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

Dear Danielle: Do You Ever Provide Writing Samples?

Dear Danielle:

I love your insight into this amazing industry and the advice that you provide. My question is, have you ever created a writing sample as an administrative consultant? If so, what type of sample and what do you include? Thanks so much! —Tajanna Mallory

Hi Tajanna :)

Thanks for the question!

Nope, I haven’t and I wouldn’t, and I’ll tell you why:

I wouldn’t create writing samples because I’m not in the writing business.

I’m in the administrative support business.

Two different things.

Remember, you’re not a gopher, a lackey, who does any ol’ thing clients dream up to pile on you.

As an Administrative Consultant, you’re in business to provide a specific expertise—the expertise of administrative support.

This is yet another example of why people in the admin support business need to stop calling and viewing themselves as assistants.

When you call yourself an assistant, clients think it’s their role to twist you into whatever pretzels they please.

Because that’s what they’re used to doing to employees.

And people only understand the word assistant one way: employee.

Here’s the thing:

They wouldn’t expect their attorney to build them a house, would they? They wouldn’t turn to their accountant to handle a lawsuit, right?

Of course not.

Because those are different expertises that entail completely different skills, knowledge, training, talents and processes that they aren’t in business to provide.

This is why I’m always telling folks, you have GOT to get clear and specific about what business you’re in.

Are you a writer? Or are you an adminstrator?

You can be whatever you want, of course. And maybe you have a separate writing division in your business. But that doesn’t make writing and admin support the same thing.

It’s like the analogy I’m always using:  Why would you ask a plumber to fix your car?

That would be silly, naturally. Someone who needs their car fixed needs a mechanic, not a plumber.

It’s the same thing here, and I would tell a client so.

I don’t “do” writing. I “do” administrative support.

Clients need to write their own stuff or hire an actual writer/copywriter to perform that service for them.

I might edit/proof their work, but I don’t write for them. That’s not what I’m in business to do.

Do you understand the difference?

Dear Danielle: We Loathe the Virtual Assistant Term. Is There Something Else We Can Call Ourselves?

Ask Danielle!Hey Danielle! Happy New Year!!

I was talking to a few friends in the Admin Support industry here in Australia today and the topic of what we call ourselves came up. Now all three of us LOATHE the virtual assistant title (so we’re on a good start here!) however in Australia, consultants (of any kind) are not viewed very favorably. Have you come across this in the US? Do you have any thoughts on a more accetable term that us Aussie admin chicks can use? Thanks heaps! —Cathy White

Ooo, I love this question. Good to hear that you all detest it as well, lol. So funny. But yeah, it’s such a counterproductive term for those who are trying to build real businesses with well-paying clients who take them seriously.

(And to be clear, I detest the term, not the people. I think the world of the people in our industry!)

When you say consultants are not viewed very favorably, it sounds like the same sentiment the general population over here has about them. Sort of along the lines of how people in general feel about attorneys.

Attorney and consultant jokes abound and “everyone” hates them… until they need one, lol.

So here’s my thing… first, I’m not trying to figure out a million different terms. We settled on Administrative Consultant a long time ago.

As a new industry, it’s helpful for us inside that industry to have one unifying term so that we can easily find our peers to create community.

However, when it comes to clients, you market with a message, not a term. You want your message to be all about the client, what you do for him and how you help improve his business and life.

What you call yourself comes after all that, simply for the purpose of giving people something to call you and categorize your business with—a mental coathook, if you will—which is very important. Psychologically, people just need that in order for there to be understanding.

At the same time, you want your term to be one that doesn’t create negative, problematic perceptions, expectations and understandings (like the VA term does) or it will defeat your purposes and make things more difficult.

As I always say, when you run a business, you aren’t anyone’s assistant. Assistant is a term of employment and when people think you are an assistant, they want to pay and treat you like one. Their perception—due to that term—is that you are a subordinate order taker, not a peer, expert and trusted advisor.

The other important thing is that you aren’t marketing to the general population so it doesn’t matter what their general opinion is of certain words/vocations.

