How to E-mail Virtual Assistants (or Any Assistants): Proven Templates

(Photo: Alan Clark Design)

[Tim’s note: This is a guest post by Ramit Sethi on two of my favorite topics: one-shot-one-kill e-mail, and creating policies so you never repeat things. Also important to note: great VAs will use templates for answering *your* email; my assistant Amy uses more than a dozen specific templates to handle my inbox overload.]

Enter Ramit

Why is communicating with virtual assistants so hard?

When I first started using virtual assistants (VAs), I tested assistants from India, Bulgaria, and Israel. But I spent most of my time frustrated with the quality of their answers. How many times have your friends said, “Why don’t you just have your VA do that?” and you sigh because you know: they should be able to it, but you just can’t trust them to do it.


Other times, you email your assistant, saying, “Please book me a roundtrip flight from SFO to NYC from 3/19 – 3/22” and you have to endure five back-and-forth emails before it’s done… leading you to wonder why you didn’t simply do it yourself.

No one wants more email. I always try for “one and done” emails, meaning when you send an email, it should get done the first time.

Fortunately, because I’m a huge weirdo about time management, I’ve spent over 65 hours optimizing my emails to VAs. Here are three examples of emails that get you answers in one round.

After reading the templates below, you’ll be able to write a crisp one-and-done email that gets you results — the first time. I’ve used these techniques to recover those 65 hours in 3 months and cut back-and-forth emails with my VA by over 80%…

But first, let’s start with a typical email that frustrates us all.

BAD email: Dinner reservations for a date

Imagine you sent this very common email to your VA:


Please make reservations for dinner on Friday, 11/12, in midtown NYC. Time: 7 or 7:30pm. I like Indian and Thai food.

This email is doomed to failure…or at least 5 back-and-forth questions from your VA. Take a close look at the email — do you see all the implicit messages you unintentionally communicated in your email?

What is midtown NYC? What is your budget? What if there are no reservations at 7pm or 7:30pm? Do you have any food allergies? Most importantly, what is the single deliverable you expect from your email?

Using the scripts below, you’ll see how important your level of specificity is when working with a VA, or any assistant. You’ll see why spending three additional minutes crafting an effective email can save you 30 minutes in back-and-forth time. So, without further ado, here are 3 tested email scripts to use, along with an analysis of why they work.

* * *

Tested email script: Scheduling a doctor’s appointment


Please set up these appointments on Monday morning (12/17), when the doctors’ offices open.

Please set up the following medical appointments for me:

1. A dental appointment (annual checkup)

2. An eye checkup (annual checkup)


* Please look up doctors on — my doctor must accept my medical insurance (Blue Cross PPO — Lumenos)

* Then cross-reference the doctors’ names on to find doctors with positive reviews

* Call the doctors to see which doctors are available for checkups on the below dates

* Please confirm with the doctors that, as a member of Blue Cross Lumenos PPO, I will have 100% exam coverage (dental exam) and a $15 co-pay (vision exam)


* December 17, 18, 19, 21, 27, 28

* 8am – 11am PST and 4pm-7pm PST


* Located near the ZIP code of XXXXX

Thank you,



– You start with a specific request — you want an appointment set on 12/17 — so there can be no confusion about the deliverable.

– You give step-by-step instructions, which the VA can refer to if they get lost in the details. These instructions take 5 minutes to write, but will invariably save you 5-10x that from email responses and switching costs.

– You provide ALL relevant information so your VA doesn’t have to come back to you asking about your availability, ZIP code, etc. They have everything they need in front of them when booking availability.

* * *

Tested email script: Finding the best online savings account


Please find me the best high-interest online savings account. I’ve heard good things about ING, Emigrant Direct, and HSBC Direct, so please begin with these — but please also search for other banks that meet my requirements.


* No fees

* No minimum balances required (my average balance will be around $2,000)


Things I’d *like* to have, but are not required

* High interest rate, over 1%

* Attached online checking account

* Customer service by phone available


Please create a table and rank my choices. You should only include banks that meet my requirements. Rank them by which of the “Things I’d Like To Have” are present.

Also, please include an extra column called “Other interesting facts” for each bank, where you list the most important reasons to choose that particular bank.

This should take no longer than 5 hours. Please check in after 2 hours and send me what you’ve got. I’ll approve further work from there.




– You are explicit about the deliverable you want — a table with very specific cells. Too many people are vague about their deliverable because they don’t take 3 minutes to decide what they really want. Then they’re disappointed when they get another result. If you don’t know what you want, how can your VA?

* * *

Tested email script: Planning air travel


I’d like you to plan a trip from San Francisco to New York and provide me the 3 best options.


Depart: SFO to NYC on May 15 (arrive in time for 11am meeting)

Return: NYC to SFO on May 19th (late afternoon)


From SF to NY: I need to be in midtown Manhattan for an 11am meeting on May 16th. Please factor in travel time by cab from the airport.


I prefer window seats. All flights must be direct.

I would like the lowest price with the following conditions (in order):

1. Arrive in time to reach my 11am meeting on the 16th (again, please factor in travel time from airport, baggage, etc)

2. Non-stop flight (required)

3. Window seat (preferred)

4. United or JetBlue preferred

Please send me the best three flights in a plaintext email.




– The total energy output of the sun cannot compare to my hatred for travel planning. That’s why you need to send explicit instructions to your VA to ensure that no details slip through the cracks, resulting in agonizing back-and-forth emails.

– In this email, you are specific about OUTCOMES when relevant — “arrive in time for 11am meeting” — so you’ve provided basic guidance VA can figure out the flight schedule on their own. However, for other areas where you don’t particularly care, you can simply say “late afternoon” and let them figure it out.

– You should never write your preferences down twice. Instruct your VA to record your preferences so that each interaction makes life easier for you.

* * *

Key learnings:

Eliminate one-off actions and create policies. It’s ok to share your preferences once, but they should always be recorded. That way, if your VA gets hit by a bus (or you decide to work with someone else), you have a written record of your preferences. Examples: When are you available for meetings? Do you prefer aisle or window? What restaurants do you like going to for business meetings? See the ultimate example of a detailed process checklist here.

Analyze why your emails aren’t getting the responses you want. Take the last email to your VA that produced unsuccessful results. Now show it to your smartest friend. If they can’t guess what the exact deliverable is, how can you expect your VA to?

Specify the exact deliverable. If you don’t want to get 10 flights in 10 separate PDFs (this has actually happened to me), ask for all the info in one plaintext email. A couple extra seconds saves a lot of frustration.

Differentiate between requirements and preferences. Ask for an easy-to-read table so you can compare. Remember, point them to an example!

Once you automate the details, you’ll naturally get more general. Now that my assistant knows my preferences (and they’re recorded online), I can just say, “Please schedule some time for Ben and me to get together” and she knows exactly where I like to have breakfast, my calendar availability, if I prefer aisle vs. window, etc. But getting to that stage took months of training and refinement.

* * *

About Ramit: Ramit Sethi is the author of the New York Times best-seller, I Will Teach You To Be Rich. He is the founder of, a blog on personal finance and entrepreneurship where you can learn in-depth techniques on earning more money and automating your finances.


