There are all kinds of virtual assistant companies and freelancers available, and the cost and business models vary greatly. So, as is often the case, the answer to the question, "how much does a virtual assistant cost?" is, well, it depends.
There are three major factors that affect how much a virtual assistant costs:
- Service model
We’ll dive into what each of these factors entails so you can find a virtual assistant service that meets your needs and budget when you're looking into hiring a virtual assistant.
Models of Virtual Assistant Services
There are three broad categories of virtual assistant service providers:
- Freelance virtual assistants through an online marketplace or job board.
- Agencies that match you with a qualified assistant, much like a recruiting firm, but you pay the agency.
- Managed service providers that hire, train, and support virtual assistants for long-term engagements.
Let's break down the costs of each model and the costs, use cases, and risks.
Freelance Virtual Assistants
Google "virtual assistant," and you'll see freelance marketplaces with prices like $10/hour. UpWork, for example, advertises rates of $10-$20/hour. Freelancers are independent contractors who set their own hourly rates.
Indeed lists the average hourly rate freelance virtual assistants charge at $20/hour. Sounds great, right? Keep in mind that "average" means half are above and half are below that amount.
A freelance virtual assistant can be great if you have one-time projects that are time-based and require minimal instruction or guidance. Hiring a virtual assistant through a freelance site can be a quick way to find help and save on operating costs.
However, there are risks involved with freelancers, including:
- May not always be available if you want repeat or long-term work
- They might not have the skills advertised
- Training, management, and quality control are up to you
- You can end up spending a lot of time getting a project right
- If the freelancer gets a better gig, you start over
- Little recourse if things go wrong
- No vetting to ensure you're getting an experienced VA
- No guarantee of IT security
Keep in mind that marketplaces and job boards are not virtual assistant service providers. They are like online dating sites for all kinds of labor and don't specialize in one field.
Independent freelancers may have references from past clients, but the vetting is up to you. There is no guarantee you're getting an experienced virtual assistant or if they're just good at marketing themselves.
The payment structure for an independent contractor on a freelance site is usually either an hourly rate or a set fixed cost.
Freelancers are typically the best option if you have a one-time project, need specialized skills, and have the time to hire a virtual assistant yourself.
Virtual Assistant Agency
A virtual assistant agency specializes in helping people hire a virtual assistant directly and usually has a vetting process for quality control. Prices vary, and many firms are opaque about their pricing and instead talk about how much lower the cost is compared to a fully loaded full-time employee.
Indeed lists virtual assistant companies as paying virtual assistants an hourly rate of $25-$89 per hour. That's what the assistant earns, so the cost to the customer will be higher.
The risks with an agency are like those of hiring a freelancer. Agencies typically have a little more accountability for the performance of your virtual assistant. Risks include:
- They might not have the skills advertised
- Onboarding, training, management, and quality control are up to you
- You can end up spending a lot of time getting the relationship right
- If the freelancer leaves, you start over
- No guarantee of IT security.
Managed Virtual Assistant Service
Managed virtual assistant service providers offer a high-touch model where the service provider takes on the tasks of hiring virtual assistants, training and onboarding them, and manages them day to day. They also support their virtual assistants in their facilities, often overseas (though they work the client's business hours). The cost is typically a flat fee.
Prialto, for example, offers 55 hours of a virtual assistant's time for a fixed price of $1450 per month, or about $24 per hour.
In a managed service model, virtual assistants are full-time employees of the service providers, who provide them with full health insurance and other benefits. In Prialto's case, each assistant has fully trained backup assistants to ensure continuity, account managers that support client satisfaction, and robust IT security with the company's computers and networks.
A major benefit of a managed service is that the client bears no added management burden. Account managers work with the client to document processes so that they can train the virtual assistants on client systems before the engagement. The assistants show up ready to contribute on day one. Client feedback goes to the account manager who coaches and supports the assistant.
Managed virtual assistant services are ideal for clients with repetitive tasks that can be turned into processes and performed off-site such as calendar management, screening phone calls, data entry, and other routine tasks.
As the client-assistant relationship grows and the assistant learns about the clients' businesses, they can add more tasks. There are risks with this model, too, due to the nature of the engagement:
- Not suitable for one-time projects or short-term engagements
- Clients may be unable to document their processes
- Don't have enough work for the hours purchased
Specialist Vs. Generalist Virtual Assistants
Like an in-house employee, the cost of virtual assistant services often varies based on the skills you require. Most virtual assistant providers brand themselves as either generalists or specialists. The former can tackle most process-oriented tasks while the latter can handle advanced projects in a single area of expertise requiring specialized skills.
