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Your Virtual Assistant Can't Understand You...Here's WHY and HOW to Communicate Better

Updated: Dec 4, 2023

If you're struggling to communicate with your virtual assistant, this is for you.


I often see questions in FB groups and forums where people share their horror stories about their experiences with their previous VAs.


"She can't understand me and always seems confused." "I gave her all the tools, and she can't deliver on time." "I thought I gave her enough examples, but she couldn't get the task right." "I'm not sure what else to do; the task is so simple it only takes me 10 minutes, but she's taking an hour to do." "I told him to do one thing, he's doing something entirely different, and now I have to rework what he did."


Does this sound familiar? If you've ever uttered these words or heard someone else say them, you're not alone. In this video, I'll be sharing my insights into why you might be struggling to communicate with your VA.



Common Traits When Communicating with Your Virtual Assistant


Throughout my career, spanning nearly two decades, I've worked as a virtual assistant and freelancer for hundreds of clients. While some clients initially find it challenging to communicate their needs to our team, over time, they become better at delegating tasks, and they continue to work with us. Here's what I've noticed: the clients who have been with us for years share three common traits:


Clarity with Task Goals: They have a clear understanding of their task objectives. Final Instructions Only: They provide instructions only when they're sure they're final. Mentorship Instead of Blame: When our team makes human errors while handling tasks, these clients naturally switch to mentor mode rather than shifting blame or requesting refunds or billing adjustments.


In my view, these are leadership traits, and they contribute significantly to the success of their businesses.


However, I'm writing this with a specific purpose: to help entrepreneurs who are just starting out or those struggling to organize their task lists. You might be a mom juggling an online business as a side hustle after your 9-5 job. You could be a single woman pursuing your Ph.D. while running an online coaching program or a mastermind/ membership. Or perhaps you're simply someone striving for success, and your business coach recommended hiring a virtual assistant to provide support. But you might be unsure whether you have the time and resources to maintain a virtual assistant or a team for your business. If you find yourself in any of these situations, then this is tailored to your needs.


Communicating What You Have In Mind With Your Virtual Assistant


I have a strong feeling that as you attempt to delegate tasks to your virtual assistant, you're receiving output that falls short of your expectations. You might be encountering misunderstandings or inefficiencies in their work. This can lead to a lot of back-and-forth communication, inconvenience, and thoughts like, "I should probably let this person go because it's becoming overwhelming for me."


Let me make this clear: all those feelings are valid. As the client, you have every right to feel that way, and it's entirely your decision whether to retain your VA or consider replacing them.



But here's the reality check. If you continue to rely on "trial and error" as your strategy for outsourcing or delegating tasks, you're likely to remain stuck. There's a high probability that any other VA or freelancer you hire will yield similar results because you haven't yet achieved the following:


Clarity

Do you have a clear goal, and can you communicate this goal plainly to your Virtual Assistant? Are you able to inspire and empower them to help you achieve that goal? Importantly, is your VA aligned with your goals? This is why vetting your VA before hiring is crucial. If you're in the real estate business, it's best to hire a VA with experience in real estate. If you're a coach, look for a VA who has handled tasks for other coaches. If you're in academia or education, consider hiring someone with a similar background.

Even if you're exceptionally clear about your goals, your VA may not share the same vision, and your business growth might suffer as a result. You don't want that, and I assure you, the VA you hired and the one you're struggling to communicate with right now don't want that either.


Final Instructions

The second point is communicating and endorsing tasks only when the instructions are final. When you hire a virtual assistant, their primary role is implementation. There's usually no room for planning, strategizing, or brainstorming. To make the most of having a VA, assign tasks for which you already have a well-established Standard Operating Procedure (SOP). It's crucial to maintain a stable SOP because constant changes can lead to your VA's frustration. I can't count the hours spent with clients going back and forth to understand a task they wanted us to do, but we couldn't grasp because there was either no SOP in place or, sometimes, they provided instructions with notes like "I'll send the logo and branding colors later." Then, a week later, they'd rush us to complete a task scheduled for a week in one workday because the deadline was the next day.


