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Outsourcing Within the Family

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Cute asian kid

One of the ways you can free up more time is by hiring a virtual assistant that can do the tasks you don’t want to do. This leaves you with “free” time to do things that are more important and enjoyable. While you can go through an external company to hire your VA, I want to show you how you can start using family members as personal virtual assistants.

This post is from my direct experience of using my younger teenage brother as my virtual assistant. We have been working together for almost a year and in this article I want to share with you how we work together. While most people hire a virtual assistant through a company, I decided to keep it within the family. Besides, aren’t all virtual assistants from Asia anyway?!

If you are completely new to outsourcing parts of your life, read up first our primer on personal outsourcing. While we will also cover in another post on how to work with a VA through a company, this article will show you how my brother and I work together.

Just to give you a quick back story. My brother is 16 and I’ve trained him from scratch to be my virtual assistant. When I first read The 4 Hour Workweek I got the idea from Tim Ferriss to have parts of my personal life outsourced. At that same time, I was having a conversation with my brother where he asked me about experiences of getting your first job. I connected the two and decided to make him my virtual assistant. Almost a year later, I can say that this was a really good decision and I have taught others with success how to make this work. That’s why I want to share with you why I think outsourcing within a family is a good idea.

Advantages and disadvantages

There are a lot of advantages of using someone within the family (especially the younger they are).

  • Help out the younger family members with some extra money.
  • You can mentor the younger ones through your work.
  • You can train and teach real life skills.
  • Keep the money within the family.
  • It’s cost effective.

There are a couple downsides to this too:

  • It requires more training and time on your end.
  • They might find out personal stuff you don’t want them to know.

Wait a minute? Wasn’t the goal of getting a virtual assistant to free up time? And here I am saying it’s takes up more of my time?

Yes.

If you just want to free up more time and not invest any time in training your VA, you will be better off going through a company. However, if you don’t mind training up your virtual assistant this can be a great way to learn other aspects that come with this, e.g. mentoring, teaching, and the feeling of helping someone.

As you keep working together your VA will make your life a lot easier and he or she will free up time for you. What I meant earlier is that you also need to invest some of your time training your VA. Especially the younger your VA, the more inexperienced they are. Most VAs that work through a company have most of the training required, but this is often not the case with younger family members. This is where you have to invest some of your time to train them.

From a strictly time effectiveness standpoint, using family members is not the most efficient way to go. But I think the advantages overshadow the disadvantages that it’s a worthwhile avenue to take. Plus the fact that you can set your own hourly wage makes this a very cheap solution. I can tell you that any teenager will work for (below) minimum wage for a couple hours a week.

How to get started

It is important that you pick someone that you can work with for a long period of time. This selection process is critical. It can be very expensive to keep switching assistants so you want to make sure that you’re getting someone for a extensive period of time. People that are great candidates are your younger siblings, cousins and nieces. The younger they are, the better because they will be cheaper, are tech savvy, and you can mentor them.

Managing expectations

Before you get started with working with a family member, you need to outline your expectations right from the start. This is really important. Not just for your VA, but anyone else you will hire in any capacity. Employees are the most susceptible when they first get hired, so that’s when you should setup your expectations and boundaries.

Let your VA know that even though you are family, this is a real job and you will treat him or her like anyone else. They don’t get preferential treatment just because they are family. Outline the rules and boundaries right from the start. Some of mine include:

  • The hourly wage.
  • The definition of what is considered “work” and what is considered a personal favor.
  • All tasks with a deadline should be finished by the specified time. Failing to do so without notice will result in no pay.
  • All emailed tasks need to be replied to with confirmation.

Shared folder with Dropbox

Dropbox

A shared folder on Dropbox will save you lots of time organizing files and makes sharing files really easy.

I highly recommend you setup a shared folder with Dropbox. This is how I primarily get my files. Whenever I need something from my brother, he will Dropbox it to me instead of emailing it to me. Likewise, if I need to give him something I will put it in our shared folder.

Shared calendar with Google Calendar

Google Calendar

Share your Google Calendar with your VA. Make sure he or she has read and write access.

Via Google Calendar you can easily share your calendar no matter what platform everyone is on. Give your VA read and write access. On the Mac, Busycal works very nicely with Google Calendar. This will free up a lot of time when you let your VA book flights, appointments and anything time sensitive.

That should help you get setup with your virtual assistant. There is really no need for anything complex. Now let’s see how your VA can free up some precious time.

Examples of tasks to outsource

If you two live in the same city, you can have your VA run your errands. In my case, this only happens when I’m paying a visit back home once or twice year. Example of errands you can outsource include:

  • Going to the post office.
  • Grocery shopping.
  • Getting take-out food.

Pretty much anything that makes you leave the house. In my situation most of the work is done remotely since I’m never at my parents’ place and I’m always traveling. Some of the things I have outsourced include:

  • Research
  • Outbound calls
  • Data entry
  • Downloads

Generally things I don’t want to do. Let me clarify the points just mentioned.

Research

This is where I need to have some research done that I don’t have time to do or don’t want to do. A lot of it includes sources for writing blog posts, travel visas, statistical data on certain topics I’m interested in, and all sorts of work that involves me Googling things.

