Some time ago, I posted in a Facebook group for virtual assistants that I was looking to hire for a small project that had a quick turnaround.

The PowerPoint project had three deliverables:

  1. Confirm consistent formatting throughout (font size, type, text alignment, bullet styles, etc.)
  2. Find and add a handful of stock photos
  3. Create a separate handout (not merely just creating a PDF of the slide deck) *** this was identified as the most time-intensive part

I had also been considering hiring an executive assistant, so in the back of mind, I was simultaneously reviewing submissions to see if I could find someone who may be a good fit as a long-term assistant.

I had an overwhelming number of responses, as there often is for any general administrative type of project. Many virtual assistants didn’t follow instructions, and they were promptly and unapologetically excluded from consideration.

The woman I selected quickly sent her contract over, which I scanned and signed. Because this was a time-sensitive project, I didn’t go through my normal channels of properly vetting candidates. Since we didn’t know each other, I offered to pay a deposit toward the estimated four hours of work. I assumed the majority of the four hours would be needed for creating the requested handout.

It doesn’t go well.

First, I had to check in with her the following morning to ensure she had gotten the file and written instructions that I had sent. Then, I found that the submitted work was incredibly sloppy. I pointed out what was missed. I requested corrections.

After two unsatisfactory revisions, I indicated I’d just finish it myself (including the handouts that were part of the scope). I asked for the final invoice.


No response to my email. No invoice. There was absolutely nothing. Radio silence.

Fast forward 10 days.

Out of the blue, I get an “I’m sorry, I had a family emergency” email. Several minutes later, the final invoice shows up as well.

I’m shocked and somewhat upset. I ended up putting in two hours on the slide deck to do what I had hired her to do.

I’m getting ready to pay the invoice. After all, it’s only $37.50 (I had already paid a deposit at the time of signing the contract) and I figured it’s probably just better to “be done with it”.

Then I changed my mind.

I exit out of the invoice (without paying it). I email that I won’t be paying the final invoice, with a full explanation as to why.

A few email exchanges ensue.

My points (summarized):

  • I will not be paying the final invoice because work was sloppy and it included work I didn’t request (and that I actually had to remove).
  • If there were a family emergency, I would have expected to receive an out-of-office reply indicating such (I’m thinking: No one checked your email for 10 days? What about regular clients?)
  • Our original agreement was made on a Monday, with delivery on Wednesday. If I had not indicated I’d finish the slide deck, that deadline would have been missed.
  • I don’t want to pay for the work she did that wasn’t requested (according to her that was “only 20 minutes”).

Her replies (summarized):

  • It is not very professional to not want to pay her for work she did.
  • Fixing the 20 minutes of work she did would have only taken 5 seconds (But still…why am I being billed for work I didn’t request?)
  • It’s not her fault she had an emergency. (Fair enough)
  • It only took her 2.5 hours of the estimated 4 to do the work (but the handouts were never done and were part of the original scope of work and estimate).
  • She’s never had clients complain.

And here’s the main point of this post.

“She’s never had clients complain.”

Stop and think about that for a minute.

Click to Tweet: How a Complaint Can Be an Opportunity to Improve

What exactly does that mean?

It could mean a number of things:

  • Maybe my instructions weren’t clear
  • Maybe she rushed
  • Maybe our ideas of satisfactory were different
  • Maybe X
  • Maybe Y
  • Maybe Z

Or maybe…maybe clients have been upset…but it was easier to just pay the invoice and walk away without saying a word.

That’s exactly what I nearly did.

I wanted to write back (but didn’t) to ask:

  • How long have you been in business?
  • What is your client turnover?
  • How many clients hired you for one or two projects and never came back?
  • What is the approximate length of time of your working relationships?
  • How many referrals come from existing clients?

A complaint is a gift.

Sometimes feedback can sting.

I know. I’ve made mistakes…more than once. And undoubtedly, more mistakes will follow.

What we have to find in the feedback are the nuggets that can make us a better service provider, and often that comes from being able to put ourselves in the other person’s shoes.

It really comes down to The Golden Rule.

Here are some of the lessons I hope this VA eventually realizes as a result of this experience:

  • Have an emergency plan in place, and make sure that person has the access they need.
  • It only takes a moment to set up an autoresponder. Family emergency? Your emergency contact can (should) set up the autoresponder.
  • Confirm receipt of the project files and details.
  • Double check work before submitting it to the client to assure accuracy.
  • Clarify before doing any work that wasn’t requested.
  • FUBAR something? **Admit it! And heaven forbid…don’t make the client pay for your mistake (or for work they didn’t request or need).

Lessons I hope business owners glean from this:

  • Do your own due diligence and vetting prior to hiring. I should have looked through her website and her social media profiles, paying special attention to any testimonials.
  • Carefully read agreements before signing them. In hindsight, the “in case of emergency” clause in the agreement made me wonder how often she has “family emergencies.”

I was trying to help this woman become a better virtual assistant. It would have been considerably less stressful if I had merely paid the invoice and left it at that.

To say something or not say something when things don’t go as planned? That’s really up to you.

In case you’re wondering: I paid the invoice because I didn’t want a cosmic or karmic debt for a mere $37.50.

I’ve also since hired Leverage and I’m handing off so much more than general administrative tasks.

FUBAR = Fucked Up Beyond All Recognition

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