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So you want to be a subcontractor virtual assistant?

(Or how much a VA’s virtual assistant gets paid!)

“They’re paying HOW MUCH for a virtual assistant subcontractor???”  Yes, the outraged exclamations on Facebook Groups for a subcontract virtual assistant job this week raised a lot of eyebrows…  But you know, the virtual assistants doing these subcontract jobs aren’t necessarily doing the same job as the Lead VA is for the money.  Let me explain:

So how much does a VA’s VA charge?

This ranges massively from as little as 30% of the end client fee, up to 90% in some cases.  The main deciding factor is usually how much responsibility the Subcontract VA is taking on for the end result.  So if the Lead VA is outsourcing something they don’t know how to do, the % fee will be higher than general admin on a job managed and checked by the Lead VA.  Usually if it’s a task the Lead VA can do themselves, they set the rate; and if it’s something outside their expertise the Subcontract VA would be asked what they would charge.

Now in the interests of full disclosure, I’m a Lead VA who engages Subcontract VAs.  But Lead VAs get an incredibly bad rep for “ripping VAs off” when there are legitimate business expenses involved in having Subcontract VAs do the work.  If you don’t want to work as a Subcontractor, no one is forcing you to.  But the rates will be worked out to a very tight budget to enable the Lead VA to be successful in business – and if you CAN’T get enough clients at your full rate, then perhaps learning from someone who CAN get high-paying clients is not a bad idea…?!

So why are subcontract fees not as high as client fees?

The subcontractor stats

Getting the subcontract fee right is often the key to a successful VA business.  We took our average costs per job and we split them into our hourly fee to demonstrate exactly how our subcontract rate is worked out.  And as a comparison, I also asked a good friend to do the same for work she outsources (which she doesn’t have skills for and where the Subcontract VA manages the client herself and then remains ultimately responsible for that client).

You can see where the differences lie and why her VAs get paid a big chunk more than my VAs in terms of an hourly rate, despite us both billing to the end clients at similar rates.

See also  Cost of a virtual assistant

So here’s my little calculation about what our fees are made up of (and if you want the client fee comparison, please visit Jo’s excellent article over at VA Pro):

Cost My VAs A VA who subcontracts work she can’t do herself
Subcontract fee 47% 89%
Marketing 9% 7%
Briefing the job 4% 3%
Tools 12% Subcontractor uses own
Risk of late payment 1% 1%
Insurance 1% 1%
Training the VA/admin 3% N/a
Checking the work 23% N/a

Time spent marketing to get the virtual assistant client

For a start, there’s very little outlay in terms of getting the client, they simply get given it by the Lead VA.  There’s no time spent in networking events, paying for groups, sending out postcards or time following it up, it just gets given to them.  And then ongoing work to check in with the client, introduce them to new services, etc. is done by the Lead VA and will be part of their ongoing expense of servicing the client.  Part of any standard VA charge should be comprised of money that you spend on marketing and promotion to ensure a steady stream of clients.  Subcontract VAs aren’t outlaying that money to get this work either upfront or on an ongoing basis.

Briefing the virtual assistant task

At #VACollab this year, I was speaking to a few VAs about how hard it is to get clients to hand work across – even when they have paid upfront!  The hand-holding involved to get a client to brief a project properly and then break it up into individual tasks is a real skill.  So you as a Subcontract VA may be copy typing some handwritten notes, but the Lead VA has also briefed a graphic designer to design images based on those notes, created a powerpoint presentation and handouts for the seminar which the client is holding…  All of that project management takes time, and it’s not necessarily all chargeable so it’s included in the hourly fee so that you get a clear set of instructions to work from.

Tools needed to get the VA task done

As a VA, you’d be expected to provide your own computer with Microsoft Word, but your Lead VA may well have extra tools and gizmos to make a job work, either for you doing the work or for the client using a VA.  So that might be an online workspace so everyone can collaborate, it might be a social media management tool with team capacity like Hootsuite, or possibly it’s a CRM system such as InfusionSoft or Aweber.  The Lead VA would pay for these tools, so it’s included in the hourly rate.

