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.

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?

More online business content

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

30 thoughts on “The inside guide to working with a virtual assistant”

  1. How does one get started in a field like this? I think I’m more prone to enjoying being behind the scenes and actually think I would really enjoy this sort of work. Are there any good starter jobs or ways to get your foot in the door?

    1. I found most of my work accidentally, via word of mouth. I worked for a digital agency for a about a year and my client recommended me to a prominent blogger for Pinterest work. I wrote a couple of articles about Pinterest and became known for being savvy at social media.

      I met Caz and Craig at a conference last year and, a couple months later, they contacted me about possibly working together.

      This doesn’t really answer your question. It does show that networking can be just as important as skills. You need to be able to easily show your expertise, too.

    2. Rebekah – I’ve started to pick up some freelance work in the VA area (also being a blogger) and rather than saying it’s skill, it was sheer fluke – for example being on twitter and seeing someone tweet that they needed someone to help them! I’ve also seen people ask for VA recommendations in private Facebook groups, so that’s another great place to be active.

  2. Anne Sutherland-Smith

    Jade, thanks for sharing how you help Caz and Craig run their business.

    Your article has provided me with some great insights and tools in how to grow my blog to the next level, and it is interesting to hear how you have developed your skills over time to be well positioned to fill this role.

  3. I can appreciate how difficult Jade’s role would be and how hard she works. I also love how transparent everything is when you publish this on y travel blog. It’s great to see and really helps people feel like more a part of the blog and a community. Thank you for sharing this with us! 🙂

    1. I agree Stacy. I wasn’t into ytravelblog prior to working for them because, well, I’m too broke to travel. I’m really invested in the brand now because I’ve seen what it is like behind the scenes. It’s so fascinating to watch all the little pieces that go into making a successful blog.

      So many people think travel blogging is press trips and relaxing. It’s so much more complicated then that. Taking us behind the scenes has been great for Caz and Craig – it shows how much work truly goes into this lifestyle.

  4. The tips of getting to know each other and letting them see your business are very wise. It takes time to build up a good working relationship. A long term situation is best.

    And if an assistant doesn’t have a wider view it is very difficult for them to make good judgements.

    1. Definitely. Knowing more about who they are, and what they want, has helped me do the right thing when answering emails or doing social work. I love it when Caz says that I’ve read her mind – I really want to make their lives easier. I have their goals in mind when I do anything. I think it really helps.

  5. Johanna at ZigaZag

    I think you’re doing an awesome job, Jade, and I loved this look behind the scenes. I have two blogs both of which are just beginning to take off (I’m a slow starter!) and can see that soon I’m going to have to make some hard decisions about what I can and can’t handle myself, so your post was so interesting.

    1. Hi Johanna!

      I’m pretty sure you were at Problogger Event this year, I did the live tweeting so sort of got to ‘see’ everyone. I actually read your blog about Western Australia. So keen to visit there for the wildlife. (And wave rock. And the brilliant long distance walking trails)

      You may find Chris Duckers book on Virtual Assistants to be useful. It was clarifying for me. You may also find it easier to outsource to someone in the US. I, and others, have to charge more because the cost of living is so high here. Make sure you have a clear idea about the tasks you need help with, and what you will be able to do with the time you save. It’s a learning curve! Let me know if I can help with anything.

  6. Great post and love that Caz & Craig you are willing to share all with your followers from your hard days to the joys and the mechanics behind the scene- I think I am more like Jade – behind the scenes person – however blogging was a way for me to get out of my comfort zone and try something new and a subject that I am passionate about – In response to ‘What do you need help with for your business?’ Answer:Everything – as novice blogger am still figuring it out as I go along.

    1. I’m the same, Frenchie. I LOVE being a behind the scenes person but also need to get out of my comfort zone. I have severe anxiety though, so ended up stepping back from blogging somewhat. Working at y Travel Blog has been a way for me to learn more and stay connected without scaring me!

