13 Sep

Your Two First Hires – How to begin scaling your business with a VA and a writer

If you are building a website with the goal of generating traffic/making money your two most important hires are a VA and a Writer.

After some recent discussions with a couple people I am helping coach/consult with it became clear that these are the 2 most critical first hires!

This post will share with you how to find, hire, fire and manage both roles.

What This Post Will Cover:

  • My 5 Simple Rules for effectively hiring and managing a virtual team
  • My experience (including the number of hires I have had via UpWork)
  • How to Hire a VA
  • How to Hire a Writer

5 Simple Rules for Hiring and Managing a Virtual Team:

  1. Hire Fast (no interview)
  2. Hire more than you will eventually need (hire 3 if you need to fill 1 role) 
  3. Fire Fast (as soon as it is clear they are not an A player whether it is 1hr or 1week cut them loose ASAP) 
  4. Keep them consistently working
  5. Have a system to track and manage their output with clear expectations of results expected of them and a way to feedback to them their performance

My Experience:

Over the past 9 years me and my team have hired A LOT of people via upwork (1,539!!)

But it all started with my first VA and a writer.

Here is a snapshot of what is reported via UpWork…



How to Hire a VA:

Hiring your first VA is a crtical step that I believe everyone looking to build a substantial online business should pursue.

The benefit of having a skilled VA that works closely with you to help with your business is huge! I have many that have been with me for A LONG time and I would not be able to operate without them.

I have mentioned it before but…

  • One started at $0.5/hr and rose to $6/hr!
  • One I was recently named as a god-parent for (among about 15 others)
  • Here is my refined approach to hiring a VA which I first shared over 3 years ago here


Of course you know I love sharing detailed tutorials and not just theory…so here it is… something that people have been asking for…exactly how I go about hiring virtual assistants.

Step 1 – Sign up at UpWork

The sign up process at UpWork.com is straightforward. You simply sign up and attach a credit card to your account.

Even though they have raised their fee structure the talent pool and management systems still have me using it.

Step 2 – Post a Job on UpWork

Post a job on UpWork. For me I used a very simple job posting in the administrative general category.

Some people like to use hidden keywords to qualify applicants or say no form cover letters. To me it only makes sense people would use form cover letters when the success rate of job posting has to be around 1/50 so who would spend time creating a unique cover letter. I wouldn’t so I don’t punish people who don’t. The bottom line is I don’t want to hire the VA with the best application I want the best VA at their job so the more applicants for me to select from the better! The ability with UpWork to see who is serious and who is not is easy with their previous work history so I don’t use the cover letter to judge how serious an applicant they are.

See Example Job Posting Here

Step 3 – Wait 1-24 hrs no longer!

For most job postings dozens will apply in only a few hours.

I like to keep the momentum going of someone who just applied and hire them as soon after they applied as possible.

This momentum when managing VA’s is critical right from the start. When I hire someone I want to ensure they continue to progress through the work without a break…if a great VA has a 1-2week break from being assigned work they often are hard to get restarted.

When I have hired someone who applied to the job longer than 24hrs ago I notice a decline in their responsiveness. My focus in this phase is to keep the momentum moving and the cycle time from application to hired short.

Step 4 – Sort through the List of Applicants

Here are the 4 measures I use to find the best possible VA.

  • How many hours has the person worked on UpWork (~30% weighting) – The more hours the better, what often can occur is someone will sign up on UpWork, apply to a job but then never follow through on the assignment. Someone that is making a living on UpWork will be certain to deliver results for you and protect their positive feedback.
  • UpWork Feedback (~30% weighting) – Reviews are not good enough to sort out the top 50% but they can be reliable on cutting out the bottom 25-50% of applicants. If someone is below a 4 rating I would stay away. However, someone that has a 4.91 is not necessarily better than someone with a 4.78…reviews just are not to be trusted that much in my opinion.
  • Matching Skill Set (~20% weighting) – In my case I am looking for someone who has done similar work including WordPress, research and some SEO work. If they have another bonus skill I can’t efficiently teach I consider that as well such as graphic design or the ability to code.
  • English Skills (~20% weighting) – I want to find someone who does not have any broken English in their application. Whether it is selecting a category for a post or crafting a tweet their English skills need to be decent enough to put together a non-broken sentence.

