In August 2015 a popular virtual assistant (VA) company, Zirtual, announced it was shutting down–leaving behind nearly 2,500 clients and 400 employees. At the time, I was already deeply ingrained in the productivity space and figured the news offered a big opportunity to try to fix the existing issues in the VA space.
Twenty-four hours after Zirtual’s announcement, I founded Leverage, a high-end outsourcing platform that can do any task or project (as long as it is legal). We set up the company in one day, took our first client on day two, and within the first full calendar year, our revenue exceeded $1 million.
But this isn’t a post about self-congratulation. It’s about how to spot an opportunity and act on it. I did it–and you can too.
1. Identify a Personal Pain Point.
The entire productivity market was missing a reliable and trustworthy virtual assistant service. There were resources to find freelancers, but the time and effort spent to find a quality freelancer at a reasonable price far outweighed the reward. There was an opportunity to fix this pain point with reliable, vetted, and quality-guaranteed freelancers.
The main issues with the outdated, dedicated VA model were:
- High risk: if a dedicated VA left, no one could quickly pick up where he/she left off.
- Skill set: VAs were mostly used for scheduling and menial tasks like making purchases on Amazon, often lacking diversity and complexity in the types of tasks that could be completed.
- Bandwidth: one person can only handle so much work at one time.
I decided my company had to solve these three issues.
2. Be an Expert–and Work With Experts–in Your Field.
In the initial stages of a business, it’s important to have the right team in place. If you and your chosen partner(s) aren’t the right ones to run the company, the company won’t succeed.
To create a successful virtual assistant company, I knew we would need a “techie” to manage the platforms, a “connector” to connect us with the right clients, and a few trusty team members ready to get their hands dirty and take on any project thrown their way. Every team member was tasked with becoming an expert in the productivity space by testing other VA companies and learning the latest tools.
3. Leverage Existing Technology to Build a Minimum Viable Product (MVP).
We knew there was a huge opportunity in the VA space, and in order to get started immediately, we needed to create an MVP. Instead of spending resources on a custom solution, we initially used five main tools: Slack for internal communications, Trello for project management, Stripe for payment processing, Zapier for automations, and Toggl to track our eventual 100+ contractors’ time.
Many people have the impression that in order to launch a business you need to raise millions of dollars. I disagree. What worked for us was making the right decisions early on, and also having tight constraints. When you have constraints you are forced to make highly calculated decisions.
DO think outside the box, DON’T reinvent the wheel. By understanding how a tool works, you can use its API to fit your business needs. For example, at Leverage we use Trello’s API to aggregate client information into our own dashboard to easily monitor our VA’s work all in one place.
The reason we were able to grow quickly in a year with no funding was largely due to our ability to automate tasks. This helped us save time and create an efficient business right off the bat. Using tools like Zapier and Process Street to automate tasks like webinar reminders or even your entire hiring process can save you hours every week and let you focus on the most important aspects of your business. Even if it’s a small task that takes you one minute a day–the sum of all those tasks at the end of the year equals BIG time savings.
5. Hire Contractors.
Part of the immediate profitability came from the way we hired. Instead of taking on full-time employees, it was quicker and more cost effective to find talented freelancers. This took a lot of the risk off of our shoulders and also connected us to talent around the world.
6. Roll Up Your Sleeves.
After our MVP was ready, we began taking on new clients, testing our pricing strategy, finding our marketing channels and really digging in to every detail of the business. All initial team members–myself included–completed tasks for clients to figure out what was working well and what needed to be improved. This gave us an inside look into how we are operating and what our clients are truly experiencing.
7. Marketing & Acquisition.
“Marketing and innovation produce results; all the rest are costs”–Peter Drucker
Marketing is crucial to business yet it can sometimes seem like an overwhelming task. The key is to understand your target audience and find a way to get in front of them. It doesn’t have to start with all the bells and whistles, but rather a targeted and streamlined approach to start building your business in a scalable way.
We strategically partnered with an entrepreneur mastermind group: Genius Network (aka the 25k group). The investment is $25,000 a year to be a member, and brings together entrepreneurs trying to grow/scale their companies. This turned out to be our exact demographic since a person spending all that money proves they can afford a high-end service as well as tools and services that will help them grow their company. After only one presentation at one of these networking events, we received 100 new clients, which gave us a solid starting ground. From there, we continued to grow from one of the strongest forms of marketing there is–word of mouth.
As with any business, there’s no set recipe to get to a million dollars, but these steps should help enhance and streamline your process so that you can reach your goals. Be ready for the ups and downs, the thrills, the excitement, and the stress… but most importantly, the gratification from helping others through entrepreneurship.