      In response to your other comment, the smartest people are those that know what types of knowledge they are lacking in. Admitting that your a novice means that you are aware of how much their is to learn. I usually tell people to focus on the stuff that makes it easier for people to feel connected to you: have a solid about page, create a useful ‘start here’ page and listen to feedback from your community.

  7. This is really interesting, hearing all the things that you help Caz and Craig with. I can’t decide if it makes me want to GET a virtual assistant or BE a virtual assistant! I probably don’t know enough about social media strategy, but most of the other things you do are things I’m good at. Hmm…

    1. You can do both. Work on the stuff you love doing for others but outsource the boring stuff on your own sites. I’d definitely do that if it was feasible!

      There is a lot of demand at the moment for people who can help others with email. The main things they are after is good communication skills (grammar especially, if they are an editor or writer) and timeliness. I’ve gotten a number of inquiries via word of mouth for those types of roles, but have been unable to take any more work on.

      It’s definitely fun to think about, though. I lost my blogging mojo so working for Caz and Craig has been fun.

  8. Christina @ Mr and Mrs Romance

    Great post Jade! Love this behind the scenes look and it’s fascinating to get an insight into how you like to work and some great tips for working with a VA

  9. Great insight! I have always enjoyed following along but with the new site design and super helpful info like this being posted, I have found myself checking in and clicking around more than ever. Thanks for leading the way guys!

  10. I’ve been following yTravelBlog for a while now and I really love the inspiring posts, which just seem to get better and better, so y’all must be doing something right! 🙂
    I too think I’m more of a ‘behind-the-scenes’ type of person, and although I’ve tried a bit of dabbling in blogging it does scare me somewhat, the thought of putting myself out there. I would really like to explore the option of being a VA, so thank you for this very informative post which has opened my eyes to some very exciting possibilities!

    1. Gaye, if you’re interested in being a VA I recommend reading Chris Duckers book and checking out the link about how Pat Flynn organized his inbox. Those two resources were really helpful for me! There is demand, whenever I talk about my work I always get emails from people desperate for help. Especially if you are really savvy with the needs of niche bloggers.

      All the best

  11. Basically, VA do the “side quests”. But don’t underestimate this side quests, their pretty tedious. I’ve experienced them myself and they’re a handful. I can really relate when it comes to handling the e-mails. Nice read, Jade. I’m sure this will inspire a lot to become Virtual Assistants too.

  12. I’ve been a VA for the last 2 years now. The most important thing is communication, then building that rapport with your client. It feels good to deliver according to client expectations and to save them time.

  13. Hi Jade.
    I love you!! Seriously, your assistance sounds amazing. Can you please email me and tell me what your rates are? I feel like I need some help to grow and get my feet off the ground with my blog. Perhaps just a few months of tweaking and fine tuning. I have so many angles I want to pursuit. Can we talk? Thanks, Anita

  14. This is a great resource Jade. I also fell into doing VA work for blogging friends because of my years of admin experience across a variety of industries. It was all ticking along quietly until I arrived at Problogger this year with a handful of business cards and an unfinished website. I wasn’t intending to promote my as -yet- unlaunched VA business but in the spirit of taking imperfect action, I started talking to people about it and gained more clients. Now I’m stepping it up a notch by taking 12 months leave from my job to see where this takes me.

  15. Thank you for sharing this, Jade. I am a virtual assistant and I am quite familiar with the tools you mentioned above, especially Asana. Asana has a great feature that you can manage your tasks, schedules and to monitor all of your work. Actually it really is a big help with someone who has a problem arranging his files. You can make insturctions and tasks and after doing each task, you can tick it off as sign that you are already done with that part. Looking forward for more guides in the future.

  16. I own a virtual assistance company, and I’m interested in catering to bloggers–travel bloggers, in particular. I’m wondering what problems are facing travel bloggers, that a) they don’t/can’t deal with by themselves, and b) are significant enough that they’d be willing to pay someone to help them. In other words, I’m trying to find my niche. Thank you in advance, for your time!

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