In this episode, special guest Anfernee Chansamooth, Chief Marketing Officer at Simple Creative Marketing, takes listeners through the challenges he faced when building a virtual team of specialists to support his rapidly growing business.
Anfernee, whose expertise lies in writing online content, takes us through his journey of assembling a team of specialists and how it’s important to not only find the right people, but also have well thought out systems and processes in place to ensure everyone is set up for success.
Some of the areas covered include:
- Before you do anything else, work out what the core service is that you are delivering and then start to decode that first
- Building a virtual team isn’t easy, but it’s definitely worth it
- The importance of systems and processes as they provide the foundation to which you can then build a team around
- The need for good communication tools in order to systemise the processes used for communicating with your virtual team and/or clients
Let us know in the comments below what your key take out has been from this episode or why not join the continuing conversation over in the Virtual Success Facebook Group.
Resources mentioned in this show:
In this episode:
02:15 – About Anfernee Chansamooth
05:13 – Getting started
06:32 – The challenges of building a virtual team
09:25 – Making sure you have the right people in your team
12:30 – A global team
14:16 – Tools for communication
15:33 – Team collaboration
18:09 – Shifting your mindset
18:35 – Constantly refine your processes
21:40 – Building a Virtual Team isn’t easy…but it’s worth it
22:50 – Advice from Anfernee…
26:18 – Key takeaways…
29:11 – Wrapping things up
Barbara: Hey everyone, welcome back to another episode of the Virtual Success Show, where I’m joined by my co-host, Matt Malouf. Hey Matt how is it going?
Matt: Excellent Barb, how are you going?
Barbara: I’m good, I’m good. We’ve been punching out these shows recently. We’ve got a whole bank of amazing content up on the site virtualsuccessshow.com these days. So, I’m excited to keep going with this.
Matt: Absolutely, very exciting for the community.
Barbara: Yeah. So today’s topic is quite a good one because I know that we’re going to be interviewing a very good friend of mine who runs a business, who delivers content for people looking to do content marketing online or any business looking to build content. And we all know that actually it’s quite a big job to get content up. Writing blogs and doing this sort of thing. And a lot of people really don’t enjoy it. But it’s a really important part of your marketing strategy.
So today we’re going to be talking to Anfernee Chansamooth who is the Chief Marketing Officer at Simple Creative Marketing. He also has a podcast called Authentic Influence, which is a fantastic podcast, that I myself was on the other day. So, check that one out also. So, Anfernee, welcome to the show.
Anfernee: Thanks for having me Barb and Matt.
Barbara: So Anf, just to kick off, just give us the quick background of how you ended up… I love the offer that you have around people can sign up for a monthly offer basically to have your team, which is all a virtual team of writers, create their content strategy and deliver the blog strategy for them. What’s the back story to how you actually ended up delivering that offer?
About Anfernee Chansamooth
Anfernee: Well, we go back about four years, I was the Marketing Manager at one of Australia’s largest co-working communities. And so I was actually writing a lot of the content for the company at the time. And then what we realised was we had a distributed team of about 12 people across Australia. And we struggled, even with a team of that size, we struggled to get content out consistently. And so, what I saw was, for that organisation but also for our clients who were a lot of small business owners, they were just struggling. People, they knew they had to produce content, they knew that it was a good way to access SEO benefits and build their credibility and really shed expertise online. But they just didn’t have the system behind it to be able to produce it well, right. Or they had tried it before and they weren’t getting results so they gave up.
What I realised was well, if we were an organisation of 12 people and we still struggled and our clients were struggling, then there is a space for this. And so I basically was involved with a group online at the time, which was called The 7 Day Start-up Community, run by a guy called Dan Norris who actually wrote the book on content marketing, you should give it a read some time. And he challenged us all to launch a business within seven days. And so, he said, take a concept, throw it out there and see if you can get clients. And that’s what I did, I just said okay who needs help with content, I’m going to produce that for you. And I put it out there, 100 bucks or whatever it was at the time. And I got two buyers straight off the bat. And then just went okay, maybe there’s something here.
And then so I continued with that and then realised okay, the real benefit of having someone else view your content for you is you can actually free up a lot of your time as a business owner trying to write, especially like you said Barb, people don’t like writing. So that’s not your jam, you don’t love doing that stuff. Why are you struggling and trying to make it happen. And a lot of businesses drop the ball on that. They know, the challenge of content as you would both know, is it’s not a quick win type of scenario. It’s actually a longer, long term journey-
Barbara: It’s the long game yeah, you have to play-
Barbara: The long game with that but it’s an important part of the marathon of business I think in marketing. And actually, we’ve had Dan Norris on the show. So guys check out his episode, he has also a big virtual team. So he talked quite heavily about how he does that and his books are great too. I have a whole list of questions there. The offer went out, and were you initially the one doing the writing? Or how did the virtual part of this theme start?
