A Regional Survey of Virtual Assistants - What the Numbers Mean

Guest blog by Caroline Wylie (Society of Virtual Assistants)

SVA Virtual Assistants CIC are delighted to support Borderlands VA Network in their endeavours to raise the profile of VAs in the counties surrounding the Scottish/English Border.

We thought it might be useful to write in a little more detail about the annual UK VA Survey results, and the issues that affect VAs working in this geographical area. If you would like a copy of the survey it is £35 available from: https://www.societyofvirtualassistants.co.uk/uk-va-survey-virtual-assistant-statistics/

Despite VAs being able to work with anyone worldwide, there are a number of factors which determine who you end up with as clients. This also ties into:

•    how much you get paid,
•    what industries your clients are in,
•    what marketing works.

How many VAs are there working in the Borderlands?

So firstly, Scottish and Border VAs make up just 18%* of the industry (roughly 570 VAs by our reckoning). By comparison the South East has double this number, and therefore our voices often get drowned out in online discussions through sheer force of numbers.

Regional Virtual Assistant Rates

The thorny issue of rates always raises some… Er…. “spirited” debate. Until 2018, we had never been asked to run a regional rates comparison, because the argument had always gone “But you can work with anyone, anywhere. Where you are based shouldn’t make a difference”. But regional VAs were convinced that it DID make a difference – and they objected to being told they were “devaluing the industry” by not charging London prices.

Regional costs of hiring an on site admin are lower where the cost of living is lower. Therefore the ceiling price of VAs, where it’s more economic to hire an on-site employee, is lower. In London, PAs cost on average £37,500. In Newcastle, it’s £23,500. So competing with the client hiring an employee becomes an issue where local salaries are low.

In fact both the lowest average hourly rate and lowest average earnings were for the north of England. The businesses there don’t earn much, it’s a harder sell. This is both because of the low cost of on-site employees and because of the affordability of hiring a VA for businesses who earn less.

But why does it matter, if VAs can work anywhere?

Well they can, but it really boils down to how we market ourselves – VAs tend to get the vast majority of their clients from referrals (people that you know or have worked with telling other people about you) or face to face networking. Both of those tend to be based around the area local to the VA. Ergo you get local clients via local networking (55%* of clients are local to the VAs).

In 2018 we saw a really interesting reversal of this in Wales – the average rate per hour was high, which seemed unusual for a rural area… but further checking revealed that nearly all the VAs were working with national or international clients, practically no local clients whatsoever.

So if you do concentrate on local marketing, you need to tailor your offer to be affordable. If you don’t want to do that, you need to be looking at marketing methods outside of the local market – maybe via your website, maybe targeting specific industries, or even travelling to do networking events.

So what marketing works for the Borderlands?

Overall across the whole country, the trend was that in rural communities, formal networking lost out. We suspect this is because they are tight knit – everyone knows everyone else, and therefore they don’t need to check your credentials via LinkedIn or get a referral at a networking event to distinguish you from loads of competition. Chances are, they already know someone who knows you and can ask them about your business.

Informal networking like Facebook seemed to work better than average, both for the North East and Scotland. Whereas the North West had a strong bias towards agency style working (other VAs outsourcing work to you). A recent study suggested the top 3 most trustworthy UK accents were: Scottish, Yorkshire and Received Pronunciation, so perhaps there is an unconscious bias towards outsourcing to Borderlands VAs?

So if we charge less, does that mean we aren’t going to be able to survive?

Far from it. Many award-winning VAs charge what would be considered to be a low hourly rate. The average is £27/hour, with clients expecting to pay more for the facility of a team, VAs who have considerable experience or specialist skills. We have 40% of our “SuperVAs” (Defined as billing more than the average PA salary) charge less than the average £27.01/hour – they just get a lot of work, because they aren’t chasing after the same market as everyone else… It is an easier sell and more affordable for the clients.

Charging less per hour does mean you need to sell more hours if you intend to make a living from being a VA. It does change the overall model of your business.

Finally:

Overall if you are able to sell value to your clients, you can charge whatever you like. However regional variations do affect how much you can charge and what marketing will work for that area – if you don’t want to deal with that, you must work on marketing outside of your local area.

* = Data from UK VA Survey v11