New VA On The Fritz? How To Address The 4 Most Common Issues With Your New VA

Adding a VA to your team can be like having someone hand you a life preserver after you’ve been treading water for hours.

You’re filled nose-to-toes with confidence that your savior has arrived. That the days of drowning in the day-to-day tasks are over and you can finally get back to dry land (aka working in your zone of genius). 

If due diligence has been satisfied you’ve:

And now you can be sure that the person handing you that life preserver is a trained lifeguard who’s been around the block; not some well-intentioned stranger who’s likely to get themselves pulled under with you.

Or can you?

Sometimes, despite your hard work and diligence, a well-intentioned stranger arrives on the scene first and you find your savior might not be as equipped to lead the way as you might have hoped.

Don’t worry, all is not lost! You might just need to help them paddle you ashore a bit.

Here are a few red flags to watch for after you’ve brought your VA on board and how you can address them before you go under.

1. Does Not Respect Deadlines and Time

What’s it look like?

  • completing tasks later than agreed upon.
  • arriving late to meetings (and sometimes not at all).
  • asking to move deadlines after agreeing to them.

Let’s be realistic here; things happen. Sometimes people are late, sometimes a due date needs to be shifted, and sometimes tasks are delayed. It happens to the best of us. 

What we’re talking about here is a pattern of behavior that happens consistently. If someone is always late to meetings, or if they consistently ask for extensions, it’s time to take a step back and assess the situation. 

What you can do about it?

First, determine how you might be contributing to the issue.

  • Do you often change direction? Set goals and then change or add to them often? This isn’t a problem if you do but it might cause some confusion as to what the priority is. There may be an opportunity to improve communication about your priorities.
  • Do you add to tasks after they’re assigned? For instance, does a task like posting your blog start out as you giving your VA final copy and images and then turn into you needing them to proof & edit the copy, find/create the images, and brainstorm a title? Adding to a task after it’s assigned can result in tasks being late as your VA struggles to get it all done within the original timeframe.

Then talk to your VA about it. Let them know what you’ve observed and the effect it is having on your business. 

If you’ve determined there’s room for improvement on your end say so. Then lay out your expectations for them and ask how they can ensure to meet them in the future. 

Allow your VA the opportunity to act on your discussion and improve.

If the issues continue you might consider moving them to less time-sensitive tasks if you really enjoy working with them; otherwise, you may want to consider looking for a new VA.

2. Resistant To/Does Not Apply Feedback

What’s it look like?

  • Work is done the same way as before even though you’ve asked for something to be done differently.
  • They make excuses for why things are the way they are instead of offering solutions.
  • It’s always something (or someone) else causing it. They just won’t take responsibility.

What you can do about it?

First, determine how you might be contributing to the issue.

  • Do you have a valid reason for wanting it done a certain way and have you communicated that reason clearly? (For the record, “because you like it that way” is not a valid reason.)
  • When things don’t go as planned, how do you respond? Do you ask them to explain why (which is rarely useful)? Or do you explain what your expectations are and ask them how they can be achieved in the future? 

After you’ve done some honest soul searching on how your own actions may be contributing to the issue, have a chat with your VA.

Explain what the overall objective is and how you traditionally like things done (and why) but also solicit feedback from them. They often may have a better, more efficient way to achieve the same result. 

Be sure to ask for solutions, not excuses. Let them know that blame is not useful or necessary and that ideas around solutions are always appreciated. Then, lead by example. You can’t expect your team to be solutions-focused if you spend all your time finger-wagging and passing the buck. 

However, if your VA is not achieving the results you desire and is resistant to feedback and change, you have a whole ‘nother issue on your hands, friend!

If this is the case, simply lay it out for them. Show them how their inability to take direction is resulting in work not being completed correctly and what effect that has on you/your business. Then kindly let them know what you need them to do in order to continue your working relationship.  

One more thing: Be sure to give feedback in a direct but positive and constructive way. This is important to growing a great working relationship while ensuring communication is clear. 

3. Unresponsive (AKA: Crickets.)

What’s it look like?

Okay, maybe it doesn’t look quite like that. ????

But it is less like a peaceful night in the country and more like that one solitary cricket in your house chirping up a storm when you’re trying to sleep. In other words, your VA is not:

  • responding in a timely manner to your emails (my policy here at Any Old Task is no longer than 1 business day)
  • responding to or acknowledging the feedback you’re giving them 
  • acknowledging when you’ve given them a task (even if they complete it)
  • updating you on tasks/sending progress reports to you 

And it’s a problem. Not just annoying. It’s actually preventing you from achieving your goal. In this case, having a smooth-running business where you know what’s happening without having to do it all yourself or chase people down for updates. 

What you can do about it?

The first thing you want to do is see how you might be contributing to the problem (sound familiar?).

