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Have you ever dealt with a ‘horrible client’? 

Virtual assistants encounter all sorts of characters in their professional line of work. 

Recognizing problem clients and walking away from irredeemable situations is the hallmark of a great assistant. Otherwise, you get railroaded by unscrupulous clients. 

Imagine getting paid a measly wage for a 40-hour week on top of project management duties, research, and endless personal tasks. 

If your work ethic and output are solid and you’ve done everything to reconcile your differences, it’s time to terminate these exploitative engagements. ‘Firing’ has always been thought of as the employer’s prerogative; not anymore. 

As a virtual assistant, you’re running a freelance business. You have the express authority to fire a client who gets on your nerves. There is a lot of power in saying that ‘things didn’t work out’ – it allows you to focus your efforts where they can pay off in droves. 

Honing your skills to an exceptionally high level sets the stage for a long and fulfilling career as a virtual assistant.

So, are there horrible clients or just terrible virtual assistants? It’s two sides of the same coin. 

Let’s look at five types of clients you’re likely to encounter. 

1. The Micromanager

Freedom is one of the perks of working remotely and getting all tasks handled without someone breathing down your neck. 

A client who tries to micromanage you will only destroy the image you’ve built carefully over the years. That can put a huge dent in your confidence as a professional, as it communicates a lack of trust and alludes to incompetency on your part.

Communication is a delicate skill that often eludes people working in the same office. Needless to say, it becomes infinitely more difficult for people using emails and phone calls to communicate.

Sprinkle in a language barrier and madness ensues. Unless all parties are committed to making the communication process seamless, it takes tremendous effort to pull it off while creating room for costly errors.

Sometimes you’re not dealing with a horrible client; just one who pressures you with high expectations. 

These clients need a lot of assurances. Here are three tips to assuage your client’s fears and put them at ease (so they, in turn, can ease off):

  • Respond promptly to emails. Attach screenshots, notes, or anything that will illustrate your points.
  • Listen attentively and note the main points. That will help you understand their pain points, expectations, and which actions inspire their confidence.
  • Underpromise but over deliver. If they ask for X, give them 3X. If you’re invested in your client’s success, they won’t feel like they have to worry about you. 

If nothing seems to work and your patience runs out, notify them of your intention to terminate the contract

Maintaining a problematic client only serves to erode your professional confidence and ruin your business. That’s too high a price to pay.

2. The Perfectionist

Some clients will never be satisfied, no matter what you do. They will hold you to an impossibly high standard based on lofty ideals and perfectionism. These clients wish they could do it themselves, but often have too much on their plate. 

Be wary of a client who constantly rubbishes anything you do. In most cases, it might be a personality or mindset issue rather than your skills as a VA. You can do little to salvage the situation as the client is likely to have a low opinion of your abilities no matter what.

Your instincts matter, so if you feel that this is not going to work, call it quits. Terminate a contract if you feel it’s beyond your skills instead of delivering shoddy work. 

Protect your portfolio and professional reputation at all costs.

Proper training and onboarding solve this problem; but in most cases, that’s the client’s prerogative. Horrible clients won’t invest in their VA but expect the world from them. You’re better off walking away.

3. The Uninvested Client

Like any other job, online work should present you with growth opportunities. You need to grow and thrive as a virtual assistant; that’s the only way you’ll derive any happiness from your work.

Do you dread opening an email from your client? Are the tasks just so mind-numbingly mundane an uninspiring?

Don’t blame the client. This is one is on you, and you have two ways to resolve the issue. 

Option 1: Clarify your career goals, identify the problem, and get back on track. That could mean firing the client. It could mean re-prioritizing and repositioning yourself so that you’re more valuable and indispensable to the client.

Option 2: Ask the client to tweak the job description for you. Evaluate your talents and contrast them to the needs of your client. If there’s considerable overlap, the client might be persuaded to see things your way and amend the terms of engagement. The key here is to focus on the needs of your client. They will readily indulge you if you prove to be an asset. If it doesn’t work out, cut your losses, and move on. 

NO means Next Opportunity. 

4. The Bully

Is your client a bully?

Bullying occurs when both parties perceive a difference in power in an environment that offers limited options. Bullies tend to indulge their irritations with people they deem lesser (‘the employee’) and use their position to justify their behavior (‘I am the boss’).

This is a horrible client. No two ways about it.

When the line of respect is breached, you must fire the client. One of you will end up breaking that contract sooner or later, so save yourself the time and misery. Why wait?

Savvy virtual assistants invest their time and effort into building and maintaining valuable relationships. Learn to distinguish the foxes from the hares.

5. The Defaulter

Hands down the most frustrating type of client. Not a shred of doubt about it.

We all work to earn a living. So when your client delays payment or doesn’t pay at all, it leaves you in a precarious position. 

After all, you can’t just march into their office and complain. The beauty of online work is sometimes its downfall. Clients can feel intangible and hard to pin down, especially at times like this.

There is hope. Call it a baptism of fire, but encountering ‘horrible’ clients highlight the loopholes in your systems. Use these unfortunate incidents to sharpen your professionalism and refine your systems. Here are a few tips: 

  • Communicate terms right off the bat, both contractually and verbally
  • Streamline the payment system, e.g. break each project into milestones and get paid after each milestone is achieved. That keeps the client active and engaged throughout the contract
  • Avoid clients who haggle you down to the last penny
  • Vet your clients to a high degree. Get references, if necessary
  • Impose enforceable penalties. Charge interest on overdue payments
  • Keep ‘nagging’. There is no shame in being persistent
  • As a last resort, hire a collection agency

Hone Your Craft as a Virtual Assistant

Ready to pursue a career as a virtual assistant? Small Revolution has created a free downloadable checklist to guide you – take full advantage of it. 

The long-term success of your business matters. And while getting the right clients may take time, learning from horrible experiences will nurture future relationships. 

Be your own advocate and start investing in the future of your long and prosperous career as a virtual assistant. 

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Katrina McKinnon

I'm Katrina McKinnon, the author behind Small Revolution. With two decades of hands-on experience in online work, running eCommerce stores, web agency and job boards, I'm now on a mission to empower you to work from home and achieve work-life balance. My passion lies in crafting insightful, education content. I have taught thousands of students and employees how to write, do SEO, manage eCommerce stores and work as Virtual Assistants. Join our most popular course: SEO Article Masterclass