It’s Sad When People Have to Close Their Business Doors

You know, it’s so sad when those in our biz who call themselves virtual assistants have to close their doors because they just couldn’t make enough money.

What strikes me is that there doesn’t seem to be anyone anymore out there (except me) who is trying to help them actually be financially successful as an administrative support business.

It seems that everyone is jumping ship to become something else other than an administrative support biz, or teaching folks everything else EXCEPT how to be financially successful in an administrative support biz.

THAT’S what I find sad… everyone is always trying to dig into their pockets to teach them everything else BUT how to be financially successful as an admin expert.

And then you have all these self-proclaimed industry “experts” who aren’t even VAs telling those in our industry how to be successful. They don’t know the first thing.

Hey, if someone doesn’t want to be in the admin support biz, that’s their prerogative. Everyone should be and do and have the kind of business they love.

But don’t try to pass yourself off as an expert in the admin support biz if that’s not what you actually are.

One of the very first things you have to do to become financially successful is get clear about exactly WHAT you are. Most don’t really know. They just have some vague notion that they “assist” “virtually.” That isn’t a definition of anything.

If you really want to start earning well in the administrative support business, you have to stop being a gopher and an “assistant” and get really clear about what admin support is.

And the reason that’s important is because administrative support comes with a host of unique challenges. We have to battle against unique client mindsets and misconceptions, particularly when it comes to thinking of us as replacement employees. It’s too easy to actually become a substitute employee in this business, which will actually keep you in the working poor. Which is why I’m always, always trying to educate on this topic.

I find it interesting that some of these VA training programs have so many graduates who aren’t actually doing anymore the thing the training program was supposed to help them become successful at because they couldn’t be financially successful doing it. They had to become another kind of business entirely to become financially successful. And that’s because no one taught them how to be financially successful in THIS business.

I’m not saying folks shouldn’t do something else or move onto another business entirely if that’s what their heart wants to do. What I’m sad about is that those who actually love being in the admin support business and really would rather just do that, but are compelled to look elsewhere because they just didn’t get the right guidance to be financially successful in THIS business.

One of the things we have to battle in our industry to our financial detriment is this idea that VAs do anything and everything. That’s not a definition of anything… that’s merely being a gopher. And people don’t view gophers as experts, they view them as lackeys. You simply will not be able to command professional fees if you allow people to view you as merely as gopher/lackey.

The other subsequent thing that happens when you allow people to perceive you as merely a gopher/lackey and because you have no clear-cut expertise (as in Administrative Support as an expertise) is that they have you chasing your tail around all over the place. They think you should be doing this and that and everything else ON TOP of administrative assistance. That’s because you yourself haven’t defined for them exactly what you are in business to do. And because they don’t view you as any kind of professional expert in anything (“I’m a this, that and the other” isn’t an expertise of any kind), they don’t want to pay you for it, at least not well. You become merely a servant, an order-taker, in their eyes.

This is where you frequently hear me saying “why are you asking a plumber to fix your car?” Because we get these clients who are expecting you to not only provide admin support, but to also be a bookkeeper, a website designer, a graphic designer, a this and a that and so on and so forth. And so, so many VAs are giving this stuff away for free when they should be saying, “I’m in the administrative support business. If you want a web designer, you need to hire a web designer.”

That’s why it’s so important to get clear exactly what you are and what you do in your business. And if you are ALSO something else in your business, to clearly differentiate and denote those dividing lines in your business so you can still be considered an expert in those additional areas (and not merely a gopher/flunky/lacky) and charge separately for them. Because web design and admin support are not the same thing. Because bookkeeping and admin support are not the same thing. Because graphic design and admin support are not the same thing. Because completing a project and providing ongoing administrative support are not the same thing.

Don’t understand? Ask me your questions! I really want to help you get clear on what this means.

9 Responses

  1. I agree that many clients will try to have you do things that they know are on the high end in terms of cost to save them money. I recently contracted to assist a client secure job interviews. My background is HR and I was happy to help. However, he started pushing me to do tasks beyond our agreement and I told him that what he probably needed was to hire a recruiter and they would charge him accordingly. He didn’t say another word about it and stopped requesting things outside the scope of our contract. We need to be clear in our communication and stand by our agreements. VAs have to stop being pushovers thinking they will lose clients if they don’t meet their every need. People can be very craftly and will try to get as much as possible for the least amount of money.

  2. No truer words have been spoken, Dianne, LOL:

    “VAs have to stop being push overs thinking they will lose clients if they don’t meet their every need.”

    Clients get away with murder with what they don’t pay for. And that take advantage.

    Of course, VAs need to get a backbone and stop apologizing for being in business and start damn well charging better for their work, so they are part of the problem as well. As they say, it takes two to tango and no one can take advantage unless they are being allowed to.

    The other part of the problem (and this falls on the VA world’s shoulders) is that they aren’t giving clients any clear definitions (which equals clarity) of what they are in business to do. As I always say, “assisting” “virtually” isn’t a definition of anything and that’s why so many clients innocently don’t understand that you aren’t (and can’t be) in business to do anything and everything.

