10 Lessons I Learned in Hiring a Virtual Assistant

Earlier in the year, I went about looking for an online assistant to help me with some of my day-to-day tasks as a composer. Since I became a full time composer, I found I was spending a lot of time on a number of tasks that weren’t simply composing music – something I hadn’t anticpated! For example, during a normal week, as well as just writing music, I also:

– Answer emails

– Work on my social media for the week

Upload music to online libraries

– Run my websites – FGC, AudioforApps, VSTBuzz and Soundtrack.ie (which is a full time job as it is)

– I’m currently doing a Specialist Certificate in Orchestration for Film & TV with Berklee which takes about 15 hours a week

– Update IMDB, register new tracks with my IMRO (my PRO) as well as send them a monthly Tunesat export.

So, why not just hire a person locally to help me?

Well, there are quite a few benefits in hiring an online assistant as opposed to adding an actual employee to your business. Even though its great to provide jobs locally, its not always financially viable. Benefits include:

– They are pretty cheap – in Ireland, minimum wage is €8.65 an hour. You can hire an online assistant for as little as $2 per hour (granted the quality of a VA at that price is going to vary hugely).

– No office space – as you’re hiring someone online, you don’t need to provide them with a desk, computer and space for them to work at in your studio. This is beneficial if you’re stuck for space in a small studio, or just generally don’t like to work with others (not sure why that might be though!)

– No health benefits – you don’t need to pay additional benefits on top of wages like holidays or health benefits.

– Spend more time composing – as you can delegate some of the extra weekly workload to an assistant, it means you can spend more time actually composing (like you originally wanted to do!)

The 10 Lessons I learned Hiring a Virtual Assistant

Since hiring my online assistant, I’ve learned a couple of important lessons.

1.  Make sure they have a high level of English. I cannot express this enough – if your VA doesn’t speak English to a very high level, you’re going to have a bad time. Explaining the work will be difficult, and they will take a lot longer to actually complete it than a person with a good level of English.

2. You get what you pay for. The assistant I eventually settled on cost me $2 an hour (she’s located in India). Originally this started as an experiment to see if it was worth actually hiring an assistant so I wanted to keep the overheads as low as possible. I knew at the time that $2 per hour was incredibly low, but I tried it out anyway as I was curious what I’d get for my money. Looking back, I can now see that you really do get what you pay for – I’ve been going over some of my PRO registrations and they are all over the place. Unfortunately my VA didn’t spend enough time on the tasks or didn’t understand them to complete them properly – something which isn’t acceptable when it comes to any work, in particular registering your tracks with your PRO.

3. Try more than one VA. So far, I’ve used two virtual assistants – one hired directly from oDesk, and the other I hired on Fiverr for 4 hours work. Both were around the same price ($2-$2.50 per hour), and both were the same quality – however, some excelled in certain areas of work. The VA I hired on oDesk was great at putting together spreadsheets of information quickly, whereas the VA from Fiverr could follow a set of specific instructions easily and quickly. For this reason, I would suggest you try more than one VA to see what their strengths and weaknesses are, and then look at hiring another who has strengths where their weaknesses are.

4. Learn how to delegate effectively. Something I hadn’t anticipated was just how much effort it would be to give me VA work each week. I actually had to spend at least 1-2 hours a week explaining what I needed done and answering any questions she had. For this reason, I would suggest before hiring a VA, that you create a manual of all day-to-day processes you will be getting the VA to do – explain in depth each step of each process with screenshots, in order to cut down on the amount of time you will need to explain things to them.

5. Know what you’re looking for. If you do hire a VA, know what you’re hiring them for – is it for uploading music, sorting your libraries, amalgamating information? Figure out exactly what you will be getting them to do, then hire your assistant based on which of your applicants has strengths in the areas you need. Whoever you do hire however, ensure they have a high level of English – otherwise, no matter what their strengths, you’ll be spending more time than necessary answering questions.

6. Hire through a company so you’re protected. On outsourcing websites like oDesk, there are a number of agencies who you can hire assistants through. When you get applications for your job listing, you will notice at the bottom of the user’s profile, it will say something like “This person is employed by X agency” – this adds an extra level of protection and assurance for you as the employer (people working through agencies on outsourcing websites often do this as a full time job so are less likely to make mistakes or be sloppy with their work in general).

7. Advise how long you expect each task to take. Don’t hand your VA work to do and then wait for them to come back to you when its done – you might find it takes a week to complete the work otherwise. Instead, provide your assistant with a time and date you expect the work to be completed by – this gives them a time frame to work within and ensure they’ll work as quickly as possible.

