How to set your freelance rates

How to set your Virtual Assistant rates

One of the hardest things to decide when you become a Virtual Assistant is how to price your services. If you charge by the hour then you’ll never earn more than there are hours in the day, which is why it’s better to get a client on a retainer or charge a project rate. “But how does that work and how do I do that?!” I hear you cry. Well, let’s look at those options in more detail.

When you’re looking to set your Virtual Assistant rates there are a few different approaches you can take.

Charging by the hour

The problem with this is that if you only charge by the hour, you’re limited by the number of working hours in a day – because not every hour is billable.

There’s your own admin to sort out, documents to familiarise yourself with, emails to write and reply to, phone calls to take and make, marketing to do, accounts to balance and 1000 other bits and bobs.

I read once that there are only around five billable hours in a day.

The other downside to charging by the hour is that you become faster over time – which means you will end up being paid less money the quicker you get.

Also, remember the extras

Don’t forget that when you worked for a company you also received:

  • Holiday pay
  • Sick pay
  • Maternity leave
  • Petrol and mileage
  • All your equipment including desk, stationery, phone storage space etc
  • Utilities such as internet, phone, water, heating and electricity.
  • Free coffee and tea
  • Tax and national insurance being dealt with for you
  • Free skills training
  • Guaranteed hours
  • Job security
  • A regular income.

And now you don’t.

So when you’re working out how much to charge remember that you’ll be at home using water, heating, broadband and electricity. You’ll also be buying your own stationery and paying for extras such as petrol yourself.

Yes, you can put a lot of it on your expenses, but it still adds up.

Charging project rates

Charging by the project is how Virtual Assistants make the most money.

Project rates are brilliant on many levels because you can charge more than an hourly rate but still keep the client happy because you’re delivering what they asked for a set price.

Clients always think tasks take you less time to complete than they actually do, so if you give clients a total price for the entire project, they’re happy because they know exactly how much their invoice will be and you’re happy because you know how much money you will receive.

Remember that the more you do a task, the quicker and better you will be – this means you can earn more money for working fewer hours.

This is the business model all freelancers strive to achieve!

It’s worth noting that project rates are always dependent on the task. So I would quote my hourly rate on my website but then say retainers and project rates are available upon discussion.

This way the client had a rough ballpark figure of my prices but we could have a chat and come to an agreement if they wanted a project price.

How to know how long a project will take

There are a few ways to estimate how long a task will take although, if it’s a task you’ve done many times before then you should know how long it’ll take you!

One way is to run a mock version and time it. So if you want to know how much data you can enter in an hour, ask the client for a sample, enter 15 minutes worth and then multiply it to scale.

Remember to add an extra 33% to the time you estimate though because tasks always take longer than you think.

The most important thing when quoting for a project is to make sure you have a full understanding of the scope. To create a “paper trail” and avoid misunderstandings, send the client an email summarising the task as they have explained it (“I understand the task to be X, Y, Z etc”) and then provide your quote based on that.

In order to avoid “scope creep”, I would also say something like “this quote is based on the perimeters of the project brief provided. If the perimeters of the project change then so may the quote.”

You and your client both need to agree on what the task is, the timelines involved and how much they will be paying you.

If you have provided a rough estimate then allow for a contingency budget. Have this as a clause in your T&Cs and make sure this is clear from the outset.

You will occasionally get it wrong and end up undercharging (all VAs have done this at least 3 or 4 times!) but then you know for next time and try not to make the same mistake again.


When you’re working out how to set your Virtual Assistant rates, retainers are a great option.

Retainers are particularly useful when you have a client who has lots of “bitty” work for you. If your client only needs a few tasks completed here and there, it often won’t add up to much if you charge them by the hour.

The great thing about retainers is that the client knows that their tasks are taken care of and what they’ll be paying, and you know how much money you will be receiving which makes it easier to budget and plan your finances.

Plus, retainers are always charged in advance for the month ahead, not the month just gone.

So if you charge your client for ten hours of work at £27 per hour, they know they have secured ten hours of your time and won’t have to worry you won’t have availability for them, and you know you’re definitely getting £270 at the beginning of the month.

Giving discounts on block bookings

Some Virtual Assistants offer a discount if the client books a certain amount of hours, but this isn’t common practice in other freelance industries.

