Hiring a Virtual Assistant: Everything You Need to Know

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The 4-Hour Workweek" by Tim Ferriss. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Is hiring a virtual assistant a good idea? What do you need to know about virtual assistants before hiring one?

Hiring a virtual assistant can help you automate a lot of the work you do, and save you time. Tim Ferriss recommends hiring a virtual assistant in The 4-Hour Workweek.

Learn more about hiring a virtual assistant.

Hiring a Virtual Assistant (VA)

To achieve the 4HWW lifestyle, find a way to replace yourself. Almost anything and everything you do could be done by someone else.

So you might want to hire a VA. The first step to automation is hiring a virtual assistant (VA). You should do this regardless of whether you’re an employee or an entrepreneur, and even if you have enough time to do everything yourself. There are a few reasons why hiring a virtual assistant can help:

  • VAs teach you to manage. Having a VA teaches you how to communicate, how to lead from a distance, how to give directions, and how to deal with people who don’t follow them. If you get a VA for between two weeks and a month, it should only cost between $100-400, and the experience should pay for itself within another two weeks.
  • VAs reinforce step E (Eliminate) of DEAL. Once you have to pay someone to do something, it’s going to be easier and more motivating to eliminate unimportant things. Having a VA will also force you to come up with rules for interruptions that require approval.

People hesitate to pay other people to do things they can do themselves, especially if it’s more economical to do it themselves. However, you’re not trying to save money in this chapter, you’re trying to save time. 

Where to Find a VA

Since VAs work remotely, you can hire someone from anywhere in the world. There are advantages and disadvantages to hiring virtual assistants that are local vs. hiring one that’s farther away. Consider these four factors when you hire a VA:

  • Agency association. VA agencies exist all over the world and the author recommends going with a VA from a VA firm, or a VA who has a team. Then if one VA isn’t available, there’s backup. Additionally, you get people with diverse skills working for you.
    • For example, VA agencies Brickwork and Your Man in India both use this structure. When you sign up with either agency, you’re assigned a personal account manager who corresponds with you, and then assigns your tasks to whichever person on their team is most suitable.
  • Time zone mismatches. If you choose someone who lives in a different time zone than you, this can work in your favor—if you ask a VA to do something at the end of your day, they’ll work while you’re sleeping, and you’ll have an answer first thing the next day.
  • Language. If you choose someone international, there may be a language barrier. Communication problems take up both your time and the VA’s time, which increases costs. When contacting a firm, ask for someone who has very good English and say that phone calls will be required, even if they won’t be. Request someone new if there are communication problems. If you choose someone local, you’re probably both native English speakers.
  • Cost. If you hire someone from a country with a weaker currency than the US, your cost per hour will be cheaper. The author says VAs from India, China, and other countries can range from $4-15/hour. $4/hour is for simple tasks, and $15 gets you PhD complexity. US or Canadian VAs tend to charge $25-100/hour. When comparing costs, consider total cost as well as hourly cost. If someone more expensive gets something done faster, your bill may be lower overall. Also consider the per hour cost of your own time—a language barrier might mean you have to spend more time answering questions or rewording your directions.

The best way to choose a VA is to trial people you’re interested in. Assign a one-off project or a small recurring task, ideally something daily. To work on your communication skills, choose non-native English-speaking VAs initially, but use local help for any language-intensive tasks. 

Privacy and Security Concerns

Problems with privacy or security are rare. In the only case of information abuse the author found while researching the book, the problem was freelance help that a very busy US-based VA contracted at the last minute.

Established VA firms such as Brickwork have many security measures including nondisclosure agreements, encryption, and secure connections—probably a lot more than you have on your own computer.

Follow these rules to avoid problems when you hire a VA:

  • Use credit instead of debit. It’s much easier and faster to reverse credit card charges than debit ones.
  • Don’t reuse passwords. If your VA needs to login to any websites, make sure that website has a unique password from all the other sites you access. If the VA needs to make new logins anywhere, they should use the logins and passwords you give them. This is especially important if your VA is accessing live commercial websites.
  • Never use anyone untested. Don’t work with any new hires and never let anyone working for you subcontract anyone new.

If you’ve followed the rules above, you’ll find that if you do get hit by identity or information theft, they’re not that bad and you can recover.

Hiring a virtual assistant can save you lots of time, and put you on the path for a 4-Hour workweek.

Hiring a Virtual Assistant: Everything You Need to Know

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  • The 4-step process to live a "retired" lifestyle now
  • Find out if you're wasting the best years of your life working a 9-5
  • How to create a business that makes you money without sucking up your time

Carrie Cabral

Carrie has been reading and writing for as long as she can remember, and has always been open to reading anything put in front of her. She wrote her first short story at the age of six, about a lost dog who meets animal friends on his journey home. Surprisingly, it was never picked up by any major publishers, but did spark her passion for books. Carrie worked in book publishing for several years before getting an MFA in Creative Writing. She especially loves literary fiction, historical fiction, and social, cultural, and historical nonfiction that gets into the weeds of daily life.

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