Anfernee: Yeah. It started, I was one man flying solo person team.
Barbara: And then you realised the folly of that.
Anfernee: Absolutely right, because I thought, look, I’m leaving a full time job scenario and I had the space to freelance and I wanted to develop my writing ability. I write for the Huffington Post and for different publications. And I just went okay, let me give this a go, and then I realised, okay, look it’s taking me four hours anything up to eight hours on certain posts depending on the amount of research required and then really understanding the client. And then I just thought okay, I got to capacity and then just said, alright, I need a team to do this because I’m not able to deliver to multiple clients in the way I want to and to build that business. So that’s when I started looking for other writers. And I tried different platforms, Upwork and other writing platforms out there and copywriters and what not. I just went through the whole challenge of trying to find quality writing at a price point that would work that’s not $1,500 per piece or whatever it is. Some writers are charging, if you are hiring an Aussie, easy they’ll charge you $200, $400 for one piece, right. So it just depends.
The challenges of building a virtual team
And so I went through the challenge of trying to build a virtual team around this and I could see that other business owners, they were trying to find writers and they were struggling. So that led to me saying, well you know what, if I have a team and I’m able to source those people and ensure quality in what we’re delivering then we’ve got something that people want. And that’s how Simple Creative became what it is today.
Barbara: Okay, great, ’cause I know writers are very hard to find, well no, writers are not hard to find online, good writers are very hard to find online, as you know. So talk to me about, on Virtual Angel Hub we get asked all the time, can my VA write content? And we just say, absolutely no. And then the next question is, well can I get a writer from the Philippines? Now, I actually have gotten a couple of people who can write but talk to me about the hit rate with that and where your strategy went in terms of trying to get the cost efficiencies of going offshore. And how did you end up coming to the place you’re at now where you’ve got only western writers, I think, isn’t it?
Anfernee: It’s not only western, I’ve got predominantly south, so I’ve got a couple from South Africa. I had just fired the one I had from the Philippines because just reliability was an issue. And I had two from the US and one from the UK, right. What it looked like in the last year I’ve been doing this, we’ve been through 30 different writers to get to five core writers, right.
Barbara: It sounds like our business, we go through like 100 VAs to get two, yeah. It’s that hard.
Anfernee: Yeah, yeah.
Barbara: To fire and find people.
Anfernee: That’s it, and it’s a trial and error, it’s getting them familiarised with our systems. A couple of writers were just not on because they were very traditional old school, didn’t know how to use Google Drive. And we’re saying, we’re an online business, online team. If you can’t use Google Drive or Google Doc to share your writing, and they were sending me Word documents, and I was saying, that’s not going to work for our team. We need to have it very systemized, as you would understand. And we need to be able to deliver our system, and our processes in a way that works nicely with what our clients are expecting. Not only timelines but just reviewing content and having them come back and forth with feedback and things like this. And that’s been, yeah the journey has been first of all, finding people who could write at a good quality or a good enough quality that the clients would feel like, hey this is actually a valuable experience, right. And then, have them say to us, oh there’s something wrong with their English or their grammar is not quite right or there’s an issue with …
Making sure you have the right people in your team
The biggest objection if you will, around hiring or outsourcing your writing or your content is tone and voice. Okay, so how can I reliably give my content to someone else and make sure that they still are able to produce content that is in line with our brand and our brand vision of voice and message and it’s seamless. So people who are reading our content, they can’t tell the difference, Dan would have spoken about that. And that’s what I’ve worked really hard on was, okay really, for me it’s been, our onboarding process is quite deep. So we spend a good chunk of time at the beginning when we engage with our clients to understand what the business is, who their avatars are, all the branding stuff to understand. Okay, well what’s the message and how do you communicate, what’s your tone of voice, are you funny are you humorous, are you professional, whatever it may be. That’s why we have a two-step process, we have a writer and then we have an editor who goes back through what the writer has written. And then they edit to actually nail the tone and voice. So we actually take them through the writers, the editors when they come onboard. We take them through an onboarding process if you will, where we’re actually training them on how to actually be able to study, research and understand and communicate like they’re the client.
