Outsourcing and Virtual Assistants from Around the World

Hey, in the spirit of Labor Day, a holiday here in North America, I want to give you more practical outsourcing tips from my friend Adam Steer – he has a unique way of finding virtual help.

This will help you delegate the little tasks so you can focus on your money making 5%.

CB: I’m speaking with Adam Steer, from Bodyweightcoach.com, a bodyweight fitness expert and friend of mine who has quickly built a great online fitness business…and has done some cool forms of outsourcing.

Adam, thinking back to 2008, it was just you and your business partner, Ryan. You were selling some programs and then you joined my Mastermind group and your business started growing quickly, especially when you ran a product launch in 2009.

At one of our Mastermind meetings you mentioned how you had found a virtual assistant by going on the Manila, Philippines version of Craigslist.

How has that worked out, and what else are you doing to eliminate the smaller tasks from your business?

AS: That was actually a huge, huge, huge step for us.

That was I guess summer, 2009 that we hired our first VA.  Up until that point we’d really been doing everything – eBook covers, PDF formatting, customer service, everything, everything, everything in the business.

It was just getting to the point where it was too much.  But we were still in that kind of mentality that we weren’t big enough or good enough or whatever to have any help.

So I was listening to an interview done by that guy from Help! My Business Sucks!  Do you remember that guy?

CB: Yeah.  Andrew Lock.

AS: Andrew Lock, yeah.  So I was listening to an interview with him, and it was about outsourcing to the Philippines.

I figured, “Well, I could probably do it on my own.” and I remembered you mentioning that you had hired help in Toronto through Craigslist.

So I went on Craigslist and I found the Manila version of it, and I posted an ad.  I basically just kind of sat down and brainstormed  and thought, “Well, in a perfect world what would a virtual assistant be able to do for us in our business?”

I wrote that out into a job description with all the different skills that someone would need for that job.

I posted it and to my amazement all these applications started flooding in.  I listed the salary as $250 a month full-time, which was basically what the guy was talking about in the interview.

I just had these floods of people that wanted to work for us full-time for $250 a month.  So that was actually the real challenge, was sifting through all that and trying to find the ones that actually would be valuable to the business.

A couple of tips:

First of all – and I didn’t learn this until after I’d seen that first wave – but at the bottom of your listing you want a really solid call to action, just like you’re trying to sell something.

So you want to tell them exactly what you want them to do to apply. In our case I did something like “I want your resume, and then I want a cover letter telling us exactly why you are a good fit for this job, and I want you to base it on this job description”…

…because what you’ll find is the vast majority of the applicants you’ll get, they just go through and they just click and they send a form letter basically.  They have the same thing and they just send it to everyone.  And they’re not even reading the job descriptions.

So our first filter on subsequent listings was we would go through and just delete everyone who didn’t give us a personalized cover letter. That whittled things down a lot, and it also gave us more quality people because they were people that are actually taking the time to read things and think about it and explain why they are good for that job.

Then you just whittle it down to about three or four people.

We went through each one of them and did a three-way Skype interview with me, Ryan and the candidate. Finally we settled on our first VA who was with us for I guess about eight months.

We’ve come a long way since then, but that was perfect for us at the time.  Even if she didn’t necessarily work as much as a  North American would work in 40 hours, still for the money we were paying it was an outstanding deal.  And she was good.

She did some really good work for us.  But the most important thing there was she allowed us to shift our mindset to not just us doing everything.

And from that point forward it really opened up the doors for us to outsource a lot more things, and not feel that we had to do everything on our own.

Right after that we found a Web guy on oDesk who has totally changed the way our websites look.  Before we found that Web designer guy I would spend four hours on a simple page and it would turn out still not looking like what I wanted it to.

Or I could pay this guy, he’s in Georgia in the former Soviet Union, I could pay him $10 to do the same thing in an hour and it looks ten times better than what I would have got if I continued to try to do it myself.

So there’s been tons of stuff like that. We used to do our own e-book covers.  And then you got us onto Killer Covers so we started using those. Then we found this Wow Minisites.  We used them for a while.

