Selling Virtual Assistant Packages instead of your time (retainers) is a great way to work less and make more money. For some reason, there is a perception that time is less valuable than expertise. Even though we all know time is extremely valuable.
This post is part of The Ultimate VA Success Guide: How To Calculate Your VA Rates + Create Packages. Below you’ll find an overview of all blog posts it includes:
One of the things that drive me crazy about the VA Industry is there are no standard definitions and terms. Coming from both the IT and Project Management worlds, I love standards.
I see the use of retainers and Virtual Assistant packages being mixed and I believe it starts to cause some confusion, especially for those new to the industry. So here are my definitions for all of them – the same ones I used in my business.
What Are Retainers?
- They are buckets of hours.
- They are billed prior to the work being started.
- They can be used for any task. They’re getting a blended rate.
- You must track your time.
- They have an expiration date.
- The client pays for your time.
A Retainer is a pre-paid bucket of hours that can be used for any tasks your clients need. The client dictates what the hours are used for and is paying for your time vs. your expertise. They are normally billed at the beginning of the month and have an expiration date of anywhere from 30 to 90 days from the invoice date.
Time is tracked on all the tasks completed against the retainer and the client is given a report showing how the hours were used. Sometimes clients may question why it took so long to complete a specific task when they see your monthly report. Especially if you do a number of different things for them. It’s because they:
- Don’t understand how long it takes to do a specific task.
- Don’t know all the steps involved.
- Are looking at the time involved instead of the expertise.
- Bought your time, not your expertise.
When Does It Make Sense To Use Retainers?
Now, retainers are great if you’re just getting started. They allow you to get a feel for how long it takes to do the work plus all the tasks involved. They’re also great if you only do one type of work for a client (using only one expertise).
When Is It Better To Consider An Alternative To Retainers?
If you’re doing more than one thing, then you’re getting paid one flat rate for doing multiple types of work that could include several different types of expertise. This is known as a blended rate.
I know I don’t want to be paid the same rate I would charge for data entry if I were setting up campaigns in Infusionsoft. They require vastly different skills. Infusionsoft is a beast and takes time to master while data entry is fairly simple and almost anyone can do it.
So if you’re doing a variety of skills for clients and only charging them one rate, say $40 an hour, you’re leaving money on the table. Sure you could charge different hourly rates for different skills but that’s a nightmare to track and manage.
A much easier way is to offer packages based on the expertise provided. This takes the time element out of it and clients have a much better understanding of what they’re getting for their money. Remember, if you’re selling your time then it’s NOT a package, it’s a retainer and you’re tracking billable hours.
What Are Virtual Assistant Packages?
- They deliver a specific set of items or deliverables.
- They have a fixed price.
- They have a specific deadline.
- They don’t require you to track your time.
- They are invoiced 50% upfront and 50% on delivery. Or you can invoice for the whole package upfront – your business so it’s your choice.
- The client pays for your expertise NOT your time.
A package is a set of deliverables (tasks) based on expertise such as creating a WordPress website, implementing 1ShoppingCart, or sending out a monthly e-zine. Clients are paying you for specific expertise.
Virtual Assistant packages are billed either all upfront or 50% prior to the start and then the remaining 50% on delivery. Or 100% upfront. They are for a fixed price and have a specific deadline. Clients understand exactly what they’re getting and what they’re paying for.
Virtual Assistant Packages are based on expertise. For some reason, there is a perception that people who charge by the hour get paid less than those that work with packages. I believe it’s because time seems less valuable than specific expertise. Again, it’s a perception.
The beauty of packages is you can define them by your expertise AND control exactly what is included. If you have several different types of expertise, you can offer several different packages showcasing each and every one. Or you can take one expertise and create several different packages for different audiences. Voila, you now have multiple income streams!
How To Create Virtual Assistant Packages
Keep in mind you can package anything as long as you quantify all the pieces. What do I mean? Let’s say you want to create Virtual Assistant packages for email management. You’d want to quantify the number of emails you would respond to in a specific amount of time. For example:
- Up to 50 emails per day for $25.00 (example rate).
