5 Tips for Being a Professional


I am in despair!!! For the last few years – five at least – I’ve been trying to teach newbie virtual assistants about how to increase business, stay in business, keep clients happy and so on. By ‘newbie’ I mean anyone who has been in business less than 2-3 years. Forgive me for being blunt but if you have only been in business 12 months to 3 years you are not a veteran VA and you are still learning. I’d even go so far as to say you need to be in business for 5 years before you can wear that tag – given the statistic that over 80% of businesses fail in the first five years.

This year I started the Virtual Business Show radio show/podcast in an attempt to get this sort of information out there and readily accessible to everyone.

Today I had to yet again ‘save’ the reputation of the industry because of the less-than-ideal way a client was treated by a VA I had referred in a round about kind of way.

Here’s what happened ….

I received a call from my Yellow Pages ad (an old one) from a client in the city asking me if I could help her. Unfortunately, as I now live in regional Queensland I couldn’t – in this case she wanted to see the person to speak with them about document production. I have a business ethic that I never leave it at that. If I can’t help a client I believe it is in not only the client’s best interest but also mine and that of the industry as a whole, that I try and find an alternative. So I use my networks and refer. Many VAs do the same.

I referred this client to a VA I knew and trusted in the city – who unfortunately couldn’t help out in this instance but referred her to one of THEIR network contacts.

So far so good, right?

I was absolutely dismayed to receive a desperate call from this client today to the effect that she had been trying in vain to contact the VA she had been referred to in order to sort out some urgent amendments to the document, and couldn’t get her – did I have an alternative contact for her? (Which of course I didn’t because the VA who secured the job wasn’t the one I originally referred.)

I managed to get hold of the client this afternoon to check whether she had sorted things out and she indicated she finally tracked down the VA and has decided she will put the job aside until next week “when the VA may be better able to look at it”. What the?? I nearly had a fit! To make matters worse, this client was making excuses for the VA saying she had a couple of kids at home, she had some personal life things happening and “her head is probably elsewhere right now, understandably”.

Unfortunately I disagree. I don’t think it’s ‘understandable’ at all and is amazingly unprofessional of the VA (incidentally, who I don’t know so I’m being general here and not specifically attacking anyone) – particularly that they shared their personal life story with the potential client as an ‘excuse’ for not getting the job done properly and making mistakes!

So here are my 5 top tips for being professional – when dealing not only directly with clients but also when taking jobs referred by colleagues:

1.  Don’t take the job if you can’t fulfill the requirements. I don’t care how desperate for work you are. If you tell a client – or a colleague referring a job – that you are able to do the work then for heaven’s sake DO IT! If you drop the ball you’re letting not only the client down but the entire industry. In short – you make us ALL look bad!

2.  If you have your mobile phone listed as your main contact ANSWER IT – ALWAYS! If for some reason it must go to message bank, ensure you have the professional Message Bank service. Don’t rely on those silly free services by telcos like the one where if a person rings their number is sent in a text to you. And have your phone set so that if you miss a call you are notified by an audible sound. And if you happen to be in the shower or something, check your phone – OFTEN! Assume people are ringing you even if they’re not.

3.  Return calls from clients and colleagues the same day – within an hour of receiving the message at most. Don’t keep people hanging on guessing – and NEVER leave a client hanging wondering where on earth you’ve gotten to with their job.

4.  Never view clients as a nuisance. Clients are a gift – they keep your business ticking over and without them you’re out of business. Treat clients the way you like to be treated when you’re buying a service.

5.  You may be self-employed but you’re in business! Working from home for yourself definitely has advantages and gives you the opportunity to do things you would not have time for if you worked for someone else, BUT even if you’re looking after kids and it’s school holidays or you have to run Johnny to the doctor at 9.00am, you’re still a business. Make it easy for clients and colleagues to contact you. Have phone numbers and email addresses easily visible on your site. Consider not just using your mobile number (particularly if you don’t check it regularly), or have your home number forwarding to your mobile if you’re going out. Return calls immediately. Respond to emails within 24 hours. Be at your computer regularly throughout the day. If something takes you out of the office, make up the time. Some more ideas are covered in my Saying No podcast.

And for heaven’s sake if you have a job on it takes priority – over everything else – except perhaps a child requiring a doctor visit if there’s no one but you to take them – in which case give the client a quick ring and let them know you’ll be delayed.

It is incredibly frustrating to be putting out fires caused by unprofessional VAs in an attempt to keep people coming back to our industry with work! This client was a professional person who is likely to use VAs again in the future. Potentially not this one but I had to spend 15 minutes of my time on the phone with her this afternoon smoothing things down and encouraging her not to abandon us all completely because of one less-than-encouraging experience.

Please think before you take on a job. If you don’t have the time to do it say so – there are others the job can be referred to. If you do take it on commit to it. Get it done above all else and remember – the customer is always right! If a client asks for changes, you do them, they send it back saying it’s not right and you go back and forth like that for a while – so be it! As a newbie unfortunately you don’t have the luxury of picking and choosing yet. If you’ve taken the job on there’s no such thing as the too hard basket. Taking a job means you’ve taken responsibility for pleasing the client. So do so. Because failing to do so means you potentially mar the reputation of the industry for the rest of us … not to mention you’re unlikely to get work referred to you again.

Being a virtual assistant means you work in a service industry. Service is a verb. You have to DO something to serve clients – but that’s also what keeps them coming back and turns them from potential clients, to clients and into advocates.

