I am in despair!!! For the last few years – five at least – I’ve been trying to teach newbie virtual assistants about how to increase business, stay in business, keep clients happy and so on. By ‘newbie’ I mean anyone who has been in business less than 2-3 years. Forgive me for being blunt but if you have only been in business 12 months to 3 years you are not a veteran VA and you are still learning. I’d even go so far as to say you need to be in business for 5 years before you can wear that tag – given the statistic that over 80% of businesses fail in the first five years.

This year I started the Virtual Business Show in an attempt to get this sort of information out there and readily accessible to everyone.

Today I had to yet again ’save’ the reputation of the industry because of the less-than-ideal way a client was treated by a VA I had referred in a round about kind of way.

Here’s what happened ….

I received a call from my Yellow Pages ad (an old one) from a client in the city asking me if I could help her. Unfortunately, as I now live in a regional area I couldn’t – in this case she wanted to see the person to speak with them about document production. I have a business ethic that I never leave it at that. If I can’t help a client I believe it is in not only the client’s best interest but also mine and that of the industry as a whole, that I try and find an alternative. So I use my networks and refer. Many VAs do the same.

I referred this client to a VA I knew and trusted in the city – who unfortunately couldn’t help out in this instance but who then referred her to one of THEIR network contacts.

So far so good, right?

I was absolutely dismayed to receive a desperate call from this client to the effect that she had been trying in vain to contact the VA she had been referred to in order to sort out some urgent amendments to the document, and couldn’t get her – did I have an alternative contact for her? (Which of course I didn’t because the VA who secured the job wasn’t the one I originally referred.)

I managed to get hold of the client this afternoon to check whether she had sorted things out and she indicated she finally tracked down the VA and has decided she will put the job aside until next week “when the VA may be better able to look at it”. What the?? I nearly had a fit! To make matters worse, this client was making excuses for the VA saying she had a couple of kids at home, she had some personal life things happening and “her head is probably elsewhere right now, understandably”.

I disagree. I don’t think it’s ‘understandable’ at all and is amazingly unprofessional of the VA – particularly that they shared their personal life story with the potential client as an ‘excuse’ for not getting the job done properly and making mistakes!

So here are my 5 top tips for being professional – when dealing not only directly with clients but also when taking jobs referred by colleagues (and there is of course more than 5 but these are the 5 that come up for me in this scenario):

1. Don’t take the job if you can’t fulfill the requirements. I don’t care how desperate for work you are. If you tell a client – or a colleague referring a job – that you are able to do the work then for heaven’s sake DO IT! If you drop the ball you’re letting not only the client down but the entire industry. In short – you make us ALL look bad!

2. If you have your mobile phone listed as your main contact ANSWER IT – ALWAYS! If for some reason it must go to message bank, ensure you have the professional Message Bank service. Don’t rely on those silly free services by telcos like the one where if a person rings their number is sent in a text to you. And have your phone set so that if you miss a call you are notified by an audible sound. And if you happen to be in the shower or something, check your phone – OFTEN! Assume people are ringing you even if they’re not.

3. Return calls from clients and colleagues the same day – within an hour of receiving the message at most. Don’t keep people hanging on guessing – and NEVER leave a client hanging wondering where on earth you’ve gotten to with their job.

4. Never view clients as a nuisance. Clients are a gift – they keep your business ticking over and without them you’re out of business. Treat clients the way you like to be treated when you’re buying a service.

5. You may be self-employed but you’re in business! Working from home for yourself definitely has advantages and gives you the opportunity to do things you would not have time for if you worked for someone else, BUT even if you’re looking after kids and it’s school holidays or you have to run Johnny to the doctor at 9.00am, you’re still a business. Make it easy for clients and colleagues to contact you. Have phone numbers and email addresses easily visible on your site. Consider not just using your mobile number (particularly if you don’t check it regularly), or have your home number forwarding to your mobile if you’re going out. Return calls immediately. Respond to email within 24 hours. Be at your computer regularly throughout the day. If something takes you out of the office, make up the time. Some more ideas are covered in my Saying No podcast - http://bit.ly/97DCij

And for heaven’s sake if you have a job on it takes priority – over everything else – except perhaps a child requiring a doctor visit if there’s no one but you to take them – in which case give the client a quick ring and let them know you’ll be delayed.

It is incredibly frustrating to be putting out fires caused by unprofessional VAs in an attempt to keep people coming back to our industry with work! This client was a professional person who is likely to use VAs again in the future. Potentially not this one but I had to spend 15 minutes of my time on the phone with her this afternoon smoothing things down and encouraging her not to abandon us all completely because of one less-than-encouraging experience.

Please think before you take on a job. If you don’t have the time to do it say so – there are others the job can be referred to. If you do take it on commit to it. Get it done above all else and remember – the customer is always right! If a client asks for changes, you do them, they send it back saying it’s not right and you go back and forth like that for a while – so be it! As a newbie unfortunately you don’t have the luxury of picking and choosing yet. If you’ve taken the job on there’s no such thing as the too hard basket. Taking a job means you’ve taken responsibility for pleasing the client. So do so. Because failing to do so means you potentially mar the reputation of the industry for the rest of us … not to mention you’re unlikely to get work referred to you again.

Being a virtual assistant means you work in a service industry. Service is a verb. You have to DO something to serve clients - but that's also what keeps them coming back and turns them from potential clients, to clients and into advocates.

Author's Bio: 

Award-winning virtual assistant, Lyn Prowse-Bishop, MVA ASO CAVB PVAA is owner/manager of Executive Stress Office Support (eSOS), specialising in medico-legal digital transcription, virtual author support and executive personal assistant services for clients around the world.

One of Queensland’s most respected and well known virtual assistants, Lyn is also founder of the Australian Virtual Business Network, serves as Australian representative on international committees looking at standards and certification for the VA industry, and is a foundation steering committee member of the annual Online International Virtual Assistants Convention. She hosts Australia’s first internet radio show/podcast for the VA industry – Virtual Business Show – and is Queensland representative on the Board of Independent Contractors Australia.

How can you spend less time in the office and more enjoying life? Visit her site or email lyn@execstress.com to find out.