Once you’ve been a VA for long enough, you’ll get to a point where you may feel stuck and unable to scale, this is when subcontracting is a great idea. Turning your one person VA business into a multi-person agency is a shared dream for many VAs. This is the secret sauce to growing your biz to 5, 10, and even $20k months!
Let’s dive into the magic of subcontracting!
Subcontracting, in very short, is when you bring other virtual assistants onto your team and outsource some of your work to them. This work could be your own, but it’s more likely to be your clients. Work that is outside your area of expertise or that simply doesn’t appeal to you is perfect for outsourcing to a trusty subcontracted VA and allows you focus more closely on client acquisition, retention and communications.
Bringing other people onto your team lets you become a more full-service business. When you subcontract to one, two, three, or more VAs, you’ll be expanding what services potential clients and customers can get from you, without having to learn those skills yourself.
Bringing subcontractors on will help your business grow larger and increase your brand’s reputation. Not only this, you’ll be among the 25% of smart VAs who understand that subcontracting is a natural stepping stone to scale.
Are you ready to grow your team?
When should you consider subcontracting?
Amazing things happen when you outsource before you’re ready. You’re sending out a message to the universe that it’s time to grow… and grow you will! Subcontracting will have a snowball effect on your business.
There are some scenarios where subcontracting is an obvious next step:
- When you’re feeling stuck – like you have way too many things to do and could use an extra few hours a day. You’re at a point where you can only take on so many clients, but you want to take on even more.
- You have those additional clients knocking on your door! You’re in high demand but you don’t have the resources to meet this demand.
- When you start getting messages from other people asking how you do what you do. Keep these people in mind – they’ll be the first people to consider subcontracting to!
- When you feel like you just have too much work to handle.
What about you?
Let’s say you’ve reached out and brought a few new virtual assistants onto your team — now what? What becomes of you?!
In addition to whatever virtual assistance work you’re completing for your clients, you’ll now take on a project and business manager role. This means, at least at first, you’ll be managing what work your subcontractors are completing, making sure it’s on time, and completed to a high standard that you’re proud of.
After all, even though you’re not the one actually doing the work, you’re the one who’s name and brand is getting associated with the final product!
You need to know all the projects inside out so you can answer questions from your VAs, know what status they’re at, and give regular updates to your clients. I’d recommend starting small, hiring one subcontractor and training them so well that you could then work together in training a second and so on. You’ll want people who can easily represent your brand and take your place if you were to take time off. It’s well worth investing a good deal of time into your first hire.
What’s the Hiring Process & Where to Find Good VAs?
You’ll need to write a detailed job description listing out exactly the type of VA subcontractor you need to find. You’ll want to include all the tasks that you’d like covered, so it would be a good thing to consider how much (if any) of your personal workload you’d like covered and then what parts of your client work too.
You could go as far as to create SOPs (standard operating procedures) for the repeat tasks in your business. You really want to attack the task of hiring subcontractors with as much clarity as possible.
Once you have this in order, it’s time to find your dream team. The most obvious people to begin interviewing would be those who have already expressed an interest in doing what you do. If you don’t have any…
I would say it’s safe of me to presume that you have an immediate network of other skilled VAs, especially if your VA business is rocking. No VA got to a level of success that requires them to subcontract without successfully building a network.
Next, it’s a good idea to get recommendations from people you’ve worked with who they think would make an awesome subcontractor. Word of mouth from trusted contacts is the best way to find people.
Knowing where to look is half the battle when it comes to hiring.
One thing I would caution against is hiring family members as it can get a little bit messy! Keep this in mind if you decide to hire from the people who have reached out to you.
If you’re a student or alumni of a VA training program, much like the Virtual Excellence Academy, you could quite easily post a job description in those communities first. If you’ve been showing up and are a valued member of these groups, you’ll easily find people who are of a like mind and already know a fair bit about you and your business.