© Lyn Prowse-Bishop – www.execstress.com


  1. Hi Lyn an excellent article, I have just had a bad experience so can relate to your article completely. Regards Ali

  2. Fiona Snepvangers says:

    You’ve certainly hit the ball with those 5 points Lyn. These points aren’t only for the VA industry. A lot of businesses should be treating clients/customers this way.

  3. Totally agree. I brought up 5 children, as you know, in the first 10+ years of my business. My children were NEVER used as an excuse ever in the running of my business. If I had appointments that related to them, I always stated I had an appointment and worked around that. I only ever once had a client (a male) make an excuse on my behalf about my kids – in advance. He was anticipating I might have a problem with something he wanted done. I nearly bit his head off but refrained and kept my cool, but reminded him I’d never used my kids as an excuse and never intended to. His work was done and completed as requested.

    I would add one more item to this Lyn. People treat email like it’s not important. Just because it doesn’t make an urgent sound like a phone does, does not mean it’s no less or no more important than the phone. It should be treated the same. Answered and responded to in a short period of time – not when someone feels like they will get around to it.

    It further amazes me how many ‘mailbox full’ messages I get when emailing VAs or other business operators. Don’t they check their mail every day?

  4. execva says:

    Thanks for your comments ladies. And you’re so right Kathie – re email. I think I mention that in my podcast on Keeping Clients: http://bit.ly/9EVI7S

    This was a very frustrating experience – and unfortunately not uncommon.

  5. I agree wholeheartedly Lyn. Reliability and seeing the job through is paramount to maintaining a client. I would much prefer someone to say up front they are not able to meet a deadline than let me down at the last minute.

    Being a VA does not mean siting on the computer all day joining in all the chit chat – yes, that is part of it but the most important part is working and meeting the specified deadlines.

  6. Great article Lyn. I couldn’t agree more, I would rather work around the clock or with children crying or nagging me in the background than let a client (or another VA) down. It is my business, and as a newbiewouldn’t want to convey any other image than professional.

  7. Diane says:

    Great points, Lyn. Whether you are accepting new clients yourself or referring clients to another VA because you can’t accommodate their needs in a timely manner, you should be operating on a solid base of good business ethics. I only refer to VA’s I know very well and who share my beliefs in “excellent customer service”, meaning on-time, on-task and within budget.

    I do not feel comfortable about 3rd party referrals. When I refer a client to another VA, I have already done my homework in finding out if that VA is available and able to meet the client’s needs. If not, I will be contacting another VA directly to find out their availability in order to accept the client.

    I am assured that the VA’s I communicate with are not accepting the client and then referring them to someone else. My reputation for dependability is in jeopardy if that client ends up in the hands of someone who cannot deliver what the client needs.

    Referrals are key to growing your business and establishing your reputation!

  8. Sue Gross says:

    Excellent article Lyn! These very important points are things that will make or break a business and people really need to get their heads around that. If you don’t treat people with respect and professionalism, you will not get more work from them, you won’t get referrals, you simply won’t get ahead.

    Some of my clients don’t know I have a child, our relationship is purely professional and my family isn’t relevant to my work with them so why would they need to know? Others know because either they’ve asked or it’s come up in conversation in some way or simply because we chat on a more personal level. However like Kathie, I never use my daughter as a reason not to get work done. If there is a family emergency all it takes is a phone call to the client and it’s all taken care of. It’s so very important to keep the communication happening.

    Thanks Lyn, I’m off to share a link to this article on Facebook.

  9. Karen Jones says:

    For a newbie like myself Lyn, this was very informative to read, however, it’s not something that I have done and will ever do but it is interesting to see the follow on effect it has on everyone and on the industry.

  10. execva says:

    Thanks for the comments ladies. Like you Diane I tend to refer only to VAs I know and 9 times out of 10 the referrals go to members of AVBN, which does the due diligence on applicants so I already know whether they can do the work. But sometimes it’s a job they don’t want or can’t take on so I send to other VAs I know well – as a general rule. Sometimes however that doesn’t always work and if I don’t have time to take on the job I don’t have time to perform the due diligence on the VA I’m referring the client to – that’s when it’s up to the client to check into them properly and for the VA to hold up their end of the deal.

    One thing I DO expect however is professionalism and the way this VA acted was not very professional IMHO.

    I cover the sorts of things you mention Sue in my podcast on Saying No – http://bit.ly/97DCij

  11. Lyn, this is a really good article. I think that a lot of people do forget that clients are their main priority (not only VA’s I might point out). I have my son at home with me and make sure I point out that the majority of my work is done on the days he is in daycare. There are two days when he is at home with me and they can obviously be very unpredictable. I ensure all my clients are aware of this and that if they do need someone over the entire 5 day period that on the days he is at home the work will be completed at night once he is in bed.

    I am also due to have my second son and it was something I communicated extremely early to my clients. I made sure I told them that I would be working with them over that period to ensure they still get the support I would expect, whether it be from myself or from my team of subcontractors. They are all aware that once the second baby arrives I will be managing the work but a lot will be subcontracted out. I haven’t had once complaint about this and my clients appreciate that I am being honest with them.

    One thing I always insist on is a deadline with my clients, so I know what I am working on. It also helps so if I need to find a contractor and provide them with a deadline. I would prefer someone say they can’t take on the work than to say yes and not fulfill that promise.

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