The inside guide to working with a virtual assistant

I never thought I’d be a VA.

Once upon a time, I was a successful blogger in my own right. I’d report on blogging trends and would curate a yearly post about Bloggers To Watch.

It was fun, it was challenging – but it didn’t feel right. I learned that I’m the type of person that works best behind the scenes- one that helps other bloggers rock their online presence. I’ve always been super savvy, but are better applying those skills to other blogs.

Working for Caz and Craig has been like a dream come true.

I’ve been able to help them make more money and increase their audience. I know I’m saving them time, which makes me so happy as they are one of the hardest working blogging teams I’ve met. Part of my work was actually researching how I could be a better virtual assistant.

This post shares what Caz, Craig and I have learned over the past eight months. We’ve had to figure stuff out on the go, and have made mistakes. But we’ve now developed a good working relationship that needs minimal communication – which is so helpful when they are in remote areas!

What I do

I do a combination of social media, responding to emails, and researching and implementing strategies. Sometimes this can be incredibly boring, such as spending 20 hours adding links to old blog posts. Sometimes it can be really awesome, like when I get to give feedback on new social media platforms and techniques.

I try to act as a second brain. Someone who can anticipate what they need before they need to ask me. It can be difficult, especially when my life gets really busy. I love being able to give them more time to enjoy their travels, though.

Social Media

I originally came on to work on social media, primarily Pinterest.

I had managed Darren Rowse’s Digital Photography School Pinterest account for two years and had written a couple of articles about it. We met at Darren’s ProBlogger event, chatted about Pinterest, and talked about working together. I started off by doing five hours a week scheduling Pinterest items.

They could have easily hired someone else to do this at a cheaper rate.

A benefit of hiring someone with more experience though is that they will give you better feedback on what does and doesn’t work. We quickly learned that they got the best return by focusing on creating high quality Pinterest graphics for their post. I still help them with pinning some relevant content onto their boards.

As a result, we changed my focus to other projects.

The Makepeaces made a list of best practice strategies they would love to implement through their social media channels.

They LOVE you guys – you have no idea how much they genuinely want to support their community.

Like with Pinterest, these strategies were great but wouldn’t have a direct benefit. We realized that the best strategy would be for them to continue what they were doing being in control of updates and being the voice of the community, with me helping out with social media updates when they were out of range.

Currently I post on Facebook and Twitter when necessary.

I check to see whether there are any questions that need answering. I always disclose when it is me answering. I follow all of their updates to make sure I’m up to speed and at the moment. I’m working more in the background now.

Hi, I'm Jade :)
Hi, I’m Jade 🙂

Managing Email

“Our inbox is a mess!” Caz warned me when I first logged into their main email account. They had been doing their best to manage everything, but they just didn’t have the time.

There were a lot of emails that they hadn’t been able to respond to and a lot that just needed organizing. My first job was to clean up the emails.

I archived the emails that weren’t relevant. I filed others away. I got the emails down to 100.

From there, we started talking about strategy. My role was to respond to the emails that didn’t need their involvement. I would organize the existing emails so that the inbox was clean and we would create the processes as we went.

The first thing I did was check out a podcast where Pat Flynn shared the email management strategies he’d recently implemented. I read the transcript and emailed them with the highlights.

We ‘borrowed’ Pat’s strategy. We created two new folders: Priority, and Less Urgent. These are the main ones the Makepeaces check daily.

Here, I place the emails from:

  • tourism boards and those they are liasing with for travel
  • friends and those they are travelling with
  • Conversations with potential sponsors
  • Client conversations

These types of conversations are beyond my scope. It’s possible that we could train me to take over some of these conversations. At this point, it is easier for them to handle it.

I generally handle:

  • Guest post requests. These get deleted, as per the disclaimer on the contact page.
  • Media Kit requests. I send them out to those that request them and will turn away those that provide a counter offer that is too low.
  • Interview requests. A lot of these are turned down at the moment, due to their time constraints.
  • Invitations from tourism boards, speaking requests etc.

Occasionally, I get an email that requires their input.

We have a section in Asana for me to ask questions about emails that need responses. I summarize the email so they don’t get bogged down with irrelevant information. This actually saves us a lot of time!

I’m always learning how to do this better. I talked to Caz and Craig a lot when I first started, asking what the best strategy for certain emails was. I need less of their input now.

Sometimes they get in and respond to some emails before I’ve had a chance to check the inbox. Things are a lot easier to manage now.

(oodles of gratitude for clearing up our inbox Jade. I feel I can semi breathe again and my focus can be put in the right places – Caz)

Updating old posts

Caz and Craig have been blogging since 2010. That means that they have a pretty big archive of posts! I went through all of the posts and:

  • Identified posts that could be linked together
  • Looked for potential affiliate opportunities and added a link
  • Created a template for certain types of posts. For instance, now accommodation reviews have the same information at the end of the post
  • Fixed any formatting issues
  • Organized the posts according to the new category structure

This was incredibly time-consuming, but it made the site a lot more user friendly. As a result, there was a solid increase in Amazon affiliate commissions.

If you are thinking about doing this, brainstorm every task that you want to do. I had to go back into the archives when we thought of new tasks, which took more time then if we had done everything at once.

Curating posts

I also help gather the resources and curate the content for Caz and Craig’s regular Sunday Spotlight post, highlighting a destination and sharing all the great content written about it on the web.

(Btw – a reader recently said how this feature is just one of the reasons they love our site so much – it saves them hours of researching time on Google . Forget Google, we collate the best in one place for you -Caz)

Virtual Assistant Tools that have helped us

Caz and Craig are very, very busy. I don’t know how they are able to get everything done sometimes, they are juggling so many different things. Because of this, we always look at ways we can be more efficient.

Asana

Originally, we used to organize all of our information in Google docs and communicate via email. This got so messy! It was easier just to create projects in Asana and move the conversations over to there. We were able to find everything in the one place and stayed on track a lot easier.

  • Virtual Freedom: How to Work with Virtual Staff to Buy More Time, Become More Productive, and Build Your Dream Business

We used this book to get ideas about how to be a better VA. Some of it didn’t apply to our direct work situation, but it gave them other ideas about how to leverage outsourcing. Of course, I read this first and sent them my notes.

My tips for working with Virtual Assistants

  • Build rapport with your VA: One of the reasons we work so well is because we get on well. We are all able to be up front and tell each other when we think an idea isn’t working out. This helps us save time and money, and focus on really growing the business.
  • Take them behind the scenes of your business: Filtering their email has allowed me to see exactly how much work goes into what they do. It also means I’m able to see ways they can improve processes or offer suggestions for tasks I can help with.
  • Pay promptly: I’ve been freelancing for about 5 years. Sometimes the money can be unpredictable, and it’s hard to do your best work when you are under financial pressure. Caz and Craig always pay on time, which means I can spend less time worrying and more time making their business more awesome.

What do you need help with for your business? Is there anything else you’d like to know about how we work?

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BIO: Jade Craven is the community manager at y Travel Blog. She is a marketing nerd that loves word of mouth, curation and all things social media. When away from the computer, she enjoys hiking, birdwatching and photography.
Tips on being a Virtual Assistant
credit: Shutterstock.com

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