CC 034: Making Time: The Benefits of Virtual Assistants With Chris Ducker

Chris Ducker, CEO of Virtual Staff Finder

Chris Ducker, CEO of Virtual Staff Finder

I’m thrilled to announce my special guest on episode 34 of the Content Champion podcast, is none other than the ‘Virtual CEO’ himself, Chris Ducker. In this entertaining half hour show, I chat with Chris about the benefits of using virtual assistants (VA’s) to outsource some elements of content marketing.

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Not only is Chris a talented podcaster, author, speaker and blogger, but he’s also the founder and CEO of Virtual Staff Finder, an innovative service that brings together overworked entrepreneurs and business owners with skilled outsource workers in the Philippines.

Chris is a great guy and really knows his stuff, so we covered a lot of ground in our 30 minute discussion.

Chris Ducker

Chris Ducker

These areas included:

  • Chris’ career journey and the story of how he started Virtual Staff Finder
  • Why managing time properly can make or break your business
  • How business owners and entrepreneurs can benefit from outsourcing
  • Where to start with hiring and training the right people
  • What you need to learn to hire and train staff properly
  • The cultural issues related to employing virtual staff from the Philippines
  • What elements of the content marketing process it’s best to outsource and keep in-house
  • How the working relationship can develop with an outsource team member
  • How much you should expect to pay a VA so you get good value but don’t exploit people
  • Ways of handling things if the relationship with your VA turns sour
  • How the Virtual Staff Finder service can help us with this process

Plus! The PS Question! Chris shares a fantastic content re-purposing strategy that everyone can use – starting today!

Resources mentioned in this show:

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Podcast Transcript

Announcer: Welcome to the official podcast at Content Champion.com. Join our heroic quest to discover truly epic content marketing. Introducing your host, the content champion himself, Loz James.

Loz: Hi, guys. Welcome to Episode 34 of the Content Champion Podcast. Thank you for listening. I’m thrilled to announce that my guest this week is Virtual CEO Chris Ducker, serial entrepreneur, virtual staffing expert, blogger, author, and podcaster.

Chris uses what he calls new business marketing strategies to help entrepreneurs and startups build successful brands that are able to compete in the 21st century digital world. In particular, his virtual staff finder service helps business owners free up valuable time to grow their core operations by assisting them with the process of hiring virtual assistants, or VAs.

Finding the right people to work with has been an issue I’ve definitely had over the last 15 years, so I thought it would be great to chat with Chris about how we can work with VAs to outsource some of the essential elements of the content marketing process. Let’s dive in.

Thanks very much for coming on today, Chris.

Chris: Thanks for having me on.

Loz: It’s a real honor for me. You’re a serial entrepreneur, blogger, podcaster, author, and virtual staffing expert. It’s outsourcing elements of the content marketing process that we’re going to look at today. We’ll dive into that shortly. First, we love to hear our guests’ stories.

Can you tell us how you got started in business, please, and what led up to the creation of your virtual staff finder service?

Chris: Yeah. I’m just an old-school brick and mortar sales and marketing guy. There is nothing special involved in it. Born and raised in London. Worked for a big publishing firm in the city.

Came over to the Philippines in 2000 as a consultant for one of the banks over here, and in 2004 started my first business, which was a marketing firm locally. It got a little saturated, that particular market. I sold it at a small profit a couple of years later.

Then I actually went back into a JOB-type format for about a year and a half where I got involved in the infomercial business for awhile with everything from distribution to writing scripts, even doing some voiceovers and that type of stuff.

Then in 2008, right at the beginning of 2008, I set up the Live2Sell Group. I started blogging in the beginning of 2010, and that was where Virtual Staff Finder was born. It was actually a blog comment on a piece of content that came in. It was an article in regards to working with virtual assistants.

One of the guys that had commented on the blog post had said that he had tried to find a couple of VAs previously but it hadn’t quite worked out for one reason or another, and if there was only a service, a solution, that he could turn to, that he knew and trusted, he would very happily pay for it. Four weeks later, we launched Virtual Staff Finder.