Afterword from Tim:

Just to emphasize: this post is not to imply that VAs are dumb. It’s to imply that most people don’t know how to send clear emails. Good VAs are smart, and — as emphasized in The 4-Hour Workweek — most communication failures are due to the person sending the email, not the recipient. Amy, one of my assistants, also emphasized:

Also, a good VA should “study” their client. For example, I read every blog post, every tweet, listen to every interview you do, read every article you write, and every Random episode, flickr update, etc. (Obviously I don’t charge for that time), but it helps me understand what you’ve got in the pipeline, and what you’re working on. A good VA should be familiar with thier clients interests.

Good VAs are like good employees, good managers, and good CEOs: proactive.

QOD: Do you have any e-mail rules that work well with VAs or employees? Or disaster stories and lessons learned? Please share in the comments!

The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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172 Replies to “How to E-mail Virtual Assistants (or Any Assistants): Proven Templates”

  1. I’ve been sending a few VA e-mails and it’s true that there are occasionally so many questions sent back to me or corrections to make that I feel like it defeats the time-saving purpose. Will be applying this advice in future, cheers! 🙂

    1. What kind of emails do you usually experience the most back and forth with Benny? Want to make sure I address the worst first.

    2. Typical conversation with a VA.

      Please search this database and compile emails into Excel and send every morning.


      Okay? Does than mean you have read the emails and understand.


      Does that mean yes?

      I think.

      Repeat the email back to me.

      Why? I think I get it.

      You obviously don’t.

      Can you call me?

      No. I hired you to save me time. Not waste it.

      I’m sorry. My wife is sick and the kids too and it’s raining. can you send me ten examples?

      No. You send me examples. I’m paying you.

      Wow. That’s hostile. What did I do wrong.

      Seriously. I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s just not worth it to hire VAs.

      1. Why were you not more explicit? The failure is on you, there is scant info in your initial email – I’d fire you as a client

  2. Look at the size of those specific emails. Don’t you enter a situation where you spend more time writing the email than it would take to perform the actual task yourself, or close to it? Isn’t it better to spend 30 min booking a flight instead of 15 sending a very specific email?

    1. Logan:

      I see what you’re saying, but I disagree. The idea is to create templates that are easy to update and create a uniform response environment. For example, if I fly often, I can take the template Mr. Sethi provided and update the dates and locations. Then you really start saving time. I save all my templates as signatures in Outlook (you can do this in Gmail too, I believe), and I right click, choose the template, and then update whatever I need to update. It saves me 5 minutes every time I do it.

      1. Hi Logan,

        You can also use Outlooks feature called Quick Parts to create “templates” that you use repeatly. You can also add Quick Parts to Word or Excel for easy updating and tracking of your Quick Parts. It is a great feature.


  3. Great tips, Ramit. I greatly enjoy your blog (and am about half way through your book). I am still trying to find a VA (it’s hard to find one who fits my needs: speaks English, reads and writes traditional Mandarin Chinese, etc.) but will definitely apply these tips once I do…

    1. Wah?!

      John; I just happen to work with a freelancer that: speaks English and reads/writes Chinese (Mandarin Chinese native – from Beijing). He’s also Japanese fluent, if that has any use…

      You can contact me through my website contact form. I’d be glad to put you in touch with him.


      Inter Idoru

      1. Apryl,

        Awesome coincidence – I was just about to ask about a Japanese-fluent VA as I’m moving to Tokyo from Singapore and have had the same difficulty as John has.

        Tried your website but the link was dead – could you please provide an alternate?



  4. Ramit,

    Awesome posts on putting a firm control on knowing what you want in fine-enough detail to let the VAs do their job properly (aligning with the psychological behavioral case studies you previously brought up), knowing exactly what you want from the email scripts (with dates, times, preferences, location, availability, requirements, deliverables, etc.). Something for me to try out once I fix my cash flow and remove distractions.


  5. One tiny more tweak to those emails I would suggest to add an “if …. than….” alternatives to this emails:

    for the doctor’s example :

    “…if none of the doctors are available during the mentioned dates in 2 miles radius from zip code XXXXX please extend your search to towns A, B and C in this order”

    Giving the VA some alternatives in the case he or she get to a dead end will allow you to find a reasonable alternative that will be accepted by you instead of an email back that might say “there were no appointments available what do you suggest me to do?”

    1. Yep, that realy works! Since I have been working as a programmer for a long time, I started to write some “VA functions” just a few days before Ramit wrote this article.

      An example: I’m reading a lot of books so I always try to get this books as cheap as possible. My VAs work with the following script now:

      – Give my local library a ring and ask them if they’ve got this

      book available or if it’s possible to get it for me. If so, tell them to

      inform me by mail when the book is available and stop here.

      – Is it possible to get the book in a used form? Check the following

      sites: [here comes a list eShops that sell or lend used books]

      Did you find a used book and is it more than 20% cheaper than

      a new one? If so, order the book for me and stop here.

      – If you can´t get it cheaper: Order the book at amazon.

      – After finishing the order, please send me a short report in plain text:

      WHERE did you order the book, what did it COST, and what are the

      ORIGINAL COSTS for this book?

      Of course it took me some time to write down this lines, but now I can save a lot of money when ordering books with just one call to my VA.

      Thanks for this article,


      1. I suggest for a 1st pass (of course after my library) for books new and used. It provides a type of listing for a book title of best price across multiple online bookstores.

  6. Thanks for the tips, Ramit.

    Do you have some sort of empowerment criteria for your VA?

    For example: “Get this done if it costs less than X” or “No bugging me . . . be creative!”

    I tried this with my VA and it was a mess and she didn’t respect my wishes on that point so I had to let her go. I let her do it once and set that precedent so it’s my fault.

    Would love to hear your thoughts!

    Good Vibes~

    Vic Dorfman

    1. My guess is the problem there is a personality-type problem. People like you and I (who hire VAs) like to do things “creatively” and find specific instructions tedious or even insulting. People who like jobs like VA are people who like details and are conscientious about them. That’s why we need their strengths to complement ours!

      1. Barbara,

        I completely relate to your feeling of feeling “insulted” when details and specifics are relayed that meticulously. In the time it takes to type all that info out, a quick call to a rep/agent could have been made by the executive w/ a follow up request to his or her assistant when it was time to schedule the meeting or call. If you have to spell it out for someone blow by blow then you may as well handle it yourself. As a person who has made a career of being an Executive Assistant, nothing insults my intelligence more than the above “correct examples” provided. If they aren’t resourceful enough to log onto the net and type “Where is Midtown Manhattan?” into Google and don’t have the common sense to search and discover Thai food fits EVERY budget, quite frankly they should stick to answering phones.

  7. This things really sounds good and make work easier and possible specially for those who are really busy. Given your VA a specific outline makes her/his task done as possible as you wants. :))

    Im also applying that kind of job right now, and through this article/tips it really helps me a lot. I wish i can handle such things like this (as a VA) ‘coz i really love to! Through that your VA loves to serves you for sure!

