Archive for the ‘Why We Stopped Calling Ourselves Virtual Assistants’ Category

Just Because You Can Doesn’t Mean You Should

Just Because You Can Doesn't Mean You Should

Just because you can do everything doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.

People who are new in business don’t tend to understand this at first. They are too eager and excited to get those first paying clients.

But once you have more than one client, you begin to get an inking of this truth: you don’t want to bog yourself down doing too much stuff and trying to do every. single. thing. for clients.

You’re going to come up against a wall of overwhelm real quick if you don’t get clear and focused about what you do (and what you don’t) in your business.

Focus — on who you cater your support to and what you do for them — is key.

I see a lot of people in our industry really enamored with the idea of doing anything and everything.

It’s an idea they are hit over the head with when they first enter the industry at large, almost as if there is something virtuous about it.

NOTE: It’s not virtuous; it’s misguided. In fact, I am here to tell you it is keeping you from providing a superior level of administrative support and service that clients will pay well for. Doing every little thing is keeping you small and under-earning.

Most of the people who come to me for help in our industry are those who fell for the BS of doing anything and everything only to realize later just how much it is keeping them from being able to develop, from making more money, from having time for a life, and from having a business and clients that actually make them happy.

Sometimes there’s a bit of “savior complex” rooted in this notion, which also isn’t good for you or your business (or ultimately your clients).

Sometimes it’s a lack of professional self-esteem (again, common in people who are new in business). They don’t yet have a sense of confidence in their value and think they need to “prove” their worth by offering to do anything and everything.

Most of the time, though, the folks trying to do anything and everything are those who have not chosen a target market (which is simply a field/industry/profession you cater your administrative support to).

That’s how the cycle starts.

When you don’t know who you are talking to, it’s difficult to form a clear idea of specifically what you do and how you help.

That’s because having no clear idea of who you are talking to forces you to think in a manner that is too broad, vague, and generic.

And so they end up offering anything and everything they can think of that might be of value to someone, somewhere (anyone? pretty please?).

What ends up happening, though, is you become a garbage disposal that clients toss any old thing at, making up their own rules and expectations in your business in the process.

This is what Seth Godin calls being a “meandering generality instead of a meaningful specific.”

When you get specific about who you work with (i.e., target market), you’ll be able to more quickly, clearly, and specifically identify exactly what you do and don’t do that helps clients.

(HINT: And that’s NOT everything and the kitchen sink.)

Here’s an example of avoiding the constant busy-ness of certain work that keeps you from really developing your business into a more powerful revenue and freedom-generating machine.

I’ve long advocated that colleagues never manage any client’s email in-box:

  1. You are not their personal, on-call employee/assistant. (What, do they need you to wipe their ass for them when they go to the bathroom, too? Look, there are just some things that grown-ups need to do themselves. You didn’t go into business to be someone’s lackey, did you? You can get a job for that. Just say no to work like that. It’s not the kind of thing you need to be doing in business.)
  2. You have enough of your own emails to manage to take on anyone else’s; and
  3. In-box management is drudge work that will keep you in the reeds on a daily basis, never able to get beyond the busy-ness to work on higher-value, big-picture stuff, both in your business and theirs.

This is a good example of “you don’t have to do everything to be of value” because even though in-box management isn’t something you do, the time you free up for clients by doing the other things you DO do allows them to better manage their own in-boxes.

What you can do instead is share your tips, advice, and guidance with clients on how to better manage their own in-boxes.

You could do that by writing an ezine article and/or blog post, creating an info product for purchase, putting together an instructional video or DIY email training, or perhaps do a paid online class a couple times a year.

(And by the way, inviting people to sign up to your mailing list to get any one or all of these will help you grow your list and continue to keep in touch and nurture those relationships.)

Dealing with it like that, you are providing additional value without bogging yourself down in that kind of work.

You don’t have to do everything to be of value. Let that sink in.

(If you need help finally choosing a target market, get my free tool that helps walk you through the process.)