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Getting paid as a virtual assistant

Whether or not the Lead VA gets paid by the end client, as a Subcontract VA your client is the Lead VA and they should always pay you.  Essentially the Lead VA is taking on the risk of the client defaulting or paying late.  That’s bankable!

(Been stiffed by a VA when working as a subcontractor?  Do let us know…  As an organisation designed to help one another, we take complaints very seriously.)

Experience gained as a virtual assistant

For a new start VA, gaining valuable experience of working with clients is priceless.  It let’s you see the kinds of tasks which get outsourced, and the Lead VA will specify how they usually do them – these processes are often developed over a number of years by a system of trial and error, so by replicating them in your own business, you bypass a lot of rookie mistakes!  You’ve just saved yourself a big headache and got paid in the process.

Secondly, you get honest feedback.  For my VAs, they will know when they have screwed a job up – because I know exactly how long it should take, what it should look like and where they’ve gone wrong.  And I’m going to tell them when they go wrong because I have a vested interest in them doing it right (otherwise I have to fix it).  “Real clients” won’t necessarily tell you you’ve gone wrong, they simply won’t use you again.   The learning curve is steep, but it makes you a better VA!

Flexibility as a virtual assistant

Most Subcontract VAs will be able to say yes or no to jobs as they come in…  So if you have client work @ full rate, you can just refuse any subcontract work that comes in @ your subcontract rate.  That way you never lose out on higher paying work and still have some income during quiet periods.

We’ve all had a nightmare client….  Since they know what drives you nuts, VAs tend to make good clients themselves.  They won’t micromanage you (unless you ask for help), they aren’t going to plague you with phonecalls, they brief jobs properly, and they know what they are asking you to do (because they’ve done it themselves).  Over the years I’ve had a number of Subcontract VAs working for me because it was easier and less hassle than working direct for clients.

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Checking work as a virtual assistant

I’m going to raise my hand here: I am a control freak, I must control All.The.Things.  I’m pretty unapologetic about it these days because that’s why clients love my work.  The vast majority of my time as a Lead VA is checking the work which the Subcontract VAs are doing and being what I call “The Fat Controller” of all the work (I think professionally they call this “Traffic Management” but I spend a lot of my time reading Thomas The Tank Engine, so bear with!).

I make sure work gets done on deadline.  I make sure work is done to the standard the client expects.  I change all the little quirks and preferences they have on fonts/tone/layout etc before the client even has to think about it.  I’m up at 2am typing if one of the VAs calls in sick having accepted a job because that is what is required to hit deadline.  The clients aren’t charged for that facility but that is a large part of why they use me so it’s built into the hourly fee.


Also, you’ll often find that the Lead VA isn’t just insuring their work, they are also insuring your work too – professional indemnity for teams of VAs gets expensive fast and a Lead VA should not be risking outsourcing without seeing policies or underwriting the cost themselves.

Now not all Lead VAs work that way – some will charge for checking on top of whatever work the Subcontract VA does.  Others will not be capable of completing the tasks the Subcontract VA is undertaking themselves so they are unable to check it.  And in those instances, you would expect to receive a higher percentage of the client fee hence the variation.

But that’s just my take on it, maybe you have experienced it differently?


  1. Sarah Banks on 5 June, 2017 at 6:46 pm

    I find these figures confusing – in my experience the average subcontracted VA is paid 75% of the fee charged to the client, after all they are business owners in their own right and still have very similar overheads to the lead VA. To me it would seem counter productive to be checking every bit of work completed by an associate as I could have just done the work myself. These things work on trust and if you are working with a professional VA, even one who is new they will expect a higher rate of pay. I wouldn’t expect any VA whether new or not to be working for less than £18.00 an hour as an associate and hope that SVA will be working to help raise standards for VAs as other organisations are doing.

    • Caroline on 8 June, 2017 at 4:16 pm

      The issue is that if the lead VA is checking the work and retaining the responsibility for the work, they would pay less than if they were outsourcing these things to a VA. Therefore the rates you see advertised at £10-£15 are VA tasks but not VA jobs because the level of professionalism required is not the same as being a Lead VA. An inexperienced VA or one unable to commit to a lot of hours each week simply would not be able to service the clients outsourcing this work by themselves.

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