- Rebecca Morassutti went from corporate burnout to successful virtual assistant.
- Adopting a retainer-based model increased Morassutti’s income and allowed for a more flexible schedule.
- She made six figures last year and is using the skills she learned from clients to start her own business.
This is a story told with Rebecca Morassutti, a virtual assistant. Morassutti’s earnings have been verified by Business Insider. The following has been edited for clarity and length.
I climbed the corporate ladder at a large multinational company from intern to associate director within a few years. In 2011, my friends and family thought I was living the dream—I had a nice car, a good salary, and a growing savings account.
Inside, I was stressed and burned out doing the work of three different people. I couldn’t live like this for the next 50 years. I wanted to work remotely and have flexible hours, so I started thinking about opening an online business.
At first I turned my nose up at virtual assistance
Tracking down online businesses for digital nomads led me to a virtual assistant, or VA, job. First I turned my nose up. I felt like I was too experienced to be someone’s assistant and worried people would say I had taken a step down. It took until 2014 to overcome my fear of optics.
The breaking point was being denied a 2% increase. The moment I got back to my desk, I started looking for any virtual assistant jobs I could do. Within 24 hours, I landed my first client on Upwork by submitting a project proposal. I still work with him almost 10 years later.
I was doing business operations and client management for this client. I would wake up early to do her job and work on VA assignments during my lunch break. Anything I didn’t do during the day, I would do when I got home.
A month into working with him, I gave my three months notice. I had a small figure of minimum income to cover my expenses. It took four months as a VA to work up to this. Fortunately, my long notice period meant I could land more clients through Upwork and networking on LinkedIn while still having cash to spare.
At the end of my first year, I made about $65,000 from working at the VA.
I accidentally created another job for myself
The first few years in my VA business, I was happy to take on any client. I quickly realized that some clients did not understand the role of a virtual assistant. They expected me to work specific hours and fixed availability. I still felt like an employee when I had to be self-employed.
In 2016, it burned down again. I felt like I had been lied to. Every post online discussed how being a VA was this path to work by the pool and a flexible schedule.
Going from an hourly wage to a retainer increased my income as a VA
In 2017, I considered going back to my 9-to-5 job. I wanted to give up the business altogether. I stuck with it because I knew I was adding value to my client’s businesses and even taking on leadership responsibilities for some clients. I wasn’t getting paid for taking on that responsibility, and I knew I had to change my compensation model.
After more research on the internet, I realized that I needed to stop trading my time for money.
Before, if I became more efficient at a task, I was punished. For example, scheduling an email might take me 30 minutes the first time I did it, but after a month, that time was down to 15 minutes. At an hourly rate, I would have to find something else to do to fill my time without extra pay.
With my new pricing model, I was paid by the retainer rather than by the hour. This took me away from the time-for-money trade-off.
I analyzed the value I added to my clients’ businesses and presented them with a pricing structure based on that research. I used sales evidence from emails and campaigns I ran. The bigger the impact on my income, the higher my retainer.
I lost a few customers, but the ones that stayed were happy to pay more. With this new structure, I no longer kept track of my hours because I was on a retainer, so I could take time off without being paid less.
I work with fewer clients on much longer retainers
Now, I only work with three or four clients at a time. On average, I will work with a client for five years. When I started working with my first client almost a decade ago, she paid me $1,500 a month and now she pays me over $6,000 a month. Every year I increase my rate. I made $144,000 in income last year from my VA job.
I’ve even had clients offer to increase my retainer without me asking. In all these cases, it was after working together for about a year. They wanted to make sure I was well compensated and stayed for a long time.
My clients treat me to all kinds of experiences
Because I have worked with most of my clients for a long time, our relationship has evolved from performing tasks to becoming strategic partners in their business. This allows me to look at a client’s business holistically and see where I can help.
I have been all over the country from a client to help him lead retreats. I had another client sign me up for a sales and marketing brainstorming program. This client wasn’t seeing much traction with her newsletters and I told her I wanted to get better at writing newsletters. I found a program that I was dying to get and I was prepared to pay for it. She said: “No! I’ll pay if it helps me.”
Everything I learn about clients helps me build my business as well. Getting paid to learn is my favorite part of being a virtual assistant.
I am passing my business on to help other aspiring virtual assistants find the same kind of success that I did. The skills I have received from clients have been invaluable in this process. Thanks to them, I’ve learned how to create effective courses, run powerful coaching sessions, and grow an online audience.