November 3, 2016

Success Coach Ram Reveals The Biggest Challenges of Virtual Assistants with Their Clients

Virtual Angel Hub Success Coach Ram, Reveals The Biggest Challenges Virtual Assistants Experience with Clients


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In this episode, we cross to the ‘other side’ and hear from special guest, Ram Sta. Maria, a Success Coach and Virtual Assistant at The Virtual Hub, about some of the challenges of virtual assistants for not achieving success with their clients that he commonly sees happening.

Ram shares his insights into what he believes to be the key problem areas faced by VAs and by recognising and accepting that your VA also has certain needs, this can ultimately lead to a very successful client-VA relationship.

Some of the areas covered are: 

  • The importance of maintaining an open and positive channel of communication between you and your VA
  • How to make your VA feel empowered
  • Tips to ensure the feedback you give your VA is constructive, rather than destructive
  • The need to provide a sound support system to ensure your VA stays on track, and feels connected and part of a ‘team’

Let us know what your key takeout has been from this episode and join the continuing conversation over in the Virtual Success Facebook Group.

In this episode:

02:37- Key problems

03:55 – Maintaining an open channel of communication

04:59 – Positive communication channels

09:50 – Blocked communication channels

12:26 – Cultural challenges

14:10 – Empowering your VA

17:33 – Constructive vs. destructive feedback

21:44 – Having a good support system

24:20 – Celebrating Success

26:30 – Staying connected with your VA

30:20 – Wrapping things up

Barbara:  Hey, everyone and welcome back to another show of the Virtual Success Show where I’m joined by my fantastic co-host who gives us insights every week into virtual success, Matt Malouf. How are you, Matt?

Matt:  I’m well, Barb. How are you?

Barbara:  I’m great, thank you. Great, thank you. I’m quite excited about today’s show because we’re taking a little bit of a different tact today. We’ve decided that on these shows, we often talk about what Matt and I are doing with clients or with our own businesses. We interview people who have big teams offshore and around the world and how they manage things. We thought today would be very interesting to actually bring one of our superstar VAs onto the podcast and interview him around what it’s like from the other side. Let’s hear from the virtual assistant’s side and some of the challenges that you might, as listeners, you may not realize is happening in the background.

Today, we’ve brought on Ram Sta. Maria from our team and Ram is … look, he’s one of our superstars I have to say and he is one of our success coaches inside Virtual Angel Hub. He has a very unique insight because not only does he work with one of our fantastic clients, but he also coaches a lot of our new VAs that come on to work with some new clients. In the first few months, he will be coaching them and guiding them and just helping them in those initial few months to get success with their new client or clients. So Ram, welcome to the show.

Ram:  Hi. Thank you, Barb. Thank you, Matt. I’m very honoured to be here.

Barbara:  We’re delighted to have you. Matt, you would have some insights here as well. You’re probably excited to get some questions in for Ram, too.

Matt:  Very much so, very much so. I’m really, really excited about the show today because it’s going to give everyone an amazing insight into, let’s call it, the other side.

Barbara:  Yeah, which you often don’t hear because as we know, we often don’t hear enough from the other side. It’s very hard to, and especially with Filipino culture as we’ve been chatting about off air, it’s hard to the real insight and the truth from the other side.

Key Problems

Ram, obviously in your role, look, you started out with us with working with one of our clients and I say you were quite lucky because that went quite well. She was a great client, but I also think it was because you’re a great VA and you’ve a great ability to communicate. Then, you moved on to working with some of our newer people coming in. So I’d love to hear, what are your insights into the main, the key problems that you see happening for new VAs or VAs that are not getting success with clients?

Ram:  I’ve been in the success coach post for quite a while now and I get to talk with these new VAs and they always raise these, and I listed down three main points or main challenges that they encounter. The first one would be maintaining an open channel of communication between them, the VAs and their clients. Number two would be the VAs being empowered or the VAs recognizing that they can speak up.

Barbara:  Yeah.

