Because the VA industry is unregulated, people often try to take advantage of the situation for their own personal or financial gain. From amateur “experts”, dodgy clients and outright scammers, unethical practices appear to be on the rise. But if you know what to look out for, you’re far less likely to be taken for a ride.
Although there are people who think it’s morally acceptable to take advantage of others, this is true for all sectors and not just ours (although not much of a consolation). However, because the VA industry has noticed a sharp rise in unethical practices, I wanted to bring your attention to a few of the more common scams so you can take measures to avoid them.
Common VA industry scams to watch out for:
Virtual Assistant training courses
In the past two years, the Society of Virtual Assistants* (the SVA) have received more complaints about VA trainers than in the preceding ten years put together.
Although it’s partly a case of “buyer beware”, there are many ways you can find out whether someone is legit and actually knows what they’re doing.
Training courses are not cheap. I know for a fact that you worked damned hard to earn that money and therefore it’s vital you know what you’re getting before you hand any of it over to someone you don’t know.
And it’s not just the SVA who are concerned about amateurs passing themselves off as experts:
“How can someone who’s been a VA for only one or two years provide a course teaching you what is needed to grow a successful VA business? It would be wise to check that they have put in the hours to gain the relevant experience to teach you what you need to know to successfully build a VA business. It will be interesting to see if these courses and their owners are still in the industry in another 4-5 years’ time. Some may be, others won’t.” Kathie Thomas: owner of VA Directory and former President of the Australian VA Association.
Due diligence is important in every industry and not just ours. Here’s what Jessica Lorimer from Smart Leaders Sell has to say about picking a coach:
“You’re more likely to get results with a coach/ mentor/ consultant/ business owner who has a PROVEN track record. And guess what? Someone with a proven track record has a bunch of clients and therefore doesn’t need you to join any particular programme. They’ll give you the best option for you – and you should take it. If you’re thinking about working with a new service provider, purely based on the amount of Facebook posts they write and how many ‘prayer hand emoji’s’ it gets… well that’s not due diligence. And it doesn’t indicate that they have a track record with clients. Please pick the EXPERT… not just the person who has enough time to shout loudly across social media.”
Whichever training course you’re considering (VA or otherwise), it’s important to check out the trainer, make sure all of your questions are answered and even get them on the phone if you need to.
The problem really is that anyone, even a relatively new VA, can start offering training though which leads to a lower standard in the industry as well as poor-quality training.
However, if you see a UK-based trainer or a VA say that they earn £10,000 a month for example, then it’s worth knowing that this would push them up into the higher tax threshold and they would legally need to be VAT registered… and VAT registered businesses are legally required to display their VAT number on their website.
So, if you can’t see their VAT number, they’re probably telling porkies.
I don’t have any first-hand experience of franchises myself but Caroline Wylie from the SVA told me she’s spoken to VAs who have paid between £9000 and £15,000 for what turned out to be a scam franchise – but they couldn’t publicly complain because they’d signed a non-disclosure agreement.
And this is why they hadn’t found any negative reviews when doing their research.
Although the VAs had been savvy enough to ask if they could speak to other franchisees, it turned out the people they spoke to were actually former employees and not franchisees at all. So they’d still been caught out even after they’d done their due diligence.
Not every franchise is a scam however so if you are considering buying a franchise, you’ll find their ‘Buying a VA Business’ guide (the link is within their article) useful.
John Palmer is the founder of the BeMyVA online VA directory, the CEO of PA Assist and organiser of the VA Conference and he is also concerned about the drop in standards in the VA industry:
“We set up and officially launched BeMyVA.com during 2011 in response to the poor practices of many of the existing ‘VA Directories’ of that time, and we are once again seeing some unethical practices returning, especially with the lesser experienced, new market entrants.”
John has an article that outlines the essential checks and tests you should make before you decide to list your business on a VA Directory.
Incredibly, you also need to watch out for people posing as potential clients. This story on the SVA website tells the shocking story of a VA who was nearly the target of a client scam.
Fortunately, the VA in question had worked in the fraud and credit industry for many years and recognised what was happening, but other less experienced VAs could have been caught out.
I recently received this email from one of my readers:
“Hi Jo, how do I find out if someone is a legitimate client? I have been contacted by someone and I am not sure she is who she says she is (gut feeling).”
I told them to do their due diligence by looking up the business on the Companies House website and to find out how long their website had been up and running. I also advised the VA to Google the company (and to search under the images section too) and to look at their social media profiles.
The VA came back to me half an hour later with this:
“So after doing some digging, it was a very new IP address (10 days old when they contacted me) and was flagged as spam. I am so glad I asked and I did some digging! Thank you heaps for your assistance, I think you just saved me from a major scam! Totally indebted to you for this – thank you so much!”
Whilst it was good to know that I’d helped to prevent this particular VA from being taken advantage of, it enraged me to think about all the other VAs who may have been taken in.
None of this is new
It’s the sad truth that the VA industry is rife with impostors, people providing poor information, inexperienced VAs marketing themselves as experts, people passing content off as their own, people building their business off the back of someone else’s hard work as well as out-and-out scammers.
But as long as you keep your wits about you, do your due diligence checks, ask as many questions as you can and take your time to do your research you should be okay.
And definitely listen to your instincts. If something doesn’t feel right then it probably isn’t.
- Check how long a website has been running. This is a great resource if you want to check whether an “expert” is, in fact, new to the industry or a potential client is who they say they are.
- Check Companies House for info on Limited Companies. You can see who the Director is along with other financial information such as whether they’re still filing their annual returns or are insolvent.
- Check a website’s domain authority. This is useful if a directory claims you’ll get lots of business if you register with them. Anyone charging you money to register should have a score of at least 30.
- If you’re thinking of taking my DIY VA training course, you can check out some FAQs about the course and see my own answers to the list of questions you should ask when choosing a VA trainer as outlined in the SVA’s guide.
Please note that the VA industry is unregulated. So although the SVA asked me to contribute to their trainer’s guide, the SVA is not an official industry body for the VA industry and I am not linked or affiliated with them in any way.