My Brief Experience Hiring Virtual Assistants

October 21, 2017 Posted by Tyler Cruz

Back when I had my hands full juggling a lot of active websites, a number of people suggested that I hire a VA, or virtual assistant, to help me with menial tasks so that I could focus on the bigger picture.

Later on, when I got busy with affiliate marketing, people once again suggested the same thing – although at the time I was easily adamant against doing so as I didn’t want to reveal anything about my campaigns to anyone, let alone cheap assistants who would gladly sell my information to the highest bidder.

The thing is, I am a huge control freak because I am a perfectionist. I like things done my way, because then they will be done properly and at a very high standard. The problem with this is that I end up spending too much time on very small things instead of thinking bigger.

And so, I decided to finally pull the plug and give hiring a VA a chance.

Split Testing VA’s

In fact, I didn’t just hire one, but around 8 or so different VA’s through Fiverr. I knew that even though I would only hire those with good reviews and ratings that I would most likely not be happy with most of them, and so I wanted to hire a bunch at once to see how they compared.

I did this 1 year ago when I was working on promoting Votesy. The task I had them all do was scour the web for websites related to Votesy, make sure the sites met a certain criteria (recently updated, for example), find the contact information, and then e-mail the website owner or editor with a premade template I wrote for them, replacing a few key placeholders with the relevant information. I also had them e-mail from a webmail @votesy.com e-mail account so that I can make sure they actually were sending out the e-mails.

I had them log their results (the URL, contact information, date, etc.) so that I could keep track of their results and make sure other VA’s didn’t contact the same websites.

I had them do 40 contacts at a time, paying them a total of $20 each which works out to $0.50 per contact.

Unfortunately, this marketing attempt failed miserably – I had maybe 1 or 2 sites end up blogging about Votesy and/or linking back to us. The rest never even replied. I was just 1 in 40 would link or blog about Votesy, as it would then cost me only $20 for a linkback and exposure which is very good.

So my little contact scouring idea didn’t work, but how did the VA’s themselves perform?

How Did the Virtual Assistants Perform?

A reminder that I did screen the VA’s before hiring them, only hiring those that I felt had a good chance of completing the job well and who had good past reviews.

I understand that I am paying a very low rate at $0.50 per related contact e-mail harvested and sent out, but at the same time the job itself is quite easy and I did tell them that if they did well that I would consider paying them a higher rate in the future.

Unfortunately, overall I wasn’t very satisfied with the results (not factoring in how the e-mail marketing itself performed), namely for the following reasons:

  • Despite clearly stating what type of sites not to include, most of the VAs still included them anyway, such as sites that had not been updated in years, or unrelated sites such as women’s fashion websites (I can sort of see the link between Votesy and them, but they were not contacting community-oriented websites but sites such as Adidas for example!).
  • All of the VA’s were slow in delivering the results, most taking around a week. I had even given them various directories and lists of websites that they could use. It shouldn’t have taken then more than 2-3 days to deliver the results at most.
  • A couple of the VAs, after delivering the gig, didn’t want to do another batch.
  • Another 1 or 2 couldn’t complete it and cancelled/abandoned the order, and a couple were late in delivery.

Other than including some websites that didn’t fit my criteria, they were able to handle the job, but my point is that this was already a simple gig from the start yet I really only had 1 person do it properly, but she didn’t want to continue with more work afterwards.

Conclusion

Perhaps this is not a fair test though as it’s not a big enough of a sample to conclude anything about VA’s yet – perhaps they are just not good at this type of work.

I also only hired from Fiverr – I’ve heard that Filipino’s make good VA’s, for example. Perhaps if I hired a VA full-time at $800 a month I could get some good work done, but now that is not an option since I am poor, plus I wouldn’t have enough work to hire a VA full-time – I’d much rather hire VAs on a project basis instead of on an hourly basis.

Do any of you have some good recommendations on where to find quality virtual assistants? If you do, please share them in the comments here as I wouldn’t be the only one interested in knowing them!

Posted: October 21st, 2017 under Miscellaneous 10 Comments

Pros and Cons of Being a Freelancer on Fiverr

October 18, 2017 Posted by Tyler Cruz

I recently blogged about how I became a freelancer on Fiverr in an attempt to bring in some extra cash to pay the bills. I have been a seller on Fiverr for 1.5 years now and have earned just under $10,000 CAD during that time.

