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By Yaro Starak
After ending his marriage, Chris Ducker packed his bags and moved to the Philippines for a fresh start. A few short years later he was married again with a new family and a successful business with over 300 employees.
Next Chris began the process of removing himself from his business, slowly relinquishing control of different roles until he was completely free. The company continues to grow and deliver service to their customers, while Chris explores new entrepreneurial projects, including a blog where he teaches others how to become a “virtual CEO”.
In this interview Chris breaks down his entire background story, including how he came to the Philippines, started a telemarketing outsourcing company and grew it by hiring new staff just as he sold services to customers in other countries.
Chris also explains how he was able to slowly remove himself from his business, hiring key staff to perform roles he used to do, to the point where he was no longer needed.
After you listen to the interview, you can check out the website Chris currently runs -
YARO: Hi, this is Yaro Starak. Welcome to the Entrepreneurs Journey Podcast. Today on the line, we have a very special guest who I am excited to interview because he has done something that I think a lot of people would love to do. He has reached a point where he has separated himself from his business.
He calls himself a virtual CEO. It’s no small business either. He actually has 300 employees. So, it is a hefty-sized company that is doing big business but, most of his job nowadays is actually starting new businesses which I think as an entrepreneur is something we all love doing.
So, I’m looking forward to delving into the background of tonight’s guest which is Chris Ducker.
Hi Chris, thank you for joining me.
CHRIS: Hey Yaro, thanks for having me on. I appreciate it.
YARO: So, I need to know a little bit more about this company of yours right now before we look into your background. Is this something that started from nothing and then, you slowly built up yourself? How did you get to 300 employees?
CHRIS: With a lot of headaches [laughs]. It has been something that has gradually progressed over the last five years or so. We started out with seven employees. We’re in the outsourcing industry. We’re an outsourcing service provider based here in the Philippines so, we started with seven employees. Two of them were myself and my wife, so we had five real employees, if you want to call it that, and by the end of the first year, we were up to about 70. The second year, we had gone to about a 100 or so, and we’re now sitting at just about over 300 five years later.
So, it’s been a very slow gradual growth. There were a couple of little spurts but, for the most part, it’s been nice and slow and steady which I prefer. I’d rather be growing like that over a period of years than sort of having massive growth spurts. It would scare me a little bit.
YARO: I think our definition of slow and steady might be different, Chris. I don’t know if 70 employees in one year and then, 100, 300 is my idea of slow growth but, you sound calm and collected like this is normal. So, let–
CHRIS: Well, it is actually quite slow for this industry, for the outsourcing industry here in the Philippines, it’s quite slow. I believe the largest company over here has something like 10,000 employees which is a US outsourcing company based here in the Philippines.
We would class ourselves, with 300 employees, we’d class ourselves as a medium-sized outsourcing company. There’s a lot of little small ones which don’t really survive all that long quite frankly. But, there are some very, very big ones as well, several thousand employees.
It might sound a little larger than you’d be happy with or comfortable with but, for us, it’s still over here in this industry anyway, it’s relatively small.
YARO: Okay, well, I guess everything is relative, right?
CHRIS: That’s it.
YARO: Now, you came to my attention through several people actually. There was Gideon Shalwick who you’ve interviewed before and there’s Pat Flynn who recently used your services to find himself a virtual assistant. It’s safe to say that I’ve known you as a guy who helps Internet Marketers in particular get themselves some virtual assistance, an outsourcer who does various tasks for them as an online entrepreneur.
Now, I’d like to know though a little bit more about your background before we reach to the point of what you are today. We know you’ve obviously got a successful company but, have you always been an entrepreneur? Did you go to University? You have an accent. You might be living in the Philippines now but, you haven’t always been there.
Can you take us back to maybe, you graduated in high school or your first business, or something like that?
CHRIS: Yes, sure. I mean, I did not go to University. I did further education in the UK and by the time I was 18, I was on the telephone working part time during the day time, doing telemarketing for local classifieds magazine. I was tending bar and mixing cocktails, doing my best trying to be as handsome and as sexy as Tom Cruise in his Cocktail movie, but it was in my very early 20s where I got employed by, at that point in London, a relatively fresh, young publishing company.
And, they were based in a very corporate environment where they were focusing on corporate work wear and things like that. That company got bought out by a much larger company in the city of London called Hemmings International who I then went to work with for a couple of years. But, that entire period in time is about six or seven years or so.
Within that time, I knew that I had that entrepreneurial streak in me. I haven’t mentioned this on many interviews that I have done before, but I’m a huge Hong Kong movie fan. I was a huge Hong Kong movie fan. I used to love all the Jackie Chan, the Jet Li, and the Bruce Lee and all those guys and everything and so, what I did, when, I think it was around ’96 or so, I started my first ever, what I would class, as my real first ever entrepreneurial venture.
That was I published, being that I had some publishing background, some contacts, and things like that, I published a magazine that was aimed towards enthusiasts of Hong Kong cinema.
And so, at that time in the UK, there were a couple of people doing similar stuff but, I took it to the next level and in 1997, I flew to Hong Kong with a video camera, a bunch of calling cards and a return ticket to ten days later.
My intention was to basically just go knocking on the door of all of the film companies asking whether I could interview anyone. And obviously, there were some names that I went off to particularly but, ultimately, within ten days or so, I had interviewed around eight or nine people, some were actors and actresses. Some were editors or producers and I had a Chinese person with me who was doing a lot of translation.
But, a lot of the interviews were actually done in English. And so, I bought that home and that gave me content, not only for the magazine in terms of “exclusive interviews” but then, I also put together a video documentary which I called, “Hong Kong Superstars” which led me to come back to Asia more and more. That was the entrepreneurial bout. I ended up selling that magazine to a company who ended up doing absolutely nothing with it which, to this day, I still cannot figure out why they offered me the money that they did but, trust me, after doing it for just three years, it was good enough amount of money for me to say, “Yes, sure. No problem.”
