Because associate work is a great way to take on more work both when starting out and as you become more successful, I asked my VA Handbookers Facebook group to post up any questions they had on the subject and then I asked some volunteers who had experience of both sides to answer them. This is what they said:
What is associate Work?
Associate work is basically where one VA outsources work to another. It may be that the lead VA is too busy, doesn’t have the time or skills, or is simply not interested in doing the task and so they give the work to another VA at a lower rate than they receive from the client.
Meet the VAs and associates:
Listed below are the kind VAs who responded to my request for help in writing this post. Some outsource work to other VAs, some take on work, and some do both.
Note that not all of them answer every question. Some questions were not applicable and sometimes their reply was answered in more detail by another VA.
* Clare Farthing (CF) runs Your Virtual Assistant from Lymington in Hampshire and works as an associate.
* Denise Riches (DR) runs Denise Riches VA from Ontario in Canada and takes on associate work.
* Gemma Walton (GW) runs Portfolio PA from Leeds in the UK. Gemma outsources work to associates.
* Jennie Coleman (JCO) runs JLC Admin Solutions from Northamptonshire, in the UK. Jenny undertakes associate work for another VA.
* Jennifer Chamberlin (JCH) runs My Bilingual VA from Paris, France. Jennifer both outsources work and takes on associate work.
* Joanne Manville (JM) runs Joanne Manville Virtual Assistance from Exeter in Devon. She also outsources work and takes on associate work.
* Juliet McDermott (JMc) runs Your Digital Nomad from Buckinghamshire in the UK and works as an associate.
* Kelly Aldridge (KA) runs Your Biz Fairy from Essex in the UK and outsources work to associate VAs.
* Lisa Dellow (LD) runs A Virtual Presence from Harlow in Essex and takes on associate work.
* Rose Donnelly (RD) runs RED Virtual Solutions from London in the UK and has outsourced work to associates.
* Zita Lewis (ZL) runs Zita Lewis from Oxfordshire in the UK. She outsources tasks and also takes on associate work.
What kinds of tasks do you outsource or are given?
CF: Appointment booking, phone calls, research, data entry, taking payment for client programmes, inbox management, and responding to emails with care sheets for patients.
DR: I’m lucky in that the VA I work with does what I like to do: social media, general admin, data entry, image and document creation. However, she knows I want to expand my knowledge so when something new comes up, she offers it to me, and I usually jump at the chance to try it. She’s also had me help her with her VA business and some personal tasks. For instance, she recently asked me to do a mail merge. Instead of asking her how to do it, I felt vindicated and proud when I successfully did it without asking her any questions… all because I did some Googling!
GW: I outsource research projects, techie tasks (building Google Sheets, Forms etc), data cleansing and document formatting.
JCO: The regular work I do for a VA is transcription. She runs a very successful VA business doing transcription, but whenever she needs a day off, she will email her clients and ask them to send the work directly to me. The contract I have signed to begin working for a second VA is for more general PA type work but I haven’t begun the work for her yet.
JCH: I’m given credit control and calling clients, and I outsource translation and proofreading.
JM: I have outsourced to cover my maternity leave and so three clients are being looked after in my absence. I have been given minute taking and the preparation of board meeting packs.
JMc: I’m given website design, marketing campaigns and newsletters.
KA: I outsource website creation as this is a task I am currently training in.
LD: I take on room bookings, transcription, arranging interviews, collating and sending documents, job adverts and updating spreadsheets.
RD: I have outsourced French and German transcription.
ZL: I undertake anything from simple cutting and pasting to social media scheduling, blog writing and MailChimp newsletters.
What percentage of your work is given to an associate or is given to you if you are an associate?
CF: Only holiday cover and one-off jobs so far.
DR: I usually do anywhere from 5-10 hours per week for her. Not much but I know that as she gets busier then I will too.
GW: I outsource up to 10% depending on how busy I am.
JCO: As I mentioned, I am the VA’s holiday cover and will undertake three of her clients’ work on an ad-hoc basis.
JCH: Not sure of the exact percentage but it’s a very low proportion.
JM: I have given 50% on maternity for two months. In terms of work I am given, this is only an hour a month at the moment.
JMc: Around 50%.
KA: Less than 10% at present.
