Beware of the big bad wolf - Blog

Beware of the Big Bad Wolf (and dodgy hoovers)

How to spot troublesome potential clients and what to do if you have one.

I have had some amazing clients over the six and half years I’ve been a Virtual Assistant, and I feel very blessed because they have been supportive, they have always paid on time, they don’t have unrealistic expectations, they communicate regularly and… Well, they are just generally lovely to work for.

But (and you can guess where I’m going with this), there are some people out there who for one reason or another make troublesome clients, I’m happy to say that for the majority this is unintentional on their part; however, there are some who deliberately play VA’s off against one another or don’t have your best interests at heart.

So, how do you spot these wolves in sheep’s clothing?

What makes a difficult or troublesome client?   

  • Someone with unrealistic expectations.
  • Someone who changes VA’s as often as they change their underwear.
  • Someone who wants to start a virtual assistant business using VA’s but has no understanding of the industry and doesn’t plan to be a VA themselves (these people are affectionately known as hoovers).
  •  Someone who cannot be reached when required or disappears when needed.
  • Someone who asks you to do something that breaches regulations, laws or ethical boundaries.
  • Someone who doesn’t respect your set boundaries. E.g. work times.
  • Someone who doesn’t pay on time (either with the first invoice or on a regular basis).
  • Someone who doesn’t communicate their requirements properly, then wonders why the work hasn’t been done properly or done at all.
  • Someone who takes advantage of your good nature.
  • Someone who gives you short notice on a large job and expects you to prioritise their work unrealistically.
  • A client who saps your time, but doesn’t want to pay for those looooonnggg conversations and visits.
  • Someone who is just not very nice.

These clients have the ability to make your life miserable, and I know a lot of VA’s who have found themselves at the mercy of them. They can eat away at your confidence; they can make you doubt your business model, they can even make you wish you’d never gone into business as a VA at all. 

How can I spot them?

There are ways to spot these sorts of clients, but as with anything practice makes perfect. When I first started out, I didn’t have a clue how to tell who was great and who wasn’t and inevitably I found a few wolves huffing and puffing their way into my house!

Listen to your Spidey senses.

I can’t stress the importance of this enough… always (and I mean always) listen to your gut. If it tells you something is wrong, then it probably is. My gut has never yet failed me, foolishly I have chosen to ignore it in the past, always to my detriment. I don’t know how those spidey senses work, but they’re spot on every time.

Do your research! 

Find out who your potential new client is. Check their website and their socials, what are they posting and who are they connecting with? Just make sure they are a real human being! If you are offering any form of financial support, you will need to verify their ID anyway as part of the Anti-Money Laundering Regulations.

Ask around.

If they are local, ask around? If they have a reputation for not paying or being a bit of a ‘Del boy’, people talk, and they will tell you. This is where networking will pay dividends.

Do they want to sign your contract?

Are they reluctant to sign your contract? No namby-pamby, if they don’t sign your contract, then no VA services for them! Also, be very, very wary of signing their contracts. I very nearly got caught out in the early days of my business when a potential client asked me to sign their contract and refused to sign mine.  I passed their contract by a friend of mine who was in employment law, and their contract would have meant having to prioritise them as a client and not take on any other clients in their industry.

Does it sound too good to be true?

Are they making grand promises of big money and bucket loads of work? This isn’t always a warning sign, but it can be.  I took on a client a while back who gave all this spiel, and guess what? He didn’t pay his first invoice; then his second went unpaid. He eventually paid up after a solicitor’s letter was sent, but it took up a lot of my time, and it was annoying not to be paid on time for work carried out and to be ignored. Quite frankly if they don’t pay your first invoice on time, it doesn’t bode well for the future; there can be exceptions so do bear in mind the circumstances but don’t tolerate poor excuses.

Is it ethical or legal?

An established client once asked me to un-PDF a magazine for them and put their logo at the top where the old logo was.  When I questioned it, they told me they hadn’t been given permission, but nobody would have to know… I refused to do it. A week later, I was told I was being replaced by another VA. Not a nice experience to know you are being punished for adhering to the law, but better than ending up in prison or being fined for breaching the copyright laws.

Bad-mouthing a previous VA

If a client calls you up and starts to tell you how terrible their previous VA was, see if you can check things out.  I had a call from a chap who proceeded to tell me how terrible his previous VA was, what he didn’t realise was, was that I knew her. I gave her a call, turned out she had sacked him because he hadn’t paid for three months.  This is where networking in the industry pays off.


This is a name given to people who go around sucking up virtual assistants to whom they can outsource work. Most of them are genuine and they understand the VA industry fully, but some go around sucking up a wide range of VA contacts in the hope of offering a VA service when they have absolutely no knowledge of the VA industry. Check out their experience and employment history on LinkedIn. Find out if they are offering other services as part of their business. E.g. Are they just a large umbrella company that outsources all sorts of services (SEO, hosting, graphic design, printing, web design, amongst other things). If so, can they be an expert in all these things??? When offering a VA service, it is so important to understand the industry, particularly the legal aspects, if they are not clued up or haven’t worked as a VA themselves, can they offer an informed and quality service, and are all the legal aspects in place? For example, do they know that they have to be registered with the ICO as well as you? Always check it out before signing up with them.  

So, what do I do if they approach me?

Don’t be afraid to say “No”. You don’t have to be rude, and you don’t have to explain yourself, just a polite “No, thank you” is sufficient.

If you get to the point where you have signed the client up, and you have already started working for together, you are still more than entitled to say “I’m sorry, I don’t think this is working out” or “I’m not comfortable doing that for you.” Always check your contract to see if you have agreed to work out a notice period for them, but for the most part clients that you’ve let go tend to go their own way straight off and maybe ask you to hand over to a new VA.

If they don’t pay you, send an email, call them on the phone and if the payment is still not made write them a letter to say “if it isn’t paid by [date] we will be passing this on to our solicitor”. If the payment still isn’t made, call your solicitor or accountant as they should have a payment collections team, and they can take it from there. Most clients will pay up when you send them the letter before passing it on to a solicitor.

The biggest and ‘baddest’ of wolves like to pick on new virtual assistants as they think they don’t know any better, so arm yourself to spot these so and so’s, and always trust those spidey senses. As your experience grows and time goes by you will be able to spot these wolves more easily, but I hasten to add that I still get caught out occasionally. 

Illegitimi non carborundum!

Just remember, when you became a VA you did it because you enjoy the work and you wanted to be your own boss. If a client is getting you down, making you feel bad or uncomfortable, you have the right to say “this is my business, I’m not your employee. I will work for whomever I like, and I don’t like you!” Well, maybe don’t say that, but you have a right to be happy and enjoy your VA career, and you don’t have to put up with the type of crap that makes you dread going to your desk each day.

Pick your clients carefully; don’t take someone on just because you feel like you are wasting an opportunity if all the warning signs are there. It is ok to say ‘no’; you will build a stronger and better business if you have encouraging and supportive clients who appreciate you and build you up.