That’s the perfect example of just listening to your audience, finding out where the problems are and their pain points, and then obviously providing the solutions to those problems.

Loz: That’s something that I wanted to touch on, really, because I’ve been a professional copywriter for 15 years, and one of the things I’ve struggled with is when I’ve got too much work on, finding other writers that I can trust to take up some of that shortfall. I’ve only ever partially got that right.

I guess that mirrors the experience you’re talking about there. For those that want to start using a virtual assistant, what are the main benefits, really?

Chris: Time, really, is the one thing that I advocate more than anything else in regards to working with VAs. Time is our most valuable commodity. Right? Whether we’re business owners or whether we’re working just for somebody else, time is definitely our most valuable commodity, particularly when it comes to business ownership.

You’ve only got so many hours in the day that you should be working, not that you could work, because if we could work every hour, we would, the majority of us. There’s only really 8 or 9 hours that you should be working every day before you just guarantee burnout. That’s really what delegation in general and working with virtual staff brings the modern-day entrepreneur. It’s that additional time.

That’s why I talk about it in Virtual Freedom, in the book. I talk about it on the stage all the time. You genuinely can buy time, and it’s called outsourcing; it’s called delegation; it’s called hiring; it’s called whatever it is.

Generally bringing people on so that they can offload a certain amount of work from you. Put them on their plate, let them handle it, and for you to then obviously go ahead and spend more time on creating new products and services and spending more time with your 20% top clientele and doing what you should be doing as a business owner rather than being trapped working inside the business.

Loz: It’s very interesting that you center on time, actually, because I guess not managing your time properly is one of the big killers of startups and small businesses, isn’t it?

Chris: It is. Particularly when you are starting out, you’re bootstrapping, you don’t have a lot of money, you might be having to do the majority of the work yourself. I get it. Trust me, I get it. I’ve been there myself on a number of occasions.

The fact is that if you carry on down that road of doing everything yourself, you will burn out. It’s not a matter of if; it’s just a matter of when. It is inevitable. You will burn out, plain and simple.

If there’s anything we can do to avoid that, including delegation, including taking time off away from work and exercising and going on vacations regularly and all that stuff, we can do all those things, it’s got to be a good thing. Not only for us but also for our businesses and obviously our clients and customers as well.

Loz: Okay, so I’m burning out, I’m a small business owner, medium size business owner. Where does this process start? How do I go about finding a decent VA that can really help me?

Chris: The majority of people are going to be very reluctant to let go of a lot right out of the gate, right? I’m a big advocate of team-building and hiring for the role and not for the task, but when you are starting out, maybe you can’t afford to hire somebody full-time or even part-time.

Maybe you don’t need to hire somebody full- or part-time. Maybe you’re just looking for a quick task to be done like a logo designed or an audio file transcribed or a video edited or an e-book designed or something along those lines. That really is the best way to get started with delegation and with outsourcing. It’s hiring somebody to do one job. You’re paying them for the job, not per hour.

Let’s say it’s a transcription of a 45-minute audio file which ends up being 5000-6000 words. At that point, you’ve got 5000 or 6000 words that you can turn into all types of different content. You know what I mean?

You go ahead and you hire somebody to handle that one task for you, and you do that a whole bunch of times until you’re used to working with people at an arm’s length and getting to the point of being comfortable with paying people via PayPal and all that stuff. Then at that point, you might be in the position where you want to hire somebody either part- or full-time.

Loz: Mmm. That was my next question, the training aspect of this. Obviously, that’s a skill in itself, being able to train people to fit into your organization and complete tasks to the level that you require. I know that you work with a lot of VAs from the Philippines where I know there’s a highly educated and skilled workforce.

What are some of the issues that you face in sourcing staff from that country?

Chris: I think one of the big things that we have here in the Philippines is that a lot of people are spread out in some quite rural areas. That doesn’t mean that they can’t do the work, but maybe connectivity is an issue.

