Have you ever sat down and thought about all the great things you enjoy about being a designer? I did. Here are some of the things I like doing in my interior design business –

* Pulling fabrics
* Creating color boards
* Reviewing beautiful elements – furniture, fabrics, accessories, finishes, colors, etc.
* Developing long term relationships with clients
* Hearing the ‘oohs‘ and ‘aahs‘ on installation day from happy, satisfied customers
* The satisfaction I feel when I get a new referral

What about the things you don’t like and would rather NOT be doing, but feel you have to? My list looked something like this –

* Bookkeeping
* Tracking unpaid invoices
* Getting price quotes from vendors
* Answering the phones
* Returning phone calls
* Printing and faxing PO’s
* Following up on details
* Scheduling

Take a few minutes to sit down and write your own lists. Then stop and review all the things you’re doing that are ‘high payoff activities’? That means… what are you doing to bring money into your business? How much time are you spending networking? Talking with potential customers? Reviewing your marketing? Sending out emails and newsletters? Speaking? Staying visible in your community?

If you’re anything like I was, you’re probably spending more time following up on the myriad of mind-numbing administrative details, only to never ‘get around’ to prospecting and marketing for new clients. Ideally, anything that you’re doing that’s NOT bringing money in your door, should be delegated. I know. Hard to imagine isn’t it? However, it is possible, even for us designers. I’ve done it. You too can set up your very own team of highly qualified virtual assistants, sub-contractors and experts. When you take the time to do this… the payoff is fabulous! It’s the fastest way to experience more time and money. Plus, you get to do only the things you love doing… Interior Design! 

Below are a few steps I’ve taken to hire my Virtual Assistants.

1. There are online services out there like www.Guru.com or www.Elance.com or even Craigslist where you can post an ad for a VA.  There are all kinds of VA sites online.  When I posted for a position on Craigslist, I got a ton of well qualified responses from all over the country.  You just have to specify in your post that you want someone with interior design experience, if that’s important to you.  There’s an abundance of people out there with experience, looking for extra work.

2. No matter what, you’ll have to train whomever you hire.  The more you train, the better your results.  To make things easy on them and you, it’s best to have some kind of system and scripts set up in writing, step by step.  As Michael Gerber puts it… “Document your systems so well that even an 8th grader can do it.”  I’ve heard of other business owners that have trained their VA’s by using a PowerPoint presentation. One in particular just plops his new hire down in front of the computer screen and they watch the presentation for an hour or so all the way down to where to park, what to wear, etc.  I thought that was intriguing and could easily be adapted for a long-distance VA.

3. I found it’s best to hire the VA to do ‘project’ work, meaning one specific task, in a specific amount of time (at least until they prove themselves).  It sounds so obvious, but don’t leave the time open ended or you will get a big bill for something that should have taken 1 hour as Tim Ferris from the 4-Hour Work Week and I (unfortunately) can attest to.

4. Make sure the work you give them is provable as to whether they’d done it or not (another lesson I learned).  Sometimes this can be hard to do, but do your best and keep it in mind when setting up your job description and processes.

5. Finally, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that just because they’re out of the office, they don’t need to be managed, they do… and just as much as any employee. Watch their progress in the beginning and have them check in with you regularly. One way to do this is through the use of ‘checkpoints’  and give them goals to meet on a weekly or even daily basis.

It’s different setting up systems and training an employee that sits in your office vs someone that’s 1000 miles away, but it is doable and well worth the time you invest.

Some resources I’ve used –

www.Guru.com
www.Elance.com
www.ODesk.com (my new favorite)

www.SuccessConnections.com – Melanie Strick has a program on hiring Virtual Assistants. If you sign up for her email list you can get a great free report. It’s called “101 Ways to Triple Your Income and Double Your Time Off – How to Do What You Do Best and Delegate the Rest.”

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