One of my favorite books from last year was The 4 Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss. The book focuses on lifestyle design and leveraging tips & methodologies to escape the 9 to 5 (or in my case, 8 to 6) rat race to ultimately develop a self-sustaining source of income. Tim runs through a number of steps and case studies but the one chapter that really intrigued me was outsourcing tasks to a virtual assistant overseas.
Why is a virtual assistant helpful? Here are some of the reasons:
- It teaches remote management and communication
- It frees your time to focus on bigger and better things
- It offloads spending time on tasks that aren’t worth your time
At first, I did see a lot of value in having my “virtual assistant” do routine tasks like Internet Research and calling different customer support phone lines on my behalf. Getting my Garmin FR60 watch replaced alone was worth the money. Most of my inquiries were researched based to the tone of “Can you look up/Can you find out/etc” Instead of having to spend time finding out how to roll over a 401K to Etrade, find school bus rental companies, or finding a free web-based Visio alternative, I had the virtual assistant spend time doing the research. I quickly learned (and it is detailed in a chapter in 4-Hour Work Week) that I had to be really specific and clear with my instructions to my virtual assistant. I could not assume my virtual assistant had any type of knowledge to use as context. On the assignments that my virtual assistant knew exactly what I wanted, they did very well on. The response times were generally within 6 to 12 hours.
After using the service a few times, I did notice two main drawbacks. The first one is language. While I was in Chicago, I called the toll free hotline they provided to talk to a live person. I was done with customer meetings early and wanted to see if there was an earlier flight I could take via standby. When I spoke to the virtual assistant, the English was broken and I had to explain my situation multiple times. The virtual assistant assured me he understood what I wanted and he said he would send me an email. This was my first annoyance. I would have preferred to get a call back due to the timeliness of the situation instead of receiving an email. What if I did not have access to email while on the road? I eventually received an email back but rather than providing me times for earlier flights, I an update with the status of my current flight. Fail.
The other drawback is local context. For obvious reasons, the virtual assistants provided generic responses to requests that required any local knowledge of Philadelphia. I think their main tool was using a combination of Google and Yelp.com to find local attractions. The virtual assistant was able to provide feedback with this research but the results sometimes didn’t make sense. For example, check out the following inquiry I sent in:
Please find a banquet hall/rental hall/catering hall near Center City Phiadelphia that will allow me to rent out for a birthday party. The hall must allow for us to bring in our own alcohol or be able to serve it. We are expecting about 50-65 people to attend.The response I got was:
As you requested, I called the businesses mentioned below and have confirmed that they don't allow alcohol from outside but can serve by themselves. Let me know which one to confirm.Other than getting venues that did not allow you to bring your own alcohol, none of the venues were really traditonal banquet/rental halls in the traditional sense. I will admit that I could have been more specific with this request.
Chart House - Philadelphia
555 South Columbus Blvd, Philadelphia, PA 19147 (215) 625-8383 ()
Moshulu Restaurant & Bar
401 South Columbus Boulevard, Philadelphia, PA 19106 (215) 923-2500 ()
Sheraton Philadelphia City Center Hotel
This place has unverified edits. Show all edits »
N 17th St, Philadelphia, PA 19103 (800) 640-7324 () – (215) 448-2864 (Fax)
Finley Catering Co
100 Penn Sq E # 9, Philadelphia, PA 19107 (215) 640-8838 ()
At the end of the first month, I decided to cancel my subscription to Timesvr. It got to the point where I was not really sending in enough inquiries to justify the $69 monthly fee. Part of it is that my life is not dynamic enough to require help yet nor do I own a business. I also think that I need to get better at learning to delegate tasks. There are still elements of enjoying the control I have over certain tasks that I refused to let a virtual assistant handle. Despite some of the limitations, I can still see myself using this service again in the future. I think the service adds a ton of value for people who find themselves caught up with a lot of errands related to looking things up or calling people. It comes down to having a comfort level delegating all the tasks during your day that really could be handled by someone else.
Here are a few other sample inquiries and responses I received so you can get an idea of the feedback I would receive:
1) Please identify shooting ranges within a 15 mile radius of Philadelphia, PA that will allow a person to rent and shoot a gun without a permit. I have never fired a gun and would like to do this. Please list location, website url (if applicable) and costs for a one time session
Response from Owais:
After searching for your request on many websites I have gathered some shooting ranges near Philadelphia , PA that will allow a person to rent and shoot a gun with their contact information and prices.I hope this proves useful for you.
1) The Firing Line at Front & Tasker :
Indoor range in Philadelphia, the Firing Line is probably the best one, charging $15 for a box of UMC 9mmP factory ball; they also sell 3D reloads for around $7-8 per box. They will also give you some money back if you turn in your brass.
$15 in range time covers you for the entire day (not just one hour) and they have a reasonable line of handguns available for rent. Targets, hearing protection, and eye protection are provided with the range fee. The range isn't the most technologically advanced in the world--it gets rather cold in the winter--but the staff is friendly enough. The prices for handguns aren't that great, but for Philadelphia, they're not so bad.
1532 South Front St,
Philadelphia PA 19147
LINK : http://www.firinglineinc.com/
2) PHILADELPHIA ARCHERY & GUN CLUB :
831-33 ELLSWORTH ST
Daily Range Fee ($15)*
Unlimited use of the lane (large groups excluded)
Eye and ear protection available
Required to purchase range ammunition
****Non Members can shoot their own ammunition, however, a $25 daily range fee will apply****
LINK : http://www.philadelphiaarcheryandgunclub.com/
3) Indoor Rifle Pistol Range :
ADDRESS : 540 N Percy St # 52
Philadelphia, PA 19123
Neighborhood: Spring Garden
TELEPHONE : (215) 236-9292
2) On the attached powerpoint deck, can you crop out the circled images (7 of them) on Slide 1 so that they can be standalone images that can be used on other slides? The standalone images can be placed on a new slide anywhere in the presentation.
Response from Ahad:
I am attaching the six images you requested, with this email. High quality cropping could not be achieved because the quality of the picture was not that great. If you need any more assistance please feel free to ask.
3) Can you find vendors near the Philadelphia/south New Jersey area that will do hot air balloon rides? Please provide URL and pricing information. Thanks
Response from Ahad: