You can make more coffee, yes, but you can’t brew up more time in your day. As time is your most valuable resource, the name of the game is time management and prioritization, but depending on your workload, it may feel like a losing game at that. If so, you’ve likely reached the point where you don’t have enough time to run your firm the way you would like to. The solution? Delegation. But what if you aren’t ready, or don’t want to, hire an in-house, full-time employee? Take a breather because that’s okay—enter the virtual assistant (VA). I have many members ask me when they should get a VA, and the long answer varies as much as the types of firms and planners that exist. The short answer? “It depends.” Let’s unpack why.
What a virtual assistant can do for you
You must have a pain point, or you wouldn’t be wondering about hiring best practices. Or perhaps you see a pain point not too far off on the horizon, and you are thinking ahead. (Good for you!) Either way, let’s start from the ground up—what is your pain point, and what help do you need to alleviate it? The answer to this question will let you know how much time you might need from someone, what tasks to start them with, and if you need any specialty skills. Pain points come in different forms. It may be the tasks you do well but don’t enjoy, such as bookkeeping for some. There are also those jobs you can do, but you just aren’t very efficient at. This might be social media and blog posts, for instance. I love getting rid of tasks you just never do. Since you’re not doing them, technically, they aren’t taking a lot of time, but they take up rent-free space in your head as you worry about the fact you are not doing them. (Compliance anyone?) Regardless of what’s in your way, start there, and get it out of your way.
This often leads people to ask what they can have an assistant take care of. Depending on if your virtual assistant is industry-specific or if they bring paraplanning expertise in their toolkit, the sky’s the limit. Start with those pain points you have—what you hate doing, what you are very slow at doing, or worse, what isn’t getting done at all. These are the easy wins. Offload those tasks first, and then you’ll dig in further as you realize how freeing it is to have help. As you approach your work, consider what the very best use of your time is. What unique skill(s) do you bring to your firm that you need to be sure you have time and space for? Evaluate the opportunity cost of spending your time on general tasks when you have valuable specialty skills. Anything outside of your core areas of expertise can be delegated.
Still looking for ideas? Take a look at Carson Group’s 100 Tasks Every Advisor Should Delegate for inspiration. Look towards the future, but don’t feel as if you need a top-dollar paraplanner if you are truly just needing administrative help. When you are ready to onboard an assistant, I advise that you commit to a fixed number of hours per week to push yourself to fill that time for them. It will help with the initial hurdle of learning to delegate tasks. If you know you have to pay for five hours a week, you will work to find that five hours of work.
The timing of adding an assistant is utterly up to you. You’ll see some benchmarks in the industry about hiring, but those generally refer to a full-time addition. The leeway you have with part-time and virtual help is much greater. You can hire before you have revenue if you have the start-up resources to support it. Perhaps you want to break even first and then reward yourself with someone to handle client paperwork so you can do more business development. You can also wait until you are hitting some capacity walls if you prefer—just don’t wait until you are overwhelmed. There is some effort that goes into getting an assistant up to speed, and if you have no bandwidth, you will find yourself frustrated. Hire a bit before you truly feel pinched.
The hiring process
Once you decide when you want to hire, take a look at all the moving parts so you can determine what you need. What is your budget? How many hours do you want to pay for? What skillset—and therefore hourly rate—are you looking for? You may be able to find one person that does all you need, or you may want to create a small team of five-hour-a-week helpers. You may find that you can get a lot of basic administrative duties handled for $20 an hour so that you can save some money for a paraplanner who will be coming in at a higher rate. Be aware of what you are paying for so that you don’t have that paraplanner doing less expensive work. Some will bill according to what they are working on, and others will have a fee for their time regardless of the work you have them doing.
The nice thing about several specialty helpers is that you get exactly what you need. Conversely, negatives might be that you are limited in those specialty areas and that you have to get to know multiple new teammates. Take some time to think about how you best work with others and if your preference is for specialty or a flexible “Get Sh!t Done” kind of assistant. As you begin this journey, know that you will continue to evolve. You’ll see more opportunities to hand off duties as your client base grows, and you find more time is needed for you to handle those core business skills that only you bring to the firm. Your preferences and managerial skills matter, as does the future you plan for your firm. There is no one answer to what planners should do—do what’s right for your firm and you.
