The roaches were the last straw.
I really love my job, but there is a lot of paperwork. A lot, a whole lot, and I like to be making calls, and going to meetings. And the thing that the always, systematically fell through the cracks were expense reports. Unfortunately, late expense reports really upset my Senior VP, and it’s not so great to be on his radar for something like this.
I did a review of “The 4 Hour Work Week”, and have glanced at Friedman’s “The World is Flat”. Both of them wrote about virtual assistants. Could a VA be the answer to my problems?
II wasn’t new to the idea of outsourcing. I’ve used an online outsourcing service for contract jobs for a long time. I had some website work done, a virtual demo lab made, a custom app made for my phone, and I had very good results (with the exception of a project that was abandoned). So moving to a virtual assistant didn’t seem like a bad idea.
Because of the nature of my work (selling to the Federal government), I decided to employ someone who was worked in the US. I found a woman who worked out of Oklahoma, who quoted me a rate of $7/hour. What a bargain, I thought.
Especially when I did the math. Paperwork is really expensive in terms of a salesperson’s time. In order to make my quota, I need to be producing $10,000 an hour in the two hours or so I get a day to to make calls. If I get one more hour a day of free time, that’s $1.25 million more revenue to my company.
For a while, it worked very well! I sent out my expense reports, had her do some other reports, research, and various other jobs, and it was great being able to sell again. I was on the phone, making more appointments, and getting more revenue. It felt like it was a very cost effective move for me. And I was doing the parts of my job that I love, and delegating the things I didn’t care for.
It went very well for about 4 months or so, then things started going south. There were the excuses, problems with equipment, illness, etc. Then it became harder and harder to reach her. And then she all but disappeared.
Unfortunately I was working without a net. My receipts were going to her, and I neglected to make copies for myself. When the assistant went MIA, I had approximately $4K of receipts in her hands, stalled, and I was unable to rescue them. Despite calls and pleas via email, I didn’t get a response. (I knew she was reading the emails I sent her, because they were tagged with receipts).
In desperation, I sent an email with the title “Quick action needed for $50 bonus.” Not surprisingly, I got a response in about 20 minutes. I requested for her to send me back any receipts and paperwork still in her custody, and if she got them back by a certain date, I would give $50.
The story I received from her was that she had a miscarriage, and she was not handling it very well. I certainly felt sorry for her, but not getting those receipts in a timely fashion put me in a world of hurt. I certainly got chewed out by my Senior VP, and as of today, it’s up to his mercy if I get reimbursed. I consider it a $4K lesson learned.
In retrospect, I made a lot of mistakes, and there were warning signs that I should have recognized that should have told me to get out of this arrangement. If you are thinking of employing a virtual assistant, here are some tips.
* Make copies of anything that is time sensitive and/or not replaceable. If I had done that, I would have had a valuable safety net against failure.
* If your personal assistant blogs, READ THE BLOG. When I read the assistant’s blog, I not only found a whole lot of grammar and writing problems, but I also got a chance to read about her arguments with a neighbor. This should have put me on notice that I was dealing with an unstable person. Blog entries are done often in a hurry, so a couple of typos shouldn’t be a concern, but if there is no attention to detail, you probably don’t have someone who can do the job.
* When it gets wacky, send them packing: About a month into the gig, my assistant asked me for a $1K loan. It was very premature for such a big request. I wouldn’t do it, and it really felt tacky to me.
* If other people in the house do something to the computer your assistant is working on, dump the assistant. It’s an indication that he doesn’t have a good, secure, workspace. If they don’t have a dedicated computer, they are not prepared to do the job.
* Agree on the kind of documentation of work that you want from the assistant, and tie it to pay. If you don’t get an invoice, they don’t get a check. I’d have weeks where I’d get these big bills, and didn’t know what was done for me.
* Take your time looking for an assistant. If you see anything that could jeopardize your assistant’s work getting done, then move on to someone else.
* If you see any problems during the interview process, like a missed call, move on. It’s a good sign that things won’t work out.
* Do not lock yourself into a long term contract. If it doesn’t work, have the flexibility to find someone else.
I’m making another bet on a VA. I know a lot of people that have had excellent results with a VA. I hope that my more cautious approach will make this engagement much more successful.
Oh, the roaches. After I finished with my virtual assistant, we had a problem with roaches in my house. A couple of months later, I opened up a package from the VA containing my CardScan. It also contained the bodies of about 10 roaches. Was it done on purpose? Honestly, I hope I’ll never know for sure.