Putting the Art in Diskarte
Anyone can be a virtual assistant.
It’s a very low-threshold field to enter. All you need is a laptop, an internet connection, and the ability to (a) follow a list of step-by-step instructions, and/or (b) do something that people are too annoyed to do, don’t have time to do, or don’t want to figure out.
For example: Go to the online business side of Instagram and take a shot every time someone mentions that their inbox is in disarray and they’re super behind on emails. Then call me when the hangover’s gone so I can tell you that people will very much pay you so that they never have to log in to Gmail again.
Anyone can be a virtual assistant!
Which means —
Anyone can be a virtual assistant.
Anyone is replaceable.
There might be anyone willing to do the job for $10/hour cheaper.
Anyone is one of the 5,239,481,039 Upwork profiles vying for the same job or the 9,382,737,913 infuriatingly identical “PM me!” responses on a Facebook post asking for VAs.
So now what?
The job description for a regular virtual assistant is generally, “Here are the instructions. Now go do the task.”
But a task isn’t just a task.
Behind the scenes, the client would have probably first had to
Look at the big picture of their business
Set business goals
Figure out what needs to be done to reach those goals
Break that down into smaller to-dos
Figure out which tasks to assign to the VA
Translate their brain, break down the task into steps, and brief the VA with clear and detailed instructions
Learn to let go of their absolute need for control and allow other people to work on their business hehe
And then, while the va is working, the client may have to
Troubleshoot when the VA gets stuck, or they run into issues, or something doesn’t go as planned
Revise their instructions if the VA just isn’t getting it or they realize they forgot to explain a crucial step
And after the task has been completed, the client would then have to
Check if the task was done properly
Ask for edits and revisions
Edit the edits and revisions
Or end up just doing the edits and revisions themselves
Revise the task if the big picture, situation, or plans change
Double check to make sure the finished product is aligned with the big picture
Figure out what needs to be done next in the grand scheme of things
Even if your hands are doing the work, their brain is still doing a lot of gymnastics.
An ordinary VA would just do what they’re told and leave it at that. Anybody can do what they’re told and then leave it.
What if you could lighten all that mental load for your clients, too? If your target is an online business owner who, in their exact words, is:
“an overwhelmed entrepreneur who needs a lot of things fixed but can’t afford to (emotionally, time-ly, or wallet-ly) hire five different people and help them all communicate with each other”
then there is a market for VAs who are, again, in their exact words:
“problem solvers that can think for their clients.”
Diskarte, pronounced dis-kar-te, is the Filipino concept of creative problem solving (Morales, 2017). It can be loosely translated as a person’s own strategy or approach (Yacat, 2005) for “finding a way,” many times resourcefully and unconventionally.
Think: street smarts, but applicable to more than just the streets. 😄
It’s also used in the context of, “diskarte mo na ‘yan” or, roughly, “I’ll leave it to you to do whatever as long as the thing is accomplished idc.”
Diskarte is the difference between doing what you’re told and making sure the job gets done.
When I first ever dipped my toe into VA-ing, I didn’t know what I was getting into. I didn’t know anything about the industry.
Contrary to, lol, me, I didn’t research virtual assistanceship. I didn’t enroll in a “how to be a VA” course. I didn’t even go down the rabbit hole of stalking VAs’ blogs to see what it was like. I made the decision to be a virtual assistant in five minutes and started booking clients with the faith I was going to figure things out as I went.
I had no notion of what a VA was supposed to be like. I just came in thinking:
“My client is having a hard time and they brought me on because they don’t want to have a hard time anymore.”
(A) I was surprised when my clients were surprised whenever I’d make the effort to do something, even if I wasn’t asked. I … thought it was a given?
It was a few days to go before the launch of my client’s summit. My client was still recording his sessions, when he sent out a quick Slack message that the speaker he was on a call with at the moment was changing the title of her talk, could I please update the social media graphics to reflect the new title.
So I did. And while I was at it, I updated the website, the downloadable summit calendar, and the speaker’s handouts because well, duh? they were going to have to be updated anyway? I didn’t need him to ask me to do them, because I already knew he was going to.
Then I got another Slack message from my client. The speaker freaked out because she had just told him about the title change. How was everything already updated, they were still on the phone!
Later, my PayPal dinged.
You have received $ from CLIENT.
One of my proudest moments was accepting a Dyakelin into a client’s exclusive Facebook groups for paid students. I couldn’t find her in our records, so I was about to decline her request when I did a double take.
Wait a minute . . . .
Dyakelin LastName wasn’t in our student list, but Jacqueline LastName was. Found you!
(b) I was surprised that it turns out, this wasn’t the case for everyone.
There are some amazing VAs I’ve worked with or had the pleasure to meet. But there are also stories like these:
One of my clients complimented me on my email. Not just the document I submitted, but how I sent it over to her. She thanked me profusely because so many other people she’d worked with wouldn’t have thought to link the Google Doc they were referring to in the body of the email the way I did, and she’d usually end up needing to hunt for it.
A VA I worked with put her task on standby because our client linked them to the wrong document. Which was true, it was the wrong link. But you can do a search on Google Drive though??? I found the right doc in two seconds??? She gave you the title!!!