I sold it. I was apparently going to stay on as editor of the magazine for a couple of years but, one thing led to another and they never did anything with it. So, that ended that period and at the same time, I was still working full time. I still had my full time career, job, whatever you want to call it, and there were a couple of personal changes in my life. I lost my mom. I went through a very horrible divorce. I got married very young and went through a horrible divorce and ended up coming out to the Philippines to work for one of the large banks over here, to train their telemarketing outfit. That’s what brought me to the Philippines twelve years ago.
YARO: Okay, I just have to know, for personal curiosity, a little bit more about this magazine because I love the publishing industry. I’ve loved magazines ever since I collected video game magazines during the Nintendo and Sega era before we had all this new thing called PlayStations and so forth.
I run a website today that’s like an online magazine but, it’s a lot easier than publishing a print magazine. A magazine is like, I think they’re beautiful. I think it’s one of the most wonderful forms of media we have and it still is today, I think. How did you do that as like a young guy? Did you do it as one person? Did you just sort of have a word processor and you typed it up and printed it out and handed it out? Did you have distribution? How did you do that?
CHRIS: Well, actually, when we first started, it was very much along the lines, if you’ve heard about fan-zine and I think, God, I can’t remember, what computer did I have? I can’t even remember what I had. I think it was a crammy Acer PC, you know the thing ran at a very slow speed…
YARO: Like a 386 or something back in that time.
CHRIS: Yes, literally. I had a dial up account. I built my first websites that all promote magazine and it gained some popularity and I was….
It was tough. The printing side actually wasn’t that hard. It was the actual putting the magazine together. Once we went from fan-zine and what it was actually, we used to print it out and photocopy it. I used to just give them away at film fests and stuff like that to begin with. And then, I started going up a notch and we ended up doing like a multi-page A5 color fan-zine which was printed on nice paper. It was very thin but, it was nice, glossy paper and it was colored and there was lots of cool photos in the movies that I would get my friend over in Hong Kong to ship over that you can see it anywhere else, and all that sort of stuff.
It was cool and it just grabbed people’s attention. The difference between doing that and doing the full blown magazine, the type of magazine that you see on the shelves, we went to about, I believe, six or seven issues now. It was published every other month so, over six issues in a year. I think we went a whole year or a year and a bit with doing that sort of full-size magazine.
The printing side of it wasn’t tough because I had a lot of contacts within that industry. So, I just called on a few buddies, got people out to dinner a couple of times, and got the deals I needed to do to be able to print it at a price where I could make money on subscriptions and things like that.
The tough part was filling it quite frankly with content. At that point, I couldn’t do it myself anymore so, I went through the classifieds of some martial arts magazines back in the UK to see if anybody was selling movies.
It was really heavy on the bootleg side of things back in those days and things like that. So, there was always film enthusiasts that were just blatantly pirating films and getting them out there, and for five pounds here and ten pounds there, uncut Bruce Lee films, all that sort of stuff so, it was relatively easy to find people that were enthusiastic about movies and then, I was able to convince a handful of them to write a few articles.
Yes, it was just one of those things where we would collate everything together, send them across in a Fedex package in regards to all the images and everything that needed to be scanned and it would get through a designer. He’d put it together and we’d get the printed issue.
It was so cool to be able to get that box, that first box with the new issue. I used to love opening up that box and seeing the new issue is great.
YARO: I can imagine that would be a lot of fun. Talk about tough business… in keeping that one. That’s challenging.
CHRIS: Oh yes.
YARO: Okay, so you found yourself in the Philippines after some tough experiences in your life and you’re still an employee. You’re helping with telemarketing for an American company operating a telemarketing base in the Philippines, is that right?
CHRIS: It was actually for a bank that was based out of England that had a presence here but yes, fundamentally you’re right, yes.
YARO: You obviously fell in love with the place because you didn’t leave, right?
CHRIS: Right [laughs]. It’s funny. I think when I first came here, I didn’t think that I would be 12 years later. I figured, I knew after a few weeks that I like the place and it was cool and everyone was so friendly and everything was just so darn cheap compared to back in London.
You’d go out and have a great time. I was a newly single guy and all that sort of stuff. It was cool. I lived a great single guy kind of bachelor lifestyle for a couple of years or so, and then, I met the lady who was going to be my wife and that kind of just turned around at that point. I figured, well, if I’m going to get married to this lass, I better start looking up, doing something a little bit more just being an employee.
So, that’s when the entrepreneurial blood started kicking in. I used to do a little bit of consulting work here as well and there in regards to marketing and branding and stuff like that because I had all that background with the publishing side of things.
So yes, everything kind of just fell in place five or six years ago and we started the Live2Sell Group and the rest is a little bit of a history as they say.
YARO: The Live2Sell Group, what was that?
CHRIS: The Live2Sell Group is the group of companies that I now own. We started off with just literally Live2Sell Inc. The Live2Sell Inc. was basically an outbound telemarketing consulting company so, we would work with predominantly US based companies, a little bit in Australia, a little bit in the UK but, mostly in the US. We did that through the door so, we would do a little bit of a lead generation or some appointment setting or database cleansing and we still do all that stuff now, as well. But, there are also other companies under that group umbrella now where we have a Virtual Staff Finder, which is where we hook up busy entrepreneurs and online marketers and bloggers, and things like that with home-based virtual assistants here in the Philippines, which I believe is the service that you referred to with regards to Gideon and Pat using them before.
And then, we also have yourwebPA.com which provides project-based outsourcing such as eBook design and SEO services, article writing, niche site creation, and that’s where the staff as well.
YARO: It sounds like you’ve really leveraged your location because being in the Philippines, everyone nowadays is outsourcing to the Philippines. You are in a great position geographically to obtain from that.
But, that’s not the “be all and all answer” to having a successful business. Can you tell me a little bit more about how you went from, let’s say, quitting your employment as a person working for the bank in the UK to starting your own business. Was there an overlap? Were you doing both at the same time, or you just one day decided to quit and then, start something new.
CHRIS: Yes, I mean, I’d actually done a little bit of work as a consultant for a company that was based out of Miami for about six months or so.
YARO: How did that even happen?
CHRIS: Well, that came about, I was involved locally here with a, well not involved but, I was friends with a guy here locally who owned a DRTV company so, the Direct Response… You know, you see the infomercials selling all types of crap like three in the morning sort of thing.
