Archive for the ‘Don’t Use These Words’ Category

I’m Not Anyone’s Sidekick (and Neither Are You)

I'm No Sidekick (and Neither Are You)

Words have power. They’ve been used for centuries to subjugate others and keep them in their place.

Words have kept people thinking small about themselves. With the flick of a switch, they’ve also helped them reshape their perceptions and step into their own power and sovereignty.

It’s why the feminist movement insisted on changing accepted language — they recognized that being called “girls” was a micro-aggression meant to infantilize women.

So, of course, I snorted in derision when I first heard the word “sidekick” being tossed around to describe those in the administrative support business.

I feel about anyone referencing me as a “sidekick” in relation to clients the same way this woman feels being referred to as Macklemore’s “sidekick.”

It’s fundamentally insulting as a full-grown, professional woman and business owner. It’s a condescending verbal pat on the head, a throwback to employment mentality that has no place in business in this day and age.

I’m as disdainful of the word “sidekick” in business as I am “assistant.”

That’s because using subservient words and terms of employment (such as “assistant”) to identify yourself keeps you in a subservient mindset, consciously and unconsciously.

It also causes clients to view you not so much as their valued and respected administrative expert and adviser, but as their minion and order-taker.

Would you call your doctor or attorney or accountant or designer your sidekick?

Do you think that would be a respectful way to identify and address them?

How do you think that would go over with them if you did?

Why then would you feel the need to call yourself an assistant or sidekick?

It’s a form of self-talk. What you call yourself has a way of seeping into your psyche. With a more respectful, business-appropriate term, you can raise yourself up to better lead your business and more positively affect how your prospects and clients approach the relationship with you.

If you think it doesn’t matter what you call yourself either way, then why not adopt a more respectful term that will lead to more respectful exchanges with clients and prospects?

If you are really working with clients who value you as much as you say they do, they will happily support you as you raise your standards around the business terminology you use.

And your new clients won’t know the difference because they’ll refer to you in whatever way you inform them to.

I don’t need to be Robin to serve my clients well and deliver my expertise to them. We can both be Batman in our respective businesses who value and respect each other as equals.

***

What thoughts, feelings or questions does this bring up for you? Does it spur any soul-searching? Can you think of a way in which calling yourself an assistant kept you thinking small in your business? Have you already embraced the idea that you are a business owner, not an assistant, with a valuable expertise to offer?

A Brief History of the Administrative Support Business

A Brief History of the Administrative Support BUSINESS

A while back, one of my new-at-the-time colleagues asked me this question:

I guess I’m too new to the industry so I’m lost with the concept “team VA” or “multi-team VA.” And “partnering with clients?” It sounds interesting though, could you define for the benefit of the clueless (me)? Thanks!

To understand these terms and concepts, it’s helpful to know the evolution of our industry. With that in mind, here’s a quick history of the administrative support industry.

Originally there were secretarial services. That industry had been around for decades, since at least the 40s or 50s and probably earlier.

However, secretarial services were sort of like a print shop: where someone would go, for example, to get a quick typing or desktop publishing job completed by someone on an ad hoc/incidental basis.

Think of it sort of like a drive-through typing service. It was project-based and there was no deeper role of the secretarial service in a client’s business or consistent relationship than that.

Then, in the late 80s/early 90s, the concept of administratively supporting clients remotely as a business became more formally realized. This new business model differed very distinctly from secretarial services in that the idea was to:

  1. provide a spectrum of across-the-board administrative support to clients (not simply typing or data entry), in
  2. an ongoing, collaborative, partnering relationship (as opposed to the ad hoc/incidental/occasional/sporadic/project-based nature of the secretarial service business model).

In the early 90s, a life/business coach by the name of Thomas Leonard coined the term “virtual assistant” that this new industry adopted in large part to describe this new and distinctly different kind of administrative support business.

What’s funny/interesting is that when the secretarial service industry was first introduced to this idea of an administrative support/partnering business, it was met with cold-shouldered resistance and disapproval (much as most “newfangled” things are met by people who don’t yet understand them).

After a few years, however, more and more these same secretarial services who sneered at the idea started calling themselves “virtual assistants” even while they were still operating as project-based secretarial services (clearly only adopting the term without understanding the concept).

