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People go seeking assistance for myriad reasons.

When it comes to solopreneurs seeking assistance from a virtual assistant, though, there are two main camps of people: those who are seeking help with tasks and projects, and those who are seeking help with overwhelm, and view getting help with tasks and projects as a means to that end.

At first blush, those may seem like different ways of saying the same thing. That's how it seemed to me too. But the two camps are actually sharply distinct in needs, expectations, and even language.

Welcome to the Two Camps. Which do you call home?

The first camp I call the Results-Focused Camp, or the Results Campers. The Results Campers come to me for help getting certain tasks done, for handling to-do list overflow, to pass along to me stuff that needs handling that they'd rather have me do than invest all the time in learning the details themselves (e.g., 1ShoppingCart or CSS/HTML).

The second camp is the Reassurance-Focused Camp, or Reassurance Campers. The Reassurance Campers come to me for help because they feel overwhelmed. They want to get help so that they feel more in control, less stressed, and less swallowed by overwhelm. They come to me expressing a need to get help with the “stuff,” but what they're seeking is a kind of emotional support–finding someone to handle the “stuff” is a way to get that support, but it isn't the “getting stuff done” that is actually motivating them to seek an assistant.

Some Results Campers feel overwhelmed too–the difference is that the Results Campers identify the overwhelm as being caused or triggered by specific tasks (or by having too many tasks to do each day), whereas the Reassurance Campers just know that they're flummoxed, stressed and running at their emotional limit, and see having an assistant as a way of lessening that.

Let's take a closer look at these intriguingly different camps of businessfolks.

The initial consultation

In their initial consultation, the Results Camper says to me:

  • “I've got more things to do than I have time to do them”
  • “It probably makes more sense to have someone else deal with this stuff than to have me deal with it”
  • “I can't stand trying to figure out what steps come next in a project and I need someone who can do that for me.”
  • “I could pass on some of this work and make more room in my own day for higher-level stuff / higher-paying stuff.”

The Reassurance Camper says to me:

  • “I'm so busy, I just need someone to help me out.”
  • “There's so much to do! It's really overwhelming. I definitely need some assistance.”
  • “I always feel like I'm running and maxxed out and stuff still doesn't all get done.”
  • “I just get so stressed out. I'd really like you to help me so that I'm not so stressed out all the time.”

The difference

The Results Camp speaks in terms of what needs to get done, and which tasks are overflowing or have too high a “time cost” or “energy cost” to be worth their while. They can usually identify specific projects or activities (even if in general, broad strokes) that could use an assistant's help.

The Reassurance Camp speaks in terms of emotions, focusing on how busy they feel, how swamped they feel, and even how scared or panicky they feel with so much on their plates. They often cannot give specifics regarding what they need help with; they're faced with more of a general sense of foreboding or anxiety, and want the assistant to figure out what tasks might make that feeling decrease.

This sets up a difference in needs.

The Results Camper needs:

  • to be able to confidently hand off a certain set of tasks or projects
  • to be able to let go of tasks/projects: “I want to know that once something is handed off, it's going to be dealt with, and that I can essentially just assign it and forget about it and move on to other things.”
  • to see finished products and results

The Reassurance Camper needs:

  • a dialogue around tasks: “Yes, I've received it. Yes, I'm working on it. Yes, I'll get it back to you by the date you want it. Yes, it's coming along.”
  • to remain involved with the items assigned to the assistant, receiving comfort from the reassurances along the way
  • to see the steps you're taking and the process

The reason for these differences is that there is a difference in the core reason each camp hires an assistant. The Results Camp hires assistants because they want to see a change in their Action Items list: they want less “stuff” on that list, or they want only a specific kind of “stuff” on that list and want anything else handled by someone else.

The Reassurance Camp hires assistants because they want to see a change in their emotional load: they want to feel differently than they did before having an assistant, and shifting tasks to someone else or handling a different kind of action item is a means to that end.

And just in case anyone's jumping to the conclusion that there's a gender divide, with males hanging out in the Results Camp, and females making their home at the Reassurance Camp, I'll put that to rest right away–gender is NOT a reliable predictor of which camp a client resides in.

