For a writer, there’s nothing more sacred that uninterrupted time spent writing.
It can also be the hardest time to come by.
Especially when you add in all of this marketing stuff I’m always telling you to do.
Writing can then start to feel like an additional full-time job.
As your list of writing and marketing tasks grows, there seem to be just two options:
- Do it all yourself
- Get some help
Going it alone: the downside
At first, it’s tempting to do everything yourself.
It’s cheaper, and it can be good to have a deep understanding of how all the moving parts operate.
But at some point, as you grow, you have to learn to let go of things of some of those tasks, and start building a team around you to support what you do.
When I was writing Your First 1000 Copies, for the first time I had to rely heavily on a lot of other people who weren’t sitting in my office as full-time employees.
It was a real test of my control freak nature.
I had to trust people with:
- Reading the first draft and giving honest feedback
- Reading the second draft and giving honest feedback
- Editing the book
- Converting the book into Kindle format
- Designing the interior of the book
- Designing the exterior of the book
- Designing and building the website
- Reading the final version and giving honest feedback
Most of it went smoothly, but only because I already had years of experience in having people work for me.
I knew how to avoid some of the common pitfalls and problems. But outsourcing to those you’ve never met before can be a challenge.
Outsourcing sounds like it should be easy. Hire someone, give them a job to do, and receive the final product.
But if you’ve never built a virtual team before, it won’t necessarily go that smoothly.
This is why I’m so jealous of you
I envy you. Because I had to learn some of the biggest outsourcing lessons the hard way, while wasting a lot of time and money.
Now, there’s a new resource that will help you learn how to do it right straight from the start.
My friend Chris Ducker just released a new book that is already an Amazon bestseller:
Virtual Freedom: How to Work With Virtual Staff to Buy More Time, Become More Productive, and Build Your Dream Business.
It’s a fantastic read.
Ducker is founder and CEO of Virtual Staff Finder and the Live2Sell group of companies.
He’s known as the “Virtual CEO.”
He’s a thought leader in the outsourcing industry, and has helped thousands of entrepreneurs create their virtual team-building strategies.
I rarely recommend other books on this blog. But after reading this one, I couldn’t keep this a secret.
Any author who is spinning their wheels and trying to do it all themselves should stop now, buy this book, and read it from cover to cover.
It’s packed with great advice on how to hire people, what to hire them for, and how to manage them successfully.
It also includes proven scripts, tools and services to use to build your team.
Most of us, when we start delegating tasks, quickly drop into control freak mode and become what Ducker calls a “Virtual Vulture.”
The following excerpt from Virtual Freedom will walk you through exactly how to avoid this problem.
So read this and the rest of Virtual Freedom now, and save yourself months and years of outsourcing headaches.
Excerpt from Virtual Freedom
[You shouldn’t] just assign tasks and walk away. Instead, you need to develop a management process that incorporates
- A clear objective — vagueness is your enemy
- Examples of what you want — offering examples is like giving your VA a target
- Benchmarks and checkpoints along the way that will help you see if the VA is making progress and staying on track
- The freedom for the VA to do his or her job — or to demonstrate that he or she isn’t a good fit. I’ll explain this one in detail in just a bit, so keep reading.
As you can see, there’s a process to production. Let’s take a closer look at each of these elements.
1. A Clear Objective
If you can’t articulate what you want, there’s no way your Virtual Assistant (VA) can be expected to give you what you want. Right? Right!
Now, I know there’s going to be times when you really don’t know what you want, and that’s why you’ve hired a VA — to create the work and give you ideas.
If this is the case, you’ll need to understand a couple things:
- Don’t expect your VA to get it right the first time. If you give your VA a few ideas and tell him or her to run with them, then understand that your first phase is a discovery process so that the VA can figure out exactly what you want.
- Even if your VA is giving you ideas and concepts, it’s still your responsibility to give direction and to narrow down the process to a clear objective.
Here are a few tips on developing and delivering clear task and project objectives to your VA:
- Use bullet points. Bullet points force you to break down your ideas and give your VA a checklist to reference. They’re also easy on the eyes.
- Ask yourself how the project or task can be measured. How many pages do you want your website to have? What colors should your logo contain? How many different options should the VA give you when doing online research? What five points should the article include? How long do you want the video to be?
- Share the overall objective. Even if a VA is working on just one piece of a larger puzzle— such as a graphic designer creating custom images for your website—it’s helpful to share the overall objective with him or her. Let your VA know what the purpose of the website is and give him or her a description of your ideal client. All of these clues will affect the outcome of your project.