- Up to 100 emails a week for $75.00 (example rate).
- Up to 1,000 emails per month for $150.00 (example rate).
You may have noticed that I said “up to” instead of just a number. It just makes it easier if you only do say 40 in a week, it all works out in the averages.
Here’s another example. Say you create a package for monthly blog posts.
- Up to 4 blog posts per month (content provided by client)
- Proofing of each post
- Adding up to 2 images provided by the client
- Adding up to 5 keywords provided by the client
- Scheduling each post
- Sharing on 3 social media platforms using Buffer App
- The price is $300.00.
Your clients understand what they’re getting and for how much. It’s clear what expertise they’re paying for. It’s very important to be as detailed as possible when putting together your Virtual Assistant packages. You don’t want any grey areas.
Oh, and you can’t package something you’ve never done before. You need to know all the tasks involved and how long it takes to complete them. It’s essential for pricing and delivering your Virtual Assistant packages.
How To Price Virtual Assistant Packages
First, you need to know:
- All the tasks involved in your Virtual Assistant packages.
- How long it takes to complete the package.
That’s why I mentioned that you can’t package something you’ve never done. Pricing is an art and a science. It’s not about taking your hourly rate and multiplying it by the time it takes to complete the package. This is what many people teach. That’s incorrect!
The problem with that method is most Virtual Assistants don’t charge enough and it’s not about time, it’s about delivering expertise and value. I can’t tell you what to charge, that’s why I say it’s an art and a science. But you can start with the hourly rate x amount of time and then add 25% to it.
For example: $30 x 45 hours = $1,350 + 25% = $1,687.50
Why 25%? It’s a place to start to add the value and expertise your package delivers. But you have to believe you’re worth and what you’re charging which is a whole different conversation.
Before you can put a price on your Virtual Assistant packages you need to know how much you need to earn. That is the baseline number you should be starting with. I used both retainers and packages in my business. Remember, your business – your choice. Do what works best for you and your clients.
What Are Projects?
Projects are very similar to Virtual Assistant packages but the major difference is who determines the scope (what’s included). When you create a service package, you determine the scope of what is included in the package your client is buying.
For a project, the client determines the scope with your help. This is what Project Managers do – they work with their clients to determine what is included in the project and create the project scope. That’s the biggest difference.
Are you ready to create your Virtual Assistant Packages? I’ve created a simple checklist that summarizes everything I talk about in this blog – feel free to download a copy if you’re interested. Just click the button below.
Click here + download the Free Packaging Checklist
I’d love to hear from you.
Feel free to post below and let me know what action you’re taking today to create your service packages. All comments and questions are welcome.
Thanks for reading – Susan
P.S. If you want to specialize in in-demand skills, learn how to package and offer them as a service to become a known Specialist and get those higher-paying clients, I recommend you have a look at my TechieU Training. You can try it for 5 USD for 5 days and see if it’s for you!
I try to start or launch my VA biz but somehow there is a blockage telling me not to. Yes, I am anxious and I want to play it safe. There are many information in my head and many tips and tricks are taken on board. We all know something unknown to us causes fear. Therefore, the more I am informed the more I get confident that I can make it.
Now, to my question: I do not know what to offer to clients. As a certified paralegal I can do a bit of admin which is manual. Well, I am forty-seven and out of job for quite some time. One did not hang around but went to college and did some volunteering.
However, I need to earn my own buns immediately. My budget does not allow me to spend to much money on courses. I am good in typing, I know about excel, word etc. But how do you do email management, what does Pinterest management means, where can I learn in a crash course?
I appreciate any advice, dear Susan.
Hey Ragia, thanks for taking the time to comment, I appreciate it. I would offer what you can right now to earn some money including the things you listed you were good at. As for learning email management, Pinterest, etc. You can only learn so much by watching YouTube videos and reading blogs. Watching someone do it and doing it yourself are two different things. My best advice is to start earning some money and then save up to purchase a course that teaches you the fundamentals plus shows you how to use a specific tool.
