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The virtual assistant industry isn't new...

Updated: Aug 26, 2023

...and yes, it's here to stay!

chalkboard scribble about the history of the virtual assistant industry

I love when I get the opportunity to talk about the early days of the virtual assistance industry, especially to someone who has only been in it for a few months or years. They’ll ask how it was back in those days (sidebar: I now understand the yucky feeling of the phrase in the olden days that I used on my parents when I was a child), and as I explain to them just how it was, it does indeed sound strange…and unbelievable.

For context – I started my career as a Virtual Assistant back in 2001, completely unaware that it was even a thing (I learned later that the birth of the industry years before in the mid-1990s was largely credited to work-from-home expert Christine Durst, and that the term itself was made popular by a woman named Anastasia Stacy Brice). I only knew that I needed work! At that time, I had just relocated from Connecticut to Northern Virginia (minutes from Dulles Airport), and all the visits my family and I had made to the area before this unwanted move had left me sure of at least one thing: I would definitely be able to get a job. I’d been an Administrative or Executive Assistant for 15 years already and, in my research, I’d learned that this particular area outside DC was referred to as the Silicon Valley of the East. Major MAJOR companies were headquartered there, and dozens of impressive, shiny glass buildings lined the Dulles Corridor. Getting a job – no problem.

Or so I thought.

But this was just around the time when the effects of the dotcom bubble burst were being felt more widely (Google that if you’re too young to remember), and those shiny buildings were emptying out. Some of those major companies were suddenly scaling back so far that they eventually disappeared from Corporate America altogether. A recession had hit, and the country was in financial trouble. A few short months later, September 11th happened, and the country was in deep mourning in so many other ways.

In the midst of all that, and without any job prospects lined up due to the economy, I had the idea to start up a little service for companies who likely still needed admin support to continue operations at whatever level they could, but who couldn’t afford to–or who possibly didn’t even need to–hold onto a full-time administrative team. I called myself a Freelance Administrative Assistant, and I reached out to small businesses too, especially homebased ones I suspected didn’t have the space or ability to make room for onsite workers. My pitch to them all was that I would do work for them from my own home. They could communicate general administrative tasks to me via email, phone, and fax, I pitched. They could mail files to me when needed (or even stacks of business cards they’d collected at large events and wanted input into their Microsoft Access database (wow…that just took me wayyyy back). And if they were local enough, I could drive to their offices to pick up items they needed me to work with from my home. That was the start of my journey down this road, even if it was sometimes sidelined by a return to Corporate America -- but always with an active client or two because I had the strongest feeling that this whole virtual concept would work out someday in a really big way.

Just typing this out is a reminder of how far things have come since then!! It’s also a teachable moment that an industry considered by many to be a passing fad that only suddenly appeared and/or became popular during the pandemic–well, it’s actually been around for nearly three whole decades at least, even if it wasn’t widely accepted until more recent years. It has staying power. And one thing I feel certain of, even in this age of AI: it isn’t going away anytime soon.

Let me know your thoughts.

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