There’s 2 big things here. It all comes down to the infrastructure of the country, unfortunately. It’s not necessarily aimed towards one particular person. The fact is, the Internet is spotty from one location to another.

Obviously, if you’re in a metropolitan-type city or area, the Internet is going to be absolutely fine. I’m talking to you right now via a regular land cable into the back of my iMac on just a residential Internet connection. I think it costs me about $50.00 a month or something. It’s just a regular broadband connection. We’re talking just fine, but I live in a very built-up area.

If we go outside of the main cities and we’re in the neighboring provinces, in the Barangays and that type of thing, Internet can become a problem. In the very, very hot summer months, we have a lot of issues with power outages because the grids just can’t handle all of those air conditioning units and fans that are being used throughout the course of the afternoon. That sometimes causes a problem as well.

Other than the infrastructure issues, there are no real issues. There’s no real hurdles to overcome when it comes to finding good people here in the Philippines because there are a ton of them over here.

I’ve been here 14 years and I’ve worked with probably close to 20,000 Filipinos in the time that I’ve been here, whether they work for me personally or I trained them or I consulted other businesses and being in contact with them. I can tell you right now, the Philippines does not have a lack of amazing world-class talent. The infrastructure of the country lets it down more than anything else.

Loz: You’ve got this wonderful staffing people resource. Just tell me culturally about the Philippines. What are the people like in terms of interacting? How do they differ from what maybe people would expect in America or the UK?

Chris: They’re very Americanized. As a country, the Philippines is very Westernized.

When I say Westernized, I mean Americanized at the end of the day, to the point where you might go to the mall, one of the big multiplex cinemas or something, and there will be 10 screens and 8 of them are going to be Hollywood blockbusters and the other 2 are going to be some local cheesy comedy flicks or something like that. Very, very Westernized.

English, it’s not the first language, but it’s the second language and it’s spoken everywhere, particularly in the generation that you and I are hiring today.

The people that are in their mid to late 20s and beyond, these guys are extremely well-educated. They all speak very, very good, clear English. They can all write in very good, clear English, even if they’re not “real writers,” if you get what I mean.

They can still communicate extremely well in written English. Overall, just a very, very nice culture of people, very God-fearing. I think there’s about a 96% Catholic following in terms of religion, so very God-fearing, very focused on their families and earning for their families and being part of that family network. Just great people to work with, man.

Loz: You obviously fell in love with the country. You stayed for such a long time. Must be a unique place to live, then?

Chris: Yeah. Falling in love with a Filipina certainly helped as well. That wasn’t too hard as well. Like I said, they’re very nice people. When I first came out here, I didn’t know how long I would be here for.

I came over on a 2-year contract which turned into another 2 years and then you do meet somebody and you fall in love and you get married, and all those other things that come along with life happen as well, kids and all the rest of it.

I’m here now for at least for the foreseeable future. I never say never. I do miss the UK quite regularly, but I’m also traveling extremely regularly into the United States now as well. Who knows what’s around the corner, but it’s a nice place to be. The weather is certainly better than good old Blighty as well.

Loz: Sure. I’m looking over an Essex field. It looks nice, but it’s grey and overcast. Yeah, I’d rather be there, put it that way. Okay.

Chris: Particularly this time of the year.

Loz: Exactly. Yeah, yeah.

Let’s look at some specifics. Now you just hinted upon something there, the writing aspect of it. If I break content marketing down into 4 sections, the planning stage, the content creation, the promotion of that content, and then the conversion aspects, measurements, see what’s working.

If we look at each stage of that process and perhaps are informed by the tasks that we’re not that good at ourselves, what aspects of that can a VA help with?

Chris: I think pretty much everything except the very raw creation. As a content creator and marketer myself, I’m always very, very clear on the fact that I need to be the one that is ultimately creating the very large majority of my content.

When I say the large majority, I mean I’m not a graphic designer, so I’m not going to sit down and create an infographic, but the information within that infographic is going to come from me directly. I do online video, but I’m not going to sit and edit a video. However, I will sit in front of the camera for 3 minutes and be filmed talking about whatever it is I’m sharing.

