Cheap Virtual Assistance

Posted by on February 2, 2009 in virtual assistance | 12 comments

Cheap Virtual Assistance

It’s one of the biggest topics of concern to both virtual assistants and those who use our services. How much does a virtual assistant cost? Do we provide value? Can you get good and cheap virtual assistance?

There are many schools of thought. Some people want help at the lowest possible cost, no matter what. For example, I was pointed to this post at Matt’s Life Musings about his quest for a $3/hr virtual assistant to help him with his blogging tasks. Matt seems to believe that the typical range for a VA is $2-20 per hour. As I mentioned in a comment at this blog, the typical range STARTS at $25/hr or more. That is, if you are looking for a professional and efficient virtual assistant. Not surprisingly, Matt is already on his third “cheap” virtual assistant and may soon be looking for number 4.

I found Matt’s post through this well written post over at Lawyer On! The Contract Attorney’s Blog. Kimberly is a freelance contract attorney who shares an experience she has had trying to find inexpensive help for a couple of different needs. Kimberly recounts how she posted about her need for clerical work on a message board and had a range of responses from people who wanted a lot of money for virtual assistance ($45/hr – on the higher end for general administrative VA work, but still reasonable) to a law student that was willing to work for an unspecified “reasonable” rate.

These two posts highlighted a concern I have about the virtual assistant profession. It’s one shared by many of my contemporaries (see here and here for a couple of interesting discussions). Virtual assistance as a profession still isn’t fully understood. Too many people call what they do virtual assistance even though they are basically cheap, task-based help.

A virtual assistant is a business owner. Period. I don’t care what you call yourself, you are not really a VA as defined by any of the industry leaders, unless you recognize that you own your own business. A virtual assistant almost certainly has his/her own website, business name, online presence on social networking forums of some kind, etc. A professional virtual assistant might answer your Craiglist ad or elance posting, but it’s a poor way to find a good VA, as you’ll also be inundated with responses from dozens (or hundreds!) of people who figure that because they own a computer and can kind of type that they can provide virtual assistance to you.

A professional virtual assistant is not “cheap”. A virtual assistant will partner with you for the long term, they will learn about your business, help you grow your business and look out for your interests. A virtual assistant will offer you value. You will not need to repeat your instructions four times, your deadlines will be met and the work will be done correctly. If you get anything else, don’t simply walk away – RUN!

So to answer the question – can you get good and cheap virtual assistant help? I’m going with a big NO! If you “can’t afford” to spend more than $5 or $10 per hour, please recognize that you probably aren’t actually looking for a long-term virtual assistant solution. You are not going to save as much time as if you contracted a virtual assistant. You may find a solution that is good enough, and I wish you much luck. If you only want to pay a few dollars per hour you probably aren’t the right client for me, any more than I am the right virtual assistant for you.


Laurie Mapp, Owner
Halo Secretarial Services
Contact us for more information on virtual legal assistance!

12 Comments

  1. Nice article

    It really comes down to the education of the potential clients. Sure, there are some cheap virtual assistants that can be found and they may be pretty good, but you are trying to find a needle in a big haystack. The other option is to pay people what they are worth. :)

    Rons last blog post..Affordable Business SEO

  2. 45 dollars an hour? People don’t even pay real assistants that much.

    My 3 dollar guy is now working out fine now that he knows what I want and what I like.

    I owned a business, the assistant wanted 45 dollars an hour, I’d laugh them out. That’s 93k a year. If that is what admins made, everyone would want to be an admin!

    But if you are getting 45 dollars an hour, well, good for you! More power to you!

    Nomadic Matts last blog post..Travel Blog Exchange: A Place to Meet Travel Bloggers

  3. Laurie,

    Thank you for the link to my Mamtha and Me blog post.

    To be fair, I said I found to help someone me “for a rate I could live with.” If I’d said “reasonable,” it would have been implying that VA rates were unreasonable. The range of rates I got for VAs was $35-75, so at least for my investigation, $45 was at the low end. As I just started my firm six months ago, I am still watching my budget pretty closely, and this is out of my price range. I don’t want to give the impression that I think professional business owner VAs should take $10 an hour, and please do forgive me if I it sounded like that.

    I do sympathize with the difficulty in establishing yourself as a “professional” as a VA, because I have had some trouble with the term “contract lawyer.” I’m a professional, running a solo practice, yet I get confused with the contract lawyers that work for staffing agencies and do doc review. That’s a perfectly legitimate business, of course, but its not what I do, and not at the same rates.

    That’s all I got! Thanks for the opportunity to clear up any misunderstanding.

