The secret to growing your business is effectively leveraging your time. If you can hire qualified people to complete time consuming tasks, you will be able to redirect your energy towards activities that will grow you business.
Creating content for niche websites takes time – a LOT of time. The best practice for the front page of a niche website is to have at least 1,500 words. It is even better to have 3,000 to 4,000 words depending on the niche. I’m not a writer by trade, so it takes me a considerable amount of time to write content, particularly on a topic that I don’t know much about. The solution is to hire a virtual assistant (VA) or two to write the content.
I will be sharing the job posting and job instructions that I used to hire writers from the US for $5 per 500 word article.
* The Goal
* The Inspiration For My Hiring Process
* My First VA…A Failure that Taught Many Valuable Lessons
* My Current Strategy For Hiring VAs
* A Case Study
* Other Considerations
* Sample Job Posting
* Sample Instructions
The Goal: Find a Long Term VA for Content Creation
The goal is to find at least one VA specializing in writing to hire for a long term job. Here are the general criteria:
1. Native English Speaker
2. Targeting VAs in the US or Canada
3. Targeting a cost of about $1 for 100 words.
In this case, long term means that I would extend an offer for more work to the contractor after the initial job. I like to keep the commitment level low by hiring on a project basis. The follow up job proposal might be 20 articles over the next 4 weeks for $X amount. I do this for two reasons: 1. This helps me make sure I don’t commit before I have enough topics for articles, and 2. I will not be locked in a contract that I cannot honor. Things can change quickly and a shorter, sprint based contract fits my style of working very well.
If the VA is good and we both have a positive experience, then a more permanent or longer contract may be a viable option.
The Inspiration for my Approach…
I took some of the ideas that Jon Haver, from Authority Website Income, mentions in his post, “How to Hire a Virtual Assistant in 15 minutes for 1 Dollar Per Hour – Blind Experiment Method.” His goal is slightly different but the ideas transfer over very well.
The main things I learned from Jon’s approach were to eliminate the interview and to fire quickly. These are huge time savers. They changed the way I hire VAs.
My First VA
I was working on my first successful website, the Amazon Affiliate niche site, and I needed help with writing reviews. I knew I could hire people fairly easily but I never went through the process with oDesk or Elance. There is only one way to learn…I put out a job posting on oDesk. That part was fairly easy and I received a lot of applicants, close to 100, in about 24 hours.
Some of the applicants were clearly not qualified – the cover letter they sent to me was generic and did not target the job that I posted, other cover letters will filled with grammar mistakes and misspelled words, and others did not have a handle on the English language based on their resume.
Other applicants seemed great – they had stellar reviews, the cover letter mentioned the job that I posted then mentioned interest in the topic, and the individuals bragged of degrees in liberal arts. There were far fewer qualified applicants, which made the applicants easier to rank.
I narrowed down my candidates and selected about 3 of the 100 to interview. In the end, 2 of the applicants were priced higher and did not have any desire to negotiate the price. The remaining applicant was very interested in the topic which seemed like a great quality to have in a writer. I interviewed the one applicant that was in my price range and seemed to be qualified.
I have a corporate background and am familiar with the interviewing process. I have conducted about 50 interviews over the last few years and I am comfortable in the interviewer role. I approached interviewing for a VA position the same way I approach interviewing a person on my team at work. I set up a call on Skype with the applicant. Things went generally well and I spent about 1 hour on the interview. The applicant was well spoken, held a college degree, and truly did have interest in the topic. The one down side was that there was a pretty significant misunderstanding with the salary.
I was looking to have five 500-word articles for $25, or a 500 word article written for $5. The applicant thought the job was paying $25 for each 500 word article. After negotiating, I agreed to $10 per article. It was doubling my cost but the VA seemed to be qualified overall with a drive to write. I should have taken the misunderstanding as a sign…
The articles that the VA produced were okay, maybe a 5.5 out of 10. The phrasing was natural and the grammar was correct. However, the VA did not follow through with some of the feedback that I provided. For example, I provided specific guidelines about mentioning Amazon reviews and the VA acknowledged my directions yet the articles never quite met my expectations.
The biggest disappointment was that the VA claimed to have a working knowledge of WordPress but the results did not support that claim. First, the VA did not know how to log into WordPress. Ouch…that’s pretty basic.
Next, once I trained the VA to login to WordPress to upload the articles, the VA would forget and email me the content. Really? That’s just incompetence…
The VA was really a nice, genuine person and I tried very hard to coach and provide some guidance on the expectations of the position. The result of that was that I wasted a considerable amount of time over the whole process.
