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3 Most Common Reasons Why Hiring a VA Failed for Me or You

Have you tried to hire and work with a VA in the past only to have it fail? I have many times! Here are the main reasons that working with a virtual team member fails, at least from my experience.

Based on talking with other people I believe others have struggled with similar problems.

Many of my emails for my contest post had similar themes about why the VA didn’t work out. Here is the contest post (if you applied don’t worry the contest has not been awarded yet)

3 Most Common Reasons Why Hiring a VA Fails

1 – Waiting Too Long To Fire Someone

This is a big one, typically people will try working with a poorly performing team member before firing them. Instead of ending the contract right away they will work with the team member and try and improve their performance. I believe your time is far better spent taking a good team member and making them great instead of trying to take a poor performer and make them mediocre.

Tip to Make it Easier – To make ending a contract easier reduce your sunk costs (time you have spent finding, interviewing and coaching a team member). Don’t interview! I know this goes against what pretty much everyone says but the cost of not interviewing and then giving a simple test assignment to the people you hire is much much lower than the cost of your time setting up and interviewing candidates. By reducing the “cost” (both time and money) of hiring people it makes it easier to fire people that aren’t performing!


2 – Don’t Get Status Updates Often Enough

The old saying of what gets measured gets improved/done is very true when it comes to working with a remote team member.

The biggest lever I believe you have to influence the behaviours of your team members  is the tasks you ask them to report on and the format of that reporting.

When I create a reporting structure I want to make sure there are a few basic parts communicated about the task…

  1. Objective – What is the purpose of the task they are completing
  2. Frequency – How often should they be reporting
  3. Standard – What standard are they working to
  4. Quantity/Deadline – How many of the task are you looking for them to complete or when should they be finished the task.
  5. What Gets Reported – What are you interested in quantity or quality?
  6. How – How are they reporting (email, spreadsheet or other?)

Tip to Get Started – One of the best reporting methods I have ever used is also one of the simplest.  Daily Emails! Simply having your team member(s) sending you a daily email stating what they did today, what they plan to do tomorrow and what problem/questions they have run into. Getting this basic information everyday is easy to do and makes the status of work very transparent. This is still my favourite reporting method for my key team members. Although I have more complex Google documents tracking progress the daily email goes a level below the numbers and keeps the progress in front of me.

3 – Don’t provide enough detail to your team member

Finally, the third reason that working with VA’s often fails is due to the tasks not meeting one of 3 basic criteria…

  1. Reasonable task – Is what you are asking this person to do within their capabilities? Are you asking someone with “ok” English to write 10 – 500 word articles?
  2. Reasonable deadline – Is the deadline you have assigned not too short or too long? Either one is bad and can result in a failed team member.
  3. Reasonable clarity – Is there a standard that you have given to your VA that you are asking them to complete a task against?  It is important in order to get a predictable result to have training and a standard for your team to follow.

If we assign a task that fails to meet any one of the 3 requirements above we are doomed to fail.


Final Thoughts

I am not an outsourcing “guru” or “expert”, my business has simply had to run on the backs of my team members for the last few years as I spend a lot of my time at both my day job.


In all I have had over 37,493 hours of team members working and spent $50,000 on Odesk. Without this team my business would not be able to deliver the results it can.

About the Author Jon

I am a 33 year old husband, father of 3, engineer and a huge fan of developing systems to build useful and profitable websites. The reason I build online businesses is to provide financial independence for my family and yours AND so I can spend time outside skiing and biking with my family.
Jon Gillham, Online Entrepreneur

Leave a Comment:

Miki Vicioso says April 21, 2014

Another thing that I noticed is to check up on them. I put a day on the week that I do a “review” of their work they are doing and send my notes. For some reason, they forget to do the task properly with time.

    Jon says April 25, 2014

    Hi Miki, I agree the review is a good thin to do. I try and do a daily 1/2hr management check and then a weekly review as well but doesn’t always work out that way.

Vukasin says April 21, 2014

Hey Jon

Nice post regarding virtual assistants. I agree about most of the things you say. I’d also like to say that I’m very good at firing people. Actually, I almost get hired once to be a guy who is going to fire people.

I’m also thinking of writing a guide on this subject but I’m not sure how many people would read it. I always tell people that if you want to fire someone be straight, honest and short. No one likes reading or hearing 4000 words report of work that is done badly. Just go and say it!

Keep rocking Jon


    Jon says April 25, 2014

    Firing is a good skill to have….I agree keep it clean and quick.

John Shea says April 21, 2014

Great post Jon, I’m currently debating over letting go of 1 of 3 VA’s I hired and don’t want to give any false expectations of work.

    Jon says April 25, 2014

    Hey John…anytime you are considering it usually means it is a good thing to do.

David says April 21, 2014

I would also add… not looking at more expensive workers and the greater skills and work ethic they may bring. I wasted far too much time always hiring for low cost rather than value.

    Jon says April 25, 2014

    Hi David, I am starting down that path for some true replacement of myself kind of jobs.

Steve says April 21, 2014

Good points Jon, one of the things that I always review when getting sub par work are my directions. Did I explain everything clearly and to the best of my ability? I usually blame myself first because I failed to do my job and accurately teach what I wanted done. But you are right, some people just can’t hack it. Those times it is best to just cut the cord and be done with it

    Jon says April 25, 2014

    I agree, being clear about what you expect about a finished project is important when communicating with your VA’s.

Phil says April 21, 2014

Hey Jon,
Thanks for these tips. I will try to takeaways some action soon and this might be helpful.

    Jon says April 25, 2014

    Glad I could help you.

Priyank says April 22, 2014

Hi Jon,

You are absolutely dead on mate.

These are the points that really holds back from having great VA.

If there is communication gap, as you rightly pointed out, it doesn’t work.

Thanks for this Jon.


    Jon says April 25, 2014

    Hi Priyank, hope this posts helps move you past what is holding you back.

Idee Regalo says April 23, 2014

Great post Jon, and great insights.
Working with VAs can be extremely frustrating and time consuming, especially if you work with low-cost VAs.
Will try with your advices!

    Jon says April 25, 2014

    Hi Idee, I agree, sometimes getting the low cost VA’s is more costly then hiring more expensive VA’s that produce quality consistently.

Josh Escusa says April 24, 2014

The third reason you mentioned is probably the biggest reason why people fail with their VAs. I use to give VAs quick directions and let them have at it. This may work for some of the higher end VAs who have plenty of experience, but for most VAs this just doesn’t cut it. The more clear you are with them, but better the work you get.

    Jon says April 25, 2014

    Absolotuley…with one exception…I like to give them vague tasks as the trial so that I see if they are self starters/problem solvers or if they will come back to me with questions that could have been solved by a 30 second Google search.

Brad Gerlach says April 28, 2014

slow to hire, fast to fire is what they say in the business world. When it comes to VA’s I think the hire part is more of a preference (I like slow and getting to know someone). But my needs are more precise usually and it seems to work with me.

But, I have no problems firing fast. The first sight of a problem, and I am off looking for a replacement.

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