You are marketing to business people who have a need for the solution you’re in business to provide. With a proper marketing message educating them about what you do and how you help them, they will understand the benefit and value of working with you in the same way that the clients of attorneys and consultants understand why they need them.

If everyone truly had very little opinion or need of attorneys and consultants, they wouldn’t exist. And, like I say, general opinion is simply irrelevant in our context.

I see conversations here and there where it’s clear some folks in our industry don’t understand our use of the term “consultant.” They think all consultants do is advise.

We use the term “consultant” in a hybrid sense of the word, not the traditional definition.

So what I explain to peers and prospects is that while I am first and foremost an administrative implementer providing support, as an administrative expert, I’m also in a position to give clients guidance and advice on their administrative systems, set-ups, tools and organization. That’s the advisor part of it.

Hence:  Administrative + Consultant. See?

One other thought to add… you also want to make sure you aren’t focusing solely on the “consultant” aspect. Because we aren’t consultants in that sense.

The reason I mention this is because I notice some folks naming their business/domain something like “Such and Such Consulting” or “Jane Doe Consulting.”

They are completely missing the administrative part which is THE most important information to relate, not the consultant part.

Those folks are the ones who are going to confuse their audience and make people think they are something they aren’t.

So you don’t want to use just “consulting.” You need to include “administrative” in there to provide the proper context and understanding. Otherwise, people will be confused and get the wrong idea.

Another Hypocritical Article…

Kiss My Ass

Another stupid, hypocritical article: http://www.alibrown.com/blog/2013/11/14/“5-signs-it’s-time-to-hire-an-assistant”-by-ali-brown/

If you’re going to hire an assistant, an assistant is an employee (whether they work from home or at a desk next to your office) and you better damn well expect to follow the employment laws that everyone else has to abide by— including paying taxes and not paying under the table.

If you don’t, not only are you a scofflaw, you’re a thief—stealing from those men and women their rightful wages and benefits they are due by law (i.e., Social Security, Medicare, etc.).

If you’re going to hire a professional, on the other hand, they are running a business:

1) They are not your assistants, and

2) They charge PROFESSIONAL fees.

This woman purports to be a champion for women in business—except when it comes to paying them, obviously.

No one in our industry can have a sustainable, profitable business charging a mere $20/hour. Ridiculous!

That’s an employee wage, not the fees that an independent professional charges who has done the proper business math and expects to have a sustainable, profitable business they can actually make a living from.

Someone telling your marketplace to expect those kind of fees is someone who is not in your corner. That’s someone who respects everyone but you as a business owner.

But you see where this comes from right? The term “assistant.”

When people think you are some lowly assistant (no matter how much they deny otherwise), they expect to pay you lowly wages as well.

You’re running a business, not working under the table for cheapskates who want to devalue and take advantage of you. You deserve more than that in your business and life.

Don’t you?

Dear Danielle: How Do You Introduce Yourself to Clients & Prospects?

Received a great question today on Facebook that I thought would be helpful to share with you here as well.

Earlier in the week, I posted this:

When you’re running a business, you aren’t anyone’s assistant. When you liberate yourself from that term (and stop subjugating your expertise), you’ll get better clients and command higher fees.

This prompted the question from Lisa:

ok when you contact a clientscustomer or prospect how do you introduce yourself hi I’m so and so’s whatif you can’t say Executive Assistant or assistant what do you say?

Here is the conversation:

ME:  What you’re describing sounds like a cold-calling situation. Is that what you mean? If so, I don’t recommend anyone in professional services engage in cold-calling. Cold-calling is selling, not marketing. No one likes a salesman, which is exactly what prospects will identify you as when you cold-call. When you aren’t cold-calling, but instead marketing and networking and getting people to come to you (i.e., visit your website where they can be educated about what you do and who you do it for), this is a non-issue. Or do you mean something else? If you can elaborate, I will try to help.

