As a VA, there are a few checks you can make before working with a client, but for the most part, you are relying on those people being honest and upfront with you – and 99.9% of them are. That tiny fraction of bad ‘uns are a major headache and could potentially harm your business! So how do you spot them in amongst the genuine clients?
- Find out who they are.Anyone who is not open about their address, what their business is or where to get hold of them is not being honest with you. There are loads of reasons for people to be cagey about giving out their home address, their mobile phone number or their actual business plan, but people should be able to talk freely with their VA. By all means, suggest signing a non-disclosure agreement if it makes them more comfortable but if they aren’t budging from the anonymity of the online environment, there’s usually a good reason for it. Couple of tools to use as a cross check:
- www.companieshouse.gov.uk – has a free Webcheck of all limited companies in the UK along with their registered address. Check their tax filing is up to date, check the correspondence address (although often this is their accountants address) and check the registered officers names.
- Google Map their postcode – not everywhere has street view yet, but this handy gadget can tell you a lot about their set up. Is it a serviced office? Is it a residential address? Did they tell you the truth?
- www.whois.domaintools.com – handy gizmo for finding out who is behind a website. Is should show you who the host is as well as the person/business registering the domain name.
- Haggling on price? Everyone wants to get a good deal, but you won’t have just picked your prices out of thin air, they are that rate for a very good reason – you need to be able to afford to stay in business! And if they can’t afford you, then you can’t afford to work with them. Not only is there the very real chance of not getting paid, but these clients also tend to be the ones who pick holes in the work after you’ve completed it in order to get a discount. If they can’t see the value in what you do, let them walk.
- Spider senses are tingling!There will be the occasional client where something just doesn’t feel right… Now rationally they might check out on paper, the tasks they are getting you to do might seem perfectly straightforward, but you still feel at odds with them. Stop now. Even if they are totally above board, it’s not a good client:VA fit. And all you need to say is that it’s not working for you as the VA and you can walk away. As rare as these scams are, here are a few which do the VA rounds every now and again:
- Collecting payments. Never, ever collect payments on behalf of your clients, particularly via Paypal or other direct debit type arrangement. The scam is that the client gets you to collect from his customer, you pay him minus your fee, and then he never delivers the goods to the customers, and they reclaim the payments from you via the direct debit guarantee/Paypal dispute. The client meanwhile has all the money you collected for him!
- Bouncing Payments. Another way of doing this is for the client to overpay you using a cheque and then get you to buy stuff from his “float” – the cheque then bounces, leaving you out of pocket.
- Long Fraud: One I got caught out with in the early days. The client sets up a few virtual office addresses with multiple trading names. These fake companies trade between each other, provide trade references and then ask for a credit account with a genuine company (quite often computer supplies). The genuine company supplies the goods on 30 days credit, you as the virtual office provider sign for them and the client picks them up. 30 days later, the client is nowhere to be found and the genuine company is knocking on your door looking for payment of their invoice – and you were the one who signed for delivery of the goods! Make sure you get proper photo ID of anyone using your office as a mail drop. Make sure they sign in/out any mail you have delivered or, even better, don’t sign for goods in your name but “on behalf of CompanyX”.
Anyone else had any unpleasant experiences with clients? Or perhaps you had a client who just didn’t seem to add up, set your spider senses tingling, and was entirely above board?