I think it’s just another example of VAs trying to be ‘helpful’ which translates as giving their time away for free!

Virtual Assistants usually come from an admin background which means they’re often huge people pleasers and exceptionally compliant. They bend over backwards to facilitate other people’s needs and if someone wants something, they will usually try to organise it.

The problem is, they usually forget to charge for it!

There is even a funny video by Denise Duffield-Thomas on how women sell in business vs how men sell. Well, it would be funny if it wasn’t so frustrating!

Discounts are not a good idea because every hour you’re working at a discounted rate is an hour you could be working at your full rate for another client.

Clients are paying to retain your time. They want the security of knowing you will always have time for their tasks.

It’s the time part of that sentence that’s important, not the money bit!

Clients don’t always use all of their retained hours

Remember that a client is paying to guarantee your availability so you bill them for the hours they’ve requested – whether they use them all or not is not your business.

I remember when I was dating a Programmer who charged £600 + VAT per day. The client retained him for ten days, they only used him for four days but he billed them for the full ten.

Because that is how many days of his time they asked to retain. Days he put aside for them instead of giving them away to other clients.

Of course, his client paid without a quibble…  because that’s how retainers work!

Some Virtual Assistants feel ‘guilty’ about doing this but you’re a professional business owner and this is the entire point of a retainer and how you make your money.

You can inform the client of how many hours they’ve used up as you go along but they’re also a professional business owner and you’re not their Mum.

I also remember a very wealthy client I had previously passed over to another local VA.

One day I was having coffee with the VA and he said “You know, Kevin pays me £350 a month but only uses around four or five hours of his retainer. I feel guilty taking his money.”

“I’ve seen Kevin pay more than that for lunch”, I said. “It’s not up to you to decide how much Kevin should pay you.”

Kevin was happy to pay £350 a month to retain my VA friend’s time. He wanted to know that, should he need it, it was there.

Rolling over hours

It might help to think of a retainer as you would a gym membership.

If you only go to the gym twice in one month (or not at all) the gym is not going to offer to roll your subscription over because you didn’t use the facilities you signed up for.

Nor would Netflix offer to roll over your payment if you decided not to watch any shows that month.

If you allow a client to roll over their hours you will never know how many hours you will be working that month. This means you can’t plan your time, you’ll lose money and your calendar will be a hot mess.

If you’re not how to tell a client they can’t roll over unused retainer hours to the following month, I’ve written an email template to help you. You can find it (along with 14 other beauties) here in my Difficult Client Conversations doc.

Minimum retainer hours

Some VAs only offer a minimum number of retainer hours but this is entirely up to you.

When asked, some of the more experienced Virtual Assistants in my VA Handbookers Facebook group said ten was the minimum number of retainer hours they offered.

“My min is 10hrs a month. I used to offer 5 but they never move up from 5 and also, 5 hr people are quite hard work! You just can’t make a big enough impact in 5 hrs.”

“My minimum is 10 hours. It takes time to really dig in and get to know a client and their business, and less than that in an entire month does end up feeling like you’re always playing catch-up and “Oh yeah there’s this other thing, but it will have to wait…” And yes, the ones who are on very small packages often end up being the most high-maintenance.”

“I used to do 5-hour packages but soon got rid of them as they were a real pain. I don’t take people on retainers unless they need at least 10 hours.”

How to suggest a retainer to a client

Your goal is to get a client on a retainer but sometimes they will only do this once you’ve been working together for a while and have proved your value.

Neither of you knows if you even like working together, you don’t want to get saddled with a bad client and they don’t even know if you’re good at your job yet.

A client will rarely sign up for a retainer until you’ve been working together for at least a month.

When suggesting your client sign up for a retainer, you need to outline what’s in it for them and not you. So you could say something like:

“Hey, we’ve been working together for a few months now, I love working with you and I know you’re happy with my work as well; your tasks always seem to take around x hours so why don’t we set up a monthly retainer instead of billing by the hour.

This way you’ll always know how much your invoice is going to be, but more importantly, you’ll be secure in the knowledge that I actually have the time put aside for your tasks.

My business is growing quite quickly and I want to make sure I always have availability for your tasks.”

How much should you charge for your Virtual Assistant services?