    THANKS TIM and Ramit… :))

    note: TIM, WILL YOU POST SOMETHING ABOUT INSOMNIAC, on how to cope up with it? or INSOMIAC WITH MATCHING DIET? is it possible? :))


  8. Very valuable post to me. Thanks guys.

    This is good for any manager or business owner when giving any instructions.



  9. Great post, I am getting the hang on the VA lately. Amazing what amount of work you can do with smart people working for you.

    Thanks for sharing your experiences!

    All the best,


  10. Thanks for the tips, with some VA’s I have found that the language barrier causes problems and tips like this would probably help to eliminate them. Although, I also think that if I can do something myself quicker than sending an email, I’ll do that instead (I like booking flights btw 😉 )

  11. Always spelling things out so there’s no possibilities of misunderstanding – it’s also a good habit to use when communicating with customers and clients too.

    Providing the site URLs can also help fight off time-wasting questions.

  12. Very good post. Just one specific point re date formats…

    …As someone from outside the US I’d just like to point out that writing a date such as 12/17 could be confusing for the VA (esp. if outside the US). You might get away with 12/17 but consider 12/7. To someone in the UK like me that says 12th July, but it could equally mean 7th December. I’ve learned the hard way to use something like 12 July or 12 Jul.

    As a footnote, Wikipedia tells us that in India “The DD-MM-YY is the predominant short form of the numeric date usage in India. The MM-DD-YY format is never used.”

    1. I deal with outsourcing at my “regular” job and the point about the date format is absolutely critical. Also, be sure to spell out addresses, US states, etc. You cannot assume the VA knows the difference between Maine (ME) and Massachusetts (MA). The website is really helpful to guide them to US address formatting.

      Same goes the for the airports. I feel you should explain that SFO is San Francisco International Airport.

      Lastly, be clear with names and abbreviations. Don’t assume that the VA knows to “contact Bill Smith” that it’s actually “William Smith.”

  13. Great advice that generalises to all task delegation communications situations. Whether my assistant is in the next office or the next continent, saying it all clearly once saves a heck of a lot of faff. Nice one!

  14. Managing people sitting right next to you is hard.  VAs are 10x harder.  My first experience “call around and get the best deal on a large pepperoni pizza and have it sent to this address,” took 5 calls back and forth.  Its a pretty big leap to go from there to booking important flights.  

     My advice is spend more time finding a VA who is a rock star.  Specificity in your requests is a requirement, but it doesn’t compensate for mediocre VAs.  

    For me, the biggest barrier to using VAs is how fast I am at doing Internet related tasks.  At my prior company we had professional travel agents on staff.  I still booked my own flights because I could do it faster than an email, and 15 minutes of my time may save 4 hours when someone makes a mistake.  

    To capture all the things you know, want, or need in for example flight preferences if you’re traveling full time would take Seth’s level of dedication to detail.  Not everyone has that, so you have to find a balance between freeing up your time and getting the results you want, which sometimes means doing it your self.

  15. Granted, these these emails would be good for specifying project tasks so the VA can go away and spend a few hours work.

    But c’mon … for booking dinner/dentist? IF there are a lot of variables, it HAS to be easier/quicker for the person to just pick up the phone, discuss, book.

    Thanks though.

  16. Here is a Wufoo form that I made to create tasks for my assistant:

    ALSO, I have 2 VAs that I found on Elance which are in USA and are native americans. I pay them $9 per hour, which might sound like a lot but, I don’t have a problem with the language or culture barrier.

    As american VAs they tend to be good problem solvers and more independent so they don’t bother me with the details on how they are going to get things done.

    1. Jorge, Is there any chance you could share with me your add that you used on E-lance? That would be so greatly appreciated. I can be found on facebook also if you want to send it that way.

    2. $9 an hour sounds like a lot? Wow! and people making derogatory remarks about VA’s expect excellence for $9, you get what you pay for, unbelievable!

  17. Awesome tips–I think the more explicit you can be when you ask anyone to do something, the better your results are likely to be. If you can develop someone to the point where they already know your preferences and you no longer need to give all the details because he or she already knows them, that’s definitely worth the investment of effort up front.

  18. You just try to eliminate as many ambiguity as possible. As for trying to eliminate any chance of a 2nd email, you are wasting time by trying to eliminate all the special cases that can come up. You shouldn’t use templates, you should train yourself to know how to send umambigious instructions as there are 1000’s of cases where these templates won’t fit your criteria, and you can’t create a template for everything.

  19. I’m having a complete nightmare with my Virtual Accountant. I’m making calls to obtain information regarding her mistakes on my 2009 return – then relaying that information to her (which she sits on for a week before responding with open-ended questions). While I’m trying to remain polite, I really need to let her know that I’m in fact severely disappointed with her (lack of) efforts. Oh and by the way, I’ve got my own clients to attend to (I work at something other than tax accounting). Completely frustrating. Outsource Fail.

    Any advice on how you let a VA know you’re dissatisfied without shutting them down/ruining the relationship (further)? I just need her to finish this one job.

    1. Hi Tim, you’ve probably got this sorted by now; just wanted to suggest that you don’t worry about being ‘polite’ but rather be firm and assertive (not aggressive) about your needs. Give the VA a deadline and if she can’t meet it I suggest you get someone else to do the work. It will save you time in the long run. Not a pleasant experience I know but nip it in the bud before it gets worse.Best wishes.

  20. Thanks for the info! Tim and Ramit, I’ve been researching which VA company to use. Which company or companies do you use (or use the most)? I also hate booking flights! After reading this, I’m making a list of all the things I don’t like doing…just to outsource it! I’m looking forward to applying these tips soon! Thnx

  21. In addition to sending bulleted emails or detailed summaries…I always end my emails to overseas factories, internal employees..etc.. with a highlighted..

    Next steps:

    *Please book…xyz

    *Send me 3 options

    *send costing for both a and b for making final decision..


    i usually can answer simply with a “Please proceed with… ” and then done!

    i have to say that as much as i am great with delegating tasks.. flights and docs..are simply still done on my own…. especially with cc on files, and great sites like kayak that do the job of a VA…

    thx, E

  22. For work emails, I like to follow the BLUF principle: Bottom Line Up Front. This means you place a summary/point of the email right at the very top.

    Also, I highlight my questions/action requests in emails so that they’re not overlooked (have you ever had to re-read a long email several times before replying to make sure you didn’t miss anything?). If the email doesn’t allow formatting, I put the questions/action requests in a separate paragraph at the very end.

    So the email ends up looking like this:

    1. What this email is about, why I’m emailing you, etc.

    2. Details…

    3. Questions I have for you and/or actions I would like you to take.

  23. I agree with

    @Kevin fix the sentence.

    I’ve been using a VA for 6 months now (inspired by Tim). Here are my top 3 suggestions.

    1. Know how to do it first: Know what you are asking the VA to get accomplished. And be able to do it well yourself. Then be patient and respectful while you teach them what you want done and how.

    2. Use For me they have been the best in helping me organize my VA’s work and payment for services. Freelance I think is a bit better in quality of VA.