LS:  No, not cold calling. I don’t offer that service in my business at all! I offer executive assistance and transcription services (I know you hate that word, assistant, but I’m trying to reorganize my business so for lack of another word for now I’ll use it.) I work with CEOs/Presidents/owners (i.e., executives) from small/medium size companies and provide full-service administrative support to them. Some are home-based, some are office-based. I have 2 right now who are my mainstays. They use my services for 40-60 hours a month consistently; been working with them for 2 and 3 years now. I do heavy calendar management for them. When they ask me to schedule a call or meeting with someone, I need to contact the person either via phone or email to coordinate a date/time to schedule the meeting. Since most don’t know me initially, I feel I need to introduce myself and rignt now I’m saying “this is Lisa, so-so’s assistant.” But maybe I could say, “this is Lisa, I work with so-so and assist him with managing his calendar. Here are some dates/times he is available for a call/meeting, etc.” I would like to learn your concept and change my business image to administrative consultant vs. assistant, but because of the services I offer, there’s a gray area that is confusing me and trips me up. I’m revamping my business, website, processes, etc. but am in transition right now. sorry for long message.

ME:  Nothing to apologize for, Lisa. I really appreciate the genuine question and venturing forth. I LOVE helping people transition out of the assistant mode!

So you mean when you are calling people on behalf of a client, right? In that case, I simply say, Hi, I’m Danielle, so-and-so’s administrator. I instruct clients to identify me this way as well, NEVER to call me their assistant, because I’m not.

This will not be a problem with new clients that you educate/orient fresh, as much as it sometimes can be with old clients who are used to thinking of and working with you like their employee and who need to be re-educated. This is just a fact of life any time you change anything in your business or up your standards. Hopefully, no one gives you any flak, but if they do, you can always point out to them that there are legal ramifications involved. You don’t want them to get in any trouble with the IRS which is why it’s important that you not represent yourself in any way as an employee of that client—because you aren’t, they are your client.

Plus, any client who does give you flak, it’s a sure bet they are not viewing or understanding the relationship correctly and need to be set right. Since when would they tell their accountant or attorney or web designer what to call themselves or how to introduce themselves? They wouldn’t and they have no business or say so about the matter when it comes to you either.

It would probably be a good idea to sit down (figuratively) with each of those clients and have a heart-to-heart with them about the changes in your business and what to expect. Alternatively, because obviously there are practical considerations, if you’re worried about upsetting the status quo with any existing clients, you can continue on with them as you are and just focus your changes and new marketing/educating/orienting approach with new clients. But eventually, I guarantee, as you grow in your new mindsets, there will come a day when you will need for those old clients to get on board or let them go. It’s just natural that we will outgrow some folks who can’t grow with us along the way.

I hope this helps everyone! If you have more questions on this, post them in the comments and I’ll be happy to continue the conversation. :)

Want Better Clients? Do These Two Things

Want Better Clients? Do These Two ThingsWant better clients? Raise your rates.

The worst clients, the ones who create the majority of the problems, are the loudest whiners and least appreciative, are the ones who pay the lowest rates.

When you raise your fees (or simply charge properly professional fees period, not cheap employee level wages), you will get a whole other (higher) caliber of clientele.

Want better clients? Stop calling yourself a virtual assistant.

Assistant is a term of employment. And people who think you are an assistant are the ones who expect the cheapest rates.

That’s because they do not see you as an independent professional in the expertise of administration. They see you as their little “virtual worker” and expect to pay you like one.

Continuing to call yourself a virtual assistant is like calling yourself a teapot. You have keep explaining that even though you call yourself one, you aren’t one.

How much sense does that make?

Why make your conversations and relationships more difficult than they need in the first place by calling yourself:

a) something that you aren’t (and as a business owner, you aren’t anyone’s assistant), and

b) that sets all the wrong perceptions, connotations and expectations that make it harder for you to get the respect you want and the professional level fees you need?

Here’s what else happens…

When you stop calling yourself an assistant, you also begin to stop thinking like one.

It’s the beginning of a huge mindset shift that occurs and you begin to start thinking more like a business owner, administrative expert and leader in your own business.

That shift in your own self-perception and identity is what also leads you down the path to better clients and higher earning.

Are You Being Treated Like a Dog?

Are You Being Treated Like a Dog?

