I’ve been having an ongoing conversation with a business owner over the past few months.
He had emailed me awhile back outlining ongoing issues he’s had with people in our industry who call themselves virtual assistants.
He stated that he’s hired and fired many and nothing ever seems to work out for him.
Normally, I don’t spend my time and energy trying to convince those who will never get it.
But this was a very nice, genuine fellow, not a crank or someone just emailing to complain.
He was sincerely reaching out for some help and even though he’d had many unsatisfactory experiences, he wasn’t ready to completely abandon all hope of ever finding a competent, reliable administrator to work with.
Plus, I’m always interested in better understanding how business owners think in these cases because it helps me identify areas where those in our industry are giving them inadequate or confusing messages and allowing them to form expectations that will prevent the kind of desired outcomes and mutually beneficial relationships from happening.
So that you have a little bit of context, here are a few excerpts of what he shared with me:
“It’s my opinion there are more virtual assistants who promise the moon and then grossly under-deliver, which disappoints. It’s easy to say I’m patient, but I also run a business. If a VA will charge the kind of rates they want, they should come prepared (and many do not) and also be able to say “I don’t do that part” of the business or task you need accomplished.”
“I have worked with various VAs for five years. Spent a lot of money, didn’t really get too far. I’ve had enough experience where I can say that many VAs do not have the skills they advertise, do not have the expertise with products and resources they say they do; rarely complete work on time; have a difficult time estimating how much will be involved in a project, which slows everything down; suffer from the loneliness factor so when they get someone on the phone, it becomes a gabfest… and I’m paying! They are in constant education mode meaning they spend all weekend getting up to speed on a tool you need them to use (which they professed they had working knowledge of) and so you become their guinea pig. I’ve also found that if you are somewhat flexible in deadlines, a nice guy or easy going, the other clients of the VA will soon take (re-allocate) much of your VA’s prime working time.”
“I had a wonderful VA who was (literally) dirt cheap and fantastic. I’m pretty certain I found her on Guru.com. She charged $10/hour. She was amazing and very trustworthy. Out of the blue one day she called, said she is going to have to drop me because she found someone else who was willing to pay more and give her significantly more work. I would have paid her more, but she then said she would need $30/hr… triple!”
“About a year ago, I interviewed a VA who lived outside Chicago. I swear to God, I would have picked up and moved my entire business to Illinois, she was THAT impressive. She then told me her rate was $75/hr. That ended the entire discussion. She could have been sliced bread (and probably is), but for $75/hr?”
This business owner ended up advertising piecework and projects on Craigslist for $8 and $9/hr, but admitted he has to wade through a lot of wacky replies and still has a boatload of work he puts off daily.
I pointed out that while he was finding some help this way, this obviously wasn’t an ideal alternative since he still wasn’t getting his needs met and unproductively wasting enormous amounts of time and energy on this stuff, which he conceded was the case.
We talked at some length about all of this, with some very clear themes emerging and getting in his own way with this “cheap” mentality.
Besides advising him to hire for support, not piecemeal transactions, and giving him some tools and information for helping him make better choices and weed out those calling themselves VAs who really don’t have the skills and qualifications, part of what I suggested to him was this:
You had a wonderful administrative partner who (in your words) was “dirt cheap and fantastic.” This “‘dirt cheap” thinking will always defeat you. Unfortunately, it’s a personal problem that only you can choose to change or not. All I can tell you is that you simply are not going to get anything worthwhile for “‘dirt-cheap.”
It’s a flawed concept doomed to fail because no business owner can afford to stay in business being “dirt cheap.” Business cannot happen unless both the client and the provider have their needs met. In this case, nobody running a business (including those of us in the administrative support business) can be dirt cheap and have her profitability and income needs met. It forces her to take on more clients in order to make ends meet, which in turn, causes her to become overwhelmed in work. Yet what she’s earning in piling on more clients and more work still doesn’t adequately cover all the time and energy required for her to keep up and provide any reliably consistent level of professional support to anyone. In fact, the more work and clients she piles on, the LESS money she makes exponentially and the less effective and productive she becomes. Ultimately, something simply has to give. It’s inevitable. So what happens is, once she realizes she simply can’t be dirt-cheap AND fantastic, and begins to recognize her true value, she necessarily MUST increase her fees and move on to clients who recognize the value and are happy to pay her more appropriate professional-level fees — exactly as you experienced with the “amazing and trustworthy” person you lost.
My advice is to stop begrudging this great administrator her fees. If you found these two people who were fantastic and impressive, they are worth every penny for the time, headaches and work they save you from, the ability they give you to get more done and move forward more quickly than you could otherwise, not to mention the ease, convenience and peace of mind you’d have working with someone you feel is competent and trustworthy.
This guy was being cheap, but part of the reason for this was because these women were calling themselves “virtual assistants.”
“Assistant” is a term of employment, not business. When you are in business, you are not anyone’s assistant.
People only understand the word “assistant” one way: employee. That’s because “assistant” is a term of employment, not business. When you are in business, you aren’t anyone’s assistant.
This is why this fellow (and thousands of other clients) come to the table expecting to pay peanuts: they don’t understand the correct nature of the relationship; they think they are hiring some kind of subservient worker instead of a service-based business. This wrong perception — due to the very term “virtual assistant” — predisposed them to the cheapskate mentality.
All of this goes for people in our industry as well.
If you are constantly expecting everyone and everything else to be free or cheap, business is going to be that much harder for you.
If you want to attract clients who value you and happily pay what you are worth, you have to value and respect others in the same manner when it is you who is in the client/customer position.
It’s a laws-of-attraction type thing, if that helps you understand this better.
If you are in the habit of devaluing others, you will continue to be devalued by would-be clients as well. If you can’t operate with a value mindset yourself, you aren’t going to be able to attract value-minded clients, must less be able to articulate your value in any meaningful way to them.
You also do yourself no favors calling yourself a “virtual assistant.” That term negatively shapes clients’ understanding about the nature of the relationship and predisposes them to the cheapskate mentality (i.e., when they think you are some kind of employee/worker, they expect to be paying employee-level peanut wages). Changing your terminology will powerfully change these perceptions for the better.