    3. Use a system: If you are disorganized by nature, don’t expect a VA to follow along with your disorganized ramblings. I set up Google Docs with step by steps on what tasks I want accomplished and how. I share them as needed.

    Bonus #4: Speak to your VA occasionally: Find out what is going on in their life and plan accordingly. My VA’s wife just had a baby and his availability is reduced by 75%. I knew it was coming and planned accordingly.


    And a shout out to Tim for having Ramit on his blog site.

  24. Ooooooh, this is very good. Thank to Tim, I finally took the plunge and hired a VA part-time to help out with my site. BEST DECISION EVER!

    I knew it would be tough trying to explain all the intricacies of the items I wanted her to do, the best thing I cam up with was to do screen shot after screen shot of each and every step. It worked brilliantly. Plus, if I ever lose her, I can just hand it off to the next VA.

    Here’s the best part: I had my in-house college intern put together the screen shots and the step by step process. Nothing like outsourcing your outsourcing 🙂

  25. Mike Song has a book titled “The Hamster Revolution”, written in the style of “One Minute Manager” that has great tips and strategies for effective e-mail communication to achieve exactly the results you’re speaking about.

  26. This sounds like a post about communicating with VA’s. In reality it’s a great reminder that when we communicate, we need to do so clearly and concisely to always convey our point.

  27. In working with staff, I give them templates I want back from them as well; question and answer forms work good for me and have increased our efficiency amazingly, so that I know how to respond to their questions and they know how to respond to mine.

  28. @Jeff

    Hahaha, “nothing like outsourcing your outsourcing”…hilarious.

    In Sam Carpenter’s book “Work the System” he explain how to create a company culture where you send a task to your VA and ask them to “document” the procedure of how they accomplished the task.

    I think that this is a great idea since your VA creates the systems/procedure for other VAs in the future.

  29. My experience is much more technical than this as my correspondence is with Indian programmers. However, I can tell you the basic principles definitely apply. It boils down to:

    1) Figure out EXACTLY what you want (if you don’t know you can’t expect them to)

    2) Put all of the things that matter down in exacting detail.

    3) Trust them to handle the things that don’t really matter.

    I mention the third one because that was a huge step for me in improving my relationship with them. It also is where I have seen the most time savings.

  30. Now that is a productive and directly useful post! Nicely done. I wish I hadn’t learned as many of these lessons the hard way as I have. Crucial stuff and so worth getting right. I’m curious Ramit, do you agree with Tim that it’s reasonable/practical to outsource email completely? I’ve been on the fence but maybe I’m just scared to give up what’s left of my addiction…

    Please send response to my VA…;)


  31. I have tried several VA services. Unfortunately, I haven’t been satisfied with any of them (and consequently canceled them all) for two main reasons.

    1. Unless you have a dedicated VA, you need to repeat your preferences every time because the one that completed your task last month might not be the same who will complete today.

    The notes they take about you are rarely sufficient. For instance, with one of the services, it took a month for one of the VAs to finally update my e-mail address after I sent her twice a request to stop sending responses to the old one. (Her colleagues on the other hand immediately updated their data on me.)

    2. As already suggested, sometimes, it just takes more time to give all the details (and reason #1 doesn’t help) than to do it yourself. Further and most importantly, there is something extremely irritating that often happens even when you give all the necessary details. The VA simply doesn’t read through them.

    Example: I have often asked my results to be sorted in a certain way. For instance, from the closest location to the furthest one. What I get: a completely unordered list.

    Having said the above, I have to admit that there are some good VAs out there who don’t even need the complete details to get a perfect job done. Yet, there are really rare and unless you’ve got a dedicated one, it’s hard to be satisfied by any service currently offered.

  32. The timing of this blog post couldn’t have been better for me. I have questions for the collective group as I’m looking to hire my FIRST VA within a week. I am not looking for a personal/dedicated VA…yet, but a task-oriented provider.

    I have done research on a few online-task related VA’s but which provider service(s) have you tried and which is the “go-to” one for you? [Why?] Which one provider do you think provides the best combination of value and competency? [Why?]

    1. Justin,

      I would recommend Lifenzyme services. Their level of expertise range from booking flight to software development..worth trying..

  33. I am a virtual assistant, based in the USA. My employer does not have to get that specific as I already know what she wants when she is requesting something like this from me. I could have set up the dinner date, with the brief original description, for her as I already KNOW all that info before she sent the text or email message.

    Yes, my services are more expensive than using a VA from an off shore service, but what is your time worth? I am fast, efficient and knowledgeable about my employer’s needs so that she can communicate with me effectively in a single text message.

    She told me this week she want to go on a cruise to Mexico. I didn’t need much clarification aside from dates and duration. I already know what kind of cruise line she enjoys (she has children, so a family friendly Cruise would be preferred). All she had to say to me was “Could you book a cruise for my family over the kids winter break from school? I want to go to Mexico for 7 days. Thanks!” That is all the info I needed to get it done.

    Ok, so she pays me $2000 a month for a part time gig (I work 20-30 hours a week on her account). She is a business owner and mom, and her time is valuable. It would seem the amount of time it would take to lay out the minutiae of what you want from your VA would take at least as long as if you were to schedule the appointments yourself, and if you are dealing with a person that is not exclusively dealing with you or only a small number of clients, then you are wasting valuable time trying to explain your needs every time you contact your VA.

    In a nutshell, you get what you pay for. If you just like the busy work that using an off shore VA creates, then by all means hire and off shore VA. But there is a great deal of value in using a local person or service if your time is at a premium.

    1. Please see my post below. You are exactly correct. I pay my VA far more on an hourly basis than these remote shops, and I am infinitely happier doing so. My assistant must be much liek you–careful conscientious, and detail oreinted. Tha value stateside, I think, far surpasses the overseas version. At least, so far…

  34. What a great post, Ramit. I don’t currently have a VA, but am a small biz owner. What I see here is that many of these strategies can be applied to business email, as some of the commenters have already noted.

    I receive and am copied on so many email where the sender doesn’t specify what he or she is asking, but instead rambles on and doesn’t get to a point. I love the points to specify the exact deliverable and analyze why your email aren’t getting the responses you want.


  35. Napoleon said it best: “Orders must not be easy to understand. They must be impossible to misunderstand.”

    As a test of your ability to give direction. Find a 7-year-old and instruct them on how to make a PB&J sandwich. One simple rule: Sit at the kitchen table with your eyes shut while you are doing it. See what you get.

  36. Ditto re: this being helpful for anyone asking for anything, from anyone! The tone would be different when emailing a client, but being specific about what you need, up front, would save everyone a lot of time!

    I also want to thank you for posting this — I’d drifted away from the short bursts of focused work that had been working for me so well, and back to “8 hrs at a desk = work.” No wonder I was feeling frustrated, fatigued, and overwhelmed! This post reminded me of ways of working that WORK! I’d love to see more posts that expand on your original premise of working smart and being truly productive.

  37. I ask a lot of data analysis and entry to my VA, and I find that providing the right template and instructions on how to enter data is essential.

