Starting out - how do you share files & software to use


Hi All,

Am still in start up; am offering a VA service and a virtual project management service.

A really basic question here, I’m afraid…how do you share your files and receive them from your clients? I’m no techie but understand sending by email could easily compromise security. Would be really grateful if you would let me know what you use and first steps in acquiring it. So far I have MS Office and email.

Thanks v much,


Hi Fran

Email can be pretty secure - it depends what you are using… Most email providers will come with some kind of encryption/security settings and you can beef that up too if you are sending very sensitive stuff. There are a few reasons not to use freebie emails (see societyofvirtualassistants.c … -business/ )

It depends a bit on what you are doing but essentially you don’t want two people working on the same file at once and overwriting each other’s work… We use Smartsheet, other people will swear by Dropbox or SendThisFile. A lot will depend on how secure you need it and what you are actually doing with the files.


You can also use Google Docs which are stored online (And can be downloaded as MS Office), or Microsoft also has online versions of their Office software.

The advantage of this is that versions of documents are always up to date. Syncronised between your computer and your client’s computer. The disadvantage (and this the same with Dropbox, or any system that requires syncronisation between computers) is that you can only have one account for each computer (actually Dropbox will allow one business and one personal account), but if you have multiple clients, you can still do it, but you have to use the webpage for Dropbox, rather than accessing files through Windows Explorer (or the Mac equivalent if that’s what you’re using!).

That may be a bit muddled in explanation… happy to give it another try if you come back with a “Say what Ed?” response :slight_smile:

Lastly, if you’re doing project management, you may want to consider using an online collaboration system like Asana, Basecamp, Teamwork (there are loads of others with various levels of subscription. I use Asana because it’s free until I have 15 employees :slight_smile: . They often allow online document storage as part of the deal and if you’re working on different projects, you can store project-specific docs on that instead - it really just depends on your needs.


Google Docs aren’t that secure though - especially if you are using the same login for all your client accounts.

And the other downside to using Google Docs (even if security isn’t an issue) is that it’s really easy for someone to overwrite or corrupt a file without having any back up or to be able to track who has screwed it up!

If possible whatever system you use, you want the facility to “roll back” to earlier versions!


You wouldn’t use the same login as any of your clients, that’s not how you should be using Google Docs (GDs), and it’s uneccessary and WILL compromise security, and trackable editing which are several of the points of a collaborative system like GDs. You’d use your own login (set up a login for each client, and set up a new profile in Chrome for each client too to avoid having to log out/in every time you change which client you’re focussing on) and then share with whoever needs to work on it. Whoever ‘owns’ the document has the power to restrict access and controls who has access to edit etc. It’s no more or less secure than having hte docs in Dropbox (all password protected). The ONLY way it is less secure is if the document is set to ‘everyone can read’ or ‘everyone can edit’ in which case anyone who has the link can either read (without editing), or edit. For example, here’s a link to one of my documents: … 1215732251

Clicking on it will prompt you to request access from the owner (me!) and only after I give you that access will you be able to read and/or edit my document. It’s really very secure!

Additionally, ALL edits are tracked in GoogleDocs and you can review revision by going to File/See revision history. It highlights what’s been changed and by whom and when (I’ve just checked one of my client’s docs, and we have itemised revisions per date/time/person going back to Aug 2014!)

Secure AND roll backable :slight_smile:


p.s. if anyone wants help setting Chrome up with different profiles and using Google Docs (or comibining the two, please drop me a line, I’m really happy to help… no fees involved, and no ulterior ulterior motives either - promise! :slight_smile:


If you are using one google account to access say 5 different client’s documents, that’s a huge security risk - because it only takes one security breach to access everything (websites, email, docs, contact lists etc).

We stopped using them some time ago because we had a couple of instances where someone had deleted a file and we then had no trace of it. And another one where someone uploaded a corrupt file and we couldn’t access it. And then another instance where stuff had been overwritten because 2 people were working on the document at the same time. Final straw really… I’ve not used them since.

(admittedly we use documents in a slightly different way to most VAs as we work as a team - usually only you and the client would be accessing)


You shouldn’t be using one account to access several client’s documents, you should use a different account for each client, thus not being any bigger a risk than using any other system that requires a password a basis for security. If you have a proper procedure/protocol for password security, then ‘security breach’ is extremely unlikely… .sadly a lot of people think using the same password for all logins since they started using the internet back in 1999 is enough.

