Carla King interviews Katie Santoro on how to find and work with a virtual or author assistant.

Nonfiction Authors Association Podcast | March 8, 2023

“The outcome is so important. When we do our onboarding calls, that’s one of the things we ask is–what is the purpose of this? What are your goals? What are your missions and your values? Bringing your VA into that level of the culture of your organization–or of your project–allows them to think a couple steps ahead and really see why they’re doing it.”
-Katie Santoro

Katie Santoro - How to find and work with a virtual or author assistant

About Katie Santoro

I founded River City Virtual Assistants in 2020 at the beginning of the global pandemic and at the end of a very long period of burnout. I had been considering virtual assisting for years but wasn’t brave enough to do it until burnout pushed me down a new path. I combine years of experience in the legal and insurance industry with the experience gained running my first business venture, a yoga studio, to assist clients in a wide array of industries with everything from basic admin tasks, to marketing and website building.

My vision to grow RCVA happened faster than expected but I have been so fortunate to grow my team with others like myself who want true balance between household responsibilities and career aspirations. Working virtually allows the team at RCVA to take care of house and home, while keeping our skills relevant and contributing financially to our families.

RCVA is dedicated to providing intelligent assistance. Each assistant is college educated and brings experience from diverse career backgrounds. RCVA is also committed to providing meaningful employment at a living wage to individuals within the USA.

Nonfiction Authors Podcast: Katie Santoro

Find the video podcast, show notes, links, quotes, and podcast transcript below.

Listen and subscribe to our podcast wherever you listen to podcasts. Watch the video interview on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, or on our YouTube Channel where you can subscribe to our playlist.

Got feedback on our podcast? Want us to consider a guest or topic? Please let us know on our feedback form here.

Show Notes


In this episode…

  • The definition of a virtual assistant.
  • What a virtual assistant can offer to their clients.
  • How to find, hire, train, delegate, communicate, and problem solve with your virtual assistant.
  • An explanation of the Zapier platform and how it can benefit authors.
  • Helpful questions to ask a virtual assistant during an interview.
  • How to find the right virtual assistant.
  • The importance of a contract between you and a virtual assistant.
  • The importance of clear expectations between you and your virtual assistant.
  • How to onboard a virtual assistant.
  • How to effectively delegate when working with a virtual assistant.
  • How to set your virtual assistant up for success.
  • How to safeguard your accounts when working with a virtual assistant.
  • More information on password managers


Hello and welcome to the interview series for the Nonfiction Authors Association. Today’s session is with Katie Santoro and we will be talking about how to use a virtual or author assistant to avoid burnout and grow your business. I’m Carla King, your host, and I’m happy to have you with us today. This interview will last only 30 minutes and you can find the replay on our Nonfiction Authors Association website and social media platforms including YouTube, and wherever you listen to podcasts.

And now I’d like to introduce our guest.

Katie Santoro is a business burnout survivor on a mission to help others avoid the same by offering virtual assistance to business owners and busy professionals. In 2019, after a long period of corporate burnout, Katie left her job to run her yoga studio. Then, when the pandemic began, she took her studio completely virtual, but began considering a return to corporate life so she could continue to pay rent on her empty studio. Knowing she couldn’t return without risking another burnout, she combined her years of experience in the legal and insurance industry, blended it with her experience running a small business, and began assisting clients as a freelancer. As the company grew, she recruited assistance from her network of friends who had left the workforce, because it was so difficult to find childcare during the pandemic, and River City Virtual Assistants was born.  Now, she and her team of trained virtual assistants assist clients in a wide array of industries with everything from basic administrative tasks to marketing and website building. River City is dedicated to providing reliable, consistent, and intelligent assistance to clients and is committed to providing meaningful, flexible employment to individuals within the USA.

So welcome, again, Katie. And I just want you to know, everybody, that I invited Katie to the podcast after the NFAA hired a part-time assistant, Elisa. I’ll just tell you–she’s so awesome, and so experienced. And we’re so impressed with the level of expertise and efficiency of your business and of Elisa that I wanted to share our experience with our audience.

Katie Santoro  2:50

Thank you for having me.

Carla King  2:51

I’m so glad you’re here. So first of all, let’s define a virtual assistant.

