From the 2019 Virtual Assistant Conference – Caroline’s session “Skill or Scam” showing how virtual assistant training scams are on the rise and how you can help stop them.
I’m very aware “virtual assistant training scams” isn’t the most positive title! However the objective is to point out how important collaboration is to the UK Virtual Assistant industry and what we can do to nurture and protect it as individuals, both for the greater good of the industry and also for ourselves personally.
Back when I first started as a virtual assistant in 2004, there wasn’t much information available about the virtual assistant industry. I knew there were big companies like TenUK down in London providing VA services to high net worth individuals; and I knew there were independent VAs in the USA…
But I wasn’t quite sure if my hometown of Glasgow was ready for this concept – was it a real business?
I bumped into Jane Wilson, a VA already working in Glasgow at a networking event. Jane was the very first real life VA I’d ever met and she told me three amazing things in that very short meeting:
- She had loads of work – it was a viable business, even in Glasgow!
- She shared some useful resources – including my fave book Get Clients Now (which I’m still recommending to VAs all these years later!)
- She gave me my first ever client! Just like that.
So that 10 minute conversation with Jane was incredibly useful to me and made me feel warmly welcomed into this new industry. Although I couldn’t help Jane (besides taking on the client she wasn’t able to service), I promised myself that if I had the opportunity to help another newbie, the way Jane had helped me, I’d do it.
And that’s what happened: I was lucky enough to get some great PR for the business, and alongside new clients, the publicity attracted lots of people interested in becoming VAs. As a new business, I didn’t have that much time, but I wanted to share what I knew – so I put it on a freebie website.
That website went on to become SVA. It has helped 10,000+ virtual assistants over the past 15 years. It created the very first best practice guidelines for virtual assistants in the UK.
All from one 10 minute conversation.
So fortunately, the majority of VAs agree – 75% of them in fact believe:
Collaboration not competition – there is more than enough work to go round for everyoneSource: UK VA Survey v6 (2016
A phrase coined by Roz Bott to explain how she felt about her fellow VAs in the VASG Skype chat and adopted by the industry as a mantra.
What’s in it for me? Why is collaboration not competition good for me and my business?
- Loneliness – As a solo VA working from home, you might not speak to anyone except your cat all day. Our brains are our business. It’s what pushes us forward and it’s easy to get demotivated when you are isolated. (NB: Check out WPandUp!). Having virtual colleagues who understand your victories and grumbles is a massive benefit to your business.
- Swap services – Like Jane Wilson, you may have a service you can’t help a client with, but you might know someone who can. Helping out the client gives them a positive impression of your business and the industry. And helping a fellow VA out means they will refer work back to you too… Get your name and what you do best out there!
- Move the industry forward – We achieve more by working together. Instead of all individually trying to work on improving client’s understanding of what we do, it’s more effective to do it as a team. A great example of this collaborative working being positive for the industry as a whole, is the VAProMag campaign on Money Laundering Regulations.
- Share best practice – We don’t hide what you should be doing behind paid content. We tell people what the proper standards are with the free to join SVA Approved Scheme. “Virtual Assistant” is not a protected term – anyone can call themselves one. But we want people who identify as a VA (and the clients who hire them) to be able to Google what they should be doing. We don’t want them to have the excuse that they didn’t know or couldn’t afford it. Raising the standards is about being inclusive and encouraging VAs to be better.
So it’s important to protect and nurture this “Collaboration Not Competition” ethos.
Let’s chat about our friends across the pond: America.
America has always been about 5-10 years ahead of the UK in terms of the virtual assistant industry. You find trends from there will float across the Atlantic to us.
I’d say we are rapidly closing the gap – and (sticking my neck out here!) in some ways we are surpassing them!
As the US industry grew, it fractured into many different organisations. These organisations don’t always work together and squabbling between them has increased competition and infected their members. In real terms, it has stalled the growth of the industry, and they face increasing competition from overseas VAs.
Remember I said trends float across the Atlantic? Well that squabbling certainly is – in the past 2 years, I’ve had more complaints about VA trainers than in the preceding 10 years put together! Virtual Assistant training scams are becoming more and more commonplace.
Collaboration not competition is disappearing. And it’s damaging our industry.
Virtual Assistant training scams!
So this is an email from a VA who bought a virtual assistant franchise. Not only did the VA franchise not let her trade under their name, they refused to refund the fee she’d paid… And when she said she would tell people what they’d done, they threatened to sue her, because she had signed an NDA.
I felt so angry that anyone would treat a VA like that. It is just one of the many virtual assistant training scams.
And I felt embarrassed – here’s why:
The VA involved in this scam had done everything right to check out this organisation. Everything except downloading our “BUYING A VA BUSINESS” guide because it was hidden away in some course content which we don’t heavily promote.
Within 24 hours everyone on the SVA database had received a copy of that document, along with an explanation. We’d also arranged for a proper VA trainer to give the VA affected some support to set up as an independent, free of charge.
5 other virtual assistants told us they’d also been scammed by the same company.
The amounts ranged from £9,000-£15,000. So there is big money in virtual assistant training scams!
