How To Email Your Virtual Assistant


10   Comments


how to email your virtual assistant

When I was younger the movies portrayed big-shot CEO’s as the only people who had their own assistant. Now days, thanks to how far outsourcing has come and sites like Elance, we were able to have our own assistant at the ripe ages of 18 and 23.

What started out as excitement and hopes of new productivity, soon turned into frustration. I couldn’t understand why our VA could not complete the simplest of tasks such as making a restaurant reservation, send cold emails with pre written scripts or perform web research. After 2 weeks of half completed jobs and frustrated emails, I realised my communication was the problem.

When I was describing the job to be completed I was making two mistakes:

  1. Writing for the job so ‘I’ could understand it

  2. Leaving it open for interpretation

You need to write it with the receiver in mind. At the start of the relationship your VA will not know your profile (likes/dislikes) so you need to make it clear in each job description. Every step involved in completing the job needs to be described, no matter how small. As time goes on you will be able to keep the descriptions shorter, but until you and your VA have a better understanding of each other, every detail matters.

Here’s an example of a poorly written email I wrote to our VA describing one of his first job for us.

Hey Costel,

This job involves planning Jason’s and I trip to Sydney, AU for two nights.

Please provide me with the following information in an email response. Provide direct url’s to the page so I do not need to search when I am booking.

Trip Details

  • Air Train tickets

    • Departing from Oxley Station arriving at Brisbane Airport on Friday Oct 13

    • Needs to arrive prior to flight

  • Return flight tickets

    • Must be return

    • Cheaper flights are preferred

    • Fly to Sydney on Friday Oct 13

    • Back to Brisbane on Sunday Oct 15

  • Hotel accommodation for Friday Oct 13 and Saturday Oct 14 in Sydney

    • Must close to Victoria St, Potts Point

    • Around $200/night

Thank you Costel.

Toby

Here is the second version of the email, once I had fixed it up due to the number of questions Costel was having to ask me in order to complete the task.

Hey Costel,

This job involves planning Jason’s and I trip to Sydney, AU for two nights.

Please provide me with the following information in an email response. Provide direct url’s to the page so I do not need to search when I am booking.

Trip Details

  • Air Train tickets

    • Departing from Oxley Station arriving at Brisbane Airport on Friday Oct 13

    • Arriving 60 mins prior to our flight time.

  • Return flight tickets

    • Use expedia.com

    • Must be return flights

    • Please find the cheapest flights which match the below requirements

    • Arrive to Sydney before 12pm on Friday Oct 13

    • Arrive back in Brisbane before 4pm on Sunday Oct 15

  • Hotel accommodation for Friday Oct 13 and Saturday Oct 14 in Sydney

    • Use wotif.com

    • Must be within 5km’s of Victoria St, Potts Point

    • Max price per night is $230

    • One room

    • Must be 2 separate beds available in the room

    • User review rating of 4 stars or higher

Extra notes

  • Sydney has daylight savings, which means they are one hour ahead of Brisbane time, so you will need to take this into account when searching for the bookings

Thanks Costel.

Toby

The difference? The revised email removed any interpretation that Costel was having to make due to my poor instructions in the initial email.

Takeaways

I. Clearly state all your preferences
After a few months you will find you won’t need to write out all your preferences as your assistant gets to know you – they will also have past emails on the record. However, in the beginning if you have a preference you need to clearly state it. An example from the script above: I clearly stated “one hotel room with two separate beds”. Had I not specified two beds, Jason would of ended up curled on the floor for the night…

II. Test it
If you find your job descriptions are not getting the right result from your assistant, get someone from your team (who’s not involved with the job) or a smart friend to read over it. If they do not know what is exactly required of them and what results are expected, how can you expect your assistant to understand?

III. Delivery
State how you want the finished product delivered back to you. When relevant I ask for all the information in an email response, rather than a word doc. or pdf’s. You would be surprised the unique ways you will get your information back if you don’t clearly state the rule (e.g. 5 word docs covering each individual subheading).

IV. Suggested resources
When it is relevant I try to suggest resources for them to use to complete the job. In the example script above I suggested Expedia.com for the flights, Wotif.com for the hotel booking. I have used both these services in the past and trust them. Once again you would be surprised the obscure ways VA’s will go about completing tasks if you don’t provide them with direction.

 
Hopefully this post has shed some light on how to email your virtual assistant.

  • Ryan

    Taking out any interpretation is so important, it took me a while to learn this but once I did it was a huge time saver. I had not thought of suggested resources to them, I will try that out next time around.

    • Toby Schulz

      Suggesting a resource is not something we have always done, but was a tip I read from someone (can’t remember who sorry). I do not do it for every job but in the example I used in the post it was relevant.

  • Tim

    Thanks for the post Toby, it is very timely as I have been looking to hire some outsourced help for programming which I am not capable of doing. I assume these takeaways can be applied to working with a web developer?

    • Laura

      Great question Tim, I wonder the same Toby? I am about to get a landing page developed and am particularly interested in the interpretation point. Should I make design notes on every minor detail of the page and its functions? As I am hiring an experienced developer through Elance, I was going to leave some of the design work up to them and then review it once they had completed it.

      • Toby Schulz

        Great question Tim and Laura. The takeaways can and should be applied to all outsourced employees you have. In the case of developers, preferences is important but we have also found giving them some creative room with design work can be valuable. Some people have a great knack for website/graphic design and if given the room can produce amazing work. Create boundaries with them about when they need to follow instructions exactly and when they have some room. Remember you can always provide revisions on their work until you get it the way you want. Thank you for reading.

        • Laura

          Thanks for the advice Toby, I have just subscribed :-)

          • Toby Schulz

            Awesome, thank you Laura!

  • Rick

    Really great post Toby, I can take a lot away from it. I am new to hiring people from Freelancer.com and am having trouble with finding those with strong english skills. In your experience have you found language to be a hard barrier to overcome when working with outsourced employees? If so, how did you get past it?

    • Toby Schulz

      The best way I have found to filter those with poor english skills is during the bidding process. Once the freelancer has placed a bid on the job, send them a message asking for them to break down how they will approach you job. This forces them to respond not using a pre written script as your job is unique. I am usually able to cut out anyone who does not have excellent english skills. Hope that helps Rick.

  • Abhishek

    I can’t agree with the takeaway #1 more. I have had friends come to me complaining about their outsourcer not following instructions, even though they were the ones who provided unclear instructions and preferences.