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Tawnya Sutherland

What is a Virtual Assistant (VA)?

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I've decided it is time to do an overhaul on our definition at VAnetworking.com for a Virtual Assistant. Our industry is changing just like other service industries and we need to keep on top of our definition so we can educate the public about us. Every now and then we'll need to as a whole revise our definition of what a VA is.

 

For example, secretaries used to take shorthand. Shorthand is now something of the past with tape recorders and microphones taking it's place. Soon voice recognition software will even do away with transcription. As secretaries evolve, so do Virtual Assistants.

 

Here's our revised definition and I'd love your constructive feedback.

 

Please go here to read it at our website: http://www.vanetworking.com/clients/what-is-a-virtual-assistant/

 

This rewording stems from a few things that have occurred this past month:

 

1. A discussion in my Virtual Assistant LinkedIN Group that concerns me. Many VAs are of the mindset that they don't want to devalue themselves by calling themselves a VA anymore. They are leaning towards other terms like Virtual Professional, Virtual Associate, Online Business Manager, Service Provider, Personal Assistant, etc.

 

My thoughts with this are, why try to reinvent the wheel all over again with another new term we call oursevles? It too will ultimately become diluted and will have to be reinvented as well. I feel it is better to stay with a term that the public is already beginning to grasp. It's more effort to re-educate people on a new term than it is a term already in existence.

 

Many VA organizations and groups have spent time and energy establishing the term Virtual Assistant for us. It's always cheaper and more efficient to retain the status quo with modifications than to come up with a whole new term and have to start all over again.

 

2. I've went to a few conferences the past couple of months and I've noticed that business entrepreneurs attending there now don't look at me bug-eyed when I mention the phrase "Virtual Assistant". Instead, they say either "yes I have one" or "I've heard about how a VA can help me and I'd like to learn more". What a change from a few years ago when I used to get "What the heck is a VA???". The public is starting to become aware of the Virtual Assistant industry. Now it is our time to educate them on what it is.

 

3. I've had a few new VAs come to me saying that many of the definitions (including our old one) were too hard to remember and not simple to trip off the tip of their tongues at networking meetings. I wanted an easy definition that is simple to remember and in a nutshell tells people that a Virtual Assistant is someone who virtually assists them with their business needs.

 

4. Just like secretaries in the corporate world, Virtual Assistants can do more than just type anymore. We can do database management, autoresponders, social media, website maintenance...some of us are Jackie-of-all-trades anymore! We aren't just doing administrative work anymore to help a business succeed. We are evolving!

 

Look forward to your feedback!

 

Tawnya

 

PS: I challenge all of you to be proud of who we are (Virtual Assistants) and stand behind the makers and shakers of this industry who spent years bringing this term to the limelight.

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I think the reason the definition of "virtual assistant" is starting to shatter is that it's starting to be shorthand for cheap, low quality, call centre/cattle shed type outsourcing. People want to distance themselves from that and define themselves as high quality, good value, experienced freelancing. Should there be a definition of the term "virtual assistant" which includes a commitment to quality and certain standards? Certainly.

 

Which is why www.VACertified.com is such a good thing for VAs. We can't stop the term from being used to describe these services, but we can make there be a standard which all VAs get behind that quality marks what we're doing.

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I like the new definition. I'm proud to be a virtual assistant and certified through VAcertified. I have worked hard to get my VA business up and running. Eventually I will be able to do this full-time. After all this I wouldn't dream of calling myself anything else. Anyone who uses cheap, low quality VA's soon discover the error of their ways.

VA's rock! B)

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I've just seen this as a handful of VAs having this conversation Tawnya and most are new to the industry. I don't believe they have any idea how big our industry is or how far widespread. I don't know if they know of all the VA organisations out there, the VA conferences and events and other things. Like the public, they need educating too about our industry.

 

In the early days I hated the name because it did come hot on the heels of 'virtual reality' and I wanted people to know I was real and not make believe. However I believe we are well past those days. Our biggest challenge in recent years is getting people past the misconception that a VA is 'cheap' thanks to some ill informed people out there who have written books and other very public articles about how they use a VA. Most of those writers don't even understand the concept of having a VA for life, thinking they can pick one up, use one and discard whenever they want.

