Outsourcing Angel’s co-founder, Charles Vahler, had the awesome opportunity to sit down for a podcast with the Razor Sharp Show hosted by Ray Milidoni and Matt Romania.
With the podcast focusing on how business leaders around the world are owning this economy, Charley had the chance to talk about his business journey, Outsourcing Angel, and all things outsourcing. With his extensive business background including taking his company to over seven figures, spending over $3m in the online advertising industry, and having had over six product launches hit over six figures each, he sat down to explore and inform the things that fuelled his business success and how outsourcing is changing the business game.
Outsourcing and OA
As the co-founder of OA, which specialises in offshore work, working with virtual assistants (VAs) overseas, and offshore team development Charley knows his stuff about outsourcing. Outsourcing itself has become such a hot topic in the business world thanks to its attractive ROI. Revenue goes up, profits go up just as effective sales and marketing help achieve.
However, outsourcing goes beyond that. It plays with the efficiency side of things and focuses on how to get quality work done in the most efficient manner which is a vital way for smaller business and entrepreneurs to take on the big players.
Charley himself came into outsourcing during a time that he was running his own advertising agency with growing pains – it was fast growing but hitting trouble with its cash flows. They were getting new clients quicker than they were paying their staff and found themselves in a negative cash flow position despite how bustling the business was. While they tried and failed with other solutions, Outsourcing Angel’s co-founder Linh Podetti contacted him explaining that she had an idea she wanted to work with him on. Things soon fell into place with this outsourcing venture and they had great traction from very early on.
What Outsourcing Clients Are Most Grateful For
The biggest problem that OA is able to solve is shifting the business owner mindset away from the idea that they have to do everything themselves. Charley notes that this often changes as they continue to work OA simply because they see how it can and does work. He pointed out that a lot of business owners take on every single task in the beginning to soon realise that they can’t do everything. It’s when they start to realise that they can add valuable tasks to their business that they don’t need to touch at all that Charley gets incredibly excited.
Self-Growth and Discovery
Charley had his business origins in the playgrounds of his primary school trading Pokémon cards and his first self-earned dollar selling hair products on eBay – a very big contrast to where he’s built himself up to now.
One of the greatest shifts he had was after he read a book called “The Millionaire Masterplan” by Roger Hamilton. This was still during the time that Charley was trying all kinds of things to get business up and running, but noticing that the things working for others wasn’t getting traction for him. In the book, a profile test allowed him to uncover things about himself and direct him towards what he was more suited towards. As an introvert, he was much more suited towards the mechanics of a business – its systems, procedures and processes in the back end. It also put him in the mindset to realise that working with other (in fact, opposite!) personality types provided a much more complementary and beneficial synergy than finding like minds. Co-founder Linh Podetti is the exact opposite of Charley – extroverted, sociable and the community based type of person that loves being surrounded by others.
“Everything is on the way, not in the way” – DeMartini
Another defining tidbit that Charley read was by Dr DeMartini who treats everything in life as being ‘on the way’ instead of ‘in the way’. It has helped Charley to change his mindset about all the small setbacks and problems that appear in his life as often, we resort to being completely upset and thrown off by small roadblocks (and even emails) as we go towards a destination in mind. But he came to realise that these experiences don’t need to be treated as being ‘in the way’ since even that red light that slowed us down could have been what stopped us from getting into an accident. Even that email that popped up unexpectedly could be the exact thing you needed.
Onto the Outsourcing – A Typical Day in the Life
Charley himself doesn’t actually have a ‘typical day’ though if he were to generalise, it’d begin with getting up and training as what he likes to call being a ‘pretend’ pro-athlete. While he road cycles every morning, he spends the majority of the time thinking and coming up with strategies to take the business forward.
After that, he chooses to go to work – not that he is obliged to, but he understands the value in and enjoys connecting with staff. By checking in and getting a feel for how things are he’s better able to go over things have need to be done and stay in the loop.
In the afternoon, he turns to education to learn more about how to be effective, things that interest him, and thinks about the ideas he wants to take on board.
With the stage that he has reached in outsourcing, his average day focuses around strategy and thinking, and very little about implementation – that’s for the teams of outsourced workers and project managers to cover. The idea is to ‘work on your business, not in your business’ – and this is very achievable through outsourcing.
The Average Number of Outsourced Workers
Though many seem to have this image of an entire army of VAs being under him, that’s not quite the case. In reality, Charley almost only regularly contacts his main VA – Juvy (who is almost HIS boss). She is the connecting point between himself and the entire team of VAs with all different skills and she ensures that tasks go from there. With the short time that he spends with Juvy, she can go on to delegate tasks and even deal with client issues before they get to Charley himself.
The Moral Debate of Outsourcing
Charley had a few things to add to the debate about the moral side of outsourcing that many people who haven’t personally gotten involved will rarely understand. Though many people have complexes in terms of how they feel about outsourcing their work or the different hourly rates and work arrangements, there is much more to it than that.
The world is very different depending on where you go and in the Philippines – where many OA staff come from – being a VA and the rates they get are very good careers for them. This mightn’t be the same prestige in Australia, but there it’s a notable and good career. They’re excited to be in those roles and achieve what they are achieving and it was only in recent years, thanks to the internet, that these opportunities came to them.
