Virtual Assistants

How to Profitably Outsource Tasks to a Virtual Assistant

If you run an agency, consultancy, or service business you might be running into what I like to call a “champagne problem”. The problem of being able to sell more work than you’re able to do on your own.

Maybe you’re not at a place where you are able to, or want to hire a full-time team, or where you have an opportunity to get a lot of the mundane work off your plate and stick to the strategic stuff.

Whatever the case is, you might be trying to figure out how to start outsourcing your client work without killing your profitability and cash-flow.

The benefit of using virtual assistants is that you’ll often be able to pay them for the time they work and avoid having to carry salaries when times are slow. This makes VA’s a great first step to scaling your agency when your client acquisition is still on the inconsistent side. 

In this post I’ll share what I’ve learned from working with hundreds of agencies and teach you the 5 practical steps to outsourcing your client work profitably from the start.

Step 1 – Document Your Processes

How to Profitably Outsource Tasks to a Virtual Assistant1

If you’re a part of the Outsource School community, it should come as no surprise to you that one of the fundamental steps to profitably outsourcing your work to V/A’s is having good documentation of your processes.

Having solid documentation sets us up for success by doing a few important things:

  • Making the process (and ideally, it’s outcomes) consistent so you can maintain high standards for your clients
  • Makes your back-end more scalable as it enables you to quickly hire and train more V/A’s to increase capacity
  • Decreases risk as it helps to normalize the time it takes to complete the tasks (therefore normalizing your costs and profit margins)

I won’t spend much time in this article talking about the nuances of building great SOP’s, since there’s lots of other great content on this blog covering that already. Just know that it’s the first and probably most important part to getting your client work successfully outsourced.

Step 2 – Track the Scope of Work

The second step in the process is to track the time it takes you to complete this work and/or start tracking the time it’s taking your V/A.

The purpose of this exercise is to ensure you have a baseline idea of the cost associated with completing this task so you can benchmark future V/A’s against that baseline in the future, as well as complete the next few steps in this process associated with establishing and maintaining profitable processes.

If you’re looking for a useful piece of software that helps you quickly and accurately estimate the time it will take to complete projects based on work you’ve done in the past, check out our tools at Parakeeto. 

The key at this step in the process is to ensure that the way you structure and track time for your team is the same as the way you structure estimates for your client work.

For example, if you estimate work based on roles (design, development, project management) you’ll want to track time into those same buckets so you can reconcile your estimates against your actual time-tracking data.

This seems like common sense, but you might be surprised at how often this disconnection happens inside of service businesses I’ve worked with.

Step 3 – Determine the Value

How to Profitably Outsource Tasks to a Virtual Assistant

The next step is to determine the value of the tasks that are being outsourced, so you can better understand the margin associated with it.

Usually, this is a function of reverse-engineering the way you estimate client work or the assumptions you lean on to come up with your pricing.

For example:

We’re building a website for a client for $5000

That price is based on the assumption that it will take us 100 hours at $50/hour.

We’re outsourcing part of the work to a V/A and we estimate that the work will take 25 hours. Therefore the work is “valued” at $50 x 25 hours, or $1250 

At the end of the day, this step is all about creating an understanding of the value that is being created by the work that is getting done, as it relates to your client-facing pricing. 

Step 4 – Design for Margin 

How to Profitably Outsource Tasks to a Virtual Assistant4

The final step in this process is to design your engagement for healthy margins. How much should you be marking up contractors and V/A’s you might be asking? 

The baseline target for gross margin on a service engagement should be between 50-70% if you’re able to achieve higher margins – all the better.

The formula for calculating gross margin is the following:

  • Adjusted Gross Income – (COGS/Labor Costs) = Gross Margin
  • Gross Margin / Adjusted Gross Income = Gross Margin %

Where Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) is the amount of revenue left over for the agency to earn after any pass-through expenses are paid (ad-spend, print budgets, equipment rentals, etc.)

