When you start a business, one important consideration is how big you want to get. Do you want staff from day one? Do you prefer to do it all on your own? Or is there a middle ground?

One way to get help without committing to hiring staff is to bring on a virtual assistant, someone to pitch in where you need help and take over any tasks you’d rather not do yourself.

But how does the process work, and what should you look for in a VA? We spoke with Samantha Schumyn of Sidekick Consulting in Oliver, B.C., to get her insight.

Workshop: What is a virtual assistant?

Samantha Schumyn: My business is called Sidekick Consulting. It's pretty cheesy, but it's kind of the Robin to your Batman.

We start out businesses and don't realize that we have different departments. You've got marketing, you've got accounting, you've got all kinds of things. For me, a VA is someone who takes the tasks that you don't want to do off your plate so you can get back to doing what you love.

A VA takes the tasks you don't want to do off your plate so you can get back to doing what you love.

W: What's the difference between hiring a VA and hiring an employee?

SS: All of my clients are on a package, either project-based or time-based. As a business owner, you're only paying for those hours. And your VA knows that you only have a certain amount of hours. You're not paying employee tax, you're not doing benefits, you're not paying for vacation time. You're not paying for water cooler talks. There's none of that in-between. It's really specialized, focused time that you're investing in.

W: What are the different kinds of things that someone in a creative business might hire a VA for?

SS: There's lots. There's copywriting, proofreading, content creation, organizing, marketing, all those things that you need assistance with. There’s bookkeeping. There's receipts. There's so much that goes on in the back end. A lot of the time, people don't want to be bogged down with those everyday tasks.

What I like to do is map it out during the discovery call. I sit down with clients and say, okay, what is it that's bogging you down, and what's going to help you get from point A to point B? We get it all down on paper and build an action plan from that.

W: So there's almost project management?

SS: It definitely is project management.

W: What should people look for in a VA?

SS: It really does come down to that interview. Did [the VA] answer the questions you wanted them to answer? Is the conversation flowing? They really are going to become your right hand in your business, and that conversation and trust and clarity really does have to flow.

You need to interview just like you're hiring for a job. You have to interview different VAs to see if they're a good fit for you.

W: What does your first session with a new client look like?

SS: I love asking questions. I love digging in. So I really go in. Why did you start your business? What is important to you? Why are you in business? What's stopping you from being 100 percent successful in your eyes?

And then, when we onboard, I have different tools. I use Asana, and I break up projects in there. So we'll have a social media project, we'll have accounting, everyday administration, project management, HR, you name it. We put our tasks in there and I assign them either to the person who has hired me or to me. Then we can knock it all out of the park. It's not just winging it on a day-to-day basis. It really is planning, strategic planning.

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W: What would you say to people who aren’t sure they have the budget to hire a VA?

SS: There are different levels of experience. So, if you can't afford the most experienced VA, interview in your price range. Be sure of what you want and what you can afford. And then go out and speak to people. Sometimes you can take a junior person under your wing and mentor them in the business world.

A big question I ask people is, what is it going to cost you if you don't get this done? Don’t put yourself into bankruptcy hiring a VA, but do get one if you feel like things are slipping.

W: Do you have any tips for people on identifying the obstacles that are slowing them down and coming to terms with outsourcing them?

SS: Sometimes people think, I'm so embarrassed because it's such a small task. It's not. When you write down the things that are stopping you, you'll be amazed at how many things are holding you back from different projects. And for a VA, I know it sounds so cliché, but no task is too small if it's a big thing for you.

W: Are there any mistakes you see people make when they're hiring a VA?

SS: Getting too excited and hiring the first one they speak to. Do those reference checks, speak to people in their community.

Again, I go back to hiring for fit. A VA is an extension of your team, so what do you want that person to be? What do you want their personality to be? Do you want an A-type? Do you want funny? Do you want them to be more serious? And what do you want their skill set to be?

Do your due diligence. Interview, do the work, write down what you want help with. And when you're speaking to the person, get them to map out exactly how they can help you.