Step 5 – Hire the 2 Best VA’s for the Blind Experiment

Based on the criteria above hire the 1-3 best potential VA’s with no interview. Simply select the 2 best and hire them.

Here is where the blind experiment method comes into play. Without an interview I just go ahead and hire someone then in the next steps there is the “experiment” to prove who is the best VA.

When the cost of making a hiring mistake is high (such as in real life) it makes sense to be as thorough as possible… however, in the online world where ending a contract costs only the few hours the candidate was working you can save yourself a TON of time bye not doing any interviews.

Step 6 – Assign Short Term Research Assignment

Once the VA’s have been hired it is time to send them their first assignment. It is important to follow up with the instructions right after you have hired them. The assignment I am looking to assign is something that is simple and will prove to me if they have what it takes.

Example of the 2 assignments I am going to assign…

  • Research Assignment #1 – Find 30 scholarships for College students in the US who are from China. Create a Google spreadsheet and share it with JonHaver11. I would like you to include the name of the scholarship, the URL of the scholarship and a copied short description of the scholarship. Please confirm you have received these instructions by emailing me at jonhaver11 immediately after being hired and send a very brief email daily with your progress (# found) and any questions you have. I would like this research completed within 2-3 days.
  • Research Assignment #2 – Find 30 scholarships for College students in the US who are from Canada. Create a Google spreadsheet and share it with JonHaver11. I would like you to include the name of the scholarship, the URL of the scholarship and a copied short description of the scholarship. Please confirm you have received these instructions by emailing me at jonhaver11 immediately after being hired and send a very brief email daily with your progress (# found) and any questions you have. I would like this research completed within 2-3 days.

That is it! I like to provide more detail on all future assignments but this clear enough but not too detailed job will show me what kind of person they are.

Step 7 – Review Work Completed by the VA’s

The review of their work starts with their communication, I like to see the confirmation come shortly after being hired saying they understand the job. If I get a ton of emails asking simple questions like “how do I create a Google Document” or anything they could easily learn with Google then I know they will be a burden on me or my team leads time and not free it up. If they are crisp with their daily communication and deliver great results in an organized fashion within the timeline then I know what kind of worker they are.

Using this test assignment has been a huge help to me and my team in terms of weeding out low performers before they have been a drain on my team.

The 4 basic skills I am looking at during this phase is…

  • Speed of communication
  • Quality of communication
  • Quality of questions they ask
  • Quality of final piece of work (did they “get it”)

Step 8 – Fire Lowest Performing VA

In the past I have spent time trying to train up low performers to make them high performers. However, I am now very convinced my time is far better off training up my best performers and churning through VA’s until I find some stand outs who can be top performers.

WARNING – You will get many emails after you end the contract of the VA asking to be re-hired and providing many passionate pleas why you should hire them. It does hurt to say no to some people. If I think I gave them a fair opportunity I can’t get too worked up about ending their contract but it still sucks. So if you plan on following my no interview hire 2 fire 1 strategy be aware there is pain associated with it.

Step 9 – Manage and Train Your VA

This step deserves its own section but here are some basic instructions that will ensure you are effectively managing a VA…

1. Require daily updates via email…

  • What has been done
  • What the plan for tomorrow is
  • Any issues that have come up

2. Use a Google Document that includes training, tasks and work completed

3. Provide consistent feedback both positive and constructive. Aim for a ratio of 4:1 positive to constructive.

How to Hire a Writer:

Much of this is the same as I wrote back in 2012 and although the cost per article has increased the principles still hold.

3 Hard Earned Lessons

  • Good writers are typically “flakey” and will disappear without notice so always have some backup
  • Native English writers is an absolute requirement
  • Paying promptly and communicating well will help reduce the churn typically experienced with good writers

My System for Hiring Writers…

Getting high quality articles written for a very low cost is a key strength for my online business. In this article and for the first time I share exactly how I get high quality articles created cheaply.

Here is how I get a 500+ Word High Quality Article Written for $8

ONE – Identify Articles to Be Created

I have a ONE simple Google Document spreadsheets for my various projects with a typical list of…

  • Website
  • Title(target keyword)
  • Type of content (Pillar 2000-4000 word article or 750 word blog post with a little bit of information added here to help guide the writer)
  • Link to eventual Google document of the article (for when the article is created)
  • Link to published URL (either on my site or another page online)


TWO – Post a Job on UpWork

The job on UpWork doesn’t have to be anything special. The key to hiring good writers is understanding what they are looking for and providing it.

