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by • October 28, 2011 • FoundersComments (5)223

Small team? Fix your life with a non-virtual assistant

Like many others, I tried “outsourcing my life” using a digital assistant. A year and a thousand bucks later, I’ve received one department store recommendation and an admittedly adequate spreadsheet of competitive research.

I have since cancelled. Why didn’t it work for me?

I think I just didn’t trust it/them/him/her (that I even have this ambiguity is indicative of the issues).

Most of my mindless time-sinks involve at least a credit card number and are often a conveniently packaged identity-theft kit.

So that was part of it, and the other part was that I had to do work to give them work. Typing out non-ambiguous instructions is work. It’s programming, but in English. It’s marketing without the ROI.

Enter the over-qualified assistant

You know what the world has an awful lot of right now? Highly qualified, charismatic, articulate, capable unemployed people.

Hire one of them.

You will literally never find a better deal.

You don’t need to put an ad out. You already know someone with a master’s degree who is fighting for extra hours at some tacky minimum wage restaurant.

Offer them $20/hour for 3 hours/week.

Be flexibile around whatever their current schedule is, but meet with them in person. Try it for a month. It will be the best $240 you spend this year.

How a [very] part-time assistant fixed my life

I hate admin. Hate it. I once ignored my mailbox for so long that my house was repossessed.

True story.

Admin makes me ineffective and stresses me out. All the leadership books say you should focus on your strengths… That’s easy for C-level execs to say because they have a team of people covering up for their weaknesses.

An assistant allows me to take that advice without a corner office.

Every Friday, before my helper arrives, I spend an hour in a mild panic trying to figure out what she can take care of for me. I’m highly motivated here, since then I’ll never have to deal with it.

In practice, it has been the following:

Calling banks, cancelling subscriptions, registering domains, waiting on hold for tech-support, scheduling meetings, paying bills, printing & mailing forms, writing first-draft web copy, being a usability tester, forcing me to send uncomfortable emails, and much more.

So that’s the direct benefit. The indirect–but arguably more useful–benefit is that I am excited to think about admin for a little bit each week. Every todo I write feels like negative work. Describing the task simply undoes it. It disappears.

But I’m lean! I can’t afford such luxuries!

Lean is about being effective, not cheap.

Lean is about finding the bottlenecks in your process and removing them. If admin is slowing you down, you need to deal with it pronto.

If you are even a tenth as bad at admin as I am, you will make money by paying to have this taken care of.

I know plenty of freelancers with an invoicing backlog. Pay someone to take care of that right now. Or you might be over-paying a supplier because you haven’t called them recently to imply you might switch to their competitor. $10 worth of assistant time has just saved you $X0 or $X00 a month, forever.

Furthermore, if you are running a new business, then you are the business. If you are ineffective due to stress, then the business is running sub-optimally.

Admin arbitrage

I’ve recently begun exploring admin arbitrage. Do what you get paid most for while you pay someone else to do what earns you least.

It’s pretty basic stuff. It’s the idea behind any hire, but in extremely small and fluid time chunks.

It doesn’t have to be pure paperwork either. If you get paid by the hour (or have a sense of what an hour of your time is worth), you can sit at a table with 3 art students and break even while they churn out design work for you. Or sit at a table with 3 film graduates and earn the money you’ll be paying them for that launch video.

Make yourself happy. Make yourself money. Get an assistant.

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5 Responses to Small team? Fix your life with a non-virtual assistant

  1. Rachel Brown says:

    This is the best bit of marketing I could use for my business! May I have your permission to use this blog for social media promotion?

    • robfitz says:

      Sure, as long as it’s clear that I’m cheering for assistants in general and not your service in particular (which I’m sure is lovely but which I know nothing about).

      And throw a link back to the blog where you can. Cheers!

  2. Tadhg says:

    Awesome :)

  3. Danny says:

    I totally agree with not trusting overseas people to handle things like paying bills.

    I did however found that doing task that aren’t safety critical such as research is good.

  4. [...] Some people advocate not going down the virtual assistant route.  Others swear by it.  I think it depends on your style.  My first intern lived on another continent, and she was fabulous. [...]

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