Where COGS/labor costs are the costs associated to the people you’ve brought in to work on this project, whether they’re internal team members or external contractors.

To calculate your employee cost per hour for internal team members, you’ll need to take their salary + benefits and divide it by their gross capacity. For most employees that comes out to 2080 hours per year (40 hours x 52 weeks)

That means if your V/A costs you $250 and you earn $1250 in revenue from their work, your gross margin on that portion of the work is 80% 

Tip: Remember to factor team and project management time into your estimates. Often, outsourcing to V/A’s can buy back a lot of time, but it may still require some time from you to manage and review your V/A’s work – don’t forget to factor that into your price when you’re calculating your margins and charging your client

Step 5 – Measure & Iterate

The final step is to make sure you continue to measure the time and cost it’s requiring you to deliver outcomes to your clients to make sure you can continually protect, or even improve your margins.

You can do this in a time-tracking tool, a spreadsheet, your accounting software – whatever you chose to do make sure it’s easy to get access to these numbers so you’re likely to review them often.

This will help you identify the gaps and opportunities for better processes, more optimized pricing, and ultimately better scalability and profitability. For more detailed content on how to run that iteration process, check out the guide we created on our blog.

As you add more V/A’s to your process and scale your services, keeping a close eye on your numbers will become increasingly important to make sure you always have strong cash-flow and can continue to scale your business. 

About the Author

Marcel Petitpas is the CEO & Co-Founder of Parakeeto, a consultancy turned software company that helps service businesses increase profitability and close more deals by generating accurate, data-driven estimates in seconds using their existing time-tracking data. He’s also the fractional COO at Gold Front, an award-winning creative agency working with top silicon valley brands like Uber, Slack, Google, Keap, Robinhood, and more. 

When he’s not helping agencies run more profitably, you’ll find him cycling or renovating his home with his fiancé Cearagh, or watching “the office” on an endless loop.

Virtual Assistants

3 Key Areas of Your Amazon Business to Automate

Anyone who tells you that FBA is a get-rich-quick scheme is lying — running an Amazon business is a tremendous undertaking.

With so many moving parts, founders often find themselves overwhelmed by the sheer number of things they need to quickly become an expert in. 

We see brand owners stuck in the mindset that they simply need to work harder on their business to see the real results. In reality, they need to work smarter.

Now more than never, there’s no excuse to be spending your precious time and resources on repetitive processes with predictable outcomes.

Outsource School provides some tremendous resources for making the most of your understandably limited bandwidth by outsourcing the most time-consuming tasks to skilled Virtual Assistants (VAs). By providing extensive training, instruction, and feedback, you’ll be able to effectively offload tasks that require consistent employee input. 

But while you may have your process down for outsourcing tasks, are these tasks still taking up headspace and sucking time each day, week, and month? 

Let’s take it one step further: automation.

In this article, we’re covering three key areas that you should be automating in your Amazon business. With these tips, you’ll be on your way to focusing on true high-impact activities that will actually grow your business (and your bottom line).

While your business can never truly run itself — there’s a reason human input is valuable and important — you’ll set your business up for success and avoid spending too much of your valuable time on time-consuming tasks. Let’s dive in!

Listing and Keyword Tracking

The first key area of your Amazon business that you should be automating is monitoring your product listings and tracking your most important keywords. 

How are you currently tracking whether your product was switched to the incorrect category? If you are suddenly dropping off in ranking for your most revenue-generating keywords? If your product was mistakenly (or maliciously) flagged as an adult product? If you are no longer able to receive reviews?

Many FBA sellers are still manually checking their listings daily to make sure all of these items are in line, and wondering if there is a better way to keep an eye on these crucial parameters.

Hint: there is.

Alerts from Seller.Tools will act as a customized surveillance system for your storefront, monitoring any important change in your product listing, ranking, or review rating and eligibility. 