    Kimberly

  4. Thanks for the comment Ron!

  5. I didn’t actually say I charge $45 per hour, just that sometimes it is an appropriate fee. Virtual assistants do not work full-time for any one client, so you can’t exactly multiply their rate by full-time hours and say they make that much per year either. And regardless “real” assistants can make very good money in a year, depending on where they live and what they specialize in. Not to mention I’ve seen several articles/studies that show an employee, as opposed to a sub-contractor like a virtual assistant, actually costs an employer up to 2.5 times their actual salary. So an assistant that only makes $35,000 a year actually can cost the employer $87,500!

    Thanks for the comment Matt, even if we disagree on this subject!

  6. Thanks Kimberly for clarifying that! I guess it can be hard for many of us to truly establish what services we offer in just a word or two. “Contract Lawyer” or “Virtual Assistant” are terms that explain somewhat what services we provide, but don’t clarify the full extent of them or show our value. I wish you luck in growing your practice and finding clients who appreciate what you can do for them!

  7. I think that part of the pricing problem for us as virtual assistants is the wide range of services that fall under that umbrella. Someone looking for help with a simple typing or data entry project is really not looking for what you or I might call a virtual assistant. Our higher fees have everything to do with our experience, training and expertise in specific professions which includes knowing how to work independently, troubleshoot and think for ourselves.
    and Matt, no, a file clerk or receptionist may not make much per hour in an actual office, but as a real estate paralegal in a title company I was making pretty close to what my current charges are, and that was before you added on taxes and benefits that my former employer paid.
    Too many business people looking for virtual assistants are seeing us as an equivalent to a glorified typist, when in actuality we are not only business professionals in our own right, but business owners as well. And that gives us a better insight and understanding to our clients needs

    Tina Hiltons last blog post..A Discussion on the Term ‘Virtual Assistant’

  8. Hi Laurie,

    I think part of the problem is that so many people seem to think anyone who works virtually is a virtual assistant.

    I have a few people who help me with tasks virtually. As in, they work from home, and I pay them to do work for me. But the don’t own virtual assistant businesses. They’re basically independent contractors. When I first started looking around for people, I couldn’t afford $45/hr — still can’t. Not that I don’t think some assistants would be worth that price; they’re just out of my budget. But I would never dream of asking someone to work for $3/hr. That seems insane to me. I hope anyone working for that little of an amount lives in a country where that rate converts into something decent for them, because I can’t even imagine… Wow.

    I feel your pain though. I get people who find me online and contact me to hire me as a ghostwriter for $3/post. While there may be people happy to work at that rate — and more power to them — I’m just not one of those people. And I’m very grateful that I have plenty of people willing to pay me a professional rate for the work I do. Otherwise, I would go work at Starbucks or something. :-)

    Amy Derbys last blog post..How to Get Comments on Your Law Blog (and How NOT To)

  9. Thanks Amy! I’d rather work at Starbucks too than be paid $3/hr! At least then I’d get a discount on my lattes, lol!

  10. Plus, we could learn all the insider secrets on how to make all the really COOL drinks!

    Amy Derbys last blog post..How to Get Comments on Your Law Blog (and How NOT To)

  11. Laurie, great post and one which emphasizes many points I spend hours explaining to folks.

    What we need to emphasize is the lack of overhead costs they have when using us. We use our own equipment — they don’t need to have an extra work station setting largely unused, just to have a place for a temp when they need one. They don’t pay for the time I spend checking email or running to the bathroom. They don’t pay for my insurance or vacation. And they don’t pay me for hours spent occupying a desk when they have no work for me.

    I consistently hear from overseas VAs asking me to outsource my work to them — they will do my work for $5-8 per hour — but at what cost? If the quality of the work is lacking, I’ve gained nothing. As a paralegal I often review medical records in legal cases. I am still amazed at the incredibly bad medical transcription I see in these files — obviously the work was done where language was an issue. And just as obviously, the doctors never checked the work product afterwards (or filled in the blanks). I find this extremely worrisome from a nursing viewpoint as well as from the VA perspective.

    Nearly a year ago I wrote “If You Pay Peanuts, You Get Monkeys.” Since I am still receiving emails on this article, you might find it helpful.

    (http://cardinalpointva.typepad.com/inside_out/2007/04/if_you_pay_pean.html)

    I think we need to be very careful not to underprice ourselves. If we have experience and if we provide a truly excellent work product, we can feel secure in setting our rates at a level sufficient to support ourselves. And finally, consider this: If something is priced too cheaply, it seldom receives respect. If we want to be respected for the work we do and the product we provide, we need to price it appropriately. Charging incredibly low rates often sends a message that our work is not up to par — instead of selling them on the valuable services we provide.

  12. Thanks Karalyn for such a well thought out response! You’ve made some great points and I agree with your point about not underpricing our virtual assistant services. Take care!

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