December 01, 2019 GP Mentor

Hiring a Virtual Assistant

Dan X. Nguyen

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When you have too much work for yourself but not enough work to hire a full-time employee, what do you do?

You hire a virtual assistant (VA)—someone who works for you, but remotely. This means the assistant doesn’t need a physical space where you are. You can usually avoid all the overhead that comes with an employee.

Why Hire a Virtual Assistant

Hire a virtual assistant to do your nonbillable administrative work:

  • Billing and accounting
  • Scheduling
  • New case/file creation
  • Nonlegal research
  • Formatting/editing
  • Social media and e-mail marketing
  • Reaching out on your behalf

Mind-Set Shift

I had trouble delegating at first. I had the mind-set of “it would take less time to do it myself than to explain it.” But I had to realize that every time I did this thing, it would add up. So you need to get into the mind-set that learning how to delegate is a long-term strategy to free you up to do more valuable things in your practice.

Creating Systems

I remember in college we had to explain, on paper, how to make a peanut butter sandwich. Our classmates were then told to follow the instructions step-by-step. Some of the classmates made perfect sandwiches. Others, not so much; some had peanut butter on their plates, some on their hands.

If you’re going from solo to hiring a VA, you probably need to brush up on your systems and systems creation. Before I had my first VA, everything was in my head, but a friend told me I needed to start documenting my processes step-by-step, like explaining to a five-year-old. You also need to consider how different people like to consume information. Some like to read instructional text; others like to watch a video. Platforms such as Tettra or Sharepoint allow you to create a company wiki to store all your procedures in a searchable database.

Kiss A Lot of Frogs

If you’re lucky, you’ll get a great VA with your first hire. But sometimes you’ll get some not-so-great ones, and you’ll have to let them go. That’s just part of building a team and is great feedback on your delegation and hiring practices so you can change them as necessary.

I typically like to hire through agencies that vet VAs. You explain what you need, and the agency looks for VAs who fit, including pay rates, whether you prefer domestic or overseas VAs, whether you already have systems in place or you need the VAs to have a system, and whether the VAs will work on your business hours or on their local times.

VAs generally value consistent work over pay rate, so if you can guarantee a certain number of hours, you can usually negotiate a better hourly rate.

Empower Them to Make Decisions for You

Once you start getting the hang of the VAs, one of the best ways to “think less” is to have an open discussion with them about how the workflow can be better, empower them to create or improve your system, and give them more authority over some of the tasks you provide them. This will also stretch your management skills and trust in someone else to handle particular tasks for you.

Hiring a VA has been one of the best decisions I ever made, and it has prepared me to make the jump to hiring a full-time, in-office employee.

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Dan X. Nguyen serves as outside general counsel to small- and medium-sized businesses in Orange County, California. His areas of concentration include corporation and LLC formations, contracts, trademarks, franchise formations/registrations, wills and trusts, EB-5 and E-2 business immigration, and general business consulting. In 2016 he tried out for a professional basketball team. He didn’t make it, but he did get a client out of it.

Published in GPSolo magazine, Volume 36, Number 6, November/December 2019. © 2019 by the American Bar Association. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association. The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of the American Bar Association or the Solo, Small Firm and General Practice Division.