In this post, I will outline the major pros and cons of using Fiverr as a freelancer (seller), in case you’re thinking of joining but are still on the fence.

Hopefully this post can help sway your decision.

Cons

Fiverr’s 20% Commission

Fiverr takes a 20% cut out of each transaction, including tips. I personally feel that this is far too high, especially since they are already double-dipping by charging Buyer’s extra fees on their side as well. I feel it would be better if it was tiered so that higher transactions had a lower percentage cut or was capped. On a $50 order, you will only walk away with $40, which is substantial.

Low Income

Fiverr is called Fiverr for a reason, and that’s because most gigs are $5 (or at least start off at $5). So, after the 20% cut, you’re actually only making $4 per gig.

Even if your gig takes off and you become a level 1 or level 2 seller, the money you make will be amongst the lowest possible methods to earn money from your skill or service. Basically, you will likely not be paid what you “deserve”, or anywhere close to it.

At the Mercy of Fiverr

I am always uncomfortable when I am at the mercy of an overseeing entity like Fiverr. At any time, for any reason, they could decide to shut down my account and then suddenly all the hard work I had spent on building up the gig and clients is thrown out the window. Or, Fiverr itself could simply cease operations and shut down. Or they could decide to raise their commission rates to 30%. I just don’t like having to rely so much on another website.

No Contact Outside of Fiverr

Fiverr has an extremely strict policy about making contact outside of Fiverr. I can understand and even support this, but what it means is that while you are building up a good list of paying clients, you cannot market to them properly, and if you ever leave Fiverr, you’ll never be able to contact them again and take them with you.

Extremely Difficult to Get First Few Gigs

Unlike other crowdsource-based services such as Airbnb or Uber, it is extremely difficult to get a new gig started – nobody wants to take a chance on you when they could easily just hire another seller who has a proven track record with plenty of past glowing reviews.

It took me an entire 10 months before I saw any growth from my gig:

Buyers Can Be Frustrating to Work With

In my gig, I clearly state for buyers to contact me before placing an order, so that I can make sure I have time and the ability to do what they want, and that the price is right. Unfortunately, Fiverr has no option to enforce this, and so I’ll inevitably get buyers place orders, expecting me to deliver them the Mona Lisa for $5-$10. Or, they will place an order and provide no details.

In other cases, buyers will be slow to respond (taking a week at a time), speak poor English, or have you start their project before paying, only to switch to another seller later on.

Pros

Make Some Extra Money

I had listed “Low Income” as a con above, but I’ve listed making money as a pro here as well because the fact is that you can make a decent amount of income on the side.

Is it worth all the work you’re putting in? Are you being paid fairly? Most likely not, but it’s also money you would have otherwise not of had. Fiverr isn’t something you should aspire to work towards out of school, but it’s certainly a great resource if you have a skill and want to make some extra coin on the side.

I made $1,800 a couple of months ago in June 2017. This is not an insignificant amount.

Fiverr Will Send You Paying Customers

Getting paying clients is not easy. In fact, it’s extremely difficult.

Fiverr will send you paying clients left and right. It’s what they do. Are you being underpaid for your services? Most likely, but you’re also getting work.

At the end of the day, making 50% of what you “deserve” is still better than making 100% of nothing.

Tips are Common and Encouraged/Pushed by Fiverr

One perk to using Fiverr is that they encourage buyers to leave sellers a tip (since they will take a 20% commission of that too). Fortunately, buyers tend to tip quite often and are usually fairly generous. I’d estimate that around 60%-75% of my clients leave a tip, usually around the 20% mark. However, I’ve received plenty of large tips – we’re talking about tips upwards of $100.

This helps offset the 20% Fiverr commission.

Don’t Have to Bid to Get Clients

Unlike other freelance websites such as Guru or Upwork, you don’t have to spend your entire day bidding on potential projects (although you can if you want to; they have a marketplace for that). This is the sole reason I’m not a freelancer on those other sites! What a waste of time having to constantly beg for work and being forced to underbid yourself to try to “win” the chance to work.

With Fiverr, Buyers will come to you. You just sit back and wait for a notification e-mail to come in. Simple as that.

Conclusion

Fiverr has plenty of both cons and pros and it will really depend on your personal situation and preferences on whether Fiverr is a good fit for you or not.

