Do We Need More Than the Name Virtual Assistant?

I have a Google Alert set up for the term Virtual Assistant, and today’s alert brought me a link to an ABC News story on, you guessed it, Virtual Assistants.  I was excited at the possibility of a major news network shedding some light on our industry.  That was, until the video began.

First, it was obvious that the tasks that the piece was focusing on were “Personal Assistant” tasks, not what I consider ‘Virtual Assistant’ services.  And second, once again the dirt cheap aspect of going virtual was focused on, this time quoting $2 a task.  The results of using three services offering these low rates and personal assistant services were mixed.

Of course, since I know the Ask Sunday service utilizes overseas virtual assistants, I would suspect at the pricing quoted in the video, the other services mentioned might be as well.  I could do an entire post on why that can cause potential problems. But that’s not the point of this post.

The truth is, this video got me wondering if it was time for me to call myself something other than a ‘Virtual Assistant’.  Should I add something to it like “Virtual Technology Assistant” or “Virtual Office Management Assistant”?  Or maybe I should call myself something else altogether and abandon Virtual Assistant completely?

To be honest, this isn’t the first time I’ve contemplated this same question.  It’s actually come up a few times before, for me and other VA’s.  The more mainstream news media uses the term to describe virtual assistants as providing low cost,  low expertise type services, is it actually hurting my business to include myself under the same banner?

The difficulty in renaming myself is two-fold.  First, just what am I?  I provide both executive office assistant type services as well as WordPress and social media assistance.  Trying to describe all of that in one umbrella title is daunting.  And the second? Well, all of my marketing over the past three years was done under that Virtual Assistant banner.  All of the SEO goodness in my website and blog have focused on that term.

So is there another option?  Nothing easy, that’s for sure.  Perhaps if we could explain to the media that they have been painting virtual assistants with a limited brush stroke. Maybe then they would begin showing just how many different types of services are offered under the term ‘Virtual Assistant’ and the fact that there are onshore as well as offshore VA’s.

The former would require all of us assaulting the newspapers, television stations and other media with the facts, and it still might not make a difference.

There is no easy answer I suppose.  Neither is ideal. But I do know that something is going to have to change.  Virtual assistance is growing and more and more professionals are going to be using our services rather than hiring employees as the benefits of working remotely begins to make major changes in the way everyone does business.  What do you think?  How do you think we should address the problem?

Below: The video that prompted this post.

15 thoughts on “Do We Need More Than the Name Virtual Assistant?

  1. Tina you couldn't be more on the money with this post. I've debated several times over calling myself something else. Virtual Assistant just doesn't cut it. In fact, in my welcome letter to new clients I tell them, “although I am a Virtual 'Assistant', I hope as our relationship grows you will see me as a virtual partner…” We do so much more than what the word “assistant” encompasses. Yet the alternatives seem quite limited. Would love to know if other VAs have considered this and what term they are using to market themselves if they have moved away from the VA umbrella.

  2. Jackie, I think it's always in the back of my mind that the term 'Virtual Assistant' doesn't come close to the definition of just what I offer to my clients, but I've yet to find an alternative. I know some of our contemporaries have taken “Virtual Office Manager” but for me, that doesn't seem to fit either. It was part of the reason I branched out with my Girly Girl Geek services, because they just really didn't fall under that VA umbrella at all. I hope other virtual assistants will share their thoughts on this subject as well.
    Thanks so much for sharing!

  3. Great post, Tina! With Google alerts, I have seen so many different names used. We must accurately describe the services we offer, but we also need to pay attention to the key search words our clients will use in a Google search to locate us. What we choose to call ourselves should reflect the true value we provide our clients.

  4. I saw the same video in a Google alert that I have set up for Virtual Assistant also. I looked on ABC's website looking for an option of sending an email to no avail.

    Which would be the least of the two evils, to change our name or to continue informing the masses as to who and what we are.

    I think all VA's who read this post should write a similar post for their readers. Maybe we can get the word out that the video does not accurately represent our industry.

  5. I agree Cathy, the term brings a large portion of my readers here, so to abandon it would be out of the question (and rather silly). We're going to have to start adding a descriptive word to it I think, for example, Virtual Blog Assistant, Virtual Legal Assistant, etc. And we're certainly not the only industry to experience this, I believe it is part of growth. The same way the term Doctor now has identifiers for specialization, Virtual Assistants will be required to do the same.
    Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts on something that I think is an important topic for our industry.

