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Virtual Assistant Rates- You Want to Charge What?

Don’t let the title mislead you, this post is for both those of you that are interested in using a virtual assistant as well as virtual assistants themselves ( and those that want to be one).

I love hanging around the virtual assistant forums. It’s become just one of the ways that I try to give back to the virtual assistant community.  The forums were an important place for me when I was first starting my business and I got tons of great advice and information there.  But the one thing you don’t generally get is advice on what to charge.  That’s because a conversation about rates always seems to end up in some sort of pissing match, and that’s just not good for building a community.  I agree and understand completely why this subject is off limits on most forums.

But… (hey, with the title of this post you had to know there was a but.)

This lack of information can and does end up hurting both new virtual assistants and potential clients.

Without the type of guidance that new VA’s get in other areas, they are left to their own devices when setting their rates.  9 times out of 10 they’re going to set them all wrong, for several reasons.

First, they under estimate the amount of time ‘simple’ activities are going to take. Answering calls, uploading videos, managing e-mails and other administrative tasks may not be complicated, but they can be very time consuming.  Would you be shocked if I told you that the average time spent dealing with a business phone call (which includes all processing procedures such as getting caller information, etc.) is somewhere around 15 minutes?  So although the time spent actually in conversation may be more like 4 minutes, many people fail to figure in the time spent related to that call.  If you’re not figuring it in, not only are you giving the additional time away for free, but you’re seriously in danger of over-scheduling your time and not being able to handle everything you may have committed to.

Second, they fail to figure in the costs of self –employment.  While ten dollars an hour might sound like a great hourly pay, when you start taking away the costs of taxes, business supplies, internet services, phone services and other business costs, you’re most likely going to be operating in the red with that $10 hr. rate.   Remember, what may be a great pay rate as an employee isn’t going to cut it as your own boss.

Third, they set their rates based on 40 hours a week of client work.  The problem with this is that they are not figuring in time to do marketing, bookkeeping and other activities related to their virtual assistant business. Even if they don’t mind working 70 or 80 hours a week, getting a full client load can take years to develop, if it ever happens at all.

What does all of this mean to those of you who are looking to begin working with a virtual assistant? It means if the VA’s you’re interviewing are quoting low rates like this you might want to think twice before hiring them.  Now that may sound harsh to those VA’s out there that are trying to find clients at that rate, but in the interest of the potential clients out there I have to say it.  Chances are low rates mean that the VA you’re talking to may not have a realistic view of what it takes to run their own business.  And not just in terms of money, but also in terms of time management.

I find myself cringing whenever a new virtual assistant tells me they charge anything under thirty five dollars an hour.  While there may be some individuals out there in dual income households that can pull it off, the truth of the matter is that one of the biggest reasons of virtual assistant business failure is setting rates too low.

As a virtual assistant, be smart and take everything into consideration when calculating your rates.  As a potential client, understand that even at higher rates a virtual assistant is still a money saving (not to mention stress and time reducing) alternative when you understand that you aren’t responsible for all of those extraneous costs like taxes, insurance, equipment and supplies.

Find out even more about setting rates and other helps for starting and running your virtual assistant business at Virtual Assistant Survival School!

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29 Comments

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by TMarieHilton, T.Marie Hilton. T.Marie Hilton said: Just posted: "Virtual Assistant Rates: You Want to Charge What?" http://tinyurl.com/238v2l7 […]



  2. Serita on August 7, 2010 at 5:48 am

    Tina I'm so glad you wrote this post. I just spoke to a woman 2 days ago that was totally frustrated because the first 2 real estate agents that approached her were only paying her $8.00 an hour. I felt so horrible for her. Not only were they seriously underpaying her, but they were also talking down to her at every opportunity. I spent approximately a half hour discussing rates with her. I hope she finds better in her next clients. Thanks for a great post.



  3. Lynne on August 7, 2010 at 1:48 pm

    Great post and I totally agree with everything, however there may be another way to look at it. If you charge less than the going rate, and I don’t mean something like $10 an hour, but just a little less to become established in a new venture or a new niche, you can raise your rate later.

    As an example I have a terrific handyman/contractor, efficient, on the ball, a lifelong passion for what he does and can fix or build anything. At age 60 he was laid off and, unable to find a job, he decided to follow his passion and start his business. He charged a bit lower than the going rate and within a few months was swamped with work, all from word of mouth. After a year he raised his rates and now, 6 months later, he’s even more swamped with work.

