Some Words to Delete from Your Business Vocabulary

If you are a virtual assistant who is happy where you’re at in your business, this post is not for you.

BUT, if you are someone who is not satisfied with the kind of money you’re currently making … If you’re having trouble commanding even the most basic level of professional fees … If you always seem to get clients who want to pay peanuts and treat you more like the hired help rather than a respected professional advisor and administrative expert, this post is for you.

Words are important. The specific words you choose to portray you and your business directly impact, shape and mold client perceptions and expectations. The words and termininology you use can mean all the difference in attracting a higher caliber of clientele. Following are some words that I advise you to take out of your business vocabulary if you want more clients who approach the business relationship with the proper mindset and are more given to understanding the value of professional services.

1. “Affordable” (and any variation thereof). As a business, it’s not your job to be the most affordable. It’s your job to provide the most value. Talk about value, benefits and results—not money—and you will focus and attract more value-minded clients. Of course, if you like working for peanuts, not being able to make a full-time living in your business, and you want to keep cattle-calling every cheapskate and tire kicker in the universe, then keep bringing up cost, savings, discounts and how affordable you are.

2. “Contract worker” (and “Independent Contractor,” for that matter). A contract worker is an employee of a company that farms workers out. You are not a contract worker. As a Virtual Assistant, you are a professional service provider and specifically an administrative expert. But by all means, keep using that terminology if you want clients who continue to view you as an under-the-table employee and who don’t want to pay professional level fees because you are merely an interchangeable commodity to them. That terminology doesn’t portray the correct context needed to help clients perceive the value and understand the nature of the relationship.

3. “Outsourcing.” I know you’re going “wha?!” on this one, but really, get rid of that word.

Here’s the connotation: When you use the term “outsourcing,” it suggests an impersonal kind of transaction where there is no participation from the client. But that’s not what Virtual Assistance is all about.

Virtual Assistance is about a two-way, participatory relationship. It takes the input of both client and Virtual Assistant. That two-way, back-and-forth interaction is critical to the dynamic that makes Virtual Assistance a much higher value to clients than simple, commoditized, secretarial transactions.

If you allow clients to view the work as something they simply offload without any further input, you’re going to keep getting clients who don’t value the relationship, don’t understand the value of the work and who dump on you instead of working with you.

Instead, emphasize the idea that you are a professional who specializes in administrative support and related services and that you work collaboratively (together). You must hold the work in respectful regard if you expect clients to as well. If you treat it, talk about it and dismiss it as mundane, unimportant, something any ol’ flunky can do (which we know it’s not), you will attract clients who think exactly the same and who definitely don’t respect it enough to pay much for it.

4. “Generalist.” As a Virtual Assistant, are you a lowly generalist who doesn’t really do anything of any real value or importance? Or are you an administrative expert who specializes in delivering ongoing administrative support? As a client, which would you hold in higher regard? Which description inspires more confidence? Which portrays a more professional image and status?

Don’t buy into the propaganda of exploitists who want to keep pounding it into your head that you and administrative work are nothing special, not worthy of valuing and honoring and respecting. They are preying on your lack of professional self-esteem (instilling it even!) so that you’ll keep feeling like it’s not enough and you’ll keep paying for their ”hot” skills training and products.

Hold your head high! You HAVE a specialty. You ARE an expert—a consultant and expert of administration and support. Don’t you let anyone, ever, get away with calling you a generalist! Administrative work is THE backbone of every single business on earth. Each and every one would fall apart without that foundation, support and diligence. It’s an expertise and a highly valuable and marketable service–as long as you value it and yourself in the first place.

5. “Interview.” Employees “interview.” Professionals “consult.” Don’t submit to client interviews. Offer a consultation. See the difference there? Virtual Assistants have a hard enough time getting clients to view them as independent professionals and administrative experts. If you want to stop the confusion, don’t use any language or verbiage that is a holdover from your days as a employee. Leading your own show causes clients to view and respect you as a professional and expert. It also helps instil more trust and confidence.

6. “References.” I addressed this topic in my last post (Dear Danielle: What About References?) so I won’t go into it fully again here. Suffice it to say that employees provide references; professionals provide testimonials. Use the terminology of professionals rather than employees (be sure to reinforce that language at every opportunity when talking with clients), and you will set the conditions and perceptions for more of the professional treatment that you want from clients.

