A guest post by Maggie Zhu
If you are working nonstop and feeling overwhelmed, maybe it’s time to outsource to a VA or virtual assistant.
Doing so helps you focus on the most important work and grow your businesse. A VA is a member of your team, performing work remotely. Whether you’re hiring a programmer from India or a work-at-home mom in the US, you might be able to pay a reasonable or even low hourly rate, such as $5 to $10 per hour.
Your initial thought about outsourcing to a VA might be, “I can do the work myself at zero cost, and do it faster, so there is no need to outsource.” Wrong.
When you’re performing a repetitive task that yields little return, you’re sacrificing bigger projects that will grow your business. And when you’re buried in small tasks, you feel less inspired, which leads to low quality work and eventually burnout.
I started hiring people soon after starting my blog, Omnivore’s Cookbook, early on. When I was earning $200 a month, I sometimes spent $50 to outsource tasks, just to experiment and see how it could help my business.
It takes me 15 to 20 minutes to upload a new post, for example. My VA might take twice as long, but she saves me 3 hours every month on this and other tasks. Currently, my VA bills me an average of 50 to 60 hours per month. Even if I can perform all the tasks three times faster, I’d spend 20 hours per month on them, doing repetitive tasks that contribute to burnout.
You might think you don’t have the budget to outsource to a VA.
You don’t need hundreds of dollars to get started. Many online services charge as little as $5 to do graphic design work, or $100 to do the scheduling for your social media platform for a month. For example, sometimes I spend $10 to hire someone from Fiverr to write a roundup post for me. Then my VA makes the graphics and uploads the post to my WordPress. It costs me $20 to create a new post, but it saves me hours.
The 5 tasks to outsource to a VA:
The most common tasks to oursource are things you don’t know how to do or hate to do. Or repetitive and basic tasks anyone can do. Let me break down the concept and show how to start outsourcing now:
1. Social media curating and scheduling.
If you’ve been blogging and generating income, you’ve developed a workflow for promoting your content. For example, you pin new recipes to certain boards, sharing new and old posts on Facebook a few times a day, and schedule the same photos for your Instagram feed. This scheduling requires daily, if not more frequent, attention. But you could outsource it because social media is one of the biggest time thieves. Here are two approaches for hiring:
A. Find a native English speaker. It is easier to find a low-level VA, but most of them are based overseas and speak English as their second language. If you want a social media manager, find a native English speaker who writes well and has social media experience. This VA will write captions, schedule posts in advance, and curate content according to your guidelines. The price will be relatively high, but you’ll save the most time.
B. Outsource to a VA who is a low-level assistant only in charge of scheduling. You’ll still need to write captions, but you save lots of time uploading the posts to all the platforms. This person could also curate content, if you list a clear set of rules or point to websites as sources. The price of this role can be half or a third of what US-based assistants charge.
To hire a social media manager, use Facebook groups (such as the Rockstar Bloggers and Virtual Assistants) for native speakers. Use Upwork to outsource to VA on an hourly basis. Ask around to see which services your friends trust.
2. Uploading blog post to WordPress.
This is a task that seems difficult to pass to someone else at first, but it should be at the top of your outsourcing list. A VA can upload pictures, add alt text, insert the recipe, type in nutrition info, and other tasks. Write down a detailed workflow when you’re uploading a new post, and use that as the instructions to train your VA. If you’re still not sure about the quality of a post, you can always double-check it before scheduling it.
For this type of task and the one listed in the next point, use Upwork to outsource to a VA who works remotely, for a lower rate.
3. Any other repetitive and routine tasks.
These tasks take 10 to 20 minutes here and there, but they pile up. Some of the most repetitive tasks include submitting posts to Tumblr and Foodgawker when you publish a new post.
Other tasks include recording blog traffic and social media numbers and compiling newsletters. For example, my VA uploads images and creates links in my weekly newsletter, which features seasonal recipes. That saves me 15 minutes each week. My VA also compiles all my social media and website traffic data into a spreadsheet. I can see the performance numbers for my blog just by glancing at that sheet.
4. Create graphics and ebooks.
The design category can be divided into two types:
A. Basic graphic design, such as creating long pins or collages for Pinterest. It is repetitive and it takes minimal skills to complete. It makes sense to outsource the task to a rather low level designer at a lower rate. For example, you could ask this person to create long pins or optimize images for social media for your all old posts, which takes tens of hours, if not more.
B. More complicated design such as ebook covers, layouts, and banner ads. This category can be anywhere between something that you cannot do, or takes a long time to do. The biggest mistake people usually make is to confuse this type of design with the first category above. You might spend $5 to get someone to design your ebook, and get a result that is totally unusable. It’s because good designers are difficult to find and they tend to charge a lot more. So do extra research when outsourcing this type of design, and review each designer’s past work carefully.
