Just Stop!

One of our members was feeling disheartened today after reading yet another blog post from an industry outsider miseducating our marketplace.

In that post, the author spoke of virtual assistants in not very professionally respectful terms, stating that they are to be trained and supervised.

(SIDE TANGENT HERE: Sorry, buddy, you got that flat-out wrong. And clients, do yourselves a favor: Stop listening to these ya-hoos. They have no business telling you how we run our businesses and work with clients. They are doing you a huge disservice because you’re going to be in for an awakening when you contact us and we tell you that’s not the way it is. This is a business-to-business relationship, not an employer/employee one.)

This member then came across a video post where the speaker was ranting about yet another virtual assistant who had disappeared on them.

Our member was lamenting about all the miseducation that goes on and wondered if there was any hope of finding clients who “get it” anymore.

I say, emphatically, YES!

But it requires some shifts in thinking and how we educate our marketplace.

First, you have to understand the problem on both sides of the fence.

On one side, it is unfortunately the virtual assistant world itself that is largely responsible for creating this thinking in clients that is insulting to us.

In a lot of these cases, it’s VAs themselves who are misinforming these people, creating unrealistic expectations, wrong understandings, and working with clients as if they were employees. They don’t seem to understand themselves that they are business owners.

On top of that, the term “virtual assistant” has been co-opted and bastardized by virtual staffing/team VA/secretarial service businesses.

It doesn’t stand for anymore what it was originally intended to mean: people who run administrative support businesses, not this-that-and-the-other businesses.

Not that it’s any loss. It wasn’t a good term to begin with because it’s ambiguous and focuses clients on a role (and a subservient one at that) rather than what we do.

It does nothing to convey the sense that they are retaining the services of a professional administrative expert and business owner.

In fact, it does the complete opposite: people only understand the word “assistant” one way  — employee. So that immediately trains clients to think wrongly about the nature of the relationship and completely sets the wrong expectations.

The other side of the coin — though they will deny it and make excuses all over the place — is that most clients who complain about virtual assistants not having the skills they advertise or who disappear on them, hired those VAs because they were cheap (or cheaper than the alternative).

They will vehemently argue, “$X/hr isn’t cheap!”

But ask those clients, why didn’t you hire virtual assistant X who charges $65-75/hr and up, who has an established, committed business (and not a fly-by-night, project-oriented freelance side gig), who demonstrates her competence on her website and in her interactions with you and all that she does, and who has a track record of dependability, qualification and service? Why didn’t you hire that person?

The answer is because they were trying to save a buck and/or were engaging in magical thinking:

  • Why hire someone who clearly knows her value and conveys her skills and qualification in demonstrable ways when I can hire someone cheaper?
  • Why hire a real web designer when I can get a VA to do it cheaper?
  • Why hire a real copywriter when I can get a virtual assistant to lump it in with administrative support as if it was the same thing and not charge me extra for it?

Those clients have no one but themselves to blame.

They had the wrong priorities, were depending on the VA’s own devaluing of herself so they could take advantage, and they hired based on price instead of value/skill/demonstrated competence/quality.

And we can’t change them.

We can only continue to steadily put out information that educates clients on how to choose, on what their priorities should be if they want someone with professional-level skills, qualification, dedication, who can do what they say they can, and who won’t disappear on them (because they weren’t operating a committed business in the first place or they weren’t charging profitably enough in order to a create a reliable business).

If they want X, they need to be prepared to pay $X. They need to shop based on value and stop cheapskating out.

Pricing profitably absolutely has a direct impact on a VA’s ability to create the kind of true business and systems and foundations that will allow her (or him) to stick around and deliver a superior level of service.

No one can create a real, solvent business at anything less than $35/hr. No one.

The VAs living off that are either broke, don’t depend on the money to live on (it’s just hobby/side income or extra pocket change for them) or they have other income (e.g., a day job, a spouse, another business).

When that’s the case, clients risk their investment because that person hasn’t created the kind of profitable foundation that will allow her to stay in business, be committed and focused, and deliver consistent, quality support and service.

On top of that, if her interest in the work is only as “some money on the side,” why on earth would a client expect any kind of professional-level of commitment and reliability?

