Step Up Your Vacation Rentals ‘Marketing’ Before It’s Too Late!

Travel Industry – At The Cusp Of Change

The $144 billion vacation rental industry with over million listings, has taken the travel industry by storm. According to Vacation Rental Managers Association, 24% of leisure travelers are now choosing vacation rental homes over hotels and resorts. While this affords considerable opportunity to vacation home owners, not everyone is reaping the benefits of this industry.

Vacation rental owners often grapple with questions related to receiving more customers/ guests. The answer seems to lie with smart marketing practices. We have listed a few basic ideas that vacation rental owners could use.

Is Your Vacation Rental Lost In The Crowd?

Getting found in major search engines such as Google, Yahoo and Bing, is important. Your potential guests are looking for vacation rentals and if your website shows in the top 10 search results, you are bound to have a competitive edge over the others and it will also make it easier for people to find you.

With your website on top of search results, there are higher chances of increases in bookings and boosts in occupancy.

Vacation Rental

Three Reasons To Begin Marketing Your Vacation Rental Now

1) According to a Google post, it takes a mere 3 to 7 seconds for a shopper to decide on a buying a product/service. Known as the ZMOT, this is the most critical phase in the marketing cycle and is far more critical than the actual advertising itself. As vacation rental owners, you will need to understand how to capitalize on this period known as the ZMOT, correctly.

2) Google is the greatest source of traffic (70%) for websites and there are no two ways about it. Vacation rental owners need to understand how to a) be featured on top sites on Google, b) have all the SEO marketing done and in place in order to be traced by the search engine.

3) In the US alone, 87% of the population depended on the internet for majority of the travelling that took place through the year 2014. This information alone is vital for vacation rental owners, because in today’s time and age it is important to understand how to scale your online presence and market your services effectively in order to rank on Google or be chosen by customers.

The 8 Stepping Stones To Vacation Rental Marketing Success

1. Keywords are Important:

The most important step in optimising your website is to finalise the keywords you intend to target. You must decide on the keyword for which you want to be found.
Opting for short tail and long tail keywords needs comprehensive research to filter out the best ones. Long tail keywords will give you an extra edge, making you more visible and will significantly boost your bookings. Gauge your competition thoroughly before you select your keywords because it is one of the most crucial steps.
Here is an example just for your reference:-

Short tail Keyword – Vacation Rental

Short Tail Key Word

Long tail Keyword: Clearwater beach Vacation Rentals

Long Tail Keyword

With the above example you can see the difference in search volume results.
The advantage of the long tail keyword is that you have lesser search volume and your visibility in getting found for such keywords are high. It is better to be a big fish in a small pond rather being a little fish in a big pond. It is wise to choose the keywords that make you visible to your niche audience with specific needs.

2. Meta Data:

Another key factor to build online presence is to optimise your Meta tags with proper keywords. This is important because your audience will identify you by these tags. Give an attractive two-liner to catch the eye of your potential guests and make sure that the keywords are inserted into the descriptions.

Here is a snippet of what Meta tags will look like on a search engine result:-

Meta Data

Capture the attention of viewers with an appealing story that describes the vacation rental aptly within 160 characters (as per Google’s meta data guidelines).

3. Website Design & Aesthetics

A websites’ aesthetics also affects the bookings for your vacation. Keep a tab on the website design and both, the quality and quantity of pictures. For example, replacing low quality photographs with quality pictures was the first step towards success for AirBnb. Thus, more quality pictures mean higher the chances of conversions. Keeping a 360 view video of your vacation home also gives prospective clients real-time views of your location. All these factors in combination will definitely add more value to your vacation rental and will attract more customers.

4. Call to Action:

Overall, the “call to action” buttons are meant to garner some action on your website. Highlight important buttons/tabs or position it in such a manner on the website that it attracts maximum attention.

Some of the “call to action” buttons on your vacation rental website can be,
– Toll free numbers
– “Book Now” button
– “Check Calendar” to see the availability of the rentals
– Chat options
– Social media links to share/ like/post tweets on your page.

GetFriday, the virtual assistance company in Bangalore, India, conducted an in-depth analysis on 3000 bookings for vacation rentals. The results revealed that checking “calendars” and dates were of top interest to potential guests.

