The Difference Between an Administrative Support Business and a Secretarial Service

I was reviewing our industry survey results recently.

It was interesting to see how many people still don’t understand the difference between a secretarial service and an administrative support business.

You didn’t know there was a difference? Yes, they are completely different business models.


The difference hinges upon whether the relationship is project-based or it is an ongoing, collaborative relationship of administrative support.

If someone is focused on selling line-item administrative services a la carte, they are providing secretarial services.

It’s like the relationship you have with, say, Kinkos.

You go there for one-off services. You might only ever need them once, or you might be a repeat customer and come back on a sporadic basis. But the relationship is incidental and transactional and they aren’t any more involved in your business than your mailman. It’s not the same kind of relationship as administrative support.

Administrative support is exactly that:  it’s a relationship of ongoing support where you take on specific tasks, functions and roles for a client in their business on an ongoing, monthly basis. It’s not one-time or sporadic projects.

That’s because administrative support isn’t an event. It’s not something you do once and never have to do again, (whereas project work, and the extent of your role in that transaction, ends as soon as the project is completed). Administrative support is ongoing throughout the life of every business.

So, an administrative support business, you aren’t selling one-off, individual services. What you selling is that ongoing relationship of support itself: the opportunity for a client to have an administrative partner who can take on any number of administrative roles or service areas depending on their needs (which you would determine and negotiate through your consultation process).


If all you are doing is project work, then you aren’t in the administrative support business, you’re in the secretarial services business. The ongoing relationship is what differentiates an administrative support business from a secretarial service.

Without the continuity and consistency of the relationship, you don’t get to know the client, their business or their work to the degree that allows you to provide that right-hand value.

Without the relationship, administrative work can only be done in fits and starts and bits and pieces.

Without that ongoing relationship, you can’t begin to develop an idea of the big picture of the client’s business because you aren’t any more intimately involved in it than than if they were picking up a burger from the drive-thru.

Without the big picture, there is no view for helping clients discover where improvements in systems and processes can be made.

Without working together on an ongoing basis, the client never gets to actualize the kind of efficiency and forward growth that occur only when there is a body of intimate knowledge and familiarity that is built and expanded upon on a continuous basis.

It is an entirely unique dynamic that cannot be had without working together, continuously, in collaborative partnership.

If administrative work is performed on a start and stop, occasional basis (services a la carte), the impact it has on the business as a whole organism is very isolated.

But if you are in the administrative support business, you are selling a package of ongoing support (a relationship) which uniquely offers clients the ability to achieve an entirely different, higher body of knowledge, forward growth and results that will not only get tasks done, but build upon and strengthen the foundation of the business itself.

This is what defines the administrative support business model and distinguishes it from secretarial services.

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