Hi Kara,

Thank you for being such a nice client. I am looking forward to work with you again soon… And it’s a pleasure being your friend as well. Take good care always.


That was the bittersweet last message from my virtual assistant after concluding a successful, three-month engagement via Elance.com.

51G957Lf-1L._SY344_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_BO1,204,203,200_If the idea of having a virtual assistant is new to you, it was new to me too until I read The 4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss in the fall of 2013. It was an empowering and energizing read – very simply put – about streamlining your time and maximizing your revenue so you can live life to the fullest. I highly recommend it and wish I had read it years earlier.

One of Ferriss’s recommendations is to find a virtual assistant to take tasks off your plate so you can focus on grander things, as well as practice delegation and communication. And since many virtual assistants live on the other side of the planet, they can get work done for you while you sleep! My new business offered plenty of opportunities for a virtual assistant to help, so I dove in, using pointers from the book.

Getting started. Elance is one of the online work websites Ferriss recommended. Here, you can find freelancing talent from coders to designers to bloggers. Setting up a profile, getting verified and posting a job were very easy – similar to eBay, including a rating system for freelancers’ quality. I specified pay of <$10/hr and personalized the Virtual Assistant job template:

Virtual Assistant for Online Research and Business Projects

  • Strong understanding of Internet and online communication tools
  • Ability to multitask and take on multiple projects
  • Ability to meet deadlines
  • Strong communications skills and attention to detail a must

Job Description:
I’m a young entrepreneur looking for a Virtual Assistant to help me with various marketing-related projects, especially online research. I strive to be easy to work with and clear in communications. I can’t wait to work with with you!

Your responsibilities:

  • Research using the Internet or other information databases
  • Summarizing research findings in a useful and succinct way
  • Other miscellaneous tasks that can be performed online

Your qualifications:

  • Previous experience as an administrative assistant preferred
  • Suitably fast Internet connection
  • Strong understanding of Internet and online communication tools
  • Ability to multitask and take on multiple projects
  • Ability to meet deadlines
  • Strong communications skills
  • Attention to detail a must
  • A complete Elance profile
  • References or an established reputation on Elance preferred

Selection. Within a few hours, I had over 20 proposals from all over the world – Jamaica, India, the Philippines, even the US. I actually closed the job from receiving more proposals because it was difficult to choose from so many great candidates already. I declined those who were too expensive or were replies from a business as opposed to an individual. But everyone else seemed pretty reasonable, between written English and experience. Some didn’t have Elance ratings yet though, so to further narrow the field, I sent personalized messages to each candidate and asked how they would go about their first task: 

Hello, Nessie!

Thank you for applying for this job! I have received quite a few proposals, and this is my first time using Elance. I would like to start with about 5 hours of work per week. If that is not acceptable to you, please feel free to decline or not respond.

If 5 hours per week is fine with you, would you please briefly respond to this question to help me decide on a candidate? How would you go about this task? — [this is where I gave a clear but open-ended overview of the marketing research task]

This is more or less the first task I would request, so I am interested in how you would start and work efficiently.

Thank you again for applying – I greatly appreciate it and hope to hear back from you soon!


To my surprise, almost every candidate responded. Then I looked for flawless English and strategic thinking. Here was Nessie’s reply: 

Hi Kara,

Thank you for considering my application. Five hours a week starting work is absolutely ok with me.

As for the task, I would love to gather marketing data and organize it in Excel. I can do the task with very minimal supervision as I have already done a research like something like this in the past. Thus, this task is not new to me.

I am very much willing to start anytime.


Finally, I narrowed candidates based on social media or marketing experience, in case those skills came in handy. Here was my second follow-up to Nessie:

Hello again, Nessie. Thank you for your reply! I have just one more question – would you please describe any social media, marketing, and blogging experience you have? Looking forward to hearing from you as I make my final decision.

And here was her reply:

Hello Kara!

I have used Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for social media and Hootsuite to manage them all. In the past, I was in charge of managing a client’s social media accounts. I also have blogging experience. You may want to view my beauty blog here: www.shadesandhighlights.blogspot.com

Hope to hear good news from you. Thank you so much!

I deliberated among three final candidates then chose Nessie. Even though her rate was a few dollars more per hour than some other candidates (but still well under $10), she already had a 5-star rating on Elance and the others didn’t. I also liked her tangible proof of experience. I sent nice thank you messages to everyone in the final few rounds to leave the door open for future work. Overall, I had a virtual assistant less than 48 hours after setting out to find one.

Work process. When I sent Nessie instructions for her first task, I used Ferriss’s recommendations of being very clear and setting finite time frames. His first attempt at directing a VA had turned a simple task into 23 hours of tail chasing due to a lack of clarity. I outlined the criteria of the project and concluded with “Please reply and confirm what you will do to complete this project.” She confirmed and went on to do stellar work.

Nessie and I used shared Google docs for projects, which was a breeze and of course much better than emailing documents back and forth. We communicated via the Elance “workroom,” and I got an email notification each time she replied. Communicating via email would work, but just in case a dispute arose (it didn’t), I wanted a record of everything in Elance. She also friended me on Facebook, so on the occasions when I was up too late and she was up early, we chatted about our countries, travels, and personal lives.

Work quality. After Nessie proved herself in her first project, I gave her more and more open-ended tasks. Her work was always thorough and thoughtful, her communication always fluent (not as perfect as a native speaker, but impressively close), and her tone always professional and friendly. She was also prompt, even though the projects I assigned weren’t time-sensitive. Her internet access was out for a few days when the typhoon hit the Philippines, but luckily she and her family were okay.

Final thoughts. My first experience with a virtual assistant was very positive. I never would have believed how easy it all was before I actually tried it, and now my eyes are opened. Elance provided a simple and smooth process to find and hire Nessie, and her work saved me scores of hours that I got to spend on other projects for my business.

Whether you’re an employee or an entrepreneur, I highly recommend evaluating at your to-do list in terms of what a virtual assistant could do on your behalf. This in and of itself is a creative and mind-expanding process. A quality virtual assistant’s rate can be less than $10 per hour – well worth the time you’ll save. So go for it. Find a virtual assistant or try working with a few different individuals to see whose style is best for you. And who knows – you might also end up with a new friend on the other side of the world.

If you’d like to work with Nessie, create a job post on Elance and invite her via her profile

My First Virtual Assistant
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One thought on “My First Virtual Assistant

  • January 28, 2014 at 1:38 pm

    I’m so glad your experience was a good one with a virtual assistant! I have used Elance before to look for work and I have to say it is very difficult to compete with others who are in other countries due to lower pay rates.

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