Needless to say, this person does not work with me anymore. However, I made several mistakes in this relationship which taught me lot.
* Interviews take too much time for the amount of value they provide.
* Take note of early misunderstandings (i.e. the salary)
* Fire fast – reserve coaching for employees.
The Current Strategy for Hiring a VA
I took what I learned from my first experience and what Jon Haver mentions to refine my process of hiring a VA. Keep in mind that our goal is to find someone to write content long term for reasonable prices that meet our criteria.
1. Hire about twice as many people as you want to hire long term. Some people are not going to work out. They may be unqualified or might have misrepresented themselves in their resume. You should hire people for a shorter job – I like to aim for 5 articles.
2. Do not interview anyone. As I mentioned above, interviewing takes too much time for the value that it provides. We are interested in the results and it is a straightforward process to get the results quickly.
3. Post a job listing that states “Native English” in the title. That keeps the number of people that apply for the job down to a much more manageable amount.
4. Post a job listing for a trial job. I like to post a job for $25 for 5 articles of 500–700 words.
5. Post a job listing that offers a 5 star review. This can help attract new contractors that are eager to improve their overall rating. Typically, new contractors will be willing to work for lower rates than experienced contractors.
6. Quickly remove the applicants that do not meet your criteria. You can review resumes, see reviews of the VA’s work, and even see some samples of the work. Check the cover letter for incorrect grammar and misspelled words. I find that leaving the job posting public for about 24 – 36 hours allows plenty of potential applicants to apply for the job. Try and find writers that have worked over 100 hours with good oDesk feedback over 4 stars (that is a very good sign).
7. Hire the top candidates. You should hire about twice as many people as you need because there will be a failure rate. In the example I discuss below, I hired four VAs with a goal to hire one or two of them for long term writing assignments.
8. Provide very specific instructions about the article structure. I provide a format that outlines what each paragraph should cover and even the number of sentences. The more details you can provide the better the results.
9. Require the VA to send you the first article immediately when it is completed. This task tells you a lot about the VA – Can the VA write well without grammar or spelling issues? Can the VA follow instructions about writing the article? Does the VA have an understanding about the topic? Is the VA is able to write well? In most cases, you will be able to get the article back in about 1 day.
10. Keep coaching to a minimum. I provide very specific feedback on an article if it does not meet my requirements. I allow the VA to make corrections, one time. That’s it. The overall goal is to save time so don’t waste your precious time coaching a VA.
11. Do not hesitate to end a contract for performance reasons. This might sound harsh but sometimes things just don’t work out. I had to end a contract with a person because the writing was barely understandable. In addition, sections were left out based on my instructions. I am not convinced the person knew how to write a complete sentence.
A Case Study
Last week I hired four writers. I posted two different job listings that were for two different topics. The listings were generally the same with one exception – one of the listings had “native english” in the title. (The job listing is available at the end of the article.)
I posted the job publicly on oDesk for about 20 hours. The job post that had “native english” in the title received only four applicants and the other one received about 50 applicants.
oDesk will flag your job post as a violation of the terms of service if you have “Amazon” and “review” listed in the title and/or body.Why?Well, it seems that people will hire VAs to complete fake reviews on Amazon to help improve the ratings. Yes, I learned this the hard way. You can replace “Amazon” with “website with product information” and “review” with “article” to avoid the violation.
I hired the top two candidates for each job and I also paid 20% upfront as a sign of good faith. That is a personal preference on my part. I know there are some hiring managers out there that don’t pay contractors and I want to separate myself from that group. In addition, if I need to release someone for poor performance, then they at least have the payment for one article. Once he or she accepted the job I sent the instructions. The instructions stated that the VA should send the first article over as soon as it is completed.
I took a gamble and hired one person that was not in North America. I am half Filipino and I know there are some outstanding writers in the Philippines. Anyway, I wanted to give someone offshore a shot at the position too. So, I hired two people from the US, one from Canada, and one from the Philippines.
The First Article
I had finished articles within a few hours of hiring the VAs. There were mixed results and that was expected. After all, that’s why I hired four people.
One of the VAs from the US had a family emergency, had to go to the hospital, and was unable to write anything. Not good. However, she did give me an update and explained the situation.
The other VA from the US was very prompt in completing the assignment, and I had one article within three hours. It was very good and my instructions were followed to the letter. I directed her to keep writing and proceed with the remaining 5 articles.
