I met Devon Smiley in a Facebook group and was immediately intrigued! She is a negotiation consultant, and works with entrepreneurs and virtual assistants to help them to negotiate contracts with terms that are the most beneficial for her clients. I asked her if she had any advice for entrepreneurs negotiating contracts with their VA’s, and she was happy to oblige!
It’s important to note that neither I nor Devon are lawyers, so no part of this article should be taken as legal advice.
Enjoy our conversation below – I’ve taken the liberty of highlighting the bits I liked the most!
J: When hiring a new Virtual Assistant, why is it important to sign a contract?D: Contracts are important for two reasons. Firstly, a contract provides the legal foundation that will help protect your business. Doing business without one leaves you open for all sorts of misunderstandings and risks. Another reason to have a contract is that it will help you ensure that the work you’re hiring for is done correctly. You can include guidelines on what needs to be done and when – even down to the detail of which specific tools and timelines are critical for your business. This makes business so much easier than hashing it out each and every week.
J: Can you sign contracts with VAs outside your home country? Should you?D: Definitely! The ability to work globally and build a team that’s made up of the perfect members, regardless of where they are in the world is such a great benefit of working with a VA. A key feature to look out for in your contract is which court of law the contract will be held to. Specifying which state, province and country will help you make sure that you’re not held to laws that are unfamiliar or harmful to you. If it isn’t possible to have the contract indicate your ‘home’ legal system or another that you’re familiar with, check with a lawyer find out what the impact may be, and what other alternative locations will work for your business.
J: What are the key things you should be sure to address in your VA contract?D: Great question! For the most part, a standard service agreement template will cover your foundations, but here are a few items to watch out for:
- Payments: Clear language on how much you’ll be paying, when it’s due, and how it will be paid. Think of this section as the step-by-step of how you’ll be invoiced, and how you’ll pay your VA.
- Deliverables: Details on what the VA will be doing, how it’s to be done, with what tools, and when it’s due. It’s likely you’ve already exchanged emails with this information, or covered it during phone calls – but the contract is your opportunity to document those tasks and guidelines that are most important to your business.
- Confidentiality: Language to prevent the VA from sharing information about you and your business with outside parties, unless they need to in order to complete the deliverables you’ve set out.
- Termination: Clear procedures for how either party can end the contract (either with, or without cause) make ending the relationship easier.
J: If you believe your VA has breached the contract, what should you do next?D: Take a deep breath. Chances are, you’ll be feeling a rush of energy and anger – and that makes handling the situation well pretty much impossible. After a calm down, the first priority is to go back to the contract language and re-read the section you think has been breached. It can help to get a second set of eyes on it – in case there’s an interpretation you’ve missed.
Hold off on jumping to conclusions or contacting your VA with an accusation. The first communication should be rather casual: point out the potential issue (avoiding the word breach!), express concern about a possible misunderstanding of the contract, and then ask for it to be corrected. This type of situation is where having the details of the work to be completed in the contract will be helpful. Key here is providing your VA the opportunity to acknowledge the mistake, and make it right.
If unresolved, your next steps will depend on how serious the breach was, and what dollar value is attached to it. If the breach is for a rather low value, it may be best to terminate the business relationship per the terms of your contract, rather than invest more time and money on legal action. However, if you’re dealing with intellectual property, confidentiality or fraud that may have substantial impact on your business, I think that it’s best to contact a lawyer at that point and have them walk you through your options.
J: Do you have any resources for where business owners can get sample VA contracts?D: VA services can be contracted in pretty much the same way as any other service can, so when looking for a template, don’t be afraid to broaden your search to a general services or independent contractor document. I don’t have a single go-to for templates, but from my experience, most templates from sources like Docracy do a decent job of covering the basics. The magic happens when you customize the contract to cover your specific requirements for the work.
My key focus in a review is to making sure that the document supports the work that needs to be done, and that any warning flags I spot are communicated back to the client for further review with a legal professional. A lot of business owners struggle when it comes to contracts, so I created the Contract C.Y.A. service specifically to take the guess work and frustration out of signing a contract that works with – and for – your business. The best part is that it works whether you’re doing the hiring, or being hired.
Thanks Devon for sharing your expertise!
If you’re hiring a Virtual Assistant and don’t already have a contract in place, it’s worth taking Devon’s advice and finding a generic contract document online that you can customize to your specific needs. Definitely say hello to Devon on Twitter or head over to her website for lots of great resources to help you get the terms – and results – you’re looking for out of your contracts!
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