VA and Client: Crafting the Relationship

One of the most heroic skills that virtual assistants take on is the skill of managing clients over distance, often never coming face-to-face. Creating a satisfactory work and communications flow via email, phone, and messaging with a complete stranger is no easy matter.

Assignments that VAs take on vary from very short term to ongoing over years. For short term work, perhaps you don’t seek much more than basic cordiality in the relationship; while over the long haul, a certain mutual respect must be maintained.

Often, both VA and client will find comfortable matches and they don’t need to obsess at all since the situation is naturally sustainable. When the rare mismatch comes along, a professional knows how to bow out early enough to avoid awkwardness.

However, the VA/client relationship may seem perfectly fine, at first, and then degenerate. On the other hand, the relationship can sometimes seem shaky in the beginning, but then solidify over time. So now and then it’s hard to know what’s really going on in the beginning of your association.

Since the alliance is long-distance and usually between strangers, it’s a gamble that virtual assistants and those who work with them must learn how to handle. The risk is worth it, for the savings and expertise afforded by the VA industry. But those who enter such a relationship unaware of the ways it’s different from working in-person may well be in for some surprises.

Consider some of the specifics that make a big difference in a virtual partnership.

What’s the assumed level of expertise? An online relationship can be deceptive; how do you know for sure what you’re dealing with? You don’t. But it may help to look for expert standards in communications, writing, speaking, problem solving, technical savvy, or whatever other specialties and nuances of character suit your purposes. Know what skills and competencies, values and habits you require and ask for them outright. If you prefer to work with people who start their day early, or like sports, or drive Cadillacs, find them. If you make it clear from the start what outcomes will/will not be acceptable, you increase your chances of finding a great match in a shorter time.

What’s the assumed level of ownership? Do you need a VA to carry out all the details preparing for an event you plan to hold? Or do you need one to concentrate on the marketing for it? Or are you looking for someone to plan and execute the event from start to finish? Whatever it is, both parties should be very clear about the scope of their responsibilities.

What exact tools will be used to deliver and communicate? If you express yourself more comfortably when speaking than when writing, find a relationship that can be maintained over the phone or Skype.

What transfer software will be needed for the delivery of documents and other work?

What kinds of reports will be required?

What exactly will be the expected routine regarding communications? “Emailing a lot” could be defined as once a day or once an hour, so you need to be unusually precise with this. No one wants to waste time worrying about why someone is not responding to them. Better to make an agreement and stick to it. Both parties will need to be willing to negotiate. If you want weekly emails and the other wants daily phone calls, an acceptable compromise could be tricky.

Whatever solution you hammer out, be faithful to it for the duration of your relationship. I know this is a lot to ask. But whatever schedule you set, whatever expectation you agree is reasonable, will be your norm. Some are fine with responding regularly within the hour; others prefer to get around to it within a day or so. It doesn’t matter what you agree to, as long as you state your intentions clearly and get agreement from the other that this standard will work for them.

As a corollary, be sure to let the other know whenever your routine has to be interrupted. By formalizing communications in the suggested way, even a small breach can be wrongly interpreted, causing distress. When you work virtually, this kind of close accountability makes a big difference.

Who else is involved in the project? Maybe this ought to go without saying, but there’s a boatload of misunderstanding out there. If, as a VA, you intend to assign the work to a sub-contractor, be up front about it from the start. If, as a client business, you are working with a team on this project, or if your decisions are subject to someone else’s veto, you also must speak transparently about it. It’s simply dishonest to imply otherwise, and wastes everyone’s time.

In addition to the above, it’s assumed that you have a written contract, with details about payments and the parameters of your work. Those who proceed to work without contracts quickly learn the hard way that a written agreement can avoid many misunderstandings.

These are the fundamentals: you may already be thinking of more ways you can ensure from the start that your virtual relationships will be successful.