Having a good and effective relationship with your virtual assistant or online business manager can be such a huge source of relief. Tasks that you no longer want to take care of yourself can simply be handed off with confidence that they’ll get done the way you want them done.

But those of us who partner with virtual professionals know this is usually not the case, especially in the beginning. I’ve worked with dozens of clients throughout the years and there have definitely been a few bumps in the road.

In the early years as a virtual assistant, my main problem was communication. At first, I didn’t communicate enough. The client would send me a task, usually with little or no instruction. I would refrain from asking the client questions for fear that I was “bothering” them.

Later on, it was too much communication; e-mail upon e-mail asking for clarification because I didn’t want to do the wrong thing or make a mistake. Both the client and I were frustrated. She wanted me to be more proactive and take initiative, but without knowing or understanding her needs, I didn’t have the tools to take the reigns.

These problems aren’t new, so why is it so hard? My old boss Jackie used to say, “I wish someone would invent a LapLink cable for humans so I could just download my brain.” (For you youngsters out there, we actually used to have to run a cable between computers in order to transfer data!)

All joking aside, we are human and we have built-in filters, habits, and we may assume. In the absence of effective communication, this can really put a strain on the relationship, especially because we are working virtually.

As service providers, it is our responsibility to facilitate communication and ask for help or clarification. One of the biggest helps that you can do for a client is to document processes so that you’re not constantly reinventing the wheel. The business owner also needs to do his or her part as well. Hiring a virtual team is perhaps the biggest expense a business owner will have, so it’s worth it to invest the time, training, and trust in their team if he or she wants to build and run a successful business.

So how do you make your relationship with your VA an effective one that will last? I think it boils down to two things:

1. Give Crystal Clear Directions

Vague descriptions like “manage my calendar, “clear my schedule,” or “book an appointment with Sally” can be very easy to mess up. Trust me, very easy. Instead, make sure you provide crystal clear directions, including what your criteria is for a job well done.

For example, for booking appointments, you might tell your assistant:

“Please book me an appointment between 9 am and 5 pm with Sally. Prefer to meet at a restaurant and not a diner or coffee shop. Let her choose what kind of food, I like all kinds. If she doesn’t have a recommendation, just pick a high rated place for us from Yelp. Please email me the date once it’s booked and also send me a text reminder the day of.”

Clear directions make it easy for VAs to follow and leave little to chance. Not only that, but you will greatly cut down the amount of back and forth e-mail that frustrates the already overwhelmed business owner.

2. Create Process Documents for Repetitive Tasks (my favorite thing to do!)

For repetitive tasks like checking e-mail, booking travel, setting appointments, launching a product, and providing customer service, creating a system or process that outlines how you want the process accomplished is absolutely necessary.

For example, with booking travel, the process document might say something like:

1 – Please book all travels on my MasterCard ending in 5479.

2 – Please send the receipt to receipts@mydomain.com

3 – Please check Expedia, Kayak, and Orbitz for the best price before booking the ticket.

4 – Please also check two days before and after the date I specified for the best price, unless I specify that the flight has to be on a certain date.

5 – Please e-mail me telling me when the flight is booked. Add it to my Google Calendar. Please also send me a reminder two days before my trip.

Once you have your process document set up, you can just send your VA a message like “Please book me a flight to New York around Nov 2nd” and know that it’ll be taken care of exactly the way you want it.

Here are more processes that you can systemetize: how to handle declined payments, how to handle prospects, and how to process requests for joint ventures/speaking engagements. You can add processes to a Word document and then share with the team using Dropbox, Backpack, Box.net, or other document sharing service.

Remember, “97% of all failure is due to the SYSTEM and not the person.”

– W. Edwards Deming

Also, make sure you tell your VA or OBM when they’re doing things right. So many business owners, bosses, clients, etc. make the mistake of only speaking up when things are going wrong, which gives their team the impression that they’re not doing their job right.

Creating the sense that they’re a valued team member will make it a self-fulfilling prophecy. Someone who feels like they’re doing a great job is much more likely to do a great job. One of my clients always takes the time to tell me she appreciates me for a job well done and I ALWAYS go the extra mile for her. 😀

Managing your virtual team well is the key to having a long-lasting and effective relationships. Remove potential friction points by making all your assignments crystal clear. Lay out process documents for repetitive tasks. And be sure to let your team know when they’re doing a good job.

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Whenever I hear Beth Schneider, CEO of Process Prodigy, speak, I instantly feel calmer, more organized, and just a wee bit smarter!

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Copyright 2011, Lisa Wells.

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