RD: I would estimate that it is less than 5%.
ZL: Probably 50% of my work at the moment is associate work purely until I build up my own business as I only launched in July 2016.
What percentage of your usual rate do you charge/receive?
CF: £20 per hour minimum. However, if I take on associates I would pay a higher rate – so if the client is paying £30, I’d pay the associate £25.
DR: I earn $12/hr from her… again, not much, but this is one reason I count on the exchange rate. I charge more from my own clients.
GW: I give the associate two-thirds of the rate paid by the client.
JCO: I have quite a low usual rate (compared to what is discussed on your Facebook page) but my associate work pays the same amount. This does make me think that I am charging far too less for my services direct.
JCH: I receive 50% and I pay my normal rate with a small additional referral fee.
JM: I charge 20% (pay the associate 80% of the hourly rate). I receive similar.
JMc: I generally get 60% of my hourly rate – my rate is £25 and I get £15 as an associate.
KA: I receive 20%.
LD: I charge 80%.
RD: I charge a referral fee and the VA I have outsourced to has provided a quote to my client. I have requested to receive 75% of my usual rate.
ZL: I charge between £17.50-£20 per hour as an associate and my usual rate is a minimum of £25 per hour.
What are the benefits/best things about giving or receiving associate work?
CF: The chance to earn some money, learn new skills, gain experience and to gain a testimonial.
DR: One of the best things about receiving associate work is the chance to learn from someone who has been there. I believe it’s a great way to learn about the business and the procedures by working with someone who’s been in the VA business for a while, assuming, of course, that they have good work habits (because you don’t want to pick up bad habits!).
Because she knows I’m looking for my own work in addition to doing work for her, she’s been a great resource. It’s been great to bounce ideas off of her and get feedback for ideas or problems I’m having.
GW: With a good associate, it’s fantastic to have someone there to lighten the load during busy periods who you can trust to work to the same standards as you!
JCO: The transcription work I receive keeps this skill fresh for me. I feel confident that if any of my clients or new enquiries asked for this service, I would be able to offer it. It is also a top up to the regular retainer work I do and it also gives further variety to my day.
JMc: The only one I can think of is not having to look for clients as the VA has already found them!
KA: Building a relationship and then knowing your client is in safe hands.
LD: It’s a good way to get work when mine is thin on the ground.
RD: If outsourcing, you can take on the work without worrying about whether you will be able to complete it. If receiving, it’s a simple transaction with no client contact.
ZL: I’ve found it an invaluable way to learn from other VAs. I get my name known and, now that I’m up and running directly, I’ve had VAs give me referrals and ask me to do associate work for them.
What are the downsides?
CF: Some VAs take advantage of what they pay an associate. I’ve heard stories and been offered £10 and £15 per hour when the lead VA is earning much more. There’s also the potential to do a job wrong if the lead VA passes information on and its misinterpreted.
I’m not sure that some lead VAs ask all the right questions when outsourcing and don’t treat the client or task with the same level of professionalism as they would if taking the work on themselves.
DR: The biggest downside is that when her work slows down, so does mine. This is why it’s important to also find clients of your own!
GW: Having to remember intricate details to brief them on – client preferences, preferred formats etc – some things you don’t even know you know until you’re faced with them, so it can be hard to give a truly comprehensive brief.
JCO: The main downside is that you’re always aware you could receive more money if the work was coming directly to you.
JCH: Associates aren’t always available.
JM: None at the moment!
JMc: Not receiving your full rate.
KA: Guilt of not being able to do the work yourself, I put a lot of pressure on myself to do it all.
LD: Less money and not ‘owning’ the work. I also need to add that I took on some associate work when I was a very new VA. I was very grateful to the VA who gave me the work, but the client often wanted to deal directly with me.
The VA was helpful but I also felt under pressure as she questioned everything I did – which is fine, I understand if I was dealing only through her – but because the client kept calling and emailing me, it made things more difficult. I was new to the job and felt under pressure from all sides.
RD: You sometimes take a risk if you don’t know the person you are working with.
ZL: The main one is it’s more ad hoc although I do have a couple of monthly regular associate jobs. Also, the rate is quite a bit lower.
Where do you find an associate to work with?
