Avoiding a Virtual Assistant Nightmare- Tips You Can Use

The roaches were the last straw.

I really love my job, but there is a lot of paperwork. A lot, a whole lot, and I like to be making calls, and going to meetings. And the thing that the always, systematically fell through the cracks were expense reports. Unfortunately, late expense reports really upset my Senior VP, and it’s not so great to be on his radar for something like this.

I did a review of “The 4 Hour Work Week”, and have glanced at Friedman’s “The World is Flat”. Both of them wrote about virtual assistants. Could a VA be the answer to my problems?

II wasn’t new to the idea of outsourcing. I’ve used an online outsourcing service for contract jobs for a long time. I had some website work done, a virtual demo lab made, a custom app made for my phone, and I had very good results (with the exception of a project that was abandoned). So moving to a virtual assistant didn’t seem like a bad idea.

Because of the nature of my work (selling to the Federal government), I decided to employ someone who was worked in the US. I found a woman who worked out of Oklahoma, who quoted me a rate of $7/hour. What a bargain, I thought.

Especially when I did the math. Paperwork is really expensive in terms of a salesperson’s time. In order to make my quota, I need to be producing $10,000 an hour in the two hours or so I get a day to to make calls. If I get one more hour a day of free time, that’s $1.25 million more revenue to my company.

For a while, it worked very well! I sent out my expense reports, had her do some other reports, research, and various other jobs, and it was great being able to sell again. I was on the phone, making more appointments, and getting more revenue. It felt like it was a very cost effective move for me. And I was doing the parts of my job that I love, and delegating the things I didn’t care for.

It went very well for about 4 months or so, then things started going south. There were the excuses, problems with equipment, illness, etc. Then it became harder and harder to reach her. And then she all but disappeared.

Unfortunately I was working without a net. My receipts were going to her, and I neglected to make copies for myself. When the assistant went MIA, I had approximately $4K of receipts in her hands, stalled, and I was unable to rescue them. Despite calls and pleas via email, I didn’t get a response. (I knew she was reading the emails I sent her, because they were tagged with receipts).

In desperation, I sent an email with the title “Quick action needed for $50 bonus.” Not surprisingly, I got a response in about 20 minutes. I requested for her to send me back any receipts and paperwork still in her custody, and if she got them back by a certain date, I would give $50.

The story I received from her was that she had a miscarriage, and she was not handling it very well. I certainly felt sorry for her, but not getting those receipts in a timely fashion put me in a world of hurt. I certainly got chewed out by my Senior VP, and as of today, it’s up to his mercy if I get reimbursed. I consider it a $4K lesson learned.

In retrospect, I made a lot of mistakes, and there were warning signs that I should have recognized that should have told me to get out of this arrangement. If you are thinking of employing a virtual assistant, here are some tips.

* Make copies of anything that is time sensitive and/or not replaceable. If I had done that, I would have had a valuable safety net against failure.

* If your personal assistant blogs, READ THE BLOG. When I read the assistant’s blog, I not only found a whole lot of grammar and writing problems, but I also got a chance to read about her arguments with a neighbor. This should have put me on notice that I was dealing with an unstable person. Blog entries are done often in a hurry, so a couple of typos shouldn’t be a concern, but if there is no attention to detail, you probably don’t have someone who can do the job.

* When it gets wacky, send them packing: About a month into the gig, my assistant asked me for a $1K loan. It was very premature for such a big request. I wouldn’t do it, and it really felt tacky to me.

* If other people in the house do something to the computer your assistant is working on, dump the assistant. It’s an indication that he doesn’t have a good, secure, workspace. If they don’t have a dedicated computer, they are not prepared to do the job.

* Agree on the kind of documentation of work that you want from the assistant, and tie it to pay. If you don’t get an invoice, they don’t get a check. I’d have weeks where I’d get these big bills, and didn’t know what was done for me.

* Take your time looking for an assistant. If you see anything that could jeopardize your assistant’s work getting done, then move on to someone else.

* If you see any problems during the interview process, like a missed call, move on. It’s a good sign that things won’t work out.

* Do not lock yourself into a long term contract. If it doesn’t work, have the flexibility to find someone else.

I’m making another bet on a VA. I know a lot of people that have had excellent results with a VA. I hope that my more cautious approach will make this engagement much more successful.

Oh, the roaches. After I finished with my virtual assistant, we had a problem with roaches in my house. A couple of months later, I opened up a package from the VA containing my CardScan. It also contained the bodies of about 10 roaches. Was it done on purpose? Honestly, I hope I’ll never know for sure.


  1. Michelle Mendez

    Wow! I can’t believe what you went through with your Virtual Assistant. I am very sorry to hear that! It’s people like the VA you worked with that give VA’s a bad rep. Reading blogs and using Google to look for any social networking sites also is advisable! It will tell you a lot about who you are thinking about hiring! The roaches you received in the mail was just wrong on so many levels lol. Makes me want to bleach my whole apartment!

    The best of luck to you!

  2. Francine Byfield

    I am sorry about your experience with your VA. It is good of you to give it another try. It is VA’s like that who gives us hard working VA a bad name. I hope things work out this time around.

  3. Angela Jordan

    I am a new VA in the process of establishing my VA business. You are absolutely right about doing your homework to find the right VA. I am so terribly sorry you had such a bad experience and I hope that it doesn’t discourage you from doing business with VA’s in the future.

    I’m glad you wrote this blog because this is an opportunity for all VA’s to evaluate just how well we take care of our clients. Here is my take away:

    1) It is very important that clients are confident in our ability to provide quality service to them so be sure to follow up with your clients on their projects, because they are putting their trust in someone they cannot see.

    2) Just because we are independent contractors doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have a business continuity plan of some sort in place, after all, one aspect of being virtual is the process SHOULD BE seamless. Take advantage of subcontracting if you become inundated with too many projects. It could minimize the loss of a client base and insure that client projects don’t get neglected. Keep your clients informed if something goes wrong so they can make other plans if they have to.

    3) When writing in blogs and other forums, be sure to spell check. I would even suggest writing your blog in a word processor so you can copy/paste content after proofreading and editing. Be vigilant about blogs, forums, and other forms of social media networking. Don’t run to the computer to write a blog when you are angry, upset, and hurt about something. Vent your frustrations in a word processing document, read it, and then re-read it again (several times). By the time you read it a few times, you may find better wording to express how you feel or you may even realize you probably shouldn’t post it. Blogs are for the whole World Wide Web to see and you don’t want to ruin your credibility and reputation because of something you wrote in a blog. What we write in blogs and forums tell the real story about who we are and could make our established and potential clients question our character.

    5)Lastly, it’s probably not a good idea to allow others to have access to the same computer you use to do your client’s work. It’s too easy for someone else to download something that contains a virus that crashes your computer, especially if you don’t have a system backup. Some viruses are irreparable and as a VA, it’s just not worth it to have the security risk.

    I hope you can find a VA that you can rely on

    BTW, sorry about the roaches, yikes!!!!

  4. Alex Cooper

    Great Info. Thanks for sharing


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