While you may work virtually from a location of your choosing and you may assist someone in their business, I’m willing to bet the bank that you do so much more than the phrase “virtual assistant” actually conveys. It’s such a broad umbrella term, sometimes misused and frequently misunderstood. So much so that many virtual assistants don’t even use the term themselves.
Maybe you’re a bit more focused than a general assistant. You might be a content editor, a transcriptionist, a proofreader, a social media manager, …. Even if you’re a general virtual assistant who does many tasks, you’re probably covering more ground than the term suggests.
Virtual team member is probably more accurate, or remote helper, or some other variation and combination of words. I’m not sure how or why “virtual assistant” became the term that stuck and covered everything like a blanket, but it’s what people look for when they need help with tasks in their business. Add to the situation the fact that artificial intelligence assistants like Alexa, Cortana, and Siri are also being referred to as virtual assistants in some contexts and now it’s even more broad and possibly even confusing for those who are seeking your help.
Over the last few years of helping people get started I’ve noticed that many struggle in those early days with deciding what they want their job title to be, or more accurately the phrase they’ll use to present themselves to potential clients out in the world, the phrase that best says what they do and how they can help.
So what should you call yourself?
Let’s look at a few popular titles that are being used around the web and that clients will likely recognize when they’re looking for help…
Virtual Assistant: A general assistant who helps with a variety of tasks, either on a retainer or project basis. If you’re not sure what your main focus is yet or you’re unsure if you want to niche down, this is still a good starting title to go by. It’s easily recognized and understood in many industries by potential clients who might need your services.
Project Manager: As the name suggests, PMs are project focused. They help plan and delegate. They’re there to help on the big projects that make you feel like you need a clone. This person might oversee a team or part of a team, they delegate and assign tasks to others, and take some day to day things off your plate so you can focus your attention in the most important of the project and do what you shine at while they handle the little details and things that pop up along the way. They might be with you for one project or maybe you reserve time with them recurring basis to help with multiple projects.
Online Business Manager: Similar to what you might think of as an assistant manager in a physical store. They can help you manage the day to day of business for the long term. They can help you figure out where your business gaps are, help you find and acquire new team members, keep an eye on your metrics, work with the project manager to make sure things are on track, etc…. Generally speaking, OBMs are like the magic puzzle solvers of the online business world, they see the pieces and know where they need to go to make a complete picture in the most efficient way possible. Many OBMs also have connections with virtual assistants and other team members that you may need to connect with, so they can help you in that way as well.
Social Media Manager: Focused on all things social media, managing accounts and brand presence online for others. Taking existing content and repurposing it into social content, monitoring social channels, and growing a following are all things that a social media manager does, as well as staying up to date on trends and keeping an eye on social metrics.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg, so I’m calling in some reinforcements to help me out here…
I asked my lovely and smart friends what their thoughts were about the term virtual assistant and what terminology they’ve come to embrace. Here’s the note I sent them and their responses following below.
Stephanie Watson-Barry of Barry Publishing added:
The term virtual assistant encompasses a lot of different niches. Virtual is how you do your work, and “assistant” is what we really are no matter what we do for our clients. We are assisting them with their business. It’s a term people still use when they’re looking for help even if it’s not entirely inclusive. It is an important search term.
I disagree with the various definitions that try to say that a VA only does “admin work” An Administrative VA does Admin work, a Graphics VA does graphics, a Social Media VA does social media. The point is to use terms that help your audience find you and then define your niche in a way that best describes what it is you really do.
Therefore, I believe virtual service providers or virtual assistants should call themselves what they believe will work to attract their ideal clients. Without worrying about the term other than as a search term. I plan, organize, and create effective content strategies. Therefore, I call myself a Content Strategist, but I also consider myself a VA due to how I perform my duties.
Christina Lemmey of Multimedia Content Solutions shared:
I am leaning away from using VA because that has a tendency to mean admin tasks and/or cheap rates to clients. A friend in the biz suggested Multimedia Content Specialist, which seems more accurate to me.
When Christina says moving, she means literally; from MultimediaVA.com to her newly branded MultimediaContentSolutions.com
Alicia Jay from New VA Advice said:
Choosing a name and title for your VA business is one of those places where many new online business owners get stuck. I personally think it’s okay to use the term “virtual assistant.” But what is more important is that you make it clear with your name and title what you do, and make sure it attracts your target market.
For example, maybe for you, the term “virtual assistant” makes the most sense. But you could also use things like “strategist” or “manager” if it resonates more with your ideal client.
Make sure not to get too specific with your name in case you decide to offer different services in the future. For example, let’s say you choose “Mary’s Social Media Services,” but then in two years, you decide that you really want to offer project management services. Now you’re looking at a full rebrand, which is not impossible, but it’s something to think about.
Never underestimate the power of a great tagline to really make things clear. Then you can go with a simpler business name, perhaps using your own name, but add a catchy tagline.
Cindy Bidar of Virtually Thriving added:
This is something I’ve struggled with for a long time. At first I used the term Virtual Assistant (or just VA) because it was easy. My market understood it, and if they were looking to hire, that’s the term they used as well.
But in the past couple of years, the term has taken on a different connotation. Now when I hear business owners talk about a virtual assistant, they’re most often referring to low-cost, off-shore team members who are frequently employed by a large firm. Because my services are at the higher end of the cost scale, this has caused some confusion for potential clients, and left me in search of a better title for myself.
I settled on Online Business Manager, because it best represents what I do, my market understands the term, and it sets a certain expectation regarding the cost. But there are many, many titles I and other Virtual Assistants could adopt as well:
And then there are the titles that work equally well both online and off, such as transcriptionist, bookkeeper, executive assistant, research assistant, customer service manager, and others.
In the end, what you call yourself will come down to two things: What title will resonate with your ideal client, and what best describes what it is you do.
Is virtual assistant the right job title for you?
Add your thoughts in the comment section.