Ram:  Lastly is providing consistent support between the client and their VAs.

Maintaining an open channel of communication

Barbara:  Yeah. I know that you and I have had discussions about these areas before when we see these issues happening. Let’s dive in and I want to dissect each point here so that for the listeners, we make it really clear what we actually mean. Let’s talk about some live examples because we’ve got lots of stories for each of these points and I’m sure, Matt, you’ve got a couple of stories you can throw in here, too, yeah.

The first one, maintaining an open channel of communication. Now, we’ve just come through, Matt and I, a three-part series on communication, effective communication from the client side. But I know and you would know, Ram, from our experience that communication is a two-way street. No matter how much the client practices their side, we also have issues of the communication on the VA side as well. Can you give us an insight into maybe an example of a positive communication channel and the outcome of that for a VA and then, a more negative one or something that wasn’t really working from a communication point of view?

challenges of virtual assistants

Positive communication channels

Ram:  Sure, sure. I remember a few months ago, I was working with an amazing client. She’s pretty much great when it comes to communication and we were migrating her contents from one program to another and as we all know, migration is such a very strenuous and laborious job. Going in, she was able to relay to me everything that she wants me to do in a very short, concise, and clear manner. She was able to lay out all of her expectations from me. In turn, the migration process went well. It actually went smoother than I expected and we were both happy with the results.

Barbara:  Yeah.

Ram:  The migration could’ve taken more than a couple of weeks, but because of her, because of the open channel of communication that we established, we were able to do it in I think less than a couple of weeks or a week. That saves us time and that saves us money.

Barbara:  Absolutely, yeah. Now, I love that you said there that not only was she clear on what she wanted done, but she was very clear on her expectations. We did a show on expectations management for the clients as well and that … Do you feel like the steps are one thing, but the expectations of what success looks like, how important is that to making the difference for you?

Ram:  I think when the client knows your limitations, she knows what to expect from you, she would know what kind of job to delegate to you. If she knows if you’re very good at this particular job or at this particular task, she might focus the tasks she gives to you on those particular tasks or your strengths and if she knows what your weaknesses are, she might just focus some of the tasks on herself rather than giving it to you. That saves both of you time. You get most of the things done. You accomplish things better. Yeah, it’s a win-winsituation for the both of you.

Barbara:  Matt, go on.

Matt:  Yeah, Ram, just out of curiosity, had this client ever done something like this before?

Ram:  I think it’s her first time migrating her contents from one platform to another, but the good thing about her is that she researched well before doing so and she was able to transfer all of the things that she researched about to me and that made both of our jobs easier when it comes to the migration.

Matt:  I think that’s a really important point because here, you’ve got a scenario where it’s first time for the client and because they’re prepared and have clarity on what success here looks like, the communication can actually happen a lot more effectively. Whereas, and I think this is too often where things can break down is because a client or somebody doesn’t have clarity on what success looks like. And so as they’re running and gunning in the day to day, that’s where I think the expectation misalignment comes up.

Barbara:  Yeah, and also an interesting point you’ve made, Ram, which I’d like to highlight is that this client also took responsibility for … she was migrating and I know this particular situation, migrating from one platform to another, it was actually a membership site migration so, it was a very big job. There was a lot of tasks involved, but she didn’t just say, “Here’s what I want. I want to migrate from X to Y, off you go.” She actually researched herself on the complexity of that and whether it was the right move and what the outcome she wanted. Yes, that created a bit of work for her, but I think … and could you delegate that to your VA to research it in the beginning? Of course, you could, but you definitely want to have communication there around … There is oversight that you have to do there because if you just throw it at your VA and expect it all to go great, you can really end up in holes there because there’s no communication between the two of you.

Matt:  Absolutely, absolutely.

Barbara:  Ram, what about now, a situation where let’s say a VA is trying their best, but the communication channels are blocked between … We’ve seen this a lot. The channels are somehow blocked between the client and the VA for whatever reason. Can you give an example of that scenario that’s happened?