The next port of call, if you haven’t already found your first match, would be to post in various Facebook groups (get a list of the best groups for networking in the Virtual Excellence Academy too!) that align with your brand and the industry you serve. You want to be as detailed as you can in your posts to avoid the typical:
‘I’m looking for a VA’ post, followed by another 200+ typical ‘HIRE ME!’ comments. This is just a waste of time for all, and any VA who pitches without an inkling of what’s involved probably isn’t going to be a safe bet anyway. So make sure you’re clear, concise and go as far as to list the tools that are yours and your clients every day drivers to get a really fine-tuned match.
Lastly, I’d stay far away from any ‘gig bidding’ websites that contribute to global issues of inequality (Fiver, Upwork, Hiremymom, etc) – that’s a personal choice, if you know me, you know I’m all about raising those standards for everyone!
Then comes the interview process – remember that when conducting interviews, prospective hires will also be interviewing you! You know how it goes as a VA yourself. Always treat people the way you would like to be treated, no one is superior or inferior here! Feel free to pick up my list of hiring questions that will help you make pro hiring decisions.
Before you sign any binding long-term contracts with potential subcontractors, you should consider having them take on a short trial period (paid, unpaid or at a low pay rate, you can negotiate) or task for YOU – this is my preferred option. This lets you see where their skills lie, how they communicate with you, and what their work style is. You DO NOT under any circumstance hire someone blindly and give them access to client work and assets right away. You would be jeopardizing the quality and the relationships you have already worked so hard to successfully build. Let your new VA loose on your tasks only at the start.
Just because someone says they’re going to do something, doesn’t mean they will. This is why it’s so essential to have that trial period to make sure everything will run smoothly. Pay attention to deadlines being met, communication style, and listen to your intuition if you’re just not feeling it.
If you’re happy with how this trial goes, get those contracts signed. Contracts are essential for both you and your subcontractor as they lay out the parameters of your relationship and protect you both – I’d recommend using a central system, something like Dubsado to create and send contracts for both your subcontractors and clients.
Once your new hire is fully onboarded, it’s your job to get better at your management skills. They WILL need support at the start. They will require YOU to make the effort to create a safe space for clear communication and you’ll have to learn more about them as a person in order to facilitate a friendly and easy working relationship.
Who Makes a Good Subcontractor?
A good subcontractor can be hard to find! When you’re going through all your applicants, you’ll want to keep an eye for these traits:
- Intuitive go-getters. Virtual assistants who are eager to seek out and apply for work they’re interested in and qualified for. These will be the VAs sending you personalized applications, not simply copy/pasted from 100 other jobs, who genuinely fit the niche. They’ll have done some research into you, your business, and the role you’re hiring for.
- Trustworthiness. If you ask for references, these will all come back positive. If you don’t ask for references, this is where the trial period comes in as essential. If your new subcontractor can’t finish your tasks in time, to a good quality if at all, how will they finish your clients?
- Positive work ethic. Someone who shares the same values as you, will treat yours and the client’s work as if it were there own, and who will go above and beyond the call of duty.
How Do You Manage Your Subcontractors?
First thing’s first, you need to decide where you’re going to communicate with your new team. You can use programs like Basecamp, Asana, Trello, Slack, Dropbox, Zoom, Skype, Google Drive, Notion or a combination that works for you. (My team personally uses Trello, Slack, Notion and Google Drive to make sure we’re on top of the game!)
Make sure you let your clients know that you’re outsourcing some (or all) of their work and give them a method to communicate directly with your subcontractors. Not only is this good practice to be transparent, but also gives your clients peace of mind that they have a contact in your absence.
You should also make sure everyone on your team has a way to communicate with you and each other — this is where something like Basecamp or Slack comes in really handy!
Above all, be super open, honest, and transparent with the entire workflow and systems, keep everyone in the loop about what’s going on, and what the current jobs and expectations are. Stay in contact on a daily basis and I’d recommend having at least one monthly meeting call. Make sure you go over the amazing things that have happened since you last spoke, positive reinforcement will need to be part of your ritual as a project manager. You can then go into the next month’s plans, goals and where improvements can be made – make sure you listen to your team’s opinions and ideas too! They WANT to be more involved, so let them!
