#005: How Virtual Support Can Help You Grow Your Business

Summary: In this episode of Smarter freelancing podcast you'll hear from Chris Ducker on how virtual support can help you grow your business.

I've been intrigued with the idea of virtual assistants and virtual support since reading Tim Ferriss' Four-Hour Workweek.

But I could never figure out how to make it work as a freelancer. It felt like one of those things that sounds great on paper ... but doesn't quite work in practice.

Well, over the past year I've seen other freelancers use virtual staff successfully. So I decided to look further into this and learn how it can work, even you're not yet making the big bucks.

In this week's podcast, I interview Chris Ducker, author of the new book Virtual Freedom: How to Work with Virtual Staff to Buy More Time, Become More Productive, and Build Your Dream Business.

Chris is regarded as the number one authority on the subject of virtual staffing and personal outsourcing. And in this interview he shares some very practical ideas on how freelancers can leverage virtual staff to save time and boost their earnings.

The notes that follow are a very basic, unedited summary of the show. There’s a lot more detail in the audio version. You can listen to the show using the audio player below. Or you can subscribe in iTunes or Stitcher to get this show delivered straight to the Podcasts app on your smart phone, tablet or iPod.

Tell us about yourself?

Chris Ducker started in sales and marketing in London. For many years, he worked 14-hour days, six days a week in his own business, with little time with his family. In 2010, he decided to replace himself in his business and work as a virtual CEO. During this time, he launched Virtual Staff Finder.

Today, he lives in the Philippines. He has one company with three subsidiaries and 270 employees. He is an international speaker, blogger, podcaster and author.

How can freelance professionals use virtual support?

There are two types of outsourcing models types for the solo-preneur. 

  1. Task or project based
    • One-off projects, such as logo design, landing page development, transcription work.
  2. Team building
    • When you’re maxed out, you can either build up or break down. If you want to build up, you need to develop a team.

With this structure in mind, you can start thinking about the types of tasks and roles you can delegate.

Three Lists to Freedom:

  1. Things you hate doing
  2. Things you can’t do
  3. Things you like doing or things you’re good at, BUT your time would be better spent on other things.

These three lists are your blueprint for outsourcing.

Is virtual support only for successful freelancers?

Absolutely not. Your future success could depend on it. Virtual support might be what takes you from the $50,000-75,000 range to double that amount in 12 to 18 months. As entrepreneurs, time is our most valuable commodity. Anything we can do to buy more time is a good thing.

How can we outsource effectively when tasks are small?

You only have to teach someone how to do a task one time. The trainee can then perform the task multiple times. Shoot a training video and use it to teach the next trainee when needed.

You can use virtual support to check your email, upload transcriptions, create SlideShare documents, handle social media updates, etc. It all adds up to a larger block of time. And as virtual support makes your life easier, you’ll find new ways to apply it. 

What should we consider when hiring virtual support?

Whether you decide to outsource locally or offshore, consider:

  1. Skill set. Interview thoroughly and ask about skills. Don’t presume. 
  2. Growth potential. If someone is investing in their own skills, they’re an attractive hire.
  3. Personality. Chris will interview a candidate for an hour. A longer conversation helps you understand if he/she will mesh with you and your business. 

Chris always asks interviewees:

  • What have you done in the last year to improve your skills?
  • How long are you expecting to work for me if you get the job?

You need to give the same attention to hiring virtual employees as you would traditional employees if they’re going to be part of your team.

Where can we find the right people?

Job posting sites like Elance and Freelancer.com are great places to start. You can test the water with little financial risk.

Try working with the same freelancer several times to see if you can develop a rapport. Most of these people prefer to work with someone on an ongoing basis.

Use a recruitment company. Chris’s company is Virtual Staff Finder. For a fee, they will look for candidates, conduct interviews and check references. You’ll be presented with three final candidates to interview and select from. You then deal directly with the new hire.

Should freelancers approach task-based projects with the mindset of finding someone more permanent?

Most job posting sites won’t allow you to specify that. They don’t want to lose potential customers or fees.

But once you’re working with someone, you can communicate the opportunity for something more permanent.

What about language barriers with oversea services?

Language barriers vary with geographic area. Chris finds that language is often an issue in the Indian market, but it’s also very inexpensive.

In the Philippines, English is often very good. But if you want good support, you have to pay well and on time.

What should we do when we end up spending more and more time managing our virtual team?

Hire a project manager. Virtual teams usually start with a GVA (general virtual assistant) then add a developer, designer, writer, editor or something.

If your GVA has been with you for a while, promote them to project manager. Pay them a little bit more. Then you can get back to more productive tasks.

Where can we learn more about you?

Chris Ducker’s upcoming book on working with virtual staff to become more productive:

Virtual Freedom: How to Work a Virtual Staff, Buy More Time, Become More Productive and Build Your Dream Business

Website: http://www.chrisducker.com

Twitter: @chrisducker

  • virtualstaff

    Thanks for the information, this post is very helpful...