Why Being a “One-Stop Shop” Is BS

Why Being a "One-Stop Shop" Is BS

I think the idea that very commonly travels around our circles that we should be “one-stop” shops is dangerous.

Dangerous in that it sets you up for failure and mediocrity.

Dangerous because it’s rooted in employee mindset.

Dangerous because it stems from an underlying lack of healthy professional self-esteem that who you are and what you do is ENOUGH.

And dangerous because it teaches clients and others to devalue the expertise you ARE in business to provide.

It is ENOUGH to be in one business, not a million different businesses at once (i.e., administrative support… not administrative support AND web design AND graphic design AND bookkeeping AND marketing AND social media AND writing/copywriting, and any and every other hat you can find to put on).

That BS is something employers pulled on their admin staff because they could get away with it (i.e., dumping every kind of work and role onto them beyond their job description without any promotion in title or pay).

You don’t need to carry that wrong and negative influence over into your business. And you shouldn’t.

Because you are not a human garbage dump.

Because business and employment are not the same thing.

And because running your business and working with clients as if you were still an employee keeps your business from really flourishing.

It is ENOUGH to keep your eye on your one focus and discipline.

In that way, you beat mediocrity and can be the very best you can be at the particular thing you are in business to do.

Trying to diversify and be all the things to every body keeps you unfocused and dilutes the time and energy needed to do any one thing particularly well.

People who specialize in mediocrity don’t make the big bucks, are tired and scattered all the time, and never gain traction in their businesses.

You DON’T have to solve ALL problems for clients. You only have to solve the problem your business is set up to solve.

You DON’T have to be all things to every body.

How to Converse with a Ninny

How to Converse with a Ninny

Recently, something reminded me of a conversation I had a while back with a colleague.

She was frustrated by an interaction she’d had with someone in a networking group and wasn’t sure what to do about.

The person had asked what she did. She answered that she was an Administrative Consultant and attempted to relate some of the tasks she helped clients with.

The person’s response was “Oh, so you’re a virtual assistant?”

She wasn’t quite sure how to respond to that because she most vehemently did not want to be associated with that term whatsoever.

In all honesty, some people aren’t worth your time. And the person she was talking to was obviously an uncouth ninny.

On what planet does anyone dictate to you what your title or term is, especially after you have just told them?

(That was a rhetorical question. The answer is it is never anyone’s place to call you anything except what you have instructed/informed them to call you.)

However, a big part of the problem was in how she was describing what she did.

At the time, this colleague was resistant to pinning down a target market, and the kinds of things she said she did were so broad, vague, and generalized that it’s no wonder people were confused and wanted to lump her in as a VA.

That term has become a garbage dump for “anyone doing anything.” It’s basically branded itself to mean “cheap gopher.”

She got caught up in reciting lists of tasks instead of having the more abstract conversation about how she helps clients through the expertise of administrative support.

If you’ve found yourself in a similar conversation, and you deign to indulge in it with someone, here’s how you could respond in order to better educate said ninnies:

THEM: “Oh, so you’re a VA?”

YOU: “No, as I mentioned, I am what is known as an Administrative Consultant. That is something different and more specific.”

THEM: “But aren’t you basically an assistant?”

YOU: “No, that’s not an accurate way to understand the business-to-business relationship I have with my clients. Let me ask you this: As a coach/attorney/accountant/designer/(insert their profession here), are you an assistant to your clients?”

THEM: “No, I’m their coach/attorney/accountant/designer/(whatever their business/profession is).”

YOU: “Exactly! That’s how to understand my relationship with clients as well. You and I both run businesses that offer a specific service and expertise. We both assist clients, but that doesn’t make us assistants, right? What each of us does doesn’t matter. The fact that we run independent businesses, each delivering a specific service and expertise is the important thing. For me, I happen to be in the business of providing administrative support. But I’m not an assistant because 1) assistant is a term of employment and I am not an employee to my clients in any way, shape or form, and 2) I don’t act as an assistant to clients. I am a business owner and professional who provides a specific service and expertise to my clients; they turn to me for my expertise in providing ongoing administrative support and guidance. And the term we use for someone in that specific business is Administrative Consultant.”