 

I have proudly served clients for well over 10 years in long-term working relationships as their Virtual Assistant and they have told many others about me and about my team. That's what a VA truly is - someone who supports a client virtually over a long-term basis and becomes the right-hand of that business. They are truly virtually assisting a business owner.

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This is not new - and a topic I blogged about in June 2009 - What's in a Name.

 

I agree with Caroline that the term is being diluted by cheaper operators (thanks Tim Ferris). But as I say in that blog:

 

A quack is a quack, not a medical practitioner and the medical profession didn't stop calling themselves doctors just because someone started selling snake oil.

 

I've also recently seen 'virtual assistant' used to describe an online solution which effectively was an online collaboration site with email, vmail, fax, and document storage facilities.

 

I agree - and have always maintained - that education is the key. However, I prefer to include the word 'remote' when describing my services. I think misunderstanding can be caused by using the word 'virtually' since it means 'almost' or 'nearly' and I prefer clients to know that I'm not going to miss the mark when doing their work. We more correctly provide our services 'remotely' from clients so Tawnya you might want to consider changing that last 'virtually' to 'remotely'. :naughty:

 

In the meantime I don't believe we should be titling ourselves differently. You can be sure that if we start using something else, someone somewhere will decide THEY want to use it and we're back at square 1. Unfortunately we can't trademark the name but nor should we change it. Educate, educate, educate.

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I have been told by many people lately to think about changing my title from VA to something more on the line of consultant etc...personally I am happy to still call myself a VA who specializes in XXXX.

 

The reason: Even in my short time in this industry I have seen the shift from "A what??" to "Oh yes, a VA" - people are understanding that term and no matter what specialty you have the term Virtual Assistant is becoming more recognized and for that reason I think I will let my title remain and differentiate myself by my specific skills.

 

When people call me out of the blue or send in an email for a consult I ask - How did you find me. Inevitably the answer is "I googled Virtual Assistant (sometimes in Nova Scotia or with social media skills) and you came up."

That is why I am sticking with VA

 

I do like this new definition as well. Short and to the point, the only words I am unsure of (and don't yell!) are 'highly trained' because that may not be the case for everyone (no offense intended anywhere)

 

And Lyn! I knew I liked you!!! I borrowed 'his' book from the library and returned it without finishing. A bunch of hooey from someone who thinks very highly of himself.


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I agree wholeheartedly with most of the posts here today. We need to stick with Virtual Assistant as it is now becoming more widely known, and changing it now would be reinventing ourselves.

 

'A Virtual Assistant (VA) is a highly-trained independent professional that assists with business support services virtually.'

 

I like this definition, with Cathy's changes: take out highly trained (could use 'experienced'), and take out virtually using remotely in its place.

 

If someone has a real problem with Virtual Assistant on their website, they might add the word Professional, making it Virtual Assistant Professional.

 

Their website will further explain their business management skills or whatever else they do, but the term Virtual Assistant should stay. If we changed, whatever would happen to VANetworking or IVAA, etc.

 

Just my 2 cents worth.

Patty P

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At a meeting at my home today one of the VAs said that 'Virtual Assistant' describes what we are and not what we do, because we all do so different things.

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I agree with the comments that have been posted that state that we need to keep calling ourselves VAs.

 

I believe that we also have to realize that there are others out there who ride on the coat tails of VAs by calling themselves a VA because they work in another location. Unfortunately every industry have those who misuse or take advantage of their industry.

 

An example would be auto mechanic. Would I trade my auto mechanic to use someone who is way cheaper than mine? No, because I know that I am getting value and service from my auto mechanic. I do not know the cheaper mechanic and he/she may take shortcuts that will cost me more in the long run. I trust my auto mechanic to let me know if there is something that needs to also be addressed while they are working on my car. Because doing it with another service would have a lower labor rate now (and possibly not having to find a tow truck when the vehicle breaks down because I didn't have that done). I also know that my auto mechanic will always let me know what needs to be done before doing the service and letting me know the consequences of "letting it ride". They also do not push items that do not need to be done at that time.

 

The same is with these "cheaper" VAs. I believe that some of them have not taken the time to determine what their costs should be because they just want the money now. Then when the client comes back, they will inform the client that it will cost the client this amount. Because what the client now wants was not included originally. These VAs do not take the time to know their client or understand their needs.

