Some time ago, there was a client who came through the Registry at AssistU for a referral to our fabulous Virtual Assistants. When he’d narrowed it down to the few he wanted to talk with, he sent each a laundry list of questions he expected her to answer prior to his setting up a time to talk with her.
Here’s that list:
1. Your Business
a. How long have you been a VA?
b. Since becoming a VA, are you where you thought you would be? Why, or why not?
c. Are you a fulltime VA, or do you work outside the home while running your business part-time?
d. If you have not gotten to a place of profitability in your practice, how do you live? Do you have an extra source of income while building your practice?
e. How many more years do you anticipate working as a VA?
f. What are your long-range plans?
g. If you have ever worked with someone in my field, describe for me what you do for them, and the systems you use to accomplish the work.
i. Please provide me with five references from existing clients.
ii. Please provide me with two character references that are not a member of your family.
iii. For each, provide me with their name, telephone number, best time to reach them, and whether they have been informed that I might call.
a. How much do you charge?
b. Do you charge the same while you are being trained as you do when you are proficient in a task with no “hand-holding?”
c. Is there a decreasing scale on your fee as the hours increase?
d. If you have to learn a new software package, do you bill me for this time? If so, is this at the normal billing rate?
e. How do you bill and when do you expect payment?
3. Learning My Business
a. Do you learn difficult concepts quickly? Do you have an example?
b. Can you learn new software quickly? Do you have an example?
c. Since every new client is a whole new experience, describe for me the challenges involved in establishing a new relationship and what you do to reduce the time required to make your new business relationships evolve smoothly.
d. What have you found to be the downside(s) of this type of working relationship?
e. In situations where this type of relationship does not work, what would you attribute this to?
4. Computer System
a. Do you have a PC or a Macintosh computer?
b. What operating system do you have?
c. What type of Internet access do you have?
d. How does the people you are working for proof your work? In other words, what system have you found to work well when accomplishing work that needs to be proof read?
5. Follow-Up: after our interview, I would like you to send me a paragraph or two on why you believe you can help me as my Virtual Assistant.
Taken individually, the questions aren’t really out of line. Taken as a whole, however, the list could feel (and did to some VAs) intimidating and invasive.
Normally, when something like this happens (when something "seems" a certain way), I advocate asking if the perception is accurate. Using this case as an example, I'd suggest that a VA ask the client if his list was meant to be intimidating and invasive. That kind of dialog is often incredibly revealing, and can lead to all sorts of interesting discoveries.
With this client, however, I'd heard more about his email messages with the VAs, and I knew there was more going on here; either he was a control freak who needed an employee rather than a VA, or he genuinely didn’t understand that VAs aren’t anything even remotely like employees, and he needed some educating about the VA/client relationship. Actually, probably both were somewhat true. :)
The problem the Virtual Assistants faced was that he wasn’t interested in talking with anyone who pushed back about doing his questionnaire...so what’s a girl to do? Answer a questionnaire that feels invasive so that she can get him on the phone, or get blown off by not answering the questionnaire at all?
My motto is this:
Actually, there are at least a few moxie-filled ways to handle this, including offering to happily complete the questionnaire as long as the client reciprocates. I love that one. Fair is fair, dontchaknow, and quite a few of those questions would make great discussion topics for a mutual interview.
Unfortunately, chances are that a client like this one would only be annoyed by such a request (remember, he’s not interested in equality here), making it not the best choice at all.
Sometimes the best option (and the best use of moxie) is to simply not engage. In this case, that would be a great third option. Just walk away from the conversation. Don’t let yourself be pushed into a situation you don’t care to be in, don’t wait around to be blown off, and don't get sucked in to a conversation about it that can only end badly.
You have the power to choose—always, who and what get your time and attention. Stand for yourself, always—you can never go wrong in that. See a person clearly the first time he shows himself to you, and pay attention to what your gut says. In this case, moving on to look for clients who want a mutual interview and relationship founded on equality and trust are great outcomes.
And in case it’s helpful, here’s some great language for getting out of a situation like this once you’re already in it. “Thank you for your interest in talking with me; however, since replying to your referral request I’ve decided to take my practice in a different direction. I wish you all the best in finding the perfect Virtual Assistant to assist you with your business!”
The different direction, of course, is in the decision to not continue to talk to anyone undeserving of your time.