4 Reasons I Hate the Term “VA”

by Erica Cosminsky

Ok, before you smack me, let me set this straight. I LOVE my VA. Couldn’t live without her. It’s the “term” and the psychological implications that I have issues with.


1. Like the term “secretary”, which has a lot of baggage and has become uncouth, the term assistant has latched on to many of the same negative issues. In a corporate structure, the “administrative assistant” is often looked down on or considered a low-paying, entry level job. Usually these positions are over-worked, and vital to business.

Consider the “Secretary of State” or “Secretary of Defense”. They are the heads of their respective departments and frankly some of the most powerful people in the world. Secretary here is used to mean something different.

2. For someone who has no experience with a VA, using the term Virtual Assistant immediately locks the mind into an image of someone who answers the phone and opens mail.

Often the first issue I work with my clients on is that they don’t know what tasks to give their VA. Instead of thinking of them like a receptionist, they need to see them as an invaluable partner who can do tasks:

  • Writing
  • Transcription
  • Newsletter Management
  • Proofreading and Editing
  • Social Media Management
  • Website Management (Content Posting and Updates)
  • Preparing Event Information
  • Email and Appointment Management
  • Managing Client Database
  • Graphics

3. When you think of having a VA, psychologically the brain starts to look for one “perfect” suitor.
Come on. We all know perfect doesn’t exist. By looking for one person to fill all of the would-be-nice-to-have tick boxes, you may be eliminating a phenomenal person for other tasks. When looking for an assistant, if you find someone who clicks with your business, why would you not bring them on, even if you have to one-off a single task to another person.

I’d love for you to bring into your mindset that there is no reason you can’t have more than one helper.

4. So I know for SEO reasons “virtual assistant” is a commonly searched term. VA is horrible. Seriously if you don’t believe me check out The Department of Veteran’s Affairs stronghold on the results for “VA” (at least in the US).

Being creative with titles frees your helper. Before I sold my transcription company, I had a project manager that helped me with various tasks like returning files, proofreading, etc. I could have called her my “assistant” but would she have taken on such a leading responsible role in my business? I originally hired her as a “proofreader”. The day I changed her title she became more empowered to get results.

There’s no reason that you can’t call your assistant something else within your own business. If you hire an exclusive assistant, give them a fun title.

Titles of Empowerment

Whether you choose to actually give your VA a new title, think of how great it would be to approach this relationship as one that will lend itself best to skyrocket your business potential. Imagine giving your assistant a list and later that day the tasks are just done (correctly!).

Now I don’t mean give her the passwords to everything including your bank account on the first day. But after building a solid relationship with her you should be comfortable with her logging in to your accounts and doing things on particular assigned days. Most VAs keep up with things so if you need something done on the same day every month, it just happens.

I asked my assistant what she thought the strongest thing she brought to the table was and she said her integrity and honesty. I have to say I totally agree with her. She’s honest with me if I give her a task she can’t do and on the other hand, if I send her something for feedback, she sends me more substance than “oh it was good.” I’m also always amazed at what she can do in 2 hours. I always expect to be running out of prepaid time because of all she’s gotten done!
It’s time to stop hesitating! So tell me what mental blocks you have about hiring an assistant or toward turning him or her loose on working in your business.




Erica Cosminsky is an HR Business Strategist for small businesses. She can slog through the pile of applicants and help deliver the best assistant to your “office door”, she transforms mile long to-do lists into manageable bites, and like your best friend after a raging party, she sticks around to offer assistance or clean up any messes, etc.

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7 Replies to “4 Reasons I Hate the Term “VA””

  1. Bruce Sallan (@BruceSallan)

    I come from the days when “secretary” was not a bad word, though it always had some sort of negative connotation. I had plenty or secretaries in my former career. After the whole Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill mess and the over-reaction to that and the craziness that followed with the advent of sexual harassment training and such, I STOPPED hiring female secretaries as I just didn’t want the hassle.

    Now, I have a VA – coincidentally a guy – and a “team” that help me in my endeavors though I’ve not met IRL one of ’em!

    It’s a different world…

    1. Erica Cosminsky


      I think you round-about-ly brought up another point that I like to make. It’s not a negative thing to be a secretary or a VA and it’s not bad for a man to be either. One of the best personal assistants I’ve ever had was a guy. He was awesome to have around. I really preferred to have him do my office shopping and he was great around my daughter. Years ago, all secretaries were men and did well at it.

