How to Fire a Client

From time to time, as Virtual Assistants, we need to fire a client. For one reason or another, it turns out you’re just not a good fit for each other and it’s time to part ways. This can be stressful, even under the best circumstances, but it’s an important part of your business to know what to do.

Here are a few tips for ending a client relationship:

  1. Don’t make it personal. We’re not a good match for everyone – that’s why we date people before we get married. We can’t really date clients, of course, so sometimes there’s a mismatch. Don’t dwell on how horrible they are or spend a lot of time complaining about them. Just move on.

  2. Expect surprise. Even though you are ready to end it, they may think things are working just fine. So don’t be surprised if they are surprised! It doesn’t mean that you’re not justified to end the relationship, they just may feel differently.

  3. Be professional. Let them know on the phone or via email. Think about what you’re going to say and keep the emotions and stories out of it. Practice with a friend or let them read the email before you send it.

  4. Be clear. Decide when you’re going to stop working together and let your client know. I’ve been in some client relationships where I needed to stay on another month to make a responsible transition. Stick to the deadline and don’t let new work creep in; but don’t leave them high and dry either. And if they want to end immediately, let them.

  5. Settle up cleanly. If you owe your client money or hours, come to an agreement about it. The world is small and your reputation is important. 

  6. Keep it to yourself. I understand, the temptation to “bad mouth” bad clients is high. But remember, it took two of you to create this working relationship. It will do your reputation no good to damage theirs.

Also, take some time to think about some red flags you might have missed to help you choose better clients in the future.

I’ve twice fired a really big client and both times was shocked at how much my mood and stress level changed once the relationship was over. New clients quickly filled the void and I was much happier. You will be too!

The Productivity Value of Templates

As a Virtual Assistant, I have many repetitive projects – things that happen over and over again for a given set of clients: formatting a client’s email newsletter; adding it to the blog section of their website; posting it to LinkedIn.

When I first started out as a VA, it was simple and I could remember all the steps. But over time, as my client list has grown and many of them began having unique requests, it became difficult to keep track of what was required.

If you’ve never heard of a “template” before, it’s simply a pre-created task list – a checklist – that you can save and use over and over. I use these within my Teamwork project management software, but the concept is one you can apply regardless of platform.

Templates are quite handy and I have dozens of them. Each time the project rolls around again, I simply open the appropriate template and get started.

Here’s an example of a template checklist for my client Michelle’s newsletter:

Here are some key points to remember when using templates:

  1. Be thorough. When you’re creating your template keep asking yourself “and then what happens” so that you don’t forget any steps in the project. If you find a missing step while working with your template, be sure to make an update to the “master template” for future use.

  2. Think small. It’s important to break the task down into small bite-size pieces that can be checked off one at a time. That way if you have to stop in the middle of your work or are waiting for the client, it’s easy to see where the project stands.

  3. Assign due dates. I do this right after opening the template by starting with the date the final project is due and working backwards to pace my work.

One of the key benefits to using templates is that you end up with a uniform work product every time, without skipping steps or having to ask your client to repeat things. They make my work easier and clients happier!

How to Minimize Client Mistakes

When I first began work as a Virtual Assistant, I thought I should try to work as fast as possible. Sometimes I even cut corners because I was afraid that clients would get upset if my work took too long.

What I quickly learned, however, was that the last thing clients wanted to do was point out mistakes for me to correct. Even if the work took less time, mistakes meant I was taking more of theirs (and looking bad in the process).

So I slowed down and got serious about eliminating errors from my work.

Here’s what I suggest to minimize your mistakes:

  • Review the entire project first. Make sure you understand what you’re trying to accomplish and that you have everything you need. Make sure there are no discrepancies in your instructions from the client.
  • Start from the top. If your project has multiple steps, start at the beginning of the flow and work your way to the end. This will help make sure your work is complete and focused on the end result.
  • Take detailed notes along the way. Sometimes, as you’re working, you’ll think of something you need to share with a client. Hours (or days) later, though, these things are easy to forget. So take detailed notes along the way, writing them in complete sentences so you know what they refer to later on.
  • Review Your Work. Think about the end user of your work product and be thoughtful about each step. Review what needs to happen before the step and after the step. When you’re finished, review your work again.

While it might take more time the first time, your work will be more consistent and your clients much happier!

Why I Love My Virtual Debit Card

Like most VAs, I work by the hour. Unlike most VAs, I get paid up front and have zero bad debt.

Given the scope and unpredictability of the work, it’s hard to come up with a flat fee that makes you and the client happy.