Blocked Communication Channels

Ram:  Yeah, as a success coach, I always encourage the VAs to let me know if they have issues with their clients or if they have anything that they want to be raised or discussed. Sometimes, there are situations when the client and the VA are not able to maintain an open channel of communication. Say, for example, a client who refuses to use the email or other means of online communication. Instead, the client prefers to talk on the phone. The problem is the client isn’t exactly a native English speaker so there’s already the language barrier there.

Barbara:  This is in the case where potentially the client isn’t a native English speaker.

Ram:  Yeah.

Barbara:  Yeah, that can cause a lot of issues, yeah, yeah.

Ram:  So there is misunderstanding that’s already there. There are instructions that are not clearly understood. Then consequentially, there is frustration that happens between the client and the VA. The VA gets frustrated. The client gets frustrated because things are not getting done. With frustration comes sometimes, if it’s happening for a long time, there’s some sort of resentment going on between the client and the VA, and we all don’t want that.

Barbara:  That can escalate out of control. I understand that because I see that. The client gets frustrated, then resentful and then, almost blood boiling and then they want to complain to someone or whatever, which is understandable. How does the VA feel? What’s the emotion the VAs start to feel?

Ram:  Feels defeated because most of the VAs that we take in, we train them very well. So, I feel like they feel defeated because they know they can do the job. It’s just that either the client cannot communicate or they cannot communicate well to the client. So the frustration really brings a lot of defeated attitude to the VA, which is not very healthy to the VA and to The Hub.

Cultural challenges

Barbara:  Yes, yeah. What about, we did talk off air a little bit about the cultural challenges? I think it’s worth mentioning, just discussing here a bit of the … Particularly in the Philippines, we’re talking about the Filipino VAs here. What are the cultural challenges when it comes to communication, particularly with people in other countries?

Ram:  Yes, I think it’s because as Filipinos, it’s part of our culture to be very accommodating to people from foreign lands. We always see or look at ourselves as subordinate to them to an extent. So VAs are not exactly empowered when it comes to that area.

Barbara:  Of communication so, they would find it difficult to speak up.

Ram:  They find it very difficult to speak up. I have, not even to people from foreign lands, even to us, their success coaches, sometimes they feel afraid to speak up because they think they might be ridiculed for what they have to say. I think it’s part of our job to empower these VAs to speak up …

Barbara:  Yeah.

Ram:  …it’s okay.

Barbara:  Actually, just for the listeners’ benefit, we talked about this off air and actually, the topic of the cultural differences became so huge in our off-air conversation that we’ve actually decided we’re going to do an entire show with Ram actually later on the cultural aspect of this. Look out for that show later. We decided it was a topic we’d actually take out from here.

Empowering your VA

Ram, where you’ve ended there on that point actually leads us into point two. Point two is your VA needing to feel empowered. Let’s talk about and dissect that a little bit for a second. As a business owner and sometimes, we hire people and we’re really busy, right. I’ve said this to you guys, the client is so busy. They’re not really thinking about or don’t feel they’ve got time to invest in mentoring and empowering and training their people, even though we advise them to do that. How can a client … ? What are the simple things a client can do to make their VA feel more empowered, especially when it comes to communicating and speaking up?

Ram:  Based on my experience, I was encouraged to speak up when … My client treats me as a very essential part of the team. To an extent, he or she treats me as an equal so I feel empowered. I feel like my opinions matter to her. I feel like my suggestions matter to her. You don’t have to do whatever your VA suggests you to do, just hear them out. I think when you let your VA feel that she or he is an essential part of the team, he feels empowered and he feels like, “You know what? It’s okay to speak up. It’s okay to let my voice be heard.”

Barbara:  That’s a really powerful point. Matt, I’m sure you’ve got a couple of comments here.

Matt:  I do and I guess it probably leads onto… because I think a lot of that point there of encouraging ideas, being treated as an equal, I think that’s so critically important and I think often because we can’t see or physically are in the same room, that can be a bit challenging for people. How can, Ram in your experience, your client provide feedback in an empowering way?