    Just something to think about.



  4. T.Marie Hilton on August 7, 2010 at 1:50 pm

    Serita,
    Thanks for your great comment. The motivating factor behind this post was an interaction I had with a new virtual assistant. Over the years I've noticed that almost every new virtual assistant I speak with about rates is under-charging to the point of business failure. Too many people enter this business with an employee frame of mind rather than that of a business owner.



    • Cindy Howe on September 30, 2010 at 2:20 am

      For me, this article could not have come at a better time. I’ve been doing a lot of research on the VA forums and you’re right, the discussion of pricing is always skirted.
      I decided on my rate based solely on comparisons with other VA’s. To my credit, I know I’m not and don’t want to be a $5 or $10 or even a $20 per hour VA but settled on what I thought was a reasonable rate for my experience and service offerings. I did not have the benefit of knowing what a ‘lifestyle formula’ was/is.
      BUT, now I do! Thanks to you and VA’s who have taken the time to share their knowledge here.
      So, before my website launches on Friday, I will do the needful and necessary and ensure that my rate is reflective of all of the essentials mentioned here.
      Thanks again!



      • T.Marie Hilton on September 30, 2010 at 1:23 pm

        Hi Cindy,
        I”m really glad my post could help out. Although there are many factors that contribute to finding success as a virtual assistant, in my opinion setting your rates correctly and realizing that not every client is meant to be your client is a huge step in the right direction. Best of luck and thanks so much for adding your voice here.



  5. T.Marie Hilton on August 7, 2010 at 2:51 pm

    Hi Lynne,
    While I agree that starting out with a slightly lower rate and raising rates later can be a great way to introduce yourself and your services as well as build a client base, there is one major thing you need to keep in mind. During that time period you must provide services that are at the highest level. Your clients must see an incredible value at that lower rate so that when you raise them it's almost something they are expecting.
    And that lower rate must still be high enough to cover your costs associated with your business.

    Raising rates can be an extremely tricky thing, some people have good experiences with it like your handyman, and others have a much different experience, losing clients in the process.

    Great thoughts Lynne, and thank you so much for coming by and sharing them!



  6. Lisa Wells on August 7, 2010 at 4:21 pm

    Tina – when it comes to rates I have a totally different mindset. Here comes an honest and frank discussion of my pricing evolution…

    When I first started, like every new VA, I looked at what others were charging for the services that I was providing. I settled on $30 an hour and this was back in 2005. After a few months I began charging new clients a higher rate – but the problem still existed that I was attracting clients who had an “I'm not making very much so I have to find someone who doesn't charge” approach to partnering with a VA. then, when I raised rates again after a year and a half, a few became passive/aggressive. For example, they would say things like “You didn't make that mistake when I was paying you x so now that I'm paying more, I expect perfection.” It always boiled down to the money issue.

    I felt stuck. I felt underpaid. I felt devalued.

    While I was working with a client's JV project, I came across a couple of people who coached people to “charge what they are worth.” I bought the workbook and came up with what he calls a “lifestyle formula.” Basically the formula is to come up with an amount you'd like to make, how many hours you want to work, divide that number and that is your hourly rate. Ex. $5,000 per month / 100 billable hours per month = $50/hour.

    I put together a letter to my clients explaining the rate increase and gave GREAT reasons why I was doing this and how this would benefit them. I posted my rates on my website to weed out the bargain seekers. And yes, I did lose a large percentage of clients.

    But then guess what? It made room for higher end clients looking for that personal attention, quick response, and working with someone who wasn't so burned out from juggling 20 clients.

    I don't set my rates based on geographic location, the market, or what others are charging. I set them based on the value I provide and the skills I bring to the table. Once I changed my mindset, life became a lot more simple. I feel valued and unstuck! I hate to see VAs undervalue their services and would love to see more approach it from a value basis that as an expense to the business owner.



    • Anonymous on September 26, 2010 at 8:56 pm

      Yes, yes, yes!!!!! I’ve been giving a ton of thought to actually putting my rates on my site….if for no other reason than to weed out the “deal seekers”. (and Tina….I had forgotten about that red velvet rope mentioned in Michael’s book).



      • T.Marie Hilton on September 28, 2010 at 12:33 am

        Michelle,
        I’m so glad this post struck a chord. 🙂 And I can honestly say that I find myself returning to Michael’s book several time a year just to refresh my memory on some of the great advice there.



