Virtudesk: Building Virtual Assistants For SMEs

Virtudesk: Building Virtual Assistants For SMEs

In Conversation With Pavel Stepanov – CEO

From automating tedious tasks to scheduling appointments and managing errands, virtual assistants are modern-day assistants that do everything, digitally. Think of it as a practical, real-life Jarvis from Iron Man. In this technological world, they're a vital part of businesses that can scale profits and provide a better customer experience. Analytics Insight is putting a spotlight on Virtudesk, a virtual assistant company started by Pavel Stepanov to provide subscription-based personnel solutions for small and medium-sized businesses. In an exclusive interview with him, we asked Pavel the following questions to get some insights. 

Kindly brief us about the company, its specialization, and the services that your company offers. 

Virtudesk was founded in 2016 as a virtual assistant company. We offer highly-trained virtual assistants based in the Philippines, specializing in services such as real estate prospecting, marketing, administrative work, customer service, and transaction coordination.

We help real estate agents, entrepreneurs and small-to-medium-sized business owners scale their businesses by teaching them how to delegate certain parts of their business to virtual assistants so they can focus on the 20% of their business that produces 80% of the results. We primarily serve the real estate industry right now but are currently expanding into other industries such as Finance, Retail, Healthcare, Insurance, and others.

Kindly mention some of the major challenges the company has faced till now. 

In the last 4 years of operation, we have come far. However, some of the major challenges we have faced are finding and retaining good talent and good leadership. It can be hard to find people who think similarly to you and want to see the company go in the same direction, understand the company's mission, and have only the company's interests in mind. It's also been a challenge to find good leaders who can lead by example, be good trainers and mentors, and build up team morale and productivity.

Despite these hardships, we have steadily and proudly grown every year we have been in business. We have done a lot of hiring lately and have brought on a lot of great new team members that are extremely talented, hardworking, ambitious, and eager to learn. They have tremendously helped the company increase lead generation, client sign-ups, and getting us into new industries.

As a CEO and leader myself, I've learned through this process that it's essential to hire people with a diversity of talent so that everyone on your team can complement one another.

What is your biggest USP that differentiates the company from competitors?

Our USP is threefold. What separates us from our competitors is that we offer flexible hiring packages. You can hire a virtual assistant from us for full-time, part-time, or time blocks. All Time Block means is that you can hire one of our virtual assistants for special projects – for 20, 40, 60, and 80-hour "time blocks". Our pricing structure also allows our clients to pay on a month-to-month basis, which allows greater flexibility in the hiring process. Many of our competitors actually don't do this, and many only offer full-time. It can be difficult for other companies to sustain this kind of product and revenue model, as profit margins decrease with lower hourly work per client. However, it has been a great methodology for our clients to test out the service first. We see many of our new clients transition to full-time after starting with Time Block or part-time, as it's less scary for them when they immediately try it for the first time.

Additionally, our virtual assistants are highly trained unlike any company in the industry. Before we even begin the rigorous training process, we have a strict screening process. We don't just let anyone apply. We make sure applicants have Business Process Outsourcing Experience or experience working at larger U.S-based companies. Once they enter the training program, they are taught by experienced trainers and coaches on the tasks they are expected to perform with their future clients. We conduct online classes and online discussions, administer a final exam of everything they learned, including a separate English proficiency exam, and have access to an abundance of support and learning resources. For this program, we created an online school, called "Virtudesk Academy", which houses online courses, lectures, and materials for virtual assistants to access during and after training for continuous education and professional development. Even when one of our virtual assistants starts working with their client, they have a "coach" that will help the virtual assistant and client work successfully together, by providing resources and additional training.

While working with Virtudesk, clients can ensure security. Not only do we give all of our virtual assistants FBI-grade background checks, but we offer our clients a VA time-tracking software, called Timedly. A Virtudesk product, Timedly tracks when a client's virtual assistant logins and logs out, and tracks total hours worked for the day. It takes a screenshot every two minutes in order to hold the VA accountable for their work, and honestly. Additionally, unlike hiring a virtual assistant from the Philippines directly, we have cybersecurity insurance that will mitigate loss against data breaches or stolen information.

