Most virtual assistants start their business with a picture-perfect idea of flexible hours spent working with long-term clients on interesting and well-paid projects. Fast forward a few months and what many virtual assistants end up with are long hours, clients from hell and income that is barely enough to pay the bills. So what happens within the first few months of starting a virtual assistant business that separates successful VAs from the ones that are barely making it? It all starts with determining what your skill sets, core competencies are and then setting your professional rates.
Search for the phrase “virtual assistant rates” on Google and you get over 700,000 results. Reading through just the first few links is enough to get the general idea. Most virtual assistants, regardless of the types of services they offer, charge between $25 and $50 per hour. Or at least that’s what they report in surveys, on discussion boards and in comments on blogs.
But the truth about virtual assistant rates is a lot more complicated. It seems there is a vast difference between the rates new virtual assistants would like to charge and the rates they end up charging their clients.
Dig deeper into the message boards conversations and blog comments about virtual assistant rates and you’re sure to come across a message such as “I know, I should be charging more than I do now, but…”. The author then proceeds to explain
her reasons for lowering the rates and concludes with a promise that at some unspecified later date, when business gets better, she will raise her rates.
Unfortunately, in most cases the business doesn’t get better. Instead, it gets worse and worse leaving the virtual assistant wondering what it is that she’s doing wrong. The answer is simple – lowering rates and under-pricing oneself is exactly the wrong thing to do regardless of the reasons for the rate drop.
But I’m new to this business and I have to prove myself first before I can charge higher rates.
The problem here is not lack of experience, but lack of confidence. You might be new to running a business and being your own boss. But, unless you start your virtual assistant business straight out of college, you do have years of experience
in whatever services you offer. I advise that you “follow” yourself around for a few days with a piece of paper and a pen and determine just what your core competencies and skills are. You will be surprised at what you know and have forgotten, or simply overlooked. Are you absolutely brilliant with Excel spreadsheets and macros? Write it down. Are your interpersonal phone skills off the charts? Write it down. Even if you think a soft skill is not something that you should be listing, write it down. Once you have a clear picture of your skills, hard and soft, you will be able to determine what works with what and present a list of skill sets that you are proud to discuss with potential clients.
Actually, low rates will be a turn-off to many business owners who rightfully believe in the “you get what you pay for” principle. Undervaluing yourself by setting low rates screams “I’m not good enough and I know it”. This has nothing to do with proving yourself, but everything with holding up a big sign that says “I’m not your best choice. Now feel free to denigrate my rates, offer to barter my time and hours for your program or service and just generally make me feel unworthy.”
I’m lowering my rates because I need to attract more clients. When my practice is full…
Excuse me for interrupting, but I have to jump in on this classic. What you really need is not more clients, but more income. Sure, getting more clients or working more hours for existing clients will help you make more money. Another option is to not lower your rates and still make more money. If you are still undervaluing your skills you are still setting ridiculously low professional fees.
It is simple math. If a virtual assistant charges $20 per hour, she needs to put in 50 billable hours to earn $1000. If she charges $40 per hour, she only needs to work 25 hours for the same $1000. It is the quality of support that you provide, not the quantity that makes the difference here.
Once I get the client, I will raise my rates… eventually.
If you are offering a lower introductory rate do you make it crystal clear to your new clients that this is a temporary rate and you will be charging them your regular rate after a specified number of hours? If not, beware! It’s not even that raising the rates for existing clients is one of the hardest things to do.
Here’s the real problem with this plan – cheap products attract cheap buyers. And cheap buyers or clients are notoriously
difficult to deal with. They set unrealistic expectations, demand additional discounts, request countless reviews and revisions of deliverables and oftentimes do their level best to barter you out of your hard earned cash. These are also people who will not be satisfied no matter how hard you work and may even post miserable things about you on the internet.
You don’t need these, nor do they. Not everybody is suited to have a virtual assistant working with them. If your “spidey sense” is raising alarms during the initial interview call, use your instincts to avoid this type of client and politely decline to take on the project or retainer. As much as you may need the money now, you don’t need the tears, angst, and potential damage to your professional relationship that this can cause.
I need the money! Desperate times call for desperate measures.
Life throws curve balls all the time. Bad things happen, whether it’s unexpected medical expense or your significant other getting laid off or major urgent repairs to your car or your house.
However, lowering the rates for your services in order to quickly raise money is entirely counterproductive. Letting potential clients know that you are desperate will send many running in the opposite direction. After all, clients are looking for a virtual assistant who is dependable and fully vested in their projects. Your clients need to know that your business is running smoothly and effortlessly at all times.
The few clients that will jump at the opportunity are not the kind of clients you want, especially given your situation.
They will prey on your desperation, pushing for ever lower rates and ever worse payment terms. It is not uncommon for these types of clients to not pay at all, and if they do, it is grudgingly and contentious.
A much better option, in this case, would be to seek temporary part-time or full-time employment and run your business part-time until your finances are more stable.
I know that I’m making less per hour now than when I was at my last employer. But I save money working from home. So overall I feel that it’s a good trade off.
Sure, you no longer have to commute to work, buy work clothes or lunches. But that doesn’t mean you are saving money. Your previous salary was only a part of the total compensation package that included paid sick days and vacation days, health insurance, and taxes.
Now that you are self-employed you have to pay your own taxes and health insurance in addition to the regular business expenses. If you’ve never calculated your real rates – after all the expenses – you’re in for an unpleasant surprise. In some cases you might find out that you work for less than the minimum wage and are very likely working harder than you ever have before.
This last excuse is a good example of the real reason behind a virtual assistant’s decision to lower her rates. This reason has little to do with finding new clients or having to prove oneself. Instead it is the inability or unwillingness to go through a paradigm shift.
Virtual assistants are not employees. They are business owners. Consequently your client is not your boss; you are. When a virtual assistant uses low rates as a cure for all her business problems or as a kind of a business Miracle-Gro, she misses all the other opportunities and jeopardizes her long-term goals.
1) Determine your core competencies, hard and soft skill sets.
2) Sit down with an accountant or CPA to determine how and when to pay your taxes.
3) Create your business model and stick to it!
4) Mastermind, network, and contract to and with other successful Virtual Assistants
Have questions about the Virtual Assistance Industry? Email them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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