APVA Member Kathy Soulsby is an expert on dealing with challenging clients and is also a best selling author, in this blog she shares her experiences of some of the challenges that come with taking on a new client and how you can approach them to ensure your working relationship gets off to a good start. 

I’ve been talking about a phenomenon that I have named “the new client horrors” for years. Does this ever happen to you?

You take on a new client and you’re really excited. You know you can really make a difference here. You have your kick off call, the client downloads their brain and the minute you start work something goes wrong:

  • The system they just showed you on their screen looks totally different on yours and you can’t do the thing you need to. You’re going to have to go back to the client.
  • Your new log in won’t work for some reason and you’re now back and forth to IT feeling like an idiot.
  • The first thing you do, is wrong.
  • Despite your 17 pages of notes, you haven’t written down how to do that thing. Or you have, but it now makes no sense.

And you have to ask the client how to do something, or where to get to X Y and Z. And you are convinced you look like a complete idiot. So as you carry on, you’re now deeply anxious and because you’re in a flap you make an actual mistake. You flap more. Everything you are touching on this project seems to break and the more you try, the more you mess up. You are now petrified any time you get an email from this client because you are spiralling.

Does this sound familiar?

This is what I call the new client horrors.

It doesn’t happen with every client by any means. But even the most competent, experienced and amazing VAs have this happen to them on occasion. I know this, I work with them and I’ve witnessed it in action.

These are my top tips for avoiding the NCHs as I will now call them. And then some tips to pull you out if you find yourself in this situation.

Avoiding the NCHs

  • When you are onboarding a new client, it’s really tempting for them to dump their entire task list on you. They need help, you are here to help, but a download of this size can be a lot. During your first call, make it clear that you’re there to work, but that you can’t do everything at once, and between you you’ll need to get a full task list into a priority order so you know where to start.
    • Record that initial call if possible as a reference point. Take notes as well and write them up so you can see early if you need to clarify something that now doesn’t make sense.
  • Make sure the tech works.
    • Ideally, you should be given access to everything before your big onboarding call. On that, you share your screen so the client can talk you through where things are and how things work – that way it’s really easy to see where access permissions are wrong or something isn’t set up correctly on your version.
    • Ask your client to record Loom or Zoom videos of tasks that are technical so you have them to refer to quickly.
    • Keep a list of links or a folder in your inbox of “useful stuff” so you always know where to refer back to find things.
  • Check in often and ask for feedback. Make sure you have a formal review booked in after a month.
  • Evaluate your life before you take on a new client. The NCHs can appear not because this client is any tricker than any other you’ve ever worked with but because there are other things going on in your life that are stressing you out. That stress can manifest as the NHC. I’ve seen it happen with people building extensions, having kids going through problems at school and personal health issues. If there’s big upheavals going on at home, question whether or not you have the headspace to take on a new client as well. It maybe you need to delay the start until life has settled down a little.

Are you in the NCHs now?

You are? Or you can feel it brewing? OK. First just stop, take a step back and breathe.

Firstly, remind yourself that the client can’t see inside your head. You may feel that it’s a disaster and you’ve ruined everything but that probably isn’t the case if you can take a step back and be more pragmatic about it. And quite likely at this point, the client is not aware that anything has gone wrong. If it has, and they need to know, let them know. Apologise and agree what the fix is. But this is not the end of the world. Mistakes happen. The key is to not let that one mistake spiral into multiple mistakes because you are stressing.

If you do find yourself saying “I can’t do this, I’m rubbish, I hate this client” then have a vent somewhere. That might be to a friend, a fellow VA, your Lead VA or the cat. Or write it down. Just express your frustration for a bit. Then stop. Breathe.

Once you’ve vented, we are going to move into a more practical mindset. And we’re going to write some bits down, ideally away from your laptop so you aren’t distracted by pings.

  • Firstly, write down what knowledge or access you think you are missing to make this work. If you could wave a wand to get this project working, what would you ask for specifically?
  • Secondly, what is your next step to fix this situation? Just one. Write that down.
  • Next, write down everything you’ve done for this client so far that has been fine. If there hasn’t been one yet, use another client. You are a competent person! Write down things you’ve achieved perfectly well today, for this client or another one.
  • And lastly. A little automatic writing now you’ve calmed down. Without thinking too hard about it, write as much as you can about why you are really struggling with this client. You might be surprised what comes up. It might not be anything to do with this client at all. Or it might be and it might be very fixable. Or, you might have to decide that you’ll give it 2 more weeks and then call it a day if you don’t feel better about it. Give yourself permission to make that a future task for yourself. But really you need to give it a few more weeks. 
  • Lastly, go back to the next step action that you wrote down. Is it still the right next step or should that change? Is there another step after that?
  • Action time. Slowly, calmly do that action! Check it. Know as you do it that you have this.

Taking on a new client can be challenging. There are new things to learn, new people to work with and potentially new software to navigate. Having a robust onboarding process that you take control of will help you feel more comfortable. It’s also worth adding some tasks for yourself to that onboarding process around managing your mindset so you have a plan if you get overwhelmed in the moment.

The New Client Horrors can be tricky to navigate but it is a temporary phase in the relationship. If you can name it and know that it’s not you, it’s a thing, I hope that will help you navigate your next new client onboarding.

Kathy Soulsby

Kathy Soulsby

Founder of Personally Virtual

Personally Virtual

Kathy Soulsby is the Founder of Personally Virtual, Kathy and her team of 30+ associate VAs provide ninja-like diary management to consultancies and other B2B businesses. Whether it is 1 VA or a team of 10 VAs, we do what we do so clients can outsource everything but their brilliance.  Kathy has also authored two books about Virtual Assistants.  

Here are the links to find out more and purchase Kathy’s books: