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Some people just can’t seem to find success with virtual assistants, especially when offshoring to countries like the Philippines. I’ve heard it numerous times… “I tried working with virtual assistants, but it was more trouble than it was worth. Most of them seem to lack common sense.” However, in many cases, it takes only a few questions to reveal the true nature of the problem.


The problem is called “assumption” and it’s something you need to avoid like the plague when working with virtual assistants.


If you’re thinking about hiring a virtual assistant, or if you’ve already tried and found it a less-than-positive experience, think seriously about the process you will use to delegate work, and how you will guard against problems caused by the evil that is assumption.


The 3 Most Common Assumptions Made By VA Clients


1. Assuming Your VA Can Read Your Mind


When working with a virtual assistant—any virtual assistant, however smart he/she may be—you will only get exactly what you ask for, at least until you and your VA have been working together for a considerable time.

Let’s say for example, that you ask your VA to complete an online research task by locating websites selling a particular product. You provide a spreadsheet and ask the VA to use it to record links to all the websites she finds. When she returns the spreadsheet, you’re disappointed to find it contains only links, because you assumed the VA would also add prices and images from each of the product websites.

Really though, why would she? Unless you specify that you want prices and images, you’re expecting your virtual assistant to somehow know that they are to be provided. That’s assumption at its worst, but expecting VAs to second-guess task requirements is sadly, not an uncommon client-behaviour.

On the other hand, if you take the little bit of extra time to provide precise details of the information you need, you’re most likely to get an outcome that’s right first time. The job will be completed faster too, because you won’t have to hand the spreadsheet back with further instructions, which could have been provided at the beginning of the task.


2. Assuming That Vague Time Definitions Are Satisfactory


Another common assumption made when working with virtual assistants relates to time estimations. If you tell your VA that you want a task completing and that “there’s no rush” or “I need it fairly soon”, there’ll be no point getting frustrated if you haven’t received the completed work a week later.

While “no rush” might mean a week to you, your VA has no idea how he should prioritise the task. Your VA may also be working for other clients, so your “no rush” task could easily be pushed back further and further as those clients request tasks to be completed urgently.


The problem can easily be avoided if you are clear about how much time your VA should spend on a task, or you provide a hard deadline for its completion.


Remember, your virtual assistant will deliver what you want, according to your instructions. The more precise you are in issuing those instructions, the happier you will be with the end result.


3. Assuming Your VA Will Ask You if Unsure


Working with virtual assistants is a two-way street. You have to be available for your VA, and let him or her know that you welcome questions. It’s never safe to assume that your VA (especially an offshore VA) will call on you if he/she runs into difficulties completing a task.


In some countries and cultures, Virtual Assistants feel they are letting you down as a client if they have to ask you for help.


To avoid delays in task completion, or results that don’t come up to scratch, be a little proactive and check in with your VA while he’s working on tasks for you. Ask if everything is OK and offer to answer any questions he has. This is much more likely to reveal any issues than if you just assume the VA will approach you first.


Be An Unassuming Client


Once past the early days of a VA engagement, most business people enjoy the time saved by working with virtual assistants. These are the clients who recognise the need to invest a little time early on. They provide some training for their VAs and are very clear in their requirements when delegating work.

You too can create more time to focus on business growth and innovation by working with a virtual assistant—or if it makes sense, an entirely virtual team. If you make the effort to avoid assumptions and communicate concisely and clearly, you’ll find common sense is rarely something that VAs are bereft of.

In a future post or two, I’ll provide some tips and ideas for delegating work and communicating requirements to your virtual assistant/s. The process is necessarily a little different than when working with employees face-to-face. Needless to say though, assumption definitely won’t be featured as a recommendation.