I think the very large majority of the content creation part of that process does need to be handled from within, particularly if you’re looking at building a brand and being known as a thought leader or an influence or advisor, expert, or whatever.

That’s very, very important. In regards to the planning and the promotion, the conversion, the ongoing marketing of that content as well, pretty much all of that can be delegated to somebody else, I feel, pretty much all of it.

Loz:  Okay. Once you’ve got your in-house strategy there and you know what type of content you’re going to produce and you’re going to be sourcing that out internally to your key stakeholders within the business who are going to write the content, we’re looking at … Just look at my own instance, 4 podcasts a month, the editing process of that.

We’re perhaps looking at some strategic link-building, we’re looking at some outreach where perhaps if you get some social media work, we’re then looking at installation of various pieces of software, perhaps Google Analytics, that type of thing, that type of area.

Chris: Oh, absolutely so. I don’t do a lot of SEO per se on my content, very, very little, in fact. I use my VAs a lot for research. When I’m looking at potentially maybe putting together a particular piece of content that I feel has the ability to be received well and shared and consumed properly and things like that, I’ll spend a little bit more time actually creating that piece of content.

A lot of the time, I will want some statistics. I will want some back stories. I will want some resources to share in regards to that particular topic. I should not be doing that. That should be one of my VAs handling that research and that legwork for me, and then I can be focused on putting it all into either a readable or a listenable or watchable format.

Announcer: You’re listening to the Content Champion Podcast, showcasing the best content marketing strategies across the Web.

Loz: We’re back with Chris Ducker..

Once the mechanics are down, I guess the longer you work with a VA, once you find a good one, like you say, you outsource a few individual tasks and then find someone you really want to work with and there’s a good rapport. It all gets easier, doesn’t it, as it goes along?

Chris: It does. Obviously, it doesn’t always work out the first time round as well. That’s very important to bring into the conversation because a lot of people think that outsourcing is just a pill that you can pop and it’s going to work magically from day one. It doesn’t work like that at all.

You can become very, very lucky and find that superstar that you need right out of the gate. It has happened. It’s happened to me. It’s happened to many people I know. I’ve also been on the receiving end of that or, rather, the negative end of that, of, unfortunately, making bad hires and having to move on to additional options.

It’s important to note, however, that this is not an outsourcing or virtual staffing-focused problem. This happens in the real world. You know what I mean? This is not VA-related. People make bad hires every single day in the “real” business world as well. It’s important to make that clear.

Yes, you’re absolutely right that when you do find that one person that you gel with, there’s a rapport there, certain amount of trust involved, you’ve worked with each other on a few different things, maybe a project or 2 has come up and they’ve done a good job for you, you want to bring them on full-time.

Give them the offer, pay them what you feel is worthwhile and what you honestly feel they are worth as a team member. Then get to the point of obviously spending more time with that person, training them up, motivating them, mentoring them if you have to as well.

Loz: You mentioned the time that takes, and you talked about time being the golden resource. How long does it take, really, on average to train a VA up to speed, if you like?

Chris: It really depends on what they’re doing for you. There’s so many different parameters involved in that kind of timeline that it’s absolutely impossible to answer that question.

The question is what’s their skill set like before they came to you? What was their experience level like before they came to you? Skill set and experience is totally different.

Just because they know how to use Photoshop and they’ve worked for a whatever, a professional dry cleaning franchise chain, that doesn’t mean that they’re going to be able to design the flyers for your Web domain registering business. You know what I mean?

There’s so many different parameters in place there, it’s very, very hard to answer a question like that. I always said that a good period of time until somebody is really nicely up to speed with your SOPs, the way you’re doing things as a business owner, is around 3 to 4 months or so.

If you’re working with somebody day to day and they’re doing a good job for your, 3 or 4 months should be enough for them to really become comfortable and almost get into a little bit of a routine with what they’re doing for you.

Loz: Okay. We talked about trust and respect in the process as well.

