“A virtual assistant?” one of our coaches asked, “Is that a robot?”
“No, she’s a real, live person. In the Philippines.”
He busted out laughing.
“Oh that’s even better.”
I could see it from his point of view. With all the contention over outsourcing to foreign countries and taking jobs away from Americans, who were we, small (very small) business owners, outsourcing our duties halfway around the world?
Why didn’t we just hire someone locally, if not from the gym?
I’ll tell you why, but let me explain first what a virtual assistant (VA) is. A VA is someone who provides professional administrative, technical, or creative assistance to clients remotely, through the internet.
I came across Affiliate Solution’s VA services as I was researching ways to alleviate our admin workload at the gym. There were so many small tasks I had been doing for years, tasks which took up an inordinate amount of my time (and mental faculties).
I wanted help for a number of reasons:
- I wanted more time to focus on growing the gym.
- I wanted to create a process for the administrative tasks, no longer having the “method of my madness” be the single point of failure.
- I wanted to remove the emotion from some of the tasks, specifically the ones that dealt with failed bills and member turnover.
- I wanted someone I could give a to-do list to, knowing s/he would take care of quickly, efficiently, and up to standards.
All those things were exactly what we got.
We hired on our VA 3 months ago, and we haven’t looked back.
Before I talk about what we gained, here’s a really important caveat: these VAs speak CrossFit. I talk more about this below.
Results from Hiring a VA
Here are the results we got from hiring a VA through Affiliate Solution:
1. We redefined my role
No longer having to be “reactive” to member needs or billing issues, I was able to be more proactive with the gym. Instead of having a list of admin tasks to take care of or check up on every day, I now spend that time working on marketing, brainstorming ideas for the gym, and executing those ideas.
Although a lot of the benefits we personally have experienced come from the administrative relief, she has freed up a lot of our time because she takes care of other tasks, too. She creates marketing material and signs, generates weekly reports, and does data entry.
Here’s the full list of services you can get from your VA.
2. We created failproof processes for routine administrative tasks
Working with our VA forced me to clearly communicate how we take care of administrative requirements at our gym, to include the standard policy that governs those decisions.
I created standardized emails, responses, and directions for how to handle the variety of administrative needs. This helped me to see billing not as a case-by-case issue, but always falling into one category or another.
Developing processes are vital to growing a business that can stand on its own two feet.
Hiring a VA forced me to create processes for our admin and take a step back.
3. Our VA serves as a barrier between us and day-to-day issues
As many gym owners can probably relate to, we used to ride the highs and lows of membership numbers and billing issues on a daily basis. If we saw a list of failed bills, with people we needed to follow up with, we dreaded it.
“We’re supposed to be working on (sales, marketing, brainstorming, etc.), not asking people for money they owe us. Is this our life?!”
Now, we don’t directly deal with those day-to-day issues, and as a result, we don’t have the same frustrations that used to accompany them.
That being said, we do not outsource ALL our customer service. We have our VA handle the standard situations you always deal with day in, day out:
- Membership holds
- Membership modifications
- Processing cancellations in our CRM (to include late cancellations)
- Failed bills
- Processing weekly retail purchases
Although people are used to dealing with the gym owner(s) directly whenever they have a billing or membership issue, creating a barrier here is something that has served us well.
We avoid the decision fatigue that comes from considering and weighing in on countless members’ situations.
4. Our VA brings professionalism to the gym by standardizing how we handle customer service
Let’s be honest. Sometimes, it’s hard to treat a gym like a normal business because of the inherent community and closeness. Although forgetting to pay for your burger at McDonalds is a clear no-no, paying for your membership a week late doesn’t seem as egregious.
When our VA handles billing issues, she sends out standardized emails and responses.
Our members never have to wonder if one of us is picking a fight with them about a declined card (not that we would) because it’s clear our VA is just taking care of business.
No one personally knows our VA, and she does not know them either.
She is simply doing her job. She follows a policy, and she follows a rubric in deciding how to handle individual situations. None of the decisions she makes is personal or born out of favors.
Surprisingly, we found people were much more responsive to her emails. Since we hired someone specifically to handle member services, members understand her sole purpose is to deal with them.
5. We save more time
Not only do I have more time on my hands, but our VA also saves us time by accomplishing what we would normally do in probably half the time.
I thought I’d need her help for 20-30 hours a week, but turns out I only need her for 10 hours a week. Some weeks, we struggle to fill the 10 hours, and she looks for additional ways to help us with her remaining time.
With this calculation, this not only saves us time, but this saves us money.
Downsides to having a VA
That all being said, I’m going to be transparent about some of the unique challenges with having a VA:
If there’s anything that needs to be responded to in 4 or less hours, these are not tasks I would outsource to the VA.
Remember, they are halfway around the world, so when you’re awake, they are probably asleep, and vice versa. They are on it, but of course they need sleep and do not work around the clock. Manage your expectations here and only assign them what you need done within a day (or longer).
There are a couple of tricky PR issues you may have to navigate as you get your VA integrated as a “staff member.” Firstly, you’ll want to communicate to your coaches and members who your VA is, so when they have interactions with him/her, they are not caught off guard by a staff member who isn’t physically present.
Secondly, there is a real stigma to things not “made in America,” and maybe rightfully so, although that debate is well outside the purview of this website. We went with Affiliate Solution because they have VAs who are part of the CrossFit community themselves, so I knew there would be less of a learning curve when it came to communicating our culture, our client management software, and the specific things we needed.
Bottom line: We had a list of needs when we came to Affiliate Solution, and in the past few months, they have all been met.
What are you waiting for? Take a load off your plate and hire a VA to help you today. Use this discount code to receive 25% off your FIRST month: AEWEEK.
There are no contracts – you can cancel at anytime.
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