This is Day 28 in the 31 Days to Become a More Efficient Virtual Assistant Series
Previous post: How to Productively Curate and Share Content
One of the biggest challenges I’ve experienced in my virtual assistant business over the years has been trading hours for dollars. There are only so many hours in a day and the limiting factor in our businesses is the number of hours we can work.
Prior to starting my business I had read Diana Ennen and Kelly Poelker’s book, Become a Highly Successful, Sought After VA, and they say something along the lines that at least 30% of your day will be unbillable time. I remember thinking, “there’s no way that much of my day will be unbillable.”
I’ve since learned they were correct… and on some days that figure is much higher. Working for yourself requires a mental shift from working in a traditional office where we are present, and paid, for the entire day regardless if we’re actually productively working.
Here are just some examples of various things that are unbillable:
- Our own admin work: billing, consultations, bookkeeping, blogging, website maintenance, marketing
- Breaks: stretching, getting coffee, going to the bathroom, starting a load of laundry, personal calls and emails, social media
- Tech related: internet going out, viruses on machines, install of new programs
- Continuing improvement: learning new programs, reading (online and books)
Even if some of these things are a mere five minutes, this time really starts to add up. Let’s do some math to illustrate what this looks like for any given day.
- Billable rate: $40
- In your office working: 10 hours
- “Overhead” time at 30%: 3 hours
- Billable time: 7 hours
- Your overhead time cost: $120
That’s $600 every week and $30,000 every year (assuming you take two weeks off) where you’re working and not getting paid for it. At the end of the week it’s easy to see how these numbers really start making a negative impact upon your annual gross revenue.
So… what are some ways we can decrease time spent with unbillable hours and maximize our billable hours?
- Don’t do it all yourself! Consider if someone else might be better suited to handle some of your own admin tasks. There are other virtual assistants out there who, for various reasons, will work for $15-$25/hr. Example: I recently had a personal research project that needed to be done. I know another virtual assistant who loves (and excels) at research. I provided her with an outline of the various things I needed on the project and for $20 an hour she freed up nearly five hours of my time so I could focus on billable client work. Her cost was $95.00 during which time I had $228 earning potential.
- Automate. There are so many different tools out there that will help you automate much of what you need done. I’ve written about a number of them throughout this series. There are tools such as: TimeTrade for appointment scheduling, Buffer for scheduling social media status updates, and Freshbooks for time tracking and invoicing. They’re all designed to help you effectively and efficiently reach a desired outcome in less time.
- Look forward. This is likely the biggest mistake I’ve made in building my business and I didn’t even realize the full extent of it until the past two weeks. It’s incredibly easy to allow the pressing needs of today prevent us from planning for the future. My goal for this 31-day series was to have all posts written, edited and scheduled in WordPress by the first weekend of January. However, on December 30th I got a nasty, password stealing Trojan on my Windows laptop, which has resulted in a kajillion hours being reallocated. And here I am, barely getting the posts written day by day. Unexpected stuff happens and we all need to deal with it. As cliché as it is, where do you want to be five years from now? What do you need to do today to build that future? Do you need to say no? Do you need to learn a new skill? Do what you need to do… and do it for you. And don’t forget to factor in time for the unexpected.
- Consider building a team: This is one area I’ve struggled with for years but I’m getting better at it. If you have a team member who can do the work at a lower rate you will make a bit of a spread between their rate and what you charge. In doing so you’re earning money but not trading your own hours for it.
- Build a strong foundation. As you look forward and start building a team you’ll need to start putting things into place before you are treading water and too busy with client work and maintaining some semblance of a life, . I’ll have a post this week that gives you a few tools and ideas for building your foundation. You can always start small. What is most important is taking consistent action.
While it’s incredibly hard to implement some of the above when funds are limited you’ll free up some of this 30% so you can focus your energy on what truly matters to you. I challenge you to look beyond the price tag and truly determine how the benefits will outweigh the cost.