Barbara: There’s so many nuggets and I know Matt, you and I have talked about, not only building virtual teams. So there’s a whole piece Anf, that you’ve just gone through there about your experience. So forgetting the business model for a second, you had this whole experience of having to get the building of a virtual team right. So it doesn’t matter what business you’re in, that’s a struggle and that’s a real challenge. And then also you’ve talked about the onboarding process of clients. And the onboarding process of your virtual team, which are topics that Matt and I have talked about on this podcast in the past. So Matt, which one will we tackle first?
Matt: Yeah, well just to add to that, I think that what the listeners need to really tune into, that Anfernee talked about processes and systems multiple times just then. And we can’t reiterate that point enough. Unless, and I think it was Dan Norris that said, as the entrepreneur and business owner, your sole responsibility is to build the business system, the business machine. And so it’s really, really important to hear that and understand that if you don’t get that piece right, it is always going to be a struggle. And using virtual teams without systems and processes is 10 times harder.
Barbara: Committing entrepreneurship suicide.
Anfernee: Yes, yes, absolutely.
Matt: 100%, 100%. Curious question from me is, where are your team geographically located?
A global team
Anfernee: So myself and my CFO, COO, right now we’re in Sydney. And then we’ve got the LVAs in the Philippines. So, VAs through Virtual Angel Hub and we’re loving, May is amazing. We’ve got two of our writers in South Africa, we’ve got two in the US and we’ve just brought someone on from the UK.
Matt: Was the geographic selection based upon candidate and them being the right candidate? Or you were actually looking to strategically have people in different time zones?
Anfernee: I wish I had that much foresight, no. It was more around trying to… we initially started with Philippines and India because of the price, it’s the price point really. And then we just realised the quality wasn’t there. And we really struggled to find writers who could deliver what our clients were looking for. We have our own vetting system and own process. And if I’m not happy with the writers being what’s right for our own business, there’s no way I’m giving them to my clients, right so and that’s always the first test. I would say, look go write a three blog post for me and I want to see what you can do, right. Then we started to pick up really in the last two months, we’ve got now clients in Singapore and clients in the US. So now the time zone thing is becoming relevant to the business. And so it actually just worked out that we have these people in these three different geographical locations.
Tools for communication
Matt: And what are some of the systems or tools that you employ your business to communicate with your team?
Anfernee: So when we started, we started with Trello, was the primary tool for systemizing the processes and engagement with the writers and editors. And then say about four months ago, we switched over to Podio. And so that’s the driving tool right now for communication so, that’s for assignment of task jobs and review. And just checking all the jobs as they move through and all the clients. And then for collaboration in terms of the actual writing work, that’s all done through Google Drive, Google Docs and that’s the two main tools that we’re using with our writers and our editors at the moment.
Barbara: I love the way you don’t have lots and lots of systems because although I’m a big fan of systems and automation, and I’ve been asked this a few times on a couple of different podcasts, in fact I think you might have asked me this the other day when I was on your podcast. What are the systems we use? And I always say to people, while you may love systems but try and keep them, don’t have loads and loads of systems. You’ve got to try and find systems that do a lot of things and that can potentially talk to each other. We run Virtual Angel Hub with four or five key systems and that works really well for us and it doesn’t overwhelm your team.
Anfernee: That’s right.
Barbara: So, that’s another little tip in terms of running virtual teams. I’m keen, Anf, to talk about, you’ve got people in different time zones. So let’s talk for a second about how as a team, do you run video like huddles or is it a bit different in your business because they’re all writing for different, there’s different project they are on. Or how do you guys come together as a team? Or do you?
Anfernee: With the writers we don’t have ongoing meetings and that kind of structural rhythm with them. Because they are assigned per client, that’s the way we’ve got it structured right now. We try to do it where we could assign any task or any job to any writer but it didn’t work. We just found that was quite challenging. And what we realised were, each writer has their core strength and ability and writing style. And they would suit specific clients, right. So then we ended up working that way, where we do have a regular rhythm is with our VA. We’ve got our Monday meeting and then we’ve got our daily check in. And we’ve got our reporting mechanisms and what not. And she’s really driving the allocation of tasks with the writers. The writers rarely engage with me directly, but I am doing a second pass edit on all the work before it goes to the clients. I will give them feedback but that usually goes through our VA to get to the writers.
Barbara: Oh, that’s great, music to my ears of course because you have a VA with us. I like that structure works well, yeah and you can always refine that. Now look the question I really have here and it’s probably more of a comment as well. I love the fact that you’ve been through a period of this not working, right. You had writers in the Philippines and India, it wasn’t working. Then you had other writers around the world, wasn’t working. Then your process etc wasn’t working. There’s bits and pieces that didn’t work and you could have easily thrown the towel in and said, this just doesn’t work. But I love the commitment that you’ve made to realising that the problem is there and the solution is there. But, it’s not that easy to match things together, especially with virtual teams. But you’ve been hustling hard and refining processes as you go to make this a well-oiled machine that’s really working now. So can you talk to me a bit about, were there moments when you thought what am I doing here, this virtual thing is just not going to work. And how did you get through that?