More and more people started using the term “virtual assistant” without understanding the original business concept around it. Which is no wonder: it’s an ambiguous term and one that those in our business didn’t even coin themselves.

Then there came onto the scene people whose thinking was “I know! I’ll make money having a business where I don’t do any of the work (perhaps don’t even have the expertise or administrative background myself), I simply outsource it to third parties, preferably at cheap, third-world rates.”

At the same time, there were others who wanted to have a one-stop-shop kind of business where they had colleagues and others who did things they did not. In this way, they could say (for example) they did web design when really all they were doing is having someone else do that work.

Both of these distinct groups began calling this sub-genre a “multi-VA/team-VA” business.

The problem with this term, however is that:

  1. legally speaking, unless these people are your employees, they are not part of your team, and using that terminology will cause the IRS to think you are engaging in illegal misclassification;
  2. it’s not a collaborative/partnering relationship as defined by the administrative support business concept; and
  3. there is already a term for that kind of relationship between colleagues who are not employees of each other. It’s called “subcontracting.” 😉

In the early 2000s, there also began to be discussions around the aptness of the “virtual assistant” term. Too many people who were not running actual administrative support businesses were co-opting the term, bastardizing it for their own purposes, and confusing the marketplace.

Another problem with the term is that clients commonly do not understand the relationship. They mistakenly think it is one of employer/employee and treat it (and devalue it) accordingly.

It erroneously shapes their expectations and perceptions in negative ways that cause people in our industry problems. That’s because people only understand the word “assistant” one way: employee. Which is why calling themselves assistants was causing a whole host of misalignments in expectations and understandings.

Therefore, a large contingent of people in the administrative support industry began having a conversation around moving away from the “virtual assistant” term and adopting/coining a new term for those of us who were very specifically running ongoing administrative support businesses where we work with clients in actual collaborative partnering relationships.

That’s when our group ultimately landed on the term Administrative Consultant and the benefits have been multi-faceted:

  1. It’s a term WE chose for ourselves, not one that was foisted upon us and defined by a client (who at the time when he was working with his own VAs acted like he thought he was their employer, not their client).
  2. It more clearly denotes our BUSINESS OWNER/CONSULTANT (i.e., NOT employee) status and the fact that our business is specifically administrative in nature.
  3. It isn’t ambiguous and leaves little room for misinterpretation.
  4. It sets better expectations, understandings and perceptions in clients about the correct nature of the relationship (business-to-business, not employer/employee).
  5. In turn, this improves our consultation conversations, the demeanor with which potential clients approach us (i.e., professionally rather than like an employer seeking a worker bee), and our ability to command proper professional-level fees (not employee slave wages).

To be clear, the Administrative Consultant term was never intended to replace the “virtual assistant” term. Many of the people using that term are not running administrative support businesses so our term does not apply to them.

Our term is only meant for those who are specifically running administrative support businesses and who work with clients in true collaborative, partnering relationships. If that’s the kind of business you are running, we encourage you to use the Administrative Consultant term because it is going to help improve how clients view and understand your business and how they treat you as a fellow business owner.

Convo with a Colleague: Finding Clients Starts with This

Finding Clients Starts with This

A new colleague who was having trouble finding her first client reached out to me the other day.

Many of you coming up have the same questions and challenges so I thought it would be helpful to share our conversation. (I’ll call this colleague “Jane” to protect her anonymity.)

JANE: Do you have any posts on marketing. Specifically article marketing?

ME: Not per se, because it’s really not the most productive effort if you’re doing it in a general way. Writing articles specifically for your target market is more what I talk about. What are you trying to do or looking for with article marketing? If you can elaborate, I may be able to give you some better direction. PS: You can find all my blog categories on the right sidebar of my blog.

JANE: Target market… well I am pretty diverse in my administrative tasks that I don’t really have a target market. I suppose that currently I am a generalized admin. Would love to have a target market, just not sure what that might be right now. I am geared toward graphic design/web building, but… again that can be for anyone. 🙂

ME: Graphic design and web design are different professions/businesses. Are we talking about the administrative support business or the design business (because they aren’t the same thing)? You probably first want to get clear about what business you mean to be in. Until you do that, you’re going to struggle with finding clients. That’s because if you don’t know intentionally/consciously what business you intend to be in, you can’t expect clients to understand what you do either, and there’s no way for them to see or hear you. It also sounds like you haven’t downloaded my free guide on How to Choose Your Target Market. Deciding on a target market is one of the most important first steps in a business.