    For example, I travel a lot and have to cruise around all of the Islands of the Caribbean and wanted to find the least amount of cruises to check out all of the islands. My initial template was to have destinations as columns and cruise details (name of company, price, duration, departure date) as rows. This became a huge problem for my VA, and he didn’t take it upon himself to switch rows with columns. Since then, every data entry and analysis task comes with a template Excel file. It may take me 10 minutes to put it together, but will save the VA hours when inputting the data.

    As Ramit explains, being precise is key. If you haven’t given much thought to what you want to accomplish with the task, then do not expect your VA to.

  38. If he’s going through that much detail for a VA why doesn’t he just put the extra 5 min in for each task, and bloody look it up himself. These “VA Time savers” are so negligible, this bordering hoax, imho. It’s kind of like if you build a house, design the blueprint, and hold the hand of hte construction workers giving them every exact detail, it would easily be much easier and more direct to build it yourself. This approach is indirect, passive, there’s a huge unnecessary step: the bloody VA!

  39. During my time as a VA I have found that some of my clients need to provide step by step instructions – which is more about their ‘control’ issues, rather than a requirement to get the task achieved.

    Please remember that VA’s are business owners too and as such should remain professional at all times.

    With regard to this item, I whole heartedly agree that this is more to do with general communication – if you use the original dinner reservation email example – it didn’t even say how many people the reservation was for!! As a VA I would not wish to generate an email trail on this, a quick and simple call would resolve any questions I had, ie How many for the reservation!!

    Anyone receiving instructions via email, does not know what the author is thinking and does not have a crystal ball to determine the facts. Therefore as stated in previous responses, please be clear and concise in any instruction to anyone to alleviate email ping pong!

    Lastly – I would ask you to consider the amount of fee earning work you could be doing if you hired a professional VA. Do remember when recruiting a VA – you get what you pay for!

    1. I agree that you get what you pay for. Outsourcing oversees isn’t always the best way to go. As with the first email example even if this had been my first assignment for my client the most clarification I would have needed was the number of people the reservation was for. I found it insulting that the person you had to go back and forth with just to make a dinner reservation is called a VA.

      As a professional VA, I pride myself on providing my clients with actual benefits, and being proactive. If you hired me to do mostly personal things like schedule appointments and make travel arrangements, then I would have a list of your travel preferences i.e.: seat and airline preference and would be able to see you schedule with something like Google calendar or

      Thank you for the templates and the reminder that yes, you do need to communicate clearly with your VA as with any email communications, but if you need to hand hold them then they aren’t the right fit for you. Yes, there is a process of getting to know your client and getting familiar with their preferences, but it shouldn’t be like pulling teeth to get something as simple as a doctor’s appointment made or a flight booked.

  40. This really is a waste of time if you ask me.

    There are websites (, that could take care of these tasks in 3 minutes or less. By the time you hit send on your 3 long, drawn out emails, I’m having a beer at the pub down the road because I’ve already bought my ticket, booked my dinner res, and made an appointment with the Dentist.

  41. This post is precisely why I have gone to an assistant who is stateside and pay extra hourly dollars, rather than a remote VA. There’s no way to justify the time it takes to write these emails, when I can contact my stateside assistant and say: “I have an event in San Fran on Monday. Please get me there and back.” …and it happens. If these ideas have application, they should be ONLY to the first instructions to the assistant. If I had to do this every time, I think I’d shoot myself.

    I tried all the groups Tim referred to in his book, and I had little or no success. Every one wanted at least a 30 day contract, which at 20 hours a week minimum was just too expensive–especially when they didn’t work out. I thought to myself: “How long do I have to give this?” The examples of clarity Ramit gives are great, and anyone using an assistant of any kind needs to learn how to do this. But I think there is a real value to having an assistant who gets it immediately, learns the first time, and can work with people the way I want them to–especially in my business. That’s come stateside, not overseas.

    Beyond that, Tim has changed my life. Kudos, thanks, and cheers!

  42. Great post! This will help a lot to all those who have VA and or planning to get one. Giving the specific instruction avoids confusion and helps prevent frustrations. Thanks for sharing!:-)

  43. Thanks for these templates. I tend not to use my VA for such tasks as booking flights and restaurants. I find it takes more time to have them do it.

    I prefer using them for recurring tasks, and time-intensive tasks.

    The thougth process behind templates can be used for any task, though.

    One thing I’ve been doing is to create web pages with specific instructions for a task, complete with screenshots etc.

    This is hugely appreciated by the VA, and will ensure you have documentation for future, similar tasks. Also, you can change the instructions as needed, if something changes or something is misunderstood by the VA.

    One example:

    Most of the instructions are more elaborate than this, but you get the point.

    I’m using GetFriday 40 hours a month at this point.

  44. @Ramit – if you are looking for a savings account with over 1% interest, may be you should try Australia!

    Great reminder about communicating and the basic human failing of thinking others are mind readers and should understand exactly what we want!

  45. It is said that when we point at someone, one finger points at him and three fingers point back to us. It’s a very good post – with examples and clear explanation and you are right: pointing what we care for with that specific task (even if it sound so obvious to us) can speed up things several times.

    It’s a good skill to internalize – I’ll have to work on that 😉

  46. Great post Ramit.

    Do you have your assistant focus mainly on your “personal items?”

    It would be interesting to see your organizational chart and roles and responsibilities associated with each VA. (personal assistant va, marketing va, “to-do’s” va)

    – Chris

  47. Great process and tips!

    The only thing I can add is to provide guidance on what not to do. Just like driving directions that include “You’ve gone to far if you see a Dairy Queen on your right – turn around.”

    Tell the other person what plausible options you don’t want them to choose (e.g., “don’t use airline X on this trip,” “don’t use logo letterhead on this report”).

  48. To Brian E.’s Comment above –

    I’ve used VAs / outsourced services for years. I agree that not all tasks are a good fit to VA work, and the investment / reward curve for the project is a good guide. Sometimes the ‘little boring tasks’ that get hyped as a great fit for VA’s (‘never book your flights again!’) are really the worst fit.

    – I too HAAAAATE travel planning, but I have a bunch of specifics requirements that take a lot of time to explain. For one-off trips, services like Kayak, Orbitz etc remove most of the research burden from the job, and leave just the ‘what do you want to do’? decision – which ~I~ have to make anyway. The speed of interactive web searches, with fancy web 2.0 filtering make it really easier for me to ‘just do it myself’. Small time input, large instruction burden to explain requirements to VA, plus fast-expiring search results = bad fit to VAs.

    – Research, big web-editing or content creation projects- excellent fit to VA services. Large time input required so my investment in instructions is worth it.

    There’s a hidden penalty for competent nerds with good tools – the benefits of VAs are probably less than for the technically clueless who know just enough to write ‘help me!’ on Elance. Or at least, the profile of Stuff Worth Outsourcing changes a lot between the Morlocks and the Eloi groups ( Stephenson )

  49. 90% of this can be done as fast or faster yourself. Booking a plane ticket takes 5-10 minutes at most on Orbitz.