Katie Santoro  2:56

So virtual assistants are always virtual. In today’s world with Zoom and video communication, it just makes it so easy. There’s a couple of different ways that they work. Some of them are freelancers, some of them are agencies like us. So you can either hire someone through the agency or directly as a freelancer. They are completely virtual. I’ve run across a couple who have a physical office. So they bring all of their assistants into a physical office, and they work together, but they do their client work virtually. And then of course, the other option is overseas offices, where they’re in offices overseas, but it’s outsourced to them. So maybe the assistant might not always be virtual with their team, but they’re always virtual to their client.

Carla King  3:40

Let’s just go through everything a VA can do, first of all, and then we’ll go through what you shouldn’t be asking them to do. And then how to find, hire, and train, and delegate, and communicate, and problem solve. But let’s just start with the basics.

Katie Santoro  3:59

Your VA can do a variety of things. Thinking from a basic admin standpoint, one of the things we get asked a lot about is email management and calendar management. So being the gatekeeper through email and calendar. We have assistants to do event planning. And those events don’t necessarily have to be virtual–they can be in person, as long as they can plan them virtually. We do a lot of vacation planning, travel planning. And then note taking and transcription, research, light project management. And then we can help with social media when it comes to your content management–taking your content and spreading it over your different social channels. We can build out email campaigns, we can work on your CRMs, we work on learning management systems to build out courses and programs. And then of course, a little bit of website and blog updates. The next level up a VA–once they have some experience–they can do process formation, operational formation and, help you execute your business development plans.

Carla King  5:07

Yeah, that’s a lot. And I suppose when somebody comes to you, they ask you to find somebody who can do what they want, instead of having to interview themselves, which I know is very difficult to ask–to get the right person.

Katie Santoro  5:23

Yes. And the way that we work–we work as a group. So we work together to train each other. So if there’s something that your assistant maybe doesn’t know how to do, we can always have somebody train them to do it. So that’s a nice thing of working with agencies–usually agencies provide that support and that training behind the scenes to the assistant.

Carla King  5:42

Right. And then we also–at the Nonfiction Authors Association–have a resource list of author assistants, which are author virtual assistants. And we ask them to upload books to IngramSpark and Amazon, do social media. Can you think of anything else? That funnel–that email funnel–is really important, and it’s very confusing for a lot of authors. And they just don’t want to deal with hooking up the API from the email list, to the Book Funnel, to maybe the Payhip or another ecommerce system, right?

Katie Santoro  6:18

Yeah, if you’re using Zapier, creating all those different zaps and making sure everything is running smoothly. Testing it. Takes a lot of brainpower to learn those systems, and to load all the information into them–like to build out your emails, and then to also test them. So your virtual assistant can come in and do that for you so you can use your brainpower on your other things, like writing.

Carla King  6:41

Like writing and business. And I’m glad you mentioned Zapier, because a lot of authors, especially, just don’t even know Zapier exists. Zapier–can you just explain what that is very quickly?

Katie Santoro  6:51

Sure. So they’re zaps–they connect one program to another program. And they can’t connect all programs, so it can’t do whatever you want it to do–they have specific zaps that they set up. So it can do things–like when they make a purchase on Amazon, it can automatically put them into your MailChimp. So things like that. Automatically moving them through the sales process.

Carla King  7:15

Oh, I didn’t know that. That’s great. There’s so much Zapier can do. And it takes a lot of training, and also a lot of patience to get the API’s–which I always compare API’s to your routing and account numbers on your bank. So you have to go get that to pay your bill. And then you have to connect it to a few other things. And then you can automatically deliver your book ARCs. And having help with that–it does free you up a lot to do your business and your writing.

Katie Santoro  7:53

Absolutely, yeah.

Carla King  7:55

So we’ll talk about delegating that in a minute. But I know people are wanting to know–how do you find the right VA and hire them and train them? That’s a big question. So take it one step at a time, please.

Katie Santoro  8:10

Absolutely. So there’s different ways. You could go through an agency. And there’s a lot of agencies–you can Google ‘VA agency.’ I think you have to decide first if you want your VA to be US based or overseas, and just be cognizant of that. Some agencies are US based, but then they outsource overseas, which is great. A lot of times, that’s a great way to find a really technical VA–someone who can really dive into your Zapier, or your CRM management. So there’s agencies, and then there’s freelancers. So you can find freelancers through organizations like yours. I know that you guys have a list of freelancers. You can find them on Upwork, you can find them on Fiverr. And I’ve seen people just kind of reach out on LinkedIn and say, ‘Who are you using?,’ and getting recommendations that way.