I was reading a blog post from a fellow talking about how he communicates with his assistant. It amounted to what I call being grunted at. One or two word commands and directives.

I would never allow a client to talk to me like that. And you couldn’t pay me to work with anyone like that. Not for any amount of money. Because it’s demeaning and dehumanizing.

Countless people in our industry have written to me over the years about feeling demoralized working with clients who treat them like nameless, faceless robots.

Here’s how this happens:

They come into this industry and start their businesses with this crazy idea that they’re supposed to be good little assistants, seen but not heard, doing everything they are told, practically the family dog who’s supposed to fetch and shake and rollover on command.

They work with clients like they’re on an assembly-line, like they’re still that employee waiting to be told what to do, letting clients tell them how their business is going to be run and how things are going to be.

But you are NOT an assistant.

You’re running a business to deliver a specific professional expertise, no different than a doctor, lawyer, accountant, etc.

You are someone with special skills, talents and experience in the art and craft of administrative support. An expert. A specialist.

If you want a happy business and life, put your name and face on your business. Be the expert.

YOU tell clients how you operate and how you will work together. YOU tell them what the policies, procedures and protocols for working with you are. YOU tell them what your standards and values are, where the boundaries are and what the rules and guidelines are.

And in having standards, that includes expecting and informing clients that you expect to be treated with the dignity of a human being and spoken to in complete sentences.

You’re not a robot or a vending machine they are barking orders at or punching orders into.

Don’t allow them to view you as their personal assistant/servant/gopher or substitute employee.

I always use the example of attorney and accountant because that’s exactly how I want clients to equate the nature of our relationship, that it will be like the one they have with their attorney or accountant. How they work together and speak with them is the same way they will be working with and speaking to me.

Dump any client who can’t get with the program. If they want an employee, that’s who they need to hire.

And then, when you are left with the ideal clients who treat you with the proper manner and respect accorded to professionals who are helping them, treat each and every one of them like the VIPs they are.

That doesn’t mean being obsequious and subservient. It means making each one feel special, important and valued. And you’ll be able to do that at a high level for those clients because you aren’t allowing yourself to be demeaned and having your morale and energy zapped by crappy ones.

Oh, and stop calling yourself a virtual assistant. You call yourself an assistant and then are shocked/irritated/perplexed when they treat you like one.

Assistant is a term of employment. Stop using that word. It’s ridiculous in this day and age of business to be using that word.

This is why we are the ADMINISTRATIVE CONSULTANTS Association.

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

Dear Danielle:

HELP! I have a new client I am trying to sign who I think is about to ask me to pose as an employee. Their first project requires us to meet with one of their clients in person tomorrow. I received an email saying they wanted to set me up with an email under their domain and wanted to talk before tomorrow’s meeting. I know my gut says this probably isn’t the best for my company, but I really can’t tap into why exactly. In other words, it seems wrong, but I don’t know what to say when they call as to why. On their end I know that they deal with sensitive data from their client so they probably want to present a united front and not make it seem like this client’s data is in the hands of a third party, but it is. Thoughts? —Anonymous by request.

First off, I want to to validate your feelings. Anything that a client requests that does not sit well with you is nothing to second-guess yourself about. It doesn’t matter if they don’t like it or if anyone else disagrees. If something in your gut is saying, “no, this doesn’t feel right” then it’s not right for you.

What you are feeling that you can’t quite put your finger on is the fact that, whether they realize it or not, a) this client is basically asking you to be is a liar and b) asking something that’s inappropriate of an independent professional (which deep down makes you feel disrespected as a business owner).

They need some additional conversation and education about the fact that you are not a substitute employee.

The best policy is to be firm, clear and upfront.

You might say something like, “Oh, I see there is some misunderstanding about how we work together. Since I am an independent company from yours (rather than an employee), I use my own email address when I deal with people on behalf of my clients.”

If they need further clarification, explain the fact that when people work with vendors and independent professionals, those are companies that are independent of theirs. As such, and for their own protection, there cannot be any appearance that those vendors and independant professionals with whom they work are employees.

