Is It Time to Change Your Flight Plan?

flight planRecently my company, Zirtual, went through a series of changes. Everything from changing our primary business model (twice) to letting a dear member of the team go.

It’s been an incredibly difficult and eye-opening period for me and I thought I could share some of my experiences in hopes that this will help some of you down the line.

It’s not where you start, but where you end up

When I started outsourcing years and years ago I would only hire contractors who were offshore. I did this for several reasons, I was poor (I had just started my first business and had very little extra cash to throw around) and I had been fed the kool-aid that you get the exact same quality of work from offshore virtual assistants as you would from someone in your home country (mine being the U.S.).

Since I always depended on virtual assistants who were offshore I started the business that’s now Zirtual based around connecting people with virtual assistants who were offshore. The quality of my VA’s had always been pretty good but I had always kissed a lot of frogs to find a few princes.

I used to scoff at people who paid $20 an hour for a U.S. based virtual assistant – thinking what a steal I was getting at $5 an hour for my Filipino assistants. Not until recently have I seen the folly of my ways – and it’s the main reason I completely turned Zirtual’s business model on it’s head to focus on U.S. based, college-educated virtual assistants.

When I realized that you got ten times higher quality, more reliable work from the U.S. based, college-educated assistants for $20 an hour than I had been getting and helping customers get from the offshore assistants who only charged $5 – I felt sick. I had been preaching about the benefit of offshoring your virtual assistant needs for so long, and now I was going to have to change my stance.

Note: I don’t think it’s bad to offshore virtual assistants or freelancers – most of Zirtual was designed by a team in Moldova – I just have come to realize that for virtual personal assistants the higher quality of work is done by in-country assistants versus offshore ones.

Adjusting  your flight plan

It’s like the concept of a flight plan, since aircrafts are off-course 99% of the time it’s the pilot’s job to constantly correct course so they will eventually reach their destination. Sometimes the plane is off a little bit and sometimes it’s off by hundreds of miles – depending on the conditions. I have found that running a startup (or any new business for that matter) is very much like flying a plane. You know where you’re going (if you’re dedicated to a solitary purpose) but you still find yourself correcting course to get there and there’s a good chance that those course corrections won’t stop until you land.

Just like a pilot who sees that his plane is headed into the eye of the storm and has to make a fast decision about how much of a course correction they need to make, an entrepreneur who realizes their business is not running at an optimum level must make a fast, decisive choice on the immediate next steps that will more or less save their ass.

Luckily I care less about what others think of me than most and this quirk allows me to make decisions rapidly and without a lot of fanfare when I realize a course of action must be taken to lead to eventual success.

Because of this we toppled everything on it’s head at Zirtual. We changed the copy, we changed images, we more or less re-did the whole model in 3 weeks time – it was exhausting. But now that it’s done, I couldn’t be happier.

I started with the idea of a company that helped people connect with assistants who would they could delegate tasks to and thus would save them their most precious resource: time. I didn’t realize how many pivots it would take before we got to the place where I feel comfortable (and ready) to scale – but that’s all part of the trip.

Lessons to draw from this

  1. Trust your gut. For the last year I have known something in Zirtual’s business model wasn’t completely right. I couldn’t put my finger on it but I continued to change and tweak the model it until the problem came into light (offshore assistants). Because I always listened to that “small voice” inside I wasn’t satisfied until I felt completely comfortable – that gut feeling is going to be what saved this company from being mediocre and it’s something each one of us has and more people should get in touch with.
  2. Know when to turn the plane. There will be a million instances in life when you know it’s time to turn the plane. They’ll range from instincts about leaving your child at a neighbor’s house, to taking that risky but rewarding career path, to returning that engagement ring. Most people won’t turn the plane, even when they know they should. Those of us who realize we need to change course and quickly act on it will be the people in the end who are the happiest and most successful. Like Nike touts: just do it.
  3. Never sell an inferior product. If you do you won’t be able to live with yourself (unless of course yourself is a sociopath). This is a simple but often ignored rule, don’t sell anything you aren’t in love with and think is amazing – even if you’re wrong – you should be your own product’s BIGGEST fan. If you are not, there is a problem.