Some clients forget about your existence when you aren’t actually in front of them. So, although you can work remotely the chances of these people ever giving you any work offsite is slim because they are too swamped by a million things to ever do something as radical as answer an email or a ringing phone. Much less actually get in touch off their own bat (or if they do and you reply it’ll be four weeks before they then respond again).

Basically, if you want to work for them, you really have to be there and in their face. And book the next one while you are there because you will never hear from them between times, it’s like the Bermuda Triangle. This is one frustrating thing about being virtual. If these clients were actual onsite colleagues, you’d just pester them at their desk. They never have time to ever return calls or emails or God forbid do the actual work they should be doing. All of which just turns their lives into a vicious circle of busyness and never getting things done.

What is most annoying is that these are the people who most need a VA. And preferably a VA that is going to kick some arse and get them stricter on their working methods – because working the way they do is chaotic and very likely to end up with balls dropped. Not so much one or two balls but an entire ball pool of balls dropped. BUT they can’t slow down and focus for one second to even look at the bigger picture without interruptions. We have all worked with these people – they have the attention span of gnats. Think Finding Nemo “just keep swimming, just keep swimming, oh look, krill”. Whatever is shiniest or most urgent gets done, unless someone interrupts with something else in which case that gets done first, regardless of whether that is a priority, because the person happened to walk in the room or ring or whatever. They are poor time managers, allowing disruptions to take over and never keeping to time on anything –meetings drag on for hours even though they clearly don’t need to, hundreds of emails remain unread, deadlines pass. I saw one client fail to call a very important customer who had an issue because of various interruptions which by comparison were trivial. Despite almost incessant pestering and nagging from me and two of the team the 2pm planned call time became 3.30pm turning a mildly-irked-customer into an incandescent-with-rage-customer. That is a Goldfish for you, just swimming along, making life harder for themselves.

I don’t especially love working with Goldfish (you can probably tell!). Mainly because, I am one of these people that does things when I say I will. And it pisses me off royally when others don’t do the same. Or worse, when I am witness to my client’s clients being left without things being done and I have no control over it, as with that call. I want my clients to succeed, I feel part of their team – and I therefore feel the failure when something goes wrong. You spend so much time chasing, nagging, reminding and basically wasting time that it isn’t a fun client to have. Also, they are very bad payers usually as paying invoices falls way down their list of to dos – again, you waste time beating money out them (figuratively! I’ve yet to “send in the boys”). And being so bloody diabolical at managing their own time, often they have little regard for others time. Including mine. So, they won’t pay attention to things like deadlines, set up, the how to of working with a VA – they will just steamroller on in their own way totally oblivious to the fact that they are actually costing you money by behaving like this. At this point being onsite is a huge advantage – if I am onsite they are paying me. If they haven’t managed to sort out any work for me because they are goldfishing along, well, that’s their problem for once and not mine. I’ve had a goldfish cost me money because I turned down some new work because she’d said she wanted 15 hours in a month to get a project done …. And then she never managed to do what she needed to do so I could do the work. I now don’t let her have retained time, she has to pay me Ad Hoc rates and if I have time she can get her work done. But I won’t hold time for her again after that.

We all have days where the volume of work feels overwhelming but the more that is the case, the greater the need to take a step back, calm the fuck down and prioritise. And plan. And strategise. Which means saying no to people. And locking doors, turning off email and your phone. And if it lasts longer than a few weeks and you never ever get on top of your work mountain then clearly you need something else to happen – whatever that might be.

I’m not sure that these folks don’t enjoy the chaos, the pressure. Maybe they do. If they don’t then surely, they are heading for a heart attack – I feel I am some days just witnessing it, it’s genuinely exhausting. After a day with a Goldfish I am usually in need of a very stiff drink. They wear me out!

It should be said as a disclaimer that not all Goldfish are permanent Goldfish. We are all capable of having Goldfish-like moments. If you have never been a Goldfish then all I can say is that either, you have never had a huge pressure of work, or you never sleep. When the volume of work is insane, it is very easy to just fire fight and get your head into a horrible place. What you need at that point is a helpful, polite and charming VA to shout “Oi, mate. You’re a Goldfish”. And all will be well.