Once you’ve decided what you want to monitor, you can opt in to receive an alert through a number of different channels with any relevant information to then take action and correct the problem.  

Even if you’ve offloaded this task to your VA, you’re still using their time to constantly monitor when you could be automating. This is the next step to seamlessly running your brand like an enterprise-level business!

Ranking + Rebate Distribution

Although it may seem intimidating and complicated, ranking on Amazon is really quite simple: target high-value keywords and get solid reviews. 

Even FBA sellers who have figured this out still struggle with the time-consuming nature of verifying valid purchases, manually sending rebates to their customers, and following up on a schedule to try to convince the customer to leave a review on Amazon. 

While this isn’t complicated in and of itself, it quickly becomes a huge undertaking if you’re running multiple rebate campaigns and giving out 100+ products daily.

Does this sound like a bookkeeping nightmare? I’m with you. The Seller.Tools team had the same thought and knew there had to be a more efficient way to rank on Amazon.

Seller.Tools is an industry leader in rebate campaigns for Amazon sellers and provides the most innovative, cutting-edge tools to automate this process while also creating a phenomenal, 5-star worthy experience for your customers. 

Rebate Automation from Seller.Tools makes it even easier to offload ranking and review capture, as it’s far simpler and quicker to onboard a VA with this methodology. 

What if you could:

  • Send your customers right to your product, targeting your most important and profitable keywords
  • Automatically verify their orders with Amazon in seconds and provide real-time responses with Amazon order updates
  • Instantaneously create and deliver a real gift card with over 100 different store options to your customers
  • Reliably follow up and request a review on the other side of the 5-star-worthy experience automatically

And the best part: what if you were not involved in a single step of this process?

With Seller.Tools + ManyChat, it’s so simple to get your VA up to speed and manage far more pieces of this ranking puzzle than they could if it was executed manually.

Anyways, working with clunky Google Sheets and dealing with PayPal mass payments (and mass fees!) doesn’t sound like any fun at all. Want to get in on this? Check out Rebate Automation here to learn more!

Team Communication + VA Task Management

Finally, one additional key area of your Amazon business that you should be automating is in communicating with your team and assigning tasks to your virtual assistants.

You know you’re on the right track when you’ve built out a strong, well-trained team of VAs who are actively involved in the day-to-day operations of your business.

However, if you want to do it right, managing these VAs takes time that you may not have. Keeping an eye out for changes in key areas of your business takes up a tremendous amount of headspace that brand owners simply do not have.

You’re ultimately still creating a bottleneck in your business if tasks need to filter through you.

What if you could automate your communication and task management for your VAs, and send time-sensitive tasks that require action right to the person who will be taking that action? 

Using a tool like Zapier unlocks huge potential for true automation in these areas. 

Now let’s get to the good stuff: how do we automate communication and task management? Let’s think back to our previous example with Alerts. 

  1. Set up an Alert in Seller.Tools whenever your product is not eligible to receive reviews (or any other important listing attribute you’d like to monitor).
  2. Set up a Zap to send a quick task to your VA to address the issue. Include all of the relevant information in the task, so they don’t have to come to you for further instruction every time.
  3. Follow up with an automated Slack notification to confirm they have received the task and have the action item covered. 
  4. Reclaim your headspace and deep work time, and get back to work!

Your VA’s time is still valuable and still requires an investment on your part. Setting up automatic, action-oriented Alerts will make your team of VAs even leaner and reduce your overall costs by focusing their time and attention on action instead of monitoring and waiting for tasks to come through. 

Automating these three key areas will increase the return on investment you’re seeing in your team of VAs, and will unlock claimed time so you can spend more time on the things you do best. 

How do you automate your business? Join the conversation and leave your best ideas in the comments!

Cydney Glasser | Marketing and Communications Specialist, Seller.Tools

Cydney guides digital communication at Seller.Tools, and loves empowering Amazon sellers to crush their goals by building innovative growth-hacking strategies.

