Dreams of founding the next multi-million dollar company have gripped the imagination of entrepreneurs around the world. However, building a profitable business from the ground up requires much more than a good idea, catchy name, and some sweat equity. Any startup owner or entrepreneur can tell you that turbulence comes with taking the leap.
Many founders soon realize that focusing on their strengths and ultimately sacrificing control to partners and new stakeholders is the best way to grow. This installment of the Equivity blog lists five ubiquitous challenges that entrepreneurs see, then demonstrates how utilizing Virtual Assistants can provide the flexibility optimal for entrepreneurs and startups to tackle the obstacles head-on.
Challenge 1: Managing the Workload
“The biggest challenge I’ve faced while growing my business is managing the workload. As a solo founder, it’s extremely difficult to take on and execute all of the responsibilities related to the business – it leads to extremely long workdays, 7 days a week.”
— Evona Niewiadomska, Undiscovered Kitchen
Startups are notorious for having employees wear different hats at different times. While a jack of all trades is incredibly valuable, the knowledge of an expert with field-experience will always trump shallow knowledge. Unfortunately, it’s nearly impossible to hire a one-man-band with experience in fields that are specific to the needs of a startup.
Virtual assistants can function as a company’s Swiss Army Knife. By bringing in a virtual assistant with specific experience in areas such as marketing or bookkeeping, you can leverage her specific expertise to get work done more efficiently and with better accuracy. Further, you do not deplete the valuable time of your existing employees, whose time can best be deployed elsewhere.
For example, it’s much more effective to have your COO focused on managing operations. She should not be struggling to understand changes in Google Ads or problems in reconciling corporate accounts. A virtual marketing assistant and virtual administrative assistant could be used in these roles, respectively. Not only would these projects be off your COO’s plate, but they would be handled by professionals who specialize in these areas.
Challenge 2: Money Management
“One, remember that cash is king. You could go out of business in your most profitable month ever. People say, “How could that be?”
It’s simple. It’s like managing your checkbook. You may know that you’ve got your paycheck coming, but if you go and write a bunch of checks before that paycheck hits, and those checks don’t return money, then you may have all kinds of great things that are headed your way in terms of customers, but you’re going to run out of cash. It takes cash to pay the electricity, the salaries of your team.”
— Randy Hetrick, Founder, TRX fitness brand
Bookkeeping is one of the most important yet frequently overlooked factors in the success of a young company. A recurrent problem for startups is a shortage of funds. Eighty-two percent of all businesses fail because of cash flow problems.
It’s uncommon for a founder to have extensive experience in bookkeeping. Even if a founder does have this background, she is unlikely to have the bandwidth to devote to this area, which is operationally but not strategically important.
Bookkeeping is a great area to employ a virtual assistant because it is typically now a full-time role at companies with a limited number of transactions. It can, therefore, be delegated to a part-time professional outside the organization. Further, most accounting software, including QuickBooks, makes it easy to specify the level of access granted to the virtual assistant, with administrative control remaining in the hands of the company.
Challenge 3: Building a Team
The hardest thing is building the team. Every day you have to fight to hire talented people and keep the people you’ve already hired, motivated.
–David Okuniev, Typeform
Hiring at startups can be a nightmare. Founders see their business like their child, and vetting for employees is like finding a trustworthy babysitter. Along with employment volatility and a tight labor market, finding truly committed personnel is a challenge.
Virtual assistants can be helpful in two ways. First, some virtual assistant companies make the commitment of employing their virtual assistants and are experienced in vetting and qualifying talented personnel. This may not be the strong suit of a startup with a limited number of employees.
Second, you can use a virtual assistant to serve many HR roles, taking the burden off of your recruiting or HR departments. A virtual assistant can screen resumes, manage background checks, speak to references, and schedule interviews. If you find the right fit, the VA can assist with the onboarding checklist – including employment paperwork and tax registration.
Challenge 4: Neglecting Marketing and Sales
For me, the biggest challenge has undeniably been dedicating the necessary time and effort to sales and marketing. Our default behaviour as human beings is often that we focus on the things we’re good at (in my case, writing software), and we easily neglect things that we are either less skilled at, or less comfortable with. If you’re going to start a business, don’t bother unless you know you’ll dedicate the time to sales and marketing.
– Daniel Wintschel, Recipe Cost Calculator
Marketing and sales are the fuel that keep a business moving forward. There’s no question that a business should have an online presence in today’s market. Whether it’s Google or Facebook, LinkedIn or Pinterest, today’s virtual, technology-based marketplace has opened a plethora of touchpoints to find new customers and interact with existing customers.
Digital marketing can also be complicated. A successful campaign often requires setting initial parameters, analyzing data, and then refining an approach. With so many platforms to choose from and so many changes to those platforms, staying knowledgeable about marketing channels and paying constant attention to performance can be impossible.
Thus, a virtual marketing assistant is useful for both the skills they bring to the table and the sheer focus they bring on this aspect of your business. By optimizing your website or managing your social media posts, the virtual assistant gently nudges prospects towards a purchase by providing valuable information about your company and its products.
Challenge 5: Getting the Necessary Help
A major challenge is when you’ve grown big enough that you can no longer do it all yourself, but you’re not quite big enough to justify the wages of an employee to do things for you — this is particularly true of non-billable things like answering emails.
—Barbara Schendel, Wizzy Wig Web Design
When hiring a salary based or full-time employee, a company will often pay for more than just work. In fact, distracted employees have become an epidemic with the onset of the internet and smartphones. Whether it’s a slow week or a slow month, a full-time employee is paid regardless of the value they bring the company. From this perspective, it’s not hard to understand why the return on investment for staffing a full-time employee may not make sense for startups with lower profitability.
In contrast, you can budget a set amount for a team of virtual assistants. Choose a virtual assistant company that allows you to easily see how your time has been used so that you can ensure that time is used productively.
Virtual assistants also allow you to scale up the amount of assistance as your business grows. Typically, VA hours are offered in an increment of monthly hours. Ideally, choose a company where the plans are flexible, allowing you to decrease or increase the hours of assistance as your needs change. For example, you’re a real estate agent who expects December to be a slow month, you can easily reduce the amount of hours in their plan while keeping the same VA — no hurt feelings and no one loses a job. When spring rolls around, the company can increase hours or add another VA into the mix. This type of flexibility offers unparalleled control, an asset to any business or startup that expects fluctuating profitability.
Bonus Challenge #6: Prioritization
When the company grows, it is very easy to get distracted on things which are not so important. We are trying to outsource all monotonous tasks that are needed to be done and to just forget about non-crucial stuff.
– Alex Kravets, Topic
While this bullet could have gone without saying, the importance of delegating tasks that are cash-flow negative cannot be further stressed. Generating capital should be the number one priority for startups — having a trusted assistant for delegating rudimentary tasks can add hours back into a busy schedule.
Daily operations that can be standardized can be handed off to a VA. By employing measures such as due dates, project timelines, and checklists, progress on these tasks can be monitored without requiring constant supervision from your team.