As an assistant, knowing which Camp a client calls home is vital.

If I'm working for a Results Camper, my process goes something like this:

  1. Receive task list or project via email (sometimes with a deadline, though often not)
  2. Complete tasks or project
  3. Notify client that I've completed the tasks or project (or mark them off in Basecamp)
  4. Repeat as needed.

If I'm working for an Reassurance Camper, the process goes something like this:

  1. Receive task list or project via email (usually either without a deadline or with a need-it-immediately deadline)
  2. Notify client that I received the email. Give assurance that I will do the tasks by date requested, or offer a date that I plan on doing the tasks.
  3. Update client as I work on the tasks. Be prepared to answer questions about why I did something a certain way, or to document my process for the client.
  4. Notify client that I've completed the tasks or project. Update any previously-given answers or process documentation.
  5. Repeat as needed.

Handling a Results Camp client like an Reassurance Camp client tends to frustrate the Results Camp client. The client thinks, “If I wanted to be involved every step of the way I would've handled it myself!” Or the client worries that constant updates indicate that I may not be certain of what I'm doing and am wanting them to check over my work.

Results Campers want to know that it's done, and want to count on the fact that when it's done, it's done well.

On the other hand, handling an Reassurance Camper like a Results Camper leaves the Reassurance Camper feeling unsatisfied, EVEN IF the results are the exact same. The Reassurance Client thinks, “How can I feel comforted if I don't know what's going on?” or thinks that a lack of updates or process documentation indicates that I'm not doing the work–or that I won't get the work done.

Reassurance Campers want to feel reassured and be told that everything is okay.

Camps and Costs

If you're looking to hire an assistant (or if you already have), it's vital to know which Camp you reside in too, if for no other reason than cost.

If you're an Reassurance Camper, your assistance costs will most likely be higher than a Results Camper when all other factors are equal.

This is because, as an Reassurance Camper, you're not just asking an assistant to take care of tasks or projects–you're counting on your assistant for a type of emotional support too. And along with that emotional support comes additional time spent offering more updates, more documentation, more back-and-forth–more reassurance. The more you count on your Helper People to reduce your emotional loads, the more you should expect to pay.

Interestingly, this also tends to be true for a client's clients/customers. A Reassurance Camper will usually handle their own customers and clients in the way they like to be treated–with lots of updates and reassurances (and re-reassurances), being given the information they need and then reminded of it, trying to forsee and halt all questions and problems that might occur and creating a process that assumes that they will occur, so that you can head them off at the pass.

Results Camp clients usually treat their customers or clients the way they prefer to be treated: being given the information, trusted to do with the information what they need to, and able to seek additional help only if they request it rather than assuming they need it.

Again, there is additional time involved with the Reassurance customer service method. It's neither right nor wrong, neither better nor worse, but it is more time-intensive, and therefore costs more. (It also carries with it the potential downside that customers will learn that they can wait for you to answer their questions and handle their issues, rather than seeking to find answers or resolutions on their own–and once you teach your customer base that, you have to be prepared to maintain that level of customer service. Again, that adds up in admin costs. Totally fine to do it that way–but it gets pricey, and you as the Helper-Person-hirer need to be aware of that.)

Welcome to your Camp.

The point of realizing these two Camps exist–and learning which one feels like home–is not to give you a point from which you should start trying to change and morph into the opposite Camp. Neither Camp has a monopoly on effective working relationships or successful businesses. There's no need for a Reassurance Camper to decide she needs to strive to be more Resultish, and Result Campers don't need to pack up their tent and start moving to the Reassurance border.

The point is to better understand what kind of help you (as a Helper Person Hirer) truly desire, and why. Understanding that helps you communicate that to your Helper Person (and helps you weed out ill-fitting Helper People to find ones that really get how best to work with a Camper like you!).

The point is also to help Helper People identify what kinds of Campers they're working with, and to tailor the way the help each client to best meet the core reasons those clients hired them in the first place.

How about you?

Which camp feels like home to you? How might knowing your Camp help you work more effectively with your own colleagues and Helper People?