2. Examples of What You Want
Once you have a clear objective in mind, your next step is to give your VA specific examples of what you want.
Giving your VA an example is like giving him or her a target to shoot at. You’ll be the judge of whether or not your VA hits the bull’s-eye, but at least you’ll get him or her shooting in the right direction. Provide examples for everything and anything and use all types of mediums.
This means you should feel free to
- Take a picture of a product’s packaging in a store and use it as an example of how you’d like your digital product images to look.
- Send your VA a link to an article you recently read and let him or her know what you liked about it and what aspects you’d like to see incorporated into future articles you request.
- Send your VA a YouTube video as an example of the type of editing you’d like to see.
- Use a flyer as an example of the type of layout you’d like your website to have.
- If you see a piece of clothing or a car with a color you like, take a picture of it so that your VA can incorporate the color into a logo design or image.
- If you hear a song and think it would make great background music for your video, send a sample of it to your VA and ask him or her to find something similar to use in the editing process.
3. Benchmarks and Checkpoints
As I mentioned earlier, the last thing you’ll want to do is assign a task or project and then walk away and wait for it to be completed. There are hundreds — if not thousands — of decisions that go into creating something, which means it’s very easy to get off track. Benchmarking is the most powerful technique you can use to keep your virtual vulture at bay because it presents a clear picture of how your project is coming along.
Just as mountain climbers set multiple safety hooks as they climb to prevent complete free falls, you can use benchmarks with your virtual staff to prevent large mistakes and failures in your project.
Benchmarking is useful for VAs and it is also helpful for you as an outsourcer. The process forces you to think of the task or project in smaller pieces that fit together, which can help you to focus your objective.
But wait! What if you don’t really understand all of the moving parts that go into completing a project? How can you expect yourself to set proper benchmarks in an area you don’t really understand?
Let’s say you’re working with a programmer to design a custom piece of software, such as a mobile app. You know exactly what you’d like the software to do but you have no idea what’s involved in getting it done.
Here’s a two-step trick you can use to figure out guidelines for your benchmarks:
- Get as clear as you can about your desired objective or outcome. What do you want the software to do? What type of experience should the user have? These nontechnical questions will ultimately direct the development.
- Put your project on Elance or oDesk with your objective and ask anyone who bids on it to answer the following questions:
- How long do you think this project will take to complete?
- Break down the project into benchmarks or steps. How long will you take to complete each one?
By doing this, you’re allowing potential VAs to tell you how long it will take to get this project completed — along with the most important benchmarks they should be hitting. But the real beauty of this strategy is that you’ll be able to see the average time and common benchmarks proposed from multiple VAs. This information will educate you and equip you to set proper expectations for you and the VA you choose.
4. The Freedom for the VA to Do His or Her Job
Once you’ve given your VA a clear objective, examples of what you want, and several benchmarks to hit, your next job is to get out of the way. You hired this person for a reason — to do a job and to be responsible enough to keep himself or herself on task. Now is the time to let your VA loose and see what he or she does with that freedom.
Does your VA hit the benchmarks on time? Does he or she come back with questions after getting stuck? Or does your VA wait until you follow up on a benchmark only to tell you that the task isn’t completed because he or she didn’t understand it?
These are the kinds of habits you won’t see if you’re a virtual vulture. You’re hiring someone for his or her time, talents, and ability to actually do the work. It does you no good to have someone on your team who is talented but requires constant supervision to get things done.
With that said, here are some tips to help you manage your VA:
- Tell your VA to come to you with any questions at any time. Let the VA know that if you don’t hear from him or her, you will expect that everything is okay and that the next benchmark will be hit as scheduled.
- If your VA misses a benchmark, make sure to ask what prevented him or her from meeting the deadline. Find out if your VA will need more time to hit the next benchmark.
- If your VA does not deliver work on the set benchmark date and did not inform you of the delay, do not contact him or her. Wait for the VA to contact you and immediately address the missed date. Let him or her know that you expect the next benchmark to be different.
These three tips will allow you be a fair manager who doesn’t have to micromanage, get angry, or use harsh words to get things done.
There are so many things that you can potentially delegate.
These include but are definitely not limited to:
- Web development
- Web design
- Cover design
- Reading and answering email
- Managing your calendar
- Planning your travel
If you’ve wanted to finally take the weight of doing-it-all off your shoulders and start delegating to other people, but have been too scared to do it, then I can’t recommend Ducker’s book Virtual Freedom highly enough.
Take the right steps to delegate the jobs you’re not good at, so you can free up time to do the thing you do best … write!
April 10, 2014