How to Hire a Virtual Assistant in 15 minutes for 1 Dollar Per Hour – Blind Experiment Method
Below is a detailed step by step guide on how to hire a virtual assistant using what I like to call my Blind Experiment Method. There is no interview, I hire 2, fire 1 and the whole process only takes about 15 minutes of my time to get a talented VA for $1/hr – see the video below for an over the shoulder look at me doing exactly that.
2016 UPDATE – Although this is the exact strategy I still use the expected amount you will be needing to pay is at least $3/hr and ODesk is now UpWork.
As I have mentioned on this site several times before my available time to work on my online business is limited! I have a demanding day job, a wonderful wife and very active little 7 month old I love to spend time with. So unlike a lot of other people who talk about outsourcing that are working online full time my ability to outsource is mission critical to any success I have online.
Since I started online helping a tech startup company build their website in 2007 I have worked A LOT on ODesk…
Most of the information available online about outsourcing just doesn’t jive with what I find to be reality. People talk about long hiring cycles, expensive VA vetting services and difficulty finding a quality VA.
So this article is my unique take on hiring a virtual assistant and is the first part in a multi-part epic series on how I manage to run my online business using outsourcing.
3 Myths About Hiring a VA I Have Found Not to be False
- The interview is the most important part of the hiring process – I keep reading about how important it is to interview a VA before working with them…but why? An interview is difficult to coordinate (especially if you only have 0.5-2hrs per day to work on your business). Here is my reasoning why I never interview…
- Cost of the interview = 1.5hrs of my time (10 minutes for 3 emails to set up a time – 20 minute interview times that by 3 applicants)
- Cost of not interviewing = under $10 & 0.5hrs(assume 1/2 of the VAs I hire does not adequately perform and you end their contract after 10 hrs cost 0.5x$20 = $10 – often less and the work they do still has some value)
- So the question becomes simple what is more important $10(likely much less) or 1 hr of my time?
- Talented VA’s who can do everything are easy to find – Some people talk about VA’s as being a quick fix to all business problems. Some VA’s can be a huge help to multiple areas of your business but I have never met one that can do it all. Most VA’s can execute a few jobs well but others very poorly. Thinking that you will be able to find one VA who can do everything is a big mistake a lot of people looking to get started with VA’s make. I like to have a mix of VA’s on my team so that combining their specific strengths I can cover most activities needed for my site. They all can do the basics to run my business but some have special skills (photoshop, excel etc) and I leverage those talents on specific projects.
- You can find VA’s from the Philippines that write perfect English – I have found this one to also be false. After many attempts I have been unable to find and hire a VA who is able to produce English as a first language quality articles. After hearing from other people that they were able to I did a large hiring and testing job where I hired 15 VA’s who were all going to write for me and tested each of them with initial assignments. Although some of the articles were decent none were of what I would consider high quality. I have tested probably 20 non-native English speaking writers at this point and have yet to find a writer who produces high enough quality articles. I don’t mean to pick on the Philippines they are the often recommended country for writers but this extends to all non-English writers.
Step by Step Guide – How to Hire a Virtual Assistant on Odesk in 15 minutes of Work for $1/hr
Of course you know I love sharing detailed tutorials and not just theory…so here it is… something that people have been asking for…exactly how I go about hiring virtual assistants.
Step 1 – Sign up at ODesk
The sign up process at ODesk is straightforward. You simply sign up and attach a credit card to your account.
Sign Up at ODesk Here
Step 2 – Post a Job on ODesk
Post a job on ODesk. For me I used a very simple job posting in the administrative general category.
Some people like to use hidden keywords to qualify applicants or say no form cover letters. To me it only makes sense people would use form cover letters when the success rate of job posting has to be around 1/50 so who would spend time creating a unique cover letter. I wouldn’t so I don’t punish people who don’t. The bottom line is I don’t want to hire the VA with the best application I want the best VA at their job so the more applicants for me to select from the better! The ability with ODesk to see who is serious and who is not is easy with their previous work history so I don’t use the cover letter to judge how serious an applicant they are.[wpsharely id=”923″]
VA Job Description Template – View Here
Step 3 – Wait 1-24 hrs no longer!