You can also see the Slideshare presentation for Vacation Rental Marketing by clicking on the picture given below.

Step Up Your Vacation Rentals

Step Up Your Vacation Rentals

5. Push for an Ad Campaign:

Google says your potential clients decide in 3-7secs whether they want to buy a product or service. If your ads shoot up in Google, your chances of being chosen are high.

Go for a display campaign with pictures of your beautiful vacation rental with appropriate “call to action” buttons and other relevant details. Alternatively try out Remarketing campaigns that are even more cost effective, this would remind your visitors about your rentals. By marketing your offers and deals in your ads, you have better chances of increasing ROI.

6. Rave reviews:

Customers’ decisions are greatly influenced by reviews. Guests spend at least 30mins to read reviews before making bookings and the better the review; the better the chances are of increased revenue in the long run. Being a good host and attending to guests personally will also ensure positive reviews from the guests’ end. You can even capitalize on your reviews.
By adding your Google/Facebook reviews to your website’s rich snippet, the ratings for your services will be visible in the search result itself and will immediately give prospective customers an idea of the quality of your services.

7. Update Social Media:

Keep your social media channels updated. Invite your clients to post reviews on your social media channels and personalize your requests by either sending them incentives or discount offers for the next time. Make sure your website is integrated to major social networks, so that your prospective customers can take a look at what you have on offer.

Social media channels also act as channels for branding and maintaining reputation. So, make sure you get those fab reviews from your guests. Don’t chase them for it, but politely convince them to write honest feedback about your services.

8. Are you mobile-friendly yet?

As per Google’s new algorithm change, your website needs to be mobile-friendly to boost your rankings on search results. Earlier this year, Google released mobile friendly metrics. So, hurry up and check if your website adheres to these metrics. Mobile usage has grown by leaps and bounds and around 30% of the bookings are made directly from mobile devices. It is wise to redesign your website if it is not mobile friendly yet.

These are the pointers that you should ideally have on “priority” checklist in order to have better ROI and to market your vacation rental more effectively. If necessary, seek the help of SEO professionals to make your website stand out and to guide you with how you can market your vacation rentals more effectively. Ultimately, prospective guests need to buy your service and it is the number of “conversions/booking” that matter after all.

More conversions= More revenue/growth for Vacation Rental Owners= More happiness.

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Vacation Rentals – Increasing Occupancy Through Customer Reviews

Customer reviews influence the purchase decisions of a potential consumer to a very large extent. Validation and confirmation of a decision is a human need, which psychologists describe as social proof. When a customer is at the 3rd level of the purchase decision process i.e. evaluation of alternatives; customer reviews about a company’s offering can sway a consumers’ decision to either side. A “Think with Google” consumer report, analyzing a traveler’s road to decision making, states that 36 % of leisure travelers and 42 % of business travelers are influenced by travel reviews.

GetFriday’s study was conducted on the basis of over 3000 customer interactions for vacation rentals and has thrown some light on some prevalent and interesting facts. It has been known for a while that positive customer reviews can tilt a potential guests’ decision in your favor. But the extent to which it influences the swing is largely unknown to individual vacation property owners. So here are our insights based on this survey.

Please click on the below image to see the slideshare presentation as well.

Vacation Rentals: Increase occupancy through Customer Reviews - GetFriday

Guests Consciously Seek Out Reviews

Our study shows that more than 20% of guests consciously cite past customers or their reviews while taking a decision about a property and even during their initial communication with the Rental Owners. The actual numbers of guests getting influenced by reviews and taking a final call on a booking based on that is much higher than we initially thought. We have also observed guests picking on the experiences of previous visitors while they seek confirmation about specific amenities like swimming pools, Wi-Fi, barbeques, shower facilities etc.

Customer reviews clearly generate interest and engage potential guests. And if certain vacation rentals are more successful and more sought after than the others; customers reviews would definitely be pointed out as one of the major reasons behind it.

Guests Are Wary About The Authenticity Of The Reviews

While working with vacation properties around the world virtually, our experiences have taught us that many potential customers are also wary about the authenticity of customer reviews. Hence, it is of prime importance that Vacation Rental Owners display genuine and authentic comments and provide proactive feedback to reviews keeping their target audience in mind. Hence, managing customer reviews has become even more important now, as positive/negative reviews are directly linked to the overall rating of a property. It acts as a prime decisive factor for the customers while deciding to go on a vacation.

