Another Idiotic Post About Virtual Assistants

Saw another idiotic post about Virtual Assistants come through on my Google Alerts.

Articles like these are responsible for miseducating the marketplace into thinking Virtual Assistants are some kind of substitute employee–which they are not.

It’s also why we have so many new people coming into this profession thinking they are substitute employees filling a position.

Just about every freaking article they read anymore talks about virtual assistants as if they were still working for bosses. They use terms of employment like job, position, interview, resume, manage, train…

These people are such morons.

Once and for all: Virtual assistance is not a job. It’s not a “position” on your “team.” It’s a business.

And because it is a business, not employment, it is not any client’s place to be providing job descriptions.

If that’s what they’re doing, then that person is an employee – a telecommuter – not a VA.

Virtual Assistants are service providers who run their own businesses and specialize in administrative support.

They tell clients how they can help them and what they can and will do for them (as well as what they can’t or won’t), not the other way around.

And virtual assistants and clients had both better get it straight because the IRS will catch you sooner or later, one way or another, if you don’t.

Getting people to work for you from home is not a license to misclassify employees and be tax cheats.

Virtual assistants, you aren’t off the hook either: run your business like a business. Stop allowing clients to treat you like an employee. It’s up to you to set them straight about how this works LEGALLY.

And by the way, contractor, subcontractor, independent contractor… those are all terms that mean the same thing:  business owner.

There is absolutely NO third classification where an employer gets to hire someone to work like an employee, but not report them as such nor pay taxes on them. NO SUCH THING whatsoever.

Someone is either an employee or they are a business owner, regardless of the term they use (e.g. freelancers, independent contractor, subcontractor — these are ALL the same thing).

And any business that farms out workers, virtual or otherwise, is called a temp agency or staffing agency and those workers they loan out to people are employees.

9 Responses

  1. I have to completely agree with you. There are many people who have tried to contract with me who have the “replacement employee” mindset.

    I’ve had to refund money, cancel relationships, and make a few people mad when I refuse to account for my time by the micro second, or worse, stay signed on all day long during specific hours, or answer my phone at 3am.

    I do think the article has some good points in terms of being clear about expectations but the VA should be the one doing this with the client. The moment the client tries to micro manage me is the moment I decide that I was not clear enough with MY terms.

    While you and I have long disagreed that a VA only provides “administrative support” I completely am on board with you regarding these VA companies which are really TEMP companies. They will be caught and they will need to pay up.

    I know someone who is so proud of himself for hiring a VA out of Texas for 3.75 an hour, and she works for him “essentially 24/7” and answers her phone 24/7.. (implying why can’t you?), I informed him that this person is an employee according to the IRS and she’s very under paid, be ready to be sued.

    Thanks for your hard work with these issues!

  2. Danielle:

    Your opinions on this article really helped highlight and crystalize formative concepts. It is thought provocating and is very well timed as I refine my marketing plan. Thanks for reemphasizing that the client-VA relationship is business-to-business.

    Joanna Malvino

  3. Judy Reyes says:

    Good comments about an obnoxious article. Thanks for providing this information.

  4. Hi Danielle,

    I saw this article as well and shook my head in dismay. I’ve been given job titles and job description by clients in the past and questioned this practice.

    I have a few questions…I’d like to know your thoughts.

    My business name is part of my domain as are many/most virtual assistants. It is who I am and the company I represent (uniquely, me!).

    What is your take on clients who ask VAs to use their own client domain email to correspond with them (the client)? Do you have any thoughts on clients asking virtual assistants to use their own email domain to contact their own clients? When is it/is not appropriate to change a virtual assistant’s email address for a client?



  5. So if I’m understanding your question correctly, you mean if a client wants to set you up with an email address on their domain and have you correspond with them using that email address instead of your own?

    If that’s the case, that could signal that the client isn’t understanding the nature of the relationship (which could also be an indication that the way things are presented or explained on your website/in your marketing/in your conversations could be improved).

    I would be curious and ask them why they would want me to do that, but ultimately I would tell them that no, that’s not how this works, I am not your employee, I will use my own email address and they will use theirs. And we’d have some more discussion about what our relationship is and what it isn’t so they are properly educated.

    You especially do not want to give the appearance in any way that can be misconstrued by the IRS that you are an employee such as routinely using a client’s email domain in all correspondence.

    On the flip side, however, I have often had or asked clients to set me up with an email on their domain so that if/when I correspond with their clients on their behalf, the interaction is seamless. People can sometimes be confused if they are dealing with The Law Firm of X and they get an email from Jane Doe of Jane Doe Administrative Consulting. I don’t always do it, but sometimes it helps eliminates the unnecessary questions and explanations which is helpful to me and to the client.

    Most of the time, though, I require the client to make a proper introduction and let their client/service provider know that I will be contacting them from my own business and that I work on their behalf so there isn’t any question.

    And naturally, when it’s between me and the client, I always use my own email address — because I am an independent business. They should no more expect me to use their domain email than they would their attorney or web designer or any other independent business they hire for services.

  6. Hi Danielle,

    Thank you for your response.

    I think some clients who create virtual teams like to use a common domain email addresses to create a team-like environment.

    But I also believe (as it pertains to your original post) that the IRS may find that using the client domain may look as if the VA does not operate a separate business.


  7. I agree. And those clients are only doing that (and those VAs allowing it) because they are either ignorant, stupid or blatant lawbreakers.

