The Do’s & Don’ts of Communicating with a VA

When was the last time you had a real heart-to-heart with your virtual assistant?

‘Cause let me tell ya, communication is the key to success in any relationship—and that’s just as true for the VA you outsource your work to as it is with your spouse, best pal, or your own clients.

If you haven’t started working with a VA yet, communication is something you’ll definitely want to think about before you get started. Partnering with a virtual assistant can absolutely transform the way you scale and grow your business… but only if you can find the communication sweet spot that enables you to work together like a well-oiled machine.

That’s why I want to get touchy-feely for a minute about your relationship with your virtual assistant. You’re probably thinking, “of course I communicate with my VA. I’m always sending them info on tasks that need to be done and projects I want to explore.” and that’s great, but it’s only part of the equation. If you want to get the most out of your VA try seeking their input, make them feel valued and that they’re part of the team.

You want your VA to be in your corner, looking out for your best interests, and going above and beyond to make your business successful. Great communication doesn’t just define assignments and expectations, it also helps your VA to feel valued so that they work even harder to push your business forward.  

So if you want to develop a great working relationship with your virtual assistant, you’re going to need to invest time and energy into great communication. Here are 6 do’s and don’ts of communicating with your virtual assistant.

1. DO Establish Communication Systems

To be honest, unless you’re only working with a VA very occasionally, email is a pretty crappy way to communicate. It just doesn’t allow for a very fluid conversation, asking and answering questions, and general discourse. Plus, everyone gets WAY too much email as it is, including you, so let’s all decide not to contribute to the world’s massive email surplus and get smarter about how we work.

You need a better system to communicate, and for that, I recommend a project management system, a chat system, or a combination of both.

Whether you choose Asana, Teamwork, or a shared Google spreadsheet, you need somewhere to organize all of the work that needs to get done. With emails, you end up with long email chains that can get very confusing and cumbersome. What you really need is a live system where you can add tasks and all of the supporting information that goes with those tasks. These systems are great because you can keep track of what your VA has completed and what they’re still working on, and you can continue to clarify and add more information as needed. Some of these systems offer chat mechanisms, or you might also use a separate chat tool for ongoing work conversations.

For example, our team uses Teamwork as our project management tool and Slack for conversations. Slack is an intuitive system that will help you keep in contact with your VA at a moment’s notice. Slack is so much better for your interoffice conversations than email. You can chat with each other in real time to ask questions and clarify projects. DO download this program or something similar. Other great chat tools include WhatsApp and Telegram, but Slack is our first choice. It’s a free and invaluable communications tool to talk with your VA, it can grow with you if you add more team members, and it integrates nicely with many other tools.

Many virtual assistants keep Slack open all day, so it’s often the quickest way to get their attention. That said, DON’T spam them with messages. A good VA will get back to you as soon as they can, but if they’re in the middle of a call with another client, they won’t be able to answer immediately.

Make sure to talk with your VA and decide together how the communication tools are to be used and what type of response time can be expected. I also always recommend having a backup emergency procedure. My clients know that if something it super urgent they should pick up the phone or text me.

2. DO Realize that Clarity is King (and Process is Queen)

Chatting on the fly isn’t the best way to communicate a new assignment or task. Having a process for the flow of communication is vital. For my team, a new project typically starts with a face-to-face chat via zoom. The call is recorded and appropriate action items are taken from the call and loaded into Teamwork. We also write short minutes of the call and document it in Teamwork with a link to the recording just in case we need to revisit the details.

From there my team and clients can add new tasks and information to the project. Any yes/no questions are asked within Teamwork on the appropriate task.

If a conversation needs to occur about a task or project, that back and forth is done in Slack with the final decision documented in Teamwork.

DO take the time to clearly communicate what you want. If you take the time at the beginning to be clear and thorough it actually simplifies work in the long run and makes the results more successful.

For example, instead of asking your VA to research networking opportunities, get specific: Ask them to find 5 networking events in the Niagara Region for the month of April. Being specific will ensure that your VA doesn’t spend hours researching hundreds of networking events that you won’t even be available to attend.

I also highly recommend taking the time to learn the project management tool you’ve selected and use it to manage your own tasks as well as those your team are responsible for. Keeping all the tasks in one place and having everyone, including you, use the same tool will help keep everyone on the same page, will allow you to be able to check in on the status of a project at any time, and can help foster a team environment.

3. DON’T Let Mistakes Go Without Correcting Them

Every mistake is an opportunity to learn. That goes for both you and your VA. You can learn from your VA’s mistakes by realizing that you could have communicated something more clearly. That’ll allow you to do a better job explaining the next project. And every mistake that your assistant makes is a chance for them to get to know you and your preferences better. So don’t just let it go. Explain it to them in a constructive way so they can learn and do even better the next time.

4. DO Pick Up the Phone When It’s Important

Shit happens. Things go wrong. Your VA makes a mistake, or you make a mistake, or things just hit the fan. When things go wrong, nothing goes right, and that’s when relationships can easily deteriorate into written comments that can seem passive aggressive. That’s when you really need to hear each other’s voices over the phone, or better yet see each other’s faces through a Zoom call. If you really want to be constructive and build a great, communicative relationship, get sensitive to those times when talking to a real human is just better, faster, and more effective than writing.

5. DO Emphasize Urgency & Deadlines

Something I’ve found working with even the best Virtual Assistants is that few people work well without clear deadlines and it’s up to you to guide your VA about the priorities you have in mind. Something might be very urgent to you, but if you don’t communicate that urgency to them, you’re probably going to end up frustrated. It’s up to you to outline deadlines and priorities so that it’s clear for your VA.

6. DO Make Sure Your Assistant Feels Valued

It doesn’t matter how busy you are or how many balls you have in the air; find the time to let your assistant know you appreciate them. Because when people feel valued, they work better for you and make better contributions to your success. Make sure to thank your VA and let them know how much they mean to you and your business. And once in a while, remember to do something nice for them, like adding a holiday bonus in December or remembering their birthday. That little bit of love goes a long way and ultimately, the more you nurture your relationship with your virtual assistant, the more you’re investing in your business.

Bad communication is the WORST. Gazillions of back and forth emails. Passive aggressive email replies and a tone that just comes out wrong in writing. Miscommunication. Ugh. But you can avoid communication pitfalls by following the six suggestions we’ve outlined here.

Do you have a communication tip that we should add to our list? We’d love to hear about it!

Meet your host

Sandra Booker, Founder of Changemaker Inc. (home to Sidekick COO and The VA Studio) and creator of Scale Society and The Advisory Board, is a mentor, Fractional COO  and growth strategist. She specializes in helping overworked, overwhelmed, multi-hatted entrepreneurs become the CEOs of sustainably scalable, and powerfully profitable businesses. 

After helping local businesses thrive, and receiving accolades in her community (like the 40 Under 40 award) Sandra turned her attention to the world of online service providers, and her clients include familiar names like Chanti Zak, Tarzan Kay, and Laura Belgray.

In her (efficiently used) spare time, she teaches others how to build and grow their own 6-figure virtual assistant practices and is on a mission to create a million jobs by helping her clients and students scale their businesses.

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