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The history of the Virtual Assistant…

virtual assistant history

Just occasionally I have a very wicked sense of humour… It was tickled this week researching for an article on virtual assistant history – there seems to be some dispute about who invented the phrase and when that was.

Author of the 2-Second Commute Chris Durst is credited with having founded the Virtual Assistant industry in her home in rural Connecticut in 1995. In 1999, with Michael Haaren, she founded the International Virtual Assistants Association – the industry’s nonprofit parent organization – and served as its first president.

However back in 1992 Stacey Brice was already working as a virtual assistant when her life coaching client, Thomas Leonard, coined the phrase “virtual assistant” for her.  She then went on to create AssistU, a virtual assistant training programme.

This one seems to be comprehensive… But it’s missed off any mention of Tawnya Sutherland and VAnetworking.com, the largest organisation of VAs worldwide!  (SVA got a mention though!)  It’s unfortunately a facet of an industry where we’re increasing against one another instead of collaborating – which used to be one of the unique and special things about the VA industry.

Let’s keep the UK industry’s tagline of “collaboration not competition” and be open with one another… And to that end, I apologise profusely for any errors in my potted history of the UK Virtual Assistant Industry and you can add in your own little footnotes below in the comments and I’ll amend it!


International Association of Virtual Assistants – Set up by Jacky Workman, this paid-for membership site provided advice and training for VAs based in the UK and around the world.


Alliance of UK Virtual Assistants – formed by Di Chapman as a searchable free directory of VAs in the UK.


Virtual Assistant Coaching and Training Company sets up first UK specific VA training with Carmen Macdougall.


Business quality VOIP hits the UK with the launch of VOIPfone.  Answering phonecalls for clients remotely is now a reality.


Scottish Virtual Assistants formed with 7 original members to promote the concept of virtual assistants in the UK by working together – Caroline Wylie, Lyndsey Gilchrist, Sally Blewett, Jackie Grant, Maria Birkmyre-McDermott, Marj Beattie, and Denise Wilson.

The UK Association of Virtual Assistants – a paid for directory site run by Justine Curtis launches.


Namechange to Society of Virtual Assistants, as we now had more UK members than Scottish ones. We also revamped the website to expand from just a forum to include a wordpress blog, free directory and various training events.

Smartsheet lets UK virtual assistants beta test and shape their new online workspace programme.

The UK’s first franchise VA business BizPro launched by Kerry Anne Orr – it went on to be sold to another VA and Kerry now specialises in setting up systems for other businesses.


First ever UK VA Conference in Milton Keynes, run by Carmen Macdougall of CMA Coaching (now VA Coaching and Training Company).


First ever UK Virtual Assistant Survey – this was initially run by Alex Stone of Just Too Busy and is now collated by SVA each year.  Over the years is has provided vital information about the industry which can be used for business plans, marketing activities and to bust myths.  For example, the popular myth of a VA being a mum without childcare got shattered in 2011 when we revealed that less than 4% of VAs work like this!


Formation of VA Support Group Skype chat – three new VAs (Emily Robe, Dee Uzoka and Anne-Marie Mittleman) got together to share their resources and coined the phrase “collaboration not competition” in their quest to build their businesses helping many others along the way including a chat room, a business room and a jobs available room.

Global VA Week – SVA got involved with this annual event run by www.oivac.com in the USA to promote VAs worldwide, headed up by legendary VA Sharon Williams of The 24 Hour Secretary.  This included a Tweet campaign which members could use in their own businesses, informal coffee house meet ups, and UK only sessions in the Online International Assistants Convention.

Nadine Hill publishes “The Virtual Assistant Handbook”, the first comprehensive UK virtual assistant guide.  Nadine no longer works in the VA industry.


BeMyVA – Launch of a paid-for VA directory.

VA Pro Mag – Online magazine aimed at UK VAs, written and edited by Jo Sparkes of Expedio Virtual Assistance.


The VA Magazine – Published by Lucy Brazier of Executive Secretary fame, this subscription only magazine got delivered 6 issues per year and built into a library of training resources for your business.  It featured articles from the world’s best trainers and luminaries from the virtual assistant world.  Sadly the magazine got shelved back in 2013 when it was sold to BeMyVA and they may well resurrect the brand in future.

The Big Meet – Online virtual meeting for VAs run by SVA.

NW VA Hub forms – Regional networking for north-west based VAs (online and offline).

A-Z Virtual Assistant Tools and 30 Days To Set Up As A VA – book launches by Helen Stothard who has since left the industry.


