You ever have one of those days where you wake up and realize you accidentally created a new business?

In August I set out to hire my first non-project based virtual assistant. One month, 50+ applicants, 12 phone interviews, and 2 audition projects later, I found myself with 3 brand spanking new team members.

Whoops.

So let me break down exactly how and why this happened, and how you can do it too.

Knowing it was time to hire

This part was slightly less complicated than people make it out to be, at least as far as my business was concerned. I asked myself these three questions:

  1. Do I have repeatable, teachable processes in place that I can pass off to someone else?
  2. Am I ready to manage and be responsible for another person’s income?
  3. Can my business afford to pay for this position for at least the next 6 months?

I was able to confidently answer yes to all three of these questions. I think a lot of online business owners forget that their VA is also an online business owner who will be relying on their timely payments to pay their bills and mortgages.

Don’t be like those hotel and restaurant owners on various reality TV shows who never pay their staff but magically find the money to pay themselves. Those people suck. Don’t suck.

Getting clear on what (and who) I needed

I’m pleased to say that I got multiple applications that included a note saying “By the way, thank you for putting so much detail into your job posting!”

If you saw my job posting, you know it was a bit of a behemoth of tools, responsibilities, personality, and more. Check it out here:

The Job Posting.

I tried to make it clear that I wasn’t looking for someone to manage my email and social media (common VA tasks). I needed someone who could grow with my company and help me with the transition into agency work. Basically, I needed a VA who was willing to morph into an Online Business Manager over time.

If I had to change one thing about the job posting, I’d have included more detail. The top applicants were the ones who responded in kind with tons of detail.

Where I posted

I posted the job to various Facebook and Slack groups (and had some of those people crosspost to groups I wasn’t already in), told my network, posted it on Twitter, and also crossposted it to Upwork (formerly Odesk/Elance).

Of the 3 people I brought on immediately, 2 were from Upwork (which surprised me, as I typically associate that with lower quality candidates) and 1 was from Twitter. I have a few more in the wings I’ll be bringing on over the next few months, and I believe most of those applied via Twitter.

I also get most of my clients via Twitter or word of mouth, not Facebook, so this is in line with where my brand spends the most time.

The interview process

So I’ve got 50 applicants–now what?

The first thing I did was put everyone into a Gmail folder so I wouldn’t forget to tell everyone the result of their applications. Because I didn’t want to be one of those jerky employers whom you never hear from after you apply.

Eliminations

The initial weed-through was tough, but a mix of intuition and logic helped me pull through.

I immediately eliminated:

  • People who didn’t follow instructions
    • I included instructions on what to put as the subject line and what questions to answer. It’s important to respond in a way that shows you can follow directions.
  • People whose website looked really out-of-date
    • I need someone up-to-date on online business, so, if you have a website, it better look like it was made in the last couple of years.
  • People whose graphic design sense was off-kilter
    • I can’t teach this, unfortunately, so I had to eliminate some people who had “graphic design” portfolios that didn’t quite hit the mark.
  • People whose hourly rate was too high or too low
    • That’s right, people who were priced too low were eliminated as well. I didn’t provide a rate range in my posting because I wanted to see what people would respond with, but I was looking in the $10 – $30 range.
  • People who were just getting started
    • If you even glanced at my job posting, you would know this wasn’t a job for someone who has never been a virtual assistant before. Yet I got multiple applicants saying they’d “give it a try.” Um, no thanks?

Skype interviews

The next step was moving into Skype interviews for 10-15 candidates. (I don’t remember exactly how many I ended up with, but it’s in my notes somewhere.)

At this point, everyone was already pre-qualified by their email applications, so I wanted to get a feel for their personalities and how they thought through questions. Here is the exact list of questions I had on hand while we talked:

  • Why are you a VA?
  • How many clients do you have? How many would you like?
  • What are your long-term business plans?
  • What does your typical week look like?
  • What are your working hours and average turnaround times for tasks?
  • How and how often do you like to communicate with your clients?
  • What is your least favorite type of task?
  • Do you work better under pressure or with time to think?
  • What would you do if you needed to meet a deadline and your computer crashed?
  • What was the most difficult project you ever worked on, and what made it difficult?
  • What businesses like mine have you worked with?
  • How do you manage dealing with a team member you can’t seem to connect with?
  • What contributions have you made to a business that made a direct impact to the company’s bottom line?

Audition projects

(Shout out to the company my husband works for for this idea). I decided to see what my top 2 applicants could do. I put together 5 tasks that were similar to what I would ask them to do on a regular basis, and I told them to pick 3 to do. Oh, and I paid them to do this.

Actual audition project:

  • Create a spreadsheet of 3-5 competitors, their offers, their pricing, and the estimated time they spend per month on those offers
  • Create a graphic for instagram with a quote and styling that represents the systems scientist brand
  • Improve the show notes for this episode (not a transcript): http://theoffroadmillennial.com/torm48/
  • Create a spreadsheet of 5 PR (guest posting, podcast, speaking, etc.) opportunities
  • Show me a screenshot of a sample launch of a new service in your favorite PM tool (make a new one or blur out identifying details of a previous one)
  • Report the time taken

I was looking for more than just the output. I wanted to see what questions, if any, they would ask about the tasks, what they considered a good “final deliverable” for these little tasks, and what information they would actually find.

Job offers

The worst part about offering jobs is the part where you have to tell everyone else they’re not getting a job.

This is when I went into that folder I made in Gmail at the beginning of this process and responded to everyone who applied, letting them know I had decided to go another direction. For those I wanted to keep on tap for future agency work, I asked if they’d be interested in that when the time came.

That’s when things got tricky.

I knew I wanted to hire both the people I had do audition projects, and I knew another person I’d interviewed would be great for customer-facing work.

So I sent proposals to all three of them.

The proposals outlined the type of working relationship I anticipated us having, and I offered to get back on the phone to clear up any questions and handle additional negotiations.

Negotiations

After sending out the working proposals, negotiations were pretty straightforward. I had each of them respond back with any changes they’d like to make to their terms or payment. I hopped on Skype with my primary hire (you know, the VA I was originally trying to hire in the first place), and once we all agreed on terms, I had my lawyer draft up independent contractor agreements.

Onboarding

I have a corporate background in project management, so that combined with my science degrees and love of order means I also love onboarding. The onboarding process included (depending on the position):

  • An introductory email about the position and expectations
  • Addition to my Slack team with standard operating procedures (SOPs) about how to use each channel
  • Access to Evernote-based team SOPs, so they can be updated as the team and processes evolve. SOPs included:
    • Purpose
    • Mission Statement
    • Workflows
    • Target audience
    • Vacation policy
    • Client expectations
    • Semi-annual reviews
  • Questions about how they best work and their expectations of me
  • An invitation to take the Entrepreneurial Strengthsfinder test
  • Addition to the team calendar so we can all be up-to-date on upcoming vacations

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So that’s what’s been happening here in Mydzik Media land over the past couple of months. We’re actively updating, rebranding, and restructuring the Systems Scientist, Mallie Rydzik, and Mydzik Media sites behind the scenes as well.