How To Know When It’s Time To Hire An Assistant

by Pam Neely last updated on

Even productivity ninjas have limits. At some point, no amount of goal setting, productivity app mastery or personal management can help you get more done. At some point, it’s time to hire outside help.

The question is when to hire that help? And who to get help from – for what?

Lots of questions. As usual, the discussion comes down mostly to time versus money. But with assistants, there are a few extra complexities.

Because having an assistant can make such a huge difference in your business (and your life), we wanted to walk you through how to decide when and how to hire an assistant. So we’re going to break it down into three aspects of the decision:

  • The money part
  • The work part
  • The who part

When to hire: The money part

Usually the #1 limitation for hiring an assistant is the money part. And frankly, until you’re sure you can afford an assistant, you probably shouldn’t hire one.

To untangle this, figure out how much your time is worth. Even if it takes you a week of monitoring how long you work to earn each dollar (or Euro, or anything else), this is an essential exercise. Then once you’ve got your earnings per hour, remember to account for taxes. Assistants are tax-deductible (at least in the U.S.) so that might help.

So now you know exactly what your time is worth. Let’s say it’s $50 per hour. Does that mean you can hire a VA for $40 and make a profit? Not really. Remember – even a good VA will need some supervision, support, and management. And in the first week to the first month you hire them, they’ll need a lot of your time.

Of course, if you’re completely drowning in work that could be outsourced, you might be fine with paying a VA $40 an hour – just so you can get your life back. But the real sweet spot might be more like $30 an hour. That’s a wide enough gap between what your time is worth to make a difference, but a high enough rate that you can get somebody really competent.

This is an unusual approach to how people talk about hiring assistants. Usually you hear things like “you can get somebody to work for $5 an hour for you!” That is true, but usually you get what you pay for. And if you need help with things that actually require some skill – like managing a webinar, building relationships with influencers, or site development – you’ll need someone smart.

As someone who’s worked with a $6 an hour assistant and a $20 an hour assistant, I beg you: Pay for quality. Otherwise you may end up wasting more time than you save.

If you’ve got really simple work to do done – and crystal clear directions on how to do it, someone who’s $5 an hour might work out. But expect to pay more like $10 an hour for workers from India or the Philippines, and $15-20 an hour and up for someone from the U.S., Canada, Australia or Europe.

Of course, you don’t necessarily need to hire someone full-time. Part-time assistants exist, and can be extremely helpful. Even if you don’t have enough more for a part-time virtual assistant, outsourcing services like FancyHands can let you outsource just a bit of work for as little as $30. WordPress support services like WPCurve can keep your blog running well for $79 a month. And Fiverr, of course, is a treasure trove of low-cost assistance.

So it’s really not a question of if you can afford help. It’s a question of how much help you can afford. Once you’ve figured that out, then you can move on the next part of the decision: What work are you going to outsource?


When the hire: The work part

Okay – so you’ve got a little budget to hire some help. Fantastic. What are you going to outsource?

This can be harder than figuring out if you can afford help. And – if you don’t get this aspect of the decision right – you can waste a lot of money hiring someone without knowing what they’re going to do.

I’d give you a list of all the potential things to outsource, but it’d be so long it’d be silly. However, here are some basic ideas:

  • Content promotion
  • Research
  • Assembling and sending your newsletter
  • Design
  • Writing
  • Customer support
  • Image creation
  • Audio or video editing

The list goes on – I think you get the idea. So come up with a list of at least five tasks you do regularly that you could outsource. Pick stuff that is not your core competency. For instance, I’m a writer, so I wouldn’t outsource that. But I also do a lot of content promotion, and most of it is pretty repetitive work – so that I could outsource.

Keep in mind that to outsource this work effectively, you’ll need to create tutorials on how to do the work. Jing is pretty good for free screencasts. Google Drive is a good place to share text-based how-to manuals. You’ll also probably need to give this hire access to several password-protected accounts. Use LastPass to safely give your assistant access to all those sites. They’ll never actually see your passwords, and if you need to block their access, it’s a 2-minute fix.

Try to start with outsourcing maybe an hour of work a day. See how it goes, improve where you can, and then outsource more. Going from zero to what’s described in The 4-Hour Workweek rarely works.

When to hire: The who part

There are several different types of assistants. Here are the pros and cons of each:

Type of assistantProsConsBest for
Full-time, in-person assistantThe only solution manual tasks, like running errands. A good hire can become like your right hand.They’ll be a full-time employee, so you’ll have to provide benefits, vacation days – the works. You’ll also need to create a space for them to work, complete with a computer.Local business owners, people whose personal and business life may be blended. Requires significant financial resources.
Full-time VA (virtual assistant)No office space required. Vast pool of potential hires. Some VAs have excellent writing or promotion or other skills that might be the owner’s weakness – so the hire can be a great compliment to their boss’s strengths.Less expensive than an in-person assistant, but still fairly expensive. Could be $500 a month on the low end, up to $2,400 a month or more.Business owners or professionals who have well-defined business processes, and who are very clear on what kind of expertise and help they need.
Part-time VALess expensive than a full-timer.You could be competing with their other clients for their time.  You may end up not being their priority.Better-suited to most solopreneurs or solo professionals. If you don’t have enough work for a full-time person, but still need significant help, this may be the best fit.
Project-based assistantAbility to pay for only what you need, for only as long as you need it. Great way to test having an assistant.Can be a lot of work to find the person, considering you’re only hiring them for a short period of time.Ideal if you have a big project you need help with.
Task-based assistantIf you have specific ongoing tasks, this may be the most affordable option. You can get people with considerable expertise or high-level skills.If you need help with other work, you’ll either need to do it yourself or hire another person.Basically, you’re hiring a freelancer to help you. But if you really only need help with a few specific tasks on a regular basis, this is best.
Service/company that handles a specific service or taskYou don’t have to interview anyone. Your “assistant” will never get sick or take vacation. If someone goes wrong, you’ll have more avenues to resolve the issue.You may be working with different people from task to task. Costs may be a bit higher on a task-by-task basis.If you’re not sure about hiring and working with a solo VA and want the reliability of a company, while still limiting how much work you outsource and pay for.

Once you’ve got a high-level idea of which type of assistant you need, check out sites like VirtualAssistantAssistant. It’s got reviews of 178 different outsourcing companies and a survey-style virtual assistant recommendation engine. The International Virtual Assistants Association (IVAA) is also a great resource. If you want a deeper dive into all things Vas, check out Chris Ducker’s book Virtual Freedom or Nick Loper’s book, Virtual Assistant Assistant.


Hiring an assistant – or assistance – is an extremely idiosyncratic decision. It’s not just a matter of “I make $100 per hour – time to hire an assistant!”

Money helps (of course), but so does your willingness to let go of perfectionism and to trust someone to do a “good enough” job. You’ll also have to give your hire  worthwhile work to do, and show them how to do it properly. That can take a lot of time – don’t expect to have more free time until you’ve done some training first.

But if all the right things line up, having an assistant can revolutionize your business and give you back your life. It could be your next step up.

What do you think? Ever hired an assistant? Ever outsourced some work? Share your stories – good or bad – in the comments.

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