Northern VA Collaboration – Newcastle based VAs join together to do their own mini conference which turned into an annual event for VAs across the UK, drawing VAs from as far away as Cornwall!

BeMyVA take over running The VA Conference and Awards and The VA Magazine in a landmark deal for the VA industry.  VACT sold to Amanda Johnson as “The Fairy Godmother of the UK VA Industry”, Carmen Macdougall, leaves the industry.


NW VA Conference – Warrington based regional conference set up by Joanne Hawkins of Executive VPA.


VA Handbookers – International Digital Nomad VA community set up by Joanne Munro.  Not to be confused with the book of the same name!

VIP VA – Set up by Charlotte Wibberley and Amanda Slack to support VAs.  Amanda stepped down shortly after setting up this networking group.

Borderlands VA Network forms to support VAs in the Borders/North of England/Cumbria


Virtual Assistant Training Standards – SVA introduce Virtual Assistant Training standards in response to huge complaints about training courses.

HMRC MLR Concession for VAs – VAProMag campaign to make Money Laundering Regulations advice much clearer for virtual assistants and gain a small concession for those on low incomes doing small amounts of bookkeeping work.


VIP VA Changes to Association of Professional VAs (APVA)

South West Virtual Assistant Collaboration forms supporting VAs in Bristol, Cornwall, Dorset, Devon, Gloucestershire, Somerset, Wiltshire and the Isles of Scilly.


Yorkshire VA Collective forms


Amanda Johnson of VACT takes over organising the UK VA Conference on behalf of BeMyVA

Let me know if you think I’ve missed anything…  Please don’t be offended if I have – or perhaps there’s something you feel should be included? Drop me a line! First written July 2013 – edited in March 2022.


  1. Anne-Marie Mittleman on 8 July, 2013 at 2:00 pm

    Great article Caroline and HUGE thanks for our mention – Emily, Dee and I are very proud of VASG (VA Support Group) and full credit to Dee for coining the “collaboration not competition” phrase that VASG and most of the VA community strongly uphold.

    • Caroline on 8 July, 2013 at 2:04 pm

      Well it was a very good tagline – and has been adopted universally now I think!

    • Roz Bott on 30 January, 2017 at 11:18 am

      Actually, I believe it was me that came up with the tagline during one of our skype conversations 🙂

      • Anita on 6 November, 2019 at 6:59 am

        Nice to know the history. Thanks

  2. Kerry Anne Orr on 15 July, 2013 at 7:38 pm

    Big thank you for the mention Caroline, it’s a great article, and interesting to see the history down ‘on paper’. It has been amazing watching this industry grow over the years, and being a (small) part of its journey! Lovely to see so many familiar names popping up in your article, I’ve been lucky enough to work with some amazing VA’s in both Bizpro and The Systems Coach, so its good to know the industry is thriving, long may it continue!

  3. Kimberly Mae Espiritu on 19 April, 2018 at 6:02 am

    Caroline, thank you for sharing! What a lovely article! I love how you put together these information on these events. Easy to read. Can’t wait to read more!

  4. […] By Caroline | 28 October, 2016 | 5  […]

  5. Jeannette Morgan on 23 July, 2020 at 10:45 pm

    Thanks for this Caroline, it’s really interesting to read. I hadn’t really heard of VA’s until last year when i was made redundant and my sister suggested I should start my own VA business doing the things I am good at but working for myself instead of being an employee . . and its the best move i’ve ever made.

  6. Nicola Driscoll on 3 September, 2020 at 11:33 am

    Thanks for sharing Caroline, it’s a very interesting article.

  7. Rachel Brown on 16 October, 2020 at 2:34 pm

    Thanks for sharing this, it’s really interesting reading about the journey so far.

  8. Ashleigh Rose on 10 November, 2020 at 1:41 pm

    Really interesting! Does anyone have any idea of how many VA’s are in the UK? Or how much the sector is worth?

    • Caroline on 10 November, 2020 at 2:27 pm

      As VAs can be described as many different classifications HMRC does not have a category for them, and as such there are no official figures for the size of the UK VA industry. However, as the largest organisation of VAs in the UK, and a free resource, we base the size of the industry on our membership – at the moment we have almost 4,000 active VAs working in the UK.

      The industry works with approximately 20,000 SMEs, and rates and income vary depending on experience, business model and skill set offered. More info available from the UK VA Survey: https://www.societyofvirtualassistants.co.uk/uk-va-survey-virtual-assistant-statistics/

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