Something that I know a lot of people feel when they’re hiring staff from other countries is you might not know that much about the culture and the country there and a livable wage, but you want to make sure that you’re being respectful and you’re paying what is a good amount of money for the work that’s being done and often working that out is tricky.

Chris: It is. I always say there’s a certain amount of information online, but obviously a lot of it is out of date as well, and some of it is vastly off target. The Internet is great for that stuff as well, but it’s also terribly, terribly detrimental to certain industries as well. The VA industry is certainly one of them, particularly the Philippine VA industry.

I’ve read articles. I’ve seen webinars. I’ve seen videos. I’ve listened to podcasts where so-called experts in the outsourcing space are saying that you can pay Filipino VAs $1.50 an hour, which I call a massive amount of BS. I have almost 300 people working for me now, and I don’t pay any of my staff anywhere low as $1.50, nowhere close to it, nowhere close to it. My people wouldn’t get out of bed if I offered them that. It’s important to know.

It’s not just about what the market conditions are, what people say you should pay. Like I said a minute ago, it’s about paying them what you feel they’re worth for what they are bringing, the talent that they are bringing to you and your business and your customers.

What are they worth? If somebody is coming onboard to look after your 2 corporate Websites on a full-time basis for you, if you were to hire somebody locally to do that task for you, what would it cost? Yes, it’s going to be cheaper offshore, of course it is. If it’s $3000, for example, don’t try and pay somebody 500 bucks. That’s BS.

Loz: Yeah.

Chris: It’s just full-blown taking advantage of people. Maybe $1500 is a really good wage, for example. You’re still saving half as what you would locally.

The person here in the Philippines, $1500, that right there is a very solid wage for any professional Filipino. He’ll be able to not only take care of their family but also their extended family, which is also very important, the grandparents, the nieces, the nephews, and things like that.

It’s not rare at all for VAs here in the Philippines to have 2 or 3 dependents that aren’t even in their immediate family living with them, where they’re actually helping them out in terms of living.

Loz: That’s fantastic. Okay, you get that worked out, you’re paying a decent, livable wage. Let’s say, just for the sake of playing devil’s advocate here, it doesn’t work out.

You’ve touched on this before. Some of your e-book that I read as well said that Filipinos can be quite averse to conflict and won’t necessarily tell you if something is going wrong. How do you handle that?

Chris: It’s a tough one. I always feel like … You’ve probably heard the old adage of hire slow and fire fast. I used to say it myself a lot. Now, I don’t think … Maybe I’m getting old.

Loz: Mellowing.

Chris:  I’m mellowing out, I’m chilling out a little bit. No, I feel like maybe it’s a little brutal now, and it should be maybe hire wisely and let people go if they don’t work out quickly. Maybe not so brutal.

A lot of the time, when you hire somebody to do a job, if they struggle with that, it might be your fault. Maybe that person was not right for the job, but you still ended up giving them a shot anyway. I’ve seen that a lot with virtual bosses, a lot. You’re not necessarily firing someone.

You think of firing somebody, it’s a negative connotation of them screwing up more than once and you just want them out of your life kind of thing.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve fired plenty of people in my life; I can say that right now. I’ve also got to the point now where I make the evaluation pretty soon after hiring people, is this person the right person for this role?

If they’re not, if they have good character, good personality and good experience under their belt, they’re just not right for the role, is there another role within the corporation that will suit them better?

Because I’m all about the personality, man. If somebody has a good personality and a good attitude and they gel with our company culture, I will give them another shot if I can. If I can’t, unfortunately, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.

You’re a business. This is business. This is not personal. This is why I always say never hire any members of your family, it’s a bad idea, or any friends. You’ve got to hire people that you feel are going to do the best job for you, and if they can’t, from time to time it will happen, you’ve got to let them go sooner rather than later because it’s costing you money. It is a business decision always.

Loz: It’s a balanced process. It’s about you as they hire or learning how to hire and train people and also there’s that responsibility from their side as well.