        • Anonymous on September 28, 2010 at 1:06 pm

          It is a great book. I went through a private coaching session on the entire book/principal with one of his certified coaches. It changed a lot of things I had “set up” in my business.



    • Anonymous on September 26, 2010 at 8:56 pm

      Yes, yes, yes!!!!! I’ve been giving a ton of thought to actually putting my rates on my site….if for no other reason than to weed out the “deal seekers”. (and Tina….I had forgotten about that red velvet rope mentioned in Michael’s book).



    • Anonymous on September 26, 2010 at 8:56 pm

      Yes, yes, yes!!!!! I’ve been giving a ton of thought to actually putting my rates on my site….if for no other reason than to weed out the “deal seekers”. (and Tina….I had forgotten about that red velvet rope mentioned in Michael’s book).



    • Anonymous on September 26, 2010 at 8:56 pm

      Yes, yes, yes!!!!! I’ve been giving a ton of thought to actually putting my rates on my site….if for no other reason than to weed out the “deal seekers”. (and Tina….I had forgotten about that red velvet rope mentioned in Michael’s book).



  7. T.Marie Hilton on August 7, 2010 at 6:45 pm

    Bravo Lisa! You've discovered the secret of setting prices and finding clients that are a perfect fit for you! You have set what Michael Port calls the 'velvet rope' in “Book Yourself Solid”. His point being that not just anyone can be your client, they need to meet certain criteria, and when they meet it, they are willing to pay and appreciate your value.
    I wish more virtual assistants would seeing the $4 virtual assistants as competition and realize that the clients that are looking for cheap VA's aren't the type of clients they need.
    Although in this post I focused on the issues that setting rates too low can cause, I totally agree with you about pricing from a value basis. Unfortunately, many aspiring virtual assistants don't even recognize their value, so it's at that point that it's important to also weigh the points made in this post about the costs of running a business and the ability to manage time realistically.

    Thank you so much for sharing this, as it is the 'ideal' way to determine your rates when you have a solid understanding of the value you bring to the table!



  8. Lynne on August 7, 2010 at 7:39 pm

    Lisa, good points. Everyone's situation is different. A year ago I sold my home and moved 200km to care for my mother who is 84, frail and has Parkinsons Disease. She's doing quite well but could no longer manage by herself. I'm quite a bit older that the rest of you and really need to work little, if at all, but I'm a driven sort of personality and I must keep my brain alive. I take very few clients so I can give them my total attention and 101% service. My lifestyle also allows me to only work with A1 clients of my choosing. After more than 25 years as an Executive Legal Assistant in international law firms and industry I have a lot of experience to share and I keep up with technology, social media and trends on a daily basis.

    My new city is very “old school, old boy's club” and no-one has any idea what a VA is or what one does. Although I've been a VA as a sideline since the 80s, these days I merely say I run a secretarial services company. I know, everyone's going to be mad at me, but that's what the locals understand – they “get it” right away. I run my dogs in the park at dawn each morning and walk with/talk to people from all walks of life from bus drivers to doctors to housewives (sorry, domestic engineers). They may not need services but who knows who they know? I'm getting well known there as my dogs share their home-made treats 🙂

    I am happy and stress free. As I said, everyone is different.



  9. Pam on August 8, 2010 at 3:46 am

    I would love to raise my rates but…sometimes you just don’t have the financial ability to wait for new clients to come on board when some of your current ones leave after you raise your rates. Most of my clients are local and my per-hour rate is at the upper range for my area ($25/hr). Others I know that charge more are having trouble getting clients even though they are excellent in what they do and are established VA’s. I have three long-time clients for whom I never raised their rates when I went to my current rate three years ago. I might bite the bullet in a couple of months and raise one of them at a time to see how it goes.

    Several times I’ve been the recipient of a partially-completed project from a new client who switched to me “even though I’m more expensive” because the previous person wasn’t producing quality work. So at least some people are learning the “you get what you pay for” saying. Even so, and even though I’ve been in business for 14 years, it’s still a scary thought to lose income when you don’t know how long it will be before you can get new clients.