Smaller virtual assistant training scams!
Let’s play a little game (everyone knows how much I love games!). These were either adverts which appeared for VA courses or are statements made by VAs. Guess which are true?
“We guarantee clients if you take our course”
True: However, legally, you cannot charge both the client and the VA for matching with jobs. Why would you take advice from a VA who is running their own business illegally? It’s yet another virtual assistant training scams
“Our graduates earn £3k more than other VAs”
True: VACT graduates earn this much extra compared to non trained VAs (Source: UK VA Survey v9)
“I’m in the top 8% of VAs” (me personally, Caroline)
True (sort of): 8% of VAs have been in business for 10+ years. But “Top” is open to interpretation! Bit like those “healthy – all natural ingredients!” you see advertised on cereal bars containing mostly sugar and chocolate.
We’ve also seen slightly misleading marketing being used by VAs:
I spotted one VA claiming to be “Voted Best Virtual Assistant 2017” – I was a bit confused because I didn’t remember voting on this… Turns out she was voted for by her BNI group… A membership organisation who only allow 1 member per industry – so I suspect that group also had the “Best Accountant” “Best Web Developer” and “Best Lawyer” as well!!!
I’ve also seen it being used as “award winning trainer” – now the VA is an award winner. And a trainer. But not an “award winning trainer”!
“Average full time income for a VA is £45k”
True: £45,556 (Source: UK VA Survey v9) for VAs working 40+ hours per week. This is TURNOVER not PROFIT though – it’s what you bill the client, not what you put in your pocket after expenses.
“I can teach you how to make a consistent 10k/month as a VA”
False: I must admit I was tempted by this one myself. It was a free course, beautiful website, and I saw that 2-3 VAs who I really respect had signed up – surely if they were involved it was credible?
But – I’m a skeptic, so I checked it out.
This VA’s business wasn’t registered for VAT (threshold currently @ £85k). You can voluntarily register for VAT beneath that, but legally if they are earning over £85k they MUST be registered and they must display the VAT number on their website…. So I smelled a rat. There was no VAT number either on the training website or the VA website she ran. So no £120k/year for her!
Next the website said it was a limited company, so I checked Companies House to have a nosey at the accounts… And no such company existed.
So not only was this person lying about her income, she also was impersonating a Limited Company!
Now you could argue she was sharing the info for free – but why would you take advice from someone who lied to you and who doesn’t know how to run their own business legally? How much trouble can you get into if you follow the wrong advice?
“Successful Virtual Assistants charge more” (£5 more? £10 more?
True: Average VAs earn £25.34/hour being the mean average. The mode average is £25 an hour – in other words, the price which is most common for VAs to charge is £25/hour.
Our “SuperVAs” (in other words those earning £20k+) earn an average of £27.95/hour. An our Established VAs who are 5+ years in business charge £26.85/hour.
So although they are charging more, they aren’t charging huge amounts more…
And just for fun: I ran the numbers regarding those VAs who charge £35/hour+ – so they may well be charging £35+/hour, but they aren’t paying their mortgage with it!!!
Nearly half VAs charging £35/hr+ earn less than £20k!Source: UK VA Survey v 9
From 2016: “Social Media is the top earning service for VAs”
False: UK VA Survey at the time listed it as the 4th most profitable service for VAs (currently 2nd).
Further investigation with the company selling this social media training course revealed that their source for this “statistic” was actually a sample size of 1, their own business!
We’ve seen this being used recently regarding “UK VA industry statistics” – there’s a graphic of a pie chart showing how the average £25/hour rate breaks down into different costs for your business. But the costings are based on one (very unusual!) VA business. It’s not clear that this is only a sample of one business – it reads very much like these are typical costs.
So those are some of the bigger threats to collaboration not competition… But there are smaller ones which happen every day.
SVA needs your help to stop misinformation spreading through the industry. You can help by:
1) Asking the rate shamers to share HOW they get their higher rates instead of just deriding those who earn less
2) Leave FB groups where posts get unnecessarily deleted
3) Challenge people claiming “industry statistics” without a statistically valid sample of 250+ VAs.Caroline Wylie
And of course: We want you all to help share data by filling in the UK VA survey. It’ll remain live for 3 months and the first 10% of eligible VAs to fill it in will get a full report free, so do it quickly!!!
We did some sharing and collaborating live at the Virtual Assistant Conference! If you got stuck and still need linked with a VA who can help you, email firstname.lastname@example.org with your 1 thing a VA can help you with in 2 hours or less and we’ll try to match you up with someone!
Anyone wanting extra “Collaboration Not Competition” stickers or the logo for your website, please email us.
Few helpful links:
- Check how long a website has been running: http://whois.domaintools.com/
- Check domain authority (in other words, how much kudos Google gives them – useful if someone claims you’ll get lots of business from registering with them!). In general terms anyone charging should be 30+: https://www.seoreviewtools.com/website-authority-checker/
- Check Companies House for info on Limited Companies: https://beta.companieshouse.gov.uk/
- Common virtual assistant client scams: https://www.societyofvirtualassistants.co.uk/2018/09/05/virtual-assistant-scam/