Ram:  My client makes sure that she repeats the suggestions that I give her. I think she wants me to know that she listens to me. She sometimes discusses the suggestions that I have, that I make. Also, she gives me an opportunity to speak up. She actually asks me if I have any suggestions, if I have questions, if I have anything that I think can help further her brand or her company, which I feel is very empowering to me as a VA.

Matt:  If there’s a situation where say something hasn’t gone to plan and … Because I see often in organizations, whether they’re using VAs or internal staff, that the providing of feedback can be very disempowering for people, very discouraging. They don’t like it because it’s not delivered in a very constructive way. What’s the best way in your opinion, particularly with dealing with the Filipino culture, what’s the best way to provide feedback so that the VA still feels empowered?

Constructive vs. destructive feedback

Ram:  I think more than anything, you have to be clear as to what your feedback is because again, you have to maintain an open channel of communication between your VA and yourself. Make it clear, make it concise. I think it doesn’t have to be sugar coated. It has to be constructive though because there is a huge difference between a constructive criticism and a destructive criticism. Make it constructive. Compose it in a way that doesn’t make the VA feel that she did or he did something wrong. Because in our culture, we’re not very keen on criticism. So make sure that it’s constructive.

I like how my client constructs it. She always says that, “It would be better next time if we do this. I think it would be great if we go do this.” That’s how she constructs her criticisms when she gives them to me.

Barbara:  That’s brilliant, focusing on the moving forward, rather than going on about the mistakes or going on about how it was done in the past because it’s almost yeah, it can be destructive to do it that way.

challenges of virtual assistants

Matt:  Absolutely. Moving forward, it would be better to do it this way. That’s such a great positioning, fantastic positioning.

Barbara:  Yeah, and I just wanted to ask, just on this point as well, often feedback I get from clients and, Ram, you’ve heard this one as well from me chatting with you about how we get around this, clients will often say, “Oh, yeah, they’re just not proactive enough.” I would say to the client, “First of all, define what you mean for you by being proactive? Second of all, have you had that conversation with your VA? Have you empowered them to know what you mean by proactive and how … ” Because I think sometimes, VAs feel like, “the client knows exactly what they’re doing so I don’t want to step in and give my opinion because they’re above me or they might think that I’m above myself,” or something like that. I know, Ram, you would have some of our VAs that would feel that way. Ram, are you still there?

Ram:  Yes. I think when it comes to criticism, us as VAs would have to be open when it comes to it. You have to look at it as a thing where you learn from, not a thing that’s there to destroy you or to defeat you. It has to be something that you learn from.

Barbara:  Yeah, if as a client, you want your VA to be more proactive, I would suggest that you have the conversation with your VA to say a bit like what you were talking about, Ram, telling them that, “I really value your opinion and I’d love to hear more about what you think,” and that can take time to work on together, but the outcomes can be great when you empower your VA with that sort of communication.

Ram:  Yes. I think if I were the client, I make sure that I encourage the VA or I let them know that they have a huge role in the company, that they are actually an essential part of the team. That way they’re empowered to be proactive. That way they feel like if I do this, this can actually help the brand. If I research on this and present this to my client, it’s going to actually further the company. If you give them feedback like, “Hey, it’s a good suggestion. Hey this is a good point,” the VA feels empowered that the client actually considers her opinions or his opinions and in turn, that would make the VA more productive as time goes by.

Having a good support system

Barbara:  Yeah, that’s fantastic. I really love that point. Then, that leads us on to point three. Point three was having a good support system. I know, Matt, you’ve got a couple of comments to make on this, too. Ram, first of all, what is it? Having a good support system, what do you mean by that? Maybe give an example of how you see that happening.

