Guest post by John Tompkins, Founder of AllInvoice.com
Whether you’re a solo act or running a large organization offering VA services, coming up with a strategy to bill your clients is one of the first, and most important steps, you need to take. The majority of VAs charge an hourly rate for services performed. Deciding on your hourly rate is important, also do you charge differing rates depending on the type of work being done? Additionally, you need to decide if you want to bill for a certain number of hours before work is done, if you want to bill after work has been performed, or on a specific date (or after a certain number of days). Lets unpack these decisions and how they will affect your business.
While it is possible to work on a flat cost basis, or quote an amount per job, lets put those concepts aside and assume you want to bill your clients an hourly rate for services provided. What that rate will be depends a lot on who you are targeting and who your competition is. Your hourly rate will be significantly higher if you are a college educated US based VA than it will be for doing data entry off-shore. Both types of services can have tremendous value, but one is more competitive on price and less sensitive to the individual performing the task. Define what your expertise is and then look for competitors to see what their rates are. If you are just starting out, try to be at a similar price point, or slightly higher if you offer a demonstrably better service. Also don’t be afraid to offer different services at different rates. If you can do data entry work and web design, don’t feel you need to offer both at the same hourly rate.
Your billing cycle is the next decision to work through. There are three models to look at; billing before work is done, after work is done, or on a specific date. Lets dig into each and discuss the benefits and drawbacks.
Billing before doing work
This gives you cash prior to you actually doing work. You’ll need to decide on your hourly rate and the number of hours you want your client to prepay for. For example, if your rate is $10/hour and you want to have 10 hours prepaid, a new client would need to shell out $100 before you start on their project. If you decide to go this route, building trust with a prospect and appearing professional is key. It also puts the risk on the client since you could disappear with their cash and provide no work at all. Starting small or offering a certain number of free hours to test your service can be great ways to over come these objections. Also, offering shorter term engagements at higher hourly rates allows a new client to try you out with a limited investment, and then gives them a lower rate for engaging on a longer term commitment after you have proven yourself.
Billing after doing work
This is the polar opposite of the above point. It puts all the risk on you as a client could choose not to pay after you have done work for them. This model is primarily used when your primary clients a larger institutions. Make sure you have a very well written contract in place, and it is a good idea to make the term of service as short as possible, so if you do get stiffed on the bill at least you didn’t miss out on payment for months of services rendered.
Billing on a specific date
This is really only an option for long term stable clients. An example would be someone who constantly hires you every month and to whom you submit a bill for the previous month on the 5th and expect payment on or before the 20th (net 15 terms). If you can get clients who fit this payment system it is preferred, but don’t try to put short term or new clients into it or you risk losing money.
You might also need to bill for one-off, non-hourly products or services. Deciding rates and how you will accomplish this before engaging a client can save you a lot of difficulty down the road.
Whatever you decide to do, I would recommend using a time tracking software solution. Doing any of this can take multiple hours per week doing it by hand or on an Excel spreadsheet. There are many software systems out there which will automate time tracking in any of the ways discussed above and also handle your invoicing as well. Take a look at AllInvoice.com, which is built specifically for Virtual Assistants and Call Center time tracking.
- Figure out your hourly rate(s)
- Decide your billing schedule
- before doing work
- after doing work
- on a certain date
- Consider non-hourly billables
- Investigate time tracking/invoicing software