Customer Story

Spotlight – Virtalent

In this month's community spotlight feature, we speak with Samuel Wilson, co-founder of Virtalent. Sam set up Virtalent, alongside co-founder Ellie, after becoming frustrated with the lack of quality virtual assistants available for businesses in the UK.

Hi Sam, tell us a little bit about yourself and how you came about starting your business?

Ellie Bekalo and I started Virtalent in 2014 after becoming frustrated with the difficulty we had previously faced, when running other businesses, in finding reliable long-term support. We were fed up of wasting a lot of money using task marketplaces, simply because the quality varies so greatly and there can often be a number of language barriers to contend with, but at the time we didn’t want to contact a member of staff.

We stumbled across the Virtual Assistant (VA) industry and it really was exactly what we were looking for, though we felt it could be much better. Most of the industry in the UK/USA is composed of freelancers from an administration background. It is very fragmented and, again, the quality varies greatly. Entrepreneurs are looking for a convenient, long-term solution. We wanted to outperform the competition by offering a much wider variety of skills, at a more competitive rate and raise the bar for the quality of the work provided (all of our VAs are university-educated and identity checked by Onfido, for example)…. Essentially, we saw an opportunity to disrupt the industry.

What products and services does your business offer?

I would say approximately 80% of the work we do on a day-to-day basis is focused on “traditional” Personal Assistant support and marketing, simply because there is a lot of demand for this type of work; Booking travel, managing diaries, clearing inboxes, typing up notes, scheduling social media posts, blog writing and so on. The remaining 20% (plus a number of one-off projects) could involve web development, graphic design, business development, languages… we have a wide range of supplementary skills available. This means a business owner doesn’t need to scramble around dealing with lots of different people – if they want to outsource something else they simply give their Account Manager a call and they will assign a suitable VA to their account.

What does a typical day look like for you?

My day is mainly focussed on marketing the company, so I spend most of my day working on SEO, improving AdWords campaigns, writing content, improving the website, dealing with new sales enquiries, and so on. I’m really big on self-development so try to start my day with either a jog or 20 minutes of meditation, before continuing working on an online course towards the end of the day once I’ve tackled the bulk of my to-do list (today is Advanced level Google AdWords!).

When we first started I guess we were quite naive and took a lot of people at face value, whereas now I don’t suffer fools gladly!

What has been your biggest challenge since starting the business?

I think there is a lot of “noise” out there. People who position themselves as mentors and experts, when in reality they know very little and, in most cases, haven’t even run a business before. Trying to navigate a lot of bad advice has been difficult. When we first started I guess we were quite naïve and took a lot of people at face value, whereas now I don’t suffer fools gladly! We decided to finance our growth through debt financing and revenues, not give away large chunks in return for angel investment. To begin with this had been a difficult decision to justify to many, but we have honestly never looked back!

I think people should be much more cautious about how they spend their time, say “no” more often and simply take a few more risks based on their own judgement.

What advice would you give to other business leaders for growing their business?

Trust your gut. So many business leaders I have met spend all week going to endless meetups, speaker events, seminars, coffees, lunches… all in the hope they will suddenly discover the key ingredient or key contact needed to make a success of their business. Whilst I think it is important to surround yourself with smart people and hearing from other (more experienced) entrepreneurs can be inspiring, all of these people have had a completely different journey from you. You are comparing apples and pears. I think people should be much more cautious about how they spend their time, say “no” more often and simply take a few more risks based on their own judgement.

How did you hear about Nimvelo? How has it changed the way you communicate?

We used to be based at Innovation Birmingham Campus and had heard about Nimvelo (when you were Sipcentric) whilst there. We researched a few providers but I can honestly say Nimvelo was the best choice, and still is. Now, our team all work remotely across the UK and so it is very useful for our VAs to be able to painlessly log in to our business phone system simply by downloading an app for their mobile or laptop. Its is a very flexible system and easy for everyone to use. It allows us to scale up without worrying about hardware and having someone manage a switchboard.

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