My ideal writer is looking for an opportunity to get 5* feedback and steady work. I am looking for someone who is…

  • A Native English Speaker (USA, Canada, Great Britain, Australia)
  • Has writing experience
  • College educated
  • Newer to ODesk and looking for experience/exposure
  • Returning to the workforce and hungry to prove themselves
  • Stay at home Mom’s have proven to be exceptional!

Example of Content Tracking Sheet

These qualities typically reflect themselves in a stay at home mom or recent college graduates who are looking to get experience.

Here is my article writing job posting I like to use…

Article Writer Post


I have a quick 5 article writing job if you are interested in getting some 5* feedback on your ODesk profile and potential long term work.

I will provide you with the article titles and would like you to research them and then write 750 word articles

Required:
– Native English
– Interested in completing this job quickly for the fixed bid amount and receiving 5* feedback
– interested in potential longer term writing assignment after the successful completion of this job
– Bid at or below the $40 for 5 articles

THREE – Hire 2-3 Writers for Each Group of Keywords

No need to interview since there is very little you can learn to better inform your decision. By not interviewing you take on 2 risks…

  • Writer is not serious and does not complete the work – However, I don’t believe interviewing would reduce this risk and the consequence of not getting your articles is minor since you are hiring 2 writers for each group of keywords.
  • You receive of sub-par quality content – Again, this risk is minor since you have 2 writers working for each group of articles and if the content is decent(which it almost always is) but just doesn’t add enough value it can be used as an article on my Private Blog Network.

Many people will disagree with me on this but hiring them right away without an interview saves me a lot of time!

If schedule is not important to you and you have a lot of articles ready to be written it can be a good strategy to assign articles 1-5 for one writer and 6-10 to another. By doing this if you do end up with 2 great writers you can use all the articles on your money site.

FOUR – Send Them a Message with Instructions

Here are the instructions I send via UpWork as soon as I hire them, this email is nothing special but lays out what deliverables are expected and when they are expected.

A great podcast if you are interested in running an efficient team is Manager Tools who teach the basic principle of project management is defining “who is doing what by when”.

One change I made to this template that improved the number of writers that completed their articles was asking for a small action right away “email me confirming you have received and understand these instructions”.

—- Email Template —-


Welcome to the team. I really look forward to working with you!

My name is _____ and I am the team lead here, please email at _______ to confirm you have received this email right away.

If you ever have any questions or concerns you can get in touch with Jon the owner at _______

Here are the 5 articles each article needs to be 750+ words and 100% unique…

Title 1

Title 2

Title 10


Following the general instructions provided at the link below (specifically section 4)

http://authoritywebsiteincome.com/quality-article-writing-using-a-template/

Please send all articles in one email in individual .doc form to the emails above.

Hopefully you can complete all 5 articles in 1 week, 5* feedback and more work will follow.

If you have any questions please contact me.

Thanks and I look forward to speaking with you more.

_______ (Team Lead)

FIVE – Receive Articles

Once the articles have been received they should be checked for the following…

  • Quality – Review the article to see if it is good enough to go onto the website, again if it’s not it can be used at a Web 2.0 property or private blog network.

I then have my team leader move each article to a dropbox folder and share the link on the google document.

SIX – Publish Articles (more to come in future posts)

Once the articles required are available (uploaded to dropbox folder and added to the content tracking spreadsheet) my content publishing VA is triggered to get the articles published on the given site.

Another complete post could be created on the different ways to ensure quality content is published.

For me I use Thrive Themes and Content Builder extensively to help ensure my posts formatting is of a very high quality!

Depending on the quality of the writer, me and my team manager will move them onto bigger assignments as required.

So that is it, six steps showing how I get cheap articles written that are of high quality!

Hiring Your First 2 Positions – Summary

So that is it… an updated version from my original posts talking about hiring a VA and hiring a writer.

The basic concepts have stayed consistent in my business for the past three years.

If you are starting out and looking to grow your team I hope my hard earned lessons and the strategy I have refined now over the years is helpful!

If you have any tips/tricks when it comes to your first hires please share in the comments below.

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