Rise And Fall of My Virtual Assistant: 3 Lessons Learned

First of all, I have to say that there will be not post the next week. Personal life kicks in and I plan to be quite busy.

So! In this post, let’s talk about my first and simultaneously third virtual assistant (VA). I already mentioned her in a couple of my income reports.
Let’s again call her Claire.

Troubled Start

You already know a bit about how I started working with Claire. Let’s recall.

In January, I hired Claire as my very first VA. I needed her to work a fair amount of time, which was 15 hours, and she did not mind.

Claire lived in Vietnam and was an experienced freelancer with a long history of good reviews. She charged $4.5 an hour.

After hiring her, I was in a hurry writing down instructions and tasks. I was slightly terrified by a thought that I may have not enough work for her… but at the same time I was feeling happy that finally (finally!) my work will start moving and I will be baking up one PBN after another as easily as I bake raw cookies prepared by my mom-in-law.

While talking to me, Claire really seemed to be eager to get to work. However in the reality, her real plans were slightly different. After doing a few hours in the beginning, she simply… disappeared. I waited for a day, then for another day… after I asked what (the f…k) is going on, she replied that she would be busy for the rest of the week because she was attending her nephew’s wedding.

Emm… ok. Life happens and freelancers may have some events happening in their lives.

“Ok, Claire, I told her, no problem – but the next time, can you tell me about it in advance, ok?”

“Sure, she replied, I will”

Then she added: “I will work extra hours during the weekend!”

She never did.

The next week the situation repeated. The only difference was that Claire did tell me she would be busy for the most of the time – her family was moving to a new house. She again promised to work during the weekend, and she again did not do it.

I am sure you are now wondering why I did not fire hire right on the spot?

Well, the answer is simple. I liked Claire the best among other candidates. She did the tests perfectly well (the tests were simple – but the others struggled with them). She also impressed me by pointing out some mistakes I made in the test description. She also seemed to be an easy going person. On top of that, her rate was only $4.5. Thus said, I liked Claire (and her rate) and wanted to give her a chance to  show off.

Unfortunately, it did not happen. She never showed up after the week when she was supposed to move to her new house. After waiting for 3 days and receiving no reply, I had nothing else but fire her.


Fast forward two months.

It was the end of February, and I was working with a new virtual assistant. This girl also had a hard time keeping up with the hours assigned. I was again very upset and was thinking of hiring a second VA. I hoped both of them would finally produce the amount of work I needed.

And suddenly, a message from Claire popped up in my Inbox. Turned out that in January, she got into a motorbike accident and spent the last month in the hospital 8-(  )

Rise And Fall of My virtual assistant: Vietnamese traffic

Claire asked if she can come back, and I happily said “yes”. After all, I was already thinking about having two VAs working in parallel, so why not.

And then two days after that, my other VA suddenly quit.

Wha-a-a… these VAs are so unreliable!

Oh well.

I immediately asked Claire if she can do twice as much time as I was giving her. She agreed.

I also warned her that I would not tolerate any more if she did not work the assigned amount of time without a warning. She agreed.

And we started pushing my tasks forward!

Every evening, I was writing tasks for Claire. While I was sleeping, she was executing them. Her time was 12 hours ahead of mine, and we had a small overlap when she just started her morning and I had some free time before going to bed. We discussed the work and sometimes chatted.

Claire told me about her life. She is in the middle twenties and has a husband and two small boys. The January accident happened when she and her husband were riding to their new house on a motorbike. Luckily, the children were with grandparents and did not get hurt. Claire broke a leg and had to stay in the hospital for one month.

I liked working with her and she seemed to do a good job. She was quick and efficient. She worked the full amount of time I assigned her. She managed to start asking questions. She was very polite and friendly. She was even proactive and made some nice suggestions. I liked the latter very much.

Still, she was making mistakes and she often needed a supervision. I assumed it was a training period and that later on, she would learn and be more autonomous.

Five or six weeks passed and…


And then I realized that having a VA did not give me more free time. On the opposite, my time was greatly consumed by writing endless instructions and constantly verifying the work.

Somehow the magic I had with Claire in the beginning started breaking down.

I started realizing that I had to verify everything she was doing. Simply put, Claire was making mistakes. Mistakes were often made because of a lack of attention.

Here is one example. I asked her to create a Facebook account for one of my PBN blogs. She did and happily marked the task as done. I happily went to check it out (the first FB profile for a PBN, exciting!) – and discovered it was in Vietnamese. Seriously?! The blog is in English and the FB is not. She quickly fixed it after I told her, but come on! She couldn’t verify it on her own?

Yeah… and this is just one example.

One solution to fix would be to write very, VERY detailed instructions describing every move of the mouse. I tried but it did not help. Claire still managed to misread tasks and do only part of it.

Another solution I tried was to add an extra step “after you are done, double-check your work”. This did not help either. If a task itself is not well understood, how can one verify it properly?

And recently something happened that became “the cherry on a cake” or “the needle that broke the camel’s back”.

There were many posts that needed different things to be done. I created an Excel file with the post titles in one column and a list of tasks in another column. That’s how it looked on my side:

Rise and fall of my Virtual assistant - Example of a task

I told Claire to do all the tasks for each post. And she did… only one task per post.

I could not understand why she skipped tasks and got very upset. Claire also got upset and claimed her Excel got broken.

After we looked at it together via a shared desktop in Skype, I understood how she managed to miss the tasks.

This is what she saw:

Rise and fall of my Virtual assistant - Example of a task 02

No wonder she missed the other tasks!

I told her that she should have made the columns wider in order to see everything. Right? She agreed and then asked me how to do it………. She did not know how to expand Excel columns!

After that, I realized we would not stay together for long. These are basics! Who knows what else she does not know?

Since that time, I have been gradually reducing the number of her hours . This week Claire will work only two hours. The next week I will put her contract on pause until further notice.

Why on pause and not terminated? Because I first want to find a replacement. Despite all the mistakes she makes, Claire does not charge much and still can do simple stuff well.

Three Lessons Learned

Here are the three most important lessons I learned hard way while working with Claire.

  1. Have a thorough interview
    The interview should include a video Skype call. First of all, it will give you an idea how well the candidate speaks English. But most importantly, it will allow you to ask the interviewee to share their desktop. During the interview, ask them to do a few simple things to see how confident they feel while working with the programs you need them to work with. This way, you will be certain it is the candidate who did the task and not their partner/neighbor/cousin.
    Since having a video interview is more resource consuming, do it after the candidate passed regular “offline” tests.
  2. The interview questions have to reflect the real work
    When I say “reflect”, I mean it. If your VA needs to work in Excel, don’t just check if they can find their way in the application. Instead, ask them to do a very specific task you know they will be doing a lot.
    For example, ask them to expand columns if you know it is required 😉
    Or, if you need to find many pictures for a long text, ask them to do so. Don’t just ask to find one picture based on a short description (that’s what I used to do).
  3. Have a “probation” period
    Decide for how long you are willing to train a VA and correct their mistakes. If they do not improve after that period then they should be let go. Do not waste your time on incompetent freelancers trying to teach them new skills. It’s more efficient to spend time on finding a perfect match because the VA market is very big and has many candidates.

Next time, I hope I will follow my own suggestions and will find a perfect match! I also hope this post is helpful for you and you will find an employee of your dreams 🙂

Image Attribution
Featured image: coleydude
First photo: secharoth



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