Carla King  9:01  

Yeah, that’s a good way. Recommendations are the best for sure. And then hiring them. Some people get paid by PayPal, I know you do billing. What are the various ways? And maybe–what should you watch out for if you’re hiring somebody on your own, and you don’t really know what you’re doing yet?

Katie Santoro  9:24

I think the most important thing–especially if you’re going with a freelancer–is–is there a contract in place? And what does that contract look like? That’s going to not only protect you, but also give you guidelines of what to expect from them. So how they bill, how often they bill. And then do they have things in their contract? Or do you have a contract where you can require a response within a certain amount of time? Or is there a guarantee on the work, or something along those lines? So going with a freelancer, you want to make sure that you have those boundaries in place to protect both of you, really.

Carla King  10:02

Contracts are awesome. The more detailed, the better. I mean, not that it has to be 10 pages, but I find there may be two or three pages, right?

Katie Santoro  10:10

Yeah. And also, beyond the contract, having that conversation when you onboard them–what you expect, the hours that you expect, the style of communication that you expect–those things. I think open communication in your onboarding and beyond is the most important part of that relationship.

Carla King  10:29

Yeah, and I want to get into that at the end, because I have some insights from working with Elisa. And it’s kind of amazing to have a good virtual assistant, and the communication. But let’s continue talking about onboarding. So onboarding–how do you train them? Because a lot of times, we don’t know what we don’t know. Like, we say we need a funnel, but we don’t know that we need Payhip, and Book Funnel, and Zapier, and MailerLite, or Constant Contact, or whatever. So how do you train somebody when you don’t even know what they’re supposed to do?

Katie Santoro  11:07

A good virtual assistant is going to know those things. And that’s something that you discover in the interviewing process. So asking them, ‘What is your experience? Have you done similar roles to this? What CRMs have you worked on? What is your technology background? What programs are you familiar with?; And then, in the onboarding process and beyond, you really want a VA that’s going to be able to partner with you, and come to you with new ideas and thoughts. So I think even a good question in the interview process is, ‘What are your resources? Are you taking courses online? Do you have an organization that you’re part of, where you could ask questions to other people?’ You want someone who’s out talking to other VA’s, and getting ideas, and learning all of the different programs–there are so many programs. There’s so much noise right now.

Carla King  11:58

So I just want to relay, too–it just occurred to me. One writer came to me a few weeks ago, and she said, ‘I hired this VA, and she seemed really good.’ And this is actually going to number five–communication and problem solving. Turned out, she hired her, but she didn’t give her the result of what she wanted. She said, ‘I want you to help me with my social media.’ And she didn’t know anything about Canva either. And she didn’t say, ‘I just want you to replace all my social media headers with a new one.’ She said, ‘I just want you to handle my social media.’ And then she didn’t get the results that she wanted. So she didn’t know how to train her. So I guess we’ll just jump to communication and problem solving. And then, I kind of coached her through–she should be talking about the outcome, and not the process. And I hope that she’s resolved that with the current VA, because I don’t think that was the VA’s fault, because she didn’t have a goal, right?

Katie Santoro  13:10

Right. The outcome is so important. When we do our onboarding calls, that’s one of the things we ask–what is the purpose of this? What are your goals? What are your missions and your values? Bringing your VA into that level of the culture of your organization, or of your project, allows them to think a couple steps ahead, and really see why they’re doing it. Getting bogged down in tasks is one thing, but you want your VA to partner with you with ideas. And they can’t do that unless they know the full goal and projected outcome.

Carla King  13:45

Like–what are the results I want? I want a beautiful new header that’s the same across all my social media sites. That’s all you should actually say. And then you should leave the details to them, right? I mean, maybe they need to set up branding and Canva with your colors, and all of that. I know I worked with Elisa to set up that branding section of Canva, so that all of our social media would have the right fonts, and the right colors, and the same design elements. And that took a while to get to, just for me.

Katie Santoro  14:17

Yeah. I mean, I think of all of it as relationship building, right? You want to spend time with your assistant to get to know them, and them to get to know you and your organization. And from there, it’s getting to know you and getting to know your brand. They’re more able to go in and brand your things properly.

Carla King  14:35

Exactly. And she often just comes up with designs on her own and says, ‘Okay, we needed this. Is this good?’ And we’re like, ‘Yes, thank you very much for not bothering us with the details of that.’ So we’ve effectively delegated a lot to our assistants in social media and website development. And we’re still learning. So I could use your tips on how to effectively delegate for the best ROI on our time together, so we’re not wasting time and processes that we don’t need to.