This is how I have had similar conversations in the past. But what I’ve found is that once you a) stop calling yourself an assistant, and b) stop describing your business and the service you provide and how you work with clients in assistant-like terms, people get it, and you aren’t going to have to deal with too many ninnies after that.

Have you ever found yourself in a similar conversation as this colleague? How did you navigate it?

Bargaining for Your Value Is Doing Nothing for Your Business

Bargaining for Your Value Is Doing Nothing for Your Business

You aren’t going to convince clients to pay your fees because you have taxes and bills to pay.

And telling them you are more affordable because they don’t have to pay for breaks and lunches is not compelling either.

(When is the last time you heard any other business professional use that kind of bargaining to market their expertise?)

All that does is put them even more in cheapskate mentality.

Calling yourself an assistant results in the same.

Your value also has no relation to what you or they charge per hour (and by the way, it’s high time you stopped charging by the hour anyway).

Your value isn’t in how little they pay (stop making that argument or you’ll forever be stuck with cheapskate clients who want everything for little to nothing).

Your value is in what they gain by working with you:

How many more clients are they able to work with? How much more marketing and networking are they able to engage in? How much more are they able to get done in a day, a week, a month? How much more free time do they have to brainstorm, develop their business, or plain live life?

Are they able to get those projects done that have been on the back-burner for forever? Are they finally able to write that book, complete that training program, or write that signature talk they’ve been dreaming of? How much have their revenues increased or have the potential to increase as a result? How many more dollars per year does that represent?

How do they profit in their life from working with you beyond money? How much easier and stress-free are their life and business?

How much are those results and accomplishments worth to them?

THESE are the things to be talking about, not “you only pay for time on task and don’t pay for office equipment, lunches, breaks or vacations.”

Do you see how silly and pedestrian the latter is in comparison?

Which do you think will excite potential clients more and fill them with the sense of abundance and possibility?

Dear Danielle: Client Won’t Stop Calling Me Her Assistant

Dear Danielle: Client Won't Stop Calling Me Her Assistant

Dear Danielle:

Hi there! I am looking for your advice on a matter. I quite often will attend meetings or business functions with my clients. They tend to introduce me as their “assistant,” even though I have brought it to their attention that I am not an “assistant.” What would you suggest I have them introduce me as? Or how to go about ensuring it doesn’t continue to happen? —KP

Hi KP 🙂

Good question. It’s one I get a lot from people who are trying to transition away from the “assistant” model to administrative business owner.

The first thing you can do immediately is add a component to your Client Guide and new client orientations that instructs clients on exactly what to call you and how to introduce you to others.

In my own practice, I tell clients to refer to me as their administrator (for short) or Administrative Consultant (for more formal situations).

Next, put together a form letter/email and send it out to all your current clients so everyone is equally informed and updated at the same time and no one is singled out.

The side benefit to this kind of communication is that seeing it come from your business as a general communication helps underscore the fact that they are working with a business, not an employee.

Which leads us back to the original question: what to do about a client who continues to call you this when you have repeatedly asked them not to.

On the one hand, it could be an innocent mistake.

It is sometimes difficult to rid clients of old habits when they’ve been with us awhile. In which case, a heart-to-heart conversation with the client would be in order.

You could start the discussion, for example, with something like this:

“We’ve talked a few times about what I prefer to be called and how I ask my clients to refer to me when introducing me to others. This is something that’s important to me and my business. I’ve noticed that you still call me your assistant in those situations. Is there a reason why? What can I do to help you remember how to introduce me?”

I would very intentionally incorporate use of the words “client” and “business” to help this client understand the nature of the relationship. Because it’s also often the case that they simply haven’t been properly educated about that (which is on us, not them) and so they very innocently, but still mistakenly, may think you are an assistant.