Unfortunately Caroline, it sounds like your experience is more to do with how Google Docs was used rather than it being an unreliable or unsecured system (or perhaps it was a long time ago, and they’ve since made some vast improvements!). I’ve been using them for over 5 yrs now and never come across any of the issues you’ve highlighted and I’ve worked with documents with more than 25 people having access and editing sheets at any one time. Strange!


You would need a separate google account for each client, and the email used to access it would need to be completely different for each account and any other google apps attached to it… It’s just not a very efficient way of working.


It’s a different way of working, but it’s not inefficient - in fact it is more efficient and productive, but I appreciate it may not be for everyone, but that doesn’t mean it should be written off as not an efficient way of working.

I have 7 clients right now. Each client gets a Chrome profile and this allows a unique google account for each client with separate gmail, google docs setup. It’s like having a different browser for each client. Each ‘browser’ has client-specific shortcuts on the shortcut bar, separate logins for whatever client-specific systems I am using (all saved using LastPast password manager, again using a different profile within that for each client). It provides a number of benefits:

  1. I never have to worry about sending emails to the wrong client (I have two clients called Don for example!), and for most of my clients, I am talking to their customers or suppliers so there’s no cross-contamination - absolutely no chance.

  2. I have different email groups for each client. Seriously, if I had the same system all using the same email address, I’d need loads of rules and systems of folders and sub folders, not forgetting one massive unlimited email account limit. With this system, I get 15gb google account for each client!

  3. Very VERY easy to subcontract work for one client to an associate without compromising all my other clients/my own confidentiality/security.

  4. No distractions. When I’m working for a client, there is no chance an email comes in and distracts me, if there are distractions, they are related to the client’s work (except the phone for urgent stuff of course!)

  5. It keeps my person stuff separate to my business stuff (I used to have a separate log in for personal computer usage, but that’s no longer necessary) - my 8th chrome profile :slight_smile:

There’s probably more, but for me, any other way of working would be confusing, distracting, inefficient and unproductive! And I have first hand experience of introducing this kind of system to VA colleagues too with positive responses. One size doesn’t fit all!


So what happens if an urgent email gets sent? Do you have it all coming in via outlook so you can see it, or are the separate accounts only checked say once a day? Or what happens (as it did last week) if LastPass gets compromised? Do you bill for the set up time?

I can see if you were doing routine tasks on a non urgent basis, working that way might have some advantages. It definitely would not work for me and my business.

I’d still be very careful about what info I put on there though - a hacker friend of mine demonstrated how he could get into GMail via an extremely easy backdoor - the hack for Google Docs is even more basic, especially if the access email is sent from the Gmail account associated with the Docs account. If you are only storing say a marketing plan document or a list of products it’s fine. Personal details, marketing contacts, list of customers or confidential client info… Nope, not safe.


Email is not an urgent way of communication and my clients understand if they need a response inside 24 hrs they call.

Lastpass’s compromise was the main password, all the encrypted passwords were secure, so I just needed to change one password - no biggy!

Maybe I’m naive in trusting gmail, but I’ve never had data compromised. Maybe my clients and their data just aren’t very interesting to hackers!


I store my files in Dropbox - with each client having their own folder shared with their name representatives. You can add security onto Dropbox but I haven’t done that yet. I like that Dropbox holds copies of the files for 30 days and have used it several times when clients have deleted things by accident.

My set up for clients is similar to Ed’s each client gets their own gmail account, some through google apps for non-profits which I’ve set up for them as well.

I like logging out and then logging in as the next client - clears my mind :slight_smile:


I find that my clients already have ways they require things to be done. The only thing I use across all of them is LastPass. Otherwise I work with them to meet their expectations. I do steer them towards certain things. I cannot stand google docs and will avoid it if possible but if they want it - and they pay me enough to decide what they want - then I go with that. Flexibility is something a VA offers so I try to give it across all things.

And to the point about email - all my clients regard email as urgent! I have it coming through to my phone and tablet so if I am not at my computer I know they have a need.

We all work differently and that is why there is a big enough market for us all. But I do think we have to put the client first in all things, for the rep of VAs as well as our own longevity. That isn’t to suggest anyone isn’t - it is just how I see our role :slight_smile: