Hiring Your First VA: 3 Mistakes Small Business Owners Make

Lessons from a Digital Marketing Virtual Assistant who actually does the work:

Whether in my own client experiences or in my professional networking groups, these are things I’ve seen come up over and over again.

And I want to help you make smart decisions, but also be realistic. Because a unicorn VA can help create magic for your business, but you’ve got to start with the right foundation.

1) Having skill set tunnel vision

I see this one so much in the digital media marketing world. Business owners create job listings with a laundry list of requirements, tech skills, and client experience.

They want to hire VAs who have worked in dozens of specific tech platforms and are already proficient at every tool and strategy that they want to use.

That’s fine if you’re a successful 7-figure client with a large team who needs to fill some specific niche roles.

But if you’re a small business owner, who is starting from nothing, you need to hire for the attitude and mindset. Find someone with a work ethic that complements yours, and who is eager to learn and knows how to dive in deep.

It doesn’t matter if they aren’t experts in every single thing you want them to do for you. If they’re a problem-solver and smart, they will know how to figure it out.

You don’t have to blow your budget on a high-level freelancer at $75/hr with decades of experience in specialized skills.

If you’re hiring your first VA, just don’t make this mistake. Stay out of the “must know” trap and be open-minded. Hire for the hunger, because your unicorn VA can learn those specific details very quickly as you grow.

Instead, find a fresh new face in the field who will grow with you and build your business.

2) Expecting brand voice to develop overnight

So you’ve hired your first VA and she’s ready to start taking those tedious tasks off your plate.

Except you take a look at the first round of emails that she’s written and they just feel…off. Maybe it’s an adjective that you would never use or a paragraph that feels forced or fake.

This is where a lot of solopreneurs make a huge mistake after hiring their first VA.

They assume that their unicorn isn’t going to work out. That they will have to give up the dream of sharing these higher-level tasks and go back to writing all of their own copy and emails.

Stop. Don’t even go there.

Instead, let’s be realistic.

Because even high-level copywriters can take six weeks to pump out a brand voice guideline.

So if you’re starting with a unicorn, who is not a specialized copywriter, you need to give them a chance to build that voice before pushing out the final products to blogs, social media, etc.

Otherwise, if you want flawless conversion copy, be prepared to pay $100/hour and set aside months for your return on the investment.

Instead, take this opportunity to coach your unicorn VA. Be honest and give them feedback and corrections, but also give them time and space to work.

Get your VA’s final draft before it gets published, and make those minor corrections. Add a sentence or two that feels natural for you.

Sure, if you already have a brand voice guide created, you can expect things to speed up a little.

But I suggest taking your time, putting some faith in your unicorn, and working out the kinks together. Before you know it, she’ll be sending out copy that is so on-brand that you might be convinced that you wrote it yourself.

3) Waiting too long

Another common mistake – waiting too long before hiring your first VA!

When I wrote this recent blog post about frequent concerns I hear from business owners about hiring a VA, a common theme that I kept hearing was “I’m not ready…”

Like I wrote in that post, you are probably more than ready. In fact, there’s a good chance that you are waiting too long before hiring your first team member.

Here’s an analogy that will make sense if you’re a mom. I’m a military wife who has been working from home for years. We move around a lot, and my husband is often working crazy hours or even deployed for months at a time.

Guess what I’ve learned is one of the top keys to my success? Finding a good babysitter!

If you’re a parent, you know. You can’t wait until the last minute when you’re desperate for a night out or a child-free Zoom meeting to try to find someone.

Nope. If you wait too long, all of the good babysitters are taken. And you’re missing out.

You need a babysitter already set up and ready to go.

So you make it a priority to find a babysitter, make the contacts, and build the relationship. Then make sure they are happy and you’re paying them enough.

Well, hiring a new VA is very similar.

If you know your business is growing and scaling, and you are expanding, you need a VA now.

And it doesn’t have to be a big commitment. In fact, with some of my favorite clients, I’ve started with only a handful of hours each month. If you’re ready, hire now.