    Booking a restaurant reservation takes 5 minutes if you’re doing research on it.

    This is just efficiency masturbation. Get over your VAs.

    Almost no one needs a VA unless they have real work to be done. If they’re not doing hours of actual tedious business shit like data entry for you that you would never wsnt to do, then you don’t need a VA.

  50. This could also be titled “Remit Sethi’s Guide to Building Your Own Virtual Sweatshop.”

    Actually, this is great stuff on any business email communication, not just to virtual assistants. Emails are infamous for being poorly and hastily written and much of that is because the sender often doesn’t sit back and think about how much they are assuming the recipient knows about their frame of reference and what they were thinking of as they wrote the email.

  51. Keith, I’m surprised your assistant says it’s “obvious” she doesn’t charge for the time she spends reading your content. Seems to me like that work is critical to her success at her job, and she should be charging for it.

  52. Why would you need a back and forth e-mail exchange? All that typing is a hassle. I find it better to call up a VA and give my orders over the phone.

  53. Hi Tim,

    I just noticed somebody just totally ripped off this post- word for word, layout and all.

    I don’t want to put a link here and give them any traffic, so I will break up the url if you want to take a look

    adbdat dot net


    It even has the “note from Tim” and “afterword from Tim” intact, with no mention of who Tim is. Shady.

    BTW, I’m on week 3 of your no white food diet and have already lost almost 4 kilos. That is mostly from milk I think, as I used to drink 1.5 liters a day. That’s almost 800 calories in just milk a day!!

  54. Excellent post. I took notes (rare) and immediately applied what I read to make sure it’s doable.

    In fact, I found it’s much easier to preset templates and save them as Canned Responses in Gmail (it’s a Google Labs tool that works like a manual autoresponder. You craft your email responses, then select the one you need, when you need it).

    Another technique I have been using VERY successfully (as in a 40% increase in positive response rate and sales closings): I have a good quality microphone sitting on my desk that makes me sound 100% natural and warm – like I’m right in the room with you. I record many of my emails, rather than laboriously writing them out.

    The intimacy and tone are very much appreciated by my clients and VA. Words are suddenly in context. My demeanor is very clear.

    Works like a charm. I highly recommend it. You can even record into your iPhone using Voice Recorder and email them to your VA (NOTE: iPhone’s stock Voice Recorder only allows emailing of shorter notes. 2 Minutes max has been my experience).



  55. Thanks to Tim and the 4HWW I started using VA’s to help me with my business. These are great email tips. I would offer one more. Utilizing screen cast movies to explain a task. On my Mac I use ScreenFlow to demonstrate the task and the requirements. We then post it on basecamp ( movie files are 15 mb +) The VA team can view it as often as they like and produce the results we are looking for. Because of the time difference (my VA’s are in India) We need it done right the first time. We do use skype as well to communicate points of clarification or Tweaks that we need to the output.

  56. I have already fired three VA’s. I now hired one who goes to my home office regularly.

    But I must thank you because I can use your tips when I give instructions.

  57. I started reading this post with the hope that I could share some vakuable information with my own clients and within my network, however that’s definitely not going to happen.

    Were any one of my clients to have such low expectations of me and the work that I perform, I would be addressing the issue with them without question. As a professional, I would find the template system you outline above, very offensive.

    The key to working with virtual team members is regular, clear communication. I meet with my clients by phone or Skype every week to review the projects that are running or upcoming. In between calls, we communicate by email, or via project management software (I often set my own clients up in BaseCamp).

    I don’t fault your intent to ease communication troubles – but there is an underlying dynamic that quite honestly ruffles my feathers: you’re not communicating with and to your VA as an equal. You are treating him/her as someone that doesn’t “get it” and needs everything spelled out.

    My question is why would you waste your valuable time working with ANY team member that doesn’t understand your business to the degree that you have to break down every single task and action into elementary level parts?

    A virtual assistant or online business manager can make a marked difference in the success of a business – and there are as many different types of VAs as there are roles within each unique business and niche. Just as in everything else in life, going with the cheapest option won’t necessarily net you the most efficient or highest quality results.

    1. Hey Crystal, you do say at the end of your post that a VA can make a marked difference, so to your point I guess it is in the way you treat the VA/business manager. You might not want to be so explicit for anyone already familiar with you and your business

      However I do think that the examples are very helpful for those giving instructions (of any kind). They are really about being very clear what your expectations are before asking – the very process of constructing such a request should help the person be clear in their own mind what they really want (its all about the person delivering the communication, not the one receiving it).

      I know a number of my client’s executives would greatly improve their efficiency, and their relationships with personnel, if they were to spend the time to think through their requests rather than sending off open ended emails.

      You might word the communication differently but providing clearly thought out and complete instructions (which is what this post is about) will likely garner you much more respect than any feeling that you are somehow demeaning your fellow employee or client.

      Just sayin’ 🙂

    2. It sounds like you didn’t read the templates carefully. They don’t spell out steps that are obvious; they provide supplementary information that would otherwise require the further input from the client in an additional email.

      Suppose your client emails you the instruction: “Please book dinner reservations for me to Akbar on Thursday at 6:30pm. The number is …”

      What happens when the restaurant informs you that 6:30 on Thursday isn’t available, but they have 5:30 and 8:00 slots? It’s not a question of whether you “get it”. You simply don’t have enough information to make a judgment without contacting the client, which is the whole point of putting an array of available times in the initial email:

      “Please book dinner reservations…at 6:30pm. Otherwise, anytime between 7:30 and 9:00 is acceptable. If they’re booked for the evening, make reservations at Chachi’s instead, using the same times.”

      This really isn’t about VAs. It’s about email in general. People should really get in the habit if using if-then instructions in their emails to cut down on superfluous exchanges.

  58. I run a busy medical implant sales agency and spent most of my time covered up with paperwork and phone calls instead of managing and selling. Tim”s book as well as others have encouraged me to focus on the systems of my business so I can live my life instead of building my own cage.

    For travel I use an agent who knows me and I make one phone call or maybe a single email and she charges me 30 bucks and it is done.

    Regarding VA that wouldn’t work for me, too much hands on in my office, so I hired a temp agency with the stimulation that they would be a nerd, love numbers and paperwork. My gal Friday, (really her name is Brandy), is my “office manager”, personal assistant and basically does everything but change the oil in the car. As above I sent her clear emails, (she is about 10ft away from my office door),with the goal as the start of the email. Additionally she keeps an “office file” on an Excel spreadsheet on office policy that others can reference to get things done if she is out. She’s been such an asset that I bought out her contract from the temp folks and now is vital part of the agency.

  59. Good stuff and good points from the comments, remember that it takes time to switch between tasks, so, though booking online can be easy, writing an email such as

    1. do the same project as last week but for x

    2. find me the phone number of a good maid service in my area

    3. book me to fly to nice on the 12th of next month for 3 days, same hotel as before,around same flying time etc.


    Is way less brain power than switching tasks, in general, you need to stick with one va and repeat things, then they get to know what you like/don’t like.

    Many a local va now outsources to a va abroard, you maybe paying more for the local,but, for some things, that is better.

