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Should You Call Yourself A “Virtual Assistant”? Could Industry Changes Be Causing Us To Question Our Title?

Michelle Dale - Monday, February 28, 2011
I have seen a lot of debates between virtual assistants going around the Internet in forums, LinkedIn groups, Facebook fan pages, blogs, plus other social media and networking sites about the term “Virtual Assistant”, and whether you should be calling yourself this. To anybody considering changing their title, here is my take on it…

There are many other common terms used for providing service assistance online in addition to “virtual assistant,” such as “online business manager,” “online business consultant,” “administrative consultant,” “executive assistant,” “executive virtual assistant,” “online personal assistant” to mention just a few, these are all fine, and if you feel your level of skill, type of services or business model is better suited to a title other than virtual assistant, then why not go for it? But ask yourself, why do you feel the need to change? Have you had a personal experience with a client or potential client which has led you to believe that the term “virtual assistant” isn’t an accurate representation of your work? Do you believe variations on your title will have an impact on your business, or is what you do actually more important than what you call it? From experience, I have found in my business that actions always speak louder than words.

I still generally refer to myself as a virtual assistant, it’s what I have always used, and nothing can take away the fundamental fact that I am also an entrepreneur and a business owner. When I started researching working as a virtual assistant, it was not a commonly known term, however over the years, and with assistance of books like the 4 hour week, and sites like oDesk, business owners everywhere have come to recognise the name as perhaps something different than what many virtual assistants would like them to understand it as. Many individuals have many varied opinions on what being a virtual assistant is, and what it truly means. In actual fact, I don’t believe there is a right or wrong answer, as different words have different meanings to different people. That’s just life, culture and society.

It seems to me, that there are VA’s in this industry who are feeling undervalued not because of the title “virtual assistant,” but because the occupation has spread out across a global scale, and there are VA’s in places like India and the Philippines who have come into the VA scene to offer services which virtual assistants offer and they are calling themselves virtual assistants (it’s only logical – anyone providing assistance online should be able to call themselves a virtual assistant if they want to), they are also charging much lower rates because the cost of living is much lower in “offshore countries” – but I am still stumped as to why that would be a problem, does it make them any less capable of doing a good job? If anything, it will help business owners and start-ups who are unable or unwilling to invest their money into higher price point VA’s, so by having offshore VA’s it’s simply filling a gap in the market, thereby helping countless people, those providing and those receiving online services. When it comes to individuals requiring virtual assistant services, it’s their business, and they can do whatever they feel is best for them.

When I lived in the UK, the mortgage payment on my house alone was over £1000 per month, when I lived in Egypt I took a job that paid me 3500LE a month, it converted into £350, which was literally one of the highest paying jobs in the area I was living, enough for me to pay bills, shopping, go on holidays, eat daily at restaurants if I wanted — I lived incredibly well, and for the hours I put in, it worked out about £1.68 per hour (roughly $2.52), I never once felt like I was treated unfairly or undervalued, that was simply the going rate for the job I did out there, which was a personal assistant to the manager of a 4 star hotel, which was in fact part of an American hotel chain. This is just the economy, it was my choice to live there, and my choice to work for that amount of money, and I really loved that job, it worked well for me at the time.

Why Are You Considering Making The Change?

If you are considering changing your title, there are 2 reasons that I can see as to why you would want to do this, the first is for business reasons, and the second for personal reasons, so let’s explore these.

From a business perspective, this blog is all about matter-of-fact advice, so in keeping with this, I can honestly say I have actually never come across any documented evidence to prove that changing the “virtual assistant” title had an impact on the bottom line of a business alone – if it has, it could be that business has increased because of some sort of positive impact it has had on the business owner’s own self-confidence, perhaps because they feel more valued? But at the end of the day, your service is still the same. If it’s purely related to self-confidence, then I certainly fully support changing the title for personal reasons, a person’s feelings and mindset are extremely vital to the success of their business, do whatever will boost your confidence and make you happy, but if this is the case also ask yourself, why is your self-confidence low in the first place?

My Perspective

Virtual Miss Friday is a very successful virtual assistant company, that I have built from the ground up. Since my business has evolved from only me, and I have taken on a team to assist me with providing services to my clients, I have changed the tagline on my company website to “Online Business Consulting and Virtual Assistant Services” and making the change was only to indicate to potential clients and clients, that there has been a change to the structure of my business – that it has become much bigger, to show I will now work with them to guide and advise on best practices. After going through the learning process of working online with clients, I have far more personal experience, which is more beneficial to them as a result, and it’s also indicating that I now manage the work, and I have direct assistance from a team of (amazing) people who ensure that the work is carried out to an excellent standard.

Other than making the dramatic expansion of my business as obvious as possible to those browsing my website, I would of had no other reason to change. In my Bio I have stated I work as a “consultant and business manager” because these words best, and most accurately describe my role and primary focus within my virtual assistant business.

At the end of the day, I think analysing your name too much is not really necessary from purely a business perspective, and it could result in a waste of time, money and energy which could be focussed elsewhere – it’s mind over matter, and personally, I really don’t mind what anybody calls me, to most people I am just Michelle, but if they see me as a virtual assistant, online business manager, executive online assistant or a personal assistant, does it really matter? There is mutual respect in the relationships with my clients because of who I am as a person, who they are as individuals and our ongoing  interactions, not because of the title I call myself.

Seeing what I have seen over the last several years I have no doubt, that we will be seeing more new names crop up, and more VA’s wanting to brand themselves as anything but a virtual assistant, once the name change trend peaks, and the industry evolves further, there will be another term or title people will want to use to separate themselves from certain sectors of the industry, or from being an “assistant”, it seems an expensive, time-consuming transition, which could possibly result in little or no return on investment — for me, I am sticking with what has worked for me up until now, and is still working for my business.

Every client is different, and if you feel for any reason whatsoever undervalued by someone because of how they perceive a name, or a title, then simply don’t engage with them, it’s just one of those things, and in the bigger picture, the opinions of those people count for very little. If you feel that by changing your name you will have more confidence presenting your business to clients and potential clients, then I think that’s a fantastic idea, like I said earlier, in such as situation I would definitely encourage the change, because confidence is essential in this industry, but never forget that the most important part of doing what we do is through our actions, the quality of work we provide, and our dealings with clients and colleagues. From my own personal experience, this, along with down-to-earth honesty, across-the-board fairness and a strong sense of personal integrity — is what actually makes a truly successful virtual assistant business.

For those of you wanting to change purely from a business perspective, if a client told me to jump off a bridge, I wouldn’t do it, if they told me that being a virtual assistant meant I should work for less than what I charge or feel I am worth, I wouldn’t do it… Negativity breeds contempt, so always try to stay positive, it’s much healthier and far more productive, focus your energy on your business development and relationships, rather than on your title, and if an insignificant portion of the population will judge you because of it, those people are just not worth getting upset over…

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Hi I'm Michelle, an entrepreneur specialising in virtual assistance, a digital and real world nomad, and a down-to-earth mother of three.

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