This significant milestone prompted a little reflection about why we set up in the first place back in 2007 as a virtual assistant platform. Admin is a vital cog in the wheel of any business, and a fleet of virtual PAs with exemplary administrative skills seemed the perfect place to start.
After our re-launch in 2013, we expanded our freelance army to include other roles, such as credit controllers, marketing and social media assistants and HR administrators because there was a clear demand for a variety of business support services, as well as admin.
An undiscovered resource
Outsourcing is nothing new. For decades, companies have outsourced services such as payroll and bookkeeping to external providers. And for modern businesses operating in a digital age, online outsourcing is an option to aid expansion without breaking the bank to pay for staff salaries and pensions, recruitment fees, office equipment – you get the idea.
As well as being a godsend to save both time and money, outsourcing can help smaller businesses step up their operations. For example, a small marketing agency might choose to appoint a virtual freelance social media assistant for its clients, enabling it to very easily increase revenue and offer clients a wider range of services.
So why are SMEs not embracing outsourcing as they should? A theory is that in the past, outsourcing services have not operated in or understood the small business arena. Traditionally, outsourcing has been the preserve of bigger firms with larger budgets. But the landscape is changing to suit a sector that has grown inordinately bigger in the last decade.
For smaller companies, cost is paramount, but quality is also crucial. The barrier to outsourcing is that businesses must entrust part of their operations with a service provider they may have never met. But there’s no reason why freelancers shouldn’t work alongside an SME is the same way a remote employee would. Our freelancers have regular Skype meetings, for example, with their clients, as well as phone calls and emails, thus building very successful working relationships.
But we are getting bolder at delegating. The rise of apps like TaskRabbit which allow people to outsource absolutely anything – such as their weekly supermarket shop – are helping to change attitudes.
Outsourcing absolutely anything
Since our soft launch phase, we now have big plans for growth. Revenue is currently at $2million – $750,000 of which has been added in the past 18 months. During 2014 the business is expect to grow to $5million.
We hope that our ambitious $500,000 marketing plan will attract more small business owners and demonstrate clearly to them that they really can outsource anything. With this in mind, here are some of the more unusual tasks our freelancers have been asked to carry out over the last couple of years:
• Research how to book a seat on Virgin Galactic for the first flight into space
• Book private dance lessons for a client and a group of his male friends, so they could hit the dance floor at their friends’ weddings without embarrassing themselves
• Organise insomnia classes for a European royal
• Organise a shipment of politically sensitive documents to Rwanda
• Jazz up a PowerPoint document due to be presented to Madonna
• Read film scripts for a client, and make a call on whether or not he should invest in the films
• Organise the transportation of a beloved family dog from the UK to Australia to coincide with a client’s business moving overseas – a complicated process that took six months to complete
• Locate a particular brand of sun cream and arrange for it to be shipped to Dubai
• Source and order rocket fuel
• Research UK suppliers of canned pumpkin because a client and his American fiancée wanted pumpkin pie at their wedding reception. The exact brief was to find an appropriate recipe for pumpkin pie, work out how many pies – and consequently how many cans of pumpkin – would be required for 70 guests, find a minimum of five suppliers, and make a comparative spreadsheet with a breakdown of the can prices, delivery charges and links to the products.
• Complain to seafood restaurant that gave a client food poisoning
• Complain to Gucci about a custom-made suit that wasn’t tailored to a client’s standard
What are you waiting for?
Of course, you may not have royal connections and you may not be planning on flying into space, but as a small business owner, you may very well need HR support for new hires, marketing expertise to launch a new service, or a virtual assistant to run both your business and personal life.