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My Virtual Assistant Tried to Steal From Me. Here's What You Should Know.

What you can learn from my experience.

In my lifestyle business, I generate income in several different ways. I write for publications (for exposure and pay) and books, coach clients, speak at events, consult at and for large multinational corporations and sell digital information products. To run a half-million-dollar-a-year business, I have been using a team of four virtual assistants for administrative tasks and two freelancers for the technical parts. 

A few weeks ago, I walked away from a consulting deal that I was negotiating with a company here in Asia (I'm writing this article to you from Seoul, South Korea). The deal fell apart because the company wanted to own all of my content after I presented it. They offered a six-figure consulting contract for the intellectual property rights. 

My attorney and I tried to offer many other options, but they were adamant. They wanted to own the content so they could repackage it and sell it as their own. I walked away from the deal. I know what my content is worth over its lifetime. I made an honest effort to accommodate them but they were stubborn, and a stubborn partner rarely makes for a good business relationship. 

My team of virtual assistants has access to certain parts of my consulting deals and to the companies that I consult for. One of my virtual assistants mainly deals with the companies, and after I walked away from the deal, she went to this company directly and tried to sell them my content on the side. Since she has access, she coul easily do it. One of my other team members saw what was going on and alerted me.

I contacted the company, who told me this virtual assistant offered them all of my content for $15,000 (she low-balled it). We had a meeting and I let her go. I also had my attorney send a strong email to the company just in case they did actually get my content.

If you are working with virtual assistants, there are some lessons you can learn from my experience. 

1. Thoroughly vet your team members.
This virtual assistant came to my business as a referral, but I could have done a better job vetting her. You are contracting people to work on important and sensitive parts of your business that have an effect on your income. You might be tempted to ask a couple of simple questions and decide to move forward in the process because you need the help.

Take your time and be thorough during the interview process. Study the questions that large corporations ask their employees in an interview and see how you can tailor those to fit your needs. This is an important decision and you want the person who will be the best fit in every way for your business. It's worth it to take longer and move slower when adding new team members. Verify the information they're giving you and don't settle for what someone tells you. 

2. Be deliberate about what you grant access to. 
I was too trusting and gave my virtual assistants access to a lot. You should think long and hard about whom you'll give access to certain parts of your business -- especially the money parts. You hire a virtual team to help make your workload lighter and to scale your business, but that can backfire if they do something that affects your income. They might not even be doing it on purpose. Something as little as sending the wrong type of message to a potential or current client can affect your bottom line. 

Before you hire your first virtual assistant or hire more, break down the different parts of your business. Once you have the breakdown, mark the parts that are sensitive and that you should probably keep to yourself. You can trust someone over time to handle those sensitive areas, but only after they have proven themselves in an undeniable way. Keep your team focused on certain parts and tasks. 

3. Make your team members sign non-disclosure and other legal agreements. 
Few people take proper care of the legal aspects of their businesses. They trust someone right off the bat or get a little lazy when it comes to legally protecting their interests.

It's just smart to have your virtual team sign non-disclosure agreements and any other legal documents that make sense. This is your livelihood, and you should do whatever it takes to protect it. If you have to spend a couple of dollars on the process, it will be worth it. Consult with an attorney and get advice on how to structure your business and team. 

You don't have to experience something negative before you decide to make changes in your procedures. Learn from my experience and the experiences of many other entrepreneurs.

Having a virtual team can be wonderful and help your business scale. Just make sure you're going about it in the right way.
-Kimanzi Constable


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