8. Be as specific and detailed as possible. Whatever work you give your virtual assistant, be incredibly clear and specific in what you want done. If its not in your pre-made manual of processes, create screenshots of each step and document every single thing that needs to be done. Give them a checklist to complete at the end of each task so they can tick of every part of it that needs to be done and make sure they don’t forget to complete anything.

9. Figure out what you do daily that can be automated or delegated. Before I hired my VA, I spent two weeks writing down every single thing I did that wasn’t directly related to composing. From this list I could then see what type of a person I needed and what skills they would require. The whole point of a VA is to take work off your hands and give you more time to do what you need or want to do. Understand what processes in your business (after all being a composer is a business) can be completely automated by a system or can be delegated each week.

10. Don’t under-estimate how much time you’ll spend providing your VA with info. Directly related to point 4 – you won’t believe how much time you’ll be spending on just answering questions when you first hire a VA. If you find the assistant to be a great match, then slowly but surely the questions should start to be asked less and less and they’ll understand their role and processes they need to complete. However, don’t expect that you’ll just hire a VA and all of your work will disappear – far from it for the first few weeks in my opinion anyway!

So there you have it – a round up of what I’ve learned from hiring a virtual assistant. Are you thinking of hiring someone? Have you already? Let me know in the comments below!


Written by: admin

Emmett Cooke is an Irish composer for film, tv and video games. His music has been used around the world by high profile companies including Sony Playstation, Ralph Lauren, ABC, CBS, NBC, Lockheed Martin and many more.

  • Roberto

    This is a very interesting article, important and rarely discussed topic. Also it helps to see what the client needs from me as a composer or VA. So thanks and I’ll gladly read more articles relating to the composer’s work, not only as musician.

    Actually I’m gonna quote this article in my master thesis about virtual organizations. I hope it won’t a problem.

    • Emmett Cooke

      Hi Roberto, glad you found it interesting.

      Sure thing, quote the article! :)


  • http://twitter.com/nicamandigma Nica Mandigma

    Hi Emmett, as a freelance virtual assistant, I appreciate you sharing the thinks you have learned in hiring one.

    I haven’t worked with someone in the music industry before so this is a good insight on how a composer like you would benefit from having a VA.

    Quick question, do you know where the other VAs you hired are from? You mentioned that the first one is from India.

    • Emmett Cooke

      Hi Nica, thanks! Yes the VA I hired was from India – Delhi and the other from Mumbai (but I think outside of the cities).

      Where are you from?


  • http://www.ramboruiz.com/ Rambo Ruiz

    Hi Emmett gee thanks for pointing out to the world how a virtual assistant like me can help people lessen if not illiminate their workloads. I do have some tips as well for you guys when your VA has done stuff wrong.. See here and I hope this helps. http://ramboruiz.com/what-happens-if-your-va-do-it-wrong/

    • Emmett Cooke

      Thanks Rambo – interesting link thanks!


  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100004725905059 Facebook User

    Hi Emmett,

    interesting to see ‘the other side’… and you’re definitely spot on with most of your points above – one tipp from the ‘inside world though’: with a little research you’ll find quite a few VA’s who have industry experience and might not need too much explanation to get the job done.

    Yes, they are probably a bit more expensive, (surely there is always some who might settle ‘in the middle’), but it’ll balance itself out considering the fact that you save some time and ‘grey hair’. :-)

    So: as most things in life, it becomes relative one way or another and might be worth considering!

    A sunny ‘Hello’ to the upper half of the globe!


    • Emmett Cooke

      Hi Janna, yes true. I might investigate a bit more next time if I do hire another VA :)


  • bestvirtualhelp

    Hi Emmett,
    Great post! Thanks so much for educating everyone on the benefits of hiring virtual support AND how to do it for optimum success! I agree that when started out, going with a reputable professional virtual assistant company is a safe bet and I also agree that “you get what you pay for” so it’s good to be mindful of the super cheap options!

    • Emmett Cooke


  • Kenjie Acosta

    As an entrepreneur who also use virtual assistants, I really appreciate for sharing your lessons. My experience using VAs has been extremely positive. I did research best practices to employ prior to hiring virtual assistant and, hence was able to avoid a lot of mistakes that definitely would have been made.

  • James

    As of today there are lots of company offering virtual assistants, but the point is on how we can really trust them.

  • Mariane Lacaba

    Good to read post for business owners like you. As a virtual assistant myself, I suggest that you get your VAs from English-speaking country like the Philippines. The better the comprehension, the better performance can be delivered. Filipinos will probably ask for a relatively higher pay but you can get the jobs well done, more often, better than you expected. Just make sure to outline the instructions properly the first time. Most of the time, you will not get someone who have had the same work experience (this someone can be paid lower than the experienced VA) but with proper training and decent amount of time provided to gauge all new stuff, your VAs will be working just like you!

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