10 ways to find online assistants

If you've been thinking about hiring an online assistant or virtual secretary, you'll probably already know about places such as Elance, Rentacoder and Guru.com.

However, whether you're planning to hire a full-time employee, a part-time remote worker, or just someone to do a few online jobs for you, you may have a lot more options than you realize.

It's 10 years since I hired my first online assistant. We now have employees and part-time online assistants in the United States, Australia and New Zealand. Over the years, we've experimented with quite a lot of different methods of hiring people. Some methods have worked brilliantly, some not so well.

Here are nine ways we've hired employees and online workers, and one method we haven't tried...

1. Through a computer club. That's how I hired our forum moderator, Wally. I asked the president of the local computer club if he knew anyone in the club who might be suitable and want a part-time online job. When one promising candidate eventually turned down the job, the president himself said he'd give it a go. That was back in 1998, and ever since he's been working part-time for us, seven days a week, hardly ever taking a vacation.

2. Through a local employment agency. They hunted through their files and found a few suitable people and encouraged them to apply. I hired my first full-time employee this way in 1999. Nathan worked in my home with me for a few months for training and after that from his own home.

3. Placing an advertisement in a city newspaper. We've done this several times and it has worked remarkably well. To help screen applicants, I put an email address in the ad and set up an autoresponder to give applicants more details of the position.

Many applicants get only as far as reading the full job description. That initial screening will save you a lot of time.

The quality of the job applicants found this way has varied widely. I've hired top quality online assistants through newspaper job ads, including two students who were studying computer programming. They both worked from home for me until they completed their computer programming degrees.

My longtime virtual assistant, Glennys, was hired this way several years ago.

4. Placing advertisements where students will see them. For example, New Zealand has a Student Job Search system that can help you with all the arrangements, including suggesting hourly pay rates and screening applicants. When we used it one summer, all my wife, Joanna, did was phone a local phone number (you can find them on the website) to ask for advice and dictate our advertisement, which Student Job Search posted on a university noticeboard. Things may have changed, but at that time there was no fee for employers. Ads are now posted online.

5. Through our affiliate forum. After we became friends through our affiliate forum, I hired a contractor to manage some of our websites in return for a percentage of the commissions earned. This worked brilliantly. It's really helpful if you can get to know someone, see the quality of their writing and learn to trust them before you hire them. I have a friend who has hired many of his employees after first being impressed by the quality of their posts on his forum.

6. Our newsletter. Two or three times I've advertised online job vacancies in our Associate Programs Newsletter. When we did this recently, we sent people to a web page that gave more information about the jobs we were creating. The quality of the applicants found this way has varied hugely. I've attracted some very good people but also some time-wasters using this method.

7. Rentacoder and Elance. We've hired people through places such as Rentacoder and Elance. How to do this effectively would be a good topic for a whole book. In fact, Gary Antosh has done just that. He's written a book called How to Create Website Content Fast in which he describes how to hire website content writers and manage them. If you want to hire a web content writer, this is the book you need.

[UPDATE: Gary's book is no longer available. However, you can still get his very useful Web Content Made Easy.]

8. Journalists. I hired a journalist to write a dozen articles because I'd seen her articles in a weekly newspaper and liked her chatty, friendly style. The payment we negotiated was expensive but the articles were well written and they eventually paid for themselves several times over.

9. Online job sites. We recently hired three new employees after advertising on the online jobs site Seek. (It's very popular in Australia.) After this experience, I'm keen on posting job vacancies on online job sites because your job ads attract people who are already familiar with the Internet and comfortable with using it.

The quality of the applicants we attracted this way was so high we had a really tough task chooosing the successful applicants.

There are now thousands of online job sites. Two big ones are Monster and CareerBuilder.

10. Here's one method we have NOT tried... Simply do a search in Google for "virtual secretary" or "virtual assistant". You'll find lots of services ready to help. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with this method - I just don't have first-hand experience with it.

Other popular sites are Getafreelancer, where you can find programmers, web designers and copywriters, ScriptLance, which is mainly for programmers, and oDesk, where you can hire programmers, web designers, writers, etc.

A another good, very fast growing option is Freelancer Network.