JANE: (Downloads free target market guide and comes back a little while later.) Well, let me clarify. Those are my interests, but after briefly looking at your guide, it has settled that I would like to work with realtors. Reason being, for one they can afford me. And I can still do the other computer stuff I like: working with websites and designing stuff. However, I have no experience in the field other than I know a realtor who is really successful. Any suggestions on how to break the ice on a field I am not totally familiar with?

ME: That’s great! Doesn’t matter if you have experience with them or not. You can research and learn. In fact, I always tell people, make it your goal to always be learning your chosen target market and what their business is all about and what work is involved in running it almost as if you were going into that business yourself. Because the more you know and understand them, the more you will know what their common needs, goals and challenges are, how you can best support them and how to craft your solutions and offerings geared specifically to their needs and interests.

It also doesn’t matter what your administrative skills are. General is a misnomer. Don’t use that term or terms like boring and mundane and the like in describing what you do. Words like that devalue the very vital and important work we do and in turn makes clients devalue it as well. Administrative skill and sensibility can be applied to any target market. Plus we’re all always growing and improving our skills. So that’s the the angle you want to be looking at things from. The more you learn your target market, the more you’ll know which skills will be need to be applied, honed or acquired. I have blog posts that answer all of your questions. I invite you to explore the blog and settle in for some reading. I think you’ll find it quite illuminating and helpful. Here are a few to start with:

On words to avoid in your marketing, read this category of blog posts:
Don’t Use These Words

On the difference between administrative SUPPORT and project work:
Do You Understand the Difference Between a Project-Based vs. Ongoing Administrative Support Business?

On how to research a target market you have no experience with:
Dear Danielle: How Do I Market to a Target Audience I have No Experience With Yet?

Hope this helps!

JANE: Has anyone told you how AMAZING YOU ARE!!! You are like God-sent. Thanks sooo much. I will be sure to read these.

ME: Aw, thanks. I’m glad to help. 🙂

What You Call Yourself IS Important

What you call yourself is the VERY first place you are training clients how to treat you.

What you call yourself absolutely matters in shaping in client perceptions and expectations in the way YOU want them to be set.

If you continually have clients who treat you like like an employee and do not approach the relationship with the professionally respectful demeanor of a business equal, the first place you can begin changing that story is by not calling yourself an assistant.

Because when you are in business, you are NOT an assistant, no matter what the clueless out there try to tell you otherwise.

Delete the Word “Freelancer” from Your Business Vocabulary

Presently 81% of freelancers have trouble getting paid by their clients and, on average, each unpaid freelancers is owed over $6,000 in salary.”

Language like this drives me freaking nuts, and it’s responsible for the perpetuation of freelancers continuing to NOT UNDERSTAND ANYTHING.

Freelancers are BUSINESS OWNERS.

They don’t get paid a “salary.” That is what EMPLOYEES get, which freelancers are not.

What they are owed is $X in unpaid invoices and fees from deadbeat clients (who probably think and act like they are employers because the moron freelancer doesn’t set them straight in the first place).

If they understood better the distinction about being in business for themselves, they would know not to allow any client to get that far into debt with them in the first place, stop work before it ever gets that bad, and if they were really being smart, require more money (if not 100%) upfront.

It’s yet another example of why no one should be using the term “freelancer.”

Not only does it make people think of someone who is only casually, incidentally, haphazardly working on the side for pocket money, as a result it sets the wrong expectations and mindsets in clients that are a cause of a lot of these issues in the first place.

Perfect example — here’s what one deadbeat client retorted to a “freelancer”:

This isn’t your full time job, this is just a side job, so why do I need to pay you?

As an Administrative Consultant, you are not a freelancer. You are in an actual committed, professional business with the intention of providing an ongoing and well-rounded body of support as a whole to clients for the long-term. (And if you aren’t, then you’re not an Administrative Consultant.)

