How to Manage a Virtual Team
Imagine you’re a full-time author. Waking without an alarm, you roll out of bed, get dressed and make breakfast. Outside, it’s sunny. Swallows flit past your window and you watch, knowing that, while you’re humming Morning Has Broken and preparing coffee, everyday workers are clambering into their cars, stressing over traffic and bosses. As they arrive at work, you’re writing at a comfortable pace, sipping your drink, occasionally glancing out the window for inspiration. The process is blissful. And by the time lunchtime appears, you’ve logged a few thousand words.
Content, you cut sandwiches for lunch and switch on the internet. Then your phone beeps. It’s your assistant, Jade:
“Afternoon! I’ve applied for a BookBub Deal and your book got accepted!”
Another message follows:
“I’ve also formatted your newsletter, chased bookstore orders and designed your social media graphics.”
These are tasks you haven’t done in years. Munching on your sandwich as you approach the stairs, you thank Jade with your free hand and check your sales dashboards. Encouragingly, revenue has doubled this year. You smile. Then, distracted, you miss a step.
Bread clogs your throat as you fall and you shudder awake. Breathing heavily, confused for a moment, you realise you were dreaming. You’re in bed. A notepad rests nearby containing a to-do list of marketing tasks; weeks of missed newsletter deadlines and promo opportunities. Beside it, your laptop sits pregnant with a half-finished novel you’re too busy to finish. Staring at the ceiling, you wonder, Could I really write and have an assistant handle the rest?
The answer: absolutely! Many successful authors do it. Getting to that place, however, isn’t an overnight journey, nor will the reality look as you imagine. While everyone wants an assistant who can do everything they need, few have all of the necessary skills. Authors who can afford to simplify their lives with virtual assistants (VAs) often do so by building a team, each member working a few hours a week. And while the idea of managing a team might cause your throat to close faster than that sandwich, it needn’t worry you. In today’s blog post, we’ll show you how to build and manage a team of VAs to free up more time for writing.
One common calamity to avoid before starting is making the mistake of not knowing exactly what to outsource in advance. Lots of us have a vague idea, but that’s not the same as a concrete plan. Often, after getting a VA and promising them a minimum weekly workload, authors who try to wing it find that the tasks they want to outsource are:
- Busy work that costs money and produce no return
- Work they would rather handle themselves than offload
Lots of authors struggle to hand over work at all after experiencing teething problems, deeming themselves “too busy” to teach an assistant when they could do it faster themselves. But that’s missing the point.
If you want to lessen your workload, VAs are your way off the treadmill. You simply need to plan before hiring one to get a good experience. To start, write a list of the tasks you want to outsource. Then consider whether each one will generate a positive ROI if you pay someone to do it. If it doesn’t, remove it and group whichever ones are left into skillset buckets like “graphic design”, “copywriting” and “email marketing”. Once you’ve done that, pick one, write processes for each task the bucket covers and look for a qualified VA to handle only those tasks.
Include notes on their function in your business, alongside expected deliverables and areas of responsibility. If you can, also set out a selection of routine tasks. You can still delegate them special projects. This way, you won’t have to micromanage them every day, as they will always have something productive they can do to keep your business ticking along when you’re too busy to direct them. This process takes time upfront, but it will save you countless hours in the future. And once you’ve got one assistant settled, you can start work on prepping for the next one to handle another bucket of related tasks.
Create Living Manuals
When onboarding VAs to your team, there’s likely to be crossover information that all team members need to know. To save time repeating it, organise your answers into manuals as you write them and log these documents somewhere safe that you and your VAs can access. A shared Dropbox or Google Drive folder serves this purpose well. Doing so will make it easier to train new starters and enables veteran VAs to refresh their memory on tasks they haven’t done in a while without having to consult you. Your manuals might, for example, include:
- Style guide preferences for your social media content
- Book metadata they can use to apply for promotions
- Processes for uploading content or ad copy templates
- Quality control checklists to meet your standards
You also could set timescale expectations for tasks to keep your VAs on track. Be as thorough as possible. This is important because, while some VAs will have industry knowledge and can take initiative when they reach a gap in your logic, many won’t be able to make the leap. Expect administrators rather than executive planners. Working with this expectation in mind will lead you to create foolproof manuals that minimise holdups and mistakes. You can hire an executive assistant to manage top-level strategy too, but this is only advisable once you already have a dependable business and solid systems in place.
Factor in Freedom
Look back a decade and you’ll notice that 99% of all jobs required employees to turn up at a set location, clock in and out at regular hours and communicate while in the workplace. Nowadays, many jobs no longer follow this model. Remote workers who have no commute can work for multiple widespread employers in a single day and even complete tasks out of regular office hours. Individuals who gravitate towards self-employed work like VAs often do so not because they have no other choice, but because they want the flexibility. Hence, if you want to develop a good relationship with your VAs, it pays to understand them.
Yes, some will work set office hours that align with yours. However, not all will want to operate that way. Yours might like to work in windows spread throughout the day to avoid being chained to their laptop during the school run. Others, meanwhile, might prefer to work primarily in the evening after spending their days sightseeing as a digital nomad. They might even live in an opposing time zone and be asleep while you’re awake. Thus, don’t expect immediate responses from VAs unless you make it clear when hiring them that some tasks will require quick turnaround times.
For best results, ensure some of your office hours overlap for Zoom meetings. However, plan the majority of their work with freedom in mind. That means giving them lead times and allowing them to work whatever hours make sense for them. Don’t worry about whether they’re working when they say they are as long as they deliver results. A good VA will thrive and stick around if they feel trusted and understood.
Keep Them Accountable
Trust is essential on your part, but it’s respect that must flow both ways. To ensure this happens, let your VAs know if they’ve crossed a line, missed too many deadlines, not followed your instructions, or focused on the wrong priorities. Holding them accountable might make you uncomfortable if you don’t like confrontation, but it’s vital for hitting your goals.
A good way to do this is to schedule regular meetings. These can be with your entire team or an individual. Emails don’t always deliver the same level of gravitas for accountability as face-to-face chats, so try to conduct them over some form of video service. If it’s a team meeting, write an agenda and assign an attendee to keep you on topic to ensure you address all issues and nobody derails the meeting.
While doing this, always be direct. If your VAs understand your expectations, they will perform better. Not only that, the clarity will give them a stronger sense of certainty and job satisfaction as it takes the guesswork out of their role. Give regular praise and feedback and this will keep them on improving, letting them know what parts of their job they’re doing well and where they need to up their game.
It’ll take time to develop your systems and hire VAs that can deliver your vision. At first, you may struggle and need just as much feedback as you give. The process may even add to your workload for a short time. But remember that management is a skill developed through trial and error. Follow the guidelines outlined here and you’ll cultivate a team of VAs who understand you, drastically reduce your workload and give you more free time to do the one task only you can do: your writing.
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