Having talked with thousands of clients over the years, I have a good grasp of what leads to a successful relationship, and what leads to lousy endings.

While there are times that VAs have made mistakes, or otherwise acted inappropriately, the responsibility for the vast majority of failed relationships falls squarely in the laps of the clients. The most frequent causes for failure? Poor communication and unrealistic expectations. Despite the industry’s best efforts to provide great information to clients, too many of them jump too fast into relationships with VAs, don't choose the right VA, and/or think they can side-step some of the process that would have led them to creating a solid foundation for the relationship. As with any sort of relationship, these elements must be present if success is to be realized. Even so, clients jump. Sometimes, the VAs recognize that's happening, and work to slow the client down. Often, however, the client seems so sure he knows what he wants, and it's only once into the relationship that it's proven not to be the case.

So, before I suggest what you might do if things aren't going well, I'd like to share some examples of the most commonly seen problems:

* If you expect your VA to create and execute a marketing campaign that will create the same kinds of results that a marketing professional might get, you have unrealistic expectations.

* If you expect your VA to somehow positively contribute to your revenue, you have an unrealistic expectation.

* If you had only one interview with your VA, didn't discuss anything beyond the kinds of tasks and projects you needed support with, there's been poor communication, and chances are you have unrealistic expectations.

* If you think your VA should flawlessly execute everything, always, you have unrealistic expectations.

* If you don't know that your VA may not be instantly available to you when you call, you have both a lack of communication (and you probably didn't really read the information she gave you about how her business operates), and unrealistic expectations.

* If your VA does what you've asked, but the result is somehow less than you expected, chances are you've not communicated sufficiently.

Now, any of these specific issues caused by a lack of communication can be worked around, and the relationship made stronger in the future with some dedication and hard work. Challenges created by unrealistic expectations, however, almost always lead to the ending of the relationship.

That's true because relationships are built, in great measure, on expectations. In the best of relationships, those expectations are expressed, discussed, and a commonality is found so they can be met in one way or another. But when expectations aren't discussed, and are unrealistic, the outcome is never a good one. Further, it always seems that the ultimate outcome of unmet expectations is disappointment on the part of the person who held the expectation to begin with. Disappointment is a powerful emotion — one most people have not been taught to deal with interpersonally. The result of disappointment in an interpersonal relationship is usually hurt, and often blame.

When the client feels hurt that his expectations haven't been met, and feels hurt, it's often far too difficult to communicate effectively to reach an appropriate resolution. Blame is the result — something that's never appropriate in this kind of relationship. When blame occurs, any common ground that might have been found disappears. The people in the relationship become like individuals on deserted islands with no way to reach the other.

Resolution is rarely achieved. The relationship ends, almost always on a rotten note. Often the client takes the position of not paying the VA for services rendered, because the expectation (unrealistic though it may have been) hasn't been met. The VA is then put in the position of having to decide whether to write it off, or pursue legal action to collect it. The client may feel he has the right to pursue his own legal or otherwise disciplinary action, claiming the VA misrepresented her abilities.

Man, can it get ugly, fast.

And where did it all break down? Communication. If the client and VA, during their interview and every step of the way after that, were to mindfully and clearly communicate with each other and manage expectations by making explicit agreements, so much angst and a huge number of problems could be avoided.

So, if things aren't going so well for you and you don't know what to do? Step back and review your relationship as objectively as possible, or have someone else look at it for you. Look at yourself first. Can you see places where your expectations were unrealistic, or where you didn't communicate as clearly or effectively as you might have? If so, as much as it may pain you to do so, admit to having failed in that way, and accept responsibility for whatever situation you find yourself in.

Take time to calm yourself, then schedule a talk (don't ever handle conflict via email--messages are simply too easily misunderstood) with your VA. Do not let a lot of time pass — whatever you're feeling will become like a festering wound. Explain what your expectation was, let her know you realize it was unrealistic, and together, talk about what might be more realistic to expect in the future from her, and what you two might need to do (add resources, outsource to someone else) if you need someone with additional skills to bring about the level of outcome you actually do need and want to expect.


If you feel that she contributed to the problem, talk about that, as well, stating your expectation that in your relationship, she'll accept responsibility when it's hers to accept as well.


It's the key to any hope you have of moving beyond where you are and getting to a better place while still in the relationship.

And, should things not work out so that there's a path forward, despite everyone's best intentions, resolve to walk away cleanly. Talk about anything you need to so that you don't walk away harboring resentment.


Are you sensing a theme? I hope so, and I hope it's that communication can make most of your problems go away. Too rarely do people communicate about what's bothering them, choosing, instead, to step over an issue. As mentioned before, that leads to the issue's becoming like a festering wound. And what might have been a fairly simple thing to clear up becomes a HUGE issue.

Communicate for relationship success.

Lastly, it might happen that you've tried, simply cannot find a way forward and decide to end the relationship. If you genuinely believe the VA should have accepted responsibility that she didn't, and you want to take some sort of action, consider mediation, rather than legal action. It's a far more cost efficient, and effective way of reaching a reasonable end. And if you can't have a successful relationship, a reasonable ending isn't a bad second choice.

Author's Bio: 

Stacy Brice is the founder and Chief Visionary Officer of AssistU.com--the premier organization committed to training, supporting, and coaching Virtual Assistants, and providing referrals to those business owners who want to work with them. As a pioneer and leader of this new profession called Virtual Assistance, Stacy loves her role as advocate, and works tirelessly to blaze a trail for all those interested in this new way of working.

Additionally, Stacy is a widely recognized expert in the field of Virtual Officing, and Virtual Relationships, has been the Virtual Office columnist for Office Pro magazine, is the business foundations expert for the International Association of Solopreneurs, is widely quoted nationally in magazines and newspapers, a frequent guest on talk radio shows, and was recently named One of the Top 50 People to Follow on Twitter.

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