Don't make the job sound too easy

Here's a tip I've learned from my brother-in-law, Graham, who's in charge of an office and has been hiring people for a long time: Don't make your online job sound too attractive. If it involves hard work, repetitive work etc, say so. Otherwise, you'll be swamped with applicants who may be disappointed when they find out the details of the work you expect them to do. If you get no applicants, just re-advertise with a new job description.

He says that if you receive more than three applicants, you've made the job sound too easy. We received DOZENS of applicants last time we advertised! We must have made the jobs sound too good.

How to keep track of assistants' tasks

Basecamp is a superb web-based tool for setting assignments and keeping track of which tasks your employees or virtual assistants have done, or not done. You can choose which parts of Basecamp various workers have access to. You can also set up "Writeboards" for brainstorming sessions. It's an integral part of our business. There's a monthly fee, but we've found that Basecamp pays for itself many times over by making us more efficient.

Guide to outsourcing

Brandon Tanner has written a comprehensive instruction manual on outsourcing, The Internet Marketer's Guide To Outsourcing. In 62 pages, it takes you through the entire outsourcing process, from deciding what to outsource, to project testing. Whether you're outsourcing software creation, website building, website maintenance or writing projects, you'll find them all covered. This is a VERY comprehensive, no-fluff book. Highly recommended.

UPDATED: November 28, 2013
February 6, 2008

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Comments (13)

Greg Colosi
Said this on February 7, 2008 At 06:33 am
Here in the United States, I've used craigslist.org very successfully. You'll get a boatload of responses, so you must be very specific with what you want. You can just have them email you or you can post your phone number. I've done this locally for a couple of years now and I meet them in a local Starbucks and do the hiring. I always hire them on a trial basis, so that if I have to let them go, it's not a big surprise. Good luck.

[Hiring on a trial basis is an excellent idea - for them and us. We're using a three-month trial period for our employees. Allan.]
Said this on February 7, 2008 At 06:43 am
We tend to use online but have the applicants send an email to an autoresponder which then sends them a full outline and, for writers, a quick one article job that we ask them to provide.

This then weeds out the rubbish quickly and without any involvement from us. If you are using Rentacoder or Elance do the same thing.

It has been a while getting to this but using an autoresponder has saved us lots of wasted phone calls and responding to emails.

There were a few new ideas for finding people on your list Allan so we may try those. On number 4 you could also visit your local college if they have a computer department for techies or an English department for writers. We are talking to a few local colleges with an aim to go in and discuss opportunities with the students directly. Also put up notices on college boards.

Just for reference we have:

8 writers
2 editors
1 designer
2 developers
4 admin staff

all of which are freelancers.

[Great ideas! Thanks. Yes, you can talk to tutors nd lecturers and find out who their promising students are. Allan.]
Steve Davidson
Said this on February 7, 2008 At 06:50 am
Hi Allan,
Yes I feel that most people fail to look outside the square. Yes earning a living online is great, but as your business expands then your time is fast eaten up.
Getting other people to do work gives you the freedom back you had when you started, except now you have money, that was missing when I first started.

I have workers in 8 different countries with 5 different time zones. And I do have a row of clocks of times in every country I have workers.

And when you go on holidays you have very good tour guides, plus good tax deductions.

Online does not mean alone. Grab some workers and buy back your freedom.
Cheers Steve
An Aussie selling to the UK.

[Vacation tour guides! What a nice bonus. Allan.]
The Wholesale Product Guy
Said this on February 7, 2008 At 11:18 am
Great article! It offers some out of the box suggestions beyond just the Rentacoder and Guru.com mindset.

Just one problem with one of your recommended readings..

"Gary Antosh has done just that. He's written a book called How to Create Website Content Fast in which he describes how to hire website content writers and manage them. If you want to hire a web content writer, this is the book you need."

The link his site not seem to work as of this writing. I have tried it on FF and IE, with no luck. Went to Google and looked up his name, and the link through the SE brings back..

"Problem Loading Page"..

Learning how to create content quick, or using other sources beyond the usual PLR type articles, or just more "out of the content generation box" methods piques my interest..