According to a recent poll I ran in your VA Handbookers Facebook group, the average rate for a UK Virtual Assistant is around £30 an hour and between $30 and $60 in the States depending on expertise and experience.

I charge £30+ an hour (I specialise in social media analysis and other techie services) but clients usually pay project rates due to the nature of their tasks.

So I might quote £x for setting up a 10-email newsletter sequence but the quote will vary depending on the specifics of the task because no two projects are exactly the same.

Remember that you will need to add a minimum of 25% (I’d err on the safe side and go with 30%) to your prices to cover tax and other expenses.

As a rule of thumb, do not go below £25 an hour in the UK and $30 an hour in the States.

Mindset is key when it comes to pricing your Virtual Assistant services

Imagine if you wanted to hire an Accountant or a Web Developer and when you spoke to them they seemed to lack confidence in their skills and were apologetic about their rates.

You’d be worried.

Now, this sounds harsh but if you don’t think you are good at what you do, then you’re going to struggle to run your own business.

You are a professional business owner and it’s important to come across as confident in your abilities and your fees – even if you’re new and don’t feel that way inside.

This is why I always recommend that you start out by offering what you know.

If you do this then you’ll know how to do the tasks, you’ll know what to charge, you’ll know who to approach and you’ll know how to market your services.

If you offer or take on tasks that you have no idea how to do when you start out, the opposite of the above will be true. Plus, if you mess up your confidence will take a beating, and you’ll start to question whether you’ve made the right decision.

Don’t price yourself too low

It’s important that you position yourself well so potential clients understand you’re good at what you do. If your rates are really low clients may think your work will be of poor quality and that you don’t value what you do.

So they won’t either.

People who are looking for a cheap deal will always go for the lower rate anyway so don’t try to compete with other Virtual Assistants on price because there will always be someone cheaper than you – and you do not want to be in a race to the bottom.

If you go in too low then it will be much harder to raise your rates later.

It’s also worth knowing that the previous average UK hourly rate of £25 an hour was set after the last recession because the cheaper VAs couldn’t afford to stay in business.

It’s much better to pitch yourself as having a speciality and charge accordingly.

It’s a fact that many people won’t understand or appreciate the value of what you do, but there are plenty of people on the planet who will.

You shouldn’t waste your time on someone who just wants the cheapest price instead, you need to focus your efforts on finding clients who are looking for a fantastic service and who are happy to pay for it.

This is why you should focus on leveraging your niche.

Show your value and worth

You cannot underestimate the value clients place on you being reliable, consistent, easy to work with, great at communicating, a brilliant problem solver, and able to understand and anticipate their needs.

Clients will pay good money for these qualities because they’re actually hard to find.

You’d think every Virtual Assistant would have these qualities but they don’t. Many VAs have poor communication skills, they don’t update their clients on the status of their tasks, they use personal problems as an excuse for missing deadlines, they leave their clients in the lurch and they mess them about.

So market yourself as being someone who is reliable, good at what they do and knows what they’re doing. If you can back this up with testimonials and case studies as evidence then even better.

If you’re confident you’re worth the money, your clients will be as well.

Be mindful of freebies

Sometimes you may want to ‘be kind’ to clients and end up massively overservicing them and giving away time for free. While a small amount is understandable, it can easily add up. For instance:

Imagine you charge £27 an hour and you give one client a free 15-minute catch-up call each week. That means you’re giving away one hour a month – which equals £324 a year.

And that’s just one client for just 15 minutes a week.

So again, while how you manage your clients is up to you, please be aware that time is money… your money.


When it comes to setting your Virtual Assistant rates, you will probably use a combination of the approaches outlined above. Some tasks may be better priced if included within a retainer and sometimes, you’ll make more money by quoting a project rate.

While the price you quote will depend on the task, remember that your job is to make lots of money for yourself!

This isn’t a hobby. You’re a professional business owner and if you prioritise your client’s business over your own and keep finding ways your clients can pay you less, then you won’t have a business before long.

The most important thing is to be clear about how much you charge, make sure your clients always receive a top-rate service (but don’t overservice them), check they always know what they’re being charged for, and charge at least the going rate.

Oh, and be sure to review your rates each year because inflation and the natural rises in the cost of living mean you will have to regularly raise your rates.

Wanna make more money?

My pricing course shows you how to break through the hourly rate ceiling by charging project rates and packaging up your services.