CF: I’ve built a network of professional VAs who are interested in associate work should the need arise for me to outsource client tasks that I cannot fulfil due to lack of knowledge or desire!
DR: I answered a help-wanted post on the VA Handbookers Facebook group and we arranged a Skype interview. She gave me a small task to work on with her and she was happy with how I approached it and how quickly I was able to complete it.
I’ve tried to find other VAs to work with, and it’s not been an easy task. All you can do is ask if they need any help, much like you would approach a potential client.
GW: From the awesome private Facebook group for trainees of the DIY VA course!
JCO: The VA I do the transcription work for is the VA who encouraged me to start my own VA business. She has been my mentor and helped me grow my business, therefore I feel she trust me with her clients.
The second VA who I have signed contracts with was an introduction from the first one. we all met as friends on various occasions and now I think she feels she can trust my work ethic and ability based on the recommendation.
JCH: Through my network.
JM: The woman who outsources to me has just started as a VA but I have known her as a PA for several years.
JMc: Facebook and LinkedIn connections.
RD: VA contacts and networking groups as well as LinkedIn.
What rights do you have as an associate?
DR: None. I know the names of her clients, and thankfully she trusts me with this information, but I’ve always understood that her clients are NOT mine. I never communicate with them, I never interact with them, and I would never dream of doing so unless she wanted me to. They are 100% her clients, and I’ll never forget that.
So when trying to form a blog post about how I can help clients like hers, I automatically ran it past her before I posted it. I did it out of respect, and for her peace of mind. She understood that it was hard for me to tell people how I could help them if I wasn’t allowed to talk about what I do, so I was very careful in crafting the post and left out names or any identifying information.
JCO: I can turn down the work if I am too busy.
JCH: It depends whether you’re helping someone out off-the-record or whether you’ve signed an official agreement.
JMc: I sign an agreement with all VAs I work with outlining these – I get paid on time, don’t poach clients etc.
KA: For me, it is to ensure you are fairly paid in line with the agreement that is contractually put in place and also that you are treated respectfully by the VA or vice versa.
RD: If you have a contract and see the terms & conditions I assume your rights are the same as if you were dealing directly with the client.
ZL: It depends on the associate agreement.
Do you ever decline associate work and if so, why?
CF: Only for low hourly rate reasons as mentioned above.
DR: The VA I work with is great for asking if I’m interested in taking on a project or if I have time. There have been one or two times where I’ve just been unable to do it, and she understands. There are never any hard feelings, but I also go out of my way to make the time. I want the work!
JCO: As stated above, I can always decline the work if I am too busy. I would also decline the work if I felt it was not something that I have no knowledge of. The last thing I would want to do is complete some work that is not up to standard and then I would not get paid.
JCH: Yes, if the pay is too low or I’m too busy.
JM: Yes if it will impede on my own client work or is a task I don’t enjoy doing.
JMc: Usually if my own client needs something urgent and I do not have the time.
LD: Only if the money is too low.
ZL: Not in general unless I don’t have the skills or the time or the rate is lower than I would expect.
What are the best sort of tasks to outsource to an associate?
DR: Speaking from an associate standpoint, I would say anything you don’t have time for. Or, if you want to help your associate develop skills, anything you feel can help them learn.
GW: Project-based work (i.e. not ongoing tasks) with specific time or budgetary constraints – things like research where the client says ‘spend X hours/X £££ researching this or that’ so you both know your perimeters.
JCH: It depends on what the associate specialises in. I wouldn’t ask a tech-savvy VA to do credit control for example.
JM: Research tasks.
JMc: Usually those that you can do but don’t like doing.
KA: I find at the moment they are tasks which I am unable to perform.
RD: Things I am unable to do, such as translation, data entry and telephone calls.
ZL: It really depends on the associate’s skills. When I’m at that stage, I would expect to outsource jobs outside my skill set.
How do you find out if the associate is any good?
CF: Feedback, regular communications with the client if you’re dealing with them directly and testimonials.
DR: Again, speaking from an associate standpoint, I was given a tester task to complete to check the standard of my work.
GW: Trial and error, CV, recommendations. I don’t set tester tasks as I don’t think it’s fair and I wouldn’t like to be asked to prove myself if I had the relevant experience!
