Burned Crispy by Mediocre Freelancers

5 min. read
March 24, 2023

Every freelancer I convince (eventually) to hire a VA gives 3 objections (at first):

  1. “I’ve gotten burned in the past when I tried to delegate.”
  2. “I just don’t think I have enough work for them to do.”
  3. “I can’t afford it right now.”

Let’s pop these objections like last week’s party balloons.

1. I’ve gotten burned too.

Nothing makes me grind my teeth like spending several nights or a weekend cleaning up a subcontractor’s mess, one that I thought I was paying them to clean up for me!

“Wait, now I’m out my money and my time!” Grrrrrrr….

I’ve been burned to a crispy by dishonest, MIA, mediocre freelancers. Whenever we’re not getting the results we want, we can either throw in the towel, or we can notice people who get better results and ask, "What are they thinking and doing differently?"

In the case of hiring a VA, I went with the latter: Other creative entrepreneurs are obviously able to hire smart, reliable team members who enable them to spend more time in their zone of genius.

Further reflection led me to conclude that I needed well-defined processes. We shouldn’t hire people to be the process, or hire them in lieu of having a process. We should hire people to run processes.

In the words of Gru from Despicable Me, “Lightbulb!”

When I hired 2 VAs in early 2021, I didn’t train them. I created training and a handful of standard operating procedures (SOPs) and gave them access to it.

The nuance in that last statement is small but crucial. You standardize processes by documenting them and asking new hires to follow them—not by transferring a squishy, ever-evolving process from your brain to another person’s through conversation.

The added benefit of SOPs is accountability and a clear way to evaluate performance. If new hires can’t or won’t follow the SOPs, telling them it’s not working out isn’t a gut-wrenching experience where they’re blindsided. It’s apparent to both parties that the VA is in the wrong role.

One of those 2 VAs I hired in February 2021 is still with me. I rely on her. The other I let go in an amicable parting of ways.

SOPs can’t prevent you from occasionally hiring the wrong person, but they do make the person-role mismatch clear a lot sooner. Best of all, you still have the SOPs after the person leaves. No brain drain.

Moving on to “Not enough for them to do”…

2. You can delegate something.

Lots of things my freelance business needed from me I wasn’t doing. Uh, marketing… Showing up consistently online… Making it easy for dream clients to find me…

Some things my business needed I did, just not with the level of quality they deserved. Diving into web analytics and coming up with insights. Creating a content repurposing engine. Quarterly offsite planning. Off.

And some things required to fulfill clients’ projects I didn’t have to be the one to do. Scraping web content and putting it into a GDoc. Snooping on a client’s closest competitors. Doing data entry that was technically out of scope but I wanted to move a project along faster.

So my problem wasn’t a too-small workload for a VA but my own limited view: like looking out of a tiny porthole on a cruise ship and only seeing ocean and sky.

The view from the lido deck? Palm trees, sugar-sand beaches, and possibilities.

Here are 10 things I now delegate to my VA:

  • Scheduling and calendar management (All my calendar preferences are documented.)
  • Setting up and sending weekly newsletters, including this one (Yep, this process is documented)
  • Setting up and publishing blog posts (Yep, this one too)
  • Finding and synthesizing the best free resources to create a new playbook, such as a really good book launch plan for Free Money (h/t Tim Grahl)
  • Creating graphics for blog posts and LinkedIn posts
  • Coordinating with my Webflow guy (shoutout to Ezekiel Rochat) when I need changes or updates to FreelanceCake.com
  • Finding new freelance-focused podcasts for me to be a guest on
  • Watching Youtube videos or reading knowledge base docs to properly configure an app we’re using (e.g., Notion)
  • Handling client requests (”Hey, can you send me the recording of our last coaching session?”)
  • Researching best practices for a core business need (e.g., SEO) and adding to our internal processes and SOPs
  • TONs of project management

Okay, that was 11, but you catch my drift. You can find many somethings to delegate, and I’d recommend starting with high frequency, low leverage tasks.

What 3-5 things do you need to do often but that don’t generate income?

Set a timer for 10 minutes and scribble down the “process” you generally follow for them. In 60 minutes you’ll have 6 things you can delegate tomorrow.

If ye olde noggin is being sluggish with ideas right now, read Chris Ducker’s post on 101 tasks you can outsource.

3. Start with what you can afford.

You don’t have to go all in. You can scale up with a VA slowly if that’s what your bossy bank account insists.

Can you pay someone for 2, 5, or 10 hours a week? Probably.

Think about it this way: How much is 1 hour of your time worth? What about 15 minutes?

If you had an extra 20 hours a month, couldn’t you, in the first 2 or 3 months, focus like a bird of prey and drum up some extra work? Probably.

I’ve found it easier to get 2 people paid than just 1 (meaning, just myself).

My VA enables me to spend more time in my zone of genius, and when I do that, generating enough revenue to get us both paid is easier than just paying my own bills.

Depending on your freelance income, you may need to look beyond your local city and find a win-win with someone in another part of the world. Affordable for you can still be sustainable, if not exciting, for them.

I hired my VA through OnlineJobs.ph and had a terrific experience.

This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclosure for more info

Austin L Church portrait photo.

About the Author,
Austin L. Church

Austin L. Church is a writer, brand consultant, and freelance coach. He started freelancing in 2009 after finishing his M.A. in Literature and getting laid off from a marketing agency. Freelancing led to mobile apps (Bright Newt), a tech startup (Closeup.fm), a children's book (Grabbling), and a branding studio (Balernum). Austin loves teaching freelancers and consultants how to stack up specific advantages for more income, free time, and fun. He and his wife live with their three children in Knoxville, Tennessee.


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