Tiffanie Tillman’s phone is ringing off the hook these days with business owners looking to fill staff positions without having to hire full-time employees. “Our industry is booming,â€ says Tillman, president of The Virtual Professionals, an Orlando-based provider of virtual workers. “While companies may be scaling back on in-house employees, they still need the manpower.â€
For about $25 to $50 an hour, those companies are finding the answer in virtual workers who require no health insurance, benefits, or office space. They typically work from their own homes — and with their own equipment — and collaborate with their clients via e-mail, video conference, instant message, phone, and fax. And while many people still associate virtual workers with “virtual assistants,â€ or VAs, today’s staffers provide a wider range of services that can include IT support and services, design work, engineering services, writing and copyediting, and the list goes on.
FINDING THE RIGHT CANDIDATE
To get the best match, Gayle Buske, CEO at virtual staffing provider Team Double-Click in Ouray, Colorado, advises business owners to first take a step back and figure out exactly what they want to delegate. “Journal your activities for a week or two,â€ Buske says. “Then go through and cross out everything that you can’t delegate. Outsource the rest to virtual workers.â€ A financial consultant, for example, probably couldn’t delegate client meetings, but could definitely farm out tasks like answering the phone, updating the company Website, and filing regulatory forms to a competent third party.
When selecting a VA, look for one who is already working in your industry, then ask questions to find out if you have a true match. For example, ask them how long they’ve used certain software programs, how many other companies they’ve worked with in your field, and in what capacity.
Get references that include both past and present clients, and call all of them for feedback. Don’t forget to check credentials, but also realize that a Graduate Virtual Assistant (GVA) or an International Virtual Assistants Association (IVA) membership status doesn’t necessarily mean a virtual worker is more qualified than the next.
DETERMINING THE NEED
The business owner who already has several full-time marketing, sales, and administrative employees — and who’s forced to cut costs in order to survive through the current economic crunch — will also do well by hiring virtual staffers. “You can go from paying someone for 40 hours a week plus benefits to only paying for what you need,â€ Buske says.
If you’ve never hired a virtual staffer before, be sure to “start slowâ€ by first assessing your firm’s needs and resources, Buske says. Then, put out some feelers by contacting one or more virtual staffing agencies and by networking with other businesses (that might know of a talented worker who was laid off recently) to find good candidates.
Once you’ve found what you think is the right person, take a step-by-step approach to the relationship, rather than just “throwing everything at themâ€ and expecting them to handle