What’s In a Name, You Ask?

It’s interesting how many administrative assistants are confused about the difference between them and a Virtual Assistant. Someone sent me something from some administrative assistants listserv (those who are working in jobs) and it’s very clear they do not understand that a VA is NOT someone who is telecommuting, but is in business. They don’t seem to understand that an administrative assistant and a VA are not the same thing whatsoever.

Here again, this is due in large part to the vague and idiotic “virtual assistant” term. People who are running businesses are not assistants, much less employees. They are providing a professional service, and the way they operate and work with clients is by necessity very different from how one provides administrative support as an employee.

This mass delusion and confusion never ceases to astonish me. And underscores the point that words educate (or miseducate, as the case may be), and that’s why what you call yourself is important to your marketing and educating of clients. It is either going to set a tone for the right understandings, expectations and preconceptions or it will do the opposite.

Ignore the morons out there who are always shrilling about “it’s the name of the industry” blah blah blah. Your business and marketing has nothing to do with that at all. It’s about positioning and how you want your market to view you. Do you want to be viewed as an assistant and gopher who they think should be at their beck and call and doing whatever they throw at you (and expect to pay you peanuts for at the same time), or do you want the kind of clients who clearly understand the expertise you are in business to provide, view you as a skilled professional and administrative expert who can really help them improve their businesses, and therefore are more willing to pay for that valuble support and expertise?

If so, then you must understand that this is about shaping perceptions, expectations and understandings and positioning yourself as an expert, not a gopher.

By the way, the morons out there shouting that are the also the ones who don’t know how to do it any differently. 😉 And listening to people like that is keeping you in the poorhouse. Let them keep their idiotic industry. Worry about the financial wealth and success of your own business.

Consider this, too…

How many times have you followed a coach or business expert and all their business building and financial success advice seems to apply to everyone–until it comes time to pay their VAs. It’s such a clear example of how they devalue VAs because they don’t put them on the same level as other business professionals and expertse.

And guess why? Guess who did that to you? Yup, the “industry.” That’s because it has  branded itself as the cheap labor pool of flunkies and gophers… as assistants, not experts.

The industry at large is not doing you any favors whatsoever. So who cares if “the industry” wants to be called “virtual assistants.” That doesn’t mean you have to call yourself that if you want to do better financially in business and attract better clients, clients who aren’t cheapskates, clients who happily pay, clients who “get it” and view you as important to them and their business as their attorney and their accountant and their web designer, etc.

See, the “industry” has spoiled those people and certain marketplaces. They have been trained to think they are getting what basically amounts to employees they don’t pay taxes on.

But if you want to do better financially in your business, not to mention to actually create a business and not merely a telecommuting job, you have got to do things differently. And that really does start with what you call yourself because it affects not only their perceptions and understandings, but your perceptions about yourself as well.

5 Responses

  1. Chris says:

    Danielle, you said a mouthful!

    From the first contact, the relationship is formed. Either they sell you on you’re being a “flunky” or you sell them on your worth as an asset. Once The die is cast it becomes difficult to change perceptions.

    I agree it can be a disadvantage to be viewed as an “assistant” but only if we allow clients to frame an assistant to be a commodity they can get anywhere.. Assistance is leverage and leverage gets results.

    Administrative consultants is by far the better frame for clients to view our services.

  2. Yes, you definitely don’t want to be viewed as a commodity. And that’s where a lot of people go wrong in their marketing–they keep focusing clients and the marketplace on free this, discounts that, don’t pay this, don’t pay that. They create and attract that mindset in clients as a result.

    But the other component is about education and creating an alignment of understandings and expectations. I assist–everyone who is in business assists their clients. That doesn’t make me an assistant any more than an attorney or an accountant or a web designer or a what-have-you is an assistant.

    And I don’t want clients viewing me as an assistant because that’s what I am and not how I work with them. They need to understand that they are hiring someone with a specific expertise to help them, but I am not going to be answering their phones, managing their emails or in any other way dealing with their personal affairs. My expertise is administrative support, not being an assistant. I point that out because I want people to understand that there is a difference and it can mean the difference between you earning well (both financially and in terms of time and freedom) and earning poorly while being chained to what amounts to a J-O-B.

  3. There was an article on Lifehacker recently that had me going “yup, yup!” to: Stop Being So Damn Productive: http://lifehacker.com/5867102/stop-being-so-damn-productive

    In particular, it spoke about a study where:

    “The study found that despite putting in the same amount of measurable work (hours spent) those at the very top report being significantly less busy than those who are merely near the top. They also report having heaps of free time and generally having a rather easygoing lifestyle. And yet, they significantly outperform those who are constantly busy and under pressure.

    This is my business and life to a T and I attribute that specifically to the fact that I long ago quit trying to be an assistant and started focusing specifically on being an administrative expert. That focus allows me to run a very simple, stress-free business that affords me tons of free time and flexibility. I don’t get pulled in all directions because I’m not trying to be a gopher.

    So while I’m having all kinds of fun and free time for life while also running a very successful business (mind you, with a very small, select client base and not having to employ hordes of other workers or subcontractors), others are working round the clock chasing after everything with a pulse and trying to be and offer anything and everything to anyone willing to pay (i.e., jack of all trades and poor, mediocre master of none)–and reducing their perceived value in the process.

    Translation: Clients value and expect to pay experts well; they expect to pay gophers peanuts.

    Expert = Someone with a clear, specific area of expertise, the one specific thing you are in business to do; your category of business. Example: Administrative support is a very specific, narrow field of expertise, just like web design or graphic design or copywriting, etc., are their own professions and categories of business.

    Gopher = Jack of all trades. Someone who tries to do everything or too many things (“I’m a copywriter, web designer, graphic designer, bookkeeper, administrative accountant who also does concierge.”). Anyone who frames themselves as an assistant. Whether you like it or not, clients will always view you as their subservient servant rather than an administrative expert if you call yourself an assistant. And that wrong perception WILL affect their expectations and understandings in ways that don’t support you in doing well financially and in supporting clients.

  4. This was just the kick in the pants I needed to do that revamp of my website I’ve been putting off. Thanks for the motivation and the straight up talk, Danielle!

  5. My pleasure–glad to help 🙂

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