Are Virtual Assistants and Personal Assistants the Same?

More and more I notice people are confusing VA’s with PA’s, using the terms interchangeably to describe the various ways an Assistant Secretary might support an individual or business team. Most client’s (and potential clients) are initially confused about the difference between a VA and a PA, resulting in long, drawn out explanations about what VA’s do versus what is often outside the scope of services. As a Virtual Assistant, you might find it helpful to draw professional boundaries and distinguish yourself from expectations of a Personal Assistant.

The most common question I receive from new VA’s is: Should a VA be called a Personal Assistant in their written documentation, in conversation and just in general? The short answer is: sure, if you want to be treated like a Personal Assistant you can definitely allow client’s to call you a PA. Some of you might be surprised to know that VA’s actually could be considered PA’s based on the types of tasks you agree to complete for your clients. It’s not uncommon for a Virtual Assistant to complete tasks such as scheduling appointments, online shopping, booking travel accommodations or other. However, Personal Assistants should not automatically be considered a Virtual Assistant because in most cases there are actually major differences between the two.

How PA’s and VA’s Different.

Title for the Position

A Personal Assistant has one job title regardless of varying tasks they complete for or on behalf of their employer (it’s called Personal Assistant).  However, a Virtual Assistant by any other name is still a Virtual Assistant! (See what I just did there, lol) The title of Virtual Assistant is an umbrella under which a number of additional position titles could exist. In addition to the commonly used title of “Virtual Assistant”, a VA could be identified using a number of other titles based on the services offered to clients or based on the role played within the client’s business team. For example, a VA could be identified as a Virtual Personal Secretary, a social media manager, a bookkeeper, or any other title that speaks to the VA’s role in each client project. Virtual Assistants also have the option to completely remove the “Virtual Assistant” title and identify themselves using a more commonly used job title (especially for those external professionals, outside of the client’s company). Examples of common VA titles used in place of “Virtual Assistant” include:

  • Executive Assistant
  • Administrative Consultant
  • Administrator
  • Administrative Support Specialist
  • Real Estate Entrepreneur
  • Financial Advisor
  • Multimedia Content Strategist
  • Digital Marketer
  • Offsite Business & Administration Manager
  • Solutions Specialist
  • Webinar Support Specialist
  • Online Support
  • Project Manager (my absolute favorite)

Susan Mershon wrote a really helpful blog post entitled “Virtual Assistant is not a Title…” where she raises some excellent points regarding the title “Virtual Assistant”. In her blog she points out that the term “Virtual Assistant” is actually the name of the industry in which VA’s work, as opposed to the actual professional job title.

Tax Status and Expenses

Another difference between a VA and a PA is (what I like to call) “the legal stuff” such as the employment law related tax status. Typically, a Personal Assistant is viewed as an assistant employee (keyword here is “employee”) versus a Virtual Assistant who is legally considered an Independent Contractor making them a small business owner. As an Assistant Employee (or PA) the tasks and work completed are primarily controlled by the Employer. An employer is required to provide an assistant employee (or PA) with employment related benefits. In addition, the employer is responsible for paying expenses related to employing the PA, as well as, expenses related to the work completed by the PA (on behalf of the employer).

How is this different for a VA? Well, since a VA is considered a small business owner themselves, they don’t actually identify the person they provide services to as their “employer”, because (well) they’re not! A VA is a business owner themselves who technically partners with another business owner. Most VA’s identify these partners as their “clients”. As independent contractors, a Virtual Assistant is responsible for paying their own employment related expenses to include: taxes, benefits, operating costs, equipment/software fees and all expenses related to the completion of the tasks requested. Virtual Assistants have the option to really identify themselves as a separate business by seeking/securing an LLC status or something that equally distinguishes them from their client’s business.


Another common difference between a PA and a VA is the location in which tasks are completed. Usually, a Personal Assistant will complete business related tasks at an employer specified site (when they’re not running offsite errands for their employer). Whereas a Virtual Assistant is given the freedom to complete all requested tasks from a remote, off-site location of the VA’s choosing. Typically, a Virtual Assistant completes requested tasks from their home office which is fully functional and includes a working computer, fax/printer/copier and phone. Virtual Assistants could also complete tasks from an even more remote location such as a different state or even across sea’s.

Delegating /Outsourcing Tasks

Another major difference between a Personal Assistant and a VA is the option the Virtual Assistant has to outsource their tasks to another individual (known as a subcontractor). As an independent contractor who runs their own business, a VA has the option to delegate their client projects/tasks to subcontractors or employees of their choosing. As an employee, the Personal Assistant more than likely will not have this freedom.

A Personal Assistant might never put THIS MUCH thought into the various differences between their role and the role of a VA; it just wouldn’t be as important to an employee. However, as someone who is building a brand identity a VA should consider these differences at the onset of their business, during the business planning phase of startup.  A VA must distinguish themselves from that of an employee assistant because as a Small Business Owner VA’s are responsible for a wider range of professional tasks related to marketing the business, growing the business and ensuring the business reflects a certain level of credibility. Clearly communicating the brand identity of a business is just the basics of good business and as a VA you’re your own business!

PA is to VA as Employee is to Entrepreneur.

Of course, there are probably more similarities than differences as it pertains to the type of work/projects completed on a day to day basis but in all other ways the two operate completely different. But in the professional world, it’s important to clearly communicate your brand… and Dear VA, your brand is YOU!

Enjoy the Journey,



Schedule a 30 minute consultation to discuss the challenges you’re facing with your new (or not so new) Virtual Assistant Business.  Consultations will offer recommendations for how to overcome obstacles; additional resources will be provided based on the need. Topics to discuss might include: business structure, business documentation, business procedures, determining your rate, choosing the ideal client, balancing work and home life, and more. Click HERE to schedule your consultation! Rate: $25.00


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