When Nicolo Zappulla found himself fulfilling multiply employee roles for his Driving School, he knew he had to make a change. When he hired his first virtual assistant, he found he was able to focus on his business' long term growth, not just its daily operations. Read more below to see how Nicolo's decision to hire a VA has continued to be an excellent return on investment!
What were you struggling with in your business that led you to begin working with a virtual assistant?
At the time, I was juggling all facets of running Apia Driving School’s operation on a day-to-day basis, in addition to teaching, and I was finding it very hard to take time out to work on growth activities. It was very frustrating as I had a clear vision and sense of where the business needed to be heading, but I wasn't able to put it into action as a result of being time poor. I knew something had to give!
Tell us a little about what you have delegated and how you work together?
When I engaged my first virtual assistant, I was looking for someone who could help me with answering customer enquiries via phone and email, processing of online purchases, scheduling and other administrative tasks.
At first, some of the tools we were using were a little rudimentary, but they worked. We used domain based email accounts for customer support, an array of different spreadsheets to manage operational and accounting functions, Dropbox for storage etc… However, as the business grew we needed to improve the efficiency of some of our systems and tools. So, a bit at a time we moved to using a suite of Google products, such as Google drive, Google calendars, Gmail. etc., and Asana for collaboration on tasks/projects.
In addition to the initial role we took on, I now use a VA for bookkeeping/accounting support, web site management/development and design work.
Modifying and upgrading our processes and tools in order to accommodate working with a virtual team has been a hugely valuable and exciting process. It forced me to setup processes and procedures in a way that anyone could step in and fulfill those functions, it no longer had to be me.
How has working with a virtual assistant supported your business, and you personally?
None of the growth we’ve achieved would have been possible without help from an amazing group of virtual assistants! With valuable support through the years in a range of areas such as bookkeeping, accounts, customer service and general admin, I have been able to focus my time on building and growing the business.
Furthermore, I could never have even considered the prospect of launching a second business, let alone a very time intensive web startup - LHive
It’s such an exciting concept, that as a small business owner and entrepreneur I can engage a team of professionals from a range of different areas, who I could never afford if I had to employ each of them as full time staff. On a personal level, having a great support team means that no matter how busy things get, I am always able to take time out for family, friends and to enjoy the fruit of being a business owner.
What differences have you noticed in your business since you started working with a virtual assistant?
The main difference is that I am able to distribute my time more carefully, focusing on building value into the business rather than keeping myself busy on a transactional level. My role has changed from the person completing all the day to day tasks, to the person designing/setting up and handing over of processes to be completed, in addition to marketing, strategy and planning.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs seeking virtual assistants?
Prior to taking on my first virtual assistant, I was very unsure if it was the right choice for my business, having had mixed feedback from family members and colleagues.
What I found talking to business owners who had had a bad experience using a virtual assistant, was that in almost every case they had either failed to:
- Outline the full role and expectations prior to starting
- Set the individual up with the right tools and training right from the outset
- Provide ongoing communication and training…or all of the above! Fortunately for me, I was able to learn from their experiences and pick up a few things along the way, such as:
- Be willing to pay a bit more for quality help. The quote “If you think it’s expensive to hire a professional, wait until you hire an amateur” comes to mind.
- At a minimum, have your team report in daily, telling you what they have done today, what they are working on tomorrow and what if anything they will need from you to proceed. This fosters a good base level of accountability/collaboration between you and your team. Email is a good basic channel for this or any other collaboration app.
- Back your intuition - If something doesn’t seem right during the recruiting process, if you have any trust concerns, if you feel like the applicant is not giving you the full picture – move on! You’re likely to be right and whatever the issue, it will only be magnified once they’ve started.
Engaging a virtual assistant to fill a need in my business has now become the norm for me, I wouldn’t even consider an employee position until I had explored the option of outsourcing the role to one or more virtual assistants first. For a dynamic organisation to grow and change rapidly, I find it essential to have a team that will grow with you and be flexible enough to accommodate changes in the way the business operates.
Nicolo Zappulla is a business owner and entrepreneur with a focus on technology in the driver education industry. He is the managing director of Apia Driving School, a prominent driver education company in Sydney, currently undergoing a process of revitalisation in its 5th decade of operation and the founder of LHive, a soon to launch innovative entrant to the driver education ecosystem. Keep up with Apia Diving School by following them on Facebook and Twitter.