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How to Manage a VA – My 4 Level Team Management System

This is part 2 in my series on how I hire and manage my team of outsourced workers. Like I said in my first post (how to hire a VA) my ability to get a team of VA’s working for me is mission critical – my business fails if I can’t outsource.

The key to successfully working with a VA is the same as successfully managing people in the real world. It is very simple but not easily done well…

“Provide clear instructions on who is doing what by when”

Common quote I first heard from one of my favorite podcasts – Manager Tools

Disclaimer – I am not as good at this as this post looks. When I hear other people talking about how they systematize their business its all sunshine and roses and their systems all work perfectly. Let me be clear I have much of the system outlined below working well but there are A LOT of areas for me to still improve upon.

What I am sharing below are the tools I use to manage my team to ensure we are always clear on “who is doing what by when”. These are not golden rules or miracle makers they are simply the most effective tools I have found to manage a team of VA’s. These have been changed over the years but after almost 30k hours of managed hours on ODesk I believe I have a reasonable handle on it.


I Have Lots of ODesk Experience as a Buyer!

Recap – How to Hire a VA

Last week I shared how I go about hiring a VA. To recap my process is…

  1. Post a job
  2. Wait 12-24hrs and hire the best 2-3 applicants
  3. Give them a trial job
  4. Keep the best contractor

Last time I hired 2 and gave them a simple research assignment.

ahsan on ODesk

abul on ODesk

The result was one VA did a great job with excellent communication while one submitted 15hrs of “offline hours” – I forgot to uncheck “allow offline hours” and the results were very poor. I asked the VA who submitted the offline hours and poor results what happened and he admitted he was busy so he had someone else do the work for him (this is the problem with offline hours). So after 2 emails back and forth he agreed to withdraw the offline hours and I ended his contract. The second VA did great and produced some clean well researched lists and is now working within my team.

Once I have hired and tested out a VA it is time to embed them into my team management system. That is what part 2 of this series is going to focus on…

Part 2 – My 4 Level Outsourced Team Management System

My business is split up into 4 levels and each level has their own documents.

  • Level 4 – Business Control Documents
    • Examples
      • Vision and Goals
      • Profit/Loss, Accounting
  • Level 3 – Project Control Documents
    • Examples
      • PayMyStudentLoans Project Plan
      • Niche Websites Control Document
      • Expired Domain Project Document
  • Level 2 – Task Control Documents
    • Examples
      • Article Creation
      • Blog Commenting & Guest Post Outreach
      • Research Post Creation
  • Level 1 – SOP’s (Standard Operating Documents)
Business Control Document

Business Control Documents

Task Control Documents (Best Place to Start Building a System!)

With the multiple levels the best place to start is with the task control document and then grow out a management system from there.

The management system I use is that for each task control document is that I have one document which is typically split into 2 parts…

  • Part 1 – Training(review material and SOPs) and task set up (1 time tasks)
  • Part 2 – Procedure links (SOPs), Tracking and Reporting

 Typical Task Control Document

Typical Task Control Document

Part 1 provides all the information for someone picking up the job cold to get trained and set up to start working. While part 2 is the sheet where people live day to day inputting their work completed.

The combination of the standard operating document (part 1) with the embedded quantifiable reporting (part 2) makes the entire process effective.

The thing of beauty about this process for me is all the benefits…

  1. The ability to easily add multiple team members to the same task and clearly assign who is doing what by when.
  2. Split a task which was formerly completed by one person up to multiple people you can simply change the name in the responsibility column and it’s done.
  3. Bolt together multiple Task Control Documents under one Project Control Document (see the image below…)
Authority Website Project

Authority Website Project

  • Inner Circle = Project Control Document
  • Outer Circle = Task Control Document

Each of the Outer Circles are their own Task Control Documents with specific SOP’s for each. So when I launch a new site I simply bolt up the strategies I want to use and add the details I need to into the Google document responsible for managing each task. (it really isn’t quite that easy but that is the goal)

Naturally some of the above strategies are more mature/developed and effective. For example I have a social media task document but it is terrible and has proven to not be effective yet.

It wouldn’t be an post without an example and template for you to use…

Task Control Document = Site Maintenance (Speed, Security and Monetization Checks)

I am going to use a task that if you are reading this you will likely get extra value from. This is the task one of my VA’s does with all my money websites once and then reviews monthly.