But hourly work presents many problems, not the least of which is the fact that you get paid after the work is done. With some clients, it also means constantly chasing them for a check.

Luckily, soon after I began working as a VA, I came up with the idea of a virtual “Debit Card” to charge for my services.

Here’s how it works:

  • Clients pre-pay for either 5 or 10 hours of my time. This time goes on their “Debit Card.” Buying a Debit Card is a clear sign that they’re ready to get started.
  • I report to clients via email every Monday morning, specifying how much time is left on their Debit Card, so they always know where they stand.
  • Clients buy the Debit Card via credit card so I’m paid immediately. No more waiting by the mailbox for checks.
  • I’ve set up my website to automatically send clients a paid invoice once they purchase a Debit Card.
  • The time on a Debit Card is good for one year. I’ve found that this removes pressure to use the time quickly and allows me to have more clients at one time. Some clients buy a Debit Card every two weeks, others once a year, just so they have access to me any time they have a question or a project.
  • When there’s no more time on the Debit Card, I stop working until it’s “reloaded.”

I love this system because it’s clear, simple and I never have to remind clients about paying their invoices. I simply say “your Debit Card is empty” and they know that if they want the work to continue, they’ll need to buy more time.

Showcase Your “Secret Sauce”

Yesterday, a Virtual Assistant messaged me on LinkedIn about potentially hiring her. She had done her homework – she checked out my LinkedIn profile and my website and wrote me a great message. I was intrigued so I clicked over to her site.

Uh oh. As I browsed though, I saw a number of errors. One link led me to a 404 page (meaning “page not found”). Another brought me to a page filled with placeholder text that had never been completed.

Of course, none of this means that she doesn’t do a great job for her clients. But … I can’t see her client work; I can see what’s she’s put up on the internet about herself. And that’s why it’s so important to take care of your digital trail when you’re a Virtual Assistant.

A few suggestions:

  • If you’re a graphic artist, make sure your branding is consistent and that you’re representing your business with your best work.
  • If you provide newsletters for your clients, publish one yourself. It sharpens your skills and shows a wide audience that you know how to do a great job.
  • If you help clients with websites, make sure yours is a showcase of all you can provide: online scheduling, blog entries, taking payments using credit cards, social media links, etc.
  • If you help clients with social media, have a presence yourself.

Whatever you’re providing for others, make sure you’re providing for your business.

It shows off your areas of expertise every day and will help you get great clients.

How to Keep Your Client Work Organized

As a Virtual Assistant with 56 current clients, I have lots of work coming my way.

On any given day, new tasks can come to me as a result of a phone conversation, via an email request, or through the project management software system I share with my clients (like Basecamp or Teamwork).

Here’s how I do it:

  1. Phone Conversations: I take notes in Evernote when speaking on the phone with clients. I keep them organized by giving each client their own note in my RocketGirl Evernote Notebook. When I talk to them on the phone, I add the newest notes to the top so I have a running record of our conversations.

    I take very detailed notes for each task and add as much background information as I can. This is important because it might be a day or two before I come back to do the work and the details help me get it right. When I get off the phone I schedule time on my calendar to do the work so it doesn’t get lost in Evernote. Then I keep working though my notes, updating as I go.
  2. Email Inbox: Keeping your email inbox as clean as possible is a big part of successfully managing work that comes in that way. If your inbox is a mess, first get your email inbox under control. Click here to learn how.Then, as emails come in, I archive those I don’t need. This way, only emails that require my attention are in my inbox. A few times a day I “lump” the emails by client and respond and fulfill their requests.
  3. Project Management Software: I use Teamwork for client work that involves multiple steps (like sending a newsletter, for example). I also have several clients who want me to use their in-house project management systems. This can get tricky, of course, because there are lots of places I need to look! So I set up the systems to send me an email whenever a new task is added. In addition, I check each system once a day, sorting by due dates and taking care of the tasks that need to be handled.

Sometimes I feel overwhelmed while trying to keep everything straight as it comes pouring in. But by sticking to this system for years, I know I can trust it to keep me on track!

Why I Use Three Computer Monitors

When I first started working as a Virtual Assistant I worked on a simple laptop. I was able to get my work done, but it was often frustrating having to switch back and forth between browser tabs when copying and pasting information between programs.

Shortly after my boyfriend, Greg, and I began dating, he showed me his computer set up: two separate monitors that worked together – off of a single computer! – as if they were one. As he moved the mouse it “jumped” from screen to screen.

