I still have my original clients and they take up a good amount of my time, yet are only paying a third of the rate my new clients are. I don't want to help them any less. Yet when I can make three times as much in the same amount of time with new clients, it becomes a tough balancing act.
This is a dilemma virtual assistants who have been in business for a while face. When I first started back in 2005, my starting rate was $25 per hour. Today, seven years later, it's $50 per hour. Does that mean that my original client still pays $25 per hour? No.
As in any business, clients understand the need for rates to go up periodically. Of course the way we handle raising rates will make the difference between keeping a mutually beneficial relationship and losing a client.
My first suggestion is to add a paragraph to your contract that states something like "Rates are subject to annual review. Client will be given 60-days notice when rates increase." That way your clients will know up front that there is a possibility of a rate increase annually. They will also know they will be given plenty of notice so they can budget for the increase.
Review your rates around October 1st each year and see if a rate increase is called for. Review each client's rate to see what would be appropriate for them. Then by November 1 give each client a notice of any rate increase to be effective January 1 of the new year.
What if your client decides they don't want to pay the higher rate? Not all is necessarily lost. If they really want to find another virtual assistant at a lower rate and you really want to stick to your rate, then this may be the time to let them go. In fact I've intentionally let challenging clients opt-out of my rate increase as a way of letting them go without hurt feelings.
But it may be that a particular client is one you really love and they ask you if you're willing to negotiate another rate. Why not consider doing just that? If the work is something you love and the client is great, but they just can't afford the higher rate, you may be able to compromise. I have a favorite client that I just recently did this with. We discussed her needs as well as mine and agreed to a compromise. We met in the middle and are both happy. She's paying less than new clients but I'm still getting a decent rate, love the work, and have a great client who refers me to new clients - and who pay the higher rate!
When you do decide to let a client know you're raising their rates, don't think you can say to a $25/hour client, "By the way, next month the rate jumps to $50/hour". You cannot double your price in one swoop like that. You can say something more like, "It's that time of year when I review my rates. My rates are increasing across the board. New clients will be paying $50/hour. However, since you've been a long-time client and I love working with you, this year I'm only increasing your rate by 25%. The new rates goes into effect 60 days from today. I'd be happy to discuss any questions you have."
You could let them know that you expect their rate to increase by that same percentage next year as well. When you set the expectation, it's not a surprise or cause for concern when it happens.
If you and your clients value yourself and your services, you deserve asking for a decent rate from your clients. Read another post I wrote about this subject here.
Remember these rules about raising rates:
- Create clear expectations; include a paragraph about rate increases in your contract
- Give your client plenty of notice - at least 60 days - of any rate increase
- Be reasonable and flexible
- Value yourself and your services
I'd love to hear your feedback and experiences you've had of raising client rates.