12 Reasons You Should NEVER Start A Virtual Assistant Business
Sep 09, 2018
Yes, I’m a positive and optimistic person, but I’ve learnt over the years in business that it also pays to be a realist.
While building a virtual assistant company has been one of the most rewarding things I've ever done, I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t also extremely challenging, time-consuming, scary, and sometimes, just downright rough.
In an effort to share the light AND the dark with you all; to deliver helpful and utterly transparent content so you feel informed to make your own decisions, here are 12 reasons you may NEVER want to start your own VA business.
1. CLIENTS SUCK
I’m sorry to say this, but many clients suck (big time!)
Some clients are demanding, unreasonable, and frankly, downright rude. Often, they're under pressure, crap at managing people and just all-around terrible with communication.
You can find yourself handling a hot mess or an unreasonable twat. Use your best judgement to decide if you want to deal with them.
Full disclosure: I've fired clients, AND they've fired me.
Sometimes the writing is on the wall, and you have to nip it in the bud politely before things get out of hand.
The best advice I can give to help prevent sucky clients is to communicate well. Lay things out step by step, item by item and leave no room for miscommunication.
Put all the essential details in writing (paper trail people!) and always agree on the fees upfront!
2. CLIENTS DON'T PAY YOUR INVOICES
As a VA, the service you provide is tailored and personal, which might make you think your client wouldn't dare refuse to pay... Surely?! You’re in their blimmin’ inbox; you’re working so closely with them that you know what they had for breakfast!
NOPE, you're not immune to late and non-paying clients.
A ‘GOOD’ client once owed me $15k. It was a real eye-opener and a swift lesson in taking action quickly and not letting debt accumulate.
How do you avoid this potential pitfall?
Be brave and get tough with clients on paying. You will need to take control and be clear about the payment terms (including having interest charges for late paying).
Always make it a rule that you get terms signed before you start work, and create a robust follow-up system for managing your debtors.
Money is simply part of business. Never let money become an awkward or unspoken topic.
3. YOUR TEAM WILL LET YOU DOWN
It’s exciting when your team of virtual assistants grows! You finally have people working for you; they're doing client tasks, and you get to make a profit from their efforts.
Fantastic; now you're really in business!
But… no matter how good they are at their job, or how robust your recruitment process is, we're all human, and everyone makes mistakes.
No matter how well you plan and how many times you tell them how things are done, there will be many, many times that team members let you down.
I’ve dealt with everything. From contractors that:
- don't show up (on time or at all);
- get ‘sick’ or go on holiday at the worst possible time;
- don't communicate well;
- moan and complain;
- are unreasonable in their requests;
- are unreliable;
- bend the truth or blatantly lie;
- do a terrible job, or make a huge mistake that costs a client.
As much as you want to be able to throw your hands in the air and say: “It was someone else!” You can’t. At the end of the day, YOU are responsible. Yep, it's all on you.
The best way to prevent issues with your contractors is through proper training and clear communication. Always over-communicate and never assume anything.
Don't shy away from the hard conversations with your team, whether they are contractors or employees it's all the same.
4. EVERYONE WANTS SOMETHING FOR NOTHING
With the recent influx of virtual assistants to the industry, and the rates that people can hire a VA offshore in countries with much lower wages, or with sites like Fiverr, the market just got a whole lot more competitive.
Everyone is looking for (and expects) a deal. This might seem like an impossible one to work through, but don’t worry!
There is a way to charge reasonable rates and still win clients. It’s all in how well you communicate and position yourself.
Practice that virtual assistant elevator pitch and get good at explaining your value proposition.
What are the unique benefits you offer your clients that the cheaper competitors can’t match? Think proactiveness, experience, efficiency, trust, local knowledge, local voice.
If you can’t get this part down, you can rest assured that cheap will win.
5. CLIENTS HAVE UNREALISTIC EXPECTATIONS OF HOW LONG SOMETHING WILL TAKE
Client Example A: “What? That took you 30 mins? Are you kidding me? I could have done that in 15 mins!”
Client Example B: “This will only take a few minutes, right?”
Ah, we’ve heard them all! What clients DON’T realise is that a job includes everything from A to Z.
