How to hire a virtual assistant for your photography business
The time has come. You have reached max capacity and given in to the fact that you need help.
Maybe you even just googled “virtual assistant for photographers” because you’re so overwhelmed and you don’t even know where to start.
I’ve been there.
And while there is no perfect or “right” way to hire a VA, I do have some experience in this arena and would love to help you. Maybe I can even give you some advice to help you avoid my mistakes.
The first time I tried to hire an assistant, I waited way too long. I was beyond my limit of capability. I was on the verge of closing my business because it felt easier to shut everything down than it did to bring in someone to help.
Sure, there was a little fear, some limiting beliefs that I couldn’t afford it, and some resistance to handing over control of my baby, my business. But mostly? I was just so damn tired. And the thought of downloading everything that was in my brain into another person’s brain was enough to shut me down like I was a computer.
But somehow, even though I was down to my last drop of resilience, I found a way to at least try. (That makes it sound vague. It wasn’t. It was the people in my life who convinced me to keep the doors open. My team and my business friends pushed me to keep going, to try. Without them, I wouldn’t be writing this right now.)
My first effort to hire someone, though a valiant one, didn’t work
I put out a job description for a Captain of Organization. Clever, huh?
I spent an entire work-week interviewing people. Lovely people. People I wanted to hire. I offered TWO of them jobs. They both declined, having accepted other positions.
So where did I go wrong?
- I waited too long between the interview and the offer. I was swamped and I didn’t prioritize making the offer soon enough. This gave people time to go out and find other positions.
- I wasn’t clear about what the job was when people applied. I thought the title was cute, but it made it sound like there wasn’t that much admin involved. It made it sound like I was looking for an online business manager or an integrator. I was looking for an assistant. This is one instance where I really should have listened to the advice “clear over clever.”
- I listed too many responsibilities in the description. Rather than prioritizing the 3-5 I desperately wanted off my plate, I threw a laundry list of possibilities at them.
So I tried again. Here’s what I did differently:
- I was clear that this was an assistant position. When I talked about it online, I called it by the same cute title, but said very clearly: “This is an assistant role.”
- I prioritized what I desperately needed off my plate. And I listed only those things in the description.
- I made applicants work for it a little. They had to make a video and follow very specific instructions. It helped me see who was paying attention and if people were really invested in the position.
Really, I did what I tell all our copy clients to do: I got specific. I was looking for a very specific person. I didn’t need 15 good applicants. I needed one great one. So I nailed down exactly what I wanted and that’s what I got. (More on that later.)
So how do you figure out what kind of help you need?
My guess is that you could hire multiple people right now, and make more money while paying them.
Well, you’re probably wasting valuable time doing shit that doesn’t make you money. Sorry, that was harsh. But you, as the owner/CEO/president have the most earning potential in your business. Your hours make the most money. Hell, maybe they are making the only money.
But if you spend money paying other people to do the things that DON’T make you money (accounting, editing, emailing, invoicing, etc.), then you get those valuable money-making hours back. See?
Here’s how to figure out what you need. It’s a very simple system that I came up with when I was drowning in no-money tasks. Steal it from me please.
Step 1: Write down a list of every single thing you do in your business. Every.single.thing.
Literally every single thing you do in your business. No task is too small here.
Step 2: Now give EACH of those tasks a score.
1 – Something you adore and never want to give up.
2 – Something you like and aren’t ready to give up.
3 – Something you don’t like and can’t give up.
4 – Something you don’t like and can give up.
Step 3: Ask yourself the tough questions.
Take 1s off the table and ask yourself nothing. No one is touching those.
Look at the 2s and ask yourself why you aren’t ready to give them up.
Look at the 3s and ask yourself why you think no one else can do those tasks. If it’s only because you want too much control and your afraid there’s no one else who can do it like you do, then move those to the 4 column.
Look at the 4s and praise the good LORD that you’re about to be done with them forever.
You have now prioritized your task list. Well done! Now let’s see who you need to hire.
Step 4: Look at the 4s.
Are they assistant role tasks? Or do you just need to hire an editor or editing company?
Are they ongoing? Or do you just need to hire an expert in your CRM to set you up so managing your inbox becomes easier?
Is it something you want to learn or hand off? Like, do you actually want to manage your SEO/blog? Or do you want to pay someone to get that out of your brain forever?
Depending on what is on your offload list, you might just be able to hire a service or a one-off contractor to help you in certain areas.
