One of the things we did at AssistU when we created the virtual assistance profession in the 90s was dismantle the traditional hierarchy of the Boss and assistant (Big B, little a). In its place, we created a relationship of equality–two professionals (one the client, one the VA) coming together in a long-term and collaborative relationship to primarily support the administrative and operational initiatives of the client. We’ve never, ever strayed from that, and our VAs are standing toe-to-toe with their clients, every day, and have been for nearly two decades.
But during that time, people and companies have emerged to create their own versions of what virtual assistance is, and what virtual assistants do, and most of them have done their best to reinstate the idea that clients are bosses and VAs are task-based minions. Because our traditional working roots are embedded in employment, that model feels comfy to lots of people, who prefer to embrace it. But administrative pros who never felt like they were fully able to contribute as employees and who wanted to go for their own brass rings? Not so much.
Daniel Pink, in his seminal book, A Whole New Mind, explains that ultimate value will be found in the right-brained, creative, critical thinking, soft skill laden, premium offerings, and the rest will be–sent overseas or automated. So no wonder people are feeling like they’re getting a good deal on their admin work from low-cost, task-oriented folks.
Sad, that, because the real power here for the client isn’t in working with a minion. It’s in the relationship with a strong professional with her own solid and profitable business—someone far more like the client than less. What she can bring to the table will always trump what task-doers bring to it.
And while I’ve been committed to the term we began this whole movement with (“virtual assistant”), I’ve also been looking for a smart way to more directly express the difference I see in what’s possible. More specifically, I’ve wanted to find a way to better express the role that AssistU VAs love to have in the lives and work of their clients. Over time, it came to me that “sidekick,” in all its lightness, really has some meat to it, too, and it might fit the bill.
In one of the most fun research projects I’ve undertaken in several years, I set out to make sure I was right about it and ended up fascinated by how perfect it actually was.
From the Bible and The Illiad to modern day novels, tv, movies, and comics, the sidekick has always played an important role in the life and journey of the “good guy.” who sometimes isn’t a “guy” at all. And while the majority of sidekicks through history and culture have been men, I was especially delighted to see strong women (or females) as proper sidekicks, especially since all the AssistU VAs are women. Consider Virginia Johnson (to Bill Masters), Pepper Potts (to Tony Stark), Hermione Granger (to Harry Potter), Agent 99 (to Maxwell Smart), Emma Peel (to John Steed), Trinity (to Neo), Elizabeth Swann (to Captain Jack Sparrow), Gabrielle (to Zena, Warrior Princess), Willow (to Buffy the Vampire Slayer), Susie (to Mrs. Maisel), Rose Tyler (to the Ninth and Tenth Doctor), Dory (to Nemo), George Fayne (to Nancy Drew), and Tinkerbell (to Peter Pan). Fun, and kick-ass, right? Who wouldn’t want a sidekick like one of these women (or fish and fairies)?
When you’re ready to take on the world, imagine having someone nearby (in heart, if not geographically) who:
- Keeps you on track
- Has your back
- Cheers you on while helping you stay humble
- Tells you the truth, even when it’s hard
- Keeps you honest with yourself
- Gets stuff done for you
- Saves the day (and your bum in the process!)
- Supports your causes
- Makes you look good
- Provides perspective
- Gets you what you need
- Has a good ethical compass for those sticky situations
- Has a can-do attitude
- Has her own skill-set that’s complementary to your own
- Wants to be your trusted ally
- Is: smart, loyal, competent, trustworthy, not a whiner, self-possessed, reliable, and protective of you
If you’ve never worked with an AssistU VA, you’ll need to take my word for the fact that it fits the women in this community. It really, really does.
And that each is her own special kind of sidekick is a big part of the reason why one VA does not fit everyone. VAs, like sidekicks, need to fit you like a glove. There’s no way to develop a trusted relationship and a sense of your being on the same side when the fit is off. And your sidekick needs just the right blend of qualities and abilities to be a wonderful complement.
Which is why we’re so big on fit here at AssistU.
While I was immersed in learning about sidekicks through history, I came across a quote from writer Robin Rivera that brought it all home for me. I hope it will for you, too. When you decide to work with a VA as your sidekick, make sure you’re ready to make her “part of the story, not just part of the setting.”
When you work with a VA who becomes an integral part of your story, amazing things can happen in your work and life. If she’s just part of the setting you’ll get tasks done, but little beyond that.
I urge you to go for a sidekick and your best story. You and your work deserve better than someone just ticking tasks off a list.