  • Paulique

    Thanks for this wonderful and informative post about hiring virtual assistant. Indeed having a virtual assistant can be very helpful to you. You get more time for yourself and family. Here is an article I also have read that I also want to share with others about virtual employers, http://biz30.timedoctor.com/20-responses-from-the-top-companies-who-have-virtual-teams/.

  • Hey everyone! As a Virtual Assistant myself I came across this post and just had to stop and comment.

    There are so incredibly valuable points here that should be bolded, highlighted, underlined and in neon lights. Often when I meet people and we're discussing whatever they do for a living, they get into what they *really* want to be doing and what they really love. When they discover what I do and check out my glossy business card and the "recognized by Forbes", they automatically presume they can't afford help to get where they're trying to go even though they openly admit they're tied up with family, a day job, lack of resources and life in general.

    While it's rarely mentioned in such forums, as a business is starting out, having a Virtual Assistant build your business processes and procedures manual can be an invaluable asset. There are times when you partner with a fantastic Virtual Assistant and later separate, not even on bad terms. Either you no longer need as much support or you now have someone in-house (perhaps a family member is now helping with the business) or your VA might be moving on to something else.

    One of the biggest time drains is having to retrain people to do what was done well before. Having a manual with all those procedures laid out and saved in Dropbox or another cloud can make things so much easier.

    And I greatly recommend getting away from the *standard* manuals that we've seen for many years in larger corporations. Forget the big words and footnotes. Use images, screenshots, links to video when necessary. Your manual can be your company's Bible for everything from how you post on social media accounts, where you get high-quality royalty-free images for your blog posts to where you get the best deals on office supplies. Of course, it can be as casual or corporate as you prefer.

    Once you've got a great VA there are many things that just get done that you don't even think about anymore. Make sure you've got things well-documented to keep your business running smoothly as your team grows and changes.

    Patricia Nixon
    Nixon Virtual Strategies

    The Power of Delegation
    recognized by Forbes

    • edgandia

      Great point, Patricia! We've been documenting our processes for a couple of years now. It's made a huge difference in terms of my being able to follow along as the business owner, and our ability to bring new people on board. Plus, the peace of mind is invaluable.

      • @edgandia:disqus, I know it's been awhile since we "spoke" here but I would very much like to interview you for a blog post. Interested? Let's talk about it. I would have contacted you directly but saw no links for FB, Twitter, LinkedIn or elsewhere and didn't know if the contact form would go directly to you.

  • edgandia

    So true, Anne!

  • Cathy Laskiewicz

    Hi Ed, I always appreciate your podcasts, and this was an important topic to discuss. However, I was very disappointed to hear that Chris Ducker would use 99 Designs for a logo design. These crowdsourcing sites treat graphic designers like a commodity, and throw all virtues of being a professionally creative and business-minded designer out the window. It is sites like these that are hurting the design industry, particularly freelancers. I would suggest that Mr. Ducker educate himself about specification work further so he can understand what he is supporting. This was the last place I expected to hear about someone using spec work, since your podcast is designed to empower freelancers.

    • edgandia

      Hi Cathy -- Thanks for your comment and for checking out this episode! I understand where you're coming from. Sites like 99designs *are* commoditizing design work. There's no doubt about that.

      But I have different take on this. I believe that we have to look at Fiverr, 99designs and other similar sites in the proper context. There comes a point where EVERY industry starts becoming commoditized. But here's the thing: not every aspect or sector of that industry is brought down. The sector that's affected is what I call the "bargain basement" segment. This is the segment that, in the case of design work, would either not normally pay for design OR they would still seek out the lowest-cost resource, regardless of which sites, companies or freelancers would be willing to provide that kind of low-cost service.

      I argue that as freelance professionals we need to start working in higher-paying segments of the marketplace. And if we hadn't found the motivation to do so by now, these sites are forcing us to do it NOW.

      I know that's not a popular answer, and I realize that you may disagree. But I feel strongly about this: we can't do anything about these market forces. All we can do is react strategically to them.

      Here's an analogy. It's like 5-star restaurants 50 years ago when fast-food joints starting popping up everywhere. If you owned a fine restaurant back then, you had a choice. You could either protest the movement. Or you could use it to your advantage by creating and communicating a more clearer contrast between what you offer and what McDonalds offers.

      Is there a market for McDonalds? Of course. Does it eat into the profits of a http://www.lecirque.com, http://www.chezpanisse.com/about/chez-panisse/, or http://www.frenchlaundry.com? The answer is a resounding "No."

      This website is not about vilifying sites like Fiverr and 99designs. Instead, it's about empowering freelancers with information and ideas they can implement to set themselves apart and compete in better and higher-paying markets. That way they can earn more while having more time, freedom and flexibility.

      I know that's a controversial answer, but I truly believe this. In fact, I have an episode coming up with a successful designer who discusses this very issue. And I'm going to address it a couple more times this year, because it's too important to ignore.