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There’s A Snake In My Boots! Cowboy Virtual Assistants – Why Clients Are Becoming Cautious About Hiring

Michelle Dale - Wednesday, July 13, 2011
Recently I was being interviewed by someone, and we were discussing the VA industry, and I was asked an interesting question along the lines of, “Are there any significant problems clients could potentially face when hiring a VA?” I answered in a general sense but it brought to mind 3 stories in particular which have come up over the years, which has prompted this post.

So, moving on, certainly if you’re a Brit, you would of heard the term “Cowboy” traders, mostly associated with builders and plumbers, or other tradesmen, those who take the money and don’t deliver or do a shoddy job then disappear, and basically leave the customer worse off than when they started. While this is an extreme example of a “cowboy” business owner, could we possibly associate the term with some of the less fine upstanding VA’s in the online world? I like the word cowboy, and thought it was kind of fitting for this.

I have been around in this industry a fair while, and I have heard of several stories from clients and virtual assistants, and also had a few experiences myself, which will really make you think about the type of VA you choose to work with. Here are three brief stories which have stuck with me, and will clearly make you see why some potential clients are sceptical about taking the plunge and working with a VA.

A Story About Honesty

A good VA will always be honest and straightforward with you. For example, when my online business was much smaller, I occasionally used to get asked, “Is it really you doing all this work?” — at the time it was and I could say yes, but when I started subcontracting and developing a team, I simply couldn’t lie… There is just no way I could tell the client, “Yeah sure, it’s all me.” — when it wasn’t, so I started explaining that I had help. Now, I will often introduce the client to the VA’s who will help me provide the service to the client, especially if they are a primary point of contact or project manager.

There was an instance with one of my clients, where he had hired a VA and specifically needed her to do the work due to the very high level of confidentiality he required in his business, he had her sign an NDA and it stated clearly she must be the one doing the work, amongst various other things, it was essential. She began starting to do the work herself but certain things started to not add up or make sense, she was later suspected of subcontracting it out and passing it off as her own, without discussing it with the client, not fully realising the legal implications of this on the client’s business.

A Story About Ability

If you ask your virtual assistant if they are familiar themselves with a certain task, or have a certain skill, and they don’t, it’s possible they may still tell you they do, then frantically try and find a subcontractor to deliver the service. This of course is fine, but they should be telling you up front that they don’t have any experience in that particular work, however they have several connections and would be happy to explore the possibility of providing the service, providing of course it’s viable for them to do that.

I personally hired a VA years ago to help me with an assignment for my own business, I couldn’t understand why I could never get a direct, straight answer from them about the project, and I later discovered he had subcontracted it out to someone in India on oDesk, and didn’t really have a clue himself about the job, and had to refer all my questions on before he could give me an answer. I wouldn’t have minded so much had he just been honest and upfront with me about what he was doing.

A Story About Pricing

Pricing is always an issue for VA’s, how should we structure our pricing, what should we charge, should we be competitive, should we be up-front etc… Whatever you decide to do — you need to make sure of one thing, and that is the client knows how much your work is going to cost them, and that they don’t get any nasty surprises. Unless of course they have given you an open tab to do whatever you want, but those instances are rare.

I once had a potential client on a consultation tell me she had a quote from a contractor for designing and building a website. Accepting the quote and thinking it was a fixed price she went ahead. At the end of the project an invoice came through for an additional £1200 on top of what she had already paid and agreed to – she had no knowledge this additional invoice was coming, and she had not been made aware there would be additional charges. When she questioned the contractor, they simply said they did things for her outside of their original offer, but never bothered to tell her there would be additional fees, to what she thought all along was a set cost project. If there will be any additional spending on a project, over and above the original agreement, the VA should always approve this budget in advance.

It’s things like lack of honesty, and lack of communication that let the side down for those virtual assistants who are truly legitimate upstanding members of the industry. Clients will experience the types of things mentioned above and tell others, and it’s very disheartening that those experiences could put some people off from utilising the services of virtual assistants altogether.

It’s important if you are a client to do your due diligence when hiring a Virtual Assistant, recommendations from trusted sources or referrals are a great place to start if you’re feeling nervous about your first hire.

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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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