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Red Flags for Potentially Bad Clients

Previously on Virtual BizNest, we covered red flags for potentially problematic Virtual Assistants, but there are times when the complications aren’t from the employees, remote or otherwise. It is equally possible for the startup or business owner to be at fault, or for a prospective client to be questionable. So for VAs who are hard at work, and for those managing them, it helps to be on the lookout for red flags for potentially bad clients. Here are a few warning signs:  

Won’t Pay Upfront

So this prospective client is about to seal the deal and get a VA. Great, so they have to pay the onboarding fee before starting. Makes sense, right? Well, some would disagree and demand a “free trial” or argue that they’ll only pay if they find the initial services satisfactory. And this is a real red flag. What they want is unfair and could very well be an attempt to pull a fast one on you. Your VAs could spend a month busting their butts and delivering the best service, only for this “client” to say that it wasn’t satisfactory and leave, despite profiting from your people’s work. For all points and purposes that’s theft. So to avoid this potential pitfall, don’t chase after potential clients who are unwilling to pay upfront. Even if they don’t have malicious plans, they could be reluctant to pay upfront because their business is unstable or can’t support expenses like VAs. And these aren’t the kind of clients you want to go after.  

Unrealistic Deadlines, Overly Demanding

Do it now! Get it done ASAP! Due immediately! VAs aren’t The Flash or factory machinery. Quality output can’t be rushed and even the best workers have their limits. A client who gives unrealistic deadlines or pushes VAs too much either lacks understanding of the nature of the task or simply regards workers as tools. Either way, if they refuse to appreciate that work requires time or that employees working remotely from abroad are still people who need to breathe, then the client-VA relationship will sour and disaster awaits. The VA will eventually have too much to handle and will be miserable, maybe even to the point of quitting. You don’t want that. Take care of your VAs and reign in overly demanding clients. If they really want an enormous amount of work done in short order, then they’ll be willing to pay for more VAs, right?

False Promises

A guarantee of long term business relationship plans, as long as you reduce the hourly rate? A great assurance set in the nebulous future in exchange for something that will benefit them immediately? Scratch that. This is a business transaction. If they promise you a hypothetical, then instead of a VA you should introduce this prospective client to an HA – a Hypothetical Assistant.   Don’t accept IOUs.  

Unappreciative of VA Needs

As repeatedly stated, VAs are people with needs. Clients who are half a world away may not appreciate this, especially since they’re primarily interacting with voices or words from a screen. They might think they’re in The Jetsons. Due to the faceless nature of these interactions there’ll be an unconscious tendency to dehumanize those on the other side. Even if meetings are done on Skype video-calls it’s still different from in-person encounters. So remind clients that VAs still need to take time off to get some air, have some snacks, banter around the watercooler, and go to the bathroom. Yes, a tidy Excel spreadsheet on productivity levels might not account for people getting eye-strain or migraines, but if these are neglected then in time there will be consequences, for the business and more importantly for the people involved.  


The VAs know what they’re doing and well-intentioned but finicky advice or directives from clients who actually aren’t in their fields can become counterproductive. VAs, particularly those who are handling tasks they’re specialized in, should be allowed the leeway to do what they do best. That’s what they are paid for, after all. Micromanaging slows the VAs down and likewise distracts the clients from actually leading the business, which is what they do best. So gently remind clients that it’s counterproductive to waste their time second-guessing VAs who know their stuff. Encourage them to trust the pros and redirect their attention to matters actually befitting their stature and expertise.

Unresponsive Clients

It can be a pain in the posterior to deal with these, they think their time is so precious and much more valuable than the VAs’ so they don’t deign it worth their time to respond to queries or acknowledge messages. But then when they’re the ones calling or emailing, they expect the VAs to respond immediately or be at the ready 24/7. Jeez. While this in itself may not be a real dealbreaker, it can be a warning sign of things to come. If they regard VAs so lowly and if they are such poor communicators, then somewhere down the line there will be mixups that could balloon into major problems. Is that worth your while? Even if the unresponsiveness isn’t due to ego but just plain busyness or other non-malicious reasons, an overly detached employer can be trouble in its own right. If a concern comes up and the VA needs input or the go-ahead, he or she might end up waiting for hours or even days for a response, or might have to take the initiative and potentially get blamed for the fallout.

Just Plain Disorganized

So the client has no clear instructions on the timelines and deliverables, doesn’t set anything definite, leaving the VA to decide which task to prioritize and when they’re due. Okay, but if it turns out the VA missed something due to the unclear instructions, then whose fault will it be? The VA will be the one getting all the flak and this isn’t healthy – a person can only take so much. Even if the client is the chillest of chill and won’t raise his or her voice, or uppercase letters, at the VA, this type of unclear leadership still won’t bode well for the organization. Business will suffer, even if the VA chugs away as best he or she can manage. So the client has to get organized, bring the proverbial house in order, and the VA should encourage this. Otherwise, complications will almost inevitably arise.  

“Great” Ideas

Is your client one for cunning plans or genius schemes… that are either incredibly difficult or even impossible to actualize, or just terrible? You may have to reign him or her in. A VA shouldn’t just say “yes ma’am, sir,” nod and timidly follow orders. A VA should orient clients to the reality of the situation and encourage them towards plausible solutions. Otherwise, everyone – the VA, client and the business – will be headed for trouble.  

Actually Racist

The sad truth is that some prospective clients are looking to outsource because they think VAs are cheap labor, people who will work harder than locals, who they can boss around more, and who deserve less recognition or compensation than those back home. People with such views will not be respectful to the VAs and may not even honor agreements and contracts, or will try their best to weasel out of it at your expense. So, are these kinds of clients people you want to profit off of your VA’s labor?  

Takeaway: Be Prepared, Protect Yourself and Your People

We can all try our best to grin or grit our teeth and bear with it, but as much as possible we shouldn’t tolerate bad clients who are trying to pull a fast one on the company or mistreat VAs. In an ideal world, we wouldn’t have to deal with these types altogether. Take care of the VAs, they are the workers who produce the deliverables, from whose labor the profits come. They’re the best asset anyone could have, busting their rears to get the job done. Remember their efforts, prioritize their workplace experience, mind their health and wellness, and don’t prioritize bad clients over the their welfare. Be aware of the dangers of having a nightmare client. Watch out for warning signs and try to either avoid dealing with problematic parties or try to pre-empt the issues when they’re still minor. Client being unresponsive? Remind them, clearly, to stay in touch. Before any incidents occur. Plans starting to get unrealistic or disorganized? Then tell them early on before the VA ends up going down the rabbit hole. And if it really goes downhill? Cut your losses. Tell the client what went wrong and why, explain your side and what they did wrong. Hopefully they’ll realize why things went awry and get better. If not, their problem. While we can’t control what people will do, and even the best efforts at encouraging or guiding clients away from destructive or negative patterns can’t entirely prevent bad outcomes, at the very least the VAs will have covered their posteriors and guaranteed that they were trying to be part of the solution – not the problem! In the end, it’s not the VA’s fault if the client is unsalvageable. It might be a missed opportunity, but rest assured that there are more clients out there, better ones who are fairer, easier to deal with. These ones, with integrity and decency, are the ones who’ll do the VAs right. So go look for them, since they’re most likely also searching for quality VAs who can deliver the goods. Don’t dwell on the hopeless cases, don’t even look back.     – John Li

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