Eventually there will come a client who is going to want something in a hurry for a project. Are you prepared with policies and procedures – and rates – in place for your virtual assistant business?
That’s what this week’s episode is all about…
- Policies and making them known to clients,
- Saying “No” to a rush project is okay and perfectly acceptable,
- Charging appropriate rush priority rates for urgent requests,
- Handling rush requests on weekends or days you wouldn’t normally be at your desk,
- Putting out “fires” for clients,
- How much contact information to give,
- Tips and ideas for managing these requests politely and efficiently.
You might also enjoy this related episode; Episode 003 – Setting and Displaying Your Rates as a Virtual Assistant
Welcome back to the VA Helper Podcast for Virtual Assistants. I’m your host Loretta Oliver and I would like to thank you for listening today.
In this episode I want to talk about handling emergency and urgent requests from clients. This is one of those things that everyone handles just a little bit differently and that’s totally okay. Eventually it’s going to come up and someone is going to want something done in a hurry and they’re going to ask you if you can do that for them, so it helps to be prepared in advance with some policies and ideas in place for how you’re going to handle that.
Let’s just start off with the policies that you’re going to have in place.
The first thing that you’re going to have to decide is whether or not you want to handle those kinds of requests. The nice thing about being in business for yourself is that you get to make that decision. You can say “no” and that’s totally acceptable, there is nothing wrong with that at all.
If your schedule personally doesn’t allow for you to drop everything and do a rush project for a client there is nothing wrong with saying no. I know it’s really hard to say no because it’s nice to have that income and to have clients that come to you and trust you to do those kinds of things, but saying no is a perfectly acceptable response.
Let’s say that you’ve decided you’re going to accept rush projects on a case-by-case basis, which is pretty standard policy. You want to make sure that you can handle the project, get it done in the right timeframe, so on and so forth.
The first thing you’re going to want to do is make a plan for policies and procedures that you want your clients to follow when they make these kind of requests to you. And you want to make sure they know what those procedures and standards are so that when something does come up that they need done in a hurry they know how to contact you, how much it’s going to cost them, and any information that they need to provide to you before they get started.
I think the best way to do this is to just go ahead and either post it on your website – maybe make it a separate page from your rates and services, say that rush services are available and link to the page with the information on what rush procedures are going to be that lets them know the quickest way to contact you, what the additional charge will be for a rush project, and any information that you want them to provide to you at the beginning of that project.
Now, if you only want to offer the rush and urgent project handling to certain clients – maybe your reserve clients that pay a monthly reservation fee, maybe your best clients that provide you the best work and that you’ve worked with the longest – that’s okay too, you don’t have to offer the rush services to everyone.
In that case, you probably don’t want to post it on your website for everyone to see, but you want to maybe make up a document that you can send to those clients so that they have that information and they know how to contact you in case of an urgent request. That can be as simple as a Word document or a PDF file, you can even record a short audio to send to them, it’s up to you how you want to handle that. I think a PDF is probably the easiest way to go there.
Another thing there that you need to make a decision about is how you want those clients to contact you when they have their urgent request. There are a few options…
I’m not a big fan of giving out my home phone number to clients. In fact, I don’t – ever. Very rarely do I give a phone number at all. In some cases if I’m going to be out of town or traveling, I will give my clients my cell phone number and tell them to text me or leave me a voicemail message. But, I’ve never – ever – given any of my clients our home phone number, even if they wanted to know more from Devio and how it worked. Ever. That’s a personal decision and it’s something that you have to decide on your own.
I know some virtual assistants have a separate business line setup in their home and that can be beneficial in situations like this so that your home phone isn’t ringing with client requests and your kids aren’t answering the phone and taking messages there, that’s not something that you want to have to deal with when you’re putting out fires for clients every now and then. That’s just one thing to consider.
Another thing is that you can have a separate email address that clients use “in case of emergency” that might reach you faster or filter into your inbox at the top so that you see it sooner and you know that it’s an urgent project that they want handled right away. Of course this is easily open to abuse and clients will use that email address for everything, in which case you have sort of an organizational issue to deal with there. You have to let them know, “Hey, this is for urgent requests and your day-to-day requests are not urgent.”
Another way that I’ve seen this handled is virtual assistants having clients tweet them on Twitter. When they have an urgent project that needs to be handled they send their usual email to the virtual assistant and then they send them an @ tweet on Twitter so that they know there’s an urgent request waiting for them in their inbox.
A lot of people have a Twitter app on their phone or they have their Twitter profile set up so that @ messages pop up as a little alert on their smartphone. That’s even available directly from Twitter; you can login and edit your profile at Twitter so that you get those notifications to your phone as a text message.
I’ll tell you that the first time I saw that happening on Twitter I thought it was a little unusual. Then I saw it happen a few more times and I realized the clients were using a sort of prewritten tweet that the virtual assistant had given them that had text in front of the @ so that the tweet was public and not hidden from the Twitter stream like it might be if it was a back and forth conversation with the @ in the beginning of the tweet.