 

I believe that when we educate others about what we do as VAs, we also let them know that there are others who call them VAs but do not perform the level of service that we perform. So while their rate may be cheaper in the long run, the client will have more frustration, higher costs and be less likely to use a VA in the future. You can also remind your potential client about their business and why would a customer want to go with another business who was "cheaper"?

 

Tawnya --like the new definition. Will you be making any additional changes??

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I like the new definition. The only thing I question is the adding virtually at the end. Yes, that is typically how we work, but for some reason it reads funny to me - almost like it is redundant.

 

As for changing the word Virtual Assistant itself: How I classify myself depends on the audience I am with. Most of my clients call me their Virtual Business Manger. They do this because they feel I am more than an assistant to them. I did not change this on my own, it was actually my clients who took it upon themselves to call me that.

 

Now, if I am out networking, then I will say I am a VA, simply from the fact of what others have said - the public is now aware of our industry.

 

I'm sure the same goes for those that call themselves OBMs (Online Business Managers). They do this because most of them work with clients who are Online Marketers - they get that type of language.

 

I think you need to look at the industry you are working in and find the terminology that they will understand.

 

Just my 2-cents.

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One thing we have to remember is that our industry is very new. As Kathy said we are making progress but we aren't there yet ... we still have a bit of educating to do. I have noticed that in most cases the deer in the headlights look is gone, but we still need to keep talking about what it is that we do.

 

It really doesn't matter what you call yourself, it is how you perform the work for your clients. Everyone will have their preferences for quality and just as you may try 3 or 4 dentists before you find the one you love and meets your needs because not everyone lives to the same standards. We cannot change the fact that people out there with lesser skills may start a Virtual Assistant business and may tarnish our reputation, but hopefully with the introduction of some of the standards we have brought forward, we can educate people what a "qualified" Virtual Assistant should look like.

 

I agree that most people find me because they are looking for someone that is a Virtual Assistant. If I called myself something else they might not find me. It's just a name.

 

Moving forward we must educate what potential clients should be looking for in a Virtual Assistant and we must educate Virtual Assistants to put value in what they do. Once these two things are accomplished it won't matter what others around us are doing.

 

On a final note I think that highly skilled are important words to include as each of us are highly skilled in the areas that we are niching ourselves otherwise without these skills we will never find success. Our clients should be able to depend on the fact that we do know what we are doing and we can walk the walk, not just talk the talk. If you don't have the skills to back what you are offering you shouldn't be in this business.

 

Okay getting off my soap box now (LOL)!!

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HI,

 

I just wanted to add my support. I am extremely proud to be called a Virtual Assistant. As an Instructor for new VAs at Red Deer College's Virtual Assistant Certificate Program, our students spend approximately 2 years in training just to meet the high standards of what it means to be a Virtual Assistant. They literally strive to be able to call themselves, Virtual Assistants. I couldn't image reinventing the wheel, we've made such huge leaps with this term.

 

Just my 2 cents!

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Great feedback so far. Your points have won me over to change "virtually" to "remotely" and I've changed that in our definition.

 

I'm still not convinced to change "highly-trained" to something else yet.

 

This definition is for all of you, please give us your constructive criticisms so that we can turn this definition into something that will work for you. Remember, we want it SIMPLE and easy to say. I've seen too many VAs go blubbery at networking meetings trying to explain this long convoluted phrase of what they do. I want to make it easy for you to remember to memorize and remember this definition at the drop of a hat!


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Actually our industry is not still 'very new'. It's in its teen years and heading towards adulthood. It's been an industry since around 1997/98 so it's no longer in its infancy. But people are still finding out about us as their need arises for the services we provide. They come looking to see what there is and find our industry. I get people contacting me wanting to join my VA team. I have to laugh. They tell me they got this great idea about working from home and was looking to see what was on the web (or the Yellow Pages) and then discover there's a whole industry out there they didn't know existed!

 

The 'cheaper VAs' really are just virtual workers, mostly employed by agencies in the Asian countries. Those others who might call themselves VAs and charge cheaply are more hobbyists, they generally don't work fulltime or don't have the need to and are just looking for some extra funds.

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Instead of "highly trained" I'd say "highly skilled." Training per se is an issue unto itself ;) But if you're skilled you're skilled!

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