My go-to platform for this type of work is Fiverr, where you can find a VA who works on a per-project basis. If you plan to outsource a complicated project, though, always compare sellers. Do some surveying by posting questions, and test their work before signing a high-dollar contract.
5. Website maintenance and tech support
I’ve done my share of tweaking WordPress for hours and ending up frustrated, without solving the issue. When you come across a tech issue, contact your hosting company first, or the support team for the plugin which is causing the problem. A good hosting company can help you resolve many unexpected things for free, from slow loading speed, switching your site to https, to removing malware.
There are also many reliable online services that charge a reasonable fee to perform single tasks on your site, such as WP Kraken. The bottom line is to ask professionals to solve your problems when you don’t know how to.
It might look overwhelming to outsource to a VA. At first it might even take you more time to sort out your workflow, train an assistant, and hand over the work. But once your VA gets going, he or she will save you a tremendous amount of time. If you want to learn more about hiring a VA, I highly recommend the book Virtual Freedom: How to Work with Virtual Staff to Buy More Time, Become More Productive, and Build Your Dream Business. I’ve learned most what I know about hiring and training VAs from this book.
So dip your toe in and outsource to VAs to get your work done. You’ll start working as team, and VAs can help you grow your business.
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Maggie is the blogger behind Omnivore’s Cookbook, where she shares her enthusiasm for food via personal stories, reliable recipes, and beautiful photography. She combes her knowledge of Chinese cooking with her adventures living in the US. After moving from China to the US in 2015, she grew her blog into a full time business within two years, achieving half a million in monthly traffic. Her blog was featured on Yahoo News as one of the seven Food Blogs You Should Be Following For Asian Cuisine.
(Disclosures: This post contains an affiliate link. Maggie is a former client.)
Elizabeth Minchilli says
Gear post!! So many useful tips!!
Nancie mcDermott says
Superb, detailed, inspiring and useful post. Thank you Dianne for featuring Maggie Zhu and Omnivore’s Cookbook. I follow Maggie and read, learn, and cook from her excellent blog, so this peek behind the scenes and powerhouse advice is extra-impressive to me, coming from her. Learned a lot, applying it immediately, always the case here, Dianne!
Thanks so much for the kind words Nancie! Looking forward to meeting you in person again 🙂
Thank you. Do you need to provide access to one’s passwords , etc to allow the VA to post on social media & blogs? This element concerns me. Please advise.
Hi Leeann, there are a couple ways to do it.
For example, both in WordPress and Facebook, you can create a separated log in for your VA and give them a different role. So they will use their own password and they won’t able to publish a blog post without your review, or accidentally delete your account.
The only social media that does not have this function is Instagram. So I’d work with my VA long enough to build enough trust to pass her any IG works.
I also use LassPass to manage all my passwords. So I can give access to my VA without revealing my log in details.
Thank you. I’ll think
This may answer some of the mystery of how social media can look so prolific from seemingly one individual. It must take some work or good luck to get a VA that’s a fit, but fantastic when it’s right. If anyone has tips on how they found their favorite VA I’d love to hear.
The links are super helpful and I’m delighted to be introduced to Maggie and her recipes.
I’m curious how you both met?
I still have many friends who manage their social media by themselves. In that case, they usually have one main platform they love to use. But for most food bloggers, it’s so challenging to do so because you need to be everywhere. It’s impossible to get my job done if I do all the social media myself.
It’s difficult to find a perfect VA. Most of the times it comes down to trials and errors. I’ve learned to fire people who do not fit the role. I also found that it’s always a good idea to ask around and get recommendations from your friends. Or hire some interns from a local college who know social media way better, and they would love to do the job in exchange for working experience.
Thank you Maggie, I can’t tell you how encouraging this post is.
I really assumed that I had no budget for a VA but after reading your article, I think I could outsource one or two tasks.
Also, thanks for the tip about Fiverr. I’ve thought about using someone there to create an ebook cover for me but I’ve been reluctant. Yours looks great.
Also, glad to have discovered your website. I’m making 3-ingredient Fried Shrimp this week!
Sandra Clark Jergensen says
This was so helpful to know that you started hiring out tasks when you were still only making $200 a month. I’ve been holding out on springing for help because I kept pushing it out, saying I’m not sure I can afford it yet, when I know that I just can’t scale and build the way I would like to until I get some help or wait for time and tech savvy to rain from the sky.
Thank you so much.
Adam Duffy says
Great Blog. I really like your post because of your post describe each & everything about the best part of outsourcing Virtual Assistance if we perform any kind of tasks related to food. Thanks for sharing with us. Keep up the good work
Sharon Garofalow says
Great post! I’m just using my first VA and it’s great! Any tips for how to best manage a workflow? Right now we have everything in Google Drive and it’s less than ideal!
Glad I came across your site. Lots of helpful info. Thank you!! I’m getting ready to hire a VA so this article is super helpful. Thanks again.