JCH: Look at their client testimonials and who they’re connected to on social media.
JM: I look at references from others who have used them.
JMc: One VA I work with assigned me to do something for her and not her client to ensure I was up to the task – another has a set of tests that I have undertaken.
KA: The same as a client would; testimonials, trial work and research.
RD: Have a conversation with them first and ask them about the working practices, experience and capacity etc.
ZL: I go with referrals and recommendations.
How do you set standards and ensure those standards are consistent?
GW: I think you get a ‘feel’ for who will and won’t adhere to the high standards you would provide to clients yourself; the associates I use have solid PA/VA experience working with similar clients to mine, so I know they understand the standard required. I check every piece of work before it goes out of the door though!
JCO: I received very open and honest feedback on the transcription documents I completed at the beginning of our working relationship. The biggest bugbear of the VA I was working for was having to correct the same mistake over and over again (this did not happen with the work I submitted I would like to add).
She would check over the work before sending to the client, but now she trusts me I send the work directly to the client.
JCH: I check what the associate has done before sending it back to the client.
JMc: As I don’t use an associate this is not applicable to me, but the VAs who outsource to me all check my work until they are comfortable. They also check the client is happy with the work completed.
KA: I always check the work produced with a fine tooth comb before passing it to any client of mine. I also outline the level of expectations to the associate so they are aware of my expectations of them.
RD: Again, communication is key. I use a template for my transcription work and ensure that all work is provided to the client using this template. I also see all the work before it is returned to the client.
As an associate, do you need to have insurance and data protection or is it down to the VA you’re supporting?
CF: I’d recommend both of the above. Unless the VA adds you to their insurance or you’re covered under their data protection, you would not be covered.
JCO: I have been asked by the VA giving me associate work to obtain the relevant insurance before we can work together.
JM: Yes you need it yourself.
JMc: I have both and I need to know any associate has the same.
LD: The VA that I worked for insisted that I had my own.
RD: You should have your own insurance and data protection.
Can starting out as an associate be a good idea as a warm up to becoming an independent VA?
DR: I definitely think so! Thanks to her, I was able to hone some skills and learn more about what a client might need from someone who manages their social media. It’s helped me with my first official client because now I have skills, whereas before it was just a guessing game.
GW: I think so; it’s a good, low-risk way to test the water, as any good VA using an associate should check the work before it’s sent on to the client. It’s like having a back-stop in cricket!
JCO: A perfect start to being a VA. I made the decision after a while that this was not the sole direct I wanted my business to go in, but it did kick-start the money coming in!
JCH: Yes, absolutely, it gives you a chance to prove your worth.
JM: Yes I think it is.
JMc: It can be a good way to find out if freelancing is right for you.
KA: I think this is a viable option.
LD: Yes, I think it can in some circumstances.
RD: I didn’t do it that way, but I can see the benefits.
ZL: Definitely. I have been an associate since 2013 and only launched my own business in July 2016. It’s been invaluable to me to become an associate before a direct VA. I’ve learnt so much from the ladies I’ve done work for and I’m still happy to combine associate work with my own direct client work.
I love the interaction with other VAs and I’d recommend it as a stepping stone to starting your own VA business.
Do you allow your associates contact with your clients or do they go through you?
DR: I have no contact with the client.
GW: They go through me.
JCO: As stated before, now my VA has confidence in the work I carry out for her, I am able to send the work directly to the client.
JCH: They go through me, to begin with.
JM: Mine will be dealing directly with the client for the purpose of maternity leave.
JMc: The VAs I work with do allow me to do this via the email address they have set up for me.
KA: They go through me.
RD: I prefer them to go through me.
ZL: It all depends on the VA. I work for some VAs where I have direct client interaction and some that I don’t. It’s personal/client choice.
How can you protect yourself and not risk your clients being poached by the associate?
CF: By having a contract.
JCO: You need to know the associate very well and protect yourself through the contract you both sign.
JCH: Sign an agreement and work with people you trust. One of my concerns would also be my client (another VA) working with one of my associates (a translator) directly and cutting me out (it hasn’t happened yet!).
JM: An associate agreement and close working relationship.
JMc: associate agreements.
KA: By using an associate agreement.