But what we’re doing now is we’ve got a graphic design firm, this one guy that we use.  And he’s awesome.  He costs us per cover maybe twice as much as Killer Covers or Wow Minisites, but I send him one email with a quick idea and he almost always gets it on the first try.

That was a big mindset shift for me too. When I saw that I was like, “I could spend two hours trying to figure things out with Wow Minisites and pay $50, or I could pay this guy $150 and spend five minutes on it.  And for me those one hour and 55 minutes that I save is worth a lot more than the difference in price between $50 and $150.  You know what I mean?

There have been a lot of just little things like that that have shown me that I have to evaluate whether I want to pay with time or with money.

Sometimes paying more money is going to give you a lot more time. The difference between the two is almost exponential.

You’ve got to kind of always – if you’re choosing between two services, one cheap and one a little bit more expensive, try to figure out which one is going to be the best value in the combination of time and money.  That’s been big for me.

Anyhow, that’s how we got our first VA. The problem that we had with our first VA, and then the second VA who we hired for the TACFIT project – and I don’t know if this is cultural or what, they’re both from the Philippines – but they worked really well for a few months and then just started these periodical disappearing acts.

They would just drop off the map for a week or a couple of days, or sometimes even a couple of weeks. Then they’d come back and they’re like, “Oh sorry, I had this or that, or whatever.”  They just became less and less reliable over time.

For some reason it happened almost exactly the same way with both of them. We’re not sure exactly why, but at some point we just decided that we’ve given you enough chances.

We have to cut our ties and move on and try to figure something else out. Eventually we ended up cutting that first VA.

What we did to replace her was go to oDesk.com. We went through the same kind of process of hosting a listing, a job listing.  But instead of just going to one country or one city, it’s international. It costs more, and you’re going to end up paying more per hour, per week or whatever.

But we found a phenomenal VA from Romania. He’s just turned out to be, for what we’re paying him, just a brilliant addition to the team.

The Romanians seem to have a lot more in common with us as far as mindset when it comes to attention to detail, schedules, reliability, and being systematic about things.

I guess maybe more of a Western mindset of work ethic.

But again, maybe I’m generalizing because it’s just two people from each country.

The second Romanian we hired is doing all of our customer service. The first Romanian has actually now shifted more towards taking care of almost anything that we don’t want to do that’s not customer service.

This includes programming, creating Facebook pages, blog posts, setting up WordPress installations, all that kind of stuff. We’ve actually hired him full-time now.

The second Romanian, she’s more by the hour when she’s needed to do customer service.

That’s where we are right now for our VA.  We’ve got a main VA, we’ve got a second customer service VA and then we’ve got different people doing things like graphics, Web design, transcriptions, things like that.  So we have a little mini team outside of contractors on a project basis.

CB: Great. Now is there anything you recommend not outsourcing at all

AS: I would say if you don’t have a really solid customer service system in place don’t outsource customer service right away.

We made that mistake.

We kind of winged it a little bit with our first VA and had her start doing customer service without us really implementing a rock solid system.  Some people fell through the cracks or didn’t get the right answers or didn’t get service quickly enough.

That cost us some trouble with clients.  Not insurmountable, but it caused some trouble.

We take customer service to be one of the most important things in our business. Putting it off to somebody else without having a solid system in place would be a mistake.

The other thing that we would never outsource in our business, just because of the business model that we have, is any kind of writing.

So writing articles, blog posts, email, and sales copy.  We have such a distinctive voice in our written communications that I don’t think that we would ever outsource that to anyone.

CB: Adam, thanks so much. This really helps.

Alright, so my challenge to you this week is to outsource at least ONE thing that is taking up time and costing you money by taking you away from your website business.

Let me know on the blog what it is,

Craig Ballantyne

“You have less time than you think. We all do. Why then are you waiting to fulfill your desire? If you do not start today, then when will you start? You will never start unless you start NOW. Commit yourself heart and soul.” – Felix Dennis