Since my internet had been temperamental at best, I decided to try and branch out and find something that didn’t necessarily need a stable connection for hours at a time. So I thought I’d try being a virtual assistant. As a declaimer, even after the experience I’m about to relate, I think becoming a virtual assistant is a viable income opportunity for someone living in Mexico. It just didn’t work out so well for me.
One of my Facebook contacts was interested in setting up a course through Coursera and needed some virtual assistance to get the ball rolling. She let me set my own price. I did a bit of research and came up with a figure of $15 USD per hour flat rate. Although I considered pricing per job, i.e. $X for social media work, $X for proofreading, etc. I didn’t really know how to set those prices. My new boss agreed to my fee of $15 per hour. We agreed on the submission of my hours at the end of each month with net 15 (she would pay interest if the bill was not paid after 15 days of submission).
My first order of business was to look over the website and suggest edits or improvements. Then I began working on a project that would become a published text once completed. Initially, I was overwhelmed, not with the work, but with how the tasks were being assigned. Or rather the disconnect between what my boss wanted to be done and how it was labeled in the task assignment option in Asana. Once that was more organized, things moved along at a brisker pace.
At the end of August, I turned in my invoice requesting payment for the little bit of work I did in July and the much more substantial workload I did in August. My boss said that payment would be deferred until the course was launched. That was a little disappointing, but ok.
My boss, her partner, and I had weekly progress check meetings via Google Hangouts. Priority tasks were determined for the following week and analytics were well, analyzed. Things seemed to be moving along quite well.
The course was launched in the middle of September and the focus became marketing for a time. I designed a template for questions about the course for the Facebook group. I researched other groups where marketing might take place. I contacted potential affiliates. I even became an affiliate myself and promoted the course on my own time.
I submitted an invoice for work completed in September. Again, my payment would have to be deferred until such time as the course generated a profit. Well, I was still working at my other job, so I’d survive.
The focus again changed to the production of the next course in the series. I listened to a series of interviews, highlighted and time stamped relevant information. I researched and wrote the first two lessons.
Then I had some internet issues at the beginning of October, so wasn’t able to work on the course as much as I would have liked. At the first virtual meeting, I again asked about my pay. I was in need of some cash immediately. In response, my boss told me to cease work immediately on the course since she couldn’t pay me.
I was annoyed. The next day, she removed me from the production channel on Slack, canceled my collaboration status on Coursera and eliminated any tasks that still needed to be done on Asana. She also changed me from administrator to moderator in the Facebook group.
I sat and stewed on this problem. She was in Canada, her partner was in the U.S. and I was in Mexico. What sort of bargaining position was I in? And how true was the cry of poverty if a series of Facebook ads were launched immediately after I was dismissed? Facebook ads aren’t cheap by any means.
I decided to write a polite collection letter. I had it sent registered mail to Canada. Then I sent it as a message to every single social media site I could find either partner on. This included Linkedin, Facebook, Slack, Asana, and direct email. I requested payment in full of the current month’s balance and the 3 previous months overdue payments.
I was underwhelmed with her response. She sent an email saying that she was sorry that I was frustrated with the situation. She also sent $7.25 that was the affiliate commission I earned for the month of September. There was a list of excuses, the course hadn’t generated enough money to pay me yet, the U.S. credit card she had applied for hadn’t come through, she hadn’t been able to set up her bank to send and receive payments through Stripe (even though I suggested she send the money via Paypal). There was no mention as to when she would be able to pay me the $672 still owed.
Although there is some effort on behalf of freelancers to avoid non-payment of services, it apparently happens quite often. New York City has established the “Freelance isn’t Free” Act requiring clients to pay freelancers in full for work worth $800 USD by the agreed upon date or within 30 days of task completion. While commendable, since none of the parties involved are NYC residents, this wouldn’t be helpful in my case.
So my next step was to send invoices via Stripe and Paypal to the partners. One completely ignored the invoices. The other denied the charges and canceled the bill. With that sort of response, a little social shaming was in order. That’s where this post comes in. I also tagged both owners at the social media sites they can be found at politely asking when I could expect payment. I’ll let you know if anything comes of it.
I haven’t completely given up on the idea of virtual assisting. I found the work to be diverse and interesting. I didn’t need stable internet for large blocks of time like I do teaching. I was good at what I was doing. However, this not getting paid aspect made me rethink some things.
Going forward, if my first invoice is not paid in a timely manner, I will no longer continue to work for the client until the invoice is paid. I still might not get paid, but I won’t waste as much time as I did with the above job. There are a lot of fish in the sea or rather people who need the services of virtual assistants. I can certainly find someone with enough integrity to pay for those services.