You will be doing yourself a huge favor by deleting that word from your business vocabulary and never using it again.

How to Have Clients Help Promote Your Business

How to Have Clients Help Promote Your Business

Does everyone you come in contact with in the course of your work on behalf of clients know that you are running a business (and might be able to help them or someone they know as well)?

If the answer is no, that’s a problem.

It doesn’t help to promote your business by allowing clients to view you as their personal assistant and introduce you as such to others.

When you call yourself an assistant, clients don’t tend to introduce you as an independent business owner. They will say things like “This is my assistant, Carolyn” without any further reference to your business.

This doesn’t make clear that you are in business and providing a service independent of that client.

Those you are introduced to may never “get” that because when they hear “assistant,” they automatically assume you’re simply part of that client’s business.

It misses an opportunity for possible new business connections.

It doesn’t do you any good to have clients who aren’t helping you in your business (i.e., making proper business introductions and actively promoting and referring you) as much as you are helping them in theirs.

And this isn’t about “bad” clients.

Clients only do what we allow them to. Most will happily comply with our standards if we only insist upon them and tell them what they are.

So, you want to examine your business practices and standards:

  • Always set proper expectations and use terminology that sets and promotes those expectations and proper understandings.
  • That means, never call yourself an assistant and don’t allow clients to call you “their assistant.” As a business owner, you are never anyone’s assistant–legally and practically speaking.
  • Always use your own business email address so that anyone you are in contact with always knows they are dealing with an independent business and can contact you directly if they should need administrative support themselves (or know of someone who does). Your email address on your own domain with a proper business signature with active link to your website is one of the ways to always be marketing and promoting your business.
  • Tell clients exactly how to introduce you to others. For example: This is my fabulous Administrative Consultant, [YOUR NAME]. She runs [YOUR BUSINESS NAME] providing administrative support and expertise to business owners like us. I wouldn’t have a business without her support and guidance.

There are several things you can do, right now, to reset expectations and understandings and have clients help you in your efforts to get new business:

  1. Put together a formal letter or email to all your current clients letting them know how to introduce you. It could start out something like this: Your recommendations, referrals and introductions are an important way for me to connect with new clients. And then give them the script (see my example above) you’d like them to use to introduce you with to others.
  2. Repurpose that email/letter into your next blog post and/or ezine article that goes out to your mailing list. Be sure you share it on your social networks.
  3. Add a section for this topic in your Client Guide that informs clients exactly what to call you, how to refer to you and how to introduce you to others.
  4. Include this topic in your new client orientations.
  5. While you’re at all this, tell friends and family members how to refer your business as well. For example: This is my [RELATIONSHIP], [YOUR NAME]. She runs a business called [YOUR BUSINESS NAME] that provides administrative support and expertise to [YOUR TARGET MARKET]. If you know of someone who could use her support, tell them to check out her amazing website!

Remember, you are not the “hired help.”

You’re running a business, and if you want to stick around for years to come, able to continue supporting the clients you love, promoting your business and keeping your roster full are vital to succeeding in that intention.

As always, I love hearing from you so let me know in the comments if this struck a chord with you. All my best!

Dear Danielle: How Can I Transition from Virtual Assistant to Administrative Consultant?

Dear Danielle: How Can I Transition from Virtual Assistant to Administrative Consultant

Greetings, Danielle:

My name is Lourie Perry, solopreneur of a new business. I am new to your acquaintance and I have to say you have inspired me! I have since changed the title of my position on social media. I already had business cards made before changing my title of “virtual assistant.” I love the Administrative Consultant title because it sets me apart from the rest (my first goal to achieve), it’s a professional title that demands respect and (to be) taken seriously as women in business. My question is how can I transition from a virtual assistant to an Administrative Consultant? For example, while at a networking event I introduce myself as an Administrative Consultant, but they look at the business card and see “virtual Assistant.” By the way, I have changed from Virtual Assistant to Administrative Consultant on my website, as well! Your help will be appreciated! Thanks from saving me from the sea of normal! —Lourie Perry, A Nyvybe Virtual Office.

Hi Lourie 🙂

That’s so great! You’ve done yourself a huge favor in business that you won’t regret.