He would fundamentally either source or invent these, if you would call them products. Some of them were a little ridiculous but, then shoot the infomercials here, right here in the Philippines, edit them all together right here in the Philippines, and then, he would go out to all the big conferences around the world and tell them to distributors in different countries all around the world.
So, there is two or three major industry conferences and he knew I was a pretty half-decent sales guy so, he said, “Look, I’m going to Vegas, there’s a big conference. Once you come over, you can put on a t-shirt, get behind the booth and see whether you can sell some of this stuff with me. I’ll pay for your flight, pay for your hotel, pay for your gamble a little bit, we’ll have some fun… Why don’t you just come over and spend a week with me in Vegas and we’ll see what happens.”
That’s exactly what I thought. I figured, “Hey, it’s a free trip. It’s Vegas. Let’s do it.” So, we went over and I ended up–
YARO: You weren’t married, were you?
CHRIS: No, I wasn’t married at that point, no [laughs].
YARO: You were married then, weren’t you?
CHRIS: Right, right. Yes, so, I go over to Vegas. I write about quarter million worth of dollars of business over the next three-day period for him which sounds like a lot but, he wrote about half a million but, he was more than happy with that.
Whilst there, I met a guy who owned a company based in Miami in Florida and we just stayed in touch. He’s an older guy but, we kind of just hit it off. And, unknowingly, he was also in the process of looking to try and kind of revamp his brands and his marketing a little bit so, he hired me as a consultant a couple of months later.
I worked with him pretty exclusively in terms of consulting for about six months or so but, I learned so much from this guy. But, unfortunately, so much negative stuff. I learned how not to market. I learned how not to re-brand. I learned how not to run a company, how not to treat employees, how not to take care of people that were helping you make millions of dollars every year and all these sort of stuff.
He was a super nice guy but, he was a real a-hole of a guy to work for. What I did, I leveraged the opportunity where I was making some very good money with him on a month to month basis in terms of retainer as well as a little bit of commission.
I then started off Live2Sell very small. At the beginning, we had enough room for about 30 employees in the office. We had seven people that we began with and I was with him for another couple of months and then, I ended that relationship to focus entirely on Live2Sell so that, I could really take it up to the next level.
Now, to answer your question in a roundabout probably long way, I hope your listeners are still tuned in, that’s how I went from being “an employee” to being a full blown entrepreneur and just focusing on my own stuff.
YARO: It sounds to me like the idea of hiring people, and I don’t know if it’s because you’re in the Philippines or not. It seems less daunting the way you say it because yes, we started off with five people. You went from being an employee to instantly having people working for you. And for a lot of people working online, they never get employees. They might have some contractors because certainly, in my case, I’m still yet to have a full-time employee on salary.
That’s daunting. It’s usually a case of cash flow being an issue because you have salaries to pay so, if you’re not bringing in money, how did you juggle this. Did you build up some capital first? Did you have some savings in case things didn’t work? What was the plan?
CHRIS: I did have savings. Like I said, I was paid quite handsomely to do what I was doing for this guy. We’re not talking millions of dollars or anything like that but, I had a little bit of money saved up and I also bought on board a silent partner so, I wouldn’t have to pay everything right up the front and I ended up paying him what he had invested back within the first eighteen months. So, he was then out of the picture. He got a nice golden hand shake from the partnership and everything.
But, I knew pretty solidly that it was all going to be down to me. So, I didn’t want to end up giving him 50% of the profits forever. So, before it got too big, and too successful, I ended that relationship in a nice way and everything. For him, he was never really interested in the growth of the company or getting involved in the operations of it all anything like that. For him, it was purely just coming on board to make some cash.
I gave him a lump sum. He got out of it and from about two years onwards, it was nothing but, me. But, it was funny. It’s funny how you mentioned that. One minute you’re an employee, the next minute you’re an employer. I really did happen like that because the way that I ended things with the guy that I was doing some work with in Miami was actually in Miami whilst they were building out their office here in the Philippines.
Everything was cool. We didn’t shout or scream at each other, or anything like that but, the fact of the matter is, I flew from Miami, landed in the Philippines on a Friday and then, on a Monday, I was doing interviews to hire the first batch of staff.
YARO: Okay, so I’m seeing there, obviously there was a connection between the consulting you were doing for the solo or being a nice kickstart to do a business but, there’s a big difference between consulting here and there and then, hiring people. I mean, I know there’s so much to study about how to find good people and now, you’re in charge of 300 people. How have you gone about this process of, I believe, rapidly hiring people and growing a business?
I should actually clarify, what year were you when you actually started doing this hiring?
CHRIS: It was 2007.
YARO: Okay, so it’s 2012 now, just January. 300 employees and so within five years, you’ve gone from nothing in terms of employees to 300. And, to be honest, it didn’t sound like you have a ton of experience running a fairly hefty size business before you started this one which has grown rapidly in my opinion. Did you get lucky? Naturally confident? Where is all of this coming, Chris?
CHRIS: Well, I think confidence plays a big part of it and I certainly didn’t start it for it to remain small. I can tell you that right now because I’ve been involved in the outsourcing industry for some time here in the Philippines, and I’d seen the boom of the outsourcing industry had experienced in the country. And, it’s very much now the destination of choice for pretty much anything and everything in the outsourcing game.
So, I knew far well when I started, which is the room for 30 old people that I would easily be able to grow the company. Did I think it would grow as large as it is now to date? No. I certainly did not but, you know what? There’s always an element of luck involved, I believe. If there’s anyone out there that says that there isn’t with what they have done to become successful, I think they’re just plainly lying to themselves because there has to be an element of luck because the two or three clients that grew with me wouldn’t have grown with me. They could have decided to go and grow somewhere else and make someone else’s company grow and flourish.
But, they decided to go with us and I believe that’s a little bit of luck. Out of all the websites in the world, they decided to send an inquiry from my contact form on my company’s website. They probably sent it to a few others as well, and maybe yes, I did convince them a little bit. I did a little salesman on them, and all that sort of stuff but, yes, there was certainly an element of luck in there.