Likewise, along with the privilege of being a business owner, you also have a responsibility to operate ethically and legally according to those business protocols and guidelines that are laid out for us under the law.

Hopefully, that will be sufficient, but if they press you a bit further, you could have them consider this:  Would they be asking their attorney or their accountant or their whatever to use an email address through their domain?

Of course not! It would be a highly unusual and inappropriate request. I don’t think it would ever cross their mind to ask.

Well, as an independent professional, you are no different. So why do they think it’s okay to ask you to do that? If they want an employee, that’s who they need to hire.

This is not a common dilemma for Administrative Consultants, but it is for those who are still calling themselves virtual assistants.

People equate the word “assistant” one way—employee. And the virtual assistant industry has miseducated the public to view VAs as under-the-table substitute employees.

This is why what you call yourself is an important part of setting the right understandings, expectations, perceptions and context.

Moving forward, this could be a good time to review your website, marketing message and other client-educating materials (e.g., Client Guide).

Make sure prospects and clients are getting thoroughly and properly educated so there are no misconceptions or confusion about the nature of the relationship.

In your consultations, have a frank discussion about the relationship and how it will be different from working with an employee.

And of course, never refer to yourself as an assistant. When you are a business owner, you are not anyone’s assistant. You are an independent expert who specializes in administrative support.

Here are a couple other posts that may be helpful to you on this topic as well:

Dear Danielle: Should My Client Say I Am Part of His Team?

You Are Not an Assistant

Are Virtual Assistants Employees or Independent Contractors

Of note from the US Tax Aid article:

You may have an employee if you:

Provide training — If you provide training to your workers, this is a good indication that they are really employees.

Pay them for their time – An independent contractor simply does work in his or her own way. There is little need for meetings, especially team-building ones, except for progress reports.

Instruct on minutiae – Don’t tell your IC how to do his job. I know you spent a lot of time developing your step-by-step procedures, but requiring your IC to follow them means you have an employee, not an IC.

Require certain hours –You cannot require that an IC be “open” or “available” during any specific hours that they are not paying you.  The IC should have her own system in place to track time if she’s charging hourly instead of by package.

Furnish software or supplies –Do not provide any software, supplies, cell phones, or even a special email address in which to conduct business or the IRS could decide that you have an employee. It is tempting and I have done it myself, but I am second thinking this due to this rule.

Assign a title  Don’t list your ICs on your website, office door, or anywhere that indicates they are part of your business.

How Do You Overcome the “I Need a Person in the Office” Argument?

You don’t. ;)

You’re barking up the wrong tree.

That person wants and needs an employee. And that’s not what you are. You’re not a substitute employee.

Which is the second part of the problem. You are still thinking of yourself as—and trying to sell yourself in the context of being—an assistant.

Remember, when you are in business, for both legal and practical reasons, you are not anyone’s assistant.

I want to challenge you to think about what you do, what you are and what administrative support is, apart from and outside of the context of assistant.

When you do that, you realize that you are an independent professional (not an assistant) with a particular specialization and expertise to offer (administrative support) in the same way that an attorney is an expert in the law and an accountant is an expert in financial matters.

Once you raise your consciousness about that, you will begin to see and define your role differently, which will lead you to market differently, which will draw and attract an entirely different audience, one that’s not looking for temps or substitute employees, but an alternative to those things.

Dear Danielle: Should I Use the Word “Virtual” in My Biz Name?

In this episode of What Would Danielle Say, Lynn wants to know if she should use the word “virtual” in her business name.

Dear Danielle:

My business name is BD Virtual. I read your blog post about What’s In a Name and the part about not having “virtual assistant” or “assistant” in your name. Is it a good idea to have virtual in your name? If not, should I consider admin services consulting like you were talking about. Is BD Virtual okay of a name? —Lynn Smith

Hi Lynn :)

If you follow me for long, you will find that I frequently advise/remind people to delete the word “virtual” from their biz vocabulary (among others).

A business is a business. There’s nothing virtual about it.

Is a business more “pretend” or of less quality if it’s run out of a home office or on the road? Is it more of a business if it’s located in a rented office?