The purpose of this task document is to improve the usability of a website and ensure all monetization links are still working.

For this control document it is broken down into 3 parts…

  1. Take baseline information
  2. Improve website speed (7 steps)
  3. Improve website security (7 steps)
  4. Check all monetization links (pretty link lite) and review homepage to ensure everything is still functioning correctly
  5. Record data (time taken, speed improvement etc)

google document

6 Final Team Management Tips…

  1. Coaching is always required! Whenever I am assigning someone new to a task I make sure to give them the training, ask them to do a couple of the tasks and then review and coach. For some tasks I have a task manager who does the training but whenever I have tried to skip the hands on training I have regretted it!
  2. Systems should adapt to peoples strengths – systems are best when they are flexible and enablers of great performance. Both the systems and the people should adapt to get to optimal performance. I make sure to not treat every team member as an interchangeable
  3. The magic is in the iterations – Starting with a system and then improving upon it over and over again is how you can really start to see substantial performance improvements. In the example above we tried multiple different speed improvement strategies and started to see what gave us the biggest improvement for the amount of time spent.
  4. What gets measured gets improved – this is essential. Defining what KPI’s make sense to track and which ones don’t. If you track the wrong metric it can incetivize behaviour you don’t want to see. For example when developing a money site I don’t want to measure the speed with which the site got created.
  5. People are the key – I will take better people over a better system any day. In my limited experience if I am struggling with a poor performer improving the system will not change their performance and conversely if I have a star it is because they are great and not because the system is great.
  6. Redundancy is important – Even if I have a team member who is killing it for me on one task I want to make sure at least one other team member knows how to do the task almost as well. This is very important when dealing with turnover or absenteeism.

You will notice I don’t talk about any project management software here! My day job involves managing a $30M project involving a 6,000 step Primevara (Microsoft project on steroids) project plan and I find Google documents laying out the milestones of a project and then creating follow up lists the most effective at bringing new people up to speed quickly. All project software has a certain amount of training time before someone is embedded in the system and I want to minimize that time as much as possible.

I would be interested in hearing what other people do to manage their online work/projects. There is something we can all learn from each-other. My system works for me but it is not perfect and it may not be right for you/your business.

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Leave a Comment:

Mike says October 16, 2013

I really like how much detail you go into in your posts. Thanks for sharing exactly how you go about managing your team it is eye opening!

    Jon says October 16, 2013

    Thanks Mike – glad you found it useful.

Duncan says October 16, 2013

Jon, your management of your VA’s is some pretty next level s****. I manage an offline business and don’t get to anywhere near this level of detail. Pretty freaking mind blowing if you ask me. Thanks for sharing this much information about your business.

Can I ask have you ever tried a basecamp or equivalent project management software?

    Jon says October 16, 2013

    Duncan, offline business I think can be more relaxed since you have the extra level of communication.

    I have not tried basecamp, I think if I was going to try a project management tool I would look into Asana.

Mauricio says October 16, 2013

Hi Jon,

I think your content is absolutely awesome – but I think you know that already, so a huge pat on the back for that. You inspire me getting my online business better organized. I’ve just tried out your strategy and found a great VA in literally 10 minutes. She is a great writer which is hard to find these days and works for only $2 per hour. I will give her a big bonus at the end of the month because I want her motivated and I can’t live with myself paying somebody that low…

That being said, I’d love to see how you’ve set up your blog network spreadsheets in Excel. Would be great if you could share a screenshot or something (of course blurring the details about your domains). I’ve setup mine but I know you’ll come up with something more efficient that’s why I’d like to pick your brains a little.

Thanks again for awesome content – keep it going!

    Jon says October 16, 2013

    Mauricio, glad you like the content. Glad my no interview VA hiring strategy worked out well for you.

    I hope to share lots more details about how I manage my sites in the future.

Miki Vicioso says October 16, 2013

Hi John
Interesting post indeed! Depending the task, I create a document that explain step by step what they need to do. After they read the document, I tell them to give it a try and ask questions when they need to. This also works on the reviewing process to see how fast they can learn and apply the process.