  3. Judy Reyes says:

    Hi Danielle, I love this post. It rings true in so many ways. I started out my own “business” not as an Admin Consultant, but as a Notary Signing Agent here in CA. Of course, the real estate meltdown has meant there is little business, certainly not enough to sustain me. But I’m still employed fulltime so it’s ok to make a little money on the side. I was attracted to the admin consulting because this is what I do in my fulltime job. I’ve been educated greatly by reading your posts and taking advantage of your products. They are specific to admin consulting, and it’s helped me stay focused on my goals. I still do Notary signings, and will continue for the time being, but it will become a “special division” with separate fees, apart from my business, Reliance Admin. I don’t want to stray very far and dilute my efforts to be a successful admin consultant. Eventually, I will re-assess the Notary work to see if it’s worth keeping, once I’m drawing income from regular clients. Onward and upward! My website is now under development.

  4. You bring up such a great point, Judy! If you don’t know what you are, what you intend to be and do in business, specifically and clearly, you will have little or no direction in gaining any kind of forward focus and will constantly be distracted and detoured by every shiny new marketing tactic and contradictory advice left and right. That won’t move anyone forward. But once you clearly and specifically define EXACTLY what you are in business to do (the WHAT you are and what you do), that is one of the first things that will give you the direction on what you need to next to market, who you need to look to do it for and how to find them.

    Which is why, as you remind folks, I’m not here trying to teach anyone and everyone how to be in any ol’ kind of business. I’m here helping folks how to be successful in the administrative support business.

    Thanks for commenting, Judy! Always enjoy hearing from you. Can’t wait for your new site!

  5. Adrienne says:

    I have been unemployed for the past 2 years. I also was in the hopes of opening my own virtual assistant business. I’ve my own office with all the latest equipment but am still a bit afraid of going forward because of what you just mentioned Danielle. I am a straight forward administrative assistant. I am not a web designer (was looking into learning it to be marketable but this runs into money that I do not have). I just finished graduating from a business program and revamped myself in all the microsoft software but still find it difficult to start. I’m still applying for regular jobs but the market is hectic out there. Help!any suggestions out there?

  6. Keep reading and educating yourself, Adrienne! You don’t have to be all things to all people. If you want to be in the administrative support business, there most certainly are clients out there just for that! It’s a big enough expertise in and of itself and you don’t have to be anything else if you don’t want to! The trick is that you will need to find the right target market. You’re at the beginning stages so you really do want to keep reading and soaking up everything. Read the back posts on my blog and you’ll soon start having some “aha” moments. 🙂

  7. Adrienne says:

    Thanks Danielle. I will certainly look up your other posts and keep educating myself.

    Thanks again!

  8. Farah says:

    Hey, Danielle!

    I haven’t had the pleasure to read your blog in a while, but I’m always pleasantly surprised at the depth of your insight.

    I just have to comment on the whole ‘virtual assitant’ thing for a second.

    When I first got into the business, there was so much promise… I have a strong background in administrative support so I thought it would be a great business for me to be in. However, I have found that there are soooooo many people passing themselves off as VA’s (any dope who pays $2,000 for a kit can post a badge on their website and voila…) when they clearly have no clue what it means to provide that kind of support.

    Add to that the hundred of “Virtual Assistance” companies abroad who are competing with seasoned, skilled VA’s and provide services for pennies…. the market just seems diluted and weak.

    Through some serious reflection and focus, I have found that I have NEVER been anyone’s ‘assistant’, and I also had lots of trouble trying to explain that even though I called myself a VA I wasn’t a secretary… I was a business partner.

    Most recently I have shifted my focus to providing grant research, RFP and RFQ assistance, as well as M/WBE certification assistance to small businesses. Now that I have a new focus, I don’t even call myself a VA anymore… I”m a grant writer. It’s clear, concise, and easy to explain.

    Before I even decided to change direction, I liked the term “online business manager’ better than VA… but that doesn’t really explain what I do now, either.

    I’ll stick with what I know works.

    Always a pleasure!

  9. Hi Farah 🙂

    Thanks for commenting. Yeah, the virtual assistant term is really completely idiotic to me anymore. If you’re a business owner, you are not anyone’s assistant.

    Administrative support is an expertise and specialization in and of itself, and you certainly don’t need to be anyone’s assistant in order to provide that expertise.

    I don’t think online business manager is any better a term (I actually detest that term almost as much) and here’s why: As an independent consultant, expert and business owner in the art of administrative support, it is not your job to manage any client’s business. That’s their responsibility. So I absolutely detest this further idiotic, devaluing mindset being perpetrated out there to people in the business of administrative support that they aren’t enough, that their expertise isn’t enough, that they have to do that AND manage their clients’ businesses. It’s complete bullshit and it really pisses me off because it sends a really devaluing message to newcomers that their skills and knowledge and talents that they spent years gaining STILL aren’t enough. And really, the origins of that term, just like the term virtual assistant, yet again come from people being led around by the nose by clients and industry outsiders.

    For all these reasons, at least for those who are in the business of administrative support, that’s why I’ve moved on to the term Administrative Consultant.

    Have you checked out the new site yet?

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