But, my old man used to say to me, “If you work hard, you never have to worry about work.” That kind of has a little bit of an employee mentality in there but, everything I’ve done both as an employee in the past, and now as a boss, I do with that kind of adage in the back of my head all the time because I still work my ass off now, today. I work very, very hard. And, I don’t look at having 300 employees. I look at fundamentally supporting 300 families.
So, I take that responsibility not lightly in any way, shape or form. So, I guess, yes. There’s definitely confidence in there. I knew that we could grow if I worked hard on it. I had some great help with the wife, believe it or not. There’s a saying, “you shouldn’t work with your children, animals, and wives.” [Laughs] I kind of risked it a little bit on that one but, she’s great. She’s certainly helped me get it to where we are. I wouldn’t be able to do it without her.
Just being a combination of all those things kind of just aligned nicely and a little bit of luck. You got to have some luck. You just have to.
YARO: Okay, well it sounds like you’re pretty good to things, Chris. You’re good at getting clients and you’re good at hiring good people.
YARO: Given those two things in mind, can you maybe take us through from this starting point, your office with space for thirty but five initial employees, two of them being you and your wife, correct?
CHRIS: Mm-hmm, correct.
YARO: Take us from there. How did you get your next bunch of clients as well as how did you manage the need to hire employees. There’s a juggle there. There’s got to be a balance, right because your cash flow needs to work out so, when you get a new client, you’ve got the staff to service them but, you don’t hire the staff before you get the cash from your clients, correct?
CHRIS: Correct. Well, I mean yes. In the outsourcing industry, there’s a lot of different ways that you can pay for outsourced services. We decided very earlier, actually after losing a little bit of money, not a lot but, we decided very early on that. We were going to charge our clients in advance for the work that we were going to do for them.
So, we would charge a month in advance every single month. So, let’s say new client comes on board. Ten employees required for telemarketing campaign. We invoice that client. We sign contracts. The money comes through to our bank.
At that point, we hire. So, we’re not actually employing anyone until there’s work for them to do. That is still the case to this day.
YARO: How can that work even… You must have an amazing hiring process to get good people. Have you got a great system now? Because telemarketing in my knowledge requires unique scripts for the service that you’re selling, or the product that you’re selling, a training process for those employees to learn how they are supposed to interact, not a simple process. How have you managed to do that?
CHRIS: Well, I have been in and around or on the telephone my entire career so, in terms of the scripts and things like that, nine times out of ten, the clients will actually have scripts in place if they need telemarketing done or even… We do a lot of customer service and other types of support services like chat supports and things like that nowadays as well. But, ultimately, I can help people tweak their scripts and things like that as well.
In terms of the recruitment side of things, we made mistakes, of course we did. There’s no way that you can grow a successful company, I feel, without dropping the ball a few times and learning by those mistakes.
So, we certainly did. We certainly hired some bad apples which put a few spammers in the works and things like that but, we got rid of them and we re-hired and we tweet our hiring process, our recruiting process.
I now have a team of about ten in terms of my human resources department who are consistently interviewing on a day to day basis, working for our company here in Cebu City in the Philippines, is an aspiration for a lot of call center people because a lot of call centers here, they have swing shifts, there’s that graveyard shift, then two weeks later, they’re working during the daytime and stuff like that, and there’s a number of things that we do that enables us to attract the right people without any major headaches, and we know has a very, very good employer here locally.
So, we don’t have a big problem finding people nowadays. Back then, we didn’t have that reputation. It was a number’s game. We’d interview a hundred people. We’d hire 30. We train that 30 and out of that 30, we put ten people on that campaign.
YARO: That sounds a lot of work though.
CHRIS: Oh, hell of a lot of work, hell of a lot of work. But, you know what? I had a lot of good help. So, one thing I had been able to do is hire really good quality upper and middle management. For some reason, I had been able to get lucky on that and I have some great people to this day and out, and still working, and some people have been with me for four years.
That first year was really a big learning curve but, since our first birthday and onwards, I’ve been very lucky with hiring the right people and taking care of them, and making sure that they’re trained and developed properly and things like that and that goes right away up to my COO who is an American who I hired at the beginning of last year to come and join us, and he now fundamentally runs the company on a day to day basis. I’m still involved in the growth strategies, and the marketing, and the sale side of things to a certain extent but, he fundamentally runs the company now.
YARO: Okay, so it sounds like a wild ride. I have to admit, it would have been interesting to see that first year in particular. I can imagine you’d get a client who suddenly says we need ten people, and then, you go, “Okay, let’s go find ten people.” We just bill the guy for a month worth of fees. Before you get their money, you have to deliver a service and you probably had a deadline, like he wants people to start making phone calls, ordering chat by this time frame.
CHRIS: Oh yes.
YARO: And, you got no one. You got an office with chairs and desk, right away to have this people do the job but, you hook people. I mean, that’s pretty scary.
CHRIS: It is pretty scary but, you know, the thing is, in this country, the outsourcing industry and the call center industry is the number one fastest growing industry anywhere in the country. It doesn’t matter what city you’re in. And, we’re in Cebu City which is the fastest growing economy in terms of an economic zone here. There’s been more hotels, more office buildings, more restaurants and everything built in the last seven or eight years and have done anywhere else in the country in terms of square footage, if you know what I mean, geographically.
So, working for an outsourcing company or BPO or business process outsourcing company is known a lot more here. Working for a BPO company is really, it’s a given like people want to come and work here. We pay better than most local companies. We have better benefits. It’s just a better working environment. You get the opportunity to be trained by not only fantastic local talent but, also foreign talent as well and a lot of local companies can offer that stuff.
Not only that, let’s take an industry such as nursing. There are hundreds and hundreds or even thousands of new nurses graduating every single year here in the Philippines. That’s a fact. Thousands of them, all around the country. But, a lot of them, once they get that degree and that nursing degree, they realize that it’s not all cut out to, they’re not really cut out to be a nurse. They get a job in a little hospital. They work 14 hour days. They only get one day off a week, and at the end of it, they’ve only got the equivalent of $150 in their pocket after taxes per month.
CHRIS: So, you look at that or you can come at work at a call center or an outsourcing company such as mine, make three times that amount, and only work 8 hours a day and have every Saturday and Sunday free. It’s kind of a no-brainer.