Does an attorney who works from home and conducts most of his meetings over the phone have any less of a legal practice?

Is a doctor or accountant or designer or (fill in the blank for whatever other independent service professional comes to mind) “virtual” just because he works from his own location and/or his clients go to him, he doesn’t go to them?

By that logic, then all businesses are “virtual” in that they perform their services from their own place of operation (regardless of where that may be), not the client’s.

But we don’t qualify those businesses like that so why should you qualify yours in that way?

This is why I advise people to stop using the word “virtual.” It’s a silly word and puts a negative, subpar, “less than a real business” spin on things.

One of the challenges of a professional services business like ours (where we do not have physical storefronts that clients can walk into like brick-and-mortar businesses do) is instilling credibility, trustworthiness and rapport.

Therefore, you want your business to present itself in every way you can as no different from any other professional a client would hire to provide some kind of expertise.

Any word that detracts or qualifies your business as something “other than” or “different from” a real business and professional service like any other makes it more difficult to establish that credibility and trustworthiness.

And this is what the word “virtual” does… it says that your business is not a “real” business, it’s something “other than.”

And why do that? Why qualify it in any way except that it is a real business like any other?

This is what I mean by a business is a business. Where the business is located and/or where you work from is of no relevance or importance to the matter.

Regarding your other question, whether you should call it Administrative Consultant, that depends on whether you actually are one or not.

An Administrative Consultant is not the same thing as a virtual assistant. The terms are not interchangeable.

Where “virtual assistant” has become the proverbial junk/miscellaneous drawer of terms of anyone doing anything and everything, which is not a definition or category of anything, it’s just a gopher basically (what Seth Godin would refer to as a meandering generality), an Administrative Consultant is someone who specifically specializes in the business of providing ongoing administrative support (what Seth Godin calls a meaningful specific). That is their business category and their specialty.

The other distinction is that when you are in business, for both legal and practical reasons, you are not anyone’s assistant. Administrative Consultants are independent professionals (in the same way that attorneys, accountants, designers, etc., are independent professionals) who provide clients with the expertise of strategic administrative support. They are not day-to-day substitute employees or “alternative staff.” They are not staff in any way.

So if your specialization and expertise is administrative support and you view yourself as an independent professional (not a staff member, assistant or outsourced worker), then Administrative Consultant would fit you.

Since it sounds like you are just starting your business and still in the naming phase, be sure to also check out the Naming Your Business category of my blog. I have several posts with information and ideas to help you in that process.

Thanks for the question and I hope this provides you with some understanding and clarity. All my best!

The Difference Between an Assistant and an Administrative Consultant

There’s a difference between an assistant and an Administrative Consultant.

An assistant is a gopher who is told to do anything and everything. Being an assistant is a role, not an expertise.

An Administrative Consultant is someone who specializes specifically in the art and expertise of administrative work.

You can tell people that you’re a business owner until you’re blue in the face and not their beck-and-call employee, but if you call yourself an assistant, people will always think of you as an assistant, consciously or subconsciously. So stop calling yourself one.

Don’t buy into the idea whatsoever that clients should be able to come to you for anything and everything. It’s utter BS in business and will bury you in muck work and rabbit holes. You’ll never be able to build a flexible, freedom-filled practice if you make yourself stuck being an assistant/gopher to clients. And I’m telling you this as someone who actually DOES this work and runs a business as an Administrative Consultant, not someone sitting in an ivory tower who hasn’t run a support business in over 15 years.

Teaching people how to be assistants except that they now work from their own office instead of sitting outside the boss’s office is not a new paradigm whatsoever.

Being an Administrative Consultant IS a new paradigm because it’s about specializing in the expertise of administrative support, not being anyone’s assistant, not being their gopher, and not being their personal valet or servant.

As an Administrative Consultant, clients come to you specifically for administrative support in the same way that they go to their lawyers for their legal expertise, their accountants for their financial expertise or their designers for their visual and technological marketing expertise.

When you run your business in this way and focus on your specific expertise, not on being anyone’s anything and everything assistant, you can command higher fees, have more freedom and flexibility and more time for your life instead of being chained to your computer.