  10. T.Marie Hilton on August 8, 2010 at 1:25 pm

    Hi Pam, thanks for dropping by and taking part in our conversation. I can certainly understand your situation, and it is exactly the reason that new virtual assistants should take the steps I spoke of in the post and that Lisa spoke of in her comment BEFORE they start taking clients.
    As you mention, it's not as easy to raise rates as it may sound to some, and that's the danger in thinking you can charge less in the beginning.
    When you speak of the local market not being willing to pay more than your rate, this all comes back to your value, while I'm not questioning your statement, I do want to mention that you're not limited to local clients. Your ideal clients (the ones that will pay you what you're worth and clearly see that worth) may not be in your local area. Sometimes when we live in an area where business owners can't perceive our value, we simply need to look in another direction.
    When I lived in Maine, I lived in an area where my rates seemed astronomical to local businesses, but there were two larger cities within a 1 hour radius of me where my rates were seen as reasonable.
    And remember, you can guarantee that some of your local businesses are paying their plumbers, lawyers and mechanics more than $25 per hour. Again, it all comes down to how clients perceive the value in your services.



  11. Genevieve Lachance on September 30, 2010 at 1:11 am

    Thank you so much for this post! I have struggled so much with finding a rate that will be acceptable for both me and my clients. I think that if you find the right clients and they understand the value that you will bring to them, it shouldn’t be an issue. I don’t believe in lowering my rates because I’m a new VA. I have tones of experience and I’m very qualified for the services I offer. If prospects are looking for a $15/hour virtual assistant than we’re just not meant to work together and I wish them luck!



    • T.Marie Hilton on September 30, 2010 at 1:21 pm

      You’re welcome! I’m so glad people are finding this post helpful. It was clear to me that it was something that needed to be addressed, but wasn’t quite sure how the VA community would feel about it. Pricing is such a touchy subject! You’ve got the right attitude for success!
      Thanks so much for reading and sharing your own story here, I’m sure your words will help other VA’s who are pondering the ‘what to charge’ question.



  12. LegalTypist on September 30, 2010 at 2:01 pm

    Great post Tina!



    • T.Marie Hilton on September 30, 2010 at 2:06 pm

      Thanks Andrea! So glad you stopped by.



  13. Dixie Lee on November 16, 2010 at 4:03 am

    Thank you, thank you for posting about pricing. In researching prior to launching my business, I found pricing was a taboo subject. Like many newbies, I have struggled in finding the right level where I’m not under or over pricing. I’m fortunate in that hubby’s income is supporting the family while I get started. However, others are not as fortunate and are lowering their pricing in attempt to gain more clients.

    After reading your post, I now feel more confident about my prices.



    • T.Marie Hilton on November 16, 2010 at 3:56 pm

      Hi Dixie Lee, Thanks for stopping by and adding your thoughts on the post!
      Pricing does seem to be the one area where it’s hard to get good information which was one reason I felt this post was needed. I think we all tend to struggle with this at some point, partly because we often fail to comprehend our true value or the value of our experience and expertise!
      The truth is, you’re probably worth even more than what you have your current prices set at. 🙂



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  16. […] hard when a potential client doesn't sign because of your rates, but as I've mentioned on my blog here and here, a client who is that concerned about price are much more likely to jump ship for various […]



  17. BrandBuildIt on November 19, 2011 at 10:42 am

    There are a lot of internet marketers who are not ready to pay the right amount. I have been a VA for quite some time and my skills is in SEO, website setup, website/blog management, and even blogging. I deliver good proven results in my campaigns and I am even helping some of my friends get a some real jobs online. And I even manage a small group of VA’s myself. Do I deserve $20-$35 an hr? Oh yes I do especially that my experience cover from a VA to a website owner myself.

    There are lots of people who does not know what they are talking about and posting a ridiculous offer for VA’s. I even had one marketer who did not pay me after all those hard work I’ve done for him while his website gets the rank. He just gone by the wind.

    There are even those who wants to get a VA based on “commission” from their website income while their website is totally a “BRAND NEW SITE” which literally mean “TONS AND TONS” of work and it may even take a year before it start earning $300 a month.

    On the other hand, there are those whom I treasured much. I feel so blessed to have them as my boss.

    Anyway, my point is, be reasonable for the skills. Feel free to test the VA and if he is doing a good job, then give him a good offer. Guys like me who can run a website, and even a team of VA’s is worth every penny.

    But I guess, I am like a miner that was digging in a wrong mining field. So if there’s anyone here who wants to try my skills and is willing to offer me at least $30 an hour, that will really be great!!!



  18. […] clients. The problem is, many of us severely under value our skills, experience and expertise. I've written about it before on my blog and I think we've even discussed it here on the forums before. Do some research and get […]



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