    As it says in the book ‘good enough is often better than perfect’, try not to second guess a VA and go nuts when they do not get the optimal solution, what you save in time and hassle outweighs it.

  60. To those who think this is a waste of time:

    • Ramit gives 3 simple but concise examples – he certainly expects you to extrapolate to more difficult tasks.

    • He clearly states that the up front preparation for these templates is time consuming but that over time they save him many hours.

    • If you know exactly what you want – or have only 2 or 3 places you go for dinner then of course you can do this much faster and would be a fool to outsource the task.

    • However … Do not discount the extra time people spend sifting through a near endless number of choices. This is probably the most important thing about using VA’s; you are NOT faced with and endless series of choices – the task either comes back as completed, comes back with a single answer, or it comes back with a few choices for you to make.

    • You not only free up your time but you free up your mind from a great deal of stress … stress leading up to the “search for the right flight”, stress about having made the wrong choice, stress involved in actually doing the work.

    • Other benefits provided by these simple examples might include going to restaurants that you would never pick yourself, flying on an airline you would not normally choose (and having a pleasant experience), and not least, a fine sense of accomplishment having outsourced a simple task and completed it successfully. This in turn could spur you on to having a VA take on more complicated work.

    • I will belabor the point that these are just 3 examples, perhaps you can think of things you have been meaning to do but continue to put off and start there.

    Oh I don’t know … like hiring a VA to find a really good VA for you.


  61. I don’t know if I am the only one or in the minority here, but I had a horrible experience with VAs so far. Overpriced and did not deliver as anticipated. I continually had to contact them to see if they followed through, which they did only about 50% of the time.

    With the energy I put into the follow through, I could have done the tasks myself and saved a bunch.

  62. Since mentioning your top virtual assistant choices in the writing of 4HWW, have you changed opinions on the best websites for finding a virtual assistant? What would be your best recommendations today? Thanks for the reliably awesome content!

  63. Hi everythone,

    I’m a full time VA in a relatively new firm called Uassist.ME. I’ve been around over a year now and my worst experiences have been with clients that do not take the time to properly write an email or give instructions over the phone, which is a shame, because sometimes you know that you can do things right and even give the “extra mile”. Sometimes emails don’t even have to be that long, just clear and keep communication alive, otherwise, the outcome can be very, very far from what’s originally desired.

    As a VA, I look forward to establishing long-term relationships with my clients, and frankly, communication is the key. It has certainly been key to my most successful business relationships. This post proves my point wonderfully.


  64. Tim, you mention that you’ve spent over 65 hours optimizing their work, which leads me to wonder – how do you track your time? Tracking the time I spend on things has always been one of the most reliable ways to optimize it, but it also adds a layer of effort and cost (time or $). So there’s always the tradeoff of time saved vs. time invested. What do you find are the most effective ways to track your time?

    1. Hi Jeff,

      I use a great program that is not only free, but also very user friendly, provides statistics, graphs, and detailed reports weekly/daily/monthly (so it helps you build a picture of how/where you spend most of your time) and it works like a ‘punch in/punch out’ time clock. It’s called

      Great for personal or professional use.

      Hope this helps,

      — Amy

  65. if you really do need to respond to emails…

    …make use of the subject header to write a short response ending with “EOM”.

    e.g. “approved EOM”, “go ahead with 2nd option EOM”

    Keeping the character count down to that which will be displayed in most inbox views forces you to be succinct – and emphasizes communications efficiency to the recipient. They don’t have to open the email to get the message (its body is sacrificial).


  66. A good way to summarize what you are saying is the following acronym, pronounced by just saying the letters “CPQQRT”. Every email to a VA should include ALL of the following items.







  67. Why use email? I use myIntervals to make sure everyone on my team know what needs to be done, the priority, deadline, detailing, and time budget. They then use the system to track their time as they work through their daily to do lists. My clients can login and see progress. I can see who’s working on what. They can see what they need to get done, along with any milestones their tasks are attached to. Everything works nicely in synch. And at the end of each week, we send out checks to contractors based on the time they’ve entered into the system. Email is flawed. myIntervals works well for us. basecamp just doesn’t cut it.

    Andrew from advocates using Teamworkpm, which looks similar to myIntervals. I also looked at Function Fox a while back, but the usability was a bit spastic.

    I should note, I’m not in any way affiliated with any of these companies. I just really like using myIntervals. You should also check out Tungle to save a ton of time on meeting organizing.

    It would be great to see more coverage of specific tools to help save time.

  68. I think the main problem with most VAs is the language/cultural barrier. Look to U.S. based virtual assistant firms like LongerDays for a more quality experience.

  69. Ramit, Thanks for the article. I think these concepts will go a long way toward helping me communicate better with my customers as well. Best regards, Karla

  70. I’ve not had much luck hiring people. However, I started a recent “volunteer” / internship program. I have about 5 people under me right now. I have them perform very simple tasks such as commenting on posts, sharing links, & proof reading articles. It’s working like a champ!!!! In exchange I give them free products (I own) and free business training.

    There’s one thing I’ve also noticed. I write my emails like a sales copy. Meaning I make them scannable. Important action items are bolded and or underlined.

    Making emails scannable makes a world of difference because people tend to gloss over emails missing important items. I also try to keep actions / goals down to a two or three related items per email maximum. Ideally there’s only a single goal / action per email.

  71. Love the book, blog and remarks…have just hired a VA outfit to help transition much of the drudgery of the developing family business, to help transition me in my goal of datsusara in DC.

  72. Hi,

    Try Philippino virtual assitants. If you can find the right one (well-educated, usually part-timers), they’ll understand you no problem. And they are usually smart enough to google where midtown NYC.

  73. I really am enjoying the conversation around hiring a VA and the trials and tribulations of doing so. I think there are many different factors that play into the decision to hire as well as the decision on who to hire.

    There are so many individuals out there called “virtual assistants”. They range from offshore groups of people that charge next to nothing for their services to entrepreneurs, much like most of you, whose growth depends on ensuring their clients are happy and well taken care of. I think if you are looking for a one-off job that doesn’t have a huge impact on your business then go the cheap route. Yes you may have to take additional time to spell out exactly what you need, but you should get what you want for a pretty reasonable rate.

    If you are looking for a longer term business manager or partner to help you take your business to the next level then I would look for someone who can offer you the benefit of utilizing their unique strengths. Many North American VAs specialize in certain areas so you may need to hire more than one person to help you accomplish your business goals. The cheapest option isn’t necessarily going to yield you the best results, sometimes you get what you pay for.

    In terms of where to find a great VA look at some of the national associations for virtual assistants, such as, where VAs pay to be a member.

  74. My biggest problem is finding the RIGHT VA from india…who writes GOOD ENGLISH… Its almost impossible….ALSO, if you need someone to return calls e.t.c if is almost inevitable to find a VA who is local to you….this is obviously a very high expense living in the U.S (which defeats the entire purpose of outsourcing and increasing your profit margin)

    1. You can find an educated, experienced person in the US who is more than willing to work for the money you would pay someone in India. Factor in the money saved by working from home and the obvious convenience of not having to commute to an office every day– that to me is worth its weight in gold. Where do I sign up?

