For most of us, being a VA is a dream come true: liberated from perplexing office politics and the daily commute, we get to be our own boss, work the hours we choose, AND pad around in socks all day. There is, indeed, a lot to love about working for yourself. BUT, to be a successful VA, there are certain pitfalls that need to be avoided, and some rules of etiquette to be honoured if you want to keep the dream alive.

Here are my top tips for enjoying the perks without the problems and getting yourself on track to make it work as a superstar VA.

Be clear and transparent

It’s SO important that you establish an open and honest relationship with your client from the off: if you’re going to work well together it’s imperative that you both understand what each other’s expectations are. They may not have worked with a VA before so it’s up to you to explain how things work and find out what types of things they need doing.  Above all, be clear on what you can actually provide: they understand that no one is an expert in everything, that’s why they have contacted you, after all.  Don’t bluff, don’t make out you’re something you’re not. Don’t be afraid to acknowledge your weaknesses: this will not only gain their trust but make you more credible when you highlight your strong points. They will appreciate your honesty and transparency.  Let them know that you have access to associates, either other VAs or experts in other industries.

Be clear on your costs

Putting a price on your services is one of the biggest challenges freelancers face, but getting to grips with your costs from the outset can save a lot of pain later on. Be realistic: obviously you don’t want to scare clients off with prices that are too high, but you MUST take into account your expenses, running costs, overheads and needs. DO NOT undervalue your skills: remember that you are a professional, offering a valuable skill set that will save your clients time and money, so know your own value and worth, and be prepared to stick to your guns. It’s much harder to raise your fees than it is to lower them, so don’t sell yourself short when deciding on your rates.

What YOU are offering is unique, so don’t let the “going rate” in your area dictate your charges. Email them a copy of your T&Cs/ terms of engagement/contract, and ensure that your charges (including additional fees, travel/postage/copying/transcription, etc.) are set out clearly, but always verbally outline your rates and payment terms before you start.

Be mindful and respectful also of your client’s needs and find out what their budget is. If you can’t do what they want within the budget they have, then ask them to prioritise and see if you can work it out. By all means, be flexible, consider their needs and be helpful and sensible about what you can do, but be very wary of working with someone whose biggest priority is getting you to reduce your rates. If they don’t value your time, services and expertise, let alone your basic need to be paid what you’re worth, then they’re probably not a client you want to have anyway.

Remember that it will boil down to cost sometimes, and the client may decide to go with another VA; don’t take this personally. You are there to provide the service you do at a price that reflects your experience and expertise. Be honest with yourself and the client about this and, if you can’t work to their budget, perhaps you can find another VA who would suit their needs better?

Consider yourself as part of their business

You are a part of your client’s sales team and should always be on the lookout for opportunities to market their business. Be proactive about this: ask them for some business cards to pass on at networking events/conferences, and subscribe to articles/online sites that may be of interest to them and forward useful information.  Look out for industry events they could attend and, if they’re interested, register them and follow through with the required tasks.   This kind of positive approach will add enormous value to your services as well as building the client’s trust and confidence in you, nurturing a great working relationship and enabling their business to grow.

Be aware of conflicting interests

If you specialise in a specific industry or sector, there may be potential conflicts. Be conscious of a conflict of interest between your clients, especially when marketing them on social media.  The important thing is to be sensitive to and aware of any possible difficulties.  Have a clear and open conversation with your clients and clarify their expectations on how they want you to promote them.  Find out how they feel about you working with other similar businesses in this situation, and be prepared to tailor your services to specific clients. Have the conversation, ask the questions, don’t just assume it’ll be ok and don’t be complacent. Your clients will appreciate your discretion and transparency.

There’s a wonderful blend of give-and-take in the life of a successful VA, and getting the balance right between standing firm and doing what’s right for you whilst managing your clients’ expectations can be a challenge. But you wouldn’t be working for yourself if all you wanted was an easy life, and you have what it takes to make it work. Be strong, be confident in your own abilities and the work that you do, and above all be CLEAR, and you’ll be on the right path to VA success!

We’ll be sharing more of these tips in our new online programme, watch out for more information following the NW VA Conference in June.