Ram:  From our side, the VAs, it’s amazing how in The Hub, we actually have support. If we have something that we don’t understand, if we encounter a snag along the way, all we have to do is go into The Hub and ask for help. Considering how collaborative the culture of The Hub is, asking for help and getting help is very, very easy

Barbara:  That’s good because I’ve set it up that way. I’m very happy that you mentioned that, yeah, because I do know, I know how important with teams, and this is not just with Filipino teams or offshore teams. The idea of collaboration, support systems, etc., is really, really important. Matt, what about when it’s just you and your VA and you’re run off your feet and the VA is really busy, how do you create support systems in that situation?

Matt:  Yeah, I think and I was mentioning in prep for today that my first VA that I started working with, Ivy, we started working together on a part-time basis, 20-hours a week and it was just her and I in the business. That was it. That was our team.

I was very mindful that she needed my support. If she gets stuck that she needed my support and it was just making a little bit of time. We used to have a 10-minute chat every single day with ‘Where are you stuck? How can I help?’  And she felt really supported, I think because when it is only you and your VA, you need to work through the challenges together because it’s only the two of you and I think you need to also celebrate the wins together as well because I remember at that time, that was when I was just starting my coaching business and so there was a lot going on and we were working on projects. And whilst I’ve got friends and family to be able to celebrate with here, Ivy was part of my team and so I needed to work out ways that we could celebrate with her being in the Philippines and me being in Sydney. We found a way. I believe it was very empowering for her.

Celebrating success

Barbara:  What was the way, Matt? Did you go out, each of you go out for a pizza with your laptop and get on Skype and have a wine together or what did you do? That’s an interesting one.

Matt:  It was dependent upon what the success was. For instance, I remember at one point, we were launching an online membership site, a new program. I remember setting it up that if we achieve this and got this result, then I was going to buy her a new laptop. That’s how we celebrated success. There was one condition on me buying a laptop for her, which was that she took a photo and sent it to me of her buying a new laptop so that I could experience that as well. Do you know what I mean?

Barbara:  That’s lovely, yeah. You could see the smile on her face and how she felt in that moment of getting …

Matt:  100 per cent. And that came about by me understanding that that was a goal of hers. She wanted to upgrade her machine and its understanding your people, but that was one way. I’ve done coffee dates with my VAs before where they get a coffee and I’ll get … I’ll pay for the coffee, but they go out and buy a coffee for themselves and I do it and we share a coffee.

Barbara:  I love that idea. They can go to a café. Yeah, that’s a fantastic idea. Have a coffee date, yeah.

Matt:  Absolutely. A lot of this I think is just thinking outside the square and understanding ‘what am I trying to achieve here?’ If someone was sitting next to me, what would I do? We’d go, grab a coffee and have a chat. How can we do that virtually? The technology enables us to do that now

Barbara:  Yeah.

Matt:  We’ve got these beautiful things called smart phones so that we could be connected wherever we go in the world these days. It’s just really understanding that. But I think back to the point of support, I think that you’re hearing from Ram, everybody, that what’s critically important to a VA, is feeling supported, is feeling like they can ask questions, is feeling like they have somebody that they can collaborate with when they’ve got their challenges. If it’s just you and them, and you don’t provide that for them, then in my opinion, you’re setting yourself and them up to fail.

challenges of virtual assistants

Staying connected with your VA

Barbara:  Yeah. Look, on that I just want to add a point here because we did have an issue the other day that came up where yes, your VA needs to be able to ask you questions, but I think there’s also a little process you can set up around that, too. Ram, I’d love to know your thoughts on this idea.

Sometimes, clients are very busy and they don’t really have time for a question every 10 minutes on Skype. You know, the ones that don’t want to be pinged on Skype all day, but setting up little processes like … I love your 10-minute phone call idea, Matt. You could say in the early stages of working with a VA or in the early stages of a project, you might do a 10-minute phone call that has a very clear agenda so, it’s a quick like those three questions that you approached. Where are you stuck? How can I help? It’s not just a chat. It’s actually very structured.

