Hiring Help and – if you can – avoid hiring the VA from hell

social media strategyI recently wrote about how your Your Two Most Important Business Assets are time and money. When you’re starting a small business, it’s almost a given that you’re going to be short on money and often, you’ll find you’re short on time as well.

In the course of building a business – every business owner is faced with the dilemma of trading time for money and money for time.

In her post, Delegation: How Do You Scale Up and Still Do Your Best Work? Liz Strauss writes:

When we pass on the tasks that we don’t like, don’t do well, and don’t need to do, we can put the best of our time where it makes the most difference — doing what only we can do.

For many business owners, the tasks they don’t like are web related.

Unfortunately, it’s common for people who don’t know much about computers to think that “computers” is an all encompassing term. They think that someone who knows hardware also knows software. They see a computer “expert” as someone who can install a hard drive, write code AND manage an Adwords campaign – all with equal ease. After all- those tasks all have to do with “computers”.

In Business Success Formula – Recognizing Nonsense I wrote that

Unfortunately, when you don’t know what you don’t know – finding someone who does know [what you don’t know] can be difficult.

No where is that more true than on the web.

Recently, my emails have been dealing with this very subject. A recent email  from a client began with this…

Briefly, I have just escaped from a virtual assistant from hell. I swear, she was paranoid, borderline personality, and /or chemically dependent.

I wish this was the first time I had a “I just escaped the VA from hell” email – but it’s not.

My first VA from Hell story is almost 10 years old… when a client of mine had hired a virtual assistant to make updates to a site I had created for her.  My client couldn’t reach her VA to find out why her website was down so she contacted me.

When I logged in via FTP – I found the web hosting account was empty! The VA had deleted every single file from the server. She was never heard from again. (Fortunately, I had the original files and we restored her site quickly.)

Another – and more recent- virtual assistant horror story was when a client contacted me for help with his Google Adwords campaign. Turns out he had asked his virtual assistant to handle this “simple” task and was horrified when his first monthly Adwords invoice came in at over $2,000. (He had a monthly budget along the lines of $200 in mind.)  It was only after the fact that his virtual assistant shared that she had never managed a Google Adwords campaign before.  She thought, “Hey!  How hard can it be?”

Unfortunately, there are a LOT of freelancers – not just virtual assistants – out there who don’t know what they don’t know… and that makes them positively dangerous to turn lose in your small business.

However, my experience of dealing with VA’s from hell doesn’t just come from my client’s mouths – I have my own stories as well.  The worst was the VA recommended to me by one of my own clients. This woman required that I sign a 3 month contract and pay her $700 per month for 20 hours of her time per month.   I was swamped and desperately needed the help. Since my client had been signing her praises – I signed the contract.

Unfortunately, at the end of the three month contract, she hadn’t completed the first project I assigned her.  I hadn’t expected to have to “manage” her  as I would a college intern.  She claimed she knew what she was doing and I assumed she was telling the truth.

As I was terminating her services, this woman confessed that she had purchased the software she claimed mastery over a mere two weeks before it was time to renew our contract.   She promised to do better if I’d renew my contract with her.  I pointed out that I had paid $2100 for less than 10 hours of her time.  I said that I’d consider renewing her contract once she had provided me with the 50 hours of her time I had already purchased.

I never heard from her again.

It turned out, my client who had given her a glowing recommendation was also discovering that this woman wasn’t capable of managing her time and had fired her as well.  The last I heard, she had abandoned her VA business and she was becoming a real estate agent.

So I’ll open this topic to discussion …  If you have a great VA – how did you find him/her?    Share your tips and tricks below….


  1. I have to admit, as I’m embarking on my own VA business, that some things I’ve seen doing research boggled my mind. While there are many great, highly qualified VAs out there, I’ve seen some that boast of as little as 3 years of experience in the administrative field, and others with only tangential experience as an assistant of any kind.

    My recommendation in hiring a virtual assistant is to look for someone who is already well experienced in the administrative field before becoming a VA. If their VA business is relatively new, then as for references from former employers, otherwise ask for multiple client references who can attest to the particular job you want your VA to do. While I’ve seen many VAs who have retainer plans for their clients, your story is the first I’ve heard about one asking for a multi-month contract.

    There are many very good, very knowledgeable Virtual Assistants out there to help you with your business. Just do your homework before hiring one.

  2. Hi Kathy – All my VA business will be in Sue’s capable hands. I “met” her husband, Joel, on the Triiibes network, and subsequently “met” her. I joined an offshoot VA network and observed her interactions with others. So, in a sense, I “know” her, and I’ve watched her business grow. I know other people who know her as well. There is too much vesting in Triiibes for someone to screw it up by delivering poor service. Word, like in a small town, will get around. She has additional VA’s working for her now, and there’s a reason for it. Service delivery. Simple, yet so hard for some, evidently.


  3. This is something I’ve not really had any dealings with. I’d always be careful hiring a VA because you have little control over what they do.

  4. Jodith – GREAT advice. I especially like the “correlation” between what they were doing BEFORE they launched their VA business.

    Betsy- Thanks for sharing how social media helped you to find a GREAT VA!! (That was going to be the original ‘theme’ for this post – ah – the best laid plans)

    Amelia – There is quite a level of trust involved when you hire a VA. If your goal is to remain “in control”… well, then don’t hire a VA.

  5. I have had a VA for several years. While she isn’t perfect, she does almost everything flawlessly and immediately. I found her via AssistU, (www.assistu.com), a VA training and referral site. While a referral from AssistU isn’t a guarantee, you can see what kind of training your VA has. I would also insist on, and contact, several references if I were hiring a VA. If you don’t contact people who have worked with this person, you are taking a big chance.
    I would also insist on a one-month trial, and work month-by-month until you see what your VA can do (and not do). Most VA’s want a monthly retainer, so be sure you have enough work for the person, and get the smallest possible retainer/monthly hours, until you have built up enough business for this person.

    Jean Murrays last blog post..Don’t Pay Someone to Write Your Business Plan