Charley’s main VA Juvy was actually able to purchase a car recently – something incredibly uncommon in the Philippines and he was grateful and thrilled that she was able to do that. Sometimes, outsourcing overseas and creating these jobs gives you the opportunity to create significant impacts on lives in a way you might never be able to achieve in Australia.
He notes that OA actually takes it even further than just creating jobs. The empowered team at OA regularly does charity work feeding impoverished children and going into schools to train less fortunate kids and educate them on the opportunities that exist for them in the world.
The Outsourcing Angel Difference
It is very true that there may be oversupplies of outsourced workers in certain areas, but there is never an oversupply of good people according to Charley. That is why OA is focused on training up and improving skills but that isn’t the only reason why OA is so attractive to clients.
The number one reason why some businesses fail with outsourcing is that they lack the systems and procedures to actually work with VAs. They assume that simply telling them to do a task in a text will get the job done but become confused when they don’t get the results they were after. OA provides that safety net to ensure that not only do the staff have the skills they need, but the business also has the structure and procedures to effectively (and easily!) work with VAs.
The Communication Skill Myths
A problem with business owners is that they often assume that they’re fantastic communicators. That might be the case, but still, things are often lost in text and translation – even for people working locally, let alone someone on the other side of the world. That doesn’t mean that communication needs to be hard – it’s just that it needs to be smart and actively thought about.
An incredibly simple tool that everyone understands the benefit of but often overlook is screen recordings. By screen recording yourself completing a task and giving it to a training VA, they now have the exact method that is correct in your view and can do the task as it should be done. It only took as long as you took for a single turn, and removes the need for you to consistently revisit and recheck.
“Organise around business functions, not people” – Michael Gerber
People are often afraid of being left in the dark by their VA if they leave suddenly. Charley notes that that is something that OA is aware about and they are very understanding of both the concern of business owners and the unpredictable situations that can happen in life. On top of OA always providing replacement guarantees for any unexpected problems with VAs (that is, free of charge recruitment with a one week transition period backed by training and systems) he also has some useful advice he’s read and taken on himself.
Michael Gerber spoke about the idea that businesses need to be based around functions and not people – this takes out the fear and risks associated with businesses dependent on key people. It’s less about being cold and more about being realistic to the idea that anything can happen – but your business still needs to go on. This way, it doesn’t matter where your business is or where your staff are, even if they were to leave tomorrow, there should be systems in place so that no gap would be left that couldn’t be filled by a new staff member or training up someone else.
Platforms and Management
OA will first and foremost always adapt to a business’ own measure if they are already in place – this is the most streamlined way to go. Otherwise, they encourage newer businesses without their own measures to use BaseCamp which is the simplest way to manage tasks, outputs, and deadlines.
Charley also strongly encourages business owners to avoid getting caught up in how a VA spends every minute of their day as opposed to what they’re spending their day on. Micromanagement itself is a waste of time, but bigger than that, focusing on tiny details might not let you realise that a task adds no value to a business at all. But stepping back and focusing those same efforts to find tasks that might add $100 value per $30 spent on VA services will clearly provide greater return. In any case, heavy micromanagement might also lead to VAs feeling untrusted and demotivated with the extensive scrutiny.
Cultural Difference and Language Barriers
Luckily for OA, many VAs come from countries where they speak English very well and can often be as good as speaking to someone in Australia. The biggest pitfall is actually Aussie slang! Charley’s had plenty of moments when he’s dropped a bit of slang and noticed his VAs get completely confused for a moment – the same thing you’d actually experience in other English speaking countries.
Instead of English itself, it’s actually the typing and texting that creates barriers in a business’ relationship with its VA. Unlike face to face communication, there is no emotion carried across – we lose how we project our voice, move our hands and make facial expressions. He encourages everyone, especially in the beginning, to communicate over Skype to maintain those lost aspects of communication.
OA also has procedures in place to keep VAs crystal clear with their tasks including encouraging them to ask questions whenever they feel they need to and to not be afraid to recap. In recapping a conversation, they confirm what has been said and keeps them on the same page as the client.
A bit of education for the big bosses is also important too. Back to the myth that every business owner has fantastic communication, taking those extra 30 seconds to be detailed and meticulous will save you plenty of time in the long run. Take out the ambiguity from your end and see the results. There is such a difference between “I want a photo of a couple on a bench” and “I want a black and white photo, 1200 x 1200 pixels large, a brunette male and a blonde female about to kiss” – in fact, it could be the difference between having 5 pictures to choose from and 400 to sift through (from Charley’s own personal experience!).
“I Don’t Have To Do Everything”
Something Charley now knows that he wish he knew 5 years ago was that he doesn’t need to be the one doing everything. How far has he taken this concept? Well, he hasn’t been the one to check his own inbox in a long time. He realised that after crossing certain barriers, there are certain stories business owners make up themselves about the things they must and mustn’t do.
Regarding emails, there are misconceptions about having to stay busy all the time or elements of privacy but it’s not about the task itself that is impossible. Everything can be outsourced, it’s just that you need a system to do it.