Anfernee: At least once a month.
Shifting your mindset
Anfernee: The first major shift was my mindset around me being a freelancer to me building a team. Okay so, because all the processes as both of you would know, were sitting in my head, right. And they were things I could do, I could pick up and edit things, and I’d been doing this for years. This has been my career and so now-
Barbara: You would have had the mindset coming in, you would have had to fight the mindset of, God it’s just easier to do it myself.
Constantly refine your processes
Anfernee: Yeah, yeah, and there’s still times when I’m resisting that now. It’s like, oh I could just jump in and spend 20 minutes on it every day. It’s never 20 minutes by the way, it always takes up an hour or so. And I’ve resisted that and the last month has really been training my COO and getting her up to speed to make sure that she can manage the team effectively, right. And that involves making sure that we, I think you mentioned video earlier, I’ve started to do Loom video training, so whenever there’s feedback, I’ll just record it as a Loom video. And I’ll shoot that through to our VA who then passes it to all the writers, right. And then just say, hey look, here’s some things that we’re seeing, common threads or mistakes people are making. Please review this and then make the adjustments.
That’s an ongoing process and I’ve had to put that hat on where it’s like, okay my responsibility as you say, is to build the system and to train the team correctly to make sure they’re clear on the processes. I’m all over the tools, I’m always looking at new tools and ways to make things more effective or cut costs where we can or wherever may be. But I have to make sure that when there’s timely information getting to the writers and editors to make sure that the engine keeps moving, right.
One thing that we’ve strongly focused on in the last couple of months, since we’ve brought on our on VA, is customer service and making sure that we’re keeping our clients up to date on where jobs are. Because we’ve had situations where, back to your question about have I had moments where I wanted to throw the hat in or whatever it may be. There were moments where we lost the client because they had signed on for a job and it was 10 days later and they still hadn’t received their content yet, right. And so-
Barbara: Poor or no communication
Anfernee: Yeah, exactly. And that was it, there wasn’t timely communication so then the client … And I was really embarrassed and I said, that makes me feel like crap because at the least our client should know where their jobs are at. And if there’s a delay, why, right. I’ve been working hard on that side of things in the last month or so.
Barbara: Matt, and you would see a lot of this with your clients in terms of the feedback loops between virtual teams, the owner, and then the client onboarding and things like that wouldn’t you in your coaching?
Matt: Absolutely and I think it’s two reasons there and I know we’ve spoken about it on this show. Number one is everyone’s moving so fast and in order to set up the successes and not slowing down, in order to speed up. But I think secondly is, it’s around that expectation of understanding. It’s getting that clarity around that, that really will ensure that your virtual team works.
Building a Virtual Team isn’t easy…but it’s worth it
Barbara: Look, Anf, one of the things I really love that you’re sharing today is that, again, I’m coming back to this concept of building virtual teams and I would be, Matt and I talk about this a lot and we try and get all the listeners to realise this. The dividends that it pays to your business of getting this right, are explosively good. But it’s not easy, it’s simple, but not easy. And you have to make a commitment to making this work and it’s a bit of hustle along the way. And it’s looking at the mistakes that are happening and asking yourself, Is it a process problem? Is it a team problem? Is it a person problem? Is it a ‘me’ problem? And you’ve done all of those things and these are the things that we have to do. I’m still doing this every day in my business. We still have things that will go wrong or it’s a tough thing when you’re managing virtual teams. But it’s so worth it to get it right. So, have you any advice to share for people who are maybe just dipping the toe with a VA or starting out trying to build. There could be virtual bookkeepers, there could be virtual anything really. What advice would you give to people starting out?
Advice from Anfernee…
Anfernee: I think the main decision points that I’ve gone through over the last 12 months of building this have really been just getting clear as to what my role is as a CEO or the founder or the director or whatever you want to call it. But it’s an old analogy, are you the foot soldier or are you the general? And so you need to understand your place in the business that you’re trying to build. And the freelancer mindset is quite different to the business owner mindset, right. And I started as a freelancer so the freelancer, it’s your practise, like it’s your art. You are the one who writes, paints, draws, sings and does all that stuff. But when you become the business owner, yes you have those skills but your role … My role now is actually to find writers who are better than me at writing, right so-
Barbara: But you become the conductor.