That means: Opening up your web browser, logging in, fixing their spreadsheet because the address lines aren't in separate fields, resetting formulas that are being misused, clarifying instructions that are missing important details, realising the password they gave you doesn't work, calling someone that hasn't answered the last three times... The list goes on.
Bottom line? Things always take longer than you (and they) think!
Again the way to combat this, yep, you guessed it, communication! Spell out the steps that you'll need to take to do the task well.
'Well' is the important word here.
Anyone can do a task but not everyone can do it well.
By briefly explaining what you'll do, it'll not only showcase your knowledge and experience, but also paint the picture for the client as to just what will be involved.
6. YOU'LL MAKE MISTAKES
You’re not exempt from this one! Just like your team members, you too will make mistakes. And unfortunately, they can really cost you.
Why should a client pay for a mistake you made? (That's what they'll say and they're probably right). So you don't charge them for THAT time, but you spent the time so now it's lost $$$ for you.
On the flip side - If you decide to charge them for your mistake, they might decide to leave and not continue working with you. So you’ll end up losing out even more.
Maybe not a big deal if it was just a couple of hours of your time, but what if the mistake causes your client to lose thousands of dollars? What then?
Unfortunately, there isn’t an easy way around these sticky situations, and this is one of the big issues you'll need to deal with as a virtual assistant business owner.
Again, it is all about communication and NEVER assuming.
These type of awful scenarios need to be assessed on a case-by-case basis and handled very carefully.
Do your best to avoid this scenario by always getting client approval/final checks (and, if possible, in writing) before something goes live.
Take a little extra time to make sure it's right, even if it means asking someone else for advice before you do something if you're not quite sure.
And definitely having someone else proofread work that you have produced. Even if you are a good proofreader, as it is much harder to pick up mistakes in your own writing.
Another good tip is to make sure to know your stuff when it comes to a particular service you're offering.
If you're not 100% knowledgeable and trained on Xero, for example, it may be best you don’t provide that as a virtual assistant service to your clients until you are fully prepared and comfortable troubleshooting a host of potential problems.
You also never want to be in a situation where you have given a client bad advice, so make sure you really know your stuff before agreeing to a task - or at least know how to learn it and fast!
7. YOU HAVE TO BECOME A SALESPERSON
Not all of us are natural salespeople. Many of us cringe at the thought of having to sell something.
But guess what?
As a virtual assistant, you will have to be a salesperson whether you like it or not.
What will you be selling?
Everything! Your business, your services, your pricing plans, your team, and yourself.
There's just no way around it if you're going to own and run a thriving VA business. Check out my killer sales meeting process here.
8. THE BUCK STOPS WITH YOU
Don’t like responsibility? Well, maybe being a virtual assistant isn’t a good career option, because as the business owner you are ultimately responsible for everything that happens in your business.
Are you ready for that?
Ask yourself honestly if you have the strength, drive, confidence, and moral support to deal with the good, the bad, and the ugly that will come your way once those business doors swing open.
9. YOU'LL BECOME IT TECH SUPPORT
I hope you’re tech-savvy my VA friend, because like it or not you'll have to become your client’s IT support.
Not to freak you out, but do you know how many different operating systems, versions, brands, tools and apps there are?! (The answer is: A LOT!)
If you can't get your client set up so you can access their stuff remotely, you won't last long.
Your client will be looking to you as the expert on how to do this whole ‘delegating to a remote worker thing’ so you'd better know your stuff or you’ll risk looking incompetent and possibly losing the client altogether.
Get clued up on Office 365, G Suite and the Mac environment as quickly as possible and the best place to start is YouTube.
10. YOU'LL HAVE TO NETWORK
Networking events can be scary! Especially the ones where you have to stand up in front of a room and introduce yourself to everyone.
Networking is vital to a new VA business so if you’re not the most outgoing person, or suffer from social anxiety, you might find this very challenging. Check out my previous blog post about getting through your first networking event here.
I did my first five years as a VA business owner going to every networking event I could find. It took up a lot of time (all unbillable), but it paid off in the end.
Just posting on your little 'ole Facebook page isn't going to get you clients!
To get clients, you need to get in front of people. You need to meet, greet and build relationships in the real world to create networks that pay off long-term.
In my business, I now have a Sales Manager who networks every single week to keep our business at the front of people's minds. But I had to put in the hard yards first.
