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Using Virtual Assistants in Your Property Management Company

Web Admin - Monday, March 14, 2016

Using Virtual Assistants in Your Castle Rock Property Management Company by Ben Parham RMPC, Denver Chapter Treasurer

Property Management is a task oriented business and can sometimes be death by a thousand “to dos”. Just keeping up with the flood of emails alone can be a full-time job. Then there’s collecting rent, showing properties, preparing leases, handling maintenance emergencies, putting out fires (figuratively and literally), and serving notices. The list goes on and on.

Oh, but what about business development? We always want more properties, right? If only we had more time to work on our website, write blogs, identify non-owner occupied properties, and perhaps get into that Pay Per Click advertising you heard about at the last convention. Of course those tasks will have to wait because, after all, it’s the first of the month and we have rent to collect.

It doesn’t have to be like that! What if you could pay someone to take over tedious tasks or the tasks you simply don’t know how to do? You could always hire a new staff member, but the added expense of an employee is something that has to be evaluated. There are salary considerations, payroll taxes, unemployment taxes, and vacation time to manage.

What if I told you that you could hire someone for $2-3 per hour and have no payroll taxes? What if I told you that instead of spending 4-5 hours writing a blog post for your website, you could pay someone a flat $5 per article? How does $35 per week for 20 hours of SEO work sound? Enter the Virtual Assistant

What is a Virtual Assistant?

A Virtual Assistant, or VA, is an independent contractor that works remotely on a specific or broad range of tasks. Commonly these tasks included clerical, administrative, website design and maintenance, graphic design, copyediting, SEO, and data research.

Why use a VA?

There are many reasons you should be using VAs:

  1. Outsource the routine, mundane, and sometimes menial tasks that need to be done, but are time consuming and could easily be done by someone else for a lot less per hour than what your time is worth.
  2. Outsource a task which you don’t have the expertise. For instance, I am a novice when it comes to graphic design so I always outsource that kind of work to a VA. They can get what I need done in 5 minutes when it would take me all day of tinkering with Adobe Photoshop to figure it out, and it would still look like something my 4-year-old drew with a crayon.
  3. Extend your workday. I commonly use VAs that live on the other side of the world so when I’m sleeping, they are awake and working. I’ll give a data research task to a VA and when I wake up, the results are in my inbox… magic!

How can a VA benefit a property management company?

 

  • SEO – Not ranking high enough in Google search results? Give a VA who specializes in SEO a keyword phrase or two that you want to rank higher for and let them go to work. They can optimize your website (on-site SEO) and perform link building outside your website (off-site SEO).
  • Google Adwords – Pay Per Click (PPC) advertising is a great way to attract new owners and Google Adwords is arguably the #1 place to get the best bang for the buck. But unless you are extremely familiar with the inner workings of Adwords, it can be a fulltime job to set up and maintain a successful Adwords campaign. Having an un-optimized campaign can cost you hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars in wasted ad revenue. This task is perfectly suited for a VA.
  • Blog Article Writing – Posting blog articles - or should I say, good blog articles – requires proper research so that your blog is worth reading. Research takes time. Hire this out to a VA. Having a native English speaker is helpful here to ensure proper grammar is used. I had an American VA writing 500 word blog articles for me for $5 per post. I sent him a spreadsheet with 20 or so article topics and asked him to write 3 per week.
  • Website Design/Upkeep – Website design and maintenance is expensive if you hire a local design firm. I had a VA redo my entire website with a new Wordpress theme for a flat $75 and he completed the task in 48 hours.
  • Graphic Design – Need a new logo, or an update to an existing logo? Plenty of VAs are waiting to put you in awe with their Photoshop magic.
  • Online Research/Data mining – Use a VA to compile a database of non-owner occupied properties to market to, or have them conduct competitor research to give you an edge.
  • Email management – Is your email inbox running away with more emails than you can handle? There are VAs that will help you handle the flood. You can give them canned responses to common emails, have them delete junk emails, and sort emails for you to follow up with later.

Where to get a VA.

So hopefully I’ve sold you on using a VA and now you’re ready to hire one. Where do you go? There are multiple websites to search for a VA and post jobs, but probably the two most popular are Upwork.com (formerly Odesk) and Elance.com. I personally use Upwork and have found it very easy to create new job posts, filter through multiple applicants, hire one or more VAs, and manage jobs.

How much do they cost?

This is the beauty of a VA. They are considerably cheaper than brining on an employee. This is especially true of VAs that live in foreign countries. Administrative related VAs usually only cost $2-4 / hour. You can also pay them on a fixed fee basis. For instance, I’ve had tweaks done to our company logo and paid a flat $10 for the task. (Over 30 people applied for that job in 24 hours by the way)

When you go through a service such as Upwork or Elance, you pay the service and then they distribute the fee to the VA less a percentage that the service takes off the top as their cut. Upwork retains 10% and gives 90% to the VA. The VA submits their hours and then the service bills to a credit card you have on file.

Tax implications.

The advantage of using a VA is that you really don’t have any tax implications. There are no payroll taxes, unemployment taxes, or Social Security and Medicare matching requirements. They are purely an independent contractor. You simply pay a service provider for the VA’s services the same as you would to your property management software provider.

How to hire the right VA?

The first thing you’ll do after creating an account on a site like Upwork or Elance is to post your first job. You’ll want to write a detailed job description the same as if you were searching to hire an employee. Ensure that you fully explain what the task is and what successful completion of the task looks like. You can also post specific questions that you require all applicants to answer when applying for the job. After you post the job and wake up the next morning, you’ll probably have 5 or more applicants. I usually wait at least a full 24 hours before sifting through them all. Some jobs such as SEO will usually get 50 or more applicants in one day. It can be kind of daunting try to go through them all but alas, I have a system to help you pick the perfect VA! I call it “Ben’s 5-Step VA Selection Process”:

  1. When writing your job post, somewhere in the middle (not at the beginning and not at the end), bury the following instruction to the applicant: “When applying for this job, please begin your reply with ‘PROPERTY MANAGEMENT ROCKS’” or some other random phrase that you choose. This verifies that they read the entire job post top to bottom and did not simply apply for your job without even knowing exactly what your job is. If they don’t start their reply with your secret phrase - and I don’t care how good their profile looks - delete them.
  2. Filter on applicants that have at least a 4-star rating
  3. Filter on applicants that have worked at least 100 hours through the online service provider.
  4. Applicants can elect to take various tests to show their proficiency in different areas. Some of these tests assess their language skills. Filter on applicants who score at least in the top 10 percentile on the English vocabulary test. This ensures that you can an easily communicate with them.

The goal with the steps above is to narrow the applicants down to 3-5 top contenders. Now here is the 5TH and most important step. Send all of your final contenders an email asking them a couple questions. It doesn’t matter what the questions are but should probably be related to the job. Then you wait. What you’re waiting for is to see who replies quickly. You don’t want to work with a VA who takes days to get back to you. You also are looking to see how well they comprehended your questions and how relative their answers are. This is especially important for foreign VAs. There initial reply to your job post will sometimes be a canned reply that they had edited for proper English. Having them answer dynamic questions will give you a truer picture of their communication abilities.

I usually will be able to select the VA to hire using this process. An optional 6th step before hiring them is to set up a Skype call so you can speak with them fact-to-face.

The bottom line is that you can use a VA for just about anything. Don’t let the massive undertaking of finding a new employee prevent you from tackling those tasks that need to get done now. As soon as you put this article down, think about the #1 task you are dreading having to do tomorrow and instead, find a VA to do it for you.

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