One of my members wanted to know if there are legitimate companies that help you find clients.
She’d seen many companies that say they employ people to do administrative work, but didn’t know who meant well, who was legit, who wasn’t and so on.
It’s a perfectly good question. I mean, on the surface, who wouldn’t want an easier way to find clients to work with, right?
Unfortunately, as with most things “too good to be true,” it’s not as simple as that.
Here’s the advise I shared with her…
I’ll be honest with you, those sites really ruffle my feathers.
That’s because anyone who works for herself is by definition a business owner. They are not temps or telecommuters (those are people who are employed by others and are paid a wage; companies who employ them must adhere to employment laws, like any other employer).
If an agency “employs” virtual workers, they are a virtual staffing firm, not a VA practice. By coopting our terminology they have created a great deal of confusion in our marketplace to the point that virtual assistance now means anyone doing anything virtually — and that was never what it was meant to stand for. (But it was a poor choice of a term to adopt in the first place for this very reason so it’s no great loss).
The other problem I have with them is that they are very exploitive of the people doing the work.
Many exert a great deal of control over the workers’ schedules and how the work is performed, yet illegally classify them as contractors instead of employees thus cheating them out of rightful employment benefits such as Social Security, Medicare, etc.
They count on these people to be ignorant of the laws that govern these legal distinctions so they can keep getting away with taking advantage of them.
On top of that, they pay very little. No one is going to get rich, much less make any kind of living, working for one of those places.
I have kept tabs on that industry for about five years now, talked to close to 100 people who have worked for virtual staffing agencies and the like, and all of them essentially report the same thing: the work is very sporadic and pays very little (like $10-15/hr on average).
You have to bear in mind that anyone they pay has to be cheaper than what they are charging the client in order to make it profitable for them to outsource the work.
The less they charge the client, the less they are going to pay the worker.
And of course, the less they pay the worker, regardless of what the client pays, the better their profit margin. Their incentive is to pay you as little as possible. They are out to make themselves money, not you.
People who have worked for these kind of agencies also frequently report problems getting paid.
Workers are typically paid after the fact, not upfront. If a client pays the agency late, most of these agencies make the worker wait for payment as well (which is unethical and possibly illegal; these people should be paid on time regardless of when the client pays as they are working for the agency, not the client).
If the client disappears entirely, these workers again will not get paid most of the time because these agencies simply are not big enough to have a margin that will allow them to pay workers regardless of who skips out or not. So those people just worked for free.
I know it can be tough financially in the beginning stages of your practice when you are still trying to find clients and sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do. Just know the facts going in if you consider going down that road.
My advice: Don’t confuse working for other companies with building your own practice as they are two completely separate things.
When you work for someone else, you are building their brand, not yours.
These are not referral companies. They aren’t in business to find you clients. Any clients you work with belong to the agency, not you.
Be conscious about the fact that the time you expend building someone else’s business is time taken away from your own business-building efforts, where you could be working with your own clients, calling your own shots, making far more money and being paid on your terms, not anyone else’s.
Here’s a copy of my reply to the same post on the forum; I really hope my experience can be of help to some of those just starting out:
Danielle already gave you great advice, but I wanted to add a little from my own experience.
When I first started out, I looked into some of those companies and it ended up being a collosal waste of my time, cost me financially, and set me back emotionally when it comes to shedding the employee mind-set and standing on my own two feet as a business owner.
As a VA, you cannot be “employed.” You are by definition an independent business owner. Since you have already had success finding clients on your own by marketing and networking, I highly encourage you to continue on that road and forget all the agencies that “employ” VAs and find them work.
They are chiefly concerned with fattening their own wallets and leaving you with very little, and I can’t imagine any that wouldn’t have you sign a non-compete agreement, so I doubt you could ever get a client of your very own from them (much less one that is willing to pay you what you’re really worth).
Like Danielle said, when you’re first starting out and you need the money you gotta do what you gotta do. But as someone who has been there and done that, I’ve got to tell you, I really wish that I hadn’t.
Oh, and as far as companies “certifying” you to be a VA — I don’t put much stock in that. Spend money if necessary on acquiring specific skills and especially, knowledge of how to properly run a business. You’ve already been in the trenches. You know how to do administrative work. You are already qualified to be a VA.
Excellent advice, Sarah. Thanks so much for sharing your experience. I know it will be very helpful to many. 🙂
Thanks Danielle & Sarah. Once again, you clarified the grey areas for us, employee vs. business owner. You rock
Another real eye opener for me. Thanks Danielle and Sarah!
Danielle, if you put together a “VA Wizdom” e-book, you MUST include this (from your post):
“Don’t confuse working for other companies with building your own practice as they are two completely separate things.”
It is so very true!
Now, I know the type of companies you talk about in this post – they operate more like staffing agencies, than VAs. But what’s your take on multi-VA firms?
I think “multi-VA” is another dumb term.
There’s already a proper term for this. It’s called “subcontracting.”
There’s a time and place for subcontracting, but generally speaking, I am not a fan or proponent for outsourcing your client’s work (work and relationship they hired YOU for) to third parties. That direct, one-on-one personal relationship you have with clients is one of the ingredients that elevates its value. You can’t outsource that, and when you do, you lower not only its value, but also your profit margins.
The other problem I have with it is that while some people are using the term “multi-VA” to denote that they work with a stable of subcontractors, there is a whole other group of them who are using it to denote what is really a virtual staffing business and illegally classifying their workers as contractors. On top of that they are notorious exploiters and the people who work for them are constantly stiffed and taken advantage of.
Any business that does things illegally and/or cheats and takes advantage of colleagues is unethical in my book.
There are not enough like buttons for this post!
Great article and so true!