Don’t wait until you’re down in the weeds. You’ll be overwhelmed and desperate. Take the steps now with a small commitment and get that new VA onboarded so that you can build together.

You’re not going to magically have more time later. Make it a priority now. Because hiring a unicorn VA will help you free up time very quickly.

BONUS MISTAKE: Not vetting your new hire 

Always do your homework. Ask for references from clients and look at their portfolio if they do website or graphic design. If they haven’t been referred to you by word of mouth, make sure they can actually do the work.

It’s ok to do a test project to see if they can do the work (but pay for their time, don’t expect them to do it for free).

My free resource to help you hire:

I’ve put together a checklist of questions to ask in your next discovery call with a virtual assistant. These questions will help you see if your’e hiring for the right work ethic and attitude.

Hint: you are looking for a teammate with a valuable growth mindset.

Download the list of questions here.

⚡️  Related Podcast Alert: My own journey as a business owner

In this podcast episode, I got personal and shared some of my own growth (and detours) as an online business owner. Take a quick break and listen – I think you’ll find some info and insights that resonate with you, too!

Listen on Apple Podcasts or your favorite app.

The Takeaway: If you avoid these common mistakes when hiring your first VA, you’ll be one step ahead as a solopreneur.

Of course, you’re going to make mistakes when you start hiring team members. And there’s a chance that some of them will be painful learning opportunities.

And there are more details to think about, like making sure your back-end business and SOPs are ready. (Look for a whole new post coming soon about that.)

But with a little planning on your end, you can avoid some of these common traps, mistakes, and pitfalls that I’ve seen so many other solopreneurs make when they try hiring their first VA.

So take a little time to plan it out and work out the kinks. Just don’t let it stop you from moving forward in your business!


Related YouTube Video: 3 Mistakes Solopreneurs Make When Hiring

Want more inspiration or just more details about my new babysitter analogy?

Check out the full video on my YouTube channel: Think of your business as the future. Where are you really going? Who are the people that you need in place NOW?


Where to hire a Unicorn Digital Marketing Assistant

Ready to jump in and grow your team, but not sure where you start? Head straight over to my VA referral page hireaunicorn.com and fill out the quick form.

I’ll pass along your job post to my private network of Unicorn Digital Marketing Assistants and specialists who will help jump-start your team’s growth.

See you in the online space!

-Emily, Digital Marketing Consultant and Implementer


4 Ways We Can Work Together 

  1. Do you need to acquire digital marketing implementation skills? Check out the Unicorn Digital Marketing Assistant School. (It opens twice a year so jump on the waitlist)
  2. Already doing the work and have clients? But need more clients and a better referral network? Apply for my Digital Marketing Workgroup. 
  3. Maybe you don’t need to learn the hard skills but need help setting up your independent contractor business? Don’t spend $1300 on a “typical start-your-VA-business course.” Learn the quick steps in my Freelance Biz Kickstarter only $297. Inside you’ll get a contract to use with your social media clients and services. 
  4. Need to hire a Unicorn Digital Marketing Assistant? Submit your job opportunity here. I’ll share with my workgroups totally free.
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“I help smart women learn the in-demand digital marketing strategies and tech skills to get hired as a unicorn digital marketing assistant.“

Further Reading:

What Tasks Should You Give Your New Virtual Assistant?

Hiring Your First VA: Common Concerns of Business Owners

Why a Facebook Community Manager is a Perfect First Hire

What is a Unicorn VA? Why Do I want to Hire one? 

Before you go, make sure you grab my freebie for up-and-coming digital marketing freelancers and VAs:

Get my list right here of the top 10 tasks that business owners always ask for help with!

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Meet Emily

Emily Reagan is a jill-of-all trades when it comes to digital marketing and techie skills. She’s worked as a behind-the-scenes digital marketing implementor and strategist for a decade for online biz owner clients.

She’s a mom of four, Air Force wife, and founder of the Unicorn Digital Marketing Assistant School, where she teaches smart women the in-demand, highly-coveted digital marketing skills to get flexible, online work.

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