Having talked with thousands of clients over the years, I have a pretty good grasp of what leads to successful relationships between clients and VAs, and what leads to lousy endings.
While there are times that VAs have made mistakes, the responsibility for significantly more than half of the failed relationships I’ve been privy to falls squarely in the laps of the clients. The most frequent causes for failures? Moving too quickly, poor communication and disappearances, and erroneous beliefs and unrealistic expectations.
Let’s look at those one at a time—both what goes wrong, and how to do it better:
Moving too quickly
Choosing a VA is a process. It deserves time, energy, and mindfulness. And yet, most prospective clients are surprised to find that many of our VAs want to talk more than once. Often they push back, thinking it’s unnecessary, and that everything should be able to be discussed in under 30 minutes.
I can’t disagree more. Your VA is someone that you’re going to let into your business at deep levels. Fit needs to be there, in spades. And you can’t discover all you need to discover to make a truly smart, well-informed decision in a short conversation.
There’s a saying: “Fail to plan; plan to fail.” It’s pretty accurate here, too, except that it’s more like, “Move in too fast; move out too fast.”
When sufficient time isn’t spent on the front end of the relationship, the ending is generally going to be reached in fairly short order.
How to fix it: Go into the search process with ample time. Think of each VA you talk with as someone you’re dating, in a business context. You wouldn’t look for a life partner flippantly or without thought or time invested, so don’t do that here, either. Talk. Explore. Laugh. Shoot the breeze (if you can’t laugh together and shoot the breeze easily that doesn’t bode well for a long-term, ease-filled work relationship—I promise you that). Discuss things that matter—your business, for one, how it runs, what makes you crazy, what your goals are, what you’d love to get off your plate. But also discuss what you love about your life, your values, your cultural norms, what might be deal-breakers for you.
Poor communication and disappearances
Your VA cannot do her work in a vacuum. She needs access to you. And delayed access means your work may not get done when you need to have it done. So not prioritizing communicating with your VA is a huge mistake. When you disrespect her time, she has a hard time respecting your money (because, in part, chasing you is billable time).
A story… years ago, one of our VAs was working with a client who wouldn’t answer her email for days. She’d call him and leave messages that he didn’t return. His work wasn’t getting done in a way that made her happy, and she was frustrated by his lack of engagement. When she finally got him on the phone, she said, “Look, for this to work I need to be able to reach you and get your input, and here’s how it has to go. From now on, first comes God, then comes your mother, then comes me. If you can’t prioritize me in the top three of your life, this is not going to work.”
He laughed, got it, shifted how he was thinking about it, and they got busy working on things, together.
How to fix it: Think of your VA as your second skin, or second brain. You want her so close that she grows to understand you and your business from that near perspective. Let her ask as many questions as she needs to and answer them no matter how many times she needs to ask to get it; what you do that’s like second nature to you isn’t to her. And make her so important to you that when you see email from her, or there’s voicemail, you actively want to get back to her just as quickly as you can; maybe quicker. Respect her time so she can respect your money.
Erroneous beliefs and unrealistic expectations
Boy, if I had a buck for each of these I’ve heard over the years, I’d nearly be able to afford that cabin on the World Ship I’ve been dreaming about.
Here are some examples of classic erroneous beliefs and unrealistic expectations:
- You believe that “VA” is a catch phrase for anything that can be done virtually (erroneous belief)
- You misrepresent the work or the outcome you want and expect something other than you asked for (unrealistic expectation)
- You believe your VA should be able to do it all—and flawlessly (erroneous belief and unrealistic expectation)
- You believe that VAs are low-level workers who should be happy to yell “How high” when you yell “Jump” (erroneous belief and unrealistic expectation)
- You think it’s appropriate to tell them what to do rather than asking if they can get it done for you (erroneous belief)
- You think you shouldn’t have to pay more than $20-$30/hour (erroneous belief)
- You think they should bid for your business (unrealistic expectation)
- You believe your VA should do X because you have a mastermind group pal whose VA does X (unrealistic expectation)
- You think your VA should be happy to listen to your ideas for how she should run her business because, in truth, you don’t like her standards (erroneous belief)
- You think your VA is just sitting at home waiting for you, has unlimited time to offer you, or should give you a price break if you give her additional hours (when she’s not Costco) (unrealistic expectations)
If any of these, or anything like them are true for you…guess what? You have erroneous beliefs and/or unrealistic expectations, neither of which will help you see success in your relationship with a VA.
Here’s the thing… most people have them. And while I hope you feel at least a bit sheepish if you see yourself in those examples somewhere, here’s some good news: it’s not a terminal condition…you can fix it.
How to fix it: Think about yourself for a second. I’m betting you’d be more than annoyed if people tried to treat you and your business in any of those ways. So why would you do it to your VA?
It probably beats you the way that it beats me. I’ve pondered this for years, and I think it’s because of the way admins have been treated since time began in the corporate world. For some reason, people struggle to see them as more than another piece of office equipment. Even today. But I have zero scientific or social data that tells me I’m right on that.
What I do have is the experience of coaching lots of people to do it differently and seeing their relationships blossom as a result of the change, and I know you can make that happen for yourself, too.
What to do now?
It all starts with seeing your VA as a professional; a colleague in a different profession from you. The next step? Gratitude. Gratitude for all the work, for the commitment, for the caring. And gratitude for the time she’s sold you—time that’s doubled, because not only do you have it free to spend on whatever you want to do, but you also have it to spend on the work she’ll do for you. That’s huge. And while not 100% about her, it’s a part of the overall mix.
When you get the gratitude and equality pieces, and unless you’re an utter asshole who treats everyone else as less than yourself, your behavior will shift immediately.
Who you are, separately and together, and how you behave toward one another spells your success. When you feel yourself struggling, or feeling even a touch resentful, look at how you’re being in the relationship, at least before you either point a finger at your VA or write off working together. Even where she has some culpability in the matter, you’ll need to own some of it, too.
And if you feel like you wish you could get some help with this stuff, know that one of my favorite things to do is exactly that—through my Wise Help sessions. Don’t struggle. And don’t be a crappy client because you don’t know how to be a terrific one. I can help. Reach out, won’t you?