that they’ll follow.

— Fourth, make sure you know the skill sets necessary for their success, and confirm they offer that.

— Fifth, dive in with the test, recognizing that it’s just a test and you’re clear on what you’ll do whether it is a success or failure.

Yours for bigger breakthroughs,

Roy Furr

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