Katie Santoro  15:09

Absolutely. So, the best way to delegate is to make a list. I always say, do a brain dump session, right? And it’s great to do a brain dump session with your assistant saying, ‘These are all the things that I have going on right now. And what can you take off my plate?’ Chances are, they’re going to jump in and be like, ‘Oh, I can do this, I can do that. I can’t do this. But I can learn this for you.’ I feel like most virtual assistants are pretty curious. And they want to learn new things. They want to learn new skills. So giving them that, ‘These are all the millions of things I need done,’ is going to give them a point to start from, unless you know what they can and can’t do. Like we said, providing context.

Every time you’re delegating, you want to provide context on what they’re doing, why they’re doing it, and the final goal. I love to set priority levels, I use a P1-P3. P1 being do it today, P3 being do it this week. So giving the priority levels is a great way. It cuts back on some of the back and forth communication, it cuts back on a lot of frustration, honestly.

Setting your VA up for success–so when you’re delegating to them, making sure that they’re in your systems, they have access to your CRM, they’re in the email that they need to, they have access to your branding board on Canva, they have access to your project management system–anything they need access to, make sure they’re in, and make sure that they’re in fully. So if there’s a two step authentication, make sure that you’re doing that over the phone so that you can get that authentication. And then it’s communicating, which we’ll talk about a little bit further. And then debriefing. So when you guys have meetings or get to the end of a project, you want to debrief that project and say, ‘These are the things that went well, these are the things that didn’t go well. And this is how we solve that in the future and make them go more smoothly next time.’

Carla King  17:00

Oh, I haven’t done that. I need to do that. Wow, okay. I know I do it with other projects, but I haven’t done that with assistants yet. So thank you for that. And then just a note about security–so assistants have access to our Stripe, and our PayPal, and our bank account sometimes, and all of our social media accounts. I know there is a level of trust that you need, but you also need to build in safeguards. And I’ve used LastPass in the past. And there’s all kinds of Password Manager systems. What do you have to say about trust and verification and sharing?

Katie Santoro  17:49

We love LastPass. It’s great. It works really, really well. When it comes to if you’re giving them credit card information, you’d want to use a credit card–don’t use your debit card. It’s easier if there’s a problem there–to cut that off. When you are giving them access to anything on the admin side–like your CRM or anything–look at those different levels of settings. There’s always just an admin, and you can control what they can and can’t access. Same with your QuickBooks–if you have them helping with invoicing, you can set what they can and can’t see.

So knowing those settings, and setting them appropriately is a really great way. And then talking to them about what their security measures are. For instance, we use two factor authentication in our Google Drive. It’s just a requirement. And you can always–if you really want to be extra comfortable and do all the due diligence–you can ask for a background check. They’re relatively cheap to run–about $30 a check. And if you’re giving them a lot of financial information, I think it’s worth the peace of mind.

Carla King  18:51

I did not know that. Where do you get a background check? Do you just Google  ‘background check?’

Katie Santoro  18:55

Yeah, I’ll send you a link. I don’t know it off the top of my head.

Carla King  19:02

Great. We’ll just put that link–just for the record–in the show notes, so everybody has access to it for the episode page. And I just wanted to back up a little bit and talk about LastPass, and password managers, and what they do. Could you provide that information for us?

Katie Santoro  19:16

So LastPass is a program–it’s usually a paid program, when you get to, I think, a certain amount of passwords. And you have all your passwords in it. And then you give access to your assistant. You can give them access to which ones you want–you don’t have to give them access to all of them. But it’s kind of like if you use Password Manager on Google–it just auto populates those passwords for you. So they get that auto population for the websites that you’ve granted them the auto population for. So it’s a password sharing program.

Carla King  19:47

Yes. And when I use somebody from Fiverr, for instance–which they might have a thousand 1 star reviews, but really, I have no way of tracking them. And they’re living in another country, and I could never track them down if they were a bad actor. I just press the button that says, ‘Give them access, but don’t let them see the password.’ So you can let them see the password or not see the password. I also, by the way, have my parents on LastPass. And we share. And it’s just a lifesaver, because I know I’ll always have their credit card information and their medical information if anything happens. So it just helps me breathe a sigh of relief in every aspect of my life.

Katie Santoro  20:34

That’s a great idea, Carla. It’s a great idea to keep track of parents.

