Over the years, I’ve hired or helped hire a lot of virtual assistants (VAs).

I’ve seen some VAs absolutely crush it and others that had me questioning my sanity.

As I mentioned in the last issue on how to hire better ad managers every time, some of that comes down to hiring the right people, but working with VAs is different from working with employees in many ways, especially if they’re not from your country and culture.

I want to use this issue to share some important lessons I’ve learned over the years that could spare you some frustration and could save great VAs from being fired.

Reasons To Hire VAs vs Freelancers or Employees

Before going over some of those key lessons, let’s cover why an agency would hire a VA to manage their ads, rather than working with a freelancer or hiring a W2 employee.

The primary reason, and arguably the only real reason, is economics.

Virtual Assistants (probably an outdated term) is most commonly going to be hired from the Philippines, India, Columbia, and similar countries. Countries where the primary currency has lower purchasing power than the US Dollar, the Euro, and many Western European currencies.

Even though VAs are (rightfully) asking for higher pay in exchange for their services, they are still 20-40% of the cost of hiring a full-time employee with the same level of experience. You can very easily hire two VAs for the price of one employee.

Freelancers tend to be great if you only need help with one or two accounts, but they quickly become exorbitant if you need to have them run all of your accounts. You may find one that is better than your potential employees or VAs, but it’s not sustainable to have them help with more than your top-priority accounts (still not a bad idea if you find a great freelancer).

Freelancers also are hard to predict or qualify. There are so many, you often have to go through the same process required for hiring an employee or VA, but without the same output on the other side in terms of accounts managed.

So economically, it’s employees vs VAs if you need help with lots of accounts. You can work with a white label agency instead, but few agencies will be as affordable as an employee or a VA at scale. 

Both employees and VAs can manage a solid number of accounts, ranging from 10-30+ depending on how complex the account is. The big differences are that employees will work exclusively for you and you’ll be able to require their attendance at meetings, set specific pay and working hours, etc.

Most VAs will gladly accept whatever terms you set if clearly communicated before hiring them, but you are in effect asking them to do things as a professional contractor, rather than telling them what to do as an employee.

With employees, you tend to have better communication and they have more of a drive to learn your processes and cultural requirements because they represent your agency and they usually come in with the mindset that excellence will result in higher pay and possibly promotion.

VAs generally expect to fulfill a role and get paid their asking price. You are able to give them more pay if they do well and you want to secure their loyalty, but they are free to come and go as they please. They can also charge you more if you ask them to do things they didn’t agree to do when signing on with you.

There are more differences, but these are the main things to keep in mind. You give up some things with VAs, but the 60-75% difference in price usually makes it worth it.

Setting Your Expectations

The talent pool in “less developed” countries is amazing and largely untapped. There are brilliant ad specialists who have not been jaded by the arrogance and entitled nature westernized countries can often breed in our top performers (obviously a generalization, not everyone in the west is like this).

However, there are some differences in the way they work and communicate and you can run into trouble if you don’t expect them and plan accordingly.

I had a client call me the other day because I had recommended hiring a VA. I shared my hiring process with him and he found someone that passed with flying colors. The reason he called me was that he had some concerns about his VA and he was really second-guessing his decision to hire her.

After he explained the problems he was having, I understood his concerns and was able to quickly address them.

When we in the US (I imagine the UK and EU are similar) hire a new employee, we expect them to run through our training and get up to speed pretty quickly. We find an expert ad manager and expect them to have the same views of Google Ads and the same priorities.

However, my experience with VAs has been that they are excellent at following processes and running daily optimizations, but you run into trouble when you need them to be self-starters.

A virtual assistant is, by definition, an assistant.

Their role is to assist and not to make their own decisions with autonomy, so you may be working with someone who has 5 years of experience, but doesn’t know whether they should look at search terms, audit the landing pages, or even which account to start on, without external direction.

So you can’t really expect someone whose job has been to follow directions for the last 5-10+ years to jump in and immediately know what to do, when to do it, and in what order. Especially when the directions they’ve followed have been from different people with different ways of doing things and different ways of communicating.

