Marcella runs a brick and mortar retail store and uses Onlinejobs.ph to recruit employees in the Philippines to assist with the store marketing and operations. We got the chance to chat with her and ask a few questions about her experience:
Your story is really unusual, because you hired Virtual Assistants to help with your retail store. Tell us a bit about that.
Well, we aren’t in a very high traffic area and we knew we would need to use the internet to get new customers into the business. That meant Yelp, Google, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube etc. The offline methods of advertising just weren’t nimble and flexible enough for us to really use them to bring in new customers. The thing is, managing all of that is very time consuming, and also a bit technical. After seeing a bunch of information on Onlinejobs.ph, I started to think that it might work for us. I could hire a person, totally focused on our business and not juggling a bunch of other clients, to work on this.
So why did you hire Virtual Assistants instead of having your store employees focus on the work?
Good question. Someone who works in a store is constantly serving customers, tending to things around the store, and keeping an eye out for safety. You can’t really have someone focused on a computer task and expect them to service the store. There’s always down time, but when we had our store employees responsible for those tasks, they didn’t always have the time to get to them, and they could linger for days.
The other thing is these are two totally different skill sets. People who work in retail, work in retail. They don’t usually have skills with social media, image editing, managing social media campaigns and such. You’re asking for a skill set that’s more commonly found in office workers, and you can find a really great retail employee that doesn’t have that skill set.
What kind of work do your Virtual Assistants do for your business?
We have one person create graphics and edit video and another person handle the social media posting, business listings and over-flow customer service calls and emails.
You have someone in the Philippines take calls for the store?
Have you ever called a store, only to be put on hold so long that you hung up? We don’t want that experience, so our Filipino VA handles overflow customer service. She doesn’t have to “man the phones” all the time, but our phone system has routing so that it rings for 4-5 rings in the store and if no one answers, it rolls over to the Virtual Assistant. The store staff can also transfer calls to the Virtual Assistant when someone needs a lot of assistance, but they are too busy in the store to handle it.
How has this helped your business?
Tons. Video marketing has been a huge help for our business because we can give people the feeling of being here, and gets them excited to come to the store. We shoot the footage for the videos, but it would take us hours to edit it, and we would constantly be starting and stopping to help customers. So our workflow is that we shoot the video footage, Dropbox the files, our video editor creates the video and the VA uploads it to YouTube and social media with the appropriate titles, descriptions and such. We have a workflow for creating and publishing this content. So now, we get a LOT of customers coming into the store that tell us they found out about us online.
Our graphics guy also makes all our promo materials and in-store signage. It’s a pretty good system.
How do you manage their schedules?
Well, retail hours are long hours, so we’re definitely not 9-5. Our graphics/video guy pretty much has full schedule flexibility as long as he produces the videos and graphics timely. Our other Virtual Assistant has to overlap our business hours for at least 4 hours of her shift. It works out for her because she can work around time with her family and pick up the other 4 hours earlier or later in the day depending on her schedule. She also pushes some of her hours over to the weekend so she has more flexibility during the week, with her children and their school hours. So it works.
A lot of people have problems with outsourcing to the Philippines because they say it takes away local jobs, what do you think about that?
Well, I definitely understand that, but in our business, this is work that just wouldn’t get done if we didn’t have our people in the Philippines. We would, like MANY other small retailers, or even MOST small retailers, have a terrible online presence. You find these businesses online and their websites aren’t up, maybe they let the hosting expire, or the domain. Or it’s poorly designed, or it’s antiquated. Look at restaurants, I can’t even tell you how many times I find a restaurant and can’t find a menu online. I have to look at a Yelp photo OF the menu to see what they offer. If we didn’t have our people, we would be in the same boat. We just wouldn’t ever get it done. The work our Filipino employees do for the business helps keep the business healthy and thriving so that we can keep local people employed. I think it’s a win-win.
But some would argue you could find someone locally to do the same work
Possibly. But I think people look at the news and they see high unemployment rates and they think it’s just easy to find talented qualified people and it’s not. It’s difficult, as a small business, to retain quality, reliable employees. A lot of people want to work for big companies, but even then, retail has high turnover no matter where you go. When you want someone to work retail, but you start adding on skills that are outside the norm for a retail worker, you’re being incredibly unrealistic and asking a lot of the labor pool. You know, in this day and age a small business has to be far more savvy than 10 or 15 years ago. And as we adapt to the current consumer marketplace, how we address that, from an employment perspective, has to change too.
You know, we’ve done a lot, but there’s a lot more we have to do. And I think for our business in particular, we have to combine the online and offline skill set, in any way that we can, to build a strong and healthy business. Everyone knows brick and mortar retail stores are closing left and right, so we have to change with the times.
Well, you’ve given us a lot of great info here, anything else before we wrap this up?
Yes, I am just so happy that I found you guys and I researched outsourcing and was able to use this for my business. I just don’t know where we’d be without it. We could not manage all the online marketing without our Filipino employees and I just hope maybe someone else reads this and decides to give it a try.