18 months ago, I had an idea that I desperately wanted to make a reality, but it required mobile development know-how and the extent my coding experience is HTML, CSS, and a smattering of PHP.

You’ve been there, too. You have a grand plan for a business that could really take off and make a difference, if… If what? Most sentences that start like that end with something like, “If I could get someone on board that knows programming.”

Well, that was me. I shopped the development around and got prices ranging from $65k to $85k to develop an app for iOS and Android. Being completely self-funded, I quickly determined that I had to either find a partner/co-founder, or find a cheaper way to outsource the work I needed. By this time, I had already read The Four-hour Workweek and decided to give it a go on my own using the help of remote workers (for more on this, see Nathan Hirsch’s article here. This decision wasn’t taken lightly, and I kind of eased into it by using services such as Fiverr.com and ODesk for UX and marketing design work.

18 months later, I know a heck of a lot more about the entire process. I’ve honed my front-end and back-end web development skills, made some friends around the world, and ended up with my app, pushpyns, in the App Store and Play Store.

So, now you’re thinking, “Very nice, but I could never do that.” I can relate. About two years ago, I was thinking the same thing. “How do you even begin to do something like that?” I wondered. Communication obstacles would be way too difficult to overcome! Well, I will say this: It’s not for everyone. It may not be for you and here’s the main reason:

You’re A Control Freak

You may have dabbled in this a bit and, like me, had mixed results with some providers. For some people, hiring remote assistants just isn’t the way to go, usually because it doesn’t jibe with your personality. Or, in other words, you’re a control freak—and there’s nothing wrong with that, by the way. For others, it’s the perfect arrangement— if you get a few things right.

Like anything, though, if you stick with it you can improve your results.

So What Do I Do?

I’m going to get to that, but first… another story:

Several years ago, I met a guy named John Jonas in Provo, Utah. Provo is an increasingly popular hotbed of entrepreneurial activity. At the time, John was just beginning his own journey as an entrepreneur after reading Ferriss’ bestseller The Four-hour Workweek. Armed with connections in the Philippines who could potentially refer or become virtual assistants, he decided to take Ferriss at his word and experiment. Now, Jonas owns and operates many sites and enterprises which are largely maintained by virtual assistants. For Jonas, the 4-hour Workweek is more like 17 hours, but that’s still a far cry from 40, 60, or 80.

As I started my search for developers, I used one of Jonas’ sites, OnlineJobs.ph to find them. There were bumps in the road, but they cost me a lot less than $85,000, and when I remember that, everything gets put back into proper perspective. Ultimately, I got what I wanted, and I learned a lot more than what a book or YouTube video can teach.

So, what about you? You’re buried in work and can’t seem to dig out of it no matter how many hours you work. Jonas has a few pointers for those of us who eat, drink, and sleep at our work and are considering finding a helping hand.

1. Know What You Want & Be Specific

First, don’t hire someone to “reduce your workload”, “build a website” or “do social media marketing” for you. Those are results, not processes. Before you can legitimately hand anything off to someone else to do, you need to be specific about what you want done. If it’s something you already do, type out the process you follow as instructions. If it’s a new process, type up the what, where, when, why, and—if possible—how in as much detail as possible.

Being specific about what you want done will save you time, money, and frustration, and you’ll better understand what you really need from outside help.

Jonas has a specific tip for those of us who are programmers and entrepreneurs: “Programming is not something that an entrepreneur should be focusing on. If you’re a programmer, you should hire a programmer to handle it for you.”

Why?

He explains, “Doing programming work doesn’t make money. Marketing and sales make money.” Great point, John.

2. How Do I Pick the Right People?

Hiring smart means that you not only pick the right person for their ability to get done the work you have to do, it also means picking someone who is responsive, communicative, and who fits your culture. By the way, you have a culture, even if you’re going solo right now, it just goes by a different name: personal preferences.

But, how can I hire smart when the interview process is anything but ordinary? Interviews on Skype? Really? Well, yes, really. But, not just Skype. You can and should use email also.

Jonas’ #1 tip on maximizing your chances of getting the right person:

When you “interview”, send lots of emails, but with only a few questions per email.

This allows you to gauge:

• Responsiveness
• Language skills
• Attention to detail

Almost always during this process, one or two of the applicants stand out as great candidates.

3. Full-time, Part-time, or Contract?

Regardless of whether you’re a programmer or not, Jonas says, “Hire a full-time person instead of a contract worker. When you hire a contract worker, you’re hiring one hundred percent turnover. You know they’re going to be temporary. Hire a full-time worker and find work for them that improves and grows your business.”

Full-time may not fit your budget at first, but if you can find a way to make it fit, do it. It will pay off in your assistant’s loyalty to you.

4. Know How & When to Let ‘Em Go

I’ve had to do this myself when the fit just wasn’t right. I attempted to put people in the wrong seat. They were on the right bus, but in the wrong seat—read more about this idea by Jim Collins. In other situations, the individual wasn’t on the right bus. No use forcing something that really isn’t going to work out. Jonas suggests being patient and communicating as often as possible in these situations.

John recently ran into a situation where it was time to part ways. Here’s how he suggests handling such a situation:

Ask questions like, “What are you struggling with?” “What are you stuck on?”

To avoid burning bridges, John gave this person a full month notice of his being let go, knowing that his productivity will be minimal and possibly non-existent.

Why a full month?

“I want to take care of the people I hire and this is one way to do that.”

Conclusion

A parting thought if you’re still on the fence, wondering whether you should give a remote assistant a “go”. In Jonas’ words: “You can hire someone to do repetitive work for $350/mo, who speaks English, as long as you’re willing to teach them to do it.”

Again, this might be for you. It might not. If you decide to try it out, you’ve got to be willing to set aside enough time to train your assistant. Don’t skimp on this! They’re working for you, after all. You want them to do it well.

Already working with virtual assistants? What have you done to make it work well? Share in the comments below!Opinions expressed here by Contributors are their own.

Matthew Nielsen comes from a working-class home where he learned the value of perseverance. After ten years of undergrad work, and rising through the ranks from salesman to Board Director in the publishing industry, he graduated with honors as the first university graduate in his family. Matthew now holds a Master’s degree (another first) and operates a consulting firm, and a startup called ‘pushpyns’ in Phoenix, Arizona.

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