Can You Afford a VA? How Much a Virtual Assistant Costs

how much does a VA really cost

Here’s how a common conversation with friends, new business contacts, and colleagues goes:

Them: “Jess, I’m panicking. I know I need help.”

Me: “Great! That’s a good place to start.”

Them: “But I’m pretty sure I can’t afford it.”

Me: “Well, my friend, that’s where you’re wrong.”

Them: “Do tell!”

Instead of keeping these conversations personal, I decided to share with you the down and dirty, the nitty gritty, the harrowing details of what a virtual assistant typically costs and how their rates are determined.

But first…

Don’t Make Assumptions

Everyone has a different perception of what “expensive” means. This has never been more clear to me than right now, when I have the exact same conversation with two different clients and one responds with, “Hell yeah, let’s do this!” and another responds with, “This is way outside my budget.”

I have taken a vow to never judge a potential client (or anyone, for that matter) on their money situation. And I can tell you from my own perspective that money is not an indicator of success or happiness. So don’t for a second think that whatever is in your bank account is a determination of how successful you will or will not be.

The bottom line is this: Hiring help is an investment and you need to think of it that way. It’s a new line item in your budget and new expense to account for.

And you know, sometimes you have to forego that bottle of Dom Perignon with dinner for the sake of your investment. Or a new pair of Manolos. Sometimes you even have to take out a loan.

Of course, “have to” is a strong phrase. You don’t “have to” do anything. This is your life and your business. You can spend your money, time, and resources however you want.

But isn’t that the big goal in life? To spend your time, money, and resources on doing what you truly love?

That’s why “help” is even a thing people pay for. Nannies, dishwashers, cleaning crews, meal delivery services, and yes, virtual assistants. We’re all here to help make your life better (while making ours great, too!).

If you’re struggling to feed your family or pay your rent, you might want to put your money there before you make any further investments. Gotta be reasonable here. But if you’re ready to spend some money on hiring help, the sky is the limit. You can find someone who matches your budget.

I start here because that’s one of the biggest misconceptions about hiring help—that everyone can do it. On the contrary, hiring help is a luxury and an investment. That level of investment is up to you. But it’s not only a monetary investment. It takes time and energy to hire and support someone if they’re new to your team.

Okay, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, we can talk about the dollars and cents.

How to Calculate the Cost of Your Virtual Assistant

When I first started working as a virtual assistant, I Googled something like, “assistant salary.” This popped up a database that gave me an average salary for an executive assistant living and working in my city. So, I took that annual salary and divided it by 52 and then again by 40 to get an average hourly rate.

Perfect calculation, right?

Wrong.

I forgot to factor in the cost of benefits that I would need to keep myself healthy, both personally and as a business. Things like health insurance, supplies (like a computer), the internet, taxes, and invoicing software. Those costs add up quickly! And this is why sometimes you may have paid an intern in your office $10 per hour but a virtual assistant costs $20 per hour for the same amount of work. That virtual assistant has to cover the normal expenses of life PLUS business-related expenses that you would have had to cover for them had they been hired as an employee.

Get it? You’re not just paying them for the actual hours worked. You are also paying for them to be in good standing with the government, to have the best technology for the job, and so on.

If this seems unfair to you, think about what you’d have to pay if they were a full-time employee. And then shut your mouth. Please. And thank you.

Now, how much do virtual assistants charge per hour? That depends on a few things:

  • Experience: Have they even done this before? Many virtual assistants get where they are because the skills they’re offering as a VA are the things they used to do in a corporate job somewhere. Those assistants generally charge the bigger bucks. Then there are those who are recent grads, changing careers, or just want to make some money on the side. These people may charge less just to get their feet in the door.
  • Type of Service: Are you asking for executive assistant-type tasks such as calendar management, data entry, and flight booking? Or are you asking for copywriting, video production, and email marketing services? Oftentimes, VAs charge different rates for different types of services, so consider what you’re asking for when you’re evaluating rates.
  • Deadlines: Is the project a rush job or are you providing a realistic deadline? If something needs to be done ASAP, it’s within every VA’s best interest to charge a little more. After all, they have to drop everything to make that possible for you.
  • Hassle Factor: Okay, this is one that I probably shouldn’t even be telling you about but I will anyway because I’m nice like that. Sometimes, if a VA feels like you’re going to be tough to work with or your project requires a lot of extra moving parts, they’ll charge a little more per hour. It’s the “hassle factor” charge—and it’s real. (Don’t want to be that guy? Start here.)

