Sophia Martine Colquhoun

Innovative business solutions for passionate women

Are Virtual Assistants a Quick Fix?

Me living my best life after hiring a VA

You need to know what you’re doing
before someone else can

By Sophia Colquhoun

As a Small Business Owner outsourcing and delegation are very attractive to me.

I went as far as contacting a (Human) Virtual Assistant Company to get help, but when they started explaining the time I would need to spend training my new assistant, I realised that it was not going to be the quick fix I was seeking.

I couldn’t even verbalise what I needed yet and left the meeting feeling overwhelmed and stressed, resigning myself to the fact I would have to keep doing it all myself.

Because I was accustomed to wearing all the hats and doing all the things, there was going to be two significant hurdles for any delegation to succeed:

  1. My control issues, and
  2. It was all in my head; I hadn’t written anything down.

If you’re facing the same hurdles, you’re not alone. Here’s why you need to get what’s in your head on paper before you do anything else.


Say it with me. I have a control problem.

Many of us will declare that “no one can do what I do” and hold our heads haughtily in the air. Unfortunately, many people can do what we do, and they are commonly known as our competitors.

So problem number one can be tough mentally to overcome, but working out where your unique value and competitive advantage for the business lies, can help resolve this hurdle and help you to “let go” relatively quickly.  


Nothing has been written down.

Most of us struggle to capture what we do on a daily basis. It isn’t until it’s crunch time and we need help that we even start thinking about it.

Other times, this information gets completely lost, such as when an employee leaves an organisation or when a business is sold.

Even if we do magically find the time to write down a step by step guide to our daily activities, chances are it will be incomprehensible, irksome and will create blockers for an assistant.


It’s one thing to write something; it’s another to be able to communicate effectively.

Instructions, procedures, staff manuals, policy documents, whatever you want to call them, all of these documents are communication tools.  

Writing a set of instructions, policy or procedure is a skill and takes time and practise to get right (Technical Writers spend their careers developing this skill).

So, problem number two, writing things down, at first seems simple to solve. But writing a set of instructions is challenging as seen in the communication failures of both large and small businesses. And if health providers struggle with getting communication and procedures right then what hope do the rest of us have?


You’ve just got to make a start

Although it’s not easy, with the right information and guidance, it is relatively simple to learn how to create effective instructions and procedures.

Just as you have learnt skills to run your small business such as social media marketing, tax, and the dreaded sales chat, it is possible for solo and small business owners to create great procedures.

But the first and most important step is to start. Don’t put it off.

I think partly the reason we can delay in writing down how we do things is that a procedure requires us to commit to making multiple decisions and then communicating those decisions. So it’s easy for this task to end up in the too hard basket.

I don’t know about you, but once I’ve been doing a task for a while I end up on autopilot and it becomes hard for me to articulate how I actually got from A to B. I have to take some time out to reflect and think through each step. I’ll miss steps because I’ll think it’s obvious or I completely forget steps.

So it’s important that if you can start changing one habit, let it be to capture what, why and how you do stuff in your business (and as you are doing it, not months later!)

If practical step by step help to create procedures (which don’t suck) sounds fab, then please subscribe and keep an eye on your inbox, for when something petty awesome goes live.



Enter right, a-ha moments

It’s a funny thing writing stuff down, whether pen and paper or voice to text or even a video recording is your jam. The act of reflection and capturing your actions can generate some fantastic opportunities for “a-ha” moments.

You will notice that for some actions you don’t have a routine yet, but for others, you will find dreaded duplication and wasted resources.

However, It’s not all doom and gloom; you’ll start to have a clearer vision and identify exciting opportunities for automation and maybe even innovative ideas for your business.


Did your Small Business Robot arrive yet?  

Just a quick side-note on automation, which fundamentally is about reducing human intervention but doesn’t have to be as complicated as Artificial Intelligence (read more about how AI can be defined as written by Bernard Marr for Forbes).

Automation is commonly presumed to be some sophisticated technology that after you buy it your business will be magically automatic.

Automation can be your processes and systems outside of fancy tech. It’s not just a piece of software you implement. It can be cheap and as simple as ensuring you have templates prepared for common questions and setting workflows for customer requests. It’s about reducing your repeated and unnecessary inputs.

Talking with your business peers can be a great way to get ideas for cheap automations you can implement in your business. I regularly see people sharing ideas online that make it easy to get started and will inspire you with your own ideas for workflows, processes and automations.

So automation can be accessible for Small Businesses, but you might need to step up the creativity where the budget doesn’t have the same wriggle room as your larger counterparts.



Did I hire a Virtual Assistant?

Not yet. I wasn’t ready; I hadn’t prepared, I didn’t have a plan or the tools in place to make this investment worthwhile. I had wasted everyone’s time by enquiring about one, which had surprised me, as I like to think of myself as level-headed.

So why did I decide to hiring a VA was “the answer”? Was it because it was so appealing and on trend with what I thought other successful business owners were doing?

In part, yes, but after reflecting, I had to concede that I was feeling overwhelmed and needed help. I had failed to see the time required initially on my side to invest in preparing instructions, training and mentoring anyone new into my business. In hindsight in was better to pull out than fail and waste the time of the VA and my money.


Was having nothing written down yet ok?

It wasn’t ok, it was lazy and risky. Because of what I do for my clients on a daily basis I realised where I was going wrong in time to implement a plan.

However, this is a legitimate risk to the long-term success of businesses of any size. Please, ask yourself, what happens when you need to remove yourself from your business or you lose a key employee? (Because it won’t be if, it’s a matter of when).

What if you need space and time to;

  • Make decisions, plan and expand
  • Educate yourself
  • Have the space/time to be creative
  • Take a holiday (or even a long weekend)
  • Sell the business

And, what about life events like;

  • Having a baby and family events
  • Illness / Burnout
  • Caring for a relative or friend

For those of us who can afford income protection, this generally doesn’t kick in for several months, and financial strain aside, what happens to your regular clients, brand and business momentum if you suddenly have to stop?

Does all your hard work evaporate? Will you be able to recover?


If at first, we don’t succeed

So hiring a VA wasn’t the quick fix I had hoped for and it was definitely time to take my own advice. I went back to what I knew best and started then and there capturing what it is that I do for my clients, myself and my business.

It wasn’t in any fancy format yet, I made simple notes on my phone using voice to text into a Google document. I captured everything I could think of for the important and time consuming tasks that help my business run smoothly and the things my customers care about.

Now when the time is right to bring on an employee or hire an assistant, I will already have notes that I can use as a starting point to create more detailed and useful documents such as procedures, policies and training tools.

I’ll be prepared and empowered to make a sound business decision and training should be a breeze, right? I know i’ll feel a lot less stressed and overwhelmed.

Let’s hope so, not to mention the less obvious perks linked to capturing your business activities on paper, such as increased profitability (e.g. from identifying opportunities for income generation and expense reduction).


Next steps

Found this article helpful? If you want practical support creating procedures that don’t suck sign up to get notified of when my guide to writing procedures goes live.  

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