It might just be a temporary outage, but you might want to inform him that his site is down if it goes on beyond today. He could lose a lot of potential customers, me being one of them!

Robert C.

[Thanks for the alert. I hope it's just a temporary problem with Gary Antosh's site. Allan.]
Said this on February 7, 2008 At 11:22 am
I've hired some great writers from elance. And 1 disappointing one. But, interestingly, he wasn't my real choice. My instinct said one thing, my head another. I learnt a lot from that!

But you do get what you pay for. I was paying from $10 per article for 20 or more, and for 1 set of 6 articles, $20 each. I've actually learnt a lot about writing from those experiences too.

But you should be familiar with your topic, and specify you want some research done on it if you want a really good article. You don't get that for the $5 articles Gary Antosh talks about in his book. But some people are happy with that. You've got to be comfortable putting your name to it.

[Absolutely. Excellent point. For long-term success online, I believe in high quality websites. One option is to use $5 articles simply as a starting point. If you have good knowledge of the topic, you can add your own tips and experience to the articles. Allan.]
Said this on February 7, 2008 At 01:45 pm
Excellent article. As a contractor/consultant, I see the other side.

Yesterday, I interviewed with a customer, through a placement agency. The interview went fine and the customer wants me. But, I go to the agency, they confirm the customer's satisfaction, but the recruiter was nowhere around, although a call to her cell phone confirmed she "was on her way in".

After calling her in the late afternoon, she was gushing about the position, then said "Let's see, we were talking $X per hour". Well "X' was if I really loved the job and I could walk to work with all their benefits. It was not a 35 mile commute on a 1099 (self-employed.) My answer was "No". Haven't heard from her since.

I guarantee there's going to be some unhappy people, since nobody was a winner here. Three parties lost, and my advertising won't help her firm.
Said this on February 7, 2008 At 05:34 pm
Great article. The "How to Create Website Content Fast" link is dead, got another one?

[I'm trying to contact Gary Antosh about that. So far, no luck. In the meantime, here's a good article Gary wrote describing how to buy articles for $5:
Said this on February 8, 2008 At 04:16 am
Great article, Allan. Right now, all I require are article writers and I pay between $3 and $5 from getafreelancer website. There are some great writers there. One day soon, I hope, I will need site builders. I'm at a loss as to what I should pay them? How do you set the payment?

[You could see what other people are ofering to pay at places like elance and Rentacoder. You could also try using the AP Talent Network part of our affiliate forum and ask people there to tell you how much they would charge for building a site. Allan.]
Paul Rusu
Said this on February 8, 2008 At 04:02 pm
I am from Romania, Eastern Europe. I want to know more about working as an online assistant. Is it possible for me to get hired as an online assistant. Considering it's online, I could do it. Thanks.

[It depends on your skills. If you have the necessary skills, you could go to sites like elance or Rentacoder and apply for jobs. If you don't have the skills, you could teach yourself skills. One way to start is to click on the "Beginners" link at the top left of this page. Allan.]
Said this on February 13, 2008 At 09:51 pm
Dude, not even a word about hiring through a virtual staffing agency? Do-it-yourself is okay, I agree, but all those pitfalls you mention are circumventable with the help of people who make VAs their living. There's even an affiliate program available through a company called www.WorldwideOfficeSupport.com. Check 'em out. You may be surprised at how effective a virtual agency can be. Anyway, nice breakdown. Thank you for it.

[Thanks for the tip. Allan.]
Bonnie Jo Davis
Said this on February 15, 2008 At 08:42 pm
Hi Allan,
Thanks for the great article. I'm a virtual assistant and I've been getting my clients from Craigslist and Google searches. Another great way to find someone qualified is to visit the international trade association for virtual assistants at http://www.ivaa.org. They have a very easy RFP process that usually gets a good response for someone seeking a virtual assistant.

[Thanks for the tip. Allan.
Said this on May 20, 2009 At 06:38 am
Some very useful tips on there I especially liked the tips about getting coders. This will come in very handy in the future.

[Cheers for the tips]
Said this on January 31, 2011 At 10:06 pm
I love this one. This is a lot of help for me and to all the readers out there. Glad you shared this one to us. Keep it up and keep on posting.

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