So, I would have thought I had 300 people working for me. I reckon about 30% of them are probably nurses … deadly service.
YARO: You can start a medical outsourcing service pretty quickly then, couldn’t you?
CHRIS: We could do that. We could start that up pretty quickly [laughs].
YARO: Okay, I’d like to talk about your other products too, Chris. But, before I do that, I’m just a little curious about the marketing side of things, as well.
I get the picture of how you get people. It sounds like it’s a bit of hard work, a great environment, good managers, but tell us how did you get clients keep coming in the door because you’re obviously in the Philippines but, you’re taking on clients from I’m assuming more so America but, you’re not there. So, you must be relying on online marketing more than anything or are you actually doing some telemarketing to bring in telemarketing customers.
CHRIS: We have a very small internal telemarketing team of three people. They work very, very specific lists usually created, I’m not going to get too many of my secrets here in case one of my competitors comes across this but, they usually created from things like conferences and publications, databases, and things like that that I can get my hands on.
But, ultimately, probably something like, and I’m not exaggerating here, 80% of the inquiries that turn into clients come from our online activities. So, we do a lot of SEOs, a highly, highly competitive market from an SEO standpoint. We do a lot of SEO. We do a certain amount of social media. And, we’re lucky where we get a very steady stream of inquiries coming out of, not only off the website but, also through our toll free number in the US, where we do a little bit of radio advertising, a little bit of print ad advertising and things like that as well but, ultimately, a very large majority lead to client conversion comes from the online activities that we do.
YARO: And, early on, was it…like before you had this team of three, and you had this online presence, I’m assuming you would have had to build up your SEO overtime and go with Social Media and if you had time to do radio, you’d have to go and find some services in the States to handle that for you.
How did this progress? Where did you start?
CHRIS: We had a website before the company even opened its doors. There was a website up and running and it’s quite funny actually.
Whilst I was in Miami for that last trip over there before coming back and starting the company here, our website was already live and I jumped on the, what’s the quickest way to get to the top of Google and everything, and back in those days, it’s all like it’s 20 years ago but, you know, five or six years ago, I discovered through reading websites and stuff that writing a press release was a great way to get to the top of Google or Yahoo, even if it was just temporarily to get your name out there because the search engines liked the fresh new content.
And so, that’s exactly what I did. I wrote one press release. I distributed it to, I don’t know, whatever, it was five or six different sites. We got a lot of traffic. We had a couple of inquiries, believe it or not before I even got back to the Philippines to open the doors of the building.
CHRIS: And, that is absolutely no bullshit. I swear, that’s God’s honest because I was in Miami calling people up, looking at, trying to work those leads myself as I was on the same time zone before I even got back to the Philippines.
One of the guys that I called didn’t become a client immediately but, he did about a year later. So, before we were even up and running, I closed the client who ended up working with us a year later.
CHRIS: It’s funny stuff but, even myself also, I used to pick up, sometimes, I’d be browsing the website, this will probably be the first year also I’d be browsing the website, come across the site, look at it and think to myself, “Could they outsource ABC, XYZ?” I just picked up the phone and cold call them, just pitched them out of the blue.
YARO: Now, you’re obviously experienced to doing that given your background. How did you get to the important person that you speak to when you do something like that?
CHRIS: You know, a lot of the time, people try tricks and tactics and stuff like that but, a lot of the time, if you’re just very direct, it will work because back in those days, we were also calling on fundamentally small businesses. Now, we don’t work with so many small businesses. We now tend to work with people that sort of need ten or fifteen people as a minimum which is very much the medium-sized companies in the US.
So, the back in M-days, we’d worked with something like one telemarketer, two, or three of four whatever. So, I just get on the phone and if there was a gatekeeper there, if there was a secretary or a receptionist or whatever, nine times out of ten, there wasn’t because in the US, people who own companies or run companies also pick up the telephone themselves as well.
So, I was lucky, a lot of time I’d get a decision maker on the phone straight away but, a lot of the times, people tried tricks and stuff. It really doesn’t work that often and it used to be very blunt. “Hey, I’m calling from blah, blah. We do this, this, and this.” And, I’m pretty sure [37:04 – 37:16 inaudible] this morning or after lunch, that sort of thing.
I can say no because they’ll say one or the other. So, that’s the option close. I used to use that to great effect [laughs].
YARO: Chris, can you just repeat that option close because you cut out just as you were about to explain it.
CHRIS: Okay, so the option close is very simple. You’ve got either an appointment you want to make with someone or you want to get in front of someone or send something through to somebody.
If you’re on the phone with somebody and you don’t want to get a no from them, one way to avoid that no, and as telemarketers, as we always want to do that. So, one way to avoid that now is to turn around and say, “So, when would be a better time for me to be able to call you back and discuss that with you?” Would it be tomorrow morning before lunch or maybe in the afternoon? What’s best for you?
So, they got to say before and after lunch. They can’t say no. You’re not given any chance to say no. That’s the option closed.
YARO: You’re so evil.
CHRIS: [Laughs] Come on, man. That works! It’s not like I’m bullying people.
YARO: [Laughs] Psychological marketing tactics as usual.
CHRIS: Something like that. But, you know, I mean it all comes down to just and genuinely, everything I said is true. We can help people with their marketing costs and things like that and a lot of the clients that we worked with, it started with only two or three employees for this and then, now have 25 or 30 people, few of them.
So, you know they’ve grown their businesses as the same time we’ve grown ours and that’s why we say, I don’t look at what we do with our clients as a vendor client relationship. I look at it as a business partnership because if we do a bit of job for them, they’ll be happy. They’ll grow and they’ll put more business our way. So, it’s truly that simple.
YARO: Okay so, you’ve grown your company. You’ve got some marketing going out there, bringing in new clients. You can hire people as soon as you get the clients so, it’s almost like a no risk, well there’s a risk but, usually you don’t have a casual issue because you hire once the cash is there which is fantastic. You grow your company. You reach a point where you’ve got systems in place. You’ve got a COO now doing the operations daily. I’m assuming that was a fairly big change as well to make the decision to bring that person on board.