So, this is sort of an easy one:  toss the old business cards and get new ones. These days, you can get a small stack for basically pennies on the dollar.

The reason is that consistency is super important. Everything needs to match.

Because if you call yourself this here and that there and yet something else somewhere else, or you try to use every term you can think of all together, all that does is create confusion and disconnect in your prospects.

And as the business adage goes: A confused mind says no.

They’ll walk away and put you right out of their mind because you’ve made it too difficult for them to understand who and what you are.

Better yet, don’t invest heavily in business cards or much of any printed marketing collateral. You just don’t need it.

Instead, I want you to read my post about how business cards should really be used and what to give people instead that is going to have far more impact on those you want to remember you and take interest: Are Business Cards Dead?

The other thing I wanted to relate for you and anyone else who is new reading this is that you never want to lead any conversation with your term. Your term is not for marketing purposes (I’ll explain its real importance later).

If people ask what you do, instead of saying “I’m an Administrative Consultant,” tell them what kind of problem you solve or a result/benefit you provide and who you do it for (this is your target market).

So mine, for example, is (and this is my tagline as well and no, nobody can “borrow” it. You gotta come up with your own):

I help IP and entertainment law attorneys do more wheeling and dealing from the beach.

(The beach being a metaphor for whatever they’d rather be doing and wherever they’d rather be than stuck in an office all day long.)

See how it clearly indicates who I work with and a benefit/result they get?

People are typically intrigued and want to know more (“How can I have more time for the beach?!”) and I’ll further explain that I provide administrative rescue for these solos without ever stepping foot in their office.

When they want to know how that works, that’s when I explain how I partner with my clients to provide them with strategic relief and rescue from the administrative burdens that suck up their time and energy and keep them stuck at the office.

I then tell them a story (a verbal case study) of how my strategic administrative support helped one of my clients reduce his workload, streamline and automate his operations, multiply his revenues and how he gets to travel extensively now while still running his business (which he loves).

See how I never even used my term of Administrative Consultant in conversation? They’ll see what to call me on my biz card, my free giveaway, on my website, and all the other places where my name appears.

That said, your term IS important for two reasons:

  1. You need to give people something (ONE THING) to call you and with which to categorize your business—a mental coathook, if you will.
  2. It needs to clearly convey what your expertise is while setting proper, respectful perceptions and expectations.

In our industry, the problem we’ve historically had is that by (formerly) calling ourselves assistants, we created wrong perceptions and understandings in our clients. Since we called ourselves assistants, that’s what they wanted to treat us (and pay us) as. It caused a misalignment of interests and understandings right from the start and, in turn, serious problems in the relationship.

So we’d constantly have to deal with prospects and clients who didn’t understand the nature of the relationship, who would tend to treat us like under-the-table employees they didn’t pay taxes on, who thought we were supposed to be at their beck-and-call like employees, and who would balk at paying proper professional fees (because when they think of you like an employee, they want to pay you like one as well).

And because it was such a vague, ambiguous term that focused on a role (assistant), not an expertise (administrative), clients thought it was their place to twist you into whatever kind of pretzels they pleased.

These are all problems caused by the term “virtual assistant.” It creates wrong expectations, perceptions and understandings right from the get-go.

This is why those us who are in the expertise of administrative support are Administrative Consultants. We don’t want clients thinking we’re their assistants, treating the relationship as such and wanting to pay peanuts—because we aren’t.

We want clients who approach us as professionally and in the same manner they would approach an attorney, an accountant, a web designer or any other independant professional.

The Administrative Consultant term creates an entirely improved perception and demeanor in our prospective clients. They are more respectful and understand the correct nature of the relationship. Instead of approaching us as subordinate order takers, they instantly view us as trusted administrative advisors and business peers.

And because of those changed and improved perceptions, we are able to get better clients and command higher (proper) professional fees.

It’s all about setting and managing expectations and creating better, more accurate and respectful perceptions with the words and terms we use, in this case Administrative Consultant.

(For more on this topic, read my post Dear Danielle: We Loathe the Virtual Assistant Term; Is There Something Else We Can Call Ourselves?)

Since you’re here, I also couldn’t help but notice your business name. I know you didn’t ask, but I feel it would be a disservice not to mention something that I think may be very important to your success.