Maybe you need two or three of those in the day so that there might be a morning one and there might be a lunch time quick check in and then, there might be an afternoon if you have a full time person for example. Ram, from your perspective, would that clear up a lot of the issues that some of our VAs are having if we had a little process like that for clients, the 10-minute phone call?

Ram:  Absolutely. I think it’s an amazing way of eliminating confusion between the client and the VA. You’d actually think that you’re spending too much time, but you’re actually saving time, saving yourself from the dangers of having your task messed up.

Barbara:  Yeah.

Ram:  Yeah, I think that’s actually an amazing way of just keeping yourself up to date with your VA. A concrete example would be my experience with another client of mine when we’d have phone calls almost every day. I worked with this client within a very limited amount of time so, I told her that we can’t have phone calls every day, but I think it would be great if we can have phone calls every Monday and then, emails during the rest of the week. She thought that it’s a helpful tip. She went and run away with it and now, I think we have a better client-VA communication or better client-VA relationship because of that.

Barbara:  Yeah, that’s great, yeah.

Ram:  We established a good process or a good working process by doing so, by me speaking up and telling her that I think this is what we need to do and she entertaining that idea and actually implementing the idea. Now we have a better client-VA relationship.

Barbara:  Yeah, that’s fantastic. Those insights are great. Matt, what do you think? Getting the other side here is really powerful.

Matt:  Absolutely. Absolutely. I think that we know the shows we’ve done thus far, like you opened this, Barb, that we’ve given it from the business owner or entrepreneur’s perspective or we’ve interviewed people that have had success with VAs, but hearing it from Ram’s perspective is just outstanding.

Barbara:  Yeah, because, Ram, you’ve had a lot of success with your clients. You’re a very good communicator, but you’ve been exceptionally good in our team helping those VAs that maybe are not feeling so empowered or the client’s not communicating properly. Sometimes, you’ve managed to help turn situations around without us even having to get on a call with the client because you’re mentoring. A lot of our VAs get mentored in the background by some of our success coach team on how to communicate better and how to feel more empowered. Yeah, like I say people who are not members of Virtual Angel Hub don’t obviously get that so you need to be able to provide that by yourself. The tips we’ve given today will help everyone with that.

Matt:  Absolutely, absolutely.

Wrapping things up

Barbara:  Now as always, everyone, if you find this show helpful, particularly today’s show, please do share it with your network. We’re committed here to helping people get success with outsourcing and with virtual teams. It is absolutely possible. Regardless of what business that you’re in, industry that you’re in, country that you’re in, it can be successful for everyone.

We’re about to share lots more stuff coming up. As I said, we’ve got a massive show coming up on Filipino culture where we’ll get Ram back in again to chat to us about how to deal with those cultural differences. Obviously, if anyone has anything to add, we’d love to hear your thoughts. You can either comment below the show here or pop on over to our Facebook group, Virtual Success Show on Facebook and you can continue the conversation with us there. Any suggestions for shows you’d like us to do, pop it in there and we’d happily do a show.

Matt:  Excellent. Ram, I’d like to say a big thank you for your insights and your time today. It’s been wonderful. I can certainly attest for myself, it’s been very insightful and always a learning experience. So thank you, Ram.

Barbara:  Yeah, thanks, Ram.

Ram:  Thank you, Barb. Thank you, Matt. It’s an honour to be here. I’ve enjoyed my time here. Thank you very much.

Barbara:  Great. Everyone, we’ll see you next time.

Matt:  Thanks. See you. See you, Barb.

Barbara:  Bye.

The Hosts

challenges of virtual assistantsMatt Malouf

Matt Malouf is a passionate business coach, speaker, author and entrepreneur on a mission to help entrepreneurs around the world break the shackles of mediocrity and reach new levels of personal and business success.

challenges of virtual assistantsBarbara Turley

Barbara Turley is the Founder & CEO of The Virtual Hub, a company that specializes in recruiting, training and managing superstar ‘Virtual Assistants’ in the social media, digital marketing and systems automation space.


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