I loved it! So much so that right after I connected a second monitor for myself, I went out and bought a third. Together, they cover 70 inches of visual workspace across my desk.

Here’s how I use them while working, for example, on a client newsletter:

Screen #1: I have a Word document open with the text for the newsletter that my client has given me.

Screen #2: I have MailChimp open and I’m simply copying text from one screen over to the next.

Screen #3: I have my email client open so that when I send myself a test email I see it as soon as it appears AND I can easily compare Word Vs. Mailchimp Vs. email.

And that’s just one example. My three screens are attached to a screen stand which holds them at just the right height – and off of my desk so I can use the entire flat surface for other things.

I still have a laptop that I carry with me when I am away from my desk, but there’s nothing like having three screens for getting work done quickly and easily.  Give it a try!

Why I Accept Credit Cards

I’ve been getting paid by my clients via credit card for about six years now. Many people think that paying the credit card processing fee (usually 2.9% of the total paid) is crazy, but there are many reasons that I love getting paid this way:

  1. I know what’s going on. When someone pays me with a credit card on my website, I’m notified immediately. I know the amount, who paid it and when it will be deposited into my bank account.
  2. No more hanging out around the mailbox. Credit card payments are immediate. No wondering if “the check’s in the mail.” Clients can pay me on their computer, tablet or phone no matter where they are. Because it’s so convenient to them, I get paid faster.
  3. Clients have options. When accepting payments via credit card, my client can use a bank debit card (which is the same as writing a check), or they can use a credit card and pay it off at their convenience.
  4. Bookkeeping is easier. My credit card processing company (Stripe) is connected to my accounting software (Xero). Every time a payment is made an invoice is created with all the details of the transaction. This saves me hours every year in bookkeeping.

Start taking credit card payments. If your experience is anything like mine, you’ll never go back!

How to Get Clients

One of the biggest challenges for Virtual Assistants is getting clients – especially when you’re just starting out. You may love the work and be good at it, but none of that matters until you have clients to work with.

Here are a few tips for getting great clients:

    1. Be clear about what you do. If you can clearly articulate the work you do, others will be able to spread the word. For example, when someone asks what I do, I say, “I’m a Virtual Assistant. I work with solo-professionals – people who work on their own – like business coaches, marketing consultants and financial planners. I help them with all their administrative work – like updating their websites, setting up their newsletters, and helping them set up online courses.”

      And then I stop talking so I don’t confuse them with too much information. I say the same thing every time someone asks me what I do (I practiced saying it out loud until I could do it cold!).

    2. Be clear about how much you charge. One of the best things I ever did for my clients was to get clear about how much I charge. By being clear, clients can decide if they can afford you and you don’t have to spend time negotiating and wringing your hands every time someone asks you how much working with you will cost. Pick an hourly rate. Stick to it and raise it from time to time as your skills get sharper.
    3. Be clear about how to get started. I have 30-minute free consultations with many prospective clients. When the call is wrapping up and I think they’re a good fit for me, I’m clear about the next steps. I say, “I’d like to work with you. I’ll send you a link to buy your first set of hours with me. When you’re ready and once you buy them, I’ll be in touch to schedule a meeting with you and we can get started.”

Finding a stream of potential clients isn’t easy. But it begins with learning how to describe and talk about your work. With a little thought and preparation, you’ll be on your way!

An Easy Solution for Video Conferencing

 

When working virtually with clients, sometimes it’s important to see each other and share screens during working sessions. For that, I rely on a wonderful tool called Zoom.

Zoom has changed my business by making it much easier to work and give my clients an “in person” feeling, even though we may be physically far from each other.

Here are my three favorite things about Zoom:

  1. Location Doesn’t Matter. Last week, I needed to speak with a client who’s spending some time in Switzerland. I don’t have an international cell phone plan, so calling her would be prohibitively expensive. With Zoom, the call was included in my monthly fee.
  2. Sometimes it’s good to put a face with a name. Most of the time a phone call does the trick when working virtually. Sometimes, though, especially when I’m working out a problem with a client, it’s very beneficial to see their face. I can tell when they’re writing or thinking and not wonder about a silence that might otherwise be awkward or misinterpreted.
  3. It’s easy to screen-share. Screen-sharing has revolutionized my work with clients. No more trying to explain where they should go, look or click. And it makes it super-easy to show examples of work I’ve done that might relate to the issue we’re working on.

Zoom is easy to download, free for sessions shorter than 40 minutes and only $14.99 a month for unlimited use. It’s a small investment that lends professionalism and ease to any virtual work you might be doing!