In only 15 minutes 19 applicants had applied! Within 2 hrs 52 applicants had applied. I like to keep the momentum going of someone who just applied and hire them as soon after they applied as possible. This momentum when managing VA’s will get discussed more in future posts but it is a key part of managing remote workers.
When I have hired someone who applied to the job longer than 24hrs ago I notice a decline in the responsiveness. My focus in this phase is to keep the momentum moving and the cycle time from application to hired short.
Step 4 – Sort through the List of Applicants
Here are the 4 measures I use to find the best possible VA.
- How many hours has the person worked on ODesk (~30% weighting) – The more hours the better, what often can occur is someone will sign up on ODesk, apply to a job but then never follow through on the assignment. Someone that is making a living on ODesk will be certain to deliver results for you and protect their positive feedback.
- ODesk Feedback (~30% weighting) – Reviews are not good enough to sort out the top 50% but they can be reliable on cutting out the bottom 25-50% of applicants. If someone is below a 4 rating I would stay away. However, someone that has a 4.91 is not necessarily better than someone with a 4.78…reviews just are not to be trusted that much in my opinion.
- Matching Skill Set (~20% weighting) – In my case I am looking for someone who has done similar work including WordPress, research and some SEO work. If they have another bonus skill I can’t efficiently teach I consider that as well such as graphic design or the ability to code.
- English Skills (~20% weighting) – I want to find someone who does not have any broken English in their application. Whether it is selecting a category for a post or crafting a tweet their English skills need to be decent enough to put together a non-broken sentence.
Step 5 – Hire the 2 Best VA’s for the Blind Experiment
Based on the criteria above hire the 1-3 best potential VA’s with no interview. Simply select the 2 best and hire them.
Here is where the blind experiment method comes into play. Without an interview I just go ahead and hire someone then in the next steps there is the “experiment” to prove who is the best VA.
Step 6 – Assign Short Term Research Assignment
Once the VA’s have been hired it is time to send them their first assignment. It is important to follow up with the instructions right after you have hired them. The assignment I am looking to assign is something that is simple and will prove to me if they have what it takes.
Example of the 2 assignments I am going to assign…
- Research Assignment #1 – Find 30 scholarships for College students in the US who are from China. Create a Google spreadsheet and share it with JonHaver11. I would like you to include the name of the scholarship, the URL of the scholarship and a copied short description of the scholarship. Please confirm you have received these instructions by emailing me at jonhaver11 immediately after being hired and send a very brief email daily with your progress (# found) and any questions you have. I would like this research completed within 2-3 days.
- Research Assignment #2 – Find 30 scholarships for College students in the US who are from Canada. Create a Google spreadsheet and share it with JonHaver11. I would like you to include the name of the scholarship, the URL of the scholarship and a copied short description of the scholarship. Please confirm you have received these instructions by emailing me at jonhaver11 immediately after being hired and send a very brief email daily with your progress (# found) and any questions you have. I would like this research completed within 2-3 days.
That is it! I like to provide more detail on all future assignments but this clear enough but not too detailed job will show me what kind of person they are.
Step 7 – Review Work Completed by the VA’s
The review of their work starts with their communication, I like to see the confirmation come shortly after being hired saying they understand the job. If I get a ton of emails asking simple questions like “how do I create a Google Document” or anything they could easily learn with Google then I know they will be a burden on my time and not free it up. If they are crisp with their daily communication and deliver great results in an organized fashion within the timeline then I know what kind of worker they are. This test assignment has been a huge help to me.
In this phase I am looking for..
- Speed of communication
- Quality of communication
- Quality of questions they ask
- Quality of final piece of work (did they “get it”)
Step 8 – Fire Lowest Performing VA
In the past I have spent time trying to train up low performers to make them high performers. However, I am now very convinced my time is far better off training up my best performers and churning through VA’s until I find some stand outs who can be top performers.
WARNING – You will get many emails after you end the contract of the VA asking to be re-hired and providing many passionate pleas why you should hire them. It does hurt to say no to some people. If I think I gave them a fair opportunity I can’t get too worked up about ending their contract but it still sucks. So if you plan on following my no interview hire 2 fire 1 strategy be aware there is pain associated with it.
Find out in the next post who won…
Step 9 – Manage and Train Your VA
This step will be covered in the next blog post in my multi part series on how I hire, train and manage my team to allow me to build my business while I am at my day job.
