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One of several articles originally published during 2000
in Virtually Speaking, the AVS newsletter
Please see the Article Index to read the other articles.
Copyright reserved - Irene Boston



All things are ready, if our minds be so
- Henry V, W. Shakespeare

What is your reaction when a potential client, having received your quote, queries your price?  What do you think when clients claim they can "only" pay you X per hour, because that's all they pay their employees?  What do you say when they insist they could employ a temp for less money than you are charging? 

Do you humbly accept what the omnipotent client says without a fight?  Or do you politely but firmly stick to your guns and insist that this is the price you will charge for that particular service?  If the latter, then you already have the right attitude and can ignore the rest of my ramblings.  If the former, then read on….

In another article I discuss the transition from employee to self employment.  Of necessity, the mind-set of an employee has to be totally different from that of a business owner.  This mental adjustment can be quite difficult, particularly when you approach the question of fees with a client.  As a newly fledged business, it can be very easy to accept absolutely everything a client demands.  This can range from how they want you to do the task, to how much they are prepared to pay for it.  It is a difficult balance to strike between alienating a potential client and allowing him or her to walk all over you. 

Some clients will sense this inexperience and try to take advantage of it.  They will give you all kinds of hard luck stories as to why they can’t possibly afford your fees.  Others will do the hard sell approach and claim they can find the same services elsewhere for less.  Keep calm, be polite but stay firm and never undersell yourself. 

However, don’t say that you can’t afford to do the work for less.  It may be true, but it wouldn’t be wise to admit poverty to a client!   Just state clearly something like, “although I am prepared to negotiate on some prices or projects, to reduce my fees on this occasion would compromise the quality of service I can offer”. 

Above all you have to start realising and believing that you’re no longer an employee.  You are providing a professional service in the same way as an accountant does.  I’m willing to bet that very few clients tell their accountant what they’re prepared to pay them!  More likely, it’s the other way round.  We must all bear in mind that because “secretaries” are traditionally regarded in some quarters as the lowest form of life, it doesn’t mean that you should continue to perpetrate that myth.  It’s time to ditch that humble attitude.  You are an independent contractor providing an efficient, reliable service at a price which will earn you a satisfactory living. 

One of the most important things you must seek to project is confidence, even if you don’t feel it.  You must at all times give the impression you know exactly what you’re talking about – even if you don’t!  Don’t be hesitant when discussing your prices, particularly over the phone. 

Once you’ve decided what your charges are, stick to them, unless there’s a very good marketing reason for negotiating a discount.  Perhaps the client is a potential source of introduction to other clients.  Perhaps the work is for such a large amount of money or for a long period of time that it would be prudent to offer a discount.  However, make sure you set firm boundaries for whatever discount or offer you make.  Otherwise it could come back to haunt you.  If that client does recommend you to others, you could find yourself having to justify why they can’t have the same price as the first client.  You could end up working for a pittance. 

One of the most difficult aspects of running your own business is learning how to market yourself.  Not everyone is a born sales person.  In our previous “ordinary” jobs (if there is such a thing) we will all have developed specialist knowledge and experience.  But when you start working for yourself, suddenly you have to be a Jill (or Jack) of all trades.  Knowing how to produce proposals, respond to enquiries and nurture that enquiry into a fully fledged client, all this has to be learnt. 

For perhaps the first time you are without the comfort blanket of an office environment.  An environment where everything from health insurance, tax, pension arrangements to ordering the stationery is taken care of by someone else.  Suddenly it’s all down to you and it can be overwhelming.  No one else will look after you.  No one will pay a contribution towards medical insurance, a pension scheme or sick pay.  All those things which you have come to expect from an employer are suddenly your responsibility. 

Having touched on the down-side, it must be remembered that there are many wonderful bonuses in working from home as your own boss.  You have the final say on the clients you accept, what hours you work and the projects you do.  At last no one else can dictate what you do and when you do it – as long as you meet your deadlines! 

Above all, remember you’re no longer an employee……and while that alone is cause for celebration, it also means you’re going to be burning the midnight oil with a vengeance! 
potential customers.

Tel/Fax: +44 (0)1485 543746  Boston@ibss.fsnet.co.uk
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This page was last updated 19th January 2003