Dear Gritty VA:
A client I have been consulting with now wants me to submit to a background check before deciding whether to work with me or not. Is this customary? –DE
Um, no… it’s not customary.
You aren’t going to be this client’s employee ("client" being the operative word here, not "employer"). Even though a Virtual Assistant’s support to her clients is very closely collaborative and personal, this still boils down to commerce between two businesses, plain and simple. You both choose to do business together according to the usual standards of business–not employment–or you don’t.
Clients should be exercising their due diligence and choosing a qualified Virtual Assistant based on value, chemistry and business fit. That is accomplished by reading the business information on your website, reviewing testimonials, going through your consultation process, and talking to current or former clients if possible. But a background check… no, I think not. And if they choose to work with you and realize it’s not a fit, they simply take their business elsewhere.
This kind of request is a strong signal that the client lacks the understanding that you are NOT their "worker" or employee, but in fact are a vendor. Honestly, do they ask all their vendors to submit to background checks? Not unless they are a defense contractor or something similar, LOL. It’s such a ridiculous idea, one that only seems to plague the Virtual Assistant profession for some reason. (Well, I know the reasons why, but that’s a rant for another day…).
We’ve had this same conversation many times on my Virtual Assistant association forum (most recently when a member reported a prospective client wanted her to also submit to a drug test!)
One of my funniest friends and Virtual Assistant members, Sandi Johnson of Virtually Yours LLC, joked that if a client asked her to submit to a background check, she would tell them, "I’d be happy to meet your requirements. However, in the spirit of reciprocity, I require prospective clients to also submit to a drug screen, personal AND business credit checks, as well as psychological testing."
We all laughed, but you know, that just might get the point across very well indeed.