Can you maybe tell me a little bit about that point where you thought, “You know what? I no longer need or maybe want to be involved in the daily operations,” or maybe just break it down how you extracted yourself from the business so, you could start this other products you got.
CHRIS: Sure, in late 2009, my wife gave birth to our third kid. There was a pretty big gap in between the second and the third, about ten years to be precise. So, the first obvious reaction was, “Oh, holy cow! It still works! How did this happen? This was the result of a good night out. What’s going on here?”
That was the first reaction was that, that point, I was still very much growing the business a few years back and still doing a lot of it myself and so, what happened was, within the first year of my youngest life, even though I’d take my foot off the gas a little bit, and I’m spending a little bit more time at home, I wasn’t spending that much more time at home.
I was so busy with my career with the first two, and when I say the first two, I do apologize, I’m now married for the second time so, hence, the fact that I’ve got a “youngy” now and the other two are slightly older but, fact of the matter is is that I decided that I wanted to be there more often with my third child who is now three.
YARO: Okay, just to clarify Chris, the first two with your first wife?
YARO: Then, they’re in England.
CHRIS: They’re all based out of the UK but, they also come to the Philippines several times a year to see me as well.
YARO: Got you, so when you said you were growing a business, were you travelling back to UK to visit your kids?
CHRIS: Of course.
YARO: So, you were doing all of these at the same time.
CHRIS: Oh yes.
YARO: So, you must have been thinking how I can do less very early on as the company starts to grow.
CHRIS: Oh yes. And, I mean even before I started out the company, I was still going back and forth between the UK and having them come to the Philippines regularly and everything as well so, there was always a big juggle there.
Beginning of, actually it was the end of 2009 when my son had just hit his first birthday and I sat down and I said, “Well, I can’t do these twelve hour days anymore. This isn’t right. We got to the point where the company is doing relatively well. I need to start moving myself out of it bit by bit.”
That’s when I launched my blog, Virtual Business Lifestyle. When I launched the blog, I launched it with the view of having it almost as a bit of an online journal so, I could chart my course to becoming what is now the Virtual CEO.
So, it was going to be a one-year long goal and I broke that goal down into mini-goals. Some of them are monthly. Some of them are quarterly and they were simple stuff like taking myself out of every single email loop in the company, not doing the training myself anymore, hiring another person, another two people to do that; not doing the final interviews anymore, hiring an HR manager to do that.
And I had to relinquish a lot of, I guess for one of the better terms, control over the day to day stuff and as entrepreneurs, we’re naturally micromanagers. We have what I call, “superhero syndrome” where we think we can do better than anyone else in the entire universe.
YARO: But, I can.
CHRIS: [Laughs] Of course you can. Of course you can but, I didn’t want to be there anymore. I wanted to get out. I wanted to spend more time with my family. I wanted to spend more time focusing on what I really enjoyed doing which was starting and growing businesses and not running and that’s what I’ve done.
So, in late 2010, I hit that goal, the whole of 2011. In fact, late 2010, I began Virtual Staff Finder and then, at the end of 2011, I began YourWebPA so, I’ve launched two businesses in around about a year plus carrying on running Live2Sell but, Live2Sell, I work maybe two or three hours a week on Live2Sell now. Like I said, my COO is fundamentally running the company. I found him after a yearlong search, I ended up flying to the United States, and I was on a business trip, and doing interviews with about five or six candidates that I’ve met the majority of which were through LinkedIn. He came to us with fifteen years course and a management experience. He was a little older than I wanted to hire. He was in his mid-50s but, he certainly had the experience and he had the passion and he had the drive and he has been with us now for about a year and he’s great and we continue to grow slowly but surely.
I’ve been very lucky. I don’t class everything to nothing but hard work. I class of the majority of it there but, I know a lot of the things that have happened particularly in the last 18 months have happened with an element of luck involved. But, that’s fine. I’ll take luck any day/ I don’t mind that.
YARO: Yes, well it sounds like something that I know a lot of people, especially if they currently run a small to medium sized business and they want to extract themselves. That process doesn’t sound like it was quick by any means. There’s a lot of things you need to take yourselves out of the loop, as you said, from, which is challenging. A lot of people never get to do it either unless they sell the business, they’re always involved with it somehow.
Can you maybe, like thing, what was the hardest part of this process and what would you maybe be able to do better now that you’d actually gone through it if you were actually talking to someone who was about to start the process?
CHRIS: One thing I would have done was start a blog sooner, and I am serious when I say that because having VirtualBusinessLifestyle.com has enabled me to put a face to the businesses and I think people want to do business with people.
In fact, I know they do. They would much rather buy something from somebody they know than buy from somebody they don’t know. And, I don’t pitch anything on Virtual Business Lifestyle as a blog. I mean, obviously, I talk about my businesses here and there but, on the whole, I’m just talking about how to do this and how to do that most of the time.
But, I know fairly well that there have been a number of people particularly with Virtual Staff Finder, and Your Web PA, with those two slightly newer companies which are slightly more online based. There is absolutely no way in the world that they would have been or they have got to, and hopefully will continue to be as successful as I have if I hadn’t have had my blog and that personal branding placed online.
And I wish, I wish, I wish that I started my blog two or three years earlier because I feel that I would have been at a whole different level, not just as an entrepreneur but, also as a personal brand myself as well because I’m now known as the outsourcing guy online, the Virtual Assistant guru, the blah, bah, blah. And, if I had done that three or four years earlier, I would have beat Tim Ferriss to the whole virtual assistant thing. I’m telling you, I was hooking entrepreneurs up with virtual assistants before the 4-Hour Workweek was even published. So, it’s not like they were new. It’s not like Tim created this huge industry. It was already in place, how do you think he found them?
So, that’s the thing I kicked myself. I wish I started a blog sooner.
YARO: All right, if the person though wasn’t interested in actually building a brand as, they don’t want to teach other people how to do what they do necessarily so, they might be thinking, “Why should I start a blog?” They’re thinking perhaps, the accountability is beneficial to talk about, let’s say, I own even like a car, used car salesperson and you’re thinking about how they can extract themselves from being a used car salesperson, would starting a blog be something that necessary to do or is there anything else you can maybe tell them, you think, just for extracting yourself from a small to medium sized company?