Outbound calls

When I have to call companies or institutions I always try to have my brother do that. Nothing bugs me more than waiting on the phone and dealing with customer service.

Data entry

Data entry type of work is something everyone should outsource. I have my financial and time tracking reports outsourced. Every two weeks I send over my time tracking data which gets inputted into a spreadsheet that I review every two weeks. Same goes for my financial expenses, but on a monthly basis.

Downloads

This something I’ve started doing recently: have all my requests for software, videos, ebooks and audio programs downloaded through Dropbox. I find this much more convenient than searching for these things myself. Sometimes the download speeds are slow or you can’t find what you need which is something your VA can resolve. Sometimes I will be on the road and I need to have something downloaded on my laptop, so I just email my VA and by the time I’m on my laptop I have the software ready waiting for me.

Training resources

All of the above should get you started on using a VA. As you continue to work with each other, you will encounter that a lack of certain skills of your VA prevents you from outsourcing certain work. This is where you have to train him or her and this will take up some of your time.

You can buy books as required reading or see if your VA wants to purchase those themselves. I encourage my brother to use his earned money to educate himself more so his earning potential can go up. It’s something I’ve done in myself when I was a teenager. While my friends in high school would be going out you would find me in the local bookstore reading books and self-study at home. To this day this has paid off in multiples and I encourage my brother to do the same thing.

Lynda.com

Lynda.com is an awesome place for training videos.

Of course there are also tons of other resources to learn from. One I recently found is Lynda.com where you can watch training videos on software and certain specialty topics.

I would encourage you to pay for most the training to educate yourself and your VA. As much I respect college degrees, a lot of real life skills are not taught in universities and colleges. That’s where I think you can contribute by training your personal VA the skills you have found the most useful in your own life.

An easy way to train remotely is by doing Skype sessions. You can talk to each other and do screen-sharing so it’s very interactive. I find teaching those training sessions yourself help you in two ways:

  • You can specialize your VA (he or she can also become a VA for others).
  • By teaching you internalize your own knowledge.

Both are valuable and they make the time for training worthwhile.

Mentorship

Besides the benefits of freeing up your time, there is also a secondary payoff I found out later on. One of the biggest joys for me is that I can train my brother real life skills and mentor him to become the best he can be. Even though we are thousands of miles apart, having him as my VA allows me to communicate with him more frequently and teach him stuff I otherwise wouldn’t be able to do as much. While he is my VA, I don’t want him to be that forever (of course). I want to help him succeed and I know some my money can propel that.

Like I said before, outsourcing within the family will not be useful for everyone. If you are simply looking for someone to do menial tasks you don’t want to do, hiring someone external should be your first option. Otherwise, if you like mentoring, teaching and helping your family member(s) out you should consider outsourcing to someone within the family.

Let us know in the comments below what your thoughts are on outsourcing within the family!

Photo by Epsos.de.

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7 Comments

Posted by Outsourcing Within the Family « Outsourcing Yes  | October 31, 2011 at 7:49PM | Reply

[…] the original post here: Outsourcing Within the Family Comments […]

Posted by Bojan Djordjevic  | November 1, 2011 at 1:27PM | Reply

Thats a great idea! Really love the concept, and I am excited about it! Dropbox and GCal are also awesome ways to stay organized and on track, with family member or any other way. Keep it rocking guys!

Posted by Spence  | November 9, 2011 at 3:26PM | Reply

Great perspective.  Thanks!  I’ll start searching the family ranks for my VA.

Just an idea:  While you’re training, seems like it might also be good to develop a resource manual, website, or video site that you can use when you move to another VA.  It would always provide you with somewhere to send them to learn the things you’ve already taught to the previous VA.

Posted by Thanh Pham  | November 10, 2011 at 1:34PM

Hey Spence, that’s a great idea. I usually have my emails full with instructions but I also think it’s a good idea to document them into one file. That’s something my brother can do :-)

Posted by Timo Kiander  | November 21, 2011 at 10:46AM | Reply

Thanh,

This is a very important topic!

In fact, just sometime ago I recorded a quick video about this on my blog. The point was that we don’t necessarily have to outsource our stuff to a foreign country. In many cases there are people close to us who can help us.

For example, my wife takes care of my proofreading tasks. If she wasn’t doing that, I had to outsource that work through eLance or hire a VA to do that.

The best part is, she is doing this for free, so I’m saving my time and on expenses too.

Cheers,
Timo

Posted by Thanh Pham  | November 22, 2011 at 3:44AM

That’s a great way to save money! There are a lot more benefits to girlfriends and wives than many of us think ;-)

Posted by Philippines BPO  | November 24, 2011 at 10:24PM | Reply

Well, this certainly is the first time I’ve heard of outsourcing within the family. I found it funny(hiring your brother at first) at first but deep inside I found that the idea had some real sense in it. I’m not sure though what you mean about, “They might find out personal stuff you don’t want them to know” as a disadvantage… Maybe because I don’t hide something from my family. :p Anyways, thanks for introducing this idea! It was certainly entertaining and at the same time enlightening…
-Lara

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