Up Next in This Epic Outsourcing Series
- How to manage VA’s (and find out who won)
What Others are Saying About the Blind Experiment Method…
“Surprisingly, after I spoke to Jon from Authority Website Income, it took me only 30 minutes to find the most effective VA I have ever hired before through ODesk.” See the full post here – The Financial Blogger
Who Do You Think Will Win – Abul vs Ahsan?
Enter your guess in the comments below and check in for the next part in this series to see the work each produced and why I chose the eventual winner.
Affiliate Sign Up Bonus: If you sign up using my affiliate link I will provide the username of some proven VA’s
- Sign up at ODesk using THIS LINK
- Forward me the confirmation email that you have signed up to jonhaver11 (at) gmail (dot) com
- I will reply with a link to a few VA’s I have worked with that are good
Hi Jon, thanks for this amazing tutorial. You are a rock-star in cheap outsourcing 🙂
I struggle with it so much! I will apply your advices this week.
Hi Jakub, thanks for the comment. Let me know how it goes when you outsource.
Great post Jon! Also, the analysis you go through in the video regarding exactly what you look for when analyzing the VA applicants is incredibly helpful. Thanks again.
Hi Stephen, glad it was helpful.
I do somewhat similar. But add in the following steps:
1) $1/hr tailors mainly to middle east and Philippines markets. An ad gets most exposure at the beginning of the posting. Listing it at the most proper times according to those country time zones when most applicants are a) awake and b) online looking on Odesk yields 2-3x as many applicants.
2) I post before I need the job and allow a few days to collect applicants. Most that apply early are automated applications.
3) Similar to how you hire two and fire one, I post two listings with separate titles and alternative descriptions.
4) Add more than needed skill tags desired. Virtual assistant is only one of them. Virtual assistant is a broad tag and most that apply are not expert virtual assistants. They have a core skill set in some other area but have the skill also to be a VA.
The theory is something like this
Most VBA excel programmers and SEO grunts have the skill set to be a VA but not all VA have the skill set to program VBA or do SEO work.
This has proved extremely beneficial for me as overtime I have to post less and less when have a short term project or need another skill set and already have a relationship with the previous contractor.
5) I made a professional pdf file that gives background of our company and what we do and send to every new hire. Even $1/hr grunts work better when they know who their working for and what they’re all about. A sense of value is present and they can more easily understand their piece of the overall puzzle.
6) If their from a foreign 3rd world country (99% will be at $1/hr) I require a speedtest.net screen shot of their Internet speed.
Some will have 56k modems in a real “village”. Even if the work is good, if the project is Internet related they could be costing you $5/hr and not deliver in the time frame that you need due to 80% of their “benchtime” is waiting for pages to load.
7) Security – You cannot overlook this.
In these third world countries air-condition is a luxury. A house hold pc and high speed Internet is royalty!
I make sure ALL of my VA and employees work though a controlled remote desktop connection that’s easily setup at AWS at Amazon for cheap.
I won’t put a number on it, but the amount of $1/hr employees that work at an Internet cafe is extremely high. Most of the population does not have their own pc.
It doesn’t matter if they are only doing research and don’t need logins of access to company credentials.
It’s not fun to have hackers or bottom feeder desperate people look at your work and go approach a competitor and/or resale proprietary information, knowledge of completed work that you’ve already paid for.
8) Do not make your Odesk profile your company name. Your competitors do search for you and they can easily see check contracts and workers your working on past or present.
9) I have a company pdf that needs to be read and accepted at hire along with #5 above at time of hire.
Such items include expectations of communication if something comes up, Odesk clock always to be used etc. All of them always write back and say accepted.
Making them have some time invested in reading your company document and terms always makes them feel like their $1/hr job is more official. Because 95% (or more) of hires on Odesk will be short term regardless of if it says long term or not. And your VA know this.
I know that’s a mouth full. Not every point above is used on every job but it’s just a short list of some practices that I use that increase best chance success from experience on a case by case posting.
But to anyone who reads this, using a VA if it be full wage or $1/hr to delegate redundant or repetitive task is the #1 reason why great ideas in small businesses never get past the infancy or baby stage.
“More hours in a day is the only thing money cannot buy, but money can buy you more free time in a day.”