When I looked at my list back in the winter of 2021, there were three things that I needed off my plate immediately: my inbox, my CRM, and scheduling our writers. Everything else, I could pay other people to do.
In fact, here is a list of people that we need to make Green Chair Stories run:
- Jess, who is our Captain of Organization slash my assistant. She handles our inbox, all invoicing, client onboarding, SEO services, and so much more. She is technically my assistant, but she’s so much more.
- Melanie, who handles our client gifting.
- Chris, who handles all of our accounting.
- Kirsten, (who is paused right now because of my personal lack of bandwidth to create content) who normally handles our Pinterest.
- Jenny, Kaitlyn, and Erika, who handle our website writing services, our editing services, and some of our blog and social content.
- Mattie + Bowen, who I contract out to help with website updates and design changes.
- Emily, who takes brand photos for us.
Jess is who I hired to help with the most headache-inducing tasks. Here’s why she was perfect (besides the fact that she is a majestic unicorn of a human who I would die without):
- She was a photographer. She knew our clients intimately. She understands their language, their hesitations, their needs.
- She had experience. She had taken over someone’s inbox before and felt empowered and confident that she could handle mine.
- She loves a list. I am allergic to organization. Jess thrives on it. She whipped my systems and templates into shape within a week.
- She likes working on and off throughout the day. She is able and willing to check my inbox multiple times a day. I needed to stop doing that and she gave me the freedom to ignore it.
How does that apply to you? Maybe there’s someone right under your nose that’s perfect for this.
Look for someone who understands your clients. A past bride looking to make some extra money. A mom if you’re a family photographer, who is an organizational machine. Sometimes people you already know are your most valuable resource. I wouldn’t recommend hiring a close friend, just in case it goes south.
But I hired Jess without knowing her all that well and now she is one of my favorite people on this earth. Look at your acquaintances and consider them. Chat with them. Open the door and you never know who might surprise you.
If you don’t know anyone, ask around. Other photographers have assistants who might be looking for more work. Or other photographers might not be super busy and want to take on extra hours for you.
Last, check TikTok and IG. Search for creative virtual assistants. I’ve seen some really incredible people on there and I think it’s worth a shot.
How To Actually Hire Someone
First, ask them some important questions.
Here are some to consider when hiring an assistant:
- What hours of the day are your favorite to work and why?
- Do you like to work set hours or sporadically throughout the day?
- What is your preferred method of communication with me? Email/texting/Voxer/phone calls.
- What do you hope to get out of this position?
- Tell me about a time that you loved your job.
- Tell me about a time you didn’t like your job. What went wrong?
I would recommend starting small. You could even do a test project to see how they do. If that goes well, set some clear expectations and agree on a payment structure.
Get a contract in place. I suggest checking out the Outsourcing Contracts from The LawTog.
Also, don’t bring someone on as a full-blown employee until you’re sure you want them on your team.
For me, all my people are 1099 contractors. They get paid either hourly or by the project. I recommend starting there before getting into the tax mess that is having a salaried employee.
(If you’re interested in learning more about hiring, I highly recommend following Joel Klettke. He owns and runs Case Study Buddy and is brilliant when it comes to hiring people. He may have been the reason I hired an assistant for myself and didn’t shut down my business. He is a kind, but powerful dude. Rumor has it he is launching a course about hiring.)
Why you might want to hire a virtual assistant
“Rachel, why didn’t you lead with this section?” Because some of you need the details before you can convince yourself it’s worth it.
If for some reason, you got here because you’re just not sure if now is the right time, then boy do I have some words for you, too. This isn’t just how to hire someone, this is why you might want to.
You might think there’s only one reason you should hire an assistant: because you’re tired and you need help.
And while that’s a good reason, it certainly isn’t the only one. Here are a few more:
- You are spending your precious time on tasks that don’t generate money.
- You don’t have space to be creative or intentional or strategic about where the business is going.
- You maybe aren’t the best person for every job your business requires.
- You forget why you started your business because you do tasks all day long that have nothing to do with your initial passion.
- You are having a baby or moving or some other very big life change and you need someone else to help you remember everything on your to-do list.
Those are just 5 of like 50 reasons you might want to hire some help.
My final pitch for hiring someone: there are literally millions of smart people in this world. Don’t be too proud to bring someone on who not only might be able to help you, but will make your business stronger, more streamlined, and better for your clients.
Teamwork makes the dream work, and my dream would quite literally die without my team.