You can make some decent side cash with it, but you will be underpaid for what you deliver. If you can handle that fact, then Fiverr can be a great source of extra cash.

Posted: October 18th, 2017 under Miscellaneous 9 Comments

So Just How Broke Did I Get?

October 15, 2017 Posted by Tyler Cruz

I don’t want to write this post. It’s really embarrassing, especially after having had been fairly successful with affiliate marketing and many things that came before that.

But it’s also true, and I have never told a lie on my blog and have always been very open and honest since my blog’s inception 12 years ago.

First, let me tell you how I’m doing now.

Things are still rough. After all, I’m still a homestay host and am still slaving away on Fiverr. It is a struggle to pay the bills and I have no personal savings.

But it was worse before – I at least have a bit of breathing room now in that income is now more or less balancing the living expenses, whereas before breaking even was nowhere in sight.

Here are some of examples of just how broke I got:

Almost Had to Borrow Money From My Parents

I am an extremely “proud” and independent person. I will never take a handout and will refuse help even if I need it and the person offering has no problem doing so.

For example, when I was first looking for an apartment to move out into when I was around 21, my aunt offered to rent me out her rental for 50% of the normal rent. I declined because I don’t like handouts or help from friends or family. I look at it as “cheating” and being a child.

In fact, even when I was still living at home at 19-20, I was paying my parents rent – my own choice – as I wanted to be an adult and didn’t want free handouts. I am the type of person who likes to earn things myself. That way, I can really enjoy things when things go well as I know that I did it all on my own.

I never received a cent from my parents since I stopped getting allowance around the age of 14 or 15 or so (when I got my first job). I never got a car at graduation, never had tuition paid for me, rent paid for me, or money given for a down payment (although I did have my parents temporarily sign as guarantors for my first apartment). My point is that for my whole life I did everything on my own and never got any monetary assistance from anyone – every cent I’ve ever had has always been a result of my own efforts.

And so when I reached the point to where I was so broke that I needed to borrow some money in order to pay the mortgage and bills, I had considered asking my parents for a loan which was the absolute last thing I wanted to do. I never did get to that point, although they knew I was in financial troubles and did offer at one point.

Fortunately, so far I have not needed to ask my parents for a loan, but the very fact that I came close to having to even think about it is something that makes me feel very ashamed.

Almost Downsized House

My girlfriend and I very seriously considered selling our house to downsize to something much smaller and cheaper. We even looked at a lot of properties (online) and ran numbers, and I also contacted my realtor to get his input as well.

We never did this though as the inventory here is so low and the prices so high that we could not get anything “decent” (here’s a case of beggars being choosers). In addition, it is extremely expensive to move (sell, then buy) here so the very process of “moving” would cost well into the tens of thousands of dollars.

This was also a difficult thing to consider as purchasing this house was one of the highlights and accomplishments in my life as it is nice home and was earned by both my girlfriend and me from only our own efforts – no financial aid was given to us.

Took Out Some of My Retirement Savings

I had thought about this for a while, and finally pulled the plug and took out some of my RRSP (retirement savings) just 1 month ago in fact.

For years, I had put money into a retirement savings account on the 1st of every month. I never wanted to touch it until I actually needed it when I was gray and old, but the funny thing is that I ended up needing it now, and so it made sense to take it out. The bank warned me about taking it out, but what good is it to keep for another 35-40 years if I end up having to lose my house, etc.?

While I took¬† about $5,000 out, I still have quite a fair bit left in there. In addition, my accountant actually advised me against putting money into RRSP. The interest rates are so incredibly low that it doesn’t make much sense to do so, especially when I have two corporations; the main perk to having RRSPs in Canada is to defer the income tax on them, but since I have two corporations, it’s rather pointless to put money into RRSPs as I could just keep the money in the holding company.

Summary

So as you can see, things got very dire. There are a few things I’m leaving out too, mainly my quality of life. For example, I need to go to the optometrist to get my eyes checked and a new prescription, but I don’t have $1,000+ to shell out for new lenses and the check-up.

So I’m most certainly not out of trouble yet – I’m so very broke at the moment. But things were worse even just 4-5 months ago.

It’s a daily struggle, but it will just mean all that much more if I can get myself out of this mess and back up to making good money again. We shall see what happens.