I strongly object to the term “Third World Country” and the assumptions made by Dustin Jones that the VAs / freelancers are working from villages where AC are luxury and laptops are royalty. He made it look like the VAs are sweatshop workers or laborers at some slave farm.
Even if they live in villages and work from net cafes, they are producing work at one tenth of the cost that you pay in your first world country.
Seriously Jon, you should moderate such comments.
Hi Dustin – Thanks for the epic comment. Lots of great tips. I really like the VPS to have your VA’s log in through.
@Kashif – I know what you are saying regarding the comment mentioning “third world” – I believe he was using maybe a little extreme language but was not meaning any disrespect by it. I do want to stress every day I am blown away by my VA’s work ethic and dedication.
@Dustin. Thanks for the tips. I never really thought much about security other than changing access to certain parts of my website. Can you please elaborate on “AWS at Amazon for cheap?” What is it & what is the purpose?
Thanks for great info. I tweeted three times and couldn’t access the google doc: SHARE TO UNLOCK MY GOOGLE DOCUMENT WITH MY VA JOB DESCRIPTION TEMPLATE
It should be working but here is the link – https://docs.google.com/document/d/1QMM2h6IoAB9YZmfjLYwqAXThpFeKpR0woCBbDfA86mg/
You’re taking my comments out of context. I’m not saying these VA are “slaves” or forced “laborers”.
But I am speaking from EXPERIENCE.
– To your comment about working from village of work from net cafes. There is NOTHING WRONG with this. My point is that if your work has sensitive information your VA could be conducting your work in an “uncontrollable” environment where hackers and data thieves lurk in outstanding numbers compared to a VA working from their home office (in the same country).
<— Trusted source suring in Asia found keystroke loggers in the task resources on the PC's.
This doesn't mean only 3rd world countries net cafes aren't safe. This goes for net cafes ANYWHERE.
– "VAs / freelancers are working from villages where AC are luxury and laptops are royalty. "
This comment doesn't reference them as living in a sweatshop or being laborers. It's just the honest truth.
I visit Asia once a year and each time take a few days to visit the Philippines and especially a husband and wife team that have been VA for me for over 4 years.
In the capital city during monsoon season, having 1 foot of standing water in downtown streets is the norm. Internet being down for hours or days during the season is normal. The normal population having a home PC and internet connection is NOT normal and considered high class.
Being employed is putting a square of rice and a meat on the table 3 times a day.
You might think the comment is classifying them as "slaves" or "laborers". No, they're not forced and they are not slaved.
From Jon's post …the names of his oDesk clients I'm going to "predict" their from Bangladesh or Pakistan region.
In this area, it's "somewhat" common to have your internet and/or electricity cut off for hours with limited noticed simply because the government can get more money outsourcing the energy or internet pipeline to another region during specific times or days.
Not to mention that this region is on the UN's list of known terrorist hideouts.
My bookkeeper for one of my businesses is from Bangladesh. I had many website login accounts severly jammed up for many days for nothing other than an IP login from this region attempting to sign in. Of course it was authorized. But even with my authorization, the systems that Admins in developed countries put in place many times will not even allow a manual override from an IP location from that region, this Remote Desktop with a US IP was implemented.
I stand by my comments 100% and hope you realize that mine are not disrespectful or suggestive of slave labor. It's simply a fact of matter and a way of life for many VA on oDesk in these regions.
While electricity is somewhat an issue in the South Asia and Far East, it has not hampered the progress and performance of the talented people in the region.
Hundreds of thousands of outsourcing service providers from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and other countries of South Asia and Far East are successfully providing their services to the clients in the West. There are always some teething problems when you engage in remote collaboration, especially if there is a significant timezone and cultural difference. But such issues are easily resolved with prompt communication and implementing some standard operating procedures. Nothing to worry or whine about.
As the proverb goes, you get what you pay for. So please don’t accept top quality, glitch free, services when you are paying $1/hr.
Dustin – Kashif – Thanks for having such a solid respectful conversation – It is rare people with differing opinions keeps it this clean and useful. Both of you have some great points and I really enjoyed reading your comments.
Looking forward to seeing the results. Do you bother with adding “Easter eggs” in yiur job description to make sure they actually read the project?
