Virtual Assistants: Is it OK to Work for Free?
I grew up in the age of never telling folks how much you make. I wouldn't think of asking my parents how much they made - it wouldn't have been pretty. But I know times have changed and in this online world we live in where everything is fair game, talking about money is acceptable now, with income reports and all. I'm still getting used to that one.
Well, now that we have the awkwardness out of the way, let's talk money, shall we?
You're a new virtual assistant with little experience and it seems like everyone else has been doing this forever and they know what they're doing. According to all those posts in Facebook groups, they're signing client after client and you can't find even one. Man, that sucks!
Then you start thinking: maybe if I volunteered to work for free, that would solve everything. But will it - really?
Working for free is a really personal decision. I posed this question in my Facebook group:
And as you can imagine, there was a difference of opinion. You don't say!
Jo at the Virtual Admin had this to say:
Tanya is just launching her virtual assistant business and commented:
I guess the question comes down to this - can you afford to work for free? Only you can answer that question. What is your #1 money goal? How much do you want or need to make per week or month, or year? We all have an amount we need to earn to pay our bills. Write it down and post it where you can see it.
If you're just launching your virtual assistant business, figure out how many hours you can set aside for client work. Be realistic about this. Can you devote 30 hours per week to client work and another 10-15 hours for marketing your services? As a rule, you want to spend 75% of your time on billable tasks, like client work and 25% on non-billable things, like marketing and billing.
How much should you charge? Drum roll, please:
As a rule, you shouldn't charge less than $25 per hour. Not only do you need to pay yourself, but as a business owner, you have to pay taxes and other expenses. Don't sell yourself short! While many virtual assistants think that working for a lower rate is a good thing, it actually hurts the industry as a whole. Yes, you may snag a client and eventually end up with a whole slew of low-paying clients. Don't do it! Accepting a lower rate also lowers the caliber of your clients. Trust me when I tell you - if a business owner comes at you with an offer of a low rate, they do not understand that:
You are a business owner, just like they are. They would be offended if a potential client asked them to work for a ridiculously low rate. Why should you?
Most savvy business owners know the industry rate and are willing to pay it. If you're just starting out and you're not comfortable with $25 per hour, lower your rate to what makes you comfortable and increase the number of billable hours if you need to.
Rule of thumb:
$25 - $35 per hour
General administrative experience, like data entry, simple graphics, calendar management, email management, etc.).
$35 - $50 per hour
Advanced skills, such as graphic design, Wordpress edits, content creation, etc.
$50 per hour and up
Web design, building landing pages, creating funnels, social media strategy, Facebook ads, etc.
But if the struggle is real and you need a testimonial or experience to get your foot in the door, here are a few things:
Find a work from home job to earn some money
If you have no experience working from home and you can't wait on that first virtual assistant client, take on a work from home job. Maybe do some transcription or work as a customer service representative. You'll gain experience and money as well.
Have a time limit on how long you're going to work for free
Do you only need a couple of testimonials to get your business off the ground? Work for two or three clients, get the testimonials and then quickly move into paid work. You got what you needed - now it's time to get paid for your skills. Don't make the mistake of working for free forever.
Keep the tasks simple
There's no way I'd build out a website for free but if I'm just starting out I'll create a few graphics because it doesn't take too much time. Offer a task that can be completed in a short period of time and one that you know you can knock out of the park.
Get a testimonial
Ask for a testimonial once the task is complete. You want to show your credibility to the online world and those kind words will go a long way in securing future clients.
Set up a barter arrangement
Bartering is a little different than just flat out working for free. When you barter with someone, both parties get something from the deal. For example, you could offer social media posts in exchange for a graphic designer creating a business logo. As with any type of deal, make sure the terms are spelled out specifically (what type of work will be performed, when it will be completed, etc.). Tammy of My VA Connection says:
Have I worked for free? Yes, I have and I'm not ashamed to admit it. But I had a plan. I didn't work for free for long. It's kind of hard to explain to three boys that we're going to be down to two meals instead of three because Mama didn't charge a client. I did it long enough to get a few testimonials under my belt and referrals to land more clients.
I'd love to hear your thoughts - have you ever worked for free? Do you think it's a no-no?