We also have to continue to steadily put out information that educates virtual assistant themselves on how to market themselves better.

For one thing, virtual assistants have got to get off of this marketing message that focuses clients almost exclusively on money.

Just the other day I saw a new VA’s website and that’s ALL she talked about.

Not how she improved the client’s life and business and how she does that, not what things she helps clients with, not how to understand the the ongoing, collaborative relationship so they can see it in the context of how it helps the client move their business forward… nothing about that stuff whatsoever.

Just how little it costs, comparison to employees, how much they would save, how they can get a discount, what they can get for free…

It’s no wonder a lot of clients are cheapskate-minded! It’s VAs themselves who are training them to think like that, focusing them on exactly those things.

We’ve got to change the focus of our conversations with clients.

Stop talking about money. Period.

Talk about how you improve your client’s circumstances, the ways in which they can move forward, how your work can help them achieve their goals and objectives, how their lives and businesses are improved.

We also have to break this connection with the brick and mortar admin/employee thing we have in our head.

We are service providers now, business owners. Completely different animal.

If you want to stop being treated and approached like an employee, stop making these comparisons (in all forms) to brick and mortar secretaries and administrative/executive assistants.

Focus clients on the concept that you are an administrative expert, a professional who specializes in providing administrative support and expertise.

Show them how you help clients move forward in their businesses and take the burden of wearing all the hats off their shoulders.

Focus on painting a picture of how you help them improve their life/business and achieve their goals/objectives.

THAT’S the value.

Leave all the other comparisions (to employees, to admins in the real world, etc.) and price out of the conversation (on your website and marketing, that is) completely.

None of this will ever completely go away.

There will always be cheapskates in the world who want something for nothing.

And the virtual assistant industry isn’t unique in having this issue (both with cheap clients and not knowing how to market itself).

However, you can help yourself by supporting organizations like ours which is helping to better educate clients in ways that make it easier for you to find the right-thinking ones out there.

Focus on concentrating your energy on creating your client message in the ways I described above, stop talking about money and price and costs and discounts and incentives and seductions, and you will begin to attract the RIGHT clients with the RIGHT mindset to you.

(And stop calling yourself an assistant. Because you’re not one. You’re a business owner who provides the expertise of administrative support.)

3 Responses

  1. Amen sister!

    A few months ago when I was considering expanding and migrating my current business to a virtual assistance business I latched on to your blog. There is a lot of confusion about the VA business and it is somewhat understandable that clients get confused too. Your blog and group helped me clarify what I wanted to do..and that was to offer professional support at a rate that supported my business.

    I’ve been an independent bookkeeper for 5 years and have fallen into the trap of being treated like an employee. I have worked in the $35 dollar range and have found it very hard to make a living and I live modestly. I have found myself working 50+ hours per week to make ends meet and to meet the needs of the clients, that I’m so consumed with “just getting the job done” that I don’t provide the professionalism I require of myself.

    The idea of going virtual under the same circumstances was not appealing. There is an abundance of VA information available on the internet and with it comes varying concepts and opinions. Everybody – VAs and clients alike – have to make a choice. I know I made the right one….too bad the person writing the article you speak of didn’t.

  2. Mirna Bajraj says:

    Hi Danielle,

    I have been subscribed to your blog for a while, two to three months. I like your posts very much. I am still on the early stages of launching my administrative support business in Argentina. I’m training, near to get certification.

    You are very generous with your posts and comments. I totally agree with this one. Pricing is not easy, moreover in the beginning as you want to get clients, and you might wrongly think that by being cheap you will get more and faster. This might be common thinking. But you are absolutely right, this is not about price, this is about professional, high quality service. And as I am in the process of developing content for my future website, your e-mail is more than welcome.

    Thanks for enlightening my future business.

  3. This is a common rant of mine. My other rant is lack of experience and the idea that anyone who owns a computer and has internet access can be a VA. Recently there was an article posted that caused me to see red! And one of the comments was written by a VA named “Amanda” (bet “Amanda” is one of 100 “Amandas” operating out of the sweat shop on the other side of the world) who advertises starting prices at $4.52 per hour. It’s frustrating — but you DO get what you pay for.

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