I thought I was doing well getting native English writers from us/Canada and uk for $4-$5 a 500-600 word article. I have however adopted your hire and fire fast montra. It’s saved a lot of time!
Hi Nick, I do not do the easter egg trick. My thinking is that I want the best candidate not the best application. I know a lot of people use automated applications and if they are the best candidate I do not care that they do. That’s my take on it at least.
Abdul Probably won I am going to guess. Great article, i have really found your churn and burn method superior to other methods I have tried. Hire a few and fire the rest.
Glad the method worked for you. I am convinced it is definitely the way to go.
I have to agree based on my experience on oDesk that traditional interviewing and the like is inefficient. Break the tasks down into relatively simple parts, provide video demos and step-by-step of what to do, hire quick and see if they can do it. Of course, I had to learn this the hard way over time. I see above a good question on Easter eggs; I’ve found that helps me weed out auto posters and the like. Have you tried telling the hires that there is another one on the task and it will be hire 2 fire 1? I know some swear by it, I’m leaning towards trying that. I would think it might make my work a little more of a priority if they know there is competition.
Don, sounds like you have your system down! I don’t have an issue with auto-posters if there is a good applicant behind them. The competition angle I have not done…I think it would be worth trying but my thinking is I want to see the best possible example of their skills not an artificially inflated version for a short period of time.
Jon, good counter-arguments on both. On small quickie tasks I understand auto posting and agree. On larger, more complex tasks I still tend to prefer a response that indicates they at least glanced at the task details. Maybe I’ll learn to relax and get over that. I like your point about avoiding short-term effort inflation; perhaps better to have a longer-view system where the VA’s you hire know that there are other VA’s you are working with who can step in if they don’t accomplish the task.
You saying you get what you pay for is exactly my point.
And with $1/hr you get exactly that.
Jons article I think only works best for new users who want feedback and are new. I would be hard pressed to see any Odesk user working full time long term for $1.
I think Jons method works best to get a VA for cheap to start and if prove themselves earn more money per hour in the future.
Dustin, you are correct my VA’s will move up in income quickly but I can get quality people for this rate who are happy to work so I go for it.
A lot of useful information in here. I appreciate the info in the comments as well. I’ve churned two VA’s now in less than a month. I was employing them both @ 20-30hrs a week and it just hasn’t worked out.
I used Odesk for designing logos for me and a girl in Spain absolutely nailed it for relatively cheap ($5/hr). I would use her again for any design projects. I look forward to trying the Hire 2 Fire 1 method to try and get some SEO help for a buck or two/hr.
Thanks for the article.
As an aside – I bought two domains off of Jon not that long ago. He threw in a couple of adders that he was by no means obligated to add in and they both added huge value for me.
Would love the Spain gal’s info!
Hey Jon –
Regular reader, love seeing your income reports. I think I’ll be building a site as you have done in the coming months when my current projects are set up. (Might come back to ask you a question or two about using affiliate offers in the States 🙂 – I’m also Canadian).
Wanted to say that this is another excellent post, I’m really looking forward to the rest of this series, as I’m considering how to increase my productivity by utilizing VAs.
Definitely would have signed up through your link, but I’m already signed up!
(I’ll guess Abul, simply because even if they both do adequate jobs or Ahsan does a bit better, you’ll be paying twice as much for Ahsan, so his work would likely have to be twice as good to justify it)
Good read John. I will surely test out some of the strategies you have laid here on O’desk anytime i will be hiring any VA.
Thanks for releasing this at the right time.
Your findings kind of mirror mine.
Native english speakers for written copy only for me.
I never bother with interviews. I like to give a simple 1 time task and hire a few people but not give a set date of completion, but mention there is other work available. The ones who get it done that day and ask for more end up being pretty good workers.
Hi Jon – Nice article. I have so much to do and such little time. I have a full time job, too many websites and a 2 month old boy to look after so yep, a VA would definitely be a help. For copy I might try to use native a English speaker as I’d rather not receive something I’d have to rewrite.
I like your tips on putting together instructions/requirements.
Hey Jon, I posted a job on Odesk right now, after I read your epic article!
During these days I stopped to focus on SEO and I’m more on great content creation, to help others and build relationship. I still remember when you helped me:) What do you think about?
interesting. As I’m always in the need for good support, I really enjoyed this article (as well as the other one…)
One question though: Do you recommend always using the same Research Assignments mentioned above no matter what niche? Or would you rather suggest to adjust those assignments?
