I recently ended a working relationship with someone for whom I was performing VA services. While I don’t like to get too personal with this blog and would like it to be an education resource, I felt like this experience has taught me a lot about how to work with people, how to structure contracts, how to provide/outline services, and how to stand up for yourself when it comes to a professional relationship. In a word: how to and how not to be a VA.

Instead of pointing out things that the client did wrong which led to the relationship breaking apart, I’m going to try to focus on things that went wrong that I can learn from and prevent in the future.

How Not to Be a VA: A Case Study

Make Sure the Client Understands the Agreement

No matter what it is you’re doing for the client, make sure everyone involved understands exactly what is expected of them. One of the main reasons my VA/client relationship didn’t work out is because I offered my services as an SEO VA, meaning I performed certain tasks but also meant to provide insight, help, and suggestions. The client ended up refusing the latter, gave me many tasks that a normal, administrative VA could do, and then felt I was charging them too much. In my contract, I should have outlined that better.

Be Crystal Clear in Your Contracts, No Matter How Simple

The contract I wrote up for this client was a retainer contract. This meant that I performed up to a certain amount of hours worth of work and I get paid a flat weekly rate. However, it was incredibly weak. It was one of the first contracts I wrote by myself and I didn’t write in nearly enough to protect myself in worst-case scenarios.

In your contract, make sure you outline and that your client understands:

  • How much work is to be done per week – I had 4 hours max, but the client told me that I had 3 weeks to complete any given task. Because this was not my primary form of income, I wouldn’t rush to complete tasks within the week. Doing it this way would have made things a lot easier on both of us.
  • What kind of work is to be done/assigned – As I said, the work I was being asked to do did not line up exactly with what it was I pitched/offered. As a result, the client began to feel they were paying me too much and they became frustrated.
  • Allow for revisions – I didn’t organize my time well enough. I would forget to leave time for revisions. The client was a very busy individual and sometimes wouldn’t review the work for days. A major problem between us came when I had one week left to complete the work. Unluckily, that week was the week I had no internet access for 3 days and so I didn’t finish until Friday. Come Tuesday, after I was no longer under contract, revisions were being requested. The client was very unhappy.
  • Discuss a timely way send invoices and receive payment – There was a lot of confusion and unhappiness on both ends about payment. I was new to sending invoices and there was very little respect for paying me on time. The client insisted they needed 48 hours to fulfill an invoice, even though they were the invoice would arrive the same time every week. It wasn’t until the very end of the process that I figured out how to send invoices well prior to their due date.
  • Outline what will happen if the client doesn’t hold up their end of the deal – Again, my contract was very, very weak. The most important things missing were just-in-case scenarios. Namely, what would happen upon termination. All I had stated was that I needed 14 days notice and that I would make a reasonable attempt to finish the work in progress. The client told me that they were “thinking about” using a new VA, but when they confirmed, only gave me 5 business days to complete the work. I should have referred to and enforced this. Also “reasonable attempt” is very subjective.
  • How you’re being paid (weekly, hourly, by project, etc.) – The client didn’t at any point seem to understand what a retainer contract meant. They wanted to pay me less because they were giving me less work. I had to explain about 9 times that they are not paying me hourly or by project, but weekly, no matter what. It seemed to be the last straw for them.


Be Organized About How You Use Your Time

One of the things I regret most about this situation was how I didn’t manage my time well. I would have had more of a leg to stand on when termination came into the conversation and I would have avoided revisions being needed after the termination date.

I’m rubbish about tracking my time anyway, in all forms of my work. I know it’s something I really need to work on and it really comes in handy. If I had tracked my time, when the client shared with me that they felt they were paying too much for my services, I could show them exactly how much time I was spending.

If I had managed my time better – for example, decided that Mondays, 12pm – 4pm I would only work on their assignments – I would have had the whole rest of the week for revisions. And that final week would not have seen the majority of the work done late in the week.


Establish Strong Verbal Communication

One of the things throughout this relationship that really hurt it was the fact that this client was always too busy for me. We spoke on the phone a few times near the beginning, but after a while, they only emailed and refused to answer calls.

I totally understand the need to run a business and deal with what’s in front of you. The point of a VA is to get things done without having to spend extra time and effort. However, I think it’s incredibly important, if you have employees of any kind, to make yourself available on the phone. It’s easier to communicate, easier to understand each other, and prevents misunderstandings. It’s hard to communicate tone or emotion in written messages, so I was never sure if they were happy or not unless they used a smiley face.

Especially closer to the end of the relationship, it would have made things a lot easier to jump on a call and hash things out honestly. Moving forward, I will make sure to set times weekly or bi-weekly to talk to clients who hire me for continuous services.

Are you a VA? Do you have any mistakes that you learned from that helped you be a better VA? Leave them in the comments!

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