ZL: Get a watertight agreement. Ethically I would never ever poach a client. I have been approached by a client before and have been completely transparent with the VA and informed her.
Is there an obligation to tell a client that some of their work may be outsourced to an associate?
CF: Yes, it’s professional and honest – integrity is everything.
GW: Depends on the work. If there are potential data protection or confidentiality issues then yes, but if it’s a piece of desktop research or a ‘vanilla’ document which doesn’t mention the client’s name/details, then no.
JCO: I know my VAs inform them that I am carrying out work for them.
JCH: Yes, I believe so.
JM: Yes I believe you should unless it is already explicit in your contract with your client.
JMc: The VAs I do associate work for have all done so.
KA: I believe so yes, I specify this in my contract with the client.
RD: Not necessarily, although to date I always have done so.
ZL: No, but I believe that you should be transparent and upfront from the beginning.
What turnaround times and response times do you expect from associates?
CF: It depends on the task.
GW: I just expect them to meet the deadlines I set.
JCO: I stick to the same turnaround times that the VA has with her clients, one client needs work returning the same day whilst another need the document back the following day. I always adhere to these timescales.
JCH: It depends on the urgency of the request, but faster than if I were to do it myself.
JMc: The VAs I do associate work for expect me to turn round the work within the agreed client times.
KA: I ask for a 12-hour window for response times and turnaround is based on the deadline of the task.
RD: This very much depends on the work they are doing. Ideally, I would like the work to be completed at least half a day before it is due to be sent to the client, in order to give me an opportunity to look at it.
ZL: It would depend on the job.
What advice would you give to someone looking to outsource or to take on associate work?
CF: Interview them on Skype or face to face if they’re local. Call three of their clients for testimonials, and start with one or two tasks for yourself prior to letting loose on your client work! Also, check out their social media accounts and their website.
DR: Because I was anxious to get started, I took the work before understanding what kind of services the VA offers her clients. I was leaving my full-time job one week after our interview so I felt the pressure to secure work. However, I would suggest doing a bit of research before approaching a potential VA to work with so you have an idea of what services they offer and how you can help.
Although I have no regrets about my VA beginnings, I think approaching a VA for associate work should work the same way that the VA Handbook teaches VAs to approach clients.
GW: People looking to outsource: Find people like you – in terms of experience, professional standards and personal values – this definitely helps me to get over my trust issues about handing work to other people! Communication is also absolutely key – you get back from an associate exactly what you ask for, so be clear in your brief!
JCO: Although I carry out associate work, the type of work I do directly I could not outsource. My clients have bought me and would not be happy for me to outsource their work. Think carefully about what tasks you are giving to an associate.
JCH: Do your research beforehand!
JM: To start small and get feedback and references.
JMc: As an associate, you need to make sure you understand the client requirements and to get on with the VA.
KA: Always do your research, put a contract in place to protect both parties and build a long-lasting relationship just as you would with a client.
LD: Be aware that you will be paid less, the work may be boring, you will have very little control and you will not feel like your own boss!
RD: Get involved with networking groups, make contact with other VAs on LinkedIn and let your contacts know that you have work to outsource or that you are looking for work as an associate.
ZL: Don’t take on anything you can’t handle. Don’t price yourself too low but remember that as an associate you will be charged a lower rate.
Conclusion and resources
If you’re a busy VA, outsourcing certain tasks is a great way to make more money. And if you’re a new VA then becoming an associate is a great way to learn the ropes and become familiar with the way freelancing works.
There also seem to be a few downsides so, like everything in your business, you need to create a plan of action to ensure you end up with a situation you’re happy with and that works for you.
A VA cannot outsource work to just anyone.
As you’ve just seen, apart from ensuring the idea is financially viable, you also need to be confident in the quality of work produced and that the associate can deliver to your client’s standard and within set deadlines – otherwise, you run the risk of damaging your client’s business as well as your own reputation.
After receiving numerous requests for training, I asked fellow Rock Star Victoria Tretis from My VA Rocks to write a methodical, step-by-step course on how to safely hire an associate. I haven’t worked with associate VAs myself but as Victoria manages a team of them, I knew she would be the perfect person for the job.
If you’re at the stage where you’re looking to outsource work to an associate VA, then click here to read more about the content of the course and see FAQs.