Breaking Up is Hard to Do


As a VA there will be times during your career when you’ll need to walk away from a client. There could be a number of reasons why you might decide to end a contract: the client may not fully understand how the VA/client relationship works (no matter how many times you try to explain it); there may be personality conflict (just like in any working relationship); one or other of you may feel the relationship is not meeting expectations; there could be a conflict on moral or ethical grounds; or, sometimes third party involvement can create breakdowns in communication that for one reason or another become impossible to resolve. Of course, sometimes people just may not like you. That’s okay. It happens.

It is important to remember that YOU are your own boss. You do not need to continue a contract with a client if you feel in any way undermined, undervalued, bullied, victimised, your reputation is threatened, or things aren’t working out as you had anticipated. Similarly a client has the same right for the same reasons. If you’ve tried everything you can to resolve whatever the situation may be and it just isn’t happening, it’s time to say goodbye.

When it happens, it’s important to recognise that you’ve tried all you could to sort out the issues and that sometimes you just can’t. You also can’t control the actions of other people and unfortunately in life you will have personality conflict – either with the client or others involved with the client – and you will encounter people who like to make themselves feel better by undermining you or making you feel bad. Do not let it continue. If you can’t reach agreement over the situation with your client, leave. There is absolutely no reason to feel like you have failed in some way – in actual fact the person making the decision to go in most cases in my experience has been the one acting professionally and maturely. We are all, after all, grown ups and need to take responsibility for our own actions and our part in situations as they develop.  If you see something heading south, be the bigger person and realise it’s time to call it a day.

Martin Luther said “Heavy thoughts bring on physical maladies; when the soul is oppressed so is the body.” And no truer word has been spoken. As the master of your destiny you must ensure you maintain your health.

Leaving a client is very difficult for VAs especially, the majority of who come from PA or other assistance backgrounds. I came from an Executive PA background and bring that experience to my VA practice. This means that I form a tight relationship with my clients – which is imperative if we are to work cohesively together and even more so when you’re working remotely. It is based on mutual respect, and unconditional trust. It must be. It can also sometimes be difficult for others to understand that’s how it must be, particularly those who don’t have an understanding of that assistance-type relationship. But this also makes it difficult to walk away. However, when this relationship is undermined, you must – not just for your own sake but for your client’s too. No one can continue to effectively work when things deteriorate – and communication is absolutely paramount. When that breaks down, forget it! You are a professional and if the client can’t see a resolution then you can bring the situation to a close yourself.

If you have tried everything to sort the situation out and it’s just not improving, then you owe it to yourself and your client to move on.

If you’re a client working with a VA, or one who has a team of contractors assisting you, it is imperative if things are not working out that you recognise that and work to either resolve it, or if it cannot be resolved, to end it. The management skills required of being in business apply just as much if not more so to virtual teams as they do to “real-life” teams.

We all know the importance of a cohesive team. If you have multiple people working on your business you have a responsibility to ensure everyone is working well together and communicating (just like in a standard workplace). The hard thing for clients is to try and remain objective and sometimes you can feel like you’re in a schoolyard – but again, that’s just like in a standard workplace. Working virtually doesn’t eliminate these difficulties – and can sometimes exacerbate them. But if you’ve decided to work with virtual teams, then you need to maintain communication and remain objective in times of strife. If you can’t then perhaps working virtually isn’t for you.

You also need to ensure you understand that your contractors are just that – and not employees. You’ve decided to contract them to harness their strengths and use their skills to your advantage – so as the client you also need to learn to let them do what they know best, and take their advice in areas of their expertise. After all, isn’t that why you brought them on?

If things break down irrevocably which they sometimes will do, you have a duty to ensure that your remaining team aren’t using it as an opportunity to undermine the team member who decides to call it quits. Maintain professionalism at all times – not just your own but that of your other team members. No matter what your personal opinion of the situation may be.

The VA industry is one of the very few truly cohesive, non-competitive industries left in the world. VAs are a tight-knit group – it’s something we pride ourselves on. We do not speak badly of other VAs and when a client says something like “We had a very bad experience with the last VA we used” this raises red flags around the industry. We know there are a multitude of reasons why client/VA relationships break down – and not all of them are the fault of the VA. When a VA hears these words it tends to make them cautious and you don’t want your new VA relationship to begin on that footing. When you begin your hunt for another VA if you decide to continue working with one, then avoid those kinds of statements – just do your searching as if you were starting again from scratch and treat every potential candidate as a fresh new start, because they are.

The multitude of reasons a VA/client relationship may not work apply equally to you as client as they do to the VA.

VAs, remember you are your own boss, and most of us left the corporate world to get away from the poisonous politics that seems endemic in many workplaces. Don’t let it creep into your virtual relationships too. You do have the power to say no, and you do have the power to walk away. Be professional, retain your dignity and allow the door to open to better and brighter things!

©Lyn Prowse-Bishop,

1 comment

  1. Helen says:

    Resignation is harder than love break ups. I experienced that on the very first company that I worked for. Well as the saying goes, all good things come to an end. I also believe that you can develop your skills and professional growth by having a chance to work with other people as your career move forward.

Leave a Reply