How do we make it look so easy? The best practices behind Don’t Panic’s virtual assistants.
Our ninja-rockstar (not to mention helpful, gracious, and skilled) virtual assistants are brought on board with, among other important principles, one simple understanding: The work we do is behind the scenes.
It’s part of our “Be humble and serve without ego” value, and key to how we serve our clients day in and day out. Your success is our success.
We spend a lot of time on this blog talking about audits and delegating, and it’s not just fluff! We practice what we preach to delegate, automate, and relegate the tasks that are necessary for us behind the scenes, and ‘trim the fat’ accordingly.
That’s why, even when being humble is at the core of all we do, we’re publicly taking stock of how we create and work within client-focused systems without, seemingly, breaking a sweat. We’re laying it out for all to see here. Keeping everyone transparently aware of our work in this space keeps us in line with our own values, yes, but it is also important to the growing and changing digital knowledge worker landscape.
The 4 Best Practices of DPM’s Virtual Assistants
1. Time Tracking
Whether we like it or not, we’re a service-based business that essentially sells time. Time to book meetings, check emails, write blog posts, produce podcasts, and much, much more. We utilize our time wisely so that our clients get that precious time back in their days. How do we make sure we’re being fair with what we charge for our time? How do we make sure we’re being efficient with our time?
Every virtual assistant is required to track their time religiously. It’s baked into our contracts and our processes. We provide the tools, including Quickbooks for day-to-day tracking and Gusto for time-off tracking. Our assistants can use their own preferred methods as they wish, but it’s important that we receive a record in a consistent format since we promise that data to our clients each week. Some on our team take it a step further and use apps like TopTracker, which not only tracks time but also takes screenshots for added assurance of time well-spent.
Additionally, we suggest our VAs use the methods we pass onto our clients, such as calendar-blocking, the Pomodoro technique, and good, old-fashioned pen to paper tracking to make sure that the team is being as productive as possible.
2. Work Flow Optimization
Managing multiple clients (and personalities!) can be challenging even for the most successful multi-taskers. Combine that with the limited time we have for each project and you’re looking at a real headache.
Utilizing tools like Gmail’s multiple inboxes, creating separate browser profiles in Chrome, and setting up separate Asana/Slack channels for each client and project are timesaving miracles. While some of us like to say we’re master multitaskers, the truth is that multitasking can lead to disaster. It’s best to separate each client, each project, and each communication channel as much as possible so there are no mixups and so that we can do our best, most focused work.
On top of taking the time to ensure we’re effectively managing multiple clients’ online lives, we also have built-in internal processes to create efficient consistency. Our process documentation skills don’t stop at creating client SOPs. For each client we take on, our assistants document how to best work with that client and their preferred methods of conducting business. This acts as a quality measure should a VA need to step away and take some vacay time!
3. Secure File Storage and Sharing
Clients always ask how we keep their data safe, especially since we’re a purely virtual company and they’ll be working with us in a virtual capacity. It’s not like we can walk over to their desk, grab their credit card to purchase something, and then hand it back.
Our answer? Secure data-sharing tools like LastPass and secure file-sharing tools like Dropbox.
We take on and host these services for clients, should they need them. And, of course, we’re flexible! Assistants are more than capable of working within client-preferred data-sharing tools and platforms (not to mention organizing a, say, out-of-control LastPass vault that mixes personal accounts with business accounts). Our team understands how important securing data is and assistants keep a keen eye on not just how we store client data, but how those clients share their data too. If we see something, we say something!
4. Kind, Direct Communication
While we have Asana, VAs also work within whatever project management tool the client prefers: Trello, Monday, Basecamp, Notion, and the list goes on. We use these tools not only to stay ahead of deadlines and keep track of tasks but also to build rapport with our clients and among our team.
It’s easy to go through each day simply crossing things off and moving on. We try to add a little personality to everything we do—making a joke about how annoying it is when someone asks us to send a fax or including an animated GIF to share what personal crisis we’ve been up against that particular day (usually related to a kid having a meltdown or a spouse walking in on us while we’re trying to do some deep work!). This helps encourage trust among each other and serves as a reminder to everyone that we’re all human, so giving the benefit of the doubt is the best course of action.
We also use several internal Slack channels to keep the team connected, motivated, and up-to-date on the company’s goals and challenges. The “chit chat” channel is for things like celebrating birthdays and complaining about Mercury in retrograde (again). The “dpm” channel is for internal business updates and reminders. Both serve as places for the team to ask questions, seek advice, and share resources that can be helpful or just plain fun.
It’s not lost on us that this breakdown opens us up to a conversation about our positioning in a, frankly, saturated market. We both acknowledge and spend time thinking about our competitors, and understand our value lies in our unparalleled matchmaking skills—finding the right virtual assistant for the right client and vice versa—and having the best virtual assistants on our team, period.
A while ago, Jess (our matchmaking, cape-wearing, Director of Calm) broke down the cost of a virtual assistant. To this day, this post remains our most popular of all time. We’ll be revisiting that soon, updating it and opening ourselves up to even more transparency, community, conversation, and exploration.