Here are some examples of the different types of tasks you can offload based on a virtual assistant's skillset:
Marketing and Website Maintenance
When most people think of a virtual assistant, marketing support doesn’t necessarily come to mind. However, offloading tedious tasks allows you/your team to focus on driving your marketing strategy. Here are some of the tasks you can offload depending on if the VA is a specialist or not:
- Schedule content that your team created
- Set up routine workflows for activities such as monthly newsletters
- Repeatable social media management tasks such as replying to messages, scheduling posts, searching for ideas
- Turn your blog posts into social media content
- Add meta and/or schema data to your articles and other advanced search engine optimization marketing tasks
This type of support encompasses a wide variety of activities and software so, if you opt for a specialist, expect to pay higher rates if you use niche software or industry-specific tactics.
Sales & CRM Management
Given that salespeople spend as little as 30% of their time selling, using a virtual assistant for sales support is a no-brainer.
The type of virtual assistant you should move forward with varies based on what you want to offload:
- Set up outbound campaigns and schedule the meetings that come from them
- Keep your CRM updated by monitoring your sales team’s calendar and updating the related records
- Data entry projects to keep your customer relationship management data accurate
- May perform duties traditionally done by an SDR such as outbound cold calling
Since a virtual assistant that specializes in sales support has skills that fall somewhere in between a generalist and an SDR, they may not be worth the extra cost unless you need them to cold call.
General Operations Support
Offloading many of the logistical tasks required to keep your business running is an easy and relatively affordable way to boost efficiency.
- Complete manual workflow steps that you haven’t been able to automate such as copying data between systems that aren’t integrated or whose integration has limitations
- Coordinate meetings and send reminders to help keep people on track
- Answer incoming phone calls
- Tackle operational tasks that are not standardized and require a significant degree of judgment
- Lead up project management for complex projects requiring internal knowledge
Whether or not a specialized virtual assistant is worth the extra cost varies based on how standardized your processes are. Keep in mind that many of the tasks that you think are ambiguous can be standardized. Our Engagement Managers regularly help our clients create processes so they can offload more tasks to their virtual assistants.
The difference between a generalist and a specialist virtual assistant is similar to an entry-level vs senior in-house executive assistant. The former will tackle standardized tasks and have a much lower salary while the latter is able to complete highly nuanced projects but has a much higher salary.
- Assist with process-oriented administrative tasks such as scheduling meetings, coordinating travel, filing expenses, etc.
- Perform duties expected of a senior in-house executive assistant such as preparing presentations and drafting communications on your behalf
Which Skillset Offers a Better ROI?
Whether a specialized virtual assistant is worth the extra cost depends on if you want to offload advanced tasks or handle those activities in-house. Often, you get a better ROI by hiring a generalist since they’re able to tackle a broad range of tedious tasks giving you and your team more time to focus on projects that leverage your expertise.
US-Based Vs. Offshore Virtual Assistants
Among virtual assistant services with the same model and skills offered, there is still a significant range in costs based on location. For example, a freelance virtual assistant in India might charge $7 per hour while an assistant with comparable skills in the United States may charge $40 per hour.
There are often differences in the level of knowledge about local business norms which can make a difference, particularly if you’re looking for executive administrative support.
- The tone, brevity, and overall communication style used in emails and other messages
- The types of restaurants that are appropriate for different kinds of business dinners
- The preparation needed for conferences and other types of events
Given this, working with a company that offers a hybrid onshore/offshore model is often the best option. For example, at Prialto, our virtual assistants work from our offices in Guatemala, Kenya, and the Philippines. However, our Engagement Managers are based in Portland, Oregon.
They act as consultants for our clients and coach our virtual assistants. This approach ensures our virtual assistants provide highly nuanced support at a lower cost than many US-based alternatives.
Weighing Costs and Risks
As mentioned above, the cost of a virtual assistant varies depending on the provider's business model, skillset, and location. The combination of factors that you need depends on your budget and the nature of the work you’re offloading.
If you need support with multiple areas of your business, a combination of providers may be the best fit. For example, you can hire a generalist virtual assistant from a managed virtual assistant service to tackle your day-to-day administrative and operational tasks as well as a couple of specialized freelancers for ambiguous and/or short-term projects.
Curious how a Prialto managed virtual assistant can help you and your team achieve more? Read this guide.