Almost as soon as I created AssistU, I created the AssistU Standards of Excellence and Ethics pledge. Soon after our initial classes graduated and I realized I was going to be adding a community component to what my company was going to offer, I decided to require our community members to sign the pledge yearly, promising to let it guide their practices.

In 2003, I realized that if the pledge was going to mean something, there had to be a way to hold the virtual assistants accountable for violations to the pledge. That’s when we created a formal grievance process for people who worked with AssistU VAs, and who felt the VAs were operating their businesses in opposition to the pledge.

I’ve been reviewing our grievance process, and I thought I’d share some thoughts about ethics with you.

Why Worry About Ethics-

Ethics are a big deal in life and in business. You may think you can get away with doing whatever the hell you want, and, in reality, you probably can—but yours will likely end up being a very solitary existence, as no one (not even other people who have sloppy ethics) likes to deal with people whose ethics are lacking.

Many people gloss over ethics, thinking that the topic is just so commonsensical that they don’t need to specifically think about it. I disagree. One of the hallmarks of a terrific and successful VA is not only having great ethics, but modeling them for her clients whose own may need to be strengthened.

It’s extremely important for you to understand what’s ethical and what isn’t.

Here are some resources for you to read that will help you have a better understanding of this important topic:

Ethics in your VA practice

It’s critical to developing trust with clients that they believe that you will behave in an ethical manner at all times. As I mentioned, graduates of AssistU who remain allied with us agree to certain standards of ethical behavior that we’ve created. You may have your own ethical standards or agree with standards created by an organization to which you belong. But you need to do more than simply agree. You need to carry those standards into your practices, and walk your talk.

Here are a couple of examples of things you might come up with if you were to think of things that might be ethical challenges in your practice:

  • Working for competitors (conflict of interest)
  • Billing differently than agreed (or padding your invoice)
    —only unethical if you don’t tell the client that you do it

Here are a couple of examples of ethical challenges you might not think of:

  • Copyright violation (how much do you actually know about copyright law??)
  • Leaving client materials out on your desk where your family members can see them * Not keeping computer backups in a safe/secure place
  • Gossiping/talking about your clients (by name) with others (especially if you have language in your policies and procedures that stipulates that you won’t do it).
  • Refusing to be helpful to a nasty client during his transition out of your practice. Even horrid clients have the right to expect you to behave in accordance with a pledge you’ve agreed to!

As you work in your practice, your ethics will be important to keep an eye on, as they impact your credibility, integrity, attractiveness, and ultimately, your business as a whole. I get that it’s sometimes extremely difficult to know whether something is ethical or not. In those situations, I suggest revisiting your ethical standards and asking yourself (be rigorously honest as you answer, too!) whether someone could say that your behavior falls outside those parameters. If so, then you might want to look at how you have to clean that up before it becomes problematic for you.