Why It Might Be Time to Get Rid of the Term Virtual Assistant

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Say the phrase “virtual assistant” and you’re bound to get lots of reactions and questions. But is the phrase truly accurate or has it come to mean something else? Learn more about how the term has grown over the years and how to avoid confusion in the future.

My kids gave me this little gizmo for Christmas.

virtual assistant

It’s called the Google Home Assistant and once you connect it to your home Wifi, you can ask it and tell it to do all sorts of things. My youngest son, who has autism, has gotten a real kick out of saying, “Hey, Google, what’s the weather?” Even my technologically-challenged uncle asks Google for the weather forecast and sports scores.

When I started working from home in 2007, I called myself a virtual assistant.

But Houston - we have a problem.

The Google Assistant, Alexa, Cortana, Siri - they are all referred to as “virtual assistants.”

definition of virtual assistant


Do you see where potential clients might be confused if you call yourself a virtual assistant?

When VA Networking’s Tawnya started working virtually way back when, she coined the phrase “virtual assistant.”

But Alexa, Siri and the whole lot didn’t exist then.

So, is it time to retire the phrase, “virtual assistant” and use another phrase to describe what you do for clients virtually?

What others are saying

Susan over at The Techie Mentor describes virtual assistant as an industry and not a title and goes on to say:

“If you need a title for your business card or an event, use something related to the services you offer. For example: Email Marketing Manager, Transcriptionist, Social Media Specialist, etc.”

Loretta at the VA Helper asked a few veteran online service providers (or virtual assistant, if you’re truly insistent on using the phrase) what they thought. You can read their thoughts here.

What do I think personally?

I think the term “virtual assistant” means something totally different now than what it did back when I started. It’s a good starting point but it leaves too many questions hanging out there.

Let me give you an example of how meanings of words/phrases can change.

My boys use the term “lit” often. As in, “that game was lit.”

And let me tell you, when I first heard them use that phrase, I blew my stack.

Because back in my day, “lit” did not have a good meaning. It meant “high or drunk.”

But the meaning of “lit” has changed over the years. And once they explained it to me, I understood the context.

So, you can go on using the term “virtual assistant” when you’re explaining what you do to your friends, family and more importantly, potential clients.

But be prepared to go into detail to talk about what exactly you do.

 Here are some more posts to help you in your journey.

5 Free Ways to Find Clients

19 Things New (and Old) Virtual Assistants Must Know

4 Ways to Market your Business without a Website

7 Terms You Need to Know if You’re a Virtual Assistant

Real Talk about Being a Virtual Assistant

A potential client may tell themselves they need a “virtual assistant.” But when they dissect and evaluate their pain points (not having a clue about how to create read-worthy newsletters, for example), what they really they need is an “Email Marketing Assistant.”

See the difference?

My suggestion?

Come up with a title that is clear and to the point about the services you offer and who you help.

If someone were to stop you in the street and ask you, what do you do - what would you say?

“I’m a virtual assistant.”

Well, that could be a lot of things. It doesn’t say a lot, now does it?

But if you said, “As an Email Marketing Assistant, I help online business owners create newsletters their audience wants to read” - well, that’s sayin’ something.

My girl, Madelaine, isn’t a virtual assistant. She’s a “Super Sidekick!” Oh my gosh, I love it! I can just imagine her and her team, swooping in with superhero capes, saving the day for their clients. And let me tell you, she’s kicking butt and taking no prisoners - her clients are attracted to the idea of having a “sidekick” - a bonafide partner in their business - to help them in their journey.

Whatever you choose to call yourself, make sure it sends a clear message to a potential client.

Does your title describe, in full detail, what services you offer? Or will a client have to ask more questions to find out what you do?

Clients don’t have that kind of time. They want (and need) someone right away. Don’t make it hard on them to learn what you do or hard on yourself by not being able to give a clear explanation of what you do.

If you’re stuck and need some ideas other than “virtual assistant,” here you go!

Administrative support specialist

Virtual Partner in Crime (yes, I’ve seen this one!)

Virtual Sidekick

Online service provider

Online Business Manager

Online Project Manager

Personal Assistant

Social Media Manager

What are your thoughts? Has the term “virtual assistant” outlived it usefulness? Or is is still alive and kicking? Are titles even important? I’d love to hear your thoughts so feel free to comment below.

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