      The stigma against secretaries and male assistants is just wrong.

  2. ShannonP

    Excellent article! Thank you.

    I love what you said about the titles of empowerment and how changing your proofreader’s title to Project Manager changed and improved the dynamics of the relationship.

    1. Erica Cosminsky

      As part of my grad school work, one of things that I continually find is that money isn’t typically as much of a motivator anymore. While, of course, it’s necessary, adding the components of an improved relationship dynamic can make the difference between a warm body and someone who is actually fulfilled by their work.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

  3. Michelle

    TOTALLY agree with you, Erica! I have so many thoughts here. A few of them:

    #1. The term “VA”/”virtual assistant” has also been co-opted by low cost outsourcing-to-India type companies – I was on the phone recently with a client and used the term VA, and it became very clear that what he meant when he said VA (that type of outsourcing to India agency) was different than what I meant when I said VA (a well-paid person to help you run your biz).

    #2. I think this ties in with your number one, above – but something about the term “assistant” makes people think that the gig is lower value and thus requires lower pay. I will NEVER forget this time, last year, when a business owner that I greatly admired put the word out that he was looking for help. The position was sort of a project manager/VA hybrid with an emphasis on customer support. I sent in an application for the position with a (what I thought) reasonable hourly price. (And I spoke to a few friends who submitted applications & they priced similarly, so I wasn’t an outlier.) If the public face of what this person puts forth as their profits is accurate, then they could pay the rate – let’s put it that way.

    So imagine my disappointment/disgust when a few days later, I see a tweet from this biz owner that says: “Reviewing applications. I find it interesting that some people seem to think what’s essentially a customer service position is worth $(x)/hr.” (“x” being the rate I quoted!)

    First off, the opposite of tact = discussing applicants and their rates in public, where they can see you.

    Second off, I feel like this is a really awful attitude to have towards people who are helping you out in your business – really, if you’re running a six figure plus business, why would you be cheaping out on the person that’s handling your customer service? Your customers & clients ARE your business. And this is the attitude I see a lot of people having with a VA – they’re kind of like “Oh, I want one, but I don’t want to pay more than $15/hour!” Yikes, y’all!

    I think there’s also a lesson here about being clear on what you want/need in a job position – essential for delegating well. ‘Cause when I read that job listing, it did not read as “essentially customer service”. (If I read the same job listing now, I’d probably say it was closer to an online business manager than anything else, actually!)

    Anyways, so that’s the longest comment ever, but in short – yes! Great post Erica and a great discussion that we as business owners need to be having.

    1. Erica Cosminsky

      Amen! It’s kind of like car washes. Sure you can get a $3 car wash but don’t expect it to be to the hand-dried and polished quality of a $25 car wash. Or a few weeks ago I bought an umbrella stand for my patio umbrella. People were dogging the $7 plastic stand from W-Mart for not lasting more than a year. Seriously they were expecting $70 quality for $7.

      Shocking that someone was so tactless to share quotes and his opinion like that openly. That is the exact mindset I am disgusted to see and he’s spreading it. You really get what you pay for, and as far as hourly rates go, I find that most higher priced services actually work faster and save you money.

      Most of my client works goes into being clear on job positions and descriptions- figuring out what your end goal is before delegating is SO important. Changing those key factors halfway through or after you’ve hired someone is a cardinal sin. Like I mentioned about my VA- if I try to expand and ask her to do a new task and she simply isn’t the right person for it, she tells me. I posted on my blog a few weeks ago about a client who was a graphic designer but was taking on bookkeeping tasks and basically any thing thrown his way rather than saying no I’m not a good fit for this. I know we’ve all been there, but focusing on what we are really good at is why we ARE worth the rate we charge.

      I could go on and have the world’s second largest comment but my point is people need to get past that derogatory, lower-life-form mindset towards their assistants and realize how valuable they are to their customers and businesses.

    2. Loretta

      Michelle stole my comment ~LOL~ seriously, ditto what she said.

      VA is the new WAHM ~ the term is being devalued all over the web and people have this notion in their mind of someone they can underpay and load a ton of work onto. It’s truly frustrating. We need to make up a new word for what we do.

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