An idiot’s guide to finding a virtual assistant

From Phil Marshman, Pioneer Podiatry

Seriously, I am an idiot. And I have a virtual assistant. So that fully qualifies me to write this article. Now, I know that sounds harsh (calling myself an idiot, I mean). But now that we have a virtual assistant on our team, and when I think of the things we used to try and fit into our day before we had Hazenie, I think idiot is a fair and accurate term. So, “What the flip is a VA? What do they do? Why do I need one? And, how do you get one?” I hear you say. Well, sit right back and let me tell you a little tale...

We run a busy multi-location podiatry practice. We see hundreds of patients each week, from up to six locations, and all of our tools to run our business are online (email, clinical appointment diary, patient files, communication tools, faxes, EVERYTHING!). I had been hearing this buzz about outsourcing certain tasks to a virtual assistant, but really didn’t do anything about it for the usual reasons that we don’t do new things, plus a few reasons unique to hiring an employee out-of-house. Briefly, these concerns included; How would I find a good one? How would I know they are doing what I want them to do? Can you trust a VA with personal or confidential information? How do I pay them? What if they just up and leave? Ah, it all sounds too hard to me…

So, the catalyst for serious consideration of finding a VA came when my practice manager started making noises about wanting to continue her studies and move out of town. AGHHH! But… she does everything! She knows everything! It’s all in her brain! If she leaves, she needs to leave her brain here, plugged into some kind of super computer interface that we can talk to. Oh no, we’re screwed!

After a short nap, I settled down and considered our options. Maybe it was time to consider a VA? We would obviously have to find someone to replace our practice manager when she left, but in the two months we had until then, we considered how much of her role we could have someone else manage from a remote location. And, as we considered it, we realised something… basically EVERYTHING (except direct, face to face patient contact and reception tasks) could be done remotely. Receiving faxes/emails. Creating new patient files. Putting referrals on files. Sending letters, email and faxes. Managing patient databases. Managing referrer databases. Implementing email marketing stuff. Social media. Monthly reports. The list is endless! Seriously! Because, as I said before, all of our tools to run the practice are online.

So, the first step was to create a procedure for everything in the practice management role. For this, we used a screen capture tool, uploaded the how-to videos to our private YouTube channel, and put them into an online procedure management tool called Sweet Process. So, for someone to learn how to do each task, they just watch the video, and do the same! Awesome! This whole process took maybe 10 hours. A bit of work, but doing one or two a day, it only really took a couple of weeks.

Second step – find a VA! I’d researched this to death, and decided that, for a few reasons, the Philippines would be the best location to hire from. Our time zones are pretty close. English is widely spoken there. And I’d just had so many recommendations for finding a Filipino VA that I knew that was the go. The website I chose was . I wrote an appealing ad that described the role, hours per week, and the pay. And within 24 hours, I had 100 applicants in my email inbox.

For us, we were looking for someone to manage incoming medical referrals, so we needed someone who could understand medical terminology. I immediately noticed that many of the applicant were highly trained university graduates, particularly nurses. Fantastic! Nurses would certainly understand medical terms. So my first round of responses to the applicants was around what a podiatrist is, some questions about medico-legal and patient confidentiality issues, and more specific questions about their personal motivations for wanting this kind of virtual assistant role. As the responses came in, I narrowed the applicants down to three nurses.

Third step, video interview. Cue Skype call! This was fun! This was the first chance to meet the final three, and try and get to know them a bit. It was pretty easy to pick Hazenie from the bunch. She was friendly, professional but easygoing, extremely literate and conversant in English. And she laughed at all my jokes. Five stars from me!

The fourth step was drip feeding tasks to Hazenie each day, until she got the hang of them. Within two weeks, she was managing basically everything I mentioned before. Everything. It was amazing. Sometimes we thought she was reading our minds.

All this was only three months ago, and we have not looked back since. Haze is now an integral part of our team, and we wonder what we ever did without her. My practice manager (who has now left) said she wished we did it years ago! And our magnificent new front desk manager and Haze basically co-manage the whole front of house of our whole operation. It is great.

For anyone considering adding a VA to their business, you can probably guess what I’m going to tell you… DO IT! DO IT NOW! Any tasks that are regular and routine, that only require a computer and an internet connection, you should systematise and outsource. There are VAs out there ready and waiting and willing to do the things that you dread to do each day/week/month. Give them a job!

My top tips

  • Don’t be afraid! I’m sure things could go wrong, but I’ve heard so many great stories that I doubt you’d go wrong. Particularly if you...

  • Be clear on the role. Work out what kind of skills you need, and define the role clearly. Systematise the tasks, so that they know exactly what to do, and how to do it. If you explain it once right, you won’t have to explain it again. And make sure you...

  • Keep in touch! We use Slack ( It is an awesome online messaging tool. Intra-team email has gone the way of the dinosaur, where it belongs. Our whole team uses it every day, and it is awesome. We are constantly chatting about work and non-work related stuff. Haze feels like a part of our team because she IS a part of our team. She’s even on our website!

  • Pay them. And pay them well. Ballpark figures for Filipino staff is approximately 20-30% of what you’d pay locally. So be generous. Financial savings are so far down the list of advantages to having a VA that I almost forgot to mention it. But, it’s true, a Filipino VA will save you money. So do nice things for them. For example, I pay the health insurance for Haze and her son each month. And we pay her basically a whole week’s wage for only doing 20 hours a week. It’s a win win for all of us.

When I think about it, I doubt there’s any business that wouldn’t benefit from hiring a VA. Do it! You won’t regret it!