While taking college classes at night, I worked a full-time job as an IT coordinator for a school district. After I graduated in 2012, I got a job as an IT project manager for Philips, a Fortune 500 company, with a $93,000 salary. As an IT manager, my responsibilities included creating plans for any projects assigned by the operations manager. I developed plans with customers and internal teams, as well as managed internal and external communication for projects.
Two years into working at Philips, I realized I needed better processes for documentation. As a project manager, 50% of your time isn’t spent managing projects. It’s spent doing documentation. I’d heard of a service called Fiverr, so I searched and found an assistant on the platform from Pakistan. I hired him as a contractor to do documentation and paid for his services out of my own pocket. I didn’t tell Philips I was doing this — using my own assistant wasn’t against the rules, but I wasn’t sure my bosses would understand.
Delegating my work to an assistant opened my eyes to the world of remote teams. Other people started asking what my secret was, and I told them I’d hired someone to help do all of my documentation.
I had a couple of colleagues reach out and ask if I could help them hire somebody to do their documentation and other admin tasks, and I started finding assistants and placing them with colleagues free of charge.
In describing what my Fiverr contractor did, my colleague pointed out that he was my virtual assistant. He asked if I could find him one, and when I said yes, he said I could be his “VA staffer.” He unknowingly came up with the name of my company.
I immediately went on GoDaddy.com and bought the domain. In late 2014, I turned this experiment into a real business by registering VA Staffer as a corporation.
This year, my virtual-assistant business made more than $500,000 in revenue.
A company called DOMO.com saw a review that someone had left on a website called virtualassistantassistant.com. They reached out asking if I could help build a remote team to do lead generation and prospecting for their sales department.
Previously, their sales development and account executives did prospecting by going on Google and LinkedIn and trying to find clients — but it wasn’t working. They tasked me and my team of assistants with building a prospect list of Fortune 500 companies they could target.
This side hustle didn’t require much of my time, so my bosses at Philips weren’t aware I was working on it.
The initial contract with DOMO was for four assistants. DOMO hired four assistants through my company for 692 hours, working eight hours a day, five days a week, and paid me $3,800 a month for my services.
I’d just been promoted, but I wanted to be closer to my father during his cancer treatment. I could have easily done my job, but the company denied my request. Ironically, it reasoned that it couldn’t find anyone to replace me.
My grandfather got Valley fever and was bedridden in November 2015. Then my wife had a miscarriage, and I requested time off to care for her. I was told there was no one to fill in. I worked through these traumatic life events because I thought I still needed the salary to survive.
Shortly after that, I had a performance review, and I suspect the company realized that my side hustle was a threat to its business.
It was humbling. I left a six-figure career where my company paid for my car, computer, cell phone, printer — everything. It even gave me a company credit card. I realized when I quit that I didn’t have much in terms of savings.
My wife and I negotiated to break our lease early and moved to the Philippines to cut our expenses and build the VA Staffer team in person, as all of the assistants were based in the Philippines. I initially funded the business with my savings and had clients pay me in advance. By May 2016, I had a full-time office manager and 11 virtual assistants that were dedicated to sales prospecting for companies that hired me.
In the beginning, I thought it was smart to hire virtual assistants based on their skills and experience, but I was wrong. What I found was that people’s ability to learn and adapt was more important than what they already knew. In growing the business, I found that it’s better to hire based on adaptability and work ethic.
We also built out a content strategy, where I educated consumers about how to use a virtual assistant, and redesigned our website and added a blog section with educational content. I asked current clients for referrals and focused on client retention by doing surveys to make sure we were providing quality service, and the business grew.
Since the pandemic, we went from a team of 47 employees to 171 full-time staffers — and have hired 21 team members this year. Of the 171 full-time staffers, we have 25 staffers on the creative team, 11 project managers, and 135 virtual assistants assigned to clients. I’ll continue to hire team members in a down economy because I see opportunity.
Many businesses try to be frugal and more profitable in a down economy. One of the best ways to do that is by hiring remotely and hiring contractors. Companies can get effective assistants and tax savings with the W-8 Ben rule for using overseas contractors. It reduces payroll-tax liabilities compared to when you hire people in the US.
We have 20 corporate clients, but about 100 individual entrepreneurs and small businesses use my team. Shifting our model from mainly working with corporate clients to offering assistants to individual entrepreneurs helped us gain a new client base and add revenue.
The average turnover rate in technology is 1.8 years. Retaining your team is one of the hardest things to do. I’ve made it my job to find stable assistants for my clients who will last long term. We conduct experimental interviews, giving each potential new hire tests related to things they would do in the job. Our process helps us filter out those who wouldn’t be a good fit.
My best advice for business owners is to work on client retention. It’s easier to sell additional services to current clients than attain new ones.
I’ve leveraged my project-management background to put growth systems in place. I feel confident our business will continue to grow despite changes in the economy.
Listen to The Refresh, Insider’s real-time news show
Listen to The Refresh, Insider’s real-time news show
Hire me on the World’s Leading Online Marketplace Freelancer.com to design your website. Additional services like- graphic design, virtual assistance, SEO, Data entry, etc are available. Click on This Link to start your project