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Using a Virtual Assistant in Your Real Estate Business

by Ann Brown

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A virtual assistant (VA) can play a key role in a real estate professional's busy work day. Ask any REALTOR® who's utilizing a VA, and they will tell you what a blessing he/she is. From handling the smallest of tasks to actively engaging in important work matters, virtual assistants can assist in a variety of ways.

"I questioned my need for a VA for several years until I found just the right match for me," says Cheryl "CJ" Hamel of RE/MAX Realty Plus in Sebring, FL. "Now I don't know how I have ever lived without her. She helps me with marketing and social networking and created and maintains my webpage and any other odd job I throw her way."

Before we move any further, let's describe the term "virtual assistant" for the sake of those who are not familiar. A virtual assistant is simply an independent contractor, who usually works from their own home office. She/he could work for a REALTOR® regularly or on a single project, and skills vary for each VA.

Thanks to the internet, working with someone from Ohio while you are in Florida is now a reality. So, having a VA can definitely help you be more productive, because it frees up a lot of the time you're using now doing the more menial tasks of your job.  

Where to Find a VA

In hiring a VA, you'll want to research multiple sources to find a professional who fits your criteria and the experience level you are seeking. You can start with professional virtual assistant associations to find potential candidates. Two good examples are theInternational Virtual Assistants Association and the Virtual Assistant Networking Association, which offer VA directories and allow you to submit an RFP at no cost to help in your search.

You can also go to freelance websites such as www.Odesk.com and www.Elance.com. At least hundreds, if not thousands, of virtual assistants are registered with these websites and regularly check for job prospects. Both websites have a rating system, too, which will allows you to see a potential VA's past work history and a score from other employers as to their response time, expertise, quality of work and so on.  You can expect to pay as little as $5/hour for an overseas virtual assistant and $10-$15/hour and up for a U.S.-based VA.

Always Check References

Referrals are a critical part of the VA hiring process, because they give you an insight into a virtual assistant's character and ability. This will definitely help you in choosing the best person for you and your business. Since there is strong chance that you'll never see your VA face to face, gathering as much information as possible will help you to get rid of the nervousness that comes in hiring someone new.

When questioning references, look for red flags, such as hesitation and discomfort in answering important questions. These are signs that the reference may not be genuine. You would never be able to tell a true reference from a false one unless you checked! Make sure you have set of questions at hand before you begin calling up references.

Be Open and Honest With Potential Candidates

When interviewing VAs, you'll want to give them a good idea of what you'd have them do for you.  Writing out a typical week's schedule of activities is a good place to start, so you can share with them what exactly you are looking for. You'll also want to ask them your important questions, such as:
What services do you provide?
What skills do you possess that make you good at what you do?
Are there any tasks that you don't want to/can't do?

It is essential to know of any limitations that your relationship may have upfront.  For instance, some VAs do not want to be involved in the management of a client's bank account, make telemarketing calls and so on. Or, maybe they can manage your social networking sites, but some virtual assistants will not write content. So find out what the VA will and won't do.

Take a Test Drive First

As you can imagine, it is absolutely essential to find out whether a VA can actually do what they claim. For example, if your VA claims to be outstanding at content writing, don’t just blindly believe it.  Start things off with a pilot assignment and have her actually write something for you, such as a blog post or a free report to give out via your website.  This will give you a better view of where the VA stands in terms of skill and quality.

Test your virtual assistant on all the grounds that the job demands. A pilot assignment should be well thought out to do just that. Knowing how well a virtual assistant can do certain tasks will also make it easy for you to delegate tasks without having to worry about the results. This will surely have a positive impact on the client-VA relationship.

Decide Up Front What Your VA Will Do

Before you start out on your search to find a VA, it is important that you are clear in your mind as to why you need one in the first place. Don't try to rush things and write out flimsy, unclear descriptions of the tasks you want your VA to do. Work as you normally do and jot down what you are willing to delegate over a period of a week. Leaving out anything important will result in the recruitment of the wrong person.

Knowing exactly what reasons you need a VA will help to quicken the process of making a job description and an RFP. There are VAs who can do almost anything, so don’t be reluctant to delegate tasks that you may think are too challenging.

Know Your Budget

You need, of course, to decide how much you can afford to pay a VA. Normally, the bigger your budget, the more knowledgeable and talented the VA you can hire will be. You can, however, still find a quality virtual assistant on a limited budget, so don't let your monetary situation discourage you.

There are three types of rates most VAs will charge you: 
Hourly Rate – This is simple. You pay your VA for every hour you utilize his or her services. You should opt for these rates if you are unsure of how much work will need to be done at any given time.
Per Project Rate – Choose this rate structure if the task at hand is a one-time job, such as entering contacts into your database. Project rates are also good for tasks that occur at a specific time each month, such as mailing out promotional newsletters.
Retainer Rate – You should use this rate when you know exactly how much work will need to done on a regular basis. With this type of rate, you can secure a fixed number of hours with the virtual assistant, usually at a lower hourly rate.

Having a virtual assistant on your team can prove to be extremely helpful in the quality and growth of your business.  It's important that you choose someone who is dependable and qualified, so that tasks are completed quickly and precisely. With a little planning and a review of your budget, you can literally have someone in place within a few short weeks. And, as time goes on, you may just realize that hiring a VA was perhaps one of the smartest business decisions you ever made.

Ann Brown
 is a professional virtual assistant and president of virtualadminsplus.com. She specializes in real estate support and social media marketing and can be reached at 216-218-2130 or ann@virtualadminsplus.com. 

Click here to sign up for Ann's free e-course called "Working With a Virtual Assistant," which begins on Monday, September 17.

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