  6. Hi Rita,
    You may be on to something. If enough of us posted about the narrow view, linking to the ABC video, it may get enough attention to get the network to look a little closer at the virtual assistant industry! Excellent thoughts, thanks so much for taking part in the conversation here. Be sure to let any other VA's you know that they can drop by and add their thoughts as well.

  7. Tina – this is exactly what I have realized in my research, and if ABC news and other news medias start painting this picture for us, it will only make our work harder. I decided to go with “Virtual Office Manager” early on in my business set up because I think it suits me and my services better. Rita has given an excellent idea which I think we should all run with. If we all start posting stories like this one, maybe we can make some headway in shedding some light on our industry.

  8. I think it is important for those who have the opportunity to point out the differences between those who charge low end rates and offer a lower level of expertise as compared to those who charge higher rates and offer a much higher level of expertise.

    It seems to me, especially in the United States, we complain about the outsourcing to overseas markets but we don’t complain to the right people. We have to be the ones to improve our life and in the process, perhaps, improve the lives of those who think differently. The unfortunate aspect is that we live in the U.S. where our cost of living is higher than in many countries where the cost of living is much lower. We may think they are being cheap to be cheap. It may be those rates are what the market will bear in their homes while those outside take advantage because of other things, like greed and selfishness.

  9. Hi, Tina…

    Thank you for opening a conversation about this.

    When I formalized the profession in ’97, I had specific definitions for what Virtual Assistance is/isn’t, and for what VAs do/don’t do. AssistU still holds to those definitions. I’ve always felt it important for us as an industry to have strong definitions because without them, I knew the public would end up defining who we are and what we do–and we wouldn’t like it very much.

    As we now know, VAs who have disagreed with me have proliferated the profession with a variety of definitions, *and* we’re not liking the confusion we’re seeing from potential clients, OR what the potential clients believe to be true (believe to be the definitions) about who we are and what we do.

    I still believe the only way to resolve it and for us to stand apart from what’s happening in offshoring is to create *one* strong position about it. Only then will we stand a chance of having people listen, and only then can we “correct” the media.

    Right now? We just keep shooting ourselves in the foot.

    A

  10. Hi, Tina…

    Thank you for opening a conversation about this.

    When I formalized the profession in ’97, I had specific definitions for what Virtual Assistance is/isn’t, and for what VAs do/don’t do. AssistU still holds to those definitions. I’ve always felt it important for us as an industry to have strong definitions because without them, I knew the public would end up defining who we are and what we do–and we wouldn’t like it very much.

    As we now know, VAs who have disagreed with me have proliferated the profession with a variety of definitions, *and* we’re not liking the confusion we’re seeing from potential clients, OR what the potential clients believe to be true (believe to be the definitions) about who we are and what we do.

    I still believe the only way to resolve it and for us to stand apart from what’s happening in offshoring is to create *one* strong position about it. Only then will we stand a chance of having people listen, and only then can we “correct” the media.

    Right now? We just keep shooting ourselves in the foot.

    A

  11. @AnastaciaBrice A year after I penned this post, I’m even more discouraged at the confusion over the term Virtual Assistant. Now it seems the media allows it to encompass computer generated support programs for large businesses. Even if we all stood strong together I’m not sure that the damage that has been done to the term could be reversed. Of course, getting the virtual assistant industry itself to create a united front seems pretty impossible, and until we can all put aside minor differences and unite on the major ones, the media outlets aren’t going to start differentiating or placing any emphasis on businesses like yours and mine.

    There are times when in order to come together for a great purpose individuals need to put aside their differences to accomplish something bigger. Until we are all willing to do that I believe that the term Virtual Assistant will continue to become bastardized and watered down until those of us who are still proud of using the term will have no choice but to abandon it.

  12. @TMarieHilton The terms has been used for more than a decade to describe one-number services and such. That doesn’t bother me, because we’re human, and that’s not 😉

    I agree with you about the industry–there will never be a cohesive and generally accepted definition. And people will absolutely abandon the term. Maybe that’s all part of growth and change. Maybe something better will come after this.

    All I know is that I’m listening, and I’m along for the ride. 🙂

    A

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