The beauty of having a virtual assistant is that you can get off your plate those tasks that you don’t want or don’t have time to do. There is an art to delegating. It’s not a complicated art, like jazz improvisation, but it does have this in common with jazz: It requires communication.

To get the most out of your virtual assistant, it helps to have a plan as to how you’re going to communicate your needs, the extent to which you will manage the virtual assistant, and how you’re going to shape the relationship so that it keeps improving. Here are four easy steps to make sure that you are effectively delegating tasks to your virtual assistant.

1. Set expectations and communicate them: There’s an overarching reason that you got a virtual assistant, your time is valuable and you need assistance in your personal and/or professional life. Perhaps you are looking to virtualize business tasks such as getting bookkeeping off your plate, to manage your social media accounts, or to help plan an event. There are also specific goals that you want your virtual assistant to accomplish: pay all outstanding invoices in 30 days, create content to post to social media accounts daily, compile information about event venues in the Santa Cruz Mountains that have availability next June.

Letting your virtual assistant know both your overarching and specific goals is important. When you tell your virtual assistant the reason they were hired, you’re giving them generally applicable guidance on what is important to you. If the reason that you got a virtual assistant was to get bookkeeping off your plate, that sets the expectation that you want your virtual assistant to be functioning with a high degree of autonomy. If you got a virtual assistant to do the legwork on planning your event, that suggests a more collaborative relationship.

Once your virtual assistant knows why she was hired, tell them what smaller goals they need to achieve to reach your overarching goal. If the goal is taking over bookkeeping, what does your virtual assistant need to do to reach that goal? Does she need to pay invoices, or does she also need to run payroll? For payroll, does she need to set up profiles for new employees? For accounts payable, will you be providing the invoices or do you want your virtual assistant to set up electronic payments to simplify the entire process?

When you first meet with your virtual assistant, come into the meeting having thought about your goals and communicate them to her. As you discuss goals, you may find yourself refining them based on her input.

2. Come up with a plan: Now that you have your goals, you’ll need to figure out how your virtual assistant should implement them. Some of this process may be simple. You may simply need to tell your virtual assistant how you have done things and have her repeat what you have done. However, you may also need to devise new processes to get your goals done. If you want your virtual assistant to manage your social media accounts, you’ll likely want to preview what she posts. What source material should the virtual assistant be mining in order to draft the post? In what format should your virtual assistant present you with draft posts?

Work with your virtual assistant to figure out how she will accomplish your goals. Your virtual assistant likely has the experience she can bring to bear about the best way to delegate these tasks to her. You’ll also want to get in the habit of collaborating with your virtual assistant so that she knows your preferences and can begin to anticipate how you’ll want things done.

Be prepared to give more guidance up front. Developing a working relationship takes time. Your virtual assistant will likely want clarification regarding your established practices. Unforeseen issues will arise with respect to new processes. If you thoughtfully address these issues up front, there will be less need for you to provide guidance later and your virtual assistant will be able to assist you with greater autonomy.

3. Provide feedback: The amount of feedback that you will need to give your virtual assistant will vary based on the project. Short and simple projects may not require any feedback. But if you have a more complicated project, it is likely that there will be an ongoing need to communicate about it. As with any process, you will discover that there are improvements that can be made to it. Your goals may change over time, requiring alterations to how your virtual assistant carries out the project.

Communication between you and your virtual assistant need not be continuous, but it should be periodic. Set a regular time, either by phone or email, to communicate about outstanding projects. Use that time to evaluate whether your goals are being met and whether the processes that your virtual assistant undertakes to perform the project can be further optimized. By setting aside this time, you also provide an open channel of communication, encourage your virtual assistant to suggest their own improvements to how they complete your projects and facilitate collaboration.

4. Ratchet up expectations: You deserve more than the same old, same old from your virtual assistant. As you seek to improve processes, raise the benchmarks that you initially set when you communicated your goals to your virtual assistant. As your virtual assistant gets more familiar with your business, expect them to work with greater autonomy. For example, if your virtual assistant has been responsible for social media posting and you have been supplying the subject matter, it may make sense for your virtual assistant to come up with the subject matter of posts as they become more familiar with your business. Alternatively, expand the scope of the task. If your virtual assistant did a great job finding event venues, have her get started on finding a caterer, DJ, and invitations.

In the end, you and your virtual assistant are a team. The better the team you build, the better it will function and the more it can do.