CHRIS: Well, I think if you’re the owner of the company, the biggest problem you’re going to be is letting go of the reins and I think particularly what worked well for me within that one year where I wanted to try and remove myself in the day-to-day side of things, I broke things down to smaller goals or smaller milestones where it didn’t feel, at the time, when I was going and achieving each of those milestones, it didn’t feel like I was letting go of my baby all at one. It was just bit by bit.
That certainly worked for me and I’m sure it’s probably worked for a few other people out there, as well, no doubt so, yes. If you got a small to medium sized business and you’re looking to try and extract and remove yourself from it from a day to day basis, I think, the first thing you should really do is sit down and make a list of the stuff that you just don’t like to do because in this day and age, you don’t need to do it whether you have to hire someone and lose a little bit of profit margin, to get that off your plate, just do it because if you find that if you have more time on your hands to do the stuff that you do enjoy, not only will your business succeed even further but, you’ll also be a much happier entrepreneur yourself which will enable you to get yourself more out there more often, start new things, and just see the world a little bit more.
So, I think breaking things down into smaller, slightly more manageable and easier goals to not only attain but then, also to kind of let go of, is probably a good starting point.
YARO: Okay, so you managed to extract yourself and you obviously, part of the reason why was to be with your family. But, you also felt the need as an entrepreneur to be a creator and not just an operator, and the sense that you build a business, and now, you’re on to your new businesses.
It sounds like you stayed within the virtual outsourcing kind of field and you wanted to help other online entrepreneurs bring outsourcers into their business to free up their time. Is this just something that you’re really interested in and you like working in?
CHRIS: I love it. I think it’s a great industry. I think it’s a great concept of being able to leverage your time as a business owner and I think that through books like the 4-Hour Workweek, which is a great book, these kind of books and manifestos and things like that that are out there, I think, the new age entrepreneur, as I turn the cord on more and more nowadays are slightly more less resilient to be 100% in control of everything. They’re quite happy to let other people take the reins on certain processes within their business and, it’s just great for me personally.
When I receive an email and you must know what this feels like. You get an email from someone who says, “Just listened to Podcast Episode X. Fantastic. Thoroughly enjoyed it. You’ve totally made me start to think about the way that I’m doing things in my own business. I just wanted to say thanks for everything you do.”
Those kind of emails right there, if that doesn’t get you going then, as a podcast or a blogger then, there’s something wrong with you. You know what I mean? And, for me the ability to go to help someone not only grow their business but as well as, kind of almost create an entrepreneurial lifestyle that they truly really do love to live.
For me, I get way, way more pleasure out of that than I do by adding another thirty employees. That’s a fact.
I’ll date all the 30 employees all day long and the profits that come with them but, ultimately I really enjoy the stuff that I do online with the other companies and the blog and things like that. That’s really where my passion is now as an entrepreneur.
YARO: Can you break them down like what happened? You separate yourself from your outsourcing business, your 300 employee business so, you can go home and play with your kid or you build a website for a new service right away? What happened to set up these new services?
CHRIS: Well, like I say, I started the blog which was really the catalyst for all and again, I wanted to set that up as a journal of sorts that I started to get more and more traction and people were interviewing me about the whole virtual CEO goal and stuff. I was lucky to get some decent traffic and links on some pretty prominent blogs and things like that.
Then, people wanted to know more. How do I do this? How do I remove myself from being stuck in my inbox six hours a day, Chris because you’ve done it? Tell us how. So, I write a post on how to kick the crap out of your inbox. It’s one of my successful posts I’ve done.
“How do I start a niche site for the first time? I’ve never done it until you did it six months ago. Can you break that down and show us how you did it?”
“Sure, not a problem.”
So, there goes my second 200+ comment bog post. So, it enables me to really kind of buildup that, not necessarily a personal brand but, a brand in relation to being just savvy in regards to business in general, and then, you couple that together and attach that with the outsourcing background and the marketing background that I have and I have just been very blessed to be able to put together a couple of really cool services that people obviously enjoy utilizing and again, if I can help people along the way, for me, that’s just a bonus.
Am I doing it to make money? Absolutely. First and foremost, I’m a business guy. I always I’m a businessman first, second, I’m a blogger second and that will never ever change. I do everything I do to make money but, I do it with the view of wanting to help people at the same time.
YARO: So, give us a breakdown. What you’ve been mentioning throughout this interview, you’ve got the virtualbusinesslifestyle.com, the blog…
CHRIS: Yes, and it also has the accompanying podcast which is at episode 50. You’re going to be episode 51 so, there you go. VirtualStaffFinder.com is a match-making service for entrepreneurs that want to work with home-based virtual assistants here in the Philippines, and we just celebrated placing our 400th VA through that service which is a massive, massive milestone as far as I’m concerned, and then, we have your webpa.com, which is the project-based outsourcing if you need a site designed or some articles written, eBook design, that sort of stuff.
YARO: Okay, so all fantastic websites, I think for the people listening to this call, they would be very much interested in everything you just talked about, certainly how you separate yourself from your business but, also how you get themselves a virtual assistant and outsourcing some of the tasks, as well.
It’s a hot subject. Tim Ferriss is simply to blame for popularizing it.
CHRIS: [Laughs] He is. And actually, when I spoke at Blog World in LA last year on the subject of working with virtual assistants, the first slide of my presentation was a picture of a beach and the slide had, “Thank you, Tim” written on it.
I gave a massive amount of respect to Tim Ferriss for what he has done, not only for this industry but, for entrepreneurs all around the world. He’s got them very much thinking outside the box, the use of a little business speak, and a massively popular very successful book, and obviously, for very, very good reasons.
But yes, he’s certainly has helped people along the way. That’s for sure but yes, we’ll blame him for everything.
YARO: [Laughs] Yes, we should. I have to admit I was a bit surprised. I think Tim was also surprised how popular the 4-Hour Workweek has become. I think he was expecting a successful book but, not to the extent that he certainly had.
He certainly hit a need that a lot of us probably didn’t realize we had until it was presented in such a concise manual like that, and obviously, people had been living it before Tim wrote about it. Like you said, you’ve been doing it. I certainly was doing it before Tim had done it and with his book but, he brought it into the limelight, which is great for you because you got some businesses that help people to lead to that lifestyle so, that’s fantastic.
