HELP! I have a new client I am trying to sign who I think is about to ask me to pose as an employee. Their first project requires us to meet with one of their clients in person tomorrow. I received an email saying they wanted to set me up with an email under their domain and wanted to talk before tomorrow’s meeting. I know my gut says this probably isn’t the best for my company, but I really can’t tap into why exactly. In other words, it seems wrong, but I don’t know what to say when they call as to why. On their end I know that they deal with sensitive data from their client so they probably want to present a united front and not make it seem like this client’s data is in the hands of a third party, but it is. Thoughts? —Anonymous by request.
First off, I want to to validate your feelings. Anything that a client requests that does not sit well with you is nothing to second-guess yourself about. It doesn’t matter if they don’t like it or if anyone else disagrees. If something in your gut is saying, “no, this doesn’t feel right” then it’s not right for you.
What you are feeling that you can’t quite put your finger on is the fact that, whether they realize it or not, a) this client is basically asking you to be is a liar and b) asking something that’s inappropriate of an independent professional (which deep down makes you feel disrespected as a business owner).
They need some additional conversation and education about the fact that you are not a substitute employee.
The best policy is to be firm, clear and upfront.
You might say something like, “Oh, I see there is some misunderstanding about how we work together. Since I am an independent company from yours (rather than an employee), I use my own email address when I deal with people on behalf of my clients.”
If they need further clarification, explain the fact that when people work with vendors and independent professionals, those are companies that are independent of theirs. As such, and for their own protection, there cannot be any appearance that those vendors and independant professionals with whom they work are employees.
Likewise, along with the privilege of being a business owner, you also have a responsibility to operate ethically and legally according to those business protocols and guidelines that are laid out for us under the law.
Hopefully, that will be sufficient, but if they press you a bit further, you could have them consider this: Would they be asking their attorney or their accountant or their whatever to use an email address through their domain?
Of course not! It would be a highly unusual and inappropriate request. I don’t think it would ever cross their mind to ask.
Well, as an independent professional, you are no different. So why do they think it’s okay to ask you to do that? If they want an employee, that’s who they need to hire.
This is not a common dilemma for Administrative Consultants, but it is for those who are still calling themselves virtual assistants.
People equate the word “assistant” one way—employee. And the virtual assistant industry has miseducated the public to view VAs as under-the-table substitute employees.
This is why what you call yourself is an important part of setting the right understandings, expectations, perceptions and context.
Moving forward, this could be a good time to review your website, marketing message and other client-educating materials (e.g., Client Guide).
Make sure prospects and clients are getting thoroughly and properly educated so there are no misconceptions or confusion about the nature of the relationship.
In your consultations, have a frank discussion about the relationship and how it will be different from working with an employee.
And of course, never refer to yourself as an assistant. When you are a business owner, you are not anyone’s assistant. You are an independent expert who specializes in administrative support.
Here are a couple other posts that may be helpful to you on this topic as well:
Of note from the US Tax Aid article:
You may have an employee if you:
Provide training — If you provide training to your workers, this is a good indication that they are really employees.
Pay them for their time – An independent contractor simply does work in his or her own way. There is little need for meetings, especially team-building ones, except for progress reports.
Instruct on minutiae – Don’t tell your IC how to do his job. I know you spent a lot of time developing your step-by-step procedures, but requiring your IC to follow them means you have an employee, not an IC.
Require certain hours –You cannot require that an IC be “open” or “available” during any specific hours that they are not paying you. The IC should have her own system in place to track time if she’s charging hourly instead of by package.
Furnish software or supplies –Do not provide any software, supplies, cell phones, or even a special email address in which to conduct business or the IRS could decide that you have an employee. It is tempting and I have done it myself, but I am second thinking this due to this rule.
Assign a title – Don’t list your ICs on your website, office door, or anywhere that indicates they are part of your business.