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Time For Sale, Everything Must Go! Retainers, Packages & Pay-As-You-Go

Michelle Dale - Friday, February 18, 2011

When starting out as a VA, you will need to give consideration to how you sell your time and/or your services, there are various different options which you can use that will work with your individual business model. I don’t believe that there is any particular way you can sell your services that is optimal across the board for everyone, but I do advise you give consideration to keeping your sales as straightforward and simple as possible, as complicated packages and options can sometimes cause confusion.

If you are going to offer a discount, make sure it’s a decent one or don't bother offering it, tier your discounts and packages so there is much better value for the client purchasing in bulk or in advance than if someone purchases at flat rate.

So let’s go through some very basic options and guidelines.


A retainer is when a person or client would like to arrange a mutual commitment of guaranteed hours. Because they would like those hours blocked out only for them, then you would need to charge for the time they are asking you to commit to up front. Generally you would not offer a roll-over or a refund for unused hours. You can sell retainers in 2 ways.

Retainer Fixed.

If a client has a budget and knows the exact number of hours they would like you to work periodically e.g. monthly or weekly, then they can purchase those hours in full, in advance and you can arrange your time in accordance with their requirements. Remember to keep in mind, the client has asked you to commit your time, so if the hours are not used, you could of sold this time to another client, so therefore the client committing to the retainer should be accepting the loss for not using the hours.

Retainer Flexible.

A client may not know exactly the number of hours they require, so they can commit to a minimum, e.g. 20 hours per month. You could charge 50% in advance up front e.g. 10 hours, and then at the end of the month, charge the remaining 10 plus any additional hours they may have used. So for example if they used a total of 22.5 hours, you would charge 10 in advance, then 12.5 in arrears, taking a deposit for the next month of 10 hours.

This is a more ideal and flexible option for clients who have no budget restrictions.


Packages are generally bundled services or hours that could be discounted to encourage bulk purchase. You can set an expiry date, or leave the package purchase open-ended, it’s up to you. The nice thing about packages is that it will allow the client to budget their work with you and keep costs fixed.

Service Packages.

These are services which the client will purchase as part of a package, or they could be the package themselves, for example, you may offer Twitter account handling as part of your services, but instead of charging by the hour, you could charge a fixed price for Twitter updates per week or month, based on certain criteria, such as number of tweets per day.

Billable Hours Packages.

Billiable hours could be discounted when purchased in bulk. This is different to retainer hours because the client is not requesting you to be available during an exact period of time. They can purchase hours at a discounted rate in advance, and use them as and when required, at a mutually agreeable time.


Generally these clients will always pay in arrears, so set a limit for pay as you go clients so you don’t end up doing too much work in advance, such as for clients you feel will need your time for 10 hours a month or less. Then fix a time when you will bill for these hours, for example you can issue an invoice to your pay-as-you-go clients every week, bi-weekly, or monthly.

Because of the higher level of internal administration involved in offering pay-as-you-go services, clients should be paying your standard hourly rates, and there are no guarantees that you will be available.

Whatever you decide to offer, it could be one option, it could be many, always make sure it is clear to the client exactly what they will get for their money, and the terms and conditions attached to the offer.

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Hi I'm Michelle, an entrepreneur specialising in virtual assistance, a digital and real world nomad, and a down-to-earth mother of three.

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