You may also find that a VA has many years of experience managing ads, but only doing one or two things in the account. If you tell them something vague like “manage the account”, they’ll just do what they know how to do and may rely on Google (who is happy to give them very clear directions) to fill in the gaps.

So knowing some of these details, you can understand why my client was disappointed in his new hire. Let’s take a look at some of the solutions I suggested to help him get the best value from his new hire and to keep her gainfully employed.

Creating The Right Structure

The first solution to the problem of struggling with your VAs is structure.

Thinking of them as an assistant should give you the right idea for the kind of structure they need.

Specifically, imagine that in two weeks you will hire an assistant that is available for 4-8 hours a day to help you, but they will only do what you explicitly ask them to do. They will not do something if you did not ask them to do it.

To avoid having them interrupt you every two seconds, how would you plan to provide direction for them?

I generally recommend having task lists planned out in a project management software. Each task list should be dedicated to the thing you want accomplished and each task should be a step in that process. 

Use each task’s description to give very clear details on how the task should be done and set due dates, estimated time, and as much detail as the project management software will let you include.

The more structured you are in the directions you give, the fewer questions you’ll need to answer and the less likely the VA is to miss steps in the work you want them to do. This will help you get better quality work and it will help your VA feel more confident in the work you want them to do. 

In addition to the clear project management structure, it is a good idea to consider only assigning them part of the account management, if possible.

As mentioned earlier, many VAs have experience with specific tasks, but not autonomously running entire projects. If you manage to find a VA who is amazing at search terms management and also amazing at strategy, you should buy lottery tickets.

Because of this, you should think about hiring VAs in the same way. Consider the parts of account management that take up the most time (search terms & negatives, perhaps?) and try to hire for that task across multiple accounts, rather than hiring a VA to fully manage everything in several accounts.

I’ve found that most VAs have been hired to maintain and manage accounts, rather than to design and grow them, so they rely on Google’s recommendations for audits. Some are fantastic with account audits and providing unique growth insights, but most focus on the details work.

If you have a Google Ads manager on your team already, or if you’re managing the ads, I’d recommend hiring a VA to run search terms and checklist-based audits on all accounts on a regular basis and having your current ad manager monitor the strategy and direction of the accounts if they have a mind for it. Otherwise, aim to hire for strategy and have your current ad manager run the daily optimization work.

Find the gaps in your team and fill them in.

Aside from structure, there’s another important element to a good VA relationship.

Effective Communication

Every relationship thrives with effective communication and relationships with VAs are no different.

It does look a little different, though.

For one, you usually need to be very specific, very clear, and very consistent when communicating with VAs.

As with the way I recommended structuring tasks, it can be really helpful to have a meeting or series of meetings toward the beginning of your relationship to review accounts, provide context, and explain your thoughts and processes.

After that, you’ll want to maintain brief, but consistent communication. It’s pretty normal to give them a quick note with broad-strokes direction about which task lists to focus on at the beginning of every workday, and many VAs will provide you with a recap of what they’ve done at the end of every day.

If a VA is not meeting your expectations in an area, give tactful feedback the first time you notice it and repeat the feedback each time if it persists. Firing fast with VAs will only lead you to believe that VAs are not a good solution for you, which is likely not true.

Every virtual assistant I’ve ever worked with has earnestly desired to do their job well and have received constructive feedback well. Just as you’ve needed time to become as competent as you are, VAs also need time, grace, and instruction to learn what you’ve learned.


A VA ad manager won’t always be the best option for your agency, but they can be a great place to start if you’re hiring your first help or if you need to fill in some gaps on a low margin.

If you’re going to work with a virtual assistant, don’t expect the same autonomy and ambition you see in westernized culture, but don’t expect lesser talent or intelligence. We’re just approaching things from different angles most of the time.

I’d advise hiring for a specific task or set of tasks, creating a test for the specific tasks they will perform and administering that test to all candidates, creating a very specific set of very detailed tasks with very clear due dates, and communicating frequently about your expectations of the VA and their performance.

If you’re curious about how I work with agencies or if you’re frustrated with your agency’s profitability or retention of clients or employees, feel free to reach out to me and I’ll see how I can help. I never charge for the first consultation and if I can solve it in 30-minutes, there’s no reason to pay for my services and you walk away happy.

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