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How To Overcome A Virtual Assistants WORST Nightmare – The Mary Celeste Effect

Michelle Dale - Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Being virtual doesn’t mean to say that we are not human, in fact that’s far from it, most VA’s will pursue this line of work because of family, the need to work from home or the desire to travel… Yet with this career choice, whilst it is very flexible and location independent, it’s still a huge responsibility. When a client comes on board with your company, they are putting their trust in you, and you have to reciprocate with reliability, professionalism and competence.

But what if something happens, and the difficulties of the real world come knocking at your door, it could happen to anyone, sickness, a death in the family, team members disappearing, divorce, depression, or some other external influence that we have no control over personally. The fact of the matter is, you can’t call into the office and ask for sick leave, or back up, and nor would you want to have your client question your integrity or the reliability of the service they are hiring from you.

You need an emergency button, a plan B, whatever you call it, you should think about what you are going to do now, rather than (if and when) the time comes.

So what should you do? Let’s go through some scenarios…

Scenario 1: The Worst Case

The worst case scenario is that this has already happened, you have already let the client down, dropped off the face of the earth, leaving the client wondering… Now, if this was a family member or friend, they might be concerned and worried, wondering if you are alive or dead even, but remember, this is a client, and all the client is thinking is about their own problems, and what the repercussions of your absence is going to mean to them.

First off, if you are bouncing back from a rough patch, and you want to get back in the game, I would send out a courtesy email, and then see if they respond, you may or may not win them over again, but if you don’t, move on and learn from your mistake.

Scenario 2: The Solo Mio Solution

If you are a solo VA and you need to take a leave of absence, you can prepare in advance.

1: Contact other VA’s who charge similar rates to you and offer similar services, explain that you are a solo VA and during sickness/holidays you are not able to service clients – say that you are willing to strike up an agreement on offering their services on a temp basis to the client until you are back to work.

2: Craft an agreement that they sign to say that they are not permitted to nab the client in your absence, and as soon as you are back, so is the client – you will also need them to sign an NDA agreement.

3: Create a secure intranet online, or a “Manual” on how you deal with your clients and what you do for them (you should always document your procedures whether you are solo or not), this is so the other VA can easily pick up where you left off. You will of course need to help them where you can.

4: Set up an autoresponder from your email account, and send an email to all of your clients – explain that you have had to leave the office unexpectedly, apologise sincerely for any inconvenience this may cause, and offer a due date to return (be generous and say that you may be back sooner) – then add below a list of “Partners” or “Colleagues” who have agreed to assist them in your absence – the client can choose a VA from the list of profiles, and contact you to say that they would like to try them out, you can then put them in touch (or if you feel okay with it they can contact the VA directly – I would advise you don’t eliminate yourself entirely from this process though).

5: You then need to supply their chosen VA with the client manual and make sure that the VA can contact you via some method while you are away in-case they have any questions.

It doesn’t eliminate you entirely, but not having to deal with clients is a bonus when you are sick. Let’s face facts, you also risk losing the client to the other VA – but then you have a much higher risk of losing the client if you just disappear off the grid for a week or two…

Scenario 3: The Trusty Sidekick

You already have a team you can depend on, but you are still the bottleneck of your business.

You are one of the lucky ones, and right now you should be thinking of who in your team can be your co-pilot, your second in command — Batman had Robin, you need to promote a member of your team to Robin status. Somebody you trust to have all the access to your administration, email accounts and other sensitive information. You also need that person to have the authority to make decisions and you need to ensure that you have documented everything that you do within a team intranet, so when that person calls you for advice and guidance, you can direct them to the instructions for process that only you have ever done… Make sure that your clients realise that you are unavailable due to unforeseen circumstances, but your trusty sidekick is stepping in to tend to their requirements.

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Hi I'm Michelle, an entrepreneur specialising in virtual assistance, a digital and real world nomad, and a down-to-earth mother of three.

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