    Personally, I don’t deal with clients who are using “virtual teams.” Those clients need to be informed point blank that anyone independent business they hire is NOT a part of their “team.” Only employees are part of their “team.” If they want a team, want to give them all emails, and operate with them in the same manner as they would an internal team, they need to hire a staff of employees, period.

    I also steer clear of that term (“team”) because it shapes the wrong perceptions in clients. I am their trusted administrative advisor and support partner, but since I am an independent business, I am NOT an employee and therefore not part of their “team.”

    I further explain that while there are often occasions where I would be dealing with other of their vendors in my work on their behalf, that doesn’t make me part of their “team.”

    I am an independent business and for the same reasons, my response to them would be the same regarding the email thing – you will use your own email address and I will use mine.

    It’s absolutely unnecessary to do otherwise, and, like you point out, doing so could create the appearance of a misclassified relationship. I mean, do they expect their attorney or bookkeeper and everyone else they do business with to use an email address on their domain?

    When you get them to look at it from that perspective, they should be able to see how ridiculous that idea is. But here again, this is all symptomatic of the wrong perceptions and marketing our industry as a whole has put out there in the first place. It’s our own industry that has miseducated these clients and allowed them to continue on with these ideas.

    I for one am done pussyfooting around. As an industry, we’ve got to stop being so vague and demure. We need to be very firm, clear and direct about setting people straight – both clients and new VAs – and dispelling this ignorance.

    Because it’s not a matter of it being their choice in how they view it. They don’t have a choice. This is just the way it is, it’s the law – you are either a business or you are an employee. Period.

    It’s also one of the reasons we as an organization have moved onto the term “Administrative Consultant.” The term “assistant” is in large part responsible for causing and perpetuating these wrong perceptions in the first place. This is the only reason those moron clients who try to turn you into a part of their “team” have these idiotic ideas and think they are okay.

    If you are running a business, you aren’t anyone’s assistant.

  8. Hi Danielle,

    I am in total agreement with your response. I’ve used the IRS definition of a business owner v an employee when approached with terms such as ‘trial period’, (I was asked this just yesterday by a referral that came to me) ‘probation period’, ‘resume’, ‘job description’ and use of client domain email for purposes other than corresponding with the client’s clients. I have actually found that to be the one argument that people understand because no one wants to be audited by the IRS.

    One more question about the original post. You state, “They tell clients how they can help them and what they can and will do for them (as well as what they can’t or won’t), not the other way around.” I get this but it seems that not all clients come to me initially wondering what I can do for them They know my skill set but some simply come to me with a list of items they want accomplished. From there, once those are complete and I’ve established trust; it is here I tell them more about what I can do for them. So I’m just wishing for clarity from you as to what you mean by VAs telling clients what we can do for them if the initial contact can be (not always) that the client has items he/she wishes to accomplish first.

    Thank you…great discussion!

  9. Sorry it took me so long to answer this, Janine. It’s not a simple answer so I had to find a free moment to really respond.

    In order to really answer this question, ideally I’d want to know some specifics… like, what is your intention for being in business? Is it just to earn some side money or is it to create something that could really support you and be self-sustaining and profitable?

    I’d also want to know whether you felt you were earning well right now or if you wish you were doing better?

    The reason I’d want to know this is because for those who are in hobby businesses, who are just really only trying to earn a little side income and don’t really need or depend on how well the business does, none of this matters. They can be as unintentional as they want and do whatever they want and take on whoever and whatever they want. It really doesn’t matter.

    But for those who are really trying to get somewhere in their business… trying to earn better, trying to create a self-sustaining, profitable business they can actually make a living from, trying to find better clients, and trying to operate and work with clients in ways that they aren’t imprisoned by the business and never have a free moment… how they do things and what they do… ALL of that matters very much indeed.

    So what I might glimpse in your question is that there might not be any intentional consultation or client qualifying process going on in your business. You, of course, are free to take on clients and work willy nilly if that’s your choice. But that seldom leads to the creation of an ideal business because it’s haphazard, it’s unintentional, and those willy nilly clients and project work distracts you from paying attention and doing the work that lead to a more intentional, profitable, thought-out business.

    Now, that’s not to say that you shouldn’t help clients with to-do lists they might have up front. But you do want to get intentional about whether ad hoc clients are really “doing it” for you in your business. Is that money really making any kind of difference other than just treading water until you can chase down the next project?

    Now, let’s say you instead realized that you wanted more steady income and the kind of cash flow that you could anticipate and budget against each month. Then you’d want to get retainer clients.

    Retainer clients is where the bigger, easier money is. But because it is a bigger ticket item, it requires a deeper conversation. That’s the purpose of the consultation.

    But you don’t want to be talking to anyone and everyone. This is where you have to get clear about a target market as well as an ideal client (they are not the same thing).

    This will help you create a more compelling message and better attract just those folks you are interested in working with. And once you get them into consultation, that’s where you should be finding out all you can not just about their to-do list, but where they are trying to get to, what bigger purpose are these to-dos for in their business, stuff like that.

    This requires more intention, more conversation, more up-front work. But it also leads to far more rewarding (professionally and financially) relationships that are based on intention, not hoping that the work will lead to more business. This kind of intentional (not haphazard) support is also where your higher value is, which in turn allows you to get greater results, more long-term and integral results for clients, which in turn allows you to command higher fees.

    But this is really a whole field of study in and of itself. I’d really, really recommend you get my client consultation process guide, Breaking the Ice. I think you will find it very eye-opening.

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