The problem with virtual assistants The problem with virtual assistants
A while back I wrote an article about virtual assistants and how they can help small business people, or even busy non-business people who... The problem with virtual assistants

A while back I wrote an article about virtual assistants and how they can help small business people, or even busy non-business people who just need someone to take care of some phone calls, emails or research every once in a while. I’ve heard stories of busy moms, as well as fellow entrepreneurs who were able to claim their time back using a virtual assistance company.

But it’s not all perfect. Right in the week where I released my book about Happiness, my assistant seriously dropped the ball several times. Murphy’s law was right, again. Anything that can happen will happen, and right when I needed them the most one of my assistance companies left me out in the rain. I did receive a sincere apology from their customer support person, but it left me feeling uncomfortable. Is the virtual assistance bubble about to pop?

Anything that can happen will happen

The problem with virtual assistants lies right in their title: they’re virtual, invisible. Both from the perspective of the client (me) as well as the assistant the relationship can be a bit non-committal. A client could dish out completely useless tasks that really never needed to be done to begin with. I get many spammy emails every week via contact forms on my website promoting some sort of service – some of which are sent out by virtual assistants in Pakistan and India on behalf of some marketing company trying to score new business. I feel sorry for whoever fills their days by filling out countless contact forms. Virtual or not, nobody should have to do meaningless work like that.

Then, to the virtual assistant, I am a virtual client. So for some, the quality of the work they deliver is of the same level as the quality of tasks and requests they must be fulfilling in line with what I wrote about above. They’re probably demotivated, and unhappy at times. And that shows in some of the work they did for me last week. I send out two requests to do a price comparison. The first request I followed up with an additional question to do some additional research based on the original findings. The response I received promptly was that my question was not mentioned in the original request. Of course it wasn’t, I thought. Did I really want to waste my time arguing with a virtual assistant unwilling to do additional research (for additional pay). I didn’t think so, and did the work myself. The second mishap was a request for new car tires. I’m pretty much driving on slicks right now, and with another Canadian winter around the corner that might not be ideal. So I asked another virtual assistant to help do some research to compare tire prices at various stores near me. Instead, I received a detailed listing of all tires from one store. When I pointed out that wasn’t what I was looking for, I received another listing of all tired for sale at one particular store. Useless, since both mine and their time was wasted. I hate for people to do work that’s never going to be used, so I let it go and did the actual comparison between multiple stores (plural) myself.

The moral of the story? Did I fire my assistants? Not yet – they’ve done a lot of good work for me in the past, and I’ve had a lot less problems with these North American based individuals than the offshore providers in Pakistan and India. But there’s definitely a shift taking place. Companies are trying to cut costs, and make as much money on as little time as possible. That’s the problem with the time-for-money model that most people not only get paid for, they reward others on that same hourly system.

If you’ve read my brand new Happiness book you know I’m not a big fan of connecting time and money. Instead, I’d rather pay (and get paid) for value delivered. I think that hiring (and working as) a virtual assistant is a great way to break the time and money barrier, however despite the virtualization let’s not forget we’re dealing with people on both sides of the equation: on one end there’s the client looking for value in the work you do, on the other hand is the assistant looking to do meaningful work. Only if both are aligned the equation is fair, and sustainable. Don’t try to cut corners and make a quick profit, but also don’t outsource anything you wouldn’t be willing to do yourself assuming you had the time, of course.

Looking to save some time and hire your own virtual assistant? Despite the above I still recommend Fancy Hands, the company I work with myself. Check them out here and enjoy a 50% discount for your first month. Please share your own experiences in the comments below!

Wilko van de Kamp Author

WILKO VAN DE KAMP is the author of #1 international best seller The Freedom Project and several other books and e-books. He’s also an award-winning photographic artist, and professional world traveler. His inspiration comes from traveling all over the world. He calls the Canadian Rocky Mountains his home, and the rest of the world his office. He has been capturing our wonderful planet, and it’s beautiful inhabitants, for more than half his life. Wilko has spent his life traveling the world to capture awe-inspiring images for those who wouldn’t see them otherwise, and to inspire others to embark on their journey of a lifetime. Through his art, writing and appearances as a keynote speaker he enjoys sharing his colorful experiences with the world.

  • Sarah Kaczanowski

    These are all great points and a very well written article! It’s definitely an adjustment to working virtually and it’s important for both parties to put in the time to be successful. I especially like the sentence, “on one end there’s the client looking for value in the work you do, on the other hand is the assistant looking to do meaningful work.” It’s important for the virtual assistant to feel like they are a part of your team because a happy team makes for a successful job. Your relationship with your VA should be a mutually beneficial business partnership with you VA viewing your business success as their own!