CHRIS: Absolutely. So Tim, if you’re listening in, thank you [laughs].
YARO: Yes, there’s an interview with Tim in my podcast, if you want to grab that from the archives.
CHRIS: There you go. I’ve listened to it already buddy. I listened to it a while back.
YARO: [Laughs] Well, everyone else listening can listen to it. That was done a while ago, too, just after his book came out.
But, Chris, we’re focusing on you now. Let’s wrap it up. Where are you today? You’re obviously interested in growing these businesses still and you’re telemarketing outsourcing service but, you haven’t mentioned out a name out yet. We should plug that quickly, too in case people do want a telemarketing outsourced service. What’s that called?
CHRIS: That is literally the Live2Sell Group. So, they can get that at the Live2sellgroup.com.
CHRIS: Oh, and actually also, something popped into my head depending on where this is going to be going live at any time soon but, in about two weeks from now, I will actually be launching a new blog and a new podcast which is outsourcetothephilippines.com. It’s not live right now. There’s just a squeeze page up there right now but, that is going to be the blog where I talk about nothing but outsourcing for entrepreneurs and business owners.
So, if there’s anyone out there that might want to just tune in purely just for the outsourcing stuff, it’s outsourcetothephilippines.com. That will kick off soon.
YARO: I have to admit, the Philippines is a hot topic in terms of outsourcing. I’ve noticed that over the last year. It’s just where everyone recommends and everyone is going. I guess, we should just briefly, before we hang up this call, Chris. Why is that? What’s with the Philippines?
CHRIS: I think it’s a combination of two things. First and foremost, the Philippines is actually the third largest English speaking country in the world. Not a lot of people know that. I think it’s got to be what the US and I don’t know, Canada I guess? I don’t know.
YARO: The UK has got more people compared….
CHRIS: Well, the UK is…yes, but I mean geographically, I guess, Canada is bigger than the UK I guess but, population numbers to one side, I don’t really know why the statistics are there. It is what it is but, they are all educated literally from elementary level in English and everywhere you go, there’s this really kind of Western Americanization to the country. They got lots and lots of strip malls everywhere just like they do in the US and you got a multiplex in a mile. There will be twenty screens, and 18 of them will be Hollywood movies and the other two will have some cheesy local comedies or action flicks or something on there.
There’s an American flag on the 100 Philippine peso bill. It’s really westernized. The English that they speak here in the Philippines is very American twangy kind of sounding which is why it’s such a hotspot for voice outsourcing. That’s the first thing.
The second thing is because I believe that because of the global economy being the way it is today, people are starting to look to outsource more and more and in regards to English speaking self, there’s only really India and the Philippines to choose from.
I don’t know about you and I mean absolutely no disrespect to any Indians listening in but, I would much rather listen to an American twang Filipino English accent than I would to a more straight monotone Indian English accent because I have also been called by Indian telemarketers in the past myself. They just don’t sound as fluent as you would want them to sound if somebody was trying to call you to sell you something. It really is the destination of choice mainly because of the English structure and also the communications here is very, very good. We got T1 and E1 lines up Yin Yang over here. If you spend the money, you can get everything you need to be able to make the business happen.
YARO: Now, why is the Philippines, I guess, a key place to outsource to still because we’re looking at $500 a month for a full time employee. That sort of wage is quite typical, right?
CHRIS: Yes. The cost of living here hasn’t changed. It hasn’t got any more expensive. Maybe for people like myself who are foreigners are living here that were ten or eleven years ago, getting 55 pesos to the dollar who are now getting 43 pesos to dollar, yes, we hurt a little bit. But, in terms of the locals, it hasn’t really changed. It hasn’t really changed at all.
It’s still a developing country and with that, comes obviously a certain amount of poverty and because of that, things are cheap and it’s just one of those things. The prices for hiring virtual staff particularly home-based VAs has increased a little bit over the last couple of years, not a lot, maybe 10% to 15% max but, the only reason they’ve increased is not because the cost of living has increased here and the Filipino VAs need to offset that difference is increased because the Filipino VAs are getting smarter. They know the people want to outsource to the Philippines and therefore they’re charging a little bit more than what they did a couple of years ago so, good luck to them, that’s what I say.
YARO: And, you see a point though that the Philippines will develop so that, there isn’t I guess, a benefit to outsource like they’ll be on parity with the American dollar?
CHRIS: It’s going to be tough. I don’t see it happening anytime soon, no. It will be tough.
YARO: Okay, to put a little session, we can have another day anyway. I think…
CHRIS: Probably is. That’s another hour that is at least.
YARO: It’s interesting to debate. Ever since outsourcing came along, there’s always been that, “Are we exploiting people?” But, there’s a massive article on my blog. People can jump into it over, I think it’s like 500 comments. It’s just way out of control.
But, I want to thank you because this has been a very interesting interview because of your background, the path you’ve walked with your entrepreneurial story, I think particularly, your process to extract yourself from your business is something a lot of people would like to learn about. So, I certainly encourage people to go check out the virtualbusinesslifetyle.com blog. That sounds like your oldest blog that sort of tells the story from the beginning, certainly as you chronicle in your process to separate yourself from your own company.
I think I’m going to check that out and enjoy it. I look forward to seeing what else you get up to with this free time and obviously, your dedication to spreading the word about outsourcing so, thanks Chris!
CHRIS: Thank you, Yaro. It’s a pleasure to be on and been a big time listener and fan of yourself. So, a real honor.
YARO: And, for anyone listening in, if you like to grab more interviews like this one we just did with Chris, there’s a great back catalog of interviews with entrepreneurs and Internet Marketers at my blog entrepreneurs-journey.com or just Google Yaro and you’ll find it that way.
I’d like to thank Chris again for joining me on the call and I’ll catch everyone soon on a future call. Bye!
About Yaro Starak
Yaro Starak is the author of the Blog Profits Blueprint, a report you can download instantly to learn how to make $10,000 a month, from only blogging 2 hours per day. You can find Yaro on Facebook, Twitter and Google+.
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