7. “Resume.” Business owners don’t provide resumes. Employees provide resumes. Here’s how to understand this stuff:When you were an employee, the cover letter is what got your resume read. In the business world, your marketing and networking become the “cover letter” that leads clients to your business website. As a business, your entire website and other marketing collateral are your “resume.” So whereas your resume is what you hoped would secure you an interview when you were an employee, your website is what should now be converting visitors into consultations with prospective clients.

Here’s a visual:

Cover Letter –> Resume/References –> Interview

Business Owner
Marketing/Networking –> Website/Testimonials –> Consultation

If you continue to indulge requests for resumes and references from clients, you have no one but yourself to blame when you keep getting clients who don’t extend you professional respect nor view the relationship in its proper context, namely one of business owner and client. Professional respect and understanding of the relationship are very important ingredients in shaping client perceptions, showing them how to treat you, and commanding a professional level of fees.

Insist on being treated as a professional. Use the right language to reinforce that expectation and instill proper understandings and perceptions.

7 Responses

  1. Great column, Danielle! I have a tendency to slip back into old habits and then kick myself afterward, wishing I hadn’t used a certain word or phrase. I’m printing this column out and filing it, so that I can review it prior to consultations with potential clients.


  2. Becky Ferris says:

    Great article!

    I have just one question/concern. I want my prospective clients to know my background—professionally and some personal. I created a Special Report (which is available on my website), and my resume is included in that report. Should I remove that section?!?

    Where is it appropriate to share something like a resume? I understand why we shouldn’t treat ourse

  3. Hi, Becky,

    I think the key here is in my first paragraph: “If you’re happy where you’re at, this post is not for you.”

    BUT, if you’ve experienced any of the issues I’ve touched on, then it’s time to do something different. You can’t expect to get different results doing the same thing. If you’re convinced that a resume is a “powerful tool,” then you’re going to stay stuck.

    I personally don’t believe there’s any situation where an independent, professional consultant needs to use a resume. If your marketing, your message, your demonstration of your skills and competence and professionalism are doing what they’re supposed to, a resume simply is not necessary.

    So here are some questions for you:

    Why specifically do you think a resume is a powerful tool? Are you getting actual retained clients you work with continuously or just occasional or one-time project customers? Is your business earning enough that you could actually pay all your bills and live off the income without any other means of support? How are you viewing yourself in your business? Are you a skilled independent professional/consultant offering the specific expertise of administration and support or simply a “contract worker?”

  4. Debbie Plummer says:


    Love this! Good timing as I contemplate the content for my website. (I’m a newby with plans to launch my VA business on July 1)

    This article has inspired a much needed shift in mind set for me. The first thing my prospective clients asked for was a resume.


  5. Wendy Pullen says:

    Amen! Danielle, this is such a GREAT reminder for us to be more careful with our terminology. Thank you!

  6. Denise Aday says:

    Hi Danielle,

    Great post!

    Here’s another term to delete: “Performance Review”. I addressed this one in a LinkedIn Q&A thread recently. Asker was a VA preparing for one with a client in order to discuss a rate increase. She was looking for a template. Wow.

    She agreed with our responses and thanked us for them – but removed the discussion from LI, saying it wasn’t quite the question she meant to ask. Ya think?!? My response, omitting names:

    Performance reviews are for employees seeking raises, not virtual assistant business owners.

    I agree with [other person], that you both should know your worth to the client already. Are you getting positive feedback about your service? Do you initiate and conduct periodic check-up calls to review how things are going, discuss what’s working/not and determine focus for time ahead?

    This should not be tied to a rate discussion! It’s an ongoing “how are we doing” and “where are we going” conversation to be sure you’re delivering value and meeting the client’s needs.

    It’s a vendor/customer, not employer/employee, relationship . You don’t “state your need” for increased compensation. That again is employee-speak. You are a business owner. You “notify” the client of a price increase, who then decides whether or not to continue utilizing your services.

    As [other person] states, “it is a simple business decision”. You decide what you’re worth, own it and charge it—no haggling or justification. And you have to be ready to let the client go should they decide not to pay the higher rate.



  7. Excellent addition, Denise! Performance review?! WTF?

    Employee = Performance Review
    Business Owner = Feedback Process

    To everyone out there:

    “Performance Review” is a term of employment and is a signal to the IRS that a client is really an employer. NEVER let a client use that terminology with you unless they want to get in hot water with the IRS. Also, if they are using that terminology that’s a blatant clue that you have not done your job of properly educating them about the correct nature of your relationship.

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