How to Go from Hourly to Project Rates for Virtual Assistants

Lessons from a Digital Marketing Virtual Assistant who actually does the work:

Whether you’re just getting started working online as a virtual assistant, or you’ve worked online for years, you might be wondering what traits make an ideal freelance client. And how to define and identify them BEFORE you sign your next contract.

I’ve worked with over 30 freelance clients and business owners in my own career as a unicorn virtual assistant. Some are long-term clients, while others have been very short-lived.

And that’s for a variety of reasons. Sometimes I’ve resigned. (For reasons like I posted about here). Sometimes I’ve been ghosted for too long.

And I’ve even been fired by a client. (Yes! I’m being vulnerable and transparent about that in this post). 

If you’re just starting out, you can’t always be picky. You are building your portfolio and establishing your reputation. You’ll find yourself taking clients that normally might be out of your comfort range – and that’s ok! It will ultimately make you a better unicorn VA.

But let me tell you – that will change. At this point in my career, I can pick and choose which clients I will work with. And I’ve learned how to define and identify my own ideal client so that I end up with a lot more positive experiences while working as a freelancer. 

So here are five of the top things I’ve learned to look for in an ideal freelance client:

Dreams don't work unless you do - ideal freelance clients for virtual assistants by Emily Reagan PR

1) An ideal freelance client is actually ready to build and scale their business.

Clients need to be serious about their own business. They have to be ready.

I can’t mentally invest in their business if they aren’t invested in it first.

If they’re flaking or ghosting me – it makes me feel like I’m wasting my time.

I’m motivated by helping my clients achieve their goals. When they celebrate their success, it’s a win for both of us. That’s what drives me as a unicorn VA (aka an indispensable business sidekick).

And they also have to be ready from a business standpoint. In other words, they should already be making some profit from their products or services.

It takes a while to build up a business’s bank account. And while a good virtual assistant sidekick can really boost profits in the long run, it can take a little while to build the ROI on our work.

I need to know that a client can actually afford to pay me for the work they’ve hired me to do, for the long run. I’ve just had too many business owners that have flaked out on me because they can’t actually afford the expense. And they aren’t generating enough income from their business to make it feasible yet.

Of course, that’s not ALWAYS a problem.

Sure – some clients just need help. They need a strong VA to guide them, help them get organized, and get on track. A good unicorn VA can help an overwhelmed business owner get started in the online space and push their business to the next level.

If you’re a detail-oriented person who likes to energize and motivate people, this could actually be a good fit for you.

But ultimately, if you’re fighting every week to just keep their business going, you’re going to get burned out.

And eventually you’re not going to care as much about their business success, either. You’ll shift your focus to other clients who are ready to make things happen now. And have the potential to move forward.

Sure, If you’re starting out, it might make sense to keep going with them as long as you can. Build that portfolio and boost your own new VA bank account.

But know that in the long run, it isn’t likely to work out. As you get booked out, you’ll want clients that are as motivated and excited as you are. Who are willing and ready to drive their business forward. And that has to start with them.

Etiquette Tips for VAs Contacting Potential New Clients by Emily Reagan PR

2) An ideal client is a business owner who has quality content and images.

Let’s face it – I call us all “unicorn VAs” but even unicorns can only work so much magic with the materials that we’re given.

And I’m at a point in my career as a virtual assistant that I not only want clients with quality products and services. I also need clients with good content to support them.

I see this a lot especially with photos and videos. So much of a business owner’s online presence is focused on their product images, video reels, and overall graphics. And I can’t make your IG or Pinterest board go viral without good photos and video clips.

And – the client needs to be willing to show up personally in their photos and videos.

They have to actually put their face out there.

Because digital media and online marketing is based on making personal connections with small business owners.

Customers can’t walk into a physical bricks & mortar store or a local office and get to know your client. So making personal connections is critical for creating a loyal customer base and building that all-important KWT factor.

Again, this is something that you can work on with a client if they are willing and motivated. You can help coach them in their material and give feedback. They can work on their basic photography skills, or hire a professional.

But in the long run, you can’t achieve big goals with poor quality material. You can’t build a successful online presence with generic stock photos. You’ll just be spinning your wheels. And an ideal freelance client will understand that.

3) An ideal freelance client respects boundaries and meshes with my communication style.

This trait of an ideal freelance client will look different for everyone. But the general idea is the same.

I always look for clients whose communication and collaboration style fits well with my own. Of course, your communications preferences will not look the same as mine. It’s very personal.  So your ideal business owner might be very different than mine.

But just realize that it’s a thing to consider. You’ll start to know right from the beginning. If it feels overwhelming and tedious to go back and forth during a project, it might not be the best client for you.

You need to gel with them and feel that connection. Some clients I never sync with. It’s not personal. It’s just a sign that our working relationship might not be the best fit.

