This is Part 4 of a four-part series on finding, hiring, managing, and firing (or continuing with) virtual assistants. Today we’ll tackle the tough challenge of firing your assistant. Topics include:
- Reasons why some projects just don’t work out.
- Steps you MUST take once the firing decision has been made.
- Whether to leave feedback and if so how much or how little?
- What to do if things go really well.
- And much more…
Recognizing When Things Just Aren’t Working out
Sometimes, no matter how well you prepare and follow the Virtual Assistant Lifecycle, things just don’t work out. Reasons might include:
- The virtual assistant is not meeting his or her obligations.
- The assistant’s conduct is detrimental to your business (taking too much time | uncommunicative | missing when needed | missing deadlines.)
- The assistant just up and has to leave for “personal reasons” in the middle of the contract.
- The assistant decides to take another project in the middle of your contract.
- Circumstances or dynamics in your business may necessitate a staffing change.
- Any many other possibilities.
The hiring responsibility also brings the firing responsibility. Sometimes an assistant may fire you, and other times you may have to let them go. This is just part of doing business and requires planning and response just like anything else. Many consultants and small business owners are uneasy with the thought of firing their assistant. It’s never fun and still makes me uncomfortable to this day. My hope is that this article will help ease the tension a bit.
NOTE: I want to be clear the point of this article is not to “get rid of” virtual assistants. Quite the opposite. The reason for this series of posts is to help foster an effective working relationship for both buyer and provider. Your goal (and the goal of your virtual assistant) should always be a productive relationship. Finding, hiring, and managing virtual assistants can be time consuming and disruptive to your business. You want to find quality virtual assistants and use them over and over again in your business.
That said, the reality is that some projects prematurely end for a variety of reasons. Dealing with these situations quickly and effectively will minimize business disruption.
Types of Project Endings
There are three major types of project endings:
- Normal Ending – Project(s) completed successfully.
- Continuation – Project extended. (Things are going so well with your new assistant that project work is expanding.)
- Unhappy Ending – Project(s) not completed successfully. Assistant contract is ended early.
The first two types of endings are largely self-explanatory, so we’ll focus on how to deal with an “unhappy” ending.
What to do if a Virtual Assistant Project Ends Early
Premature endings may happen for many reasons. Sometimes client and provider simply are not a fit for one another. Other times, one or both parties have so many disagreements or deadline/working issues that the relationship must end. It’s important to remember that as the hiring company, your company and business welfare always take priority. Similar to managing a company with employees or contractors, you hire virtual assistants to be assets.
If you’ve decided for any reason your virtual relationship must end, follow this quick checklist:
- Backup all of your project work and data (you should be doing this anyway.)
- Disable all project accounts and access.
- Decide on a project-ending proposal.
- Propose end terms to your assistant. (Even if they disappear on you, which can happen from time to time.)
NOTE: Depending on your working agreement, you may have contractual obligations to pay your virtual assistant based on work completed. ALWAYS honor your obligations to terms of the contract agreement, whether or not the VA honors their end.
- Send an “early ending” notice with dates and ending terms.
- Decide what feedback, if any, you will leave for the assistant
A Note About Disputes
If you work with enough virtual assistants, you may encounter a situation where a work contract is disputed. For instance, an assistant may say something was “delivered”, when it wasn’t. Or, an assistant may disappear in the middle of project and still want full payment. These are RARE cases. But, they do happen. In fact, they happen often enough that all the major freelancer marketplaces have built-in dispute filing and resolution services. My advice is to always be fair and avoid disputes if at all possible. I’m not saying you allow your company to be taken advantage of if your contract terms weren’t met. Rather, I’m suggesting you be reasonable and end projects without ill feelings or a lot of back and forth in email. Remember how valuable your time is; battling over virtual assistant deliverables is not time effective.
I can’t emphasize this enough: always protect yourself and your business. Most virtual assistants, including the ones who “just don’t work out,” are good and honest people. But they still have access to key systems and you should follow the same measures that you would for firing an employee or subcontractor.
Should You Leave Feedback?
Most virtual assistant hiring services have bi-directional feedback systems. If your virtual assistant experience is somewhat less than stellar, read feedback policies carefully and decide.
If you decide to leave feedback, what should you say? Be aware that some virtual assistants will ask for (or expect) a positive review – even if a project didn’t go well, or they left the project prematurely. You need to have a response to this inquiry when your (now former) assistant contacts you.
As a general rule, I do one of three things:
- Leave no feedback at all, stars or written. If the assistant stopped out in the middle of an active project, I usually use the “no feedback” option. This is about the same as a “neutral” rating.
- Leave the appropriate star ratings without written feedback. If the project was officially completed, but with many problems along the way (deadlines missed, lack of communication, etc.) then I use the star system. Depending on your hiring service, rating dimensions include:
- Skills – Did the assistant have the skills he/she advertised, and ability to understand and follow requirements?
- Availability (Was the assistant online / reachable as agreed?)
- Deadlines – Did the assistant meet agreed deadlines? This is one of the most common problem areas in virtual assistant projects.
- Communication – Another way to look at this is “responsiveness.” Did the assistant communicate questions, suggestions, and comments? Did the assistant respond to emails as agreed? Attend meetings as agreed?)
- Cooperation – Was the assistant flexible? Make suggestions?
Quality – Was the work quality as good or better than agreed? Be careful here not to be subjective.
- Leave star ratings with written feedback. Our company has a policy to not write out any negative feedback. If the assistant did not perform well, an accurate star rating is more than sufficient. In some cases, we’ll directly mail feedback directly, rather than post it publicly. If the contract went really well and everything was delivered and done according to plan, then we will leave positive written comments in addition to the star ratings.
In many outsourcing portals, assistants and to a much lesser extent employers, are judged on a public rating system. It’s important to be sensitive to the fact that virtual assistants rely on star ratings and positive feedback to establish and grow their businesses. The virtual assistant profession is extremely competitive and a ratings portfolio is a key differentiator for assistants. Because of this, I generally leave the most positive star rating I legitimately can. And always round up. If an assistant could be rated between 3 and 4 stars for example, I will give 4 stars.
Note that I use the term “as agreed” quite often throughout the articles. Going back to Part 2 in the series, your “project statement” needs to document requirements thoroughly and accurately. Any feedback you leave must be made based on the virtual assistant’s adherence to the original requirements. As long as your review is honest and in the spirit of the original agreement, things will be fine.
What if Things Went Well?
Great! If you have a project that goes really well and you flow well with your new assistant, then find another project for them — or several. Even if you don’t have a new project right away, keep things positive and keep in touch. Good virtual assistants and conversely good employers of assistants are not easy to find. When the chemistry is right, keep it going.
Repeat the Cycle
If you have found yourself a high-performance virtual assistant, then keep using them! Quality assistants are hard to come by. But don’t forget to critically view your performance as a client. Are you good to work for? Are your expectations always clear and concise? Do you plan your tasks well? Have a look at IT Consultant’s Guide to Finding Virtual Assistants for buyer suggestions.
This fourth and final segment of the “IT Consultants Guide to Finding / Hiring / Managing / Firing (or continuing on with) Virtual Assistants” has touched on the difficult aspects of ending projects. No matter how many projects I’ve done over the years, ending “unhappy” projects is as hard as it ever was. The difference is that now experience has taught me the systems I have shared with you.
In closing, always try to keep your project endings as cordial as possible. Whether your experience was positive or negative, view it as a learning opportunity. Treat your virtual assistants with dignity and respect, be honest with them and clearly communicate your expectations. I recommend that you and your assistant read all posts in this series before starting your next virtual assistant project.
All the best to you and your virtual assistant(s)!