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When is a VA not a VA? When they are an OBM or SMM

By Emma Heuston, Founder and Principal Lawyer, The Remote Expert

I have been seeing a lot of different expressions in virtual assistant (VA) land of late. Most noticeably the terms Online Business Manager (OBM) and Social Media Manager (SMM).

Apart from a bunch of acronyms that are hard to remember, what does this mean?  Should you call yourself a VA or something else and what does it translate into in terms of the legal steps you need to take to set up and run your business.

Why the different terms?

Let’s start with unpacking those acronyms. I posed this question in the online Facebook group for service based business “Laptops and Lattes” and asked what members of the group understood by the terms and the variation between terms.

Lizzi Williams of The Invisible PA said though she had called herself a VA in the past, she is, “leaning more towards freelance PA instead”. The reason for this, cites Williams is that, “The term VA is so broad now, it’s an industry not a job title”.

Michelle Marks, the founder of the Facebook group Laptops and Lattes and the owner of LilyPad VA agreed, saying the term VA was, “like referring to someone as a tradie or a freelancer”.

That being said, Marks says she purposefully uses the term VA so she doesn’t limit herself, even though much of her work is in the graphic design niche.

Athena Ali of Athena Ali - Get Noticed Resumes doesn’t love the title VA because it is too general. Ali sees the location of the work and the way it gets done as irrelevant. In this regard, she says, “I think the term will have less meaning over time when that mode of work becomes a bit more “normal”.

The gig economy

In an unregulated industry, the term VA seems to be a catch-all title used to describe people who work from home or do not work in a face to face office but help other businesses with various services.

However, those who niche into specialties or want their title to more fully describe their particular niche do tend to use more specialised terms like “online business manager” or “social media manager” or even “virtual lawyer” in my case.

Because there are no regulations theoretically you could call yourself anything if it fits with your branding and the services you offer. As with most things remote and virtual work, the output of work and the results you get for a client are going to be what speaks to the client and gets you repeat business at the end of the day.

These terms, it seems, are about  market positioning and descriptive in a lot of cases about the type of work the service provider offers. They are also a usual way for clients to identify whether a specific service provider will meet their needs.

But how do you document all these different things?

We might have unravelled the acronyms. But how do client retainers get documented if there are all these names floating about? Do all of these different types of VA (using the catch-all term for convenience in this article).

The short answer is that it doesn’t have to be complicated. The one thing all these job titles have in common is that they are service based businesses. So, a service agreement is required.

That service agreement should then be specifically customised for the VA (or OBM or SMM) to cover off their key areas of specialties and exclude anything that the VA does not do.

For example, an online business manager might have very strict boundaries around tasks and actively exclude administration tasks. In that case, the scope of services in the OBM’s service agreement needs to make those boundaries clear so there is no expectation from the client that the OBM will manage their email replies or electronic filing.

But someone calling themselves virtual assistant might do a whole bunch of things, including social media management and administrative tasks.

Still clear as mud?

If you would like to chat more about what is needed in a service agreement, I offer free discovery calls. Book in here.

I also have information over on my VA page at the Remote Expert which you can find here.

About Me

I am a lawyer specialising in remote and agile work arrangements. By “remote work” I mean anything outside of the ordinary 9 to 5 corporate prison that Dolly Parton sung about. This could mean you are a solopreneur working from home. Or it could be that it is you plus a few in a co-working space. Or it might even mean you have a bricks and mortar business but hire a remote team who are spread around the place.

I have a specialist niche in virtual assistants, having developed specialised products for the virtual assistant community.

As a former remote worker turned virtual solopreneur lawyer, I know what works. Get in touch with me here.