The funny thing is, my net worth is extremely high for my age, but my income over the past few years has been next to nothing.

Posted: October 15th, 2017 under Personal 15 Comments

Airbnb: My Top 10 Tips for Hosts

October 12, 2017 Posted by Tyler Cruz

In my previous Airbnb post, I wrote about the various pros and cons to running an Airbnb listing. If you haven’t yet joined Airbnb and are on the fence, be sure to check that post out as it should give some good insight as to whether it will suit you or not.

In this post, I will share my top 10 tips for being an Airbnb host. As a reminder, I have been a superhost and operate a listing in the summer – a large room in our house. I have not personally hired a maid service so I am not including that here as I only want to provide tips that I have personally done myself.

1. Perfect Your Listing

Think of your listing on Airbnb as one big ad – it is your one chance to attract attention from potential guests and convert them into booked guests.

You should sit down and put in as much effort as it takes to “perfect” your listing. This means having good photos (which is another tip further on), writing an accurate, descriptive, and inviting description, offering a competitive price (do research on your neighbouring listings), and filling out every possible field that you’re allowed to. It is important you don’t oversell your place because while you may convert guests this way, if they are expecting a 5-star resort and arrive to a 2-star dump, you can be sure that they will leave you a bad rating and review.

Airbnb offers a lot of customization for hosts, so take advantage of every one of them. Don’t leave any field or option unchecked. Be honest, too. Do you hate kids? Don’t allow them then. Will you rarely be home or be unlikely to socialize with guests? Mention this. Do you have a bird that is quite ‘talkative’? Be sure to mention this, although write it in a positive light.

You only have one chance to convert guests as they will be unlikely to ever be on the fence; they will either think your listing is perfect for them, or they will quickly hit back and move on.

2. Buy a Digital Lock

One of the best purchases I have ever made was purchasing a digital lock for my front door. I have this Schlage lock which is available on Amazon which costs (at the time of this writing) $180 USD. You never have to worry about keys again, can easily change the combination, offer multiple combinations for different users, etc. It will even automatically lock itself after 30 seconds after shutting the door in case you or your guests forget to lock it.

If you want to spend more money, you can get locks that you can control via the Internet and even get logs of entry/exits, etc. I purchased my lock 2 years ago and haven’t had to change the batteries once, which is amazing since it has a motor inside and is used a LOT since I run a homestay plus an Airbnb.

Even if you don’t run an Airbnb or homestay, I highly recommend upgrading to a digital lock. I can’t live without it now. It’s also very easy to install, only about 10% harder to install than a regular deadbolt.

3. Invest In a Good Bed and Sheets

As a guy, I didn’t realize how important this was at first. After all, I’m no Martha Stewart. But you’re running a bed and breakfast for God’s sake, and people are booking your place so that they have a place to sleep.

I made a HUGE mistake when I first got my listing ready, and that was purchasing a brand new bed and frame… for a DOUBLE (Americans call it a ‘full’ I think)! I have absolutely no idea what I was thinking, apart from probably justifying it with the price. Plus, a double looks plenty big when you’re at the store… and it’s not for me so it should probably do, right? Well sure, it might suffice – after all I’ve had not a single complaining about it so far and a 5-star rating, but if you’re spending $500 for a new double, you might as well spend another $75-100 and get the queen, or if you have adequate room, spend the $150-$200 more and get the king.

We easily had room for a king but I got the double! Stupid, stupid, mistake.

In addition to the bed itself, be sure to splurge on quality linens, bedding, and pillows. Guests will notice the difference.

4. Communicate Well

Avoiding misunderstandings and maintaining a 5-star rating requires good communication. This means contacting your guests BEFORE they arrive and asking if there’s anything they need and perhaps tactfully finding out why they are coming. For example, if somebody is coming for a funeral you may want to hide the champagne glasses and replace them with extra boxes of kleenex and a greeting card.

Find out what time your guests expect to be arriving so that you can make sure you’re available to let them in. Have your phone ready hours before they arrive in case they need to contact you for directions or to let you know that they will be arriving late or early.

You will also be getting guests from all over the world, and some will not speak very good English (some will barely speak any at all), so it is doubly important to communicate clearly.

