Jon Ostenson, an Entrepreneurs' Organization (EO) member in Atlanta, is co-founder and CEO of 10Xfive, the preeminent full-service contact center for fast-growth companies, providing support such as inbound/outbound calling, email, text and chat. As a CEO with experience managing his team to best serve as an extension of your own team, Jon has embraced the practice of utilizing virtual assistants (VAs) to enhance productivity and support growth on the back end of his business. We asked Jon how VAs foster growth in his company, and about best practices around hiring and managing them. Here's what he shared: 

Why did you decide to incorporate virtual assistants (VAs) in your company?

The objective was to provide an environment that allows our full-time employees to be strategic and thoughtful with how they use their time. VAs are ideally positioned to perform many of the repetitive, low-level tasks that can sometimes bog down employees and prevent them from achieving their true potential. By outsourcing these tasks, we hope that employees will enjoy coming to work (even more)--since most of the lower-level work is off their plates, providing them with more room to grow professionally. In our case, our contact center client work is entirely US-based, while VAs perform back-end administrative support tasks.

From a personal standpoint, as a self-described control freak, I had to transition step-by-step to being assisted by others. To achieve our long-term growth objectives, though, this is a critical strategy. We have one full-time VA who has been with us for nearly a year and several part-time VAs who support us on a project basis. We had a second full-time VA that we parted ways with as it wasn't the right fit, but we learned from that experience.

What lessons did you learn? 

We have experienced some communication challenges, so we've put strategies in place to solve for that. I've learned that the more crystal-clear you can be in conveying precisely what you are looking for, including timelines and expectations, the better. We've found that a great way to teach repetitive tasks to our VAs, for instance, is to conduct a video instructional walk-through utilizing a tool such as Screencast-O-Matic, a program that enables us to record our screens, show mouse clicks and add a voice-over to give highly detailed real-time instructions. That way, you share step-by-step instructions, and the VA can review them as needed. Also, in the event of turnover, you already have video instructions ready to share.

What are some best practices for utilizing VAs?

We've been diligent in our selection of repetitive tasks for outsourcing, carefully documenting processes for those tasks, selecting VAs who are the right fit, and honing our communication strategies. Functions we've outsourced to VAs include research, some website development, monitoring of pay-per-click campaigns, basic IT development, social media post creation and video editing. We are expanding into more and more areas as we discover our VAs' specific skill sets.

Again, in our company, VAs aren't client-facing and would never be the last reviewer of completed client work. I've also implemented close checks and balances on financial-related activities in which VAs are involved.

What's the ROI of empowering employees with VA access?

We are able to scale quickly and augment our offering on behalf of clients as needed. Our team can focus on their individual "highest and best use" activities at a more strategic level on behalf of clients. In my experience, the ROI of having team members work with VAs is high. Team members were skeptical in working with VAs at first, but including our VAs in team meetings via video conferencing was an excellent way for them to build relationships and see our VAs as additional members of our team. While I was pleasantly surprised at the abilities of the VAs, our team was even more surprised! We are moving to team-assigned VAs, where the majority of team members will have access to VA services. This empowers team members to expedite their career growth as they shift from being doers to becoming managers and leaders.

What productivity and efficiency benefits have resulted? 

A great example would be our daily financial snapshots. My COO and I have our VA pull screenshots from five or six different bank, credit card and accounts payable/receivable accounts and perform some basic math every morning. This enables us to analyze our full financial picture in real time. Prior to outsourcing this task, I logged into each of the six systems myself to pull the information. It saves me time and enables me to put that energy toward more strategic tasks. I have been pleasantly surprised at just how capable VAs are. Often, they are equally or more qualified than workers on the market today, especially in this very tight and competitive job market.

How have VAs helped your business grow?

As a contact center, we often partner with marketing agencies and small business owners to support their clients. VAs support this facet of our business by performing reconciliation on the back end of programs--such as pay-per-lead programs that require listening to and documenting the outcomes of customer calls. We do not have VAs answering phones for us--that is exclusively done by US agents--but analyzing outcomes of recorded calls is a great use of VA time.

There are specific activities that are best served by US workers, however, in a tight job market, it makes even more sense to tap into the global workforce to remain competitive and nimble so we can support urgent projects for clients without adding headcount until the need is clear. So many large corporations have been outsourcing work for decades; it's nice that small and medium-sized enterprises now have that same beneficial, cost-effective option.