Thanks for this great post!
I would adjust the assignment depending on what the final job of the VA will be. Another task I like to give as the initial assignment is to “build a wordpress.com website in 5 hrs with the attached content similar to ____ site”. With only that information if they turn around and create a decent wordpress.com site using WordPress best practices I can be pretty sure they will be able to help me with my wordpress sites tasks.
Hi Jon, I confirm for the momentum: if you hire soon, you get responsive actions by VAs,
and you have high chances to get soon the job done.
I recently got an Odesk problem:
Odesk seems implemented a minimum wage constraint…
You can’t hire a contractor for less then their profile hourly rate.
For example: A freelnacer shows $3/h on his profile, but him and you agree to work for 1$/h…
well, you can’t, because odesk wants you to offer between $3 and $999.
Did you have the same problem?
Hi Ago, I haven’t experienced that problem. Maybe it is something new they just rolled out. A lot of VA’s use price anchoring strategies by having a really high hourly rate on their profile so that it looks like a deal when they are willing to work for $3/hr. I don’t see a big upside for ODesk to implement that requirement so hopefully that changes.
Hi, here its the same, but even when someone has $1,12/hr in there profile the minimum possible hiring rate is 2.7$. Seems that they just changed there rules at odesk.
Awesome and VERY informative post, Jon.
Great advice on hiring the VA’s. shall we call it “Hire VA A/B split testing?
Have the other installments to this series been written. I’ve tried to search for them, but been unable to locate the follow up articles.
I am using the same method, but how do I modify the initial assignment/test task for outsourcing the whole creation of Niche website (already have a niche in mind) i.e niche keyword research, finding commercial intent domain names, setting up wordpress, design.
Your myth #3 “You can find VA’s from the Philippines that write perfect English” is subjective. Where are looking for those VAs anyway? If it’s on a freelancing/bidding site like odesk, elance, etc, then, you are really up to a bad start. There are bad writers as there are excellent writers here in our motherland. Look for portfolios on LinkedIn if you want high quality writers (and if you’re willing to pay a fair rate regardless of nationality). Or search google for “freelance writers in the Philippines”. And if you’re not willing to pay an article above $5 (for 500 words), then just stick to bidding sites and low quality content.
PS: yes, I’m from the Philippines
PPS: does my English suck?
I appreciate your opinion.
I have definitely found a great VA and it could be a dime a dozen.
Finding the margin of profit and expense for a VA is a vital decision that will set the tone for the profit you can make.
this is a great article , and im a freelancer from Bangladesh I would like to get hired for 1$/H
I accept paypal ,
My skype uddin9live
I am a big fan of your site and decided to take the plunge with oDesk because of your tutorials. In fact, I’ve decided to unoffically take part in the 6-figure challenge. I tried sending you 2 emails about the recommendations for writers/VAs/social media managers but I did not get a reply from you. I know you must be busy but I would really appreciate a reply. 🙂
It’s true that some people don’t know what a virtual assistant does. But now that we’re in a world where technology prevails Virtual Assistants is now on spotlight. Virtual Assistants are really necessary these days because of all the piled up work and cramped schedules. Thumps up for VAs!
Hey Jon, good tips about hire 2 fire 1 strategy. It’s kind of risky but is still worth it. May I know how many days did you take to test your 2 VAs before firing 1 of them? And in the last part, I agree in effectively managing and training your VA. This is the basic and most effective way to make sure that your VA won’t make a mistake or keep it to a minimum if really unavoidable. You must have complete SOPs before hiring one.
Is it still possible to hire VAs for $1.11/hour? I’m curious.
So big in fact, we had to include it in our Definitive Guide to Filipino Virtual Assistants:
Thanks for this awesome resource Jon and keep hustling!
It’s always depend on the tasks you want to assign to your virtual assistants I would recommend that if you have budget don’t go with the cheapest ones. If you afford they best remote talent at affordable price why searching for the cheapest. It’s surely preferred to hire best of the best virtual talent/
Hi John. Do you think that Odesk is a good place to hire people for calling here in the U.S.
Hiring in 15 minutes has the risk of hiring wrong staff I would say.