Hi Susan, I have just found your awesome website and fab resources. I was wondering about the retainers and packages. I am a chartered translator/interpreter and a Legal VA. I hold Legal Secretary Diploma and currently work towards obtaining paralegal qualifications. This led me to the great concept of creating my own Virtual Assistant business along my translation career. At the moment I am trying to get my head around the retainers and packages system. My clients are individual enterpreneurs and law firms. How do I set up packages for them if their business are so diverse? I am a bit stuck. Could you please advise me on that? Thank you 🙂
Hey Izabella, thank you! Package the related tasks together and then create custom packages based on what clients needs. For example you could create a document package that includes X number of documents as one package and another for say answering emails. Remember, packages are based on expertise not time.
How does this work for virtual healthcare assistants. That’s mostly my niche. How do I set packages for that when it’s mostly general admin kind of work? It’s different tasks (i.e. checking emails, answering phones, ordering labs, patient education). Is it better to do retainers in this instance?
Hi Lindsay, thank you for taking the time to comment, I appreciate it. For general admin tasks that are a mix of things then I would recommend doing monthly retainers as there is no efficient way to package them since it’s not expertise based. If you were to do just one of those items then you could package it up – say checking emails. X # of emails per week for X dollars. It’s much easier to package when you specialize in a specific expertise. I hope that helps.
Excellent explanation, Susan! I too have charged by the various methods – started with hourly, then monthly retainers, now mostly do monthly packages with occasional short project work. I tweeted your post too! Good for clients and prospects to understand these differences, especially the “bill for skill” !
Thank you Martina for taking the time comment + share, much appreciated! Yes… it is so important that our clients are educated too!
The article is very good. I’m still at the beginning, prospecting customers, but the content, the site is all very informative
Thank you Daniela for your comment – much appreciated.
Thank you for writing this. I have been using packages in my business for several years now. I used to offer a “6 hour package for $xxx”. But I have learned this doesn’t really work all that well for me. I specialize in serving Mental Health Professionals and many do not clearly understand “business” and/or “time vs service and value”. I have since then moved to “volume packages” as many of my clients are monthly retainers and we handle all of their phones and scheduling.
Here’s what I struggle with…. they still want to know “how do I know how much volume I have used” when I let them know they are due to upgrade their package. They are still “TIME” minded even though we discuss in our first consultation that we are a “service and results/value” based business. SOME get it, but most do not. They are trapped.
I am trying to figure out the language to help them understand so I don’t have to keep going over this again and again. Although my team does track time for our internal needs, I don’t report to them time or volume used.
Any ideas or suggestions?
Hope you are doing well. 😉
Hey Frances, thank you for taking the time to comment. Can you share a link or the details of your packages so I can see what you’re offering? This will help me better understand so I can give you the best advice!
thank you. this is very very helpful!
Thank you, this was informative!
Thank you – glad you found it helpful.
Thank you for writing this. Someone asked me to help him with his business and he gave me what he called a $500 “retainer fee“ without a contract nor a specified end date. I had originally offered him an agreement for what I was willing to do/not do. He did not want to sign anything but again, he did give me the $500 in February. I worked for him for about a week and he asked me to bill him for the hours and any resources for that one week and he paid me for those hours but then he told me that he did not want me to do anything else until he got back to me. He refuses to work in a comprehensive way… Clearly outlining what it is that he needs from me. He prides himself in being chaotic and at one point being upset and cussing at me. We are not a good match to do business with each other and I told him so. Therefore I told him that I am moving on. I just got hired to work elsewhere and now he is reaching out to me to work with him. Even though I already said that I no longer wish to do business with him. So I’m curious… for all of this time that he has not given me any work, as he had put me on, as he calls it, “suspended animation”, do I need to return the money? Thanks!
Hi Tracy, thanks for taking the time to comment on this post. I know it will be helpful to others as well. I can’t give you legal advice on how you want to handle the refund or not – since you don’t have a signed contract. Has he asked for the money back? How much work have you done for him? I would definitely reach out to an attorney to see what their advice would be. Glad to hear you’re moving on, bigger and better things await you my friend.