I always highly encourage people to delete the word “virtual” from their business vocabulary. This post explains all the reasons why: Dear Danielle: Should I Use the Word “Virtual” in My Biz Name?

The thing I’m also concerned for you about is the spelling of your biz name: A Nuvybe Virtual Office.

I fear the esoteric spelling and syntax is going to make it extremely difficult for people to remember and find you (which is the opposite of what you intend).

That’s because no one is going to know how to say or spell it. And trust me, they aren’t going to go to extreme lengths to figure it out. They’ll just move on.

I know you value being different. I certainly appreciate that. And we all should be striving to continually clarify for ourselves and our prospective clients what our unique value propositions are.

Stand out in your marketing message, your service levels and skilled delivery and work product. However, beyond that, there are certain things in business that you just need to conform to or you’ll defeat your purposes. Choosing a business name that people can easily read, spell and remember is one of them.

Check out my Naming Your Business category here on the blog. I’ve got several posts that I think you’ll really find helpful on this topic.

Even if you were to simply change to New Vibe Administrative, that would be an incredible improvement for your prospective clients and those who refer you. That’s because its spelling is something that makes sense to people, they’ll easily be able to say it in their head and, thus, remember it and find you again, and it clearly conveys what you do in business.

I hope you find all of this helpful, Lourie. If you have any questions on anything here and want me to elaborate, please feel free to post in the comments and we’ll keep the conversation going.

I’m very happy to meet you and glad you found us. Welcome to the Administrative Consultant community!

Another Word to Delete from Your Biz Vocabulary: Delegate

Another word to delete from your biz vocabulary: Delegate.

Delegate (like the word “assistant”) is a term of employment that denotes an employer-employee relationship. It keeps clients thinking they are some kind of employer to you which in turn causes a whole host of problems in the relationship and your ability to command proper professional fees.

You aren’t some subordinate peon clients dump their junk work on. And clients should never be abdicating responsibility for their own business.

Employers delegate. But in a business relationship, it’s not any client’s role to “delegate” to you.

With clients, you consult with them, determine what their needs, goals and challenges are, determine your recommendations and present your suggested plan of support. Client’s should never be delegating to you at their whim.

The words you use shape how clients treat the relationship. Do you want to be their flunky or their trusted advisor? Because there’s a big difference in how they treat those two roles and the relationship.

So if you want to be treated as their administrative expert, their trusted advisor and business peer, don’t use the word “delegate.” Use words and terms like “share,” “release,” “free” and “let go of” instead.

Another Word to Delete from Your Biz Vocabulary: WAHM/Mompreneur

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Never, ever refer to yourself as a WAHM or mompreneur/mumpreneur. You won’t be taken seriously.

You might be one, but it’s irrelevant to business and not what you should be focusing your prospects on.

Because here’s what people that attracts, what they think:

Oh, a nice little work at home mommy. She’ll be grateful to get the measly $5/$10 bucks an hour I pay her.”

I was watching Shark Tank the other day and this one entrepreneur (a woman doctor, by the way) was asked if she had any reps selling for her. She told them she didn’t; instead she had “6 moms” doing that work.

You see the implication don’t you? I couldn’t help but shout at the TV!

She was devaluing these women because they were “moms.” They were doing her selling and managing of sales for her, but were presumably being paid peanuts compared to what she would be paying for “real” sales reps.

This is exactly why you don’t want prospects viewing you as a work-at-home mom. You want them seeing you as nothing less than a businesswoman and an expert in administration.

It’s wrong and it shouldn’t be, but the fact remains that when you advertise/market yourself as a “work-at-home-mom,” people will devalue you and think of you as something other/less than a businessperson. And they will accordingly expect to only pay you peanuts.

I don’t know why more moms don’t get fired up about this. As a mom myself (though my daughter is grown now) you better believe I am presenting myself as nothing but a business person because anyone who shortchanges me, shortchanges my family/kids.

I would be just as responsible for that shortchanging by settling for crumbs and marketing myself in ways that caused my marketplace to devalue me.

Use that mama bear energy to get good and fierce about learning whatever you need to learn so you can start marketing like a proper business, get proper cients and start making the kind of money you and your family deserve.