My first proper job was at Carphone Warehouse. This was many years ago now, worryingly I can now say that it was decades ago, and it was well and truly before smart-phones existed – can anyone else remember that? 

I feel lucky to have experienced this technological evolution, I was selling the first iPhone on the very day it was released, and now look where it is. Clearly then we just did not know where we were heading – a bit like this year then! 

In the Milton Keynes museum there is a communications section, and part of that is a display of mobile phones throughout the ages – and goodness did I feel old being able to recognise, if not own, all of the models on display. Odd really, as I often don’t feel I’m old enough to be doing a lot of the things I am doing, but hey ho! 

Our phones are now with us all the time, mine is looking at me from right beside my laptop and no doubt I’ll leap on it if it buzzes. That single device in our hand enables us to phone and text, yes, but also send emails, access the internet, go on social media, take photos, the list goes on. There are a myriad apps available, and a lot of those are designed in one way or another to allow you to organise and plan your life and habits. 

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But what about the times before phones were connected to the internet? How did we cope?

When mobile phones were just for phone calls, there were other gadgets that were on the market to keep us organised. I remember having a Palm Pilot PDA, and when I client said to me that I was like the human version of an original Palm Pilot, it resonated, and I knew that I would be taking her idea and running it with it! 

PDA – Personal Digital Assistant

This little gadget was perfectly sized to fit in a pocket, Filofax etc, and it organised your life. Notes, diary, reminders… it was the perfect tool to keep you on track, efficient and accountable. It was all about the organisation. Sure, it could do other things, you could get games for it and there was a specific app to simulate a mirror, but it kept organised!

Executive Assistant 

I will keep you on track, efficient and accountable. A human might not fit in your pocket, but the mobile technology now means that I am just at the end of your phone – whether that’s a call, video call,, email, text, Facebook or Whatsapp message. So yes, I’m pretty much there in your pocket or handbag. I work with you on your plans, create todo lists, remind you of things. I hold you accountable and will nudge you  - some might call this nagging – when you need to be getting on the job in hand. 

I hope it goes without saying that as a human I provide a much better service than the PDA. I won’t distract you with games that you can waste time on; I’m proactive and get to understand you and your business; I have a variety of tools I use, but I’m able to tailor make my service and solutions to you and your business and personal challenges; I can read between the lines; I evolve in a way that no software upgrades could match. 

You might say that your mobile phone can now perfectly easily do the job that PDA did. Maybe, and if that was the case we would have a world full of organised people, and you would never procrastinate about anything… What you need is the human element!

I’ve been inspired to write this blog by the wonderful Lesley Jones. It has become part of my business development, defining the identity of my business and its services. I was intending to discuss the differences between a VA and PA, but my research has thrown another possibility into the equation, and even whilst working through this blog, I have been learning and developing. 

When it comes to networking, my industry seat is for the VA, but I’ve always called myself a PA. What are these PA and VA terms that we bandy about?

VA - A Virtual Assistant is an independent contractor who provides administrative services to clients while operating outside of the client's office. A virtual assistant typically operates from a home office but can access the necessary planning documents, such as shared calendars, remotely. 

PA – A person who does office work and administrative work for someone. It is an abbreviation for Personal Assistant. 

EA – An Executive Assistant a person employed to assist a high-level manager or professional with correspondence, appointments, and administrative tasks.

To a degree all these terms can be interchanged, but there are subtle differences and each one has its own set of benefits. So, does that mean they’re all pretty much the same? No. 

A big difference between VA and the other two is that a VA is a freelance, contracting position whereas, typically, a PA or EA is an employed role. In these times the fact that a VA is virtual is less of a defining point with so many people working remotely from home, however it’s not usually a permanent employed position and they will work with multiple clients. A PA and EA are employed and work with one person or a team. 

All assistants have their unique experience, skills and niches, so while I’m about to talk about tasks of each in general terms these aren’t black and white categories but it gives you an idea of where the differences are.

A VA will do the following:

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As a VA works remotely on an ad hoc or retainer basis there are reduced labour and overhead costs. There is increased productivity and flexibility when contracting a VA. 

In addition to everything above a PA will:

As a PA you build a strong relationship with your manager and learn the company’s core values and industry terminology. 

In addition to everything a VA and PA do, an EA also:

Similarly to a PA, an EA works closely with their manager to be an integral part of the business and understand the values and ethos of both the individual and the company. 

It’s at this point that I was expecting to tell you that I personally prefer the term Virtual PA for the way I conduct business and the services I undertake; I have a number of clients, but each client feels as though they have my undivided attention. I maintain the right number of clients to allow me to give this personal service. But, this is where my learning comes in. 

The level of work that I do for clients goes across the board – covering VA, PA and EA tasks. I am not an employee, and on that basis I over a high level of productivity and you only pay for my working time; if you don’t need me, you don’t pay. I consider that I offer a hybrid service, and this includes the EA role as well. Mulling this over with a client, I think that I will have to re-title myself and change a description of my business and my services. Virtual PA doesn’t quite seem to cut it now when I know I provide Executive Assistant level quality. 

To sum up, Silver Lining Services offers the following benefits to each and every one of its clients:

These thoughts have all ultimately stemmed from working on business and personal development during lockdown. Researching for this blog has help solidify my business’s identity and in turn means that I can focus on the change in direction that I am taking. I know without a doubt that quality of service is the priority for me; my business is on a journey of growth, but built into that growth is provision to allow clients to still have the personal touch. 

References from Oxford Languages, Collins Dictionary, Investopedia and LinkedIn Article by Karen Hannon

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