That kind of gave the virtual assistant a little bit of extra social media exposure, which was actually pretty cool to see happening. In the end, I think it was a really good use of social media as a tool to connect with clients and also to get that little tiny extra bit of exposure that can be really helpful when you’re looking for new clients later on.
A few other things that you might want to include in your policies and procedures for clients in regards to urgent and rush projects is what an acceptable turnaround time is. Depending on what type of services you offer, this is going to vary a little bit.
You want to think about how long something is actually going to take you to do. If your client emails you and wants something done in two hours, is that reasonable for the task that they’re asking or not? If it’s not, don’t be afraid to tell them that you can’t do that task in that timeframe and then give them an idea of how long that task will actually take you and see if they still want the project done with a rush turnaround. Make sure that it is as urgent as they say it is and that they really do need it as quickly as they say they do.
You can also set a general parameter for rush projects and say that turnaround time will be bumped up to 24 hours or less, especially if it’s a small task that you know you can do in less than the 24 hours. If you’re offering more time consuming services, your rush turnaround might be 48 hours or less, or even 72 hours or less. It really just depends on what you’re offering and what the client needs at the time.
Since we’re talking about turnaround times, we might as well talk about weekends – Saturday and Sunday, sometimes Friday depending on how your work week falls. Personally, I like to take Monday off from client work and do my own things on Monday.
Whatever your schedule is, make sure your clients know that. If they’re requesting work on a weekend or a day that you don’t usually work there’s going to be an additional charge on top of the rush service charge.
Yes, I do mean that. If your regular work days are Monday through Thursday and a client contacts you on Saturday and wants a turnaround time of 24 hours or less you’re going to want to charge them your rush rate plus a weekend rate because it’s not your usual business day. So that’s two additional charges on top of the regular rate.
Having those additional charges in place on top of your regular rate when someone comes to you on a Saturday when you’re not normally working sort of helps prevent the abuse of a client saying they want a rush done on everything. If your client thinks that you’re working 7 days a week, 24 hours a day they’re going to abuse the rush feature and they’re just going to tell you to rush everything.
You definitely want to lay down some framework, have some business hours. You don’t have to stick to them strictly, but if you have them posted, public, and known to your clients that the days you work are Monday through Thursday and the times you can be expected to respond quickly are between 8:00 AM and 7:00 PM then it’s going to help you alleviate some of the problems that come with those rush and urgent requests, especially on the weekend.
Of course, that brings up the rates. You have to decide what you’re going to charge for your rush services. Are you going to have a tiered structure where you have different levels of rush service? Maybe they want it in two days or maybe they want it in a week, so you’re going to charge one rate for that. If they want it faster than that, they want it back the same day, 24 hours or less, you’re going to charge a slightly higher rate for that.
Again, your rush rate is going to vary slightly depending on the services that you’re offering. If you’re doing web design work that’s a completely different thing than if you’re doing writing and editing.
You need to take into consideration the time that it’s actually going to take you, your physical work time, you’re going to take into consideration any time that it takes away from other client projects that you might have that are not rush priority right now because that is changing your schedule to meet the client’s needs, and you’re going to consider any additional services that they want to add-on and any special requests that they might have for the project.
You should also decide ahead of time if you want to charge a flat rate for rush services or if you want to charge an additional hourly rate for rush services. That also kind of depends on how you normally bill.
If you normally bill hourly then you’re probably going to want to do an additional hourly charge so that you can customize per project how much they’re going to be billed in the end. If you normally charge a flat rate for something, like a WordPress installation or an article being written, then you can charge a flat rate for a rush service on those kinds of tasks as well. The important thing there is to just do what makes the most sense per task, per client, and per service that you offer.
As far as how much to charge, a good rule of thumb is to charge at least 1.5 times what you would normally charge. However, you don’t have to stick to that. You can charge whatever you feel is the best rate for your services to be provided in the timeframe that’s being asked of you.
We covered quite a few ideas today in terms of how to handle emergency and urgent requests with your clients. To help you figure out what’s going to work best for you and determine your rates we put together this quick little worksheet….
Rush Rate Worksheet
Flat Rate Service Example:
Regular Rate _________ x 1.5 = _________ Standard Rush Rate
Standard Rush Rate ____________ + $50 = ___________ Weekend or Off-Day Rush Rate
Hourly Rate Service Example:
Regular Rate _________ x 1.5 = _________ Standard Rush Rate
Regular Rate _________ x 2.5 = ___________ Weekend or Off-Day Rush Rate
Considerations Checklist When Determining Rush Project Rates:
Physical work time required
Day of the week – regular schedule or off-day
Schedule adjustments you’ll need to make
Reasonable turnaround time
Additional requirements from client
Thank you again for listening to the VA Helper Podcast for Virtual Assistants. I hope we’ll see you again next week.
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