Furthermore, some tasks might be too complex to develop a repeatable process. But that's not necessarily a problem. When conflicts or misunderstandings occur, it's an opportunity for you, as the client, to evaluate the areas of your business that need improvement. If it's a business task that you should handle yourself because you can't create a process for it to be replicated by another team member, there are several reasons why this might be happening:


a) you're micromanaging and not ready to relinquish control,

b) you aim for perfection every time, which is admirable but not always attainable, or

c) your current VA might not be the right fit because they can't understand a task, even when you've provided a straightforward, step-by-step plan that a 6th grader could follow.


I must admit, there were clients I worked with in the past who struggled to convey their instructions to me. However, they later found a VA with a similar background, and they had a smoother experience. There's no hard feelings in such situations; it's about finding the right match. So, in summary, as much as possible, finalize the task and have an established SOP before assigning it to your virtual assistant or team.


Question: What if you don't have an SOP yet?


Answer: Create one! Alternatively, you can ask your VA to create an SOP for you by assigning an "Exploratory task." An exploratory task involves sending a task to your VA that goes something like this: "Hi Super VA, can you spend a maximum of 2 hours figuring out and documenting the step-by-step process for following up on failed subscription payments from clients?" or "Hi, my wonderful VA, can you help me create a standard operating procedure so that we consistently publish 1 Instagram reel every day and schedule them in advance? You can spend a maximum of 3 hours on this exploratory work."


By doing this, you're giving your VA a chance to prove themselves. Since they will be the ones handling the recurring task, it makes sense to let them create the SOP. Another benefit is that you won't have to rack your brain trying to figure out which tools to use, which system to create, where to save files, or where to upload finished files. Your VA takes care of these details for you, saving you time and boosting their confidence. This approach lays the foundation for building a scalable team. Eventually, your team members won't be mere task implementers; they'll become system creators and managers. Repeat this process, and you'll soon see your business grow with minimal effort on your part.


Mentorship

The first rule of leadership is "everything is your responsibility," and the second rule is "everything is still your responsibility." It all boils down to assuming command responsibility. If your VA is not performing up to par, it ultimately falls on you as the leader. However, when things go wrong, you don't have to criticize your team; instead, you can switch to mentor mode and ask questions like "How did this happen?" "What do you think could have been done differently to prevent it?" "Was I, at any point, a contributing factor to the issue?" "What can I do to improve my communication of instructions, tasks, or projects?"


There have been times when our team made honest mistakes, and some clients responded rudely and blamed our team for everything, even when we had consistently sought their feedback or confirmation well before the deadline. Those clients who stuck with us and naturally transitioned into mentorship mode when things went wrong have seen significant growth in their businesses. And those clients who possessed all the foundations of good leaders but still found our team to be a poor fit eventually thrived with their new VA, who had a better understanding of their needs. So, it's a win-win situation. It doesn't matter who your virtual assistant is or who your team members are; if you're a true and patient leader in your business, adept at handling the administrative aspects, you're golden.


Communicate Better with Your Virtual Assistant


So, what should a business owner do if they haven't reached that level yet? If you struggle with clarity, communicating your needs to your team, or working on projects with tight deadlines that leave no room for your involvement? Should you still hire a virtual assistant? Should you continue building a team?



Here's my advice: Don't hire a virtual assistant just yet if you're not ready.

Hiring prematurely is likely not what you need, and if you do, you'll likely end up frustrated because your VA can't read your mind. I promise you, if you're feeling frustrated with your Virtual Assistant, they're feeling the same way. VAs want to impress their clients; our livelihood depends on your satisfaction.


So, if things aren't going smoothly in your communication, you need to explore your options before you burn out, and your VA ends up in tears during your next Zoom call. I've been there – I cried in front of a client during my early years as a VA. It was embarrassing and vulnerable because I was also frustrated that I couldn't get the task right or that her instructions kept changing as I was working on it.


Therefore, if you find yourself struggling to organize tasks or projects naturally, it might be time to consider alternatives to hiring a VA, such as bringing in an Outsourced Business Manager (OBM). If you're unfamiliar with what an OBM is, watch my next video and read my blog, where I'll provide insights into whether you should hire a VA or an Outsourced Business Manager. See you there!






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