She has an educational background in marketing and nonprofit management, and has enjoyed working in digital marketing and impact communication within multiple industries. Cydney is thrilled about the endless opportunities within e-commerce and the chance to be a pioneer in an ever-changing industry!

Virtual Assistants

How to Delegate as a Solopreneur

There is a common belief that only big businesses can afford to hire many employees, while the smaller ones, let alone the solopreneurs, simply have to stick to the DIY. 

Luckily, remote work has enabled the gig economy to flourish powered by the convenient freelance marketplaces where everybody – and I really mean everybody – can get the expert help they need, when they need it and for how much they can afford.

I specialize in consulting startup founders on how to build and launch their MVPs in a super minimal way by leveraging the open talent model – global freelance marketplaces. 

Typically my clients are early stage founders, thus bootstrapping or working within tight investment limits. Often they have an already existing business to keep running in order to feed the spin-off product development. 

Still, on average, we manage to work with at least 10 experts in the first few months and always have the right person for the job and the crucial advice to make the best decisions for the business. 

But today I’m not even talking about these small businesses. I’m talking about myself. A solopreneur. Somebody who runs a one person show, an independent consulting where it’s simply me. The product is my expertise service. The business is me. 

I’m going to give you 10 examples of the tasks that I’ve outsourced and couldn’t be happier about. Read on!

What to outsource as a solopreneur?

  • Logo Design

You’re either artistic or you’re not, but there are also many technicalities around it (the resolution, file formats, transparent background or not, etc.). 

Instead of trying to do it myself, I contract it out to someone, give them exact details of what logo I’m looking for then go through their versions as they’re submitted. 

  • Video and Photo Editing

Sure, there are many tools for editing media files and they all claim to be user-friendly. Still, for an inexperienced user to make sure the bullet-points appear one by one as the speaker (myself in the video) says the sentence, would probably take many trials and errors to get in sync. 

I’ve outsourced all my video work and kept working on what I’m really good at while the video was being prepared for me. 

  • Website revamp

In the spirit of the MVP, when I was first starting out, I did a simple website using one of the no-code CMS platforms (mind you, I’m a software engineer myself, but simply not specialized in developing front-end pages and not eager to learn something I don’t plan on doing in the future). 

Once my business started taking off, I wanted a more professionally looking website and with the options to integrate the add-ons I needed. I hired a WordPress developer and while he was working for me, I kept working for my clients on the work I plan to continue in the future. 

  • Website add-ons

When your business is growing, the new needs appear, for example to integrate scheduling calls within a calendar on your website. 

The platforms I use like Calendly, MailChimp etc. come with extensive documentation and integration instructions, but then again, I have my primary work to do. Happy to have outsourced the work, the investment has paid off so many times already.

  • SEO

Like many tech driven areas of expertise, this one is subject to the constant changes of the search algorithms, tendencies, and strategies. What might take me days of research, an expert focused on their field can do within a few hours of an audit of my website. 

  • Slides

When I’m preparing a talk or webinar, I simply throw the content on the slides and ask for help putting it in a nice format, all elements aligned, all colors combined. Lovely!

  • Book cover

Writing a book isn’t an easy task, let alone coming up with a good book cover. Outsourcing a task like designing the book cover to somebody who has the talent and experience required is a huge help and can save you hours of time working on something you’re not qualified to do.

  • Proofreading

Believe me, even the native speakers use proofreading services. When writing a book (or an extensive article), you are focused on the content and on the flow. The more you read, the less you notice mistakes. 

A fresh set of eyes can make a huge difference. I loved reading my chapters put in an elegant error-free version by the proofreader I hired.

  • Formatting

The online world can get complicated with all the different rules for the formats that are accepted by certain platforms. 

While it does make sense to have some standards that make things more convenient for the content consumers, it’s a lot to keep track of. My book final file was produced by a freelancer who does that multiple times per day and knows the formats front to back.