“Sorry, I didn’t send the email. I can’t find Susan’s email address.”
“Did you try searching under ‘Sue’?”
“Oh, there.” sadlkfasldkd
I’ve received recommendations and referrals not necessarily for my designs or tech — but more so for the way I think and the way I work.
Mandi Ellefson, in her podcast Hands-Off CEO, says:
“The mindset, the raw talent, the soft skills — those are the things that are the most important. The actual hard skills … all that can be trained, and someone who’s sharp can pick it up really quickly.”
So while many VA application forms ask for the software you know how to handle, I’m lucky to have clients who didn’t care what platforms I did or didn’t know how to use, because they trusted that I could figure it out.
So when one of them needed landing pages done, and she didn’t ask, “Do you know how to use LeadPages?” as a pre-requisite (phew, because I didn’t), she instead asked, “Can you learn how to do this for me?”
I said yes, of course!, even if I’d never touched the platform before, and, well, now … do you need landing pages done? 😄
The hard skills are easy to come by. You can learn them on the job.
But the soft skills — which are anything but soft — those are what make a difference.
A ma-diskarte VA is not your ordinary VA
IS Being stubborn enough to insist on a solution and having the persistence, insistence, and resilience to keep going until you figure things out.
Sees problems AS opportunities to get creative. Maybe your solutions are weird. Maybe that’s totally okay. There’s no one way to solve a problem. Or rather, diskarte says: look at all. these. ways. to solve the problem!
Views Constraints are just puzzles to solve. My brain always “sees” constraints as venn diagrammatic. I picture each constraint as a circle (budget? features? time? schedule?), and my mission is to find the solution sitting in the intersection!
Here are some (real) examples of it at play.
There are many ways diskarte can manifest in the way you work, but one of my favorite situations is when people
offer solutions instead of problems.
You will come across bumps in the road, guaranteed. Tech won’t work. Things won’t go as planned. You won’t have enough info to go on.
But instead of reporting, “Hey Client, the tech won’t work, things aren’t going as planned, and I don’t have enough info to go on,” brainstorm a little something. A bit of troubleshooting goes a long way.
Maybe they’ll use your suggestions. Maybe they won’t. But the important thing here is that you saved them the trouble of having to think and problem-solve from scratch.
So when you come across a hiccup, ask:
I were my client, what would I do to fix this anyway?
Task: Hey Mikli, can you edit XYZ form on TYPEFORM* and cut out the unnecessary parts?
Problem: "Hey Client, if I cut out parts of this form, you'll lose your existing data...
Solution: … but I can make a duplicate of it instead, and edit that! What do you think?"
* Referral link!
Task: Hey Mikli, here's an image of Influencer. Can you make this picture a circle?
Problem: "Hey Client, this picture is too low-res, and will look really pixellated on the site...
Solution: ... but I found this other picture of her that will work great, so I made a version using this, too, as an option!"
Task: Hey Mikli, can you schedule an appointment with Bigshot on my calendar for 11am on Friday?
Problem: "Hey Client, it turns out you have a flight leaving at 11:30 on Friday...
Solution: ... so I haven't set the appointment yet. I wanted to check with you first. I've reached out to Bigshot's assistant to ask if they have other open times available, and they can do X, Y, or Z, just in case you'd prefer to reschedule."
Task: Hey Mikli, can you install this widget on my site? Instructions should be on this page.
Problem: "Hey Client, I can't find anything in the instructions about the widget and I can't seem to figure this out...
Solution: ... so I've contacted their support team for help. Just waiting to hear back from them!"
Task: Hey Mikli, I need you to go into my CRM attach this PDF to the proposal I'm sending. Then make sure it gets sent in an hour. I'm going to bed, thanks!
Problem: "Hey Client, turns out, I'm not allowed to attach PDFs to emails from this CRM (and you're asleep so holy crap I can't ask you anything sadkfasl ?!!???) ...
Solution: ... so I've uploaded it onto Google Drive instead and inserted the link in the email so they can access and download it."
BUT. AND THERE ARE TWO BUTS.
1. Don't jump the gun. Clear everything with your client.
Notice I say offer solutions. There's efficient, and there's too efficient. You'll want to offer solutions and clear them with your client, not go ahead and implement a game plan change without their knowledge.
(Maybe later, when you guys have some sort of synergy going on and you can read each other's minds or they say it's totally fine to do your thing but even then........ 'til you're sure, and to be safe, clear everything first!)
2. Know when to ask for help.
You'll have to read the situation here, but if you've brainstormed some solutions and hit a wall, or are spending way too much time on the problem — ask for help. Let your client know that you tried, what you tried, and that you're stuck.
^ That last bit is important. That info gives your client a jumpstart on brainstorming on their end. Even if you eventually had to defer to them, your efforts were not in vain: they no longer have to think from scratch, even if they have to think from scratch!
So. “Tamang diskarte lang.”
I promised I’d explain. “Tamang ________ lang" is the Filipino for “just the right ______.” Now, saying “just the right diskarte” hurts my lil Filipina sensibilities because … well, because it sounds weird translated 😄
But in essence:
“tamang diskarte lang”
= the diskarte sweet spot
And when you find that sweet spot? 👇🏼
And you won’t be just anyone.
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