Here’s a little secret no one tells you: The first person you’ll need to train when working with virtual staff is yourself. That’s right. You. You’re the one in charge. You’re the one with the vision. You’re the one who’s battling superhero syndrome—remember?

The biggest and most surprising problem I see in current VA training isn’t improper training or overtraining, but rather a complete lack of training. Too many people think their VA comes ready to use “out of the box.” But your VA is a human being, not a software plugin.

Sorry, but there’s no magic pill to pop here. It’s going to take some good old-fashioned digital elbow grease to get things moving. Let’s begin by discussing three important elements that will set you on the right path.

1. Defining the Role

Before you can begin training a VA, you must define the role. So start off by asking yourself a few questions, such as:

  • What are the core responsibilities of the role the VA will fill?
  • What skills or traits does he or she need to properly fulfill it?
  • How will you measure success within this role?

It’s also helpful to consider who else on your team will be interacting with the VA and then find a person who will be a good match. Even if you’re just starting with a GVA, this exercise will help you identify your needs, which should be the primary drive behind your decision-making process.  Refer back to your 3 Lists to Freedom. This is a great tool that will help you identify the roles you’ll need to create.

2. Setting Expectations

Setting expectations between you and your VA is the cornerstone to successful virtual staffing. But remember, this is a two-way street. Your VA will also be counting on you to hold up your end of the deal.

Here are some questions to consider:

  • When will you pay: weekly, biweekly, monthly, or when a project is completed?
  • How much will you pay?
  • How will you track progress?
  • What kind of response times do you expect for e-mail communications between you and your VA?
  • What will you do if the work performed does not meet your standards?

3. Training, Not Assuming

Would you get mad at your calculator if you accidentally pressed the number two instead of five? Of course not… at least I hope not! The same principle applies when you’re communicating with virtual staff members. One of the greatest mistakes you can make as a leader is to assume your staff knows what you meant to say or what you should have said.

This is why the number-one rule to successfully harnessing the power of your virtual staff is never to assume anything—ever. That doesn’t mean your VA lacks common sense or is unable to connect the dots. What it means is that you need to be clear and concise. Don’t expect your VA to be a mind reader or to do something different than what you asked of him or her.

Here are two other assumptions that I’ve seen rear their ugly heads over and over again:

  • If a VA doesn’t know how to do something, he or she will immediately ask for help. Across the board, most VAs would rather try and figure something out themselves instead of saying, “I don’t know how to do this,” or, “I need help.” In their eyes, asking these questions means letting you down. That’s why it’s important to consistently let your VA know that you welcome any questions that haven’t already been addressed in training.
  • The VA will understand your definition of “a reasonable amount of time.” Here’s a typical direction many VAs receive: “Please (insert task here) but don’t take too much time on it. Just do your best and then move on.” What’s the definition of too much time? One hour? Four hours? An entire day? Instead, try saying: “Please (insert task here), but don’t take any more than two hours on it. If you’ve reached the end of the two hours and haven’t finished, let me know and we can talk about it.” This allows you to set boundaries and check-in points so that you can see how things are progressing—and it also creates a healthy challenge for the VA. Remember that whole idea of the VA not wanting to let you down? When you give VAs time limits, you’ll typically find that they finish their tasks within the established timeframes. If your VA still ends up coming back to you requesting more time, it’s probably because he or she really needs it.