I've had many interesting conversations with business owners who are at a point in their business where they know they need help and are looking for a Virtual Assistant (VA). At those times when I'm not taking on new clients, I have offered assistance in a different way - as more of an advisor. From this perspective I've found that while the business owner knows they need help they're not always sure what to look for.

Deciding it's time to let go is hard enough - finding someone you can put your trust in is another challenge. If you're at that crossroads in your business read on for the top 5 essential qualities to look for when hiring a Virtual Assistant.

For a long term mutually beneficial working relationship, look for:

1. Someone who runs their own legitimate business - Consider the fact that an entrepreneur who has built their business from the ground up has a reputation to uphold and is serious about what they do. They love their work, are committed to their clients and are professionals with the skills and experience needed to do the job. They are constantly learning in order to upgrade their skills and keep up with technological advancements. Although it may seem like a nice idea to help out a neighbour who's out of work and pay them a small fee to return your voicemails for instance, I've heard the horror stories that have come out of some of these scenarios. You get what you pay for!

2. Someone who takes the initiative and sets up a free consultation - After you have shown an interest in working together, your future VA should schedule a phone or in person meeting with you that will help her pinpoint your greatest areas of need. This needs analysis should consist of questions such as: What is causing you the most frustration? What does a typical day consist of? and my favourite; In a perfect world, what does working with a VA look like to you? Communication is key. She should also discuss with you how you prefer to communicate and how often.

3. Someone who prepares a formal proposal - After the initial consultation, if your VA has determined she can help and you both feel that the partnership would be a good fit, your VA should follow up with a formal proposal outlining the ways in which she can help and her fees.

4. Someone who puts together a formal agreement - if the proposal is accepted, your VA should prepare an agreement outlining the terms and conditions of your working relationship. The agreement should have a statement that covers confidentiality. The VA should also include her policies that explain how she works, availability, payment options etc.

5. Someone who is proactive and looking to build a long term working relationship with you - Let's face it, you're hiring a VA to free up your time, not to create more work for yourself. You should be able to assign new tasks to your VA and she will run with them. Of course there's always the initial learning curve when you start working together and for new projects but after the first 2-3 months things should start to flow. After a while, your VA should be coming to you with ideas when she identifies gaps in your marketing. Strategies that will help boost business and grow your list. Over time your VA will become a partner in your success. The longer she works with you, the more she learns your business and finds more ways to help you.

Where can you find your assistant? Through VA associations, forums, social media sites and local networking events. You may also want to check with fellow business owners for referrals.

At some point in our businesses we all need some help. The right VA could be the turning point in your business allowing you to become more productive and prosperous with more time to spend doing the things you enjoy.

Author's Bio: 

As a Business Support Specialist to small business owners, Jennifer Hazlett provides technical and administrative assistance specializing in planning, implementing and managing various internet marketing strategies. Jennifer combines her current work experience with her extensive corporate background to create programs and services that help the small business owner get their business going, growing or back on track. Sign up at Jennifer's website, Alternate Admin http://www.altadmin.ca/ for your complimentary report "101 Ways to Boost Business with a Virtual Assistant" and receive her free monthly ezine "Home Sweet Home Office" full of practical tips, tricks, tools and resources for the small business owner.