Wrench on Laptop KeyboardI thought the first task that I outsourced made perfect sense. Despite my assumption, it took half a dozen back-and-forth emails for my virtual assistant to figure out just what I was talking about. Outsourcing, when you first start, might be a little bumpy. You may need to get used to the pattern of back-and-forth communications and troubleshooting your outsourcing setup if you run into problems.

Troubleshooting by the checklist

When I run into problems with my outsourced tasks, I look for how the problem occurred. From there, it becomes a matter of figuring out how to prevent a repeat of the same problem. I have a few standard questions that seem to find the majority of problems:

  1. What was the original assignment? Could my instructions have been misunderstood?
  2. Did the virtual assistant get all the details of the assignment?
  3. Was there any sort of extenuating circumstances?
  4. Did the virtual assistant actually make a mistake?

As you work with a virtual assistant, you’ll be surprised how many problems are directly attributable to communication problems. While on the surface, a virtual assistant may seem to be at fault, it’s always worth double-checking your past communications. More often than not, you’ll find that something was imperfectly communicated.

Ask questions

Outsourcing is a skill that you need to learn, and asking questions is an effective way to clarify task requirements and to solve any issues that crop up. Your virtual assistant has an interest in helping you — ask her questions about your concerns, the mechanics of outsourcing, and any problems you run into.

Make it easy for your virtual assistant to ask you questions, as well. Clarifying the details of a task can make the difference between a completed task both you and your virtual assistant are happy with and a task that you’ll have to pay to have redone. You may need to train your virtual assistant to know how you operate. If you have a particular method for completing a task that you want your assistant to follow, you’ll need to educate her on that method. Virtual assistants, as a rule, have their own ways of doing things. Unless you ask for your virtual assistant to take another approach, she’ll probably stick with what she’s used to doing.

Resolving conflicts

If simple questions aren’t getting to the heart of the problem, it’s time to have a real discussion with your virtual assistant. Whether you use a phone, Skype, or another method of communication, make sure that you’re ready to talk calmly about a situation — you’re going to be effectively critiquing someone’s work and sometimes tempers can get a little hot. Take a moment to prepare for the discussion and make some notes about what you want to go over. From there, it’s a matter of actually going over your concerns with your virtual assistant. Suggest solutions and make sure you’re both comfortable with the resolution.

If you still have problems

I’ve seen some people struggle with their outsourcing — they fix problems, but more keep cropping up. It’s not that these people don’t get the details of working with a virtual assistant, either. Instead, there are often issues in their relationship with their virtual assistant.

Not every virtual assistant will be perfect for the projects you need to have done. If you find that you’re running into a lot of problems with your virtual assistant and you’ve tried fixing everything else, consider finding another assistant. If you’re working with a company, you can just request one — many companies will simply switch your account over to another virtual assistant that they contract with. If you’re working with an individual, you’ll have to go hunting for another virtual assistant.

Ending your relationship with a virtual assistant should be treated like any other business relationship (don’t burn any bridges), especially if you plan to use virtual assistants in the future. Just like other professionals, virtual assistants talk to other members of their profession.

Image credit: fotosipsak / iStockphoto

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