And then listen to what they have to say and work toward a solution.

Of course, if you have a client who doesn’t give a good darn about your feelings and wishes, you have to ask yourself, “Is this a client who respects me? If there’s no mutual respect, is this someone I should be working with?”

Here are some blog posts that expand on this topic further that I think you’ll find helpful:

Dear Danielle: How to You Introduce Yourself to Clients and Prospects?

How to Have Clients Help Promote Your Business

Dear Danielle: This Client Is About to Ask Me to Pose as His Employee

Thanks for the question, KP. Let me know if this was useful to you. 🙂

***

Have you ever been in this situation? How did you handle it? Do you think my tips will help you better educate your clients and navigate this in the future?

You Are NOT a Remote Worker

I find it annoying when articles written about people in the administrative support business refer to them as “remote workers.”

People who are running businesses are not “remote workers.”

“Remote worker” is a term of employment meaning “telecommuter” (i.e., an employee who works from home).

Attorneys are not remote workers. Accountants are not remote workers. Web designers are not remote workers. Bookkeepers are not remote workers. Coaches are not remote workers. And neither are people who provide administrative support as a business remote workers.

These are professionals who are in business providing a service and expertise.

This stuff is so important to your mindset in business because how you think of yourself, how you understand your role, directly affects how potential clients see and understand your business as well, and it affects how your relationship rolls out from there.

Discussions like this are good reminders to always keep in mind that how you think about yourself and the service you’re in business to provide and the words and terms you use impacts how you portray your business and how would-be clients see it, and the kind of clients you attract.

If you don’t want clients who treat you like their employee, you need to portray your service in a more business-like (not employee-like) manner.

That includes not using employment terminology in any way — including the word “assistant” or “remote worker.”

***

How about you? Did you realize that “remote worker” is a term of employment? Is there content on your website that can be improved so clients are better informed about the nature of your
business-to-business relationship?

That’s Not How This Works, That’s Not How ANY of This Works

That's Not How This Works, That's Not How ANY of This Works

You know, we always see these articles constantly telling clients who want to get help from those of us in the administrative support business that they need to instruct us on this, tell us how to do that, yada yada yada… as if how the consultation will proceed, how our businesses and processes work, what we do and don’t do and how we do it are all up to them — like they were hiring an employee.

And all I can do is shake my head as I read these confounded articles and think:

“Um, no. That’s not how this works. That’s not how ANY of this works.”

First of all, clients aren’t (or at least shouldn’t be thinking they are) hiring a trained monkey.

Second of all, if a client is talking to anyone who doesn’t have the faintest idea of her own processes in her own business, that is not someone any client should be engaging with.

The client will be pulling her hair out before the month is out trying to elicit any form of independent thought or critical thinking from the person who is waiting to be told what to do every step of the way.

That’s no help to clients in the least little way.

Figuring it all out or having to tell you how to do everything isn’t a burden clients should need to bear.

That’s YOUR job as an independent administrative expert and business owner: to have your own consultation process that you lead clients through that works to elicit the information YOU need to form a picture of the client and their business, develop a plan of support, and guide, recommend and advise clients on where and how you can help them and the best place to start.

Of course, I should clarify that these articles are always written about “virtual assistants,” not Administrative Consultants.

That’s because people only understand the word “assistant” one way: employee.

So it’s no wonder they are confused.

But this is business — not employment — so they need to be disabused of the notion that they’re running things.

One way you do that is by not calling yourself an assistant in the first place.

They’re the client, not the dictator of how our businesses and processes work. It’s not up to them to tell you how things will proceed.

It’s their place to contact you to inquire whether you might be able to help them, and for you to inform them what the next step is in your process of finding that out and then leading them competently through your systems (as any independent business owner would).

Yet another example of why smart people in the administrative support business do not call themselves assistants. 😉

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.

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.