Especially if they aren’t respecting your boundaries. I’ve had clients who wanted to talk business every evening at dinnertime. Or they expected me to respond to emails within a few hours on a Sunday afternoon. That’s not something I’m willing and able to do as a professional.

Sure, sometimes things come up. A big launch often comes with unexpected glitches or issues that need to be addressed ASAP. When I know that ahead of time, I can make it work. But it shouldn’t happen every week.

My favorite clients understand that I’m a partner and a business owner myself. They know I’m not their personal business servant who is at their beck and call 24/7. (Especially if they only want to pay me for 10 hours a month!)

Instead, they work with me to create communication that fits both of our needs. It might be a tool like Slack, a platform like Trello, or even just chatting on Voxer.

Whatever it looks like for you and your client, it should feel cohesive and fit both of your needs. It should respect boundaries on both sides. Otherwise you might want to keep looking for your next long term client.

Did not wake up to be mediocre

4) An ideal freelance client will follow through and deliver on time.

I can help my clients get organized and on a schedule. And I can help them create content calendars, sync their daily tasks, and build their to-do lists.

But I can’t make them actually complete the work. Or get it submitted and uploaded on time. That’s their part.

If you’re always waiting for a client to get you what you need, it gets frustrating. You’ll lose your creativity and inspiration. Plus, your own to-do list will become difficult to manage as you try to juggle missed deadlines and missing pieces.

I’ve learned that I can’t always work in crisis mode. I’m coordinating work for multiple clients as well as my own online business teaching up-and-coming new digital media virtual assistants.

So my ideal client needs to be able to follow a reasonable schedule that works for both of us. And then follow through with their end of the business.

Because honestly – I have enough stress in my life trying to make sure my own kids follow their schedules and get their chores and homework done. I don’t want to have to babysit a client, too.

5) An ideal freelance client values me as their business partner.

I get personally invested in my clients and their journey. I genuinely care about their success and want to help them achieve their goals. They’re more than just a name on a paper to me.

And a good client will understand that and appreciate the impact I have on their business.

Some of my favorite clients are the ones who openly acknowledge the value of my work and my ideas. Whether that’s a quick email of gratitude, a glowing referral to another business owner, a shout-out in a team meeting, or even a monetary bonus after a great launch, it feels good to be appreciated.

It makes me feel like a true member of their team and motivates me even more to help them explode their business up to the next level.

And even though I’m “just” a freelance contractor, I want to build those relationships. I love helping people. I value those personal connections.

Yes – the boundaries are important but I also want clients who connect with me and communicate with me as a person. For me, an ideal freelance client will view me as more than a glorified content-posting machine or a faceless email in their inbox.

Because let’s be real. If a client is constantly taking credit for your ideas, is always negative or complains about your work without providing helpful feedback, never acknowledges your contributions to a successful project, or rarely thanks you for your work on their team, it feels demoralizing.

People always work better in a positive environment where you lift each other up and celebrate your wins together. And I learned very quickly to prefer those clients who respect me as a teammate and valuable business partner.

⚡️  Related Podcast Alert: How to set and enforce boundaries in your freelance business:

If my advice here about setting boundaries hit a nerve with you, here’s my advice about how to do just that.

Take a break and listen to my recent podcast episode:

The Takeaway: As you build your digital marketing virtual assistant biz, you'll be able to focus more and more on connecting with your ideal freelance clients!

Like I said, a lot of this is personal. You’re going to bring your own personality traits, and your own strengths and weakness, to your working relationships.

But the key is to remember that you want a good, solid foundation from the beginning.

So spend some time reflecting on what has worked well in your current work relationships, and what has been a struggle.

Then keep these five key points in mind as you go forward. Before you know it, you’ll be booked out and able to pick only your most ideal freelance clients for the future!

Want more information about these five traits? Check out this video on my YouTube channel for VAs:

If you’re already working as a successful skilled freelancer, but are struggling to find out exactly WHERE to find these ideal clients, check out my Digital Media VA Workgroup. This premium private membership group is open only to highly qualified virtual assistants who are looking for advanced trainings, exclusive job opportunities, and invaluable networking advantages.

Or maybe you are just starting out and feeling overwhelmed? Make sure you’re a member of my FREE Facebook group community where we discuss all things about online marketing and digital media. Head over and start a discussion!

See you in the online space!

– Emily, Digital Media Virtual Assistant AND Small Business Owner

Outdoor Cafe - Working Online as a Unicorn Virtual Assistant With Emily Reagan PR

“I help smart women learn the in-demand digital marketing strategies and tech skills to get hired as a unicorn virtual assistant.“

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Meet Emily

Emily Reagan is a jill-of-all trades when it comes to digital marketing and techie skills. She’s worked as a behind-the-scenes digital marketing implementor and strategist for a decade for online biz owner clients.

She’s a mom of four, Air Force wife, and founder of the Unicorn Digital Marketing Assistant School, where she teaches smart women the in-demand, highly-coveted digital marketing skills to get flexible, online work.

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