THE FEEL-GOOD FACTOR
One thing I like to do when I hire new people is to get them to do a fun meet and greet with the rest of the team where we all share weird facts about ourselves and generally have a good time. I also get them to take the Love Languages test, often thought just for romantic relationships but can be applied to everything in our lives. It helps determine how a person gives and receives ‘love’ – or what I like to call ‘How they like to bestow good vibes on others and how they feel valued best’ – do they need words of affirmation often? Do they need gifts? Do they need quality time?
Knowing these things can help you create a team that is watertight – sending out little gifts every so often (like an amazon gift card, a book you’ve been talking about etc) can be fab for a gifts person. An annual in -person meeting could be great to satisfy the quality time people and a ‘YOU’RE FREAKING AWESOME’ message of encouragement can work wonders for the words of affirmation folk – and just about anyone for that matter.
BILLING & PAYMENTS FOR CLIENTS & SUBCONTRACTORS
Your clients likely pay hourly on retainer, or based on a given set of services to be completed each month. Your VAs will bill you at the end of the month based on how many hours they’ve worked (have them keep track in a program like Toggl) or agreed upon project rates.
Every two weeks, have your subcontractors provide you with a breakdown of how many hours they’ve worked and on what projects so you can update your clients.
As the project manager, the majority of your time will be devoted to meetings, calls, strategy, and offering support to both your clients and subcontractors. Keep your hourly rate reasonable and give out loads of hours to your subcontracted virtual assistants. This helps keep you competitive in your field while also being able to take on a larger number of clients and projects.
The standard rate to pay your subcontractors is anywhere between $15 – $30 USD an hour. Remember that it’s less than what you’d ordinarily make as a VA because all the searching, networking, and onboarding is something YOU do, as the managing VA, therefore saving the subcontractors time, energy, and effort finding their own clients.
Remember: You need to pay your subcontracted virtual assistants for the work they’ve completed even if a client contract ends or they don’t pay! That’s why you’ll really need to do your due diligence in the hiring stage.
Are you ready?
Start looking for subcontractors before you feel 100% ready – remember the snowball effect!
You likely already know people who would be the perfect additions to your team, so talk to them, learn what their skill set and services are, and start this process.
Guaranteed you won’t look back.
Thanks for this awesome resource, Hannah! I will definitely be going back to this when I’m ready to hire. Need to work on scaling (again). I’m definitely experiencing the cyclic nature of business 😅
You got this! You have already proven yourself Jianna, keep being awesome <3
This is so useful! I had thought about subcontracting in the past but had no idea where to start. I don’t think it’s the direction I want to go but enjoyed getting more clarity on how it works.
I’m glad you enjoyed it Cepee! Also, how lovely to see you over here on the DNK blog 🙂
Thank you so much for this much needed post.
I’ve been subcontracting every now and then when I have more workload to share. But I had no clarity and always felt unsure and reluctant.
I’ve a couple of questions though…
1) Do I mention my subcontracting arrangement on my business website which I’m currently using for my copywriting service only?
2) It could scare off some of the present clients? They may not be so trusting about who’s doing their work even though I’d be doing their work myself. Is there a way around that?
I am wondering what the percentage of the price your client is paying should you pay your subcontractor? I have heard you should pay your subcontractor 1/3 of the price your client is paying. Right now I am paying my subcontractors around $12-13/hr and my clients are paying $30/hr. Is this not enough margin!?
This was a helpful starting point, thank you! I’ve been a VA for 4 months now after doing your 5 Day VA course then the VA Starter Kit. I have turned down a few clients recently, as I’ve either been overbooked or don’t have the right skillset – but it’s time to level up.
I’d like to know a little more about how to still make money while subcontracting the work. Eg. if my subcontractors are getting eg. $25/hr, would you typically suggest adding on $10/hr for my management work in looking after them? Or some kind of flat fee?