It may seem obvious to most but still must be said that, the internet has had a powerful and lasting effect on many aspects of our lives. From the personal to the public and from social to professional, relationships have and will continue to evolve because of the nature of life online. As a provider of virtual business services, we see this almost daily, requiring us to spend increasing amounts of time and energy on business relationship management with our contractors and subs.
While we are all fairly clear on how the internet has drastically altered consumerism with online shopping, and will continue to do so, there is an aspect to doing business online that many fail to consider: the relationship between client and contracted provider of virtual services.
While business relationships have always had the potential for becoming contentious, with one side often demanding “more for their money” than the other side is willing to offer, the inherently impersonal nature of the internet can easily exacerbate this problem. Since there are so few, if any, face-to-face encounters between client and service provider in the virtual world, it has become much easier for each side to discount the human element in a business relationship.
This is especially true in a relationship where personal details or proprietary business information is being shared, making trust a necessary component of the relationship. Sometimes, in an effort to appease, a provider will allow certain actions or behaviors to continue without stopping them for fear of upsetting or even losing a client. Unfortunately, this can establish a precedent for unacceptable behavior which can lead to more issues down the road.
Setting Limits in a Virtual Business Relationship
All mutually beneficial relationships are both voluntary and defined by limitations, whether romantic, social or professional. In other words, it is equally inappropriate to be abusive toward a business partner as it is toward a spouse or friend. After all, if you refuse to work at midnight, how can you expect your virtual administrative assistant to be doing your books in the middle of the night?
Conversely, your virtual support team has no right to demand sales figures or payroll information from you at an unreasonable hour simply because they want to “knock off early” tomorrow.
So, how do we establish limits in a virtual relationship that are fair to both sides yet allow each of us to be as productive as humanly possible? Here are some suggestions:
- Be open and honest from the beginning: Clearly communicating the limitations of your virtual relationship will go a long way toward avoiding confusion down the road. Whether you’re being hired to provide a singular service or a range of services, they must be clearly outlined – for the benefit of both sides.
- Know what you are willing to do for your clients, in advance: It’s impossible to establish boundaries with clients if you’re unsure what your own limitations are. Identify your personal comfort zones, relative to physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual limits.
- Set expectations, for both sides, and stick to them: This is important in two ways: communication and the extent of services provided. Clearly outline business hours and how quickly a client might expect a response to a query, as well as explaining the details of the virtual services you’re providing.
- Learn to say, “No”, when necessary: While going the extra mile may be a regular part of your appeal to prospective clients, it can also be a trap, requiring you to provide services for which you never get paid. Make sure to say no to requests for services or resources that may take up too much time or energy and cause your business to suffer.
- Your time is precious, protect it: Starting early or staying late are only options in extremes, not given alternatives to your own or your team’s schedules.
- Be assertive, especially if control is being lost or clients are stepping over set boundaries. Occasionally people are unaware, but sometimes they just need a firm reminder of their behavior.
- Never feel guilty about setting boundaries: Some clients may use manipulation or guilt to change a boundary they don’t particularly like, but this should never be allowed to happen. Those clients may also be better served by someone else if this behavior continues.
Of course, setting boundaries in a business relationship (or any relationship) is a two-way street. While the virtual business services provider has every right to determine the limits of their offerings, the client also has the right to have expectations and to set limits. In fact, if both client and provider adhere to the list above, managing your virtual business relationship should not be a problem for either of you.
Are you looking for quality virtual business services from a reputable provider? Get in touch with me today for your FREE Virtual Support Consultation.