What’s In a Name?

I was sharing with my dad recently about how we are converting over to the term “Administrative Consultant” and how the organization will be getting a new name and a new site and all the reasons why… chiefly, the fact that the virtual assistant term creates wrong expectations and understandings in clients and makes our conversations with them more difficult than need be.

And he shared a story with me about one of our family friends that really illustrates how important a name or term is in educating clients about what you are and what you do and how it can hurt or help in your educating and marketing efforts.

So this family friend is a financial planner and lifelong master sailor. Many moons ago, when I was still a little girl even, due to his love of sailing, he decided he wanted to start a side business teaching beginnner’s how to sail.

One of the very first principles in sailing he’d teach on, because it was the foundation of everything else, was how to clean your boat. Having a crusty bottom, apparently, could literally affect your speed and navigation and in teaching all this, it was the natural segue to all the higher parts of the learning involved.

It’s sort of like with other skills where you don’t start out learning how to do the actual thing, you start by learning the most simple, seemingly unimportant tasks related to the thing. Trying to think of a good example and the movie, Karate Kid comes to mind. It’s been so long since I’ve seen that movie that I can’t remember it exactly, but you know how the teacher dude had the Karate Kid doing basic tasks that didn’t seem related or important at all, but which were really the foundation and shaped the character of everything else? It’s that kind of thing. It’s the crux of all the learning that follows.

So because the cleaning and care of the boat was the crux of everything else when it comes to learning how to sail, he decided to call this business venture Swabbies.

Can you see the problem already?

Now in the sailing world, this is a very understood nautical term, in all its full, nuanced meaning. And this is why he felt it would be perfect for the business name.

The problem, however, was that not only did he fail to understand his market, he used a term that only a select group of people would even remotely understand it’s real meaning. Which meant that it was esoteric jargon to everyone else. And this “everyone else” were who his would-be students were.

So he was getting all these calls and inquiries from people who only understood the term as any layperson would understand it–a swabbie is someone who cleans the deck. Instead of getting calls from people wanting to learn how to sail, he was only getting calls from people who wanted to have their boats cleaned!

As you can see, even super smart people like our friend the financial planner can make such basic branding errors when it comes to what they call their business or what title they use. His very name prevented him from connecting with the customers he was seeking. In fact, it completely miseducated them and made them think he was something he wasn’t whatsoever.

This is the same problem with the term Virtual Assistant. When you are in business, you are not anyone’s assistant and you can’t be.

On top of that, people only understand the word “assistant” one way. No matter how much you try to educate them until you are blue in the face, they just can’t seem to understand that you aren’t an assistant at their beck-and-call.

And why call yourself something that causes that much difficulty in aligning expectations and understandings in the first place? Business conversations are so much easier with a name that better reflects what you are in business to do and better educates clients as to the correct nature of your relationship.

This is why I have moved on to the term Administrative Consultant… because I’m not an assistant, I’m an administrative expert. I’m not hired to be anyone’s flunky or gopher. I’m hired because I have a valuable expertise that helps clients get things done and move forward in their businesses. It’s a term that more clearly reflects what I’m in business to do, it garners INFINITELY more professional respect, and it better educates and aligns expectations and understandings with the kind of clients I work with before we ever even speak to each other.

One Response

  1. This exactly describes my feeling toward what I do. If I wanted to be someone’s flunky, I would still be doing the corporate slave thing. That isn’t meant to offend someone who is still working in that environment. I get it; the job puts food on the table. But not oncewas I ever made to feel that what I did as an office manager made me a valued team member. If enough supervisors crack off that they can get a hundred office managers if I decide I don’t like the environment, it pretty well tells me where I stand on the office totem pole, and exactly what drips down the pole onto me. Now, if I have a client with a bit too much attitude, I have the freedom to move on and help someone who actually appreciates the help.

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