December 28, 2009

Bulk view

What do I delegate, and why?

Delegating to virtual assistants started out as an interesting experiment in learning how to tell people what to do. In the ten months since I started, I’ve learned a lot about working with virtual assistance for personal tasks. Here’s a brief reflection that might help if you’re thinking of exploring virtual assistance yourself.

For an entrepreneur or a small business owner, delegating to virtual assistants makes perfect sense. You want to focus on revenue-generating activities, and you can’t waste your energy on tasks you don’t enjoy. But even if you’re not self-employed, you might find virtual assistance useful.

I work with different kinds of virtual assistance services. For generic skills and routine tasks, I use Timesvr, which charges USD 69 for “unlimited” 15-minute tasks (really, 6-8 tasks per day). Here are some notes:

  • Setting appointments: Great. They follow up with people and manage my calendar. People’s reactions are fun, too. ;)
  • Following step-by-step routines: Good. Because the task is done by any available assistant, I sometimes benefit from different perspectives, and sometimes get people who overlook a step. I’ve given my routines one-word shortcuts so that I can e-mail complex requests easily.
  • Comparison shopping: Okay. It’s a good idea to specify which stores you want, and even better if you can specify the item you’re looking for. I’m in Canada, so I need to remind them to check if retailers will ship to Canada and to factor in shipping costs when comparing price.
  • Web research: Hit or miss, unless the search is very specific. Maybe it’s the 15- to 30-minute “task window” they work with, or differences in approach, or even English skills. Still, it’s a decent way to get started on a task, and even wrong results teach me more about what I’m really looking for.
  • Calling for information: Good. I don’t have Web access on my phone, so if I’m out and I need to confirm information that’s not on my iPod, I can call them. It’s a US call, though, so I ask them to call me back with the results. The turn-around time is decent.

I really appreciate being able to stop worrying about some things, like following up on appointments and renewing library books. I also like saving a lot of clicks when it comes to checking out multiple books from the library, saving the time it would take to log in, find the book, check it out, confirm the request, etc.

My routines include four daily tasks that probably take a total of half an hour to do, three weekly tasks that take a total of another half hour to do, and one monthly task that takes all of five minutes. This works out to around 17 hours a month, or about USD 4 per hour. Then there are the one-off tasks I assign as well, which are included in the USD 69 fee. Even when you add in currency conversion and other fees, it’s not bad. If they raised the price, I might shuffle my budget, or I’d automate more of my tasks (time to break out Perl!) and go with a dedicated assistant instead.

For specialized skills such as editing and illustration, I hire people on oDesk, mostly on an hourly basis. I post job openings, review people’s profiles and portfolios, pick several candidates, pay them for short trial runs (because spec work is not nice!), and keep track of providers I like the most. I love hiring people who are much better than I am at something, because I learn so much in the process.

Works for me. =) If you’d like to learn more about delegating to virtual assistants, leave a comment or contact me!

(Thanks to Dror Engel and Irina Patterson for the nudge to write about this!)