The Filipino VA was pretty good. He followed the instructions very well and it was clear he had a solid command of English. The downside was that the phrasing was unnatural in some cases when compared to native English speakers. The grammar and spelling were correct – overall the quality was good. I directed him to keep writing and proceed with the remaining 5 articles.
The Canadian VA turned in very low quality writing. The grammar was terrible. There were misspelled words and incomplete sentences. In addition, there were some topics omitted in the article. I sent my feedback and asked for revisions on the first article.
The Rest of the Articles
The good part about the trial job is that the contract is completed quickly and you can see the results to make a good judgement about the VA.
The VA that had a family emergency turned out to be very good. She communicated the situation quickly and concisely. Then, she submitted a high quality article. Once I gave her positive feedback, she churned out the remaining 4 articles in about 36 hours.
As expected, this VA produced 4 more high quality articles that met my requirements. She proved to be a good communicator throughout the process.
The remaining articles were completed very quickly. The articles had the same quality as the first one. I could still detect some interesting phrasing that seemed unnatural.
This VA failed to respond back to my request for a revision for over 36 hours. I sent a follow up message to check if the request was received and to inquire when I should expect to see a revised version. I quickly received a response and revised version. It was not any better and the revision actually looked like she copied content from another source. She also spoke in the first person as the product company, stating “Our product is” very good because of feature x and option y… I replied back stating my concerns and then I ended the contract citing performance issues.
The Conclusion and Ending Contracts
The jobs were for a trial set of articles and, once received, each of the contracts should be ended. Generally, if a contract is complete, you settle up the tab by paying the remaining portion of the contract and providing a rating for the contractor. Here is what happened for each of the VAs:
I ended the contract and paid the VA in full. I also provided a 5 star review with some positive comments. I sent a separate message to ask if she was interested in a long term writing job.
This is the same situation as VA #1…I ended the contract and paid the VA in full. Again, I provided a 5 star review with positive comments. I sent a separate message to ask if she was interested in a long term writing job.
I ended the contract and paid the VA in full. I let him know that I would not be extending another offer but his work was appreciated. I provided a 5 star rating as promised in the job posting.
I spent a few minutes checking on whether this VA copied content from the manufacturers website. It looks like she did alter the phrasing slightly, but the article she submitted had a striking resemblance to the “About Us” page at the manufacturer’s website. I replied back stating my concerns and then ended the contract citing performance issues.
Both VA #1 and #2 were interested in a longer term gig. I extended offers for 20 more articles each for a small raise. Offering the raise is a good way to show appreciation for a job well done and builds some loyalty. I expect that those articles will be written over about 4 – 5 weeks depending on how quickly I can generate the list of topics.
Here are a few other things to consider:
Fire the Poor Performers
You are going to fire a couple people. Keep that in mind while you are going through the process so your expectations are properly set. It is just part of the job. Some of those people will send you messages asking and begging you to rehire them or even change their rating. Stick to your plan and don’t be manipulated by stories.
In addition, it’s likely that a great VA will move on and you will have to find another person to replace him or her. Again, it is just part of the job. I protect myself by trying to have people in duplicate roles. That way if one person leaves, the other person can help pick up the slack.
Risk of Plagiarism
There is a risk of the VA copying content and submitting it to you as his or her own. You should take steps to make sure that the content is original. Copyscape is the standard to check for plagiarism but costs $0.05 per search. There are a few other alternatives out there, like http://www.plagium.com.
Alternatives to oDesk and Elance
I have used Text Broker a lot in the past. It is a great option because it takes the hiring process out of your hands. You simply select the quality of writer that you want, post the job, and receive the content about 1–2 days later. Text Broker even uses Copyscape to ensure the content is totally original. The quality of the writers varies greatly, from a middle school level to a professional/expert level. The downside is that it is expensive. A comparable quality set of five articles would cost about $45 – $60 through Text Broker.
If you ask most entrepreneurs (online entrepreneurs in particular) about when things started to take off, you will hear that outsourcing played a key role. Outsourcing allows you to focus on the tasks that can grow your business rather than the time consuming day to day tasks.
Here are a few things to remember:
- Post a job that offers a 5 star rating.
- Post a job that states “Native English” in the title. (Or, the specific language that you need…)
- Hire about twice as many people as you need with plans to keep the top performers.
- Send very specific instructions.
- End the contract fast if there are performance issues.
- Extend a longer term offer with a slight raise if you find a good VA.
If so, please share this post with themClick here for the Templates that I use to hire VAs.