All said and done, virtual assistants charge anywhere from $1 to $100 per hour. Sometimes even more. But the sweet spot is generally between $15 and $30 per hour for executive assistant services and $40-$75 per hour for higher level marketing or financial tasks.

Use the above considerations as a guide when you’re evaluating whether or not an assistant is worth the price they’re asking for. Have they been doing this for more than 3 years and have testimonials to prove their good work? Maybe they deserve $50 per hour if you can swing it. Do you not really need someone who’s an absolute pro and so maybe you can go with a younger but still eager type? Maybe $25 per hour does the trick.

It’s not a cut and dry answer, you’ll need to use your analytical skills to figure out what sort of hourly rate makes the most sense for your particular needs, timeline, and sensitivity factor.

Many Virtual Assistants Prefer a Monthly Retainer

The thing about being your own boss (which you are if you’re a freelance virtual assistant) is that you need a reliable way to pay your bills. This is why many freelancers do it on the side of their full-time jobs. They haven’t quite figured out a way to make their project income stable enough to turn into a full-time gig.

I’ve been there, too. When I first quit my job, I was completely winging it. Lucky for me, I had very low expenses, was single, didn’t have any dependents or any debt, and knew that worst case scenario, I could always get a waitressing or barista job to help pay for my life.

Instead, I developed contracts with my clients where they would pay me for an estimated number of hours per week and that number of hours per week would turn into a monthly retainer that they could budget in. In this way, I’m guaranteed a certain amount of work (at least on a month-to-month basis) and the client is guaranteed the help. Everybody wins!

If either one of us needs to cut ties, we require a 30-day written notice. This is a common cancellation clause and you should always include something like it in your contracts.

Project Rates Are Also Available

Have something you need to get done but it’s a one-time project and not an ongoing type of thing? That’s fine! Virtual assistants will usually price out a project based on estimated hours, plus any rush fees and revision time. Sometimes they will ask for 50% of the project fee up front to ensure good faith and then 50% when the project is complete. This is common and completely reasonable, but you will want to make sure you’ve vetted the VA thoroughly before giving them any of your money, and you’ll want to make sure you have a clear contract (as always) as well.

You Can Negotiate the Rate

If a virtual assistant sends you a proposal for services and you don’t like it, it’s always within your rights to negotiate. Within reason, of course. Like, if someone is asking for a $1500 project fee and you can only pay $500, well, first of all, you probably should have said that up front, but also, that’s unreasonable. They’re not going to knock off $1000 just because you asked for it. But you know, maybe they’ll knock off a couple hundred bucks. You never know unless you ask.

Just remember, while it’s always within your right to ask, it’s always within their right to say no. Don’t get offended. They need to live, and these are the services that allow them to do that. Ask nicely. Don’t insult them. And if you can’t come up with an agreement that works for everyone, well, then it’s just not a good fit. And that’s okay.

The truth is you can find any sort of an assistant for any rate you want. Just remember: You always get what you pay for. If you see something that feels too good to be true, it probably is. But if you do your due diligence and ask for work samples, references, and testimonials, you’ll be sure to find someone who is well worth the price they quote. Or the price that you negotiate… if you’re lucky!

Looking to hire a virtual assistant for the first time? Let us negotiate the contract and rates for you, then find you the perfect personality and skills match in a VA! Contact us today to get started.

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Jess Tyson, CEO & Director of Calm

Jess is the founder and proud Director of Calm at Don’t Panic Management. (And yes, she invented that title because that’s what you do when you’re the boss!) She wrote the book on how building a successful relationship with a virtual assistant can make all the difference in helping business owners get to the next level. Her life is often a whirlwind of wrangling her toddler, speaking at conferences (virtual and beyond!), researching productivity hacks, and meticulously making matches between overworked entrepreneurs and focused virtual assistants. Jess's first book, Panic Proof: How the Right Virtual Assistant Can Save Your Sanity and Grow Your Business is available now: panicproofbook.com

  • Current location: Redding, CT
  • Go-to Karaoke song: “Hand in My Pocket” by Alanis Morissette
  • Favorite kind of cheese: Aged Goat Gouda
  • Beverage of choice: Champagne
  • Pronouns: She/Her/Hers
  • Superpower: Delivering miracles, especially when all hope is lost.

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