I also explain the psychology of pricing and show you loads of ways to increase your turnover without working more hours.




Thank you Jo – this article is so helpful!
Your last comment was in 2020 – so I thought I’d comment to let you know 8 years on (that was the date of the first comment so I assume the article was written then) you are still helping VA’s around the world! 🙂

I am in the planning stages of setting up my VA business and I must say your website has been such a great help- day one into my research and I have learnt so much!
This article is particularly helpful as I was not aware of having the option to do project work or setting up retainers – I simply thought you just billed at an hourly rate.
You have allowed me to see things from a different perspective – you are absolutely right, you limit your earning potential by just billing on an hourly rate.
I have had a think about my hourly rate and I will set it above the average UK rate as I live in London (enough said there) Although some may consider it a bit pricy I am not too concerned about this, as I feel it will not be a problem as for the clients I want to attract plus I am really good at what I do! We live a day and age where people want convenience and are willing to pay extra for it so this is where I come in. Having an assistant is a luxury and luxury comes at a price – if my rates are too high then my service is not right for you.
I have been a PA for 6 years and most of my experience is in investment banking working with the exco members and as a VA want to steer towards working with HNWI and my niche will be organising events whether it be a business or personal- so great earning potentials there for me in terms of project work as I can charge per event etc. 🙂

Anyway enough of me talking way!
Once again thank you for sharing all of your knowledge and advice it is a great help to me and all VA’s across the globe!

All the Best 🙂

Joanne Munro

You are so welcome, Sha. What I love about your comment is how confident you are. This can be an issue for women at the start of their journey but you have full confidence in your abilities and that you’re worth every penny. I think you’re going to be a fantastic Virtual Assistant; you have experience, a profitable niche and, most importantly, a can-do mindset. Be sure to join the VA Handbookers Facebook group if you haven’t already and feel free to ask any questions while you’re there.

Alison Biggerstaff

I’m still in the process of setting up. This has been a very informative post. Thank you


Joanne, thank you for all the resources and advice.

Please could I ask you how the retainer calculation works? For example, if I am booked to work say 8hrs every Tuesday, how would you navigate those months with a fifth Tuesday? Does a retainer call for a certain amount of give and take in such a situation, or do you work on a timesheet basis, accounting for each hour spent working for that client? Thanks in advance!

Joanne Munro

Yes, it’s a specific number of hours delivered over a calendar month. (1st to last date).
You use a time tracker (such as Toggl) and can also send a copy to the client if they would like you to do so.

Helen Dyer

Hi there, as a VA for a year now – yay! I am braving the storm of asking for retainers from my clients, for all the reasons above. Can I ask do they need a contract for this, or would an email outlining the terms be suitable? Months notice of termination etc as normal? I also have to admit that none of my clients have contracts from me but I have contracts via their companies?? I need to sort this I know! Eek!

Joanne Munro

Hi Helen, you definitely need a contract for any work you do because you will definitely regret it at some point if you don’t. It marks you out as being a professional business owner and protects you from being sued or screwed.

I sell a contract which includes your T&Cs and you can find it here. It was written specifically for VAs by an international contracts lawyer and is updated and resent to buyers free of charge any time the law changes.

You can read more about contracts here on my post called ‘Should Your Client Sign a Contract?’

Dayna Colvin

Thank you Joanne so very much for this wonderful well-written article! I appreciate your kind human approach. 🙂 Your tips and advice are very helpful!

Tonita Haynes

Hi Joanne,
I was wondering if all 3 days can be used in the way rates can be set? I’m a newbie and I’m trying to set up. I’m specializing in medical/healthcare bc I’ve worked as a unit secretary in hospitals and have at least 6 yrs experience. Please help me!

Joanne Munro

They can indeed. You just pick the rate appropriate for the task. A client is unlikely to go for a retainer if they haven’t worked with you yet and also you won’t have an idea of how long their regular tasks will take so hourly is preferable for both parties in the beginning.

So you could have one client on an hourly rate then move them over to a retainer, you could have another client who you charge a one-off fee for doing specific tasks and you could have a few other clients on retainers (and then by the hour if they occasionally go over their hours). You could even have a client who is hourly (or a retainer) then you quote a one-off project fee for setting up a newsletter etc. There are many tasks that should be package/project rates because otherwise you’ll never earn more than there are billable hours in the day. Moving away from an hourly rate is the goal.

