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March 12, 2014 » 10:33 pm

Outsourcing Tasks with Fancy Hands

I’ve been using a virtual assistant service called Fancy Hands for eight months now, and it’s been a tremendous productivity tool.

I had been following the tool for many months before I finally pulled the trigger. I really missed having an assistant when I left Groupaya. We had considered trying a virtual assistant, but our ops director convinced us that it wasn’t cost efficient. She was right. We needed a lot of hours and a lot of in-person support because of the nature of our work, so we were better off finding someone local and developing a strong relationship with that person. We did, and it worked out beautifully.

Because my experience with a local assistant had been so positive, I was loathe to go the virtual route. Still, I wanted to cover my bases, so I examined my options. Fancy Hands had not been around when we were looking for a Groupaya assistant, and it seemed almost too good to be true. Most of what I needed was scheduling, and its cheapest plan was $25/month and included unlimited scheduling. At that price, it made sense just to try it.

My concerns were:

  • Scheduling is a big part of my administrative work, and I have strong preferences around scheduling. Furthermore, because my work is so relational, it’s critical that whoever is representing me acts with a certain level of decorum. Would a virtual service where I wasn’t guaranteed a single person address these concerns?
  • What would I use my five virtual tasks a month for? This wasn’t a huge concern, because if the scheduling worked out, that alone would have been worth more than $25/month. Still, I didn’t want those requests to go to waste either

My experience with scheduling is that it isn’t as good as having a real assistant, but it’s well worth the price. Fancy Hands lets you note some guidelines for scheduling, but my notes are extensive, and the virtual assistants don’t seem to refer to them. I also have to be more specific in my requests than I did with my Groupaya assistant, who understood my various quirks and preferences, and who also could interpret my calendar more accurately. They have to follow up with me for clarification or confirmation far more than my real assistant did, and I occasionally have to have them reschedule.

That said, they are prompt, reliable, and professional, and they save me a ton of time with scheduling alone. They apparently can do group scheduling as well, but I haven’t tried that yet.

As I said before, the scheduling alone makes it worth it for me, but I’ve found the additional tasks extremely valuable. It takes a while to get into the mindset of coming up with tasks for them, but once you get started, it becomes a natural.

My biggest use case beyond scheduling has been for research. I’ve had them research restaurants, hiking spots, dry cleaning, etc. Because I’m anal, I often have fairly intricate requests and constraints, but they do them without complaint, and they save me a ton of time that way.

For example, I recently decided to upgrade my MacBook Pro’s hard disk and RAM. I didn’t want to pay the enormous Apple Store premium, so I asked Fancy Hands to find me the highest rated Apple service centers in San Francisco, then to call the top five and get price quotes for some very specific requests. They pulled together the research, along with links to the reviews so I could audit their work.

They’re particularly useful in a crunch. A few months ago, I was in Seattle for a meeting, and I realized I had forgotten my laptop’s power cord. Again, one of the annoying thing about Apple products is that not everyone carries them, and so finding a replacement power cord was going to be a challenge. I had Fancy Hands call my hotel to see if they had a spare cord (they didn’t), then locate the closest Apple stores to my hotel, call them to see if they had the cord in stock and to get price quotes and hours, put a cord in stock, and email me the address and directions. I made my request, ran to a meeting, and by the time I was back, all the information was waiting for me, ready for me to take action.

You can make requests via email, phone, or their mobile apps, and I’ve found all of these venues useful. I’ve also found their slew of assistants consistently reliable, friendly, and professional. Their dashboard also has a cool feature where they show you how much time they’ve saved you.

They recently added a few new features that have made me an even bigger fan. First, your unused tasks now roll over month-to-month. Second, you can gift your requests to friends.

At some point in the future, if things get busy enough, I may once again want to go the real assistant route, but for the foreseeable future, I can’t imagine life without Fancy Hands. I am loathe to admit it in public, but I would easily pay double for the service and it would still be well worth it.

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11 Responses to “Outsourcing Tasks with Fancy Hands”

  1. Thanks for the review. I'm curious about the "task in a crunch" example. When you made the request, is there some mechanism for them to confirm that they will be able to get you information by a certain time? If so, what does that look like? If not, doesn't it make you nervous worrying about whether you will get the information you need, and whether you should be pursuing other options?

  2. Thanks Eugene! I guess I'm also still suspicious of the scheduling, particularly your note about them not referring to your detailed requests! My scheduling feels so personal and relational. But as you said, at $25, seems worth a try! My biggest problem right now is deciding which task to outsource? Banking, tech, travel… so many research chores!

  3. So you've really explored the TaskRabbit space now! I still love that phrase. Thanks for the review; I know someone who could really use this.

  4. HA! What a good read, I was quite happy fancy hands wasn't better than your previous assistant. ;)

  5. This is very helpful guidance, Eugene and I’m eager to try them out. As you and I have discussed, scheduling is a massive time sink. I pretty picky too and will try to be less anal about requests and requirements (a good exercise is prioritizing the most important criteria!). I like that they do group scheduling too. Really essential for me.

  6. In the task, you note that it's time-sensitive and state the deadline. They usually respond quickly to confirm that they're on it.

  7. I was referring to my general notes about scheduling, not my specific requests. They're generally pretty good about meeting the latter.

    I felt stuck at first as well, but once I let go of trying to come up with the perfect, prioritized task, it started making sense pretty quickly. Now I just make the requests as they come to me, and it works out pretty well.

  8. I don't about really, but I continue to experiment for sure. Hope this helps your friend!

  9. I definitely miss my old assistant, but I'm just going to have to settle for hiring her for associate, design and facilitation, and leadership development work. ;-)

  10. I just signed up! I'm excited — I've wanted a service like this for a long time. Thanks… especially for the 50% off. Happiness here.

  11. Excellent! Let me know how it goes, good or bad.

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