The Chief Assistant and founder of Virtual Assistants For You (VAFY) Enterprises, Paulette Ojobo, in this interview with Kehinde Lawal, speaks about the opportunities in the running a virtual office
What is the nature of your business and how did you start. Did you need any working capital?
My Business is basically online, at least 90 per cent. That is because the virtual industry is relatively new in Nigeria. So, sometimes we still do not work 100% virtually for the client unlike abroad that is 100 per cent online. I started in 2015. I was working for a company at the time in Lagos and 70-80 per cent of our work then was virtual. Although we had meetings every once in awhile, the CEO of the company preferred us to work virtually and we usually communicated via Skype and other means, so I found out that I had more time to do other things and I thought to myself I could actually do this for more solo-preneurs and more online entrepreneurs because everything we were doing was online and we were actually handling a lot. And I thought to myself I can actually do this for several online businesses and I would get a lot of work done and make money. So, that was how I started.
What about capital requirement?
I did not really need any working capital per say because I own a smartphone and a computer. Even though it was not so great at that time, I didn’t give up. I did not really need any working capital to start the business, it is a very low capital-intensive business.
How do you meet your clients and how do you market your services?
I meet some of my clients online, and I meet some of my clients a few times, face to face. Because it is still a growing industry in Nigeria some clients still insist on meeting you for the first time. But for other clients, online is fine, because I work with few clients who are outside the country and they know how it works so we just have a Skype Meeting and we start providing the services to them. We have a website: www.virtualassistantsforyou.com, where all our services are marketed. We use social media, nairaland, Twitter, to market our services and reach as many audiences as possible and we are still trying to be as visible possible – so that when people think about virtual assistants in Nigeria they think about our service and our brand.
What kind of work do you do for your clients? Is it the same thing for every client or are they based on specific request and needs?
We do different kinds of jobs or tasks for our clients. It is not the same thing we do for every client. They are done on specific request. Anything that can be done online can be managed by a Virtual Assistant – from managing social media to, handling customer inquiries, office administration, receiving phone calls, website and blog creation, personal assistance, transcription and so on – the world is a global village so literally everything can be done online these days. For example, we provide a phone answering service for some client, we provide whatsApp answering service, because some companies take orders via WhatsApp and their websites and it can get quite intense responding to 100-200 customers at the same time.
So, they just outsource it to us. We are very well informed about their businesses; their services and we can provide the service as excellently as the owner of the business themselves. We handle social media management for a few clients as well, where we help them manage their social media accounts, by creating contents, posting for them consistently and also managing inquiries. We handle research of all kinds, so we can help research competitors in your industry, target audience, research a new business you are about to start, etc. Basically, we handle everything that has to do with digital marketing. We also do products uploads for e-commerce store owners, uploading products to e-commerce stores like Jiji, Shopify, Amazon, Ebay, Jumia, Konga, etc. These can be very time-consuming, and most entrepreneurs would rather not deal with it so they just hire us to handle that for them.
You once worked with an advertising agency. Did this influence your present line of business?
Working in an advertising company did not really influence my line of business. What influenced it was the previous company I worked with which was the marketing and research company. I found out I was able to work from home and get a lot of stuff done. That was what influenced me into getting into this line of business.
How is competition in this line of business?
The competition is not that much. As I said earlier, it is still an emerging industry in Nigeria and there is actually a lot of work to be done, sometimes one has to turn down some jobs because one can not meet up with the demands. The business is very rewarding because it is a relatively new industry and Nigerians are loving it because it is relatively cheaper, saves them more money on utilities and office maintenance. For example, if you have a full-time staff resuming at your office every day, you will have to pay for office equipment, internet, staff salary, office rent and all sorts of fees; your workers may not work on public holidays and so on. But if you work with a virtual assistant the benefits are much because apart from the fact that it saves you all these costs, a virtual assistant is also a business owner. They have a vested interest in your business, they care far more than the employee. Many Nigerians are catching up to it which makes it a very rewarding business and along the line I had to quit my job to focus on this full time, because I could not cope anymore.
What challenges do you face on the job?
We have to insist that our clients pay at least 80 per cent upfront and even 100 per cent in some cases, before we start work on any project or task. That is because people can be sneaky sometimes. But we realised over time that after the job has been completed, they start to avoid your calls because they don’t want to pay up and it can be discouraging. Also, like every other business in this part of the world, we have issues with power supply. So, back up electricity is a necessity – my laptop and phone cannot go off for a minute.
Then internet services aren’t that great, but we manage to make it work. Also, so many potential clients don’t understand what the business is about – or what a virtual assistant is and you have to break it down to them about what we do. Many also want to have a face-to face meeting every once in a while before committing – I guess they believe a face-to-face meeting has more impact than a virtual meeting on Skype or Whatsapp video – but this is not so – but we always find a way to work around it.