How do I know it works? Because we consistently get new enquiries coming in every day telling us!
Keep in mind it's a long-term strategy so don't feel defeated if you don't gain clients from these events in the first few months. I promise you it'll be worth it in the long-run.
11. YOU'LL PRETTY MUCH HAVE TO ALWAYS BE AVAILABLE
Being a virtual assistant can quickly become a 24/7 gig if you let it, and trust me when I say that you won't even realise how it happened until it's way too late.
It’s so easy to think that when you start your own VA business, you just choose the hours you want to work, and then you’re left with all this flexibility and time to spend with family and friends (because you’re the boss!)
But then… your client calls you at 5:30pm apologising for calling after hours, but there's something urgent they need.
Of course, you say “it's fine, no worries, I'll get it done”. They're your lovely client and you like making them happy.
A few weeks later the call is at 8:00pm and can't wait. The next one is at 7.30am when you're wrangling your kids for school.
Then the client calls you on the weekend because they had someone tell them a link in their sales funnel isn't working and they need it fixed, or they can't make any sales!
Before long you're fielding calls and working crazy hours. So much for choosing when you work!
How do you get around this one? Your clients need you, and you need your clients so what are you to do now?
Boundaries and compromises need to become your new favourite words.
Are you a VA company that can offer 24/7 flexibility and availability?
If yes, great! Make arrangements to have back up contractors on standby that your calls divert through to after hours or be willing to make yourself always available.
If not, no problem! Just ensure you communicate your contactable hours to your clients so they can leave you a message, and they know you'll get back to them in the morning.
Be firm and set your boundaries.
If it means you have a work phone and a private phone, and you then leave the work phone away after hours, (or turn it off) so be it.
You decide how it's going to be, communicate it to your clients and be ok that not all clients will be happy with it but know that most will accept that's how it's going to be.
You're in complete control of what you allow and what you don't allow.
12. CONTRACTORS, STAFF AND CLIENTS WILL STEAL FROM YOU
Contractors and staff work for you to serve your clients, but you can’t stop your clients from building a relationship with them, or them building relationships with your clients. (Although they will refer to YOUR client as 'their' client)
With this arrangement, it's inevitable that somewhere along your VA journey, you'll feel cheated, betrayed, and damn right upset. It's the harsh reality of being in a service-based business with team members delivering that service.
I've been in this situation MANY times over. And it's tough. Really tough. You think they won't do it to you - but they will.
A client will ask a contractor if they want to work directly for them to bypass the added costs to them, and your contractor will likely say yes. The extra money will be irresistible, and the contractor will feel entitled to take it.
Sometimes you'll have contractors that are more focused on their wants and needs, rather than doing with what's right. Never forget that the clients are yours, the business's clients - NOT your contractors' or employees' clients.
YOU spent time, money and effort marketing, selling, securing and onboarding them. They are YOUR clients, so make sure you have clauses in your Contractor/Employment Agreements and your Terms of Engagement that prevent (or at least deter) both clients and contractors from cutting you out of your own business.
Gah! I know that’s such a sordid list of awful things, but it pays to go into creating your virtual assistant business with your eyes wide open.
If you’re going to spend a lot of time, money and energy on getting a VA business off the ground, you need to know about some of the not so nice things that might catch you off guard.
At the very least, I hope this list has made you think about some of the ways you might prioritise establishing processes and boundaries that ensure both you and your business are protected.
I'm now in a place where I love my virtual assistant business and my incredible team, and that isn't by accident. After the many lessons, I learned how to design and deliberately create it this way!
Enjoy your journey and learn from my mistakes.
Have you downloaded the FREE 7 Step Guide To Setting Up A Virtual Assistant Business? Click here to access.
As the founder of New Zealand's leading virtual assistant company, I know a thing or two about how to run an efficient and high performing business. As a creator at heart, I love sharing my knowledge with others and helping budding virtual assistant bring to life their dreams.
Brought up on a dairy farm and attending boarding school from a young age, I am fiercely independent and a confident risk taker.
My number one piece of advice to those getting started on their journey is to consistently take imperfect action and do the hard stuff - the stuff that makes you step outside your comfort zone because that is when your business starts to fly!