Once you’ve pinpointed what kind of help you need and how much of it, you’ll need to craft a job description for your position. If you are using an outsourcing firm, they may already have packages and work tasks defined for you. But knowing what you personally want and need is essential no matter what source you use to find an assistant. You’ll need to take the time to map out the job description so you find the right candidate who is the right fit for your firm. In your description, include an authentic overview of your firm and what the job entails. Define the responsibilities the individual will be taking on and the skills they need to bring to the job. List any education or specialty designations you may require. Identify the opportunities for advancement, if that is applicable. Be sure to include your salary or hourly rate information. You can learn more about writing top-tier job descriptions from XY Planning Network’s own Ryan Watin in his blog, Five Tips for Writing Effective Job Descriptions for Your Firm.
Once you have the job description, the search begins. You can hire an individual or go through a service. At this stage, you will probably have a 1099 contractor, but take a look at the IRS guidelines if you are placing restrictions around work hours, location, etc. While there aren’t many set-in-stone considerations when it comes to hiring, one thing is for sure: you don’t want to run afoul with the IRS! You will also want to check if your state has specific rules that might cause your part-time assistant to be considered an employee.
Post your job posting on all of your social media channels and your own website. Reach out to local resources, and don’t be afraid to let your clients know you are hiring. Clients will be thrilled to hear about your success and will have a vested interest in referring good candidates to you. Ask your colleagues and see if anyone may be using an assistant for 10-20 hours a week—their assistant might have another 10-20 hours available for you. It would be a significant bonus that the assistant has knowledge about your industry. Cast the net far and wide because quality candidates may not be in the most predictable places.
As you begin engaging with candidates, ask if they are able to grow in hours as your needs grow. You may start with five hours and, as you continue to grow, find you need 20 hours a week and eventually need them to transition to a full-time employee. Ask ahead of time what their availability will be. Inquire about potential turnover if there’s a team of assistants at your disposal. This is especially important if your assistant will be client-facing.
Interview several candidates. I suggest you request a work sample. Depending on job requirements, you may request video or writing samples or a sample process or procedure. Determine what type of work sample will provide you with the insight you need. Complete reference checks, a background check, a credit check, and upon hiring, be sure you have them sign a non-disclosure agreement.
Once you have chosen your assistant, it’s time to create a 90-day onboarding process to get them up and running. I love how a 90-day plan helps both parties stay on track for training and assistance, but it also shows the new assistant what their priorities are and gives them some peace of mind that they aren’t expected to know everything on the first day. Provide any new teammate with the processes and procedures manual. Give them your firm’s Code of Ethics. Ensure they provide an acknowledgment that they have reviewed it; it is recommended that you get this in writing. Now, it’s time for you to step into your new managerial position. From a compliance perspective, if the assistant is not working as an IAR, there is no need to update your ADV.
For additional guidance, there are several virtual assistant resources that are worth looking into: Total Office, New Heights Solutions, Assist U, Virtual Outsource Solutions, York Assists. I have covered some important ground here, but I haven’t covered it all—do your due diligence and utilize these resources. If you are an XY Planning Network member, we have sample job descriptions, sample interview questions, a sample interview evaluation rubric, and a sample 90-day plan to aid you in this transition.
You can’t make more time in your day, but through delegation, you get to determine what you spend your valuable time on and what you don’t. Today’s the day to start thinking about when you will need an assistant and how you can use their expertise to help you focus on your most valuable work. You may not be hiring today, but start envisioning the future today; it can be as grand—and free of menial tasks—as you can imagine.
About Arlene Moss, Executive Coach
Arlene gets a kick out of helping financial advisors get over being overwhelmed and take on their frustrations so their businesses soar. Arlene works to ensure XYPN members are able to help their clients prosper while creating a sustainable business model. Through XYPN Academy and one-on-one coaching, members get the support they need to grow their businesses and overcome the challenges that come their way.
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