Looking for a Virtual Assistant? Think Cupcakes.

Consider this scenario:

You need 500 specially decorated cupcakes for an extremely important event you’re hosting at the end of the month.  You do a search for local bakers and find two that list custom decorated cupcakes as something that they offer. You  jot down the addresses and head out to check them out.  

You find the first bakery easily, noticing its sign from the roadway, it’s window is nicely decorated with a few fancy cakes and cupcakes.  When you walk in the door a little bell sounds as you enter the well lit store.  A display case of delicious looking confections grabs your eye immediately as a cheerful young woman behind the counter greets you and asks how she can help.  When you explain what you are looking for she opens a binder that sits on top of the display case explaining that it’s filled with examples of custom cupcakes they’ve made before.  You see several that are similar to what you need and are convinced they would be capable of handling your design.  She explains that in order to deliver the freshest cupcakes possible, they will bake yours very early in the morning of the event, allowing them just enough time to cool and be decorated before delivery to your event.  This is good, you think, because you want your guests to have the freshest and best tasting cupcakes possible.  You explain your design and she confidently says that they can definitely make 500 of them for your event.  You ask the price and frown a little. It’s more expensive than you thought it would be.  You tell her you will get back to her and decide to check out the other bakery.

You have a hard time finding this one. It’s nestled in amongst a bunch of other businesses in the same building. There is no sign out front, just a small one in the window. .  One lone decorated ‘cake’ sits in the window, obviously a display piece and not for consumption.  You walk through the door into  a dimly lit room, a small open display case holds empty trays except for a few stray cookies and muffins that look like they’ve been there awhile.  You stand at the counter for several minutes before noticing the bell with the ‘ring me’ sign.  The sound of the bell eventually brings a frowning woman  from the back, her apron dirty, and she asks what you need.  You explain the cupcakes you need for the event and she says ‘Sure, we can do that”.  You think of the book of examples that the other bakery had and ask if they have any.  She pulls a few crumpled sheets paper with pictures of cupcakes on them out from behind the counter.  The designs look good, some similar to what you want and you ask if they made all of them. “Well no, not all of them,” she says, “But we can.”  You’re not feeling overly confident.  You ask about the delivery of the cupcakes and she tells you that they will make them the day before and you can pick them up the day of the event.  Not exactly the freshest , you think.   Then you ask how much.  She quotes a price that you had in mind before your visit to the other bakery, in fact it’s even a little lower than you had thought.

What are you going to do? 

I would be willing to bet that there aren’t many of you that would take the chance on the second bakery if an important event were relying on amazing cupcakes. 

A fellow virtual professional prompted this blog post when she posed the question, ” My recent experience has been that there are many “virtual assistants” out there who are promoting themselves at ridiculous rates. How do you recommend handling this??” on the Facebook Page.

I answered that what it really came down to was value, not price. I’ve written about it before right here on this blog.  But it got me to thinking about the subject again. It made me wonder if those of you looking to work with a virtual professional actually ever think past the cost?   I’m pretty sure if it were as easy to see the difference as it is in the bakery scenario above you might think twice about going with the low cost alternative.  But it isn’t.

The truth is, when looking for a virtual assistant or other type of virtual professional you need to use your head a little. As good as that low rate may seem at first, take a moment to consider a few things.

First, can you picture running a business on that kind of rate?  I’m serious.  If you’re a savvy business owner, you know what the costs of doing business are like, do these rates seem logical?   Chances are they aren’t and in order to keep their business afloat  they have to take on a ton of clients and work practically round the clock. Not exactly good business practices.  Most low cost virtual professional businesses are going to  crash and burn that way because they aren’t charging enough.

Second, those low rates mean that the virtual professional doesn’t value their skills and abilities very highly.   People that know what they’re doing also know what it’s worth.  You’re taking a huge risk with your project and ultimately your business if you place it in the hands of someone like that.

The next time you’re tempted to pop onto ODesk to find a cheap VA for your project, do me a favor.  Imagine those bakeries and your 500 cupcakes.  Who are you going to choose?


Tina Marie Hilton provides online technology services to forward thinking businesses. She writes on her Tips from T.Marie business blog to share insight and information with other small businesses and entrepreneurs. It also makes her feel like that certificate in creative writing isn't going to waste completely.


  1. planetbake on May 18, 2012 at 12:48 am

    My goodness, that Cupcakes looking very nice. I’m really drooling over it!