Do virtual assistants need a new identity?

When I launched my virtual assistance business fourteen years ago, not many people knew what a VA was and I found myself explaining my role on behalf of a new and emerging industry. 

Today, the title “virtual assistant” evokes many thoughts, feelings, judgments, and triggers. From non-human virtual assistants like Siri, Alexa, or other AI-generated “helpers,” to high-end and highly valued right-hand team members, to a market of low-cost, low-quality overseas VAs that have saturated the market and, in some cases, lowered the standards that highly qualified, founding or “veteran” VAs worked so hard to carve out and uphold. 

Now, I want to be careful about applying a broad brush to the overseas category. I know entrepreneurs (including fellow VAs) who work with offshore VAs who are amazing at what they do and produce quality work. Some are great at one thing and really should claim that title (editor, web designer, etc.), but promote themselves as a VA and end up falling short in the administrative or techie skills that the role requires. Or there are language barriers. Others do a lot of things very well and are hidden gems. Tim Ferriss turned business owners onto offshore VAs with his book, The Four Hour Workweek shortly before I started my business venture. The simple fact is a U.S.-based VA cannot charge what a VA in the Philippines charges. The economies of scale aren’t balanced as our cost of living in the U.S. is much higher. But it is a global market, and the services of a VA by definition are virtual, thus broadening the resource pool, saturating the market, and, in some cases, weakening the perceived value of a VA.

There are also U.S.-based VAs who undercharge for their services, sometimes it’s because they are trying to build experience and sometimes they need to learn to value their services.

Business owners will burn out without support and I believe a VA should be their first hiring decision. Once you decide you need support, so you can focus on what you do best, you want that support to be an experienced, proactive, committed professional who will show up with critical thinking and help with strategy and implementation. Company-specific processes can be learned, and sometimes specific software may come with a learning curve, but a valued VA will bring the skills and experience that immediately instill relief and confidence.  

What prompted this post is a couple of recent observations.

The first is a potential client who is currently working with an offshore VA (an agency employee). The potential client is overwhelmed and she cannot hide her frustration with the support she’s receiving. Or lack of support.

The second example came today as I listened to a business owner ask questions during a webinar. The product we’re learning about comes with its own VA, who will set up your contacts and do design work. They also call their VAs “gratitude consultants” or “kindness consultants” because of the type of product they’re helping with. The business owner asked about the term VA because he had worked with VAs (in the Philippines) and that was his reference and experience and it didn’t instill confidence for him. The title, “virtual assistant” was a trigger for him. The presenter assured him that he would work with her and her team of VAs, some of whom are located in the Philippines. And she went to bat for her team, saying they were amazing, and formed critical relationships with the business owners they were helping.

The business owner said, “Okay, I believe you, but the term virtual assistant doesn’t sit well with me. I like kindness consultant or something else.” 

Wow. That’s valuable feedback from both business owners. They are working or have worked with VAs who have soured their experience and are hesitant to work with VAs in the future. 

However, virtual assistants are as varied as there are people. Location, skills, experience, language, packages, value, results, agency employees or business owners. The title comes with a wide range of skills, experience, and potential help for business owners. 

Once the “kindness consultant” manager walked the business owner through their process and showed him that’s the same process all team members (VAs) follow, he was on board … but it opened my eyes to a potential weakening of the industry and how we’re perceived. He wanted the same experience – the same results – with someone who had any title other than virtual assistant. 

I find that I am now sometimes asked to prove myself to potential clients with long, unpaid assessments to ensure I’m the “real deal” because of their past experiences. As a business owner, I don’t necessarily need to put myself through that, yet I understand why potential clients want to test for skills before committing to an assistant. 

Now that I no longer need to explain what a virtual assistant is, I find that I need to defend the industry – the high-end, thorough, highly skilled, and experienced business owners who have years (or decades) of administrative or marketing or tech or copywriting experience before transferring their skills to an online environment. And continually learning new skills as technology advances.

We are skilled professionals, yet has the title “virtual assistant” become a cause for pause? Between lackluster support experiences and the term being confused with AI-related help, does the title fully express what a VA is and can be to an overwhelmed and floundering business owner? 

If a highly-skilled VA is great with creating funnels and writing copy, or managing memberships and social media – should she choose a specific title related only to those skills? Then those who are looking for a virtual assistant won’t find her. What title do we market our services under to show up for our ideal clients? 

I think the answer is twofold:
1) We need to reclaim the “Virtual Assistant” title and ensure we provide unmatched value.
2) Business owners, you need to do your research. Just like when seeking help from any professional (plumbers, attorneys, dentists, etc.), do your due diligence when looking to onboard a virtual assistant.

How do you find your valuable, amazing support person? I’ve got you! Download this checklist for Finding Your Right Fit VA.

What are your thoughts? Business owners and/or virtual assistants … has the title “virtual assistant” created obstacles or opportunities for you? Connections or consternation? 

 

 

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