The Happy VA’s Guide to Setting Client Expectations

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Have you ever been requested by a client to do something which you weren’t comfortable with or to get something done “urgently” on a Friday evening? Most VAs will come across at least one client where they feel a line is being pushed in terms of what they’re there to do.

Did you define what that line is in the first place?

Setting expectations right from first contact with a new client is important, yet many VAs struggle to assert themselves at that point, perhaps out of fear that the client will walk away.

Failing to set boundaries just may be setting up your relationship with the client to fail. You as a VA become stressed over working with them and, quite possibly, the client has no idea that what they’re asking is pushing the boundaries.

Want a happier relationship with your clients? Here’s how to set expectations with them from the beginning…

Manage Yourself First

Let’s talk a little bit about your own mindset first. Why are you in the VA business? Would you like to have freedom over your schedule and where you work from? Many VAs go into this line of work to be their own boss, yet suddenly find themselves back in “employee” mode, taking orders instead of taking charge.

[Tweet “Taking orders instead of taking charge? You need to be the owner in your VA business!”]

Los Angeles-based VA, Kathryn*, talks about an experience she had a few months into her VA career:

“They were one of my first clients and honestly, I was just so happy to have paying clients that I tended to go along with whatever they asked. Pretty soon I was doing anything and everything for them, including the kind of “busy work” which no one else really wants to do. Half the time, they didn’t really have a plan and seemed to just be filling time.

Things started to really become a problem when they would suddenly decide that a task was “urgent”, usually right after they’d come out of a planning meeting. It could be a Friday night, but they’d still expect that I should get this work done right then.

I finally said something around the fourth time this happened. I had made plans with friends for the evening and wanted to be there for my friend’s birthday. To say they were unhappy is an understatement. I was told that as “their” VA, I was supposed to be available when they needed me. I was “fired” by them not long after that.”

*Not her real name.

You Are Not an Employee!

It can be quite a mindset shift getting into your VA role, especially if you’ve been used to being an employee somewhere. In Kathryn’s case, she was so relieved that she was getting paying clients that she didn’t even consider that the clients might see themselves as employers rather than clients.

Upon reflection, she feels that she probably portrayed a lack of confidence and “take charge” mentality going into the relationship. She was keen to get the client, so fell into a people-pleasing position which allowed them to set all terms. This is not the recipe for a happy VA or great client relationships!

As an independent contractor, the sooner you can get yourself into the right mindset, the better. Repeat after us: “I am a business owner, I am not an employee!”


Are you taking orders like a robot? Time to set expectations with clients!

Addressing Fear

It’s often the case that lacking in confidence with your dealings with clients comes from a place of fear. Fear that the source of your income could be cut-off if you don’t do everything possible to please them.

Think about that for a second. How many different businesses are out there which you use? When your car needs an oil change, do you go into the shop and demand that it happens on your own schedule? The chances are that you wait your turn and still pay up at the end of the day because it is a service which you require.

As a VA, your service is required too and is just as valuable. As long as you are doing a great job with the work, fear of the customer walking away shouldn’t come into how you manage your business. Do your job well and hold your head up—if anyone still wants to argue or leave, they’re probably not a good fit for you anyway.

Use Contracts

Ok, so we’re clear that you’re managing your business just as well as any other business owner would, right? So one of the first things you need to set expectations with your client is to use proper contracts.

Having everything down in black and white protects you and the client. Terms are clear and no one can say they didn’t know about something.

When devising a contract, it’s always a good idea to have some kind of template which has been approved by a legal professional which makes it easy for you to fill in and send out to new clients.

Make sure you consider anything which can be a source of friction between VAs and clients such as:

  • The hours which you are available for work.
  • How the client is billed—are you on retainer? Or billing per hour or per project?
  • The amount of notice you require for work requests.
  • A definition of what “urgent” requests mean and whether you charge extra for them.
  • The scope of the work you cover (or simply state that work you will and won’t do is outlined in a separate scope of work document).
  • Anything that is required from the client in order for you to do the work for them.
  • Any expectations around communication as agreed with the customer. For example, will you do a catch-up call with them once per week?


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Be Clear on Scope

Scope can be something which gets a bit hairy for VAs, especially if clients get the impression you’re there for anything and everything. If there are things you definitely aren’t comfortable doing, then it is often better to include a separate scope of work document to spell things out.

A scope of work details the expectations of your work and provides a framework which is clear to the VA and the client. These documents are often used by project managers but are valid in your VA business too.

As an alternative to a scope of work, if the work you do is similar for every client, some VAs choose to create a welcome pack or business handbook which outlines scope as well as reminders of things such as work hours, which may also be contained in your contract.


I will do anything… but I won’t do that

Set Clear Goals

Of course your role is to in some way enhance the client’s business and take work off their hands so that they are able to focus on other things. Expectations work both ways, so sitting down with the client at the beginning and ascertaining what their goals are for their relationship with you is also an important step.

Try and get the client to be as specific as possible so that you minimize grey areas and there is an easier path to see what success looks like. For example, specific goals might look like:

  • Create and send out email newsletter every week on Thursday.
  • Take notes of weekly meeting and distribute to the team on Fridays.
  • Reconcile weekly sales from previous week every Monday.

Generally speaking, the clearer the expectations, the happier everyone is!

Don’t miss key points in your VA contract!
Subscribe here for this extra guide.

Final Thoughts

Setting expectations with your VA clients often begins by you giving yourself a bit of a pep talk first. One of the reasons why VAs often don’t set up expectations well is because they are worried they will put the client off, or they struggle to get into “business owner” rather than “employee” mode.

Take charge of your own business! In your business, you get to set the terms just like any other business owner does. If your work is good there is little need to be worrying about clients or competitors.

Set up the client relationship by spelling out with clear documentation what you are there to do and when and how you will do it. Clear communication is the key to being happier in your role.

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