Dr. Karen

What a fantastic website you have! Well done! So I’ve been hiring my millenial kids to help me out since my formal VA retired to focus on her passion (dance). They are quick to learn anything related to internet and one is studying marketing and is good with video, webpages, audio. The other is learning the ropes and will in the future become a health coach. Right now, doing some work for me is helping her by offering her a job and she’ll need to know this stuff when she’s a coach. So neither are worth the $30-40/hour plus at the moment. Do you offer any courses that teach the actual VA skill sets (not necessarily how to be in your own business and attract clients since they already have a client – me – since they both will move onto their own coaching businesses in the future)? Thank you!

Joanne Munro

Hi there and thank you very much for your comment. How lucky you are to have two children who are so eager to learn and get on in life! How marvellous.

I don’t actually offer any admin courses (a VA’s main skills are administrative) but there are many free admin courses online; Microsoft have a lot of good ones and so does It doesn’t sound like your children actually need any specialist admin training if they are going to work in coaching though. Thank you again for reading and taking the time to comment.


“Warning – One of the most important things I’ve learned (and I learned this the hard way AND more than once) is that anyone who questions your rates, is going to be a nightmare client. They just want the cheapest rate and they’ll be awkward, pay you late and sometimes try to get out of paying you at all. They’re not worth the hassle so give them a wide berth.”

This paragraph really resonates with me, as it’s something I’m currently dealing with right now. It sucks, but I guess you live and you learn!

Thanks for this brilliant article. I go back to it time and time again whenever I get a new client, especially for project work, which is a bit trickier to work out, but hopefully I’ll get better at it in time!


Also in the UK, employers are required to contribute to a pension – something else that needs to be covered by your rate!

Julie @ JAM Business Support Services

Hi Joanne, Thanks for this post, its been quite useful as I am just starting up a new VA business and wondering how much to charge, and if I should charge by the hour, pre-paid package or by the project. This has given me much to think about 🙂


I also had another question that I forgot to ask. The author of that Lifehacker article wrote that occasionally a client won’t pay at all. He said to just accept this. That sounds awful to me, and I would not stand for it. Is it true and how do you deal with that? I did have a co-worker at my last job who was also a freelancer. He said he’d been waiting awhile for payments from a few clients. How long do clients usually take to pay? Does it just vary from client to client? Thanks so much for all the information and advice on this website! It’s helping me so much.


Hi Jo, I am in the process of setting up my VA business and deciding on my rates now. After reading your post and the Lifehacker one, I don’t want to list an hourly rate on my site. I just want to list the project and the retainer options. Would not listing an hourly rate turn some clients away?


Hi! After being laid off I decided to be a VA without too much research and by pure luck, I landed a dream client! She was searching for a pay per hour VA. I now know that isn’t ideal, but since I already gave her my price ($40/hr – it sounded good to me at the moment), I’m not sure if you have any tips for me regarding being paid per hour or what to include in the contract because that hasn’t been written yet.

Joanne Munro

Hi Diana, there may be different laws in the states to the ones in the UK regarding what needs to be in a contract because we have to comply with the Provision of Services Regulation 2009. I would use the free ones on this website or ask other US VAs/freelancers for advice. Regarding being paid by the hour, I would use Toggl time tracker and try to move them on to a retainer after a month or two when you are both happy with each other. Good luck with your new client!


Hello Joanne,
I loved this website, I am Confiance from Rwanda, I want to start VA in Rwanda, I have not heard anyone here doing this business but my concern is on pricing, and contracts. any assistance?
Thank you


Hello J,
I am a property manager in real estate( residential high rise management) and I have about 8-9 years experience doing this. I feel there are so many levels of property management and believe I could offer my services in this specialty. Not sure if anyone is on this area yet.
Any advice on this front?

Also, how do I name my business?
Thanks and great articles.

Chris Chicago IL

Joanne Munro

Hi Chris, good to hear from you. I have a blog post on how to go about naming your business that you can find listed on the ‘Start Here’ page. The Facebook group (link in the sidebar) would be a great place to find out if there are any other VAs who specialise in real estate (I think there are) and it would also be a good idea to find out if this was viable yourself by asking your contacts. I look forward to seeing you in the VA Handbookers Facebook group if you aren’t already a member.