At Virtudesk, hiring a virtual assistant is not like hiring elsewhere, because of the relationship that clients can develop while working with their VAs. Hiring a Virtudesk VA is like adding to the company family, you are gaining an asset who will only have you and the company's best interests in mind. Plus, they are extremely fun to work with, who doesn't love that.

Please brief us about the products/services/solutions you provide to your customers and how do they get value out of it

We provide virtual assistant services in a variety of specialties, including Marketing, Prospecting, Customer Service, Transaction Coordination, and Administrative work.

The value our clients can gain from Virtudesk and hiring virtual assistants is operational efficiency in their business and overall business growth. By delegating tedious, repetitive, and non-essential tasks, our clients can have the time back to refocus on new projects and activities that help grow their business. By hiring one or more virtual assistants, they can scale. We tell our clients that they can experience a return on investment in two ways. The first is if they hire a virtual assistant for reaching out to qualified leads and scheduling appointments. For every sale they can close from an appointment our VA schedules can be attributed towards ROI. Second, by determining how much their time is worth, clients can take note of how many hours each week they save by hiring a virtual assistant and delegating the work. We tend to forget how time is just as valuable as the money we make, and that is another experienced award of delegation and hiring a virtual assistant.

What are your growth plans for the next 12 months?

Ever since the start of the company in 2016, we have been able to double our growth. Of course, with bigger achievements, comes bigger, and more ambitious goals. Again, for the next 12 months, we want to double our yearly income and sign-up rate. By 2022, we want to achieve 100+ sign-ups a month.

Besides that, we want to connect with other industry influencers and establish short-term or long-term partnerships. This will help us achieve our initial goal of more sign-ups while simultaneously connecting us to networks in different industries, which leads me to our next goal.

Fully expanding and establishing our presence in other industries is a must for us in the next 12 months. For the last 4 years, we have largely served the real estate industry. However, we know we can gain a much larger market share if we advertise and explore new channels that can get us into other industries.

What are some of the challenges faced by your company today?

Currently, some of our major challenges include experiencing growing pains and creating efficient and optimized systems. Because we have been experiencing tremendous growth, especially in the last year, we are experiencing constraints in our teams and in our old systems. In order to take on new projects and initiatives, there's going to be a need to hire more qualified people and increasingly automate our systems for efficient workflow and lead and client handling.

What is your Leadership Mantra? 

I don't specifically have a Mantra per se, but I do have a certain leadership style that allows me to be a better leader for the company and inspire our employees. We are a very culture-oriented company and focus on encouraging employees to be brave with their ideas and innovations. My doors are always open to employee's suggestions and remarks, and I don't just dismiss them but give a good thought. Besides, we make it a priority to make sure that employees get recognized and acknowledged for their contributions. Another aspect of my leadership is that I can be a blunt person and sometimes even rough around the edges, yet respectful to others. I focus on getting things done and saving time.

Can you throw light on the latest employment trends in key sectors?

Looking at the employment trends on a macro scale in the past year, there has been a huge shift in employment needs for digitally-oriented skills. Companies, nations, and worldwide are now demanding more tech-enabled skillsets in their aspiring workforce. Companies are demanding people who can drive technological innovations for their companies, analyze trends, grab insights from large sets of data, and make data-informed decisions. Not only this, but I'm seeing increasingly companies demanding greater talent in the digital space. Currently, this looks like digital marketing (digital ads, SEO, video, etc.), engineering (especially software and computer science), cloud computing, AI, and more. Of course, this makes sense, because of the increasing demands in operational efficiency in the business world, and the transition to online consumers. Even at Virtudesk, I'm looking for experts in automation, sales leadership, and people management, which are other highly sought-after skill sets right now.

Looking on a more micro-scale, or employee level view, the employment trends will direct themselves to greater worker flexibility. Of course, this will look different across sectors. However, in the corporate sector, employees will expect and employers will be happy to give more flexible schedules and working locations for their employees. Due to the cost savings, increased employee productivity and satisfaction increased ability to stay connected, and current success, it's here to stay. In the last year, we have been forced to try this remote work culture, and now we see it actually works.

Other trends include an increased role of AI in recruitment, adoption of HR and operations technology, and increased automation.

Management – Pavel Stepanov, CEO of Virtudesk

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