  • Keywords research

Based on your suggested keywords and your ToC, an experienced person can find the keywords that you can leverage to drive more visitors. This does take a lot of time and experience, and I’ll keep outsourcing for sure.

While I am 100% satisfied with my experience so far, in the next phase, I’d like to experiment with a long-term VA that would get deeper into my business and help me with the tasks that are more on the ”outside”, like reaching out to potential partners, checking in on the ongoing activities with the other collaborators, etc. 

How to outsource as a solopreneur?

What I tell my clients, I apply myself as well, and here it is: any successful collaboration, whether it’s a long-term one with a core team member, a one-time simple assignment, or a partnership arrangement, is built on and requires all of the following 10 points for successful outsourcing: 

  • Your own clarity on what you need help with and what you expect from the collaboration

Give yourself a diagnosis. hehe! What do you suffer from? What do you struggle with? And: what kind of result would make you happy and feel that your problem has been solved?

  • Your own clarity whether it’s the lack of expertise or lack of time that you are trying to solve

This is crucial. If you lack time, you find a follower type to teach/train to overtake some of the tasks from you, usually the repetitive ones. 

On the other hand, if it’s the expertise you are lacking, well, you need an expert. And you need to be able to express your pain point to them clearly. 

  • Selection of the right collaborator

Freelance marketplaces use references from previous clients to present the freelancers to the potential new clients. Together with the freelancer’s profile, the references are a great tool when selecting. 

In addition, I like doing video calls with the top 3 candidates, to get that feeling if we are indeed on the same page.

  • Selecting the right collaborator at the right time and on the right terms (full / part time, long / short term, or on an as-needed basis)

Often entrepreneurs are reluctant to hire and wait too long and get in the situation when the work needs to be redone by the expert when they finally join. 

In addition, there are many research tasks, solution suggestions etc., that should be done prior to starting acting. With freelancers, you can do one time consulting, or arrange to be in touch on an as-needed basis, but don’t be reluctant when reaching out for help and advice.

  • Crystal clear input

No matter if it’s a simple one time task or a complex consulting request, list down all you have in a systematic way so it’s easy for the freelancer to understand.

  • Well defined output

Make sure you and your collaborator are on the same page with the goal of the collaboration and outline it clearly in writing so they have it to refer to at all times during the work..

  • Patience and openness to hear the suggestions

Your business is your love child, I know. You know your domain and you know your customer base. But remember that you’re reaching out to an expert because something was missing in the first place. Hear them out and listen to the ideas they have for your project.

  • Pre-defined collaboration tools and processes

Solopreneurs tend to think that they don’t need management tools and processes as they are not a team…they are solo. However, if you don’t want to be hearing the same questions again and again from each freelancer, digging into old email threads, losing track of what has been done and what is due and when, start managing from day 1. All the info in one place, all the tasks on the board, etc.

  • Maintaining the professional relationship during the collaboration

Remember that each expert is a business on their own, just like you. They offer their expert services, they invest into their expertise upgrades, and they handle multiple clients at the same time. 

Let them know in advance when their services will (not) be needed, ask what they think about your plan, etc. Show that you trust them and value their services.

  • Staying in touch after the collaboration has been wrapped up

It’s always easier to get additional work done by somebody who already knows your business and your way of running it. Keep in touch with your ex-collaborators and cultivate your network so you can tap into them in the future as needed as well.

The world’s become extremely remote and there is no reason to limit your business within the walls nor to do everything yourself. To learn more, check out:

Tijana Momirov is a software engineer, product manager and founder of StartupSetup where she helps founders start their startups, all in a remote, agile and super lean way by leveraging the gig economy. She’s been a full time nomad since 2010 and loves blogging and giving talks about nomadic lifestyle, managing remote teams, future of work, the gig economy, productized services and more. She is a co-author of “Your Company with No Walls” and mentor at various startup organizations.