When I formalized the Virtual Assistance industry by founding AssistU, I created what’s now commonly accepted in the industry as the more “standard” pricing model. That model has two levels: pay-as-you-go (PAYG), and retainer. It’s the PAYG I want to address today.

When I created it, PAYG (characterized by billing clients at month-end for exactly the amount of time they used, and being willing to let them use/buy more, or less time, as their need dictated) was for clients who maybe had just started their businesses, knew they needed ongoing support, but didn’t need a lot of it (and couldn’t afford a lot of it). When I created it, I did it because I thought it would help parts of the client population–something I’m always mindful of.

14 years later, I’ve come to realize two things: that it doesn’t really help clients very much at all, and that PAYG clients are huge energy drains on a VA and her practice, and should probably, if anything, be left to new VAs who feel daunted by jumping in to the deep end of the pool and who want an seemingly easier way to get their feet wet somewhere. (Note to new VAs who feel the need to do this: change your standard and the way your practice works the second you feel more confident or notice that you’re struggling with the PAYG clients you have).

Just say "no" to pay-as-you-go

The main problems with PAYG are that the clients who seem drawn to this option:

  • Are often new business owners who use very little time (which means you need more clients in your practice and can easily become spread too thin to do a good job for anyone)
  • Don’t do anything to help you normalize your income (not a client’s responsibility, but probably something you want to orient your business around)
  • Usually need a lot of hand holding
  • Are often scared of taking risks/making changes
  • Are not yet good business owners (they’re still better technicians)
  • Don’t know what they need
  • Don’t use you enough for you to truly collaborate and help them grow in any meaningful manner (which is also the primary reason PAYG isn’t especially helpful to the client, either)

So they take a lot of energy (mental), but rarely allow a VA to do enough of her best work for her to know that she’s doing her best work. What’s the point of that?

My suggestion is this: if your practice is a year or more old, ditch all your PAYG clients, and create a new standard that says you only work on retainer, and it has to be a minimum retainer of 10 hours/month. People who would have been PAYG will be challenged to play bigger in order to work with you, and if they aren’t able/willing, they can go work with someone else, leaving you with the space to attract a better-fitting retainer client.