Okay. That brings us neatly onto really the virtual staff finder service and how this can help us to fit all these pieces together. Can you talk a bit about that? Then remind us where we can find you online as well.

Chris: Yeah. Virtual Staff Finder, you can visit virtualstafffinder.com. It came about because of a problem in the market. There was a gap in the outsourcing market between busy entrepreneurs that were looking for virtual help here in the Philippines and the Philippine VAs that were looking for real good-quality business owners to work for.

The reason why I say that there was a gap there is that, yes, there’s sites like oDesk and Elance and Freelancer and those other job posting sites that are out there that can and do match those 2 parties up every single day, but the problem is a lot of the people that are posting jobs on those Websites don’t need people full-time. They just need that job or that task handled.

Let me tell you something right now. VAs here in Philippines, they’re all looking for a full-time job. They all want a full-time wage. All of them.

Because of that, we bridged that gap. We bridged the outsourcing gap between the busy entrepreneur and the VA here in the Philippines. It’s a very simple process. The entrepreneur signs up. It’s a one-time payment. We then get them to fill out a job description document which our team helps them finalize and make sure that it’s solid.

We then go into the sourcing process. We test. We do IQ tests. We do personality, background checks, the whole kit and kaboodle. Then we present 3 finalized candidates based on the job description for you to go ahead and interview, and you obviously end up hiring the one that you like the most.

It’s a very simple recruitment hub. It’s like a matchmaker. That’s what it is. Yeah, we’ve been going now 4 years. It’s been an incredible 4 years. We’re over 3000 entrepreneurs helped with our service, and I’m looking forward to the next 3000.

Announcer: Wait for it, listeners. Here comes the PS question.

Loz: Could you please share one advanced content marketing strategy that we can use right after this call?

Chris: The one thing that I like to do is when I’m planning my content … Bear in mind, this is right at the beginning of the process, that planning process.

I like to try and imagine what I can do with this piece of content above and beyond the initial format that that content is in. I like to really start at the beginning of the entire process. Let’ say, for example, I’m going to do a 10-minute video.

Maybe it’s an instructional tutorial-type video to teach you how to, I don’t know, whatever, get more people to download your podcast, for example. Ten minutes on that.

Then from that video, we can rip that audio out and provide it either in a podcast recording or potentially maybe just as a free download to our mailing list. We can also then get that audio transcribed and either create that as a long-form type of blog post, maybe break it up into 2 different parts.

Everybody likes the Part 1, Part 2, because it gets people coming back for the second part to the blog again. Maybe we’re going to create the top 10 tips from that video into an infographic. Maybe we can then rip out another 5 or 10 tips out of that and produce it as a slide deck for SlideShare. For me, it’s all about the repurposing of the content.

We work very hard to come up with original, helpful, educational, inspirational, entertaining content, regardless of what the focus of that piece of content is. We work very, very, very hard as content creators. For us, to just do it once and leave it at that is just plain silly. It’s just silly in this multimedia world that we live in.

For me, it’s all about from day one, from the planning part of that process, is what can we do to repurpose this? How many different platforms can we hit with the same piece of content? If somebody listens to a podcast, they might not like watching video. Maybe someone watching video might not want to read a blog post and so on and so on and so on. It pays to repurpose.

Loz: That’s a fantastic strategy, because repurposing comes back to where we started, which is good use of your time. Thanks for that. It’s been a great conversation. I really appreciate you coming on today. It just leads me to say, really, I wish you all the best of luck with everything in future.

Chris: Thanks, man. I appreciate it. It was nice to get the invite. I love doing these interviews as and when I can. I’m doing them more and more infrequently now, so they’re even more special for me when I get a chance to do it.

Announcer: You’ve been listening to the Content Champion Podcast, available at contentchampion.com, Stitcher, Zoom, the BlackBerry Network, and on iTunes. Until next time, thanks for listening.

About the Author Loz James

Loz James is a professional content marketer and copywriter with over 17 years' industry experience. A former broadcast journalist for BBC local radio, he founded Content Champion in 2012 to deliver best practice content marketing training & services.

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