Today I’d like to talk about a scenario that may occur when a client is under the impression that they have hired you as an employee and so therefore you are their dedicated assistant.
A Virtual Assistant is an independent business owner, not an employee. A Virtual Assistant is actually a partner to multiple business owners, supplying professional services on an as-needed basis, similar to other partners in business e.g. accountants, bookkeepers, business coaches or consultants. It’s very important for both the Virtual Assistant and the client to understand this concept!
Once you have established yourself as a VA, you’ll have more than one client, and each client will take up varying hours per week. If one or more of your clients believes that you are available to help them at any time with very little notice, you’ll inevitably encounter some problems juggling your time … not to mention alot of stress. You want to avoid the situation where a client thinks you are their employee, that you’re available at the drop of a hat and doesn’t want to ‘share’ you with other clients.
I have been a Virtual Assistant since 2002 and strangely enough, only came across this situation last year! Up until then, all my clients had completely understood the concept that I am an independent contractor with various commitments. They were happy, because the end results were consistently good and deadlines were met. They also understood that they were going to save a lot of money because I wasn’t their employee and they were only paying for the time spent ‘on task’, rather than having to pay a full-time salary or other benefits such as sick pay, holiday pay etc.
Last year, I started working with a new client who initially seemed to understand the concept and had in fact worked with a Virtual Assistant before. When discussing my availability to do some work, I had explained a few times that I had more than one client but could definitely fit in time to help on particular days if I was given some leadtime to schedule it into the week. She seemed fine with that and we started working together.
It was great, the work was interesting and we got on very well. However, pretty soon, she started to expect that I would be available every day, for most of the day! Now, don’t get me wrong, it was great to be entrusted with this much work on an ongoing basis. However, it wasn’t the model I had intended for my business. I already had a number of ongoing clients who needed various levels of support, and I did not want to be dependent on a single source of income.
Needless to say, I wasn’t able to provide full-time support, especially if lots of work was emailed to me in the morning with the expectation that it would be completed that same day! I wondered whether I had not properly explained that I had a number of clients and therefore needed some notice if there was going to be a lot of urgent work.
Of course, if you’re running a Virtual Assistant business where you have a number of subcontractors, you could outsource some of your work and juggle things that way. At the time, I was outsourcing some of my work but for personal reasons I had decided not to subcontract this particular client’s work.
After speaking to her at some length to explain things again, she decided that she would like to keep working with me on an ongoing basis, but just get me to help with some higher level work rather than everyday stuff.
I got the sense that she ideally preferred to have someone who didn’t have other client commitments. It turns out that her previous Assistant was more like a dedicated virtual employee with no other clients (or a minimal number of clients). She ended up finding someone who was able to commit to the level she needed, and everyone was happy in the end. I’m still helping her with more adhoc work on an ongoing basis and I’m glad that things got ironed out very quickly.
This isn’t a topic that I have seen discussed that often, so I thought I would write about it and share my experiences. Have any of you come across a similar situation? Please add your thoughts, questions and comments below!