10 Tips for Working with Virtual Assistants by Sandra Beck/ Motherhood Incorporated

by Sandra Beck/

At we hear this all the time.   I have been through 5 virtual assistants this year alone!  I found a great virtual, but then he or she disappeared.  I paid my virtual and now I can’t find him or her.

These are all too common stories in the virtual assistant industry – and virtuals – like employees are both responsible and irresponsible.  So how do you find the good ones?

One route is to go to a company like who pre-screens virtuals before passing them on to you.  Yes, you will pay a little bit more per virtual job for someone else to administer the job, but in the end you get what you need done.

If you are choosing to hire a virtual on your own, here are a few tips that can help make the working relationship smoother and more effective for both of you.  I am sure virtuals will get up in arms about what I am writing, and maybe so will the clients reading this – but this is what I hear – the good, the bad and the ugly.

And, you may think that I spend way too much time keeping my virtuals happy, but they come to work for me and stay for years.  Can you say the same about your virtual assistants?

1. Pay Virtuals Fairly — and give them a bonus for a job well done or done before deadline.  You many think that you are getting a great deal by underpaying a virtual for a job you know on the public market pays twice what you are paying them, but the message it sends to the virtual is that you are cheap and all you care about is the bottom line – and what they do – a good job, a mediocre job or a barely passable job is all the same to you. You are what we call Bottom Line Joes.  Most virtuals leave clients because they are underpaid and the virtual is not dumb. They might take the job out of desperation one month, but they high tail it out of there for cheap employers.

2. Communicate Clearly What You Want Done:  You need to be very specific in what you want a virtual assistant to do for you. They are not in your office. They do not know your day to day operations.  They do not read minds.  And, if you yell at them for not understanding what you did not explain clearly in the first place, then they won’t want to work for you.  If you are impatient and don’t want to take the time to clearly explain what you want, don’t expect great results.  You are what we call the Impatient Joes.  Many virtuals leave Impatient Joe’s because it is just not worth the time because Impatient Joe’s usually dispute the bill in the end anyway. 

3. Pay a Deposit to show Good Faith.  Most virtuals tell me they hate real estate agents because they don’t pay or they wait to pay a virtual when something closes.  Knowing this, pay a small deposit upfront to show good faith and cultivate trust at the beginning of the working relationship.  Most virtuals come to me because they know I will pay them EVEN if the client does not pay me.   Virtuals get $100 or $200 and can’t wait two months for a close that supports you for 3 months.

4. Find Out WHY Your Virtual works Virtually – I found in forming my business that the only real group of people I could count on to get the job done were moms who NEED money.  Free lancers, people who have a full time job and only work side jobs – they can blow you off because they have money coming in from other sources.  When a mom comes to me and says her husband hurt his back and they can’t make their mortgage on his disability and she can’t afford childcare to go to work – it tells me that she HAS to work and I have a very good chance of getting the work done early because she needs money NOW!

5. Develop a Relationship with Your Virtual – take the time to get to know them as a person. You wouldn’t expect to garner a client for life without getting to know them – so why would you expect a virtual to hang around because you dangle the occasional $100 bill.   People in relationships have a less chance of blowing each other off, not paying or treating unfairly the other – if there is a quasi-friendship/relationship there.  At we know our moms have kids, dogs, husbands and families. We get to know them and as such they are PEOPLE not just someone at the end of an email doing something you don’t want to do.

6. Create Reasonable Timelines: when you give a virtual a job to do, make sure that your timeline is reasonable for the work to be done.  Give yourself a buffer between the end time of the job and the window for late virtual work.  If you need something by next Friday, ask for it next Monday – if the virtual hits it or earlier great! If they are late or flake, you have time to get someone else to do the job.

7. Shower a Great Virtual with Love, Praise and Bonuses – like anyone, virtuals stay where they are appreciated, paid well and respected.  I am often criticized by other professionals for “spoiling my virtuals” but when I was an office manager I was criticized for “spoiling my assistants.”  The end result is I have not had to “hire” someone in decades – people come to me on a regular basis wanting to be part of my personal admin team or my company

8. Don’t Be a Jerk – I can’t believe I have to say this, but again, my virtual moms come to me again and again with horror stories about people who call them at home at 6 in the morning because THE CLIENT had a thought – or at dinner time because THE CLIENT can’t wait until normal business hours.  Just because a virtual works at home, like our mom’s, doesn’t mean they are available 24-7.  And if you want to have your virtual disappear like a puff of smoke, call them names, berate them, insult them and take out your bad day on them.  Treat the virtual the same as you would a client – because in a good business – you need both the client and the support staff.

9. Pay as You Go – if you have a large or ongoing or complicated project to do, it might be better to split up the work between virtuals and create like what I have which is my virtual team.  In cases like this that are more than just a one time job, I parcel out payment over time.  When my team hits benchmark 1, I pay 25%…when they hit the midway point, payment #2 goes out at 50%…the remaining 25% goes out on COMPLETION DAY – not after.  My teams know I give a reward for a job done under deadline – makes me look good, we can take on more work and we all win.

10. Pay for All Virtual Time – most virtuals resent training time or “client talk time” that is excessive and not paid for.  You are buying their time – and because you don’t pay payroll taxes, the virtual provides most if not all of their own supplies and equipment – and you are usually paying lower than employee labor – you need to compensate them for the time you use to talk or email – especially if you are a talker or major emailer. For this reason, we often charge a client a setup fee because it takes them so long to get to the point.  

It’s all a trade off, if you want to have the luxury of having people waiting for work at your fingertips – when, where and how much you want it – and not pay benefits, payroll taxes, sick days and vacation time, then something has to come from your end.  As JW Marriot coined – take care of your employees (virtual) and they will take care of your business.

 It may seem that they hold all the cards, and in essence they kind of do – if you don’t want or can’t afford a full time employee then you have to take care of them.  Good virtuals are in demand – and they can always walk away and find more work quickly and often for more money – and believe me they do.

So take this advice in the spirit it is given and from someone who manages 87 virtuals on a daily basis – take good care of them and you won’t be sorry…