  75. In response to Nnenna’s comment regarding ‘ a very high expense living in the US’ in relation to hiring a local VA, I’m based in the UK and it’s quite feasible to use VA’s from around the world to ensure the work is completed to a high standard with the most relevant VA. You pay for what you get. With regard to paying more for a local VA, ‘which defeats the entire purpose of outsourcing and increasing your profit margin’ – please consider how much more expensive it would be to actually take on an employee!! Hiring a VA allows you to have the best of both worlds; someone to support your business but without the overheads!!

    A professional VA is generally a business owner too and cares about their reputation and the impact they can make on their clients business too. We do not expect to receive everything spelt out, as we are intelligent business owners. Sometimes it is very much the need of our clients to ‘spell things out’ due to their concerns / control issues of something working for them and representing them.

  76. Hi,

    I would like to hire a virtual assistant fluent in English and in Spanish, and all recommended companies in the book 4 hours work week, they do not have fluent assistants in Spanish.

    Anyone can give me a recommendation here? The ones I have contacted in Spain are simply to expensive.

    Best regards,


  77. In the beginning, I had the same communication problems with outsourced workers. It came to the point that I felt I was taking too much time “Managing” the workers and it would of been easier to do it myself. I had to realize that I had to make my instructions simple enough that an 8 year old would be able to do it.

    Here is some more tips if you decide to hire someone offshore.

    I have outsourced many tasks to offshore companies. What I noticed is that good programmers, design, and technical stuff can be assigned to Indian, Bangladesh, and Pakistani’s.

    Also I learned that Filipino’s are the best suited for tasks that require speaking and writing in English. Many of them hardly have any noticeable accents that you typically hear from other countries.

  78. For those complaining about WHY someone would use a VA for something they can do themselves-

    Using a VA gets into the simple economic theory of Comparative Advantage.

    You may be able to do everything better than the VA, but by concentrating on what you do comparatively better than them, you will “produce” more than by doing it ALL yourself.

    “A person has a comparative advantage at producing something if he can produce it at lower cost than anyone else. HAVING A COMPARATIVE ADVANTAGE IS NOT THE SAME AS BEING THE BEST AT SOMETHING. In fact, someone can be completely unskilled at doing something, yet still have a comparative advantage at doing it! The trick to understanding comparative advantage is in the phrase “lower cost.” What it costs someone to produce something is the opportunity cost—the value of what is given up. To find people’s comparative advantages, do not compare their absolute advantages. Compare their opportunity costs.” Read more:

    “Opportunity cost” is easiest related to pay scale. If you make $50/hr and you pay your VA $25/hr, then your VA has a 2:1 advantage on tasks that don’t create “revenue”.(i.e.-making reservations, doing research, etc) Your VA should cost less than your time is “worth” doing another revenue earning activity. THAT is why you would use a VA for things you can do better/quicker.

    1. One of the key reasons for using a VA for a task you could do yourself is “time shifting”. For instance I have a new Android tablet that has just “bricked”. Last night when I had some downtime I emailed my VA asking her to call the supplier and arrange the return & replacement . So she’s doing that today, in the queue at their call centre, etc instead of me wasting my core time doing it (I’m on this blog instead… ahem).



  79. Why are you hiring offshore Virtual Assistants? There are plenty of educated Americans who would love to work for the type of money you are paying. Believe it or not, you can find a bilingual or multilingual, well- traveled American, with a college degree, all the computer software and internet skills needed, who is willing to work for what you’re paying someone in India. Why outsource that job to someone who has never been out of Asia, when you can find someone here who actually knows where mid-town Manhattan is, and wouldn’t require a 10 page email on simple instructions? I don’t get it.

    1. Mary, I understand where you’re coming from. Not all would want a VA from India or elsewhere as they’d rather have someone work from home but close enough. Still, many online business owners – with varied and valid reasons would rather outsource. At times, it’s all about getting cheaper yet quality service.

      Yes, they do have the option to hire from the next city or state, but to question such decision with the notable look-down of offshore workers’ intelligence, reliability and skills is just mean.

      Yes, there are many Americans who will work for the same rates and possess experience and education even more than the most excellent VA from the Philippines or Katmandu; just their luck they didn’t do more to get noticed or hired.

      Yes, there are VAs who’d require more time to digest work instructions as there are people like you who don’t know more than undermine non-US virtual professionals;

      And yes, there’s so many hardworking, quick-learning and dedicated VAs WITHOUT the blinding and misplaced confidence of themselves and their culture. That’s why they’re hired…

    2. Yeah. Right. Sorry, been through 20 Americans in two years at anywhere from $15 to $25 an hour and they are like children at best and bipolar loose cannons at worst. I figure I have to tell them three times, and check up on them, for a simple task, and 4-5 for anything moderately complex. I’ve one, out of 20, show initiative and planning on her own and lost her when she had a baby.

  80. this is a very good description of a very precise email instructions for a VA, this will not only guarantee you good service from a VA, it is also an advantage for VAs. its actually a win-win situations for both the employer and the VA.

    i believe VAs are really helpful. they make things easier for their employers. employers should also provide a detailed instruction of their preferences so the VAs can find acceptable options basing on that preferences that was set.

  81. Quite an interesting discussion going on here.

    Several months ago, I hired a VA for SEO work and it was not a good experience mostly because of lack of communication, Mea culpa!

    I have come to the conclusion that I shouldn’t hire another VA until I can pay for a really professional one and obviously more expensive. It is simply not in my personality to have to write everything with minute detail. So I need someone who knows his/her trade very well.

  82. Informative post and follow-up comments. Clearly, managing Remote Assistants (there’s NO such thing as a virtual assistant or VA – click on my name to read my rant about the misuse of this term) is a continuous challenge.

    Especially when there is a language and/or culture barrier. And even more so when people don’t usually communicate very clearly or accurately (again, see my rant) when they all live in the same place and speak the same language.

    I think Ramit’s “hacks” for communicating both clearly as well as succinctly can help us all get our message across more effectively, whatever the situation.

    And when you are paying for both your time AND your RA’s time, effective is the name of the game, right?

  83. I’ve started using a new virtual assistant after wasting a lot of money paying a subscription to AskSunday. AskSunday may be fine for very simple concierge tasks but fell flat on their faces when I needed a research task done to a deadline.

    Communications is key and I’ve set up templates in Evernote for my VA emails. So if I need a repeat task I don’t have to retype the detailed instructions every time. I also use a keystroke macro programme called Direct Access that I may set up with VA instruction templates.

    I’m also considering copying all of my “standing intructions and preferences” to a Google doc that they can access, so they are all in once place.



  84. I just got referred here from another forum. Great resource! I learned most of this the hard way though through trial and error and long back and forth messages lol.

    1. Try the Philippines. Filipinos have that tone neutral western accent and follow US TV shows. English is their 2nd language. You can talk to taxi drivers and street vendors in English and you will be understood, unlike some Asian countries.