Barbara: Yeah, the business owner is the conductor.
Anfernee: Correct. Yeah and then also there’s this whole thing about getting overwhelmed over all the tools that are out there to use in building this thing, right. Fortunately enough for me, I really lent on my mentor. I got myself a mentor and worked with him, a business coach to work through that as well. And he was good at reminding me, look you’re not here to get the Rolls-Royce, don’t jump to InfusionSoft straight away. That’s overkill for your business, right. Understand the processes that are at play here, map it all out and for me it’s pen and paper or post it notes on my window before I moved it to Trello, before I moved it to any of the systems that we’re using now because I needed to really understand. I like flowcharts, I like to flowchart things out and go, okay, step by step this is actually what is happening, right. And sometimes when you are the practitioner you do things so intuitively that it’s hard to decode that. You actually have to sit down and work it out, or have someone work with you to actually understand, actually these are the steps that are actually happening.
Things like onboarding, right. For me to systemise onboarding, I had to understand what is it I’m actually doing with the clients. What information do I need to extract from them in order to, and then how do I push that information to the relevant systems. Like our CRM, our email marketing tool, what needs to get to Trello or to Podio or to the writers. My key takeaway would be, start with what is the core service that you are delivering and then start to decode that and pull that apart first.
The mistake I made a few years ago, if I can give you a bit of a back story. I had another business, maybe six years ago with another guy. Two of us, we had a Facebook agency. We started to go down this path of building a team. But we made the mistake of getting a VA first, right. And even though that was great and the VA helped us, we were still in the role, working 60 hour weeks. What I’ve learned since then is, if you’re going to grow a business, what you need is someone to help you with the delivery and servicing of the clients. And so that’s why I focus on hiring writers first before I brought on the VA.
Barbara: What I love there as well. These are really valuable tips and thank you for sharing that because what I love about that is none of what you’ve said focused on, going out and finding the right person. A lot of it is, what clients I think, what I find sometimes clients don’t realise is there’s an awful lot of work for you to do as a business owner before you start to look at building a team. Whether that’s a VA, or a writer or anything. You really have to get, I know I’m singing from your hymn sheet Matt, but all of it hinges really, the success of virtual teams actually hinges on the work that’s done before the virtual team arrives. That’s what I think.
Matt: Absolutely and the other thing, just thinking about what Anfernee just said, which I just, is so awesome, I’m going to say, you got to go analogue before you go digital. And that was the piece I remember whether it’s a post it note or a flowchart or unpacking something on paper first and getting absolute clarity. That will speed you up massively but so many people won’t do that because we’re busy or, the biggest mistake I see a lot of people make, is they want to jump to technology first thinking that will solve the problem. But what will actually ensure that you chose the right technology is getting clarity on what is it that I need the technology to do. And inevitably the technology is going to drive your system. So once you unpack your system then you can appropriately dissect and understand the best technology to give you the result you’re after. Love that, love the post it notes.
Barbara: And then to add to that from my end, people often think that I would go VA first. I always say, no, no, no. You go system first, then you automate as much of it as you can and then you delegate. So-
Barbara: Like you say, unpack your system then pick the appropriate technology and figure out where you’re going to automate and then you figure out, what seats do I need on the bus now for all the stuff that’s left. What role am I playing as conductor, what things are stopping me from being the conductor. That’s the other thing, Anfernee, that you’ve really brought up.
Fantastic insights there just on building virtual teams. And of course, like people say, people could do all this themselves of course. But if you’re a business owner listening to this and you’re loving the idea of having a consistency of quality content coming onto your blog without you having to do pretty much anything only liaise with maybe Anf’s team. Where can they go Anf, to connect with you the business and maybe get started? Because your offer is fantastic.
Anfernee: Just head along to www.simplecreativemarketing.com and that’s where we can connect.
Wrapping things up
Barbara: Brilliant, great. So guys, continue the conversation if you can, over on the Facebook group. We’ve got a Facebook Group called Virtual Success, where we post a lot of these shows and we go back over tips from the shows. And get the conversation going over there. And also you can pop in there and let us know if there’s a show that you would like us to cover a topic. We’re always looking for new and interesting topics on the show. And finally, we’d love if you’re listening on Stitcher or iTunes, can you give us a rating and a review. We’d love to hear from you, hear what you think about the show. And the more ratings and reviews we get, the more people get to listen to the show and the advice gets out to the community.
So Anf, Matt, thanks so much for today. And we’ll see everyone on the next show.