    Jon says October 16, 2013

    Hi Miki, thanks for the comment. The detailed instructions are great especially when you can get your VA to create it for themselves and we just review it! The strategy you talk about is great – giving them the first assignment without investing a whole bunch of your time up front – see if they can do it on there own and are worth investing more time in to train up – great point!

Matt Hagens says October 16, 2013

Hey Jon,

AWESOME stuff you got here…really insightful as to how you run your business.

I run a team of VA that do contacting finding work. Basically, when an agency wants to do outreach for link building or any other reason, they come to me with list of domains and my team finds the contacts for each site. Simple, but extremely valuable to link builders. There are tons of tools out there that do the same thing, but you can’t beat it done by hand.

Anyways, I’ve been using one VA for about 2 years now, she is awesome (and pay her way above normal)….I have her use a combination of Google Docs and Trello to manage the contact finding process. I think we’ve got the management part down fairly well, it’s trying to get new people up to speed quickly that is painful. I’m going to try some of your suggestions for finding people on oDesk and see if I can speed up the hiring process.

Now, I just need to implement the same processes for my niche and network sites :). I second the vote on a post as to how you keep your network sites organized….that can be a bear!

Talk soon!

    Jon says October 17, 2013

    Hi Matt, thanks for the compliment! Glad you found the site useful and thanks for sharing how you are doing things!

Kashif says October 17, 2013

Thanks for another insightful post, Jon. I have been trying to recruit some VAs at oDesk recently and I have found people charging around $50 to set up link wheels (forum comments, blog comments, social media updates etc). They state that they would require at least 10 hours to perform the tasks. Do you think the rates are fair?

I am assuming that if I have to build link wheels for a site that has 10 pages of content, I have to spend $500 for the process? Is that right?

    Jon says October 17, 2013

    Hi Kashif … I would stay away from a service like that who isn’t fully transparent about exactly where the links are going to be built. This tactic is not the best use of your time for SEO purposes from my perspective.

yskan says October 23, 2013

First of all, thanks a lot for this very detailed post!

Like Mauricio I am also curious how you manage your network.

Btw, how is your little boy doing?

    Jon says October 31, 2013

    Hi Yskan, my little man is good, thanks for asking.

    I will share more about how I manage my network with reviews of the tools I use.

Patrick McCoy says October 31, 2013

I found your site yesterday in looking for a VA on oDesk. I’ve been hiring people from oDesk since 2009 and have a dedicated team in India I found through oDesk who handle much of my programming and some web design. I started my first business with what you hit on here…. Post Job, Pick 3 Contractors for a pilot project, Measure (for me it was Price, Communication, Understanding the scope,, Turnaround time, and End Product satisfaction), Hire the best contractor.

I’ve since rolled this into other projects for special desktop software I’ve had made for some internal uses for me and now I’m in the process of wanting to hire a VA. Again, putting these tactics to practice, much like you.

I’m also now going to be following you as, to me, you are a person I better relate to as an affiliate internet marketer and not throwing out fluff like many others I see/read about. You know the ones who “Made $100,000 last month and you can to with zero online experience.” I’ve been my own boss for a little over 4 years and started my first company at 25 and it is no easy road! You’ve helped bring me back to reality and not falling for their propaganda as I look to enter the affiliate marketing ring.

I look forward to more of your posts. Cheers! – Patrick

    Jon says October 31, 2013

    Hi Patrick, sounds like you have some pretty interesting experiences that will transfer nicely into any online endeavor. Thanks for the compliment and I look forward to seeing what you create!

Dave says January 4, 2014

Hey Jon – great post. I also manage several VAs and do not go into nearly this great of detail. To some extent I feel it would actually take more work to do so, and that somewhat defeats the purpose of the VAs, no? Then again, that might be highly correlated with what projects I have them working on. I simpply like to email them tasks and just have them run with it. At the end of the week they send me a time sheet update (which I rarely check).

Kent Chow says March 23, 2014

Jon, love your process. I am sure that you are a strong process guy.

It’s the way to scale VA.

What do you store your docs and share with the VAs? Do you use Google Docs?

How, do you manage or track your task/project progress given working with so many VAs? on oDesk? Or some other online tool?



Joey says August 4, 2014

Jon – yes also interested in hearing more about track your task/project progress? It seems like a nightmare once you get more than 3-4 people.

Please do some more posts on management of your business these are awesome.

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