Carla King  20:39

Keeping track of parents, yes. And then, Elisa came to us, and she knew Trello–I wanted to go back to skill sets–and she knew Trello but not Asana. And Asana is much more complicated than Trello. What would you call Trello and Asana? Project management software. And it took her, like, 10 minutes to learn it. So it’s just really–I mean, even if VA doesn’t have the specific tools that you need, I think it’s worth mentioning that there’s so many tools. Like, I think she had used Buffer but not HootSuite, right?

Katie Santoro  21:20

They’re all so similar. And I know it sounds flippant to say, ‘Oh, well, they’re all the same.’ They’re pretty similar. If you’ve used Trello, you can figure out Asana. And it’s not necessarily about using the program, in that case. It’s more the analytical skills of setting up the project management properly, you know. And same with all those calendaring things–it’s a calendar and you schedule it. It’s pretty failsafe.

Carla King  21:48

Right? So this is funny, I keep loading stuff on. So I asked her to do social media management and some other things. And these are things that–they would take me a very long time, because I’m just not using them every day. And she comes back the next day, and she says, ‘I’m finished. What else?’ And I’m like, ‘Wait, how could you possibly finish that quickly?’ So I do feel like there’s a really great return on investment for a higher level, more highly paid assistant than is sort of a junior, or somebody who’s just not as experienced. Because they get it done in half the time. It’s really incredible.

Katie Santoro  22:34

Yeah. And there is–at the beginning of any work with a client–it’s going to take them a little bit longer as they get to learn your systems, and your workstyle, and your processes. But you know, I think the first month is a little bit bumpy. And then, I would say probably the first 90 days there is that learning curve, just as to communication styles and culture. But once you get past that, the things that they can take off your plate, and the time that they can free up for you–that’s really where you see your return on investment.

Carla King  23:04

And I’ll also say that I’m constantly asking her, ‘Are you enjoying this part? What is fun for you?’ Right? Because I don’t want to lose her to having her do stuff that she hates to do. And if we can have another VA–maybe a lower paid VA–who’s just an expert in one thing that she can kind of manage, I’m all for that as well.

Katie Santoro  23:31

And that’s great–asking your assistant what they enjoy, and keeping them engaged. Nobody wants to work in a job that they don’t really enjoy. And you see that come through in the work product. So that’s part of the communication–’Do you like it? Do you want to learn something new? Are you bored?’ Learning those things?

Carla King  23:50

Well, we’re almost at the end. But I would love to hear any last tips that you have. And also share your URL, and your social media handles, or places where we can get more information about you. Or just generally hiring VA’s, or advice that you have.

Katie Santoro  24:14

So our website is You can find me on LinkedIn. It’s just Katie Santoro. Feel free to reach out via LinkedIn or there’s a link on our website to schedule a call with me. I’m always happy to talk about what we can do, what we can’t do. Give you any ideas. If we’re not the right fit for you, I can give you some recommendations for better fits for you. And just going into a relationship with a VA having good expectations and good boundaries. Knowing what you need before you go into it. Don’t expect your VA to tell you these are the things you need done. You do want them to strategize with you at a certain level, but when you first get started, know that you need to have a couple of things for them to start with to really get started and get the ball rolling.

Carla King  25:11

Yes, great. So thank you so very, very much for sharing your expertise. I really appreciate what you do, honestly. From the bottom of my heart, I have to say.

Katie Santoro  25:21

Thank you. We love doing what we do. So I’m glad that we can help your organization.

Carla King  33:19

And thank you to our listeners for joining us today and every week. For a list of guests and topics just check our schedule on the site, use your favorite search engine, or better yet, sign up for our mailing list at

Quotes from our guest

‘…Beyond the contract, having that conversation when you onboard them–what you expect, the hours that you expect, the style of communication that you expect–those things. I think open communication in your onboarding and beyond is the most important part of that relationship.’

‘In the onboarding process and beyond, you really want a VA that’s going to be able to partner with you, and come to you with new ideas and thoughts.’ 

‘The outcome is so important. When we do our onboarding calls, that’s one of the things we ask is–what is the purpose of this? What are your goals? What are your missions and your values? Bringing your VA into that level of the culture of your organization–or of your project–allows them to think a couple steps ahead and really see why they’re doing it.’

‘I think the first month is a little bit bumpy. And then, I would say probably the first 90 days there is that learning curve, just as to communication styles and culture. But once you get past that, the things that they can take off your plate, and the time that they can free up for you–that’s really where you see your return on investment.’

We want to hear from you!

Who do you want us to interview? What topics would you like to explore?  Take this short survey to let us know!