  • Are you equally unresponsive when they send things to you?
  • Did they start out by sending you updates but now they’ve stopped? Were you reading those updates or acknowledging them in any way?
  • Have you communicated that perhaps you get too many notifications or emails (maybe they think they’re helping).
  • Did you turn notifications off in the project management tool or filter emails to a folder? (This literally happened. I was happily sending reports and updates but my client had filtered them out of her inbox and then forgot she did it).

This is typically an easy one to fix. Usually, you just need to have a simple conversation. 

Letting them know what kind of updates you’d like to receive (and how often), as well as what timeframe you expect to receive responses to communication is typically all you need to do. 

However, your request for updates needs to be reasonable. 

If you are expecting an email every day detailing what was done you might be out of luck. It’s time-consuming and unnecessary; simply make sure you’re using a Project Management tool like Teamwork Projects or Asana as they will provide you with that info automatically.

If the issue persists they’re likely not the best fit. You need someone who’s responsive and on the ball. 

4. Needs Constant Direction / Asks a lot of questions

What’s it look like?

I don’t know. Can you tell me what it looks like? I’m just not sure I understood the question. Can you give me an example? I just want to make sure we’re on the same page – do you mind going over it again?

Ya. Like that. But worse. 

Every little decision. Every google-able fact; winds up in your inbox as a question. 

What you can do about it?

You know the drill by now. First, see where you might be contributing to the issue. (I’m all about self-awareness and growth opportunities!)

  • Are you delegating task after task with little context as to the overall goal? 
  • Are you a micromanager? Do you have a hard time giving up control, like things done your way, and need to be in on every decision?
  • Are you giving enough information? Are the questions valid?
  • Have you communicated how much autonomy you’d like your VA to have?

This one is often (but not always) one of two things. Communication from the top (you) down (them) is more of a trickle and many details are lacking resulting in the need for more questions. Or, the VA lacks confidence and is afraid of taking on responsibility or making a mistake. They’d rather bombard you with questions to cover their own butt than risk being responsible for a less-than-stellar decision. 

Both issues can be fixed so long as each person is willing to acknowledge the need for change. 

To fix the first potential issue, try delegating outcomes instead of tasks and make sure you let your VA know how much autonomy you’d like them to have. 

For instance, for someone managing your emails who understands your business goals and refund policy you might say, “I want my audience to feel supported and attended to so messages should be responded to within 24 business hours. I trust your judgment so things like refund requests and access issues, etc. can be handled by you.”

This gives them the outcome of “clients who feel supported” and the autonomy of “you deal with refunds. I don’t need to be involved.”

To fix the second potential issue may take some patience and time. It can be hard to overcome confidence issues. 

Often letting them know that you want them to take on more responsibility, giving them permission to act on their best judgment for the good of the company, and acknowledging that mistakes happen and that it’s how they are dealt with that matters, typically helps lift them out of their protective cocoon… but it might take a few attempts.

Also, being upfront and clear that you really need someone in the role who can make decisions and solve problems without needing to ask you about it can help them decide if they are that person.


I get it. You’re super busy. Too busy and important to read an entire blog post. Even if it might help fix your relationship with your VA and, in turn, save you the money, time and hassle involved in finding a replacement. 

That’s fine. Here’s the super light version to help you address any situation.

  1. Assess the situation. Take a good hard look at how you might be contributing to the issue and take steps to correct it. Also, be honest about the situation and determine if it’s an actual pattern of behaviour or a one-off occurrence.
  2. Communicate with your VA. Kindly and clearly explain what your expectations and needs are and how much autonomy you’d like them to have. Give examples of how something was handled incorrectly. Detail your expectations of what the outcome should have been, and explain the importance of meeting those expectations. Ask your VA for solutions, how do they think this can be fixed?
  3. Agree on an actionable plan to improve. Be specific here. If you need a reply to your emails within 1 business day, set that goal. If your VA has trouble meeting deadlines make sure they are involved in setting the deadlines in the first place and make sure they understand the priority of the work. Remember communication is super important. Make sure there’s an easy and comfortable way for the two of you to communicate. It’s important for your VA to know what the desired outcome is and how much autonomy they have to meet that goal.
  1. Follow up. Check in and make sure things are improving and if they are, acknowledge it by thanking your VA for their efforts. 

But what if things don’t get better?

If things don’t improve, you may need to end the relationship. Reach out and let them know things aren’t working out and give them notice that you’d like to end your working relationship with them.

Pro Tip: Check your contract and make sure you give them the notice required in the agreement.

If things are ending amicably you may have them stay on until you find a replacement. 

When hiring your replacement don’t be shy about why things didn’t work out with your current VA. They need to know from the outset what your needs, expectations, and quirks are so they can ensure they are the right fit for you (and vice versa).

Remember: hire slow, fire fast, and trust your gut.

Your turn!

Ever hired a VA (or anyone) that did not work out for you? What was the one moment where you knew they weren’t the right fit for you? I’d love to hear all about it in the comments!

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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