Very useful article Jo, please can you assist me in what packages you use as obviously the licences on the Microsoft Home packages are not acceptable for business and business packages are expensive for start-ups. Thank you

Joanne Munro

Hi Alison, I do actually use the Home version as I don’t need Outlook and the other things they offer. I just wanted Word, Excel and PowerPoint.


WAIT! I need help. I’m a new VA and my heart nearly exploded when you said, about not every hour being billable, that there’s emails to answer… What exactly do you mean by that? When I’m communicating w/ a client via email or having a meeting with them or talking to them on the phone about work, I am billing them (I work at an hourly rate). Am I doing something wrong by that? It’s part of the job, getting instruction?

Joanne Munro

Hi Lesley, thank you for commenting. No, you’re right, you DO charge for emails and calls that are completely client-related, but there will definitely be times where you will be doing your own admin stuff that isn’t directly client-related but will eat into your time such as sorting client folders and familiarising yourself with some of their systems. Unless a client says they’re happy to pay you to learn their systems then a VA should know how to use them if they offer that as a service. I don’t think I made that clear in the post and I can see why you thought that so I have amended it. x

Rindy Anstee

Thank you Jo for another great article. I am steadily working my way through the course and all the various blog posts etc., so many great nuggets of information. The video is hilarious and really hits home – very, very helpful. “I am enough!” 🙂

Peter Crispin

Hi ,I’m new to this I didn’t know VA,s existed until recently browsed 9th Internet how to get extra income. I’m 60 yrs old experienced Logistics Route Planner. With 32 yrs – 18yrs in Logistics Planning Management I am wanting -willing to work from home as a VA .I cannot see this anywhere on the VA websites .Believing it to be new how do I start up .Could you be honest and advise me is it a good idea. I’m sure given correct contacts it would work.

Joanne Munro

HI Peter, good to see you. It is perfectly feasible for you to offer your services as a freelancer. Being a VA is kinda simple really: you offer your skills to people you know and people you don’t, you do the work, you get paid. That’s kinda it!

Many people over think it but it sounds like you have the skills, the experience, the knowledge, the contacts and the drive to succeed – and that’s all you need really. Everything you need on how to set up is here on this site so just keep reading. The START HERE page is the best option as you can see a list of everything I’ve written so far. x



I am looking into setting up as a virtual PA, with legal as my speciality. However, I am unsure as to (a) what equipment would be essential; (b) what equipment would be a luxury; and (c) what clients would expect i.e. should I have a separate land line at my home dedicated to my business or should I simply use my mobile phone/Skype?

Any suggestions would be gratefully received.

Joanne Munro

Hi Sue, you’ll find the answers in my guide on what tools you need (and don’t need) to set up a VA business which you can access by signing up to my newsletter in the sidebar on the right. I say no to a separate land line otherwise you’re not going to be very virtual! I just use my mobile. You can have a Skype line if you want to though – I sometimes get one when I go abroad. Having legal services as your speciality os a fantastic niche and you will do well. As long as you can do the work, invoice and get paid, the rest just sorts itself out and isn’t that important. x


Excellent article. I’m an executive assistant with 30+ years experience. I have been considering the VA profession for a couple of years but trying to determine what and how to charge has been my biggest hold back. I’m set up and ready to go but not sure how to get started finding clients and then what to charge.

Joanne Munro

Hi Trisha, I’m really pleased you’ve decided to become a VA; it’s a great line of work. Everything you need to answer those questions is on this site. The blog posts 23 ways to market your business and the 3 best ways to find your first client will help you. My guide on how to get new clients also shows you the only method I use to get mine. x

Ali Harriman

I’m registered with Timeetc and while its a great place to start as a v.a., it doesn’t take long to appreciate that the hourly method of remuneration isn’t ideal. I recently branched out to taking private clients, with medical as my speciality, and am considering structuring a retainer package to offer potential clients. Great article as always Jo!

Joanne Munro

You’re welcome Ali! I love that there’s so many different niche’s for VAs and that medical is working out for you. People should always look at doing what they know. Retainers or project-based pricing is always good, I got some great ideas on how to add value and charge more from a book called The Wealthy Freelancer as well. x


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