5. Take Very Good yet Accurate Photos

For a while, Airbnb was offering free professional photography services by local photographers in your area to take photos of your listing. Why did they do this? Because they know how important photos are to convert guests to make a booking. While I don’t think they offer this anymore (I could be wrong), it doesn’t mean you can’t hire somebody yourself – although this isn’t necessary.

What is important is that you take very good photos of your listing from multiple angles, and don’t skimp on the photos (but don’t overload them with photos either – avoid having the same portion shown in multiple shots). At the same time, make sure that the photos are a realistic representation of what your guests can expect when they arrive. We all know the comparison to online dating when people have a photo showing them as young and attractive, only to show up as an obese 50-year-old.

It’s fine to Photoshop your images to improve the lighting and whatnot, but make sure guests won’t be disappointed when they arrive.

6. Write a Guidebook

I wrote a guidebook in Word, printed it out and placed it in plastic sleeves, then placed them into a binder. I put an Airbnb label on the front and I place this binder on the coffee table in the listing.

It is about 14-15 pages long and starts off with the essential information they need to know such as house rules, the wi-fi password, the code to the front door (see the digital lock tip mentioned earlier), and what time we offer breakfast to. It then has recommendations to local restaurants we enjoy with their address, website and phone number, then recommended attractions.

This not only is a great resource for guests, but also saves me time as when I’m showing them the tour I often just point to the book and say “it’s in the guidebook”. You only have to make this once so it’s definitely worth doing.

7. Don’t Accept Guests Without Any Reviews

Airbnb actually encourages hosts to give new guests a chance, but of course they would say that as they would then have a new customer.

I’ve only ever accepted a guest without any reviews once, and that was my very first guest. Since I was a brand new host, beggars can’t be choosers and it was only fair. But I will NEVER accept guests without 100% perfect past reviews. There’s simply no point – it’s too much risk.

First-time guests may not understand how Airbnb works and expect you to clean their room everyday, or don’t understand boundaries, etc. Or they could just be horrible guests – who knows, since they’ve never been rated before.

And obviously never accept anyone that has had anything but 5 stars.

8. Overdeliver

You are running an Airbnb to make money. I get it, trust me. But what’s more important than receiving your money? Your rating, because without a 5-star rating, you will not get any more bookings, and that means no more money.

In order to protect your 5-star rating, you need to overdeliver. Give your guests an experience that exceeds their expectations. Could you charge 10% more a night for your listing? Probably. But should you? In my opinion, it’s not worth trying to squeeze out every last penny you can get if it means a higher risk of losing a star.

Little things can do a lot. For example, I buy little champagne bottles and put out glasses for our guests – this isn’t mentioned in the listing, so it’s a nice surprise for them which they always appreciate. One time we had a dog come with guests and I put out doggy treats and doggy bags for them – this cost me maybe $0.50 (I already own a dog) but they loved it and it made their stay from that simple gesture.

9. Make Sure You Have Time to Clean

I actually block off the day before and after bookings (this is an option within Airbnb that automatically blocks these days off on your calendar) so that we have adequate time to clean the unit. Otherwise, it’s too much of a time crunch. For example, if your checkout time is 12pm and your check-in time is 1pm, that only leaves you 1 hour to completely turn over the listing – that’s not enough time to clean the bathroom, vacuum, wipe things down, etc. not to even mention the laundry which will easily take hours since you will have multiple loads.

You could set your check in and out times further apart, but even then you’d only have 3-4 hours and sometimes guests arrive early so it’s still a time crunch.

If you do allow back-to-back bookings, just be 100% sure you can clean it properly in time. If you do this, you will likely want to buy 2 of everything so that you can just swap dirty towels for clean ones, dirty bedding for clean ones, etc.

10. Give a Proper Greeting and Tour

When guests arrive, I always greet them with a hearty welcome and handshake, and even offer to help them with their luggage if they’re female or older. I am enthusiastic and smiling and ask them how their trip is going and what they have planned.

I show them their room and ask them if they have any questions, then offer them a tour of the rest of the house. This process generally only takes about 10-minutes, but in my opinion it is a very important process. First impressions count for a lot, and doing this will also eliminate many potential issues later on since you’ve already covered them during your tour. For example, I make sure guests are aware to close the kitchen door when they are eating so that our dog doesn’t steal their food or beg from them.

I hope at least one of these tips can benefit you in your Airbnb adventures!

Posted: October 12th, 2017 under Miscellaneous 1 Comment