Negative comments are a part of regular reviews from customers and one should not worry about hiding negative reviews. Rental owners generally panic at the sight of negative reviews and instinctively seek methods to either confront the guest on the review forum or sometimes, seek to purge the negative comments. Instead, Rental owners should address these negative reviews as soon as possible and try to resolve the issue at hand. The smart, professional manner in which a negative comment is handled on a public forum, can convert a dissatisfied customer into an advocate for your business. Based on long-standing experiences with Vacation Rental Owners, we would suggest the following approaches to tackle negative reviews:

Address The Root Cause:

Most travelers are genuine and do not wish to make unwarranted comments. Address the concerns they might have had during their stay and convince the reviewer that it will not happen again. This will assure prospective guests of your trustworthiness and your willingness to solve problems. Responding to a complaint or negative review in a genuine manner is the first sign of a good business.

Gather More Positive Reviews:

If there is Yin, there is Yang as well. There is generally a good balance of positive reviews to offset the negative ones. A “HomeAway.com” survey states, 93% of guest reviews are positive (meaning a rating of 4 stars and above). This should assure you that a one-off negative review will not cause you harm; that is, if it is promptly addressed. Addressing the root cause in the first place and making sure that the same problem does not occur again will ensure that the quality of the service remains on the higher side and will also allow an owner to gather more positive reviews for the vacation rental house on an ongoing basis.

There Is Always A Bright Side:

A few negative comments peppered among positive reviews gives a more authentic look and feel to the review page. Though we do not have scientific data to prove this phenomenon, simple social logic seems to confirm it. If you had all but positive reviews, then the data looks suspect for the first time viewer, even if your service were impeccable.

How Do You Get More Guests To Write Review For Your Property?

1. E-mail each guest after they leave, thanking them for their stay and inviting them to leave a review.
2. While refunding the deposit, send your guests a note, asking them for reviews.
3. Most guests are kind enough to write reviews. If they enjoyed their stay, they most probably will write one anyway. To be on the safer side, just send them gentle reminders, do not hound or spam them.
4. If possible, be there for a personal good-bye when your guests check out. This adds a more personal touch to the experience and makes it a memorable one for your guest.

Vacation property owners need to treat customer reviews as another opportunity to market their property. When customer reviews are handled deftly with a clear strategy and objective, they could cause a positive impact on your business and its profits.

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Guide for Vacation Rental Owners – Increase leads, engage guests and stand out of the crowd

In an age where almost everyone aspires to embark on a holiday, Vacation Rentals have come to rule the roost. Privacy, security, flexibility are the specifics every traveler loves. Vacation Rentals offer such benefits to everyone; be it an avid traveler or a backpacker. No wonder, this sector has seen a significant boom in the recent decade.
From a nondescript start, Vacation Rentals have come a long way to dominating the recreation space. It’s springing up in literally every tourist hotspot in the world. It has become a lucrative business and provides employment opportunities to many.

But how does a vacation rental property owner stand out from competition. We compiled a list of best practices from our long experience and hundreds of interactions with property owners, property managers, guests, cleaners and even property neighbors in many popular destinations.
Our survey has brought out some very interesting facts. And if you are a vacation rental owner these are certainly actionable points for your business.

You can also view the guide by clicking on the below image (Slideshare link) as well:

Vacation Rental Owners Guide

Weekends see a surge in inquiries

Our study shows there is generally a 37% increase in inquires during weekends. A Google survey conducted with 5000 consumers found that 74 % of leisure travel begins with online research. Vacation rental owners must be ready for increased traffic during weekends, as most customers begin their online search with undecided plans. The opportunity to influence their decision to book your house significantly increases if you are better prepared to handle the surge.

Increase chances of booking by 2X

Our study shows chances of booking confirmation increases 2x times if booking enquiries are responded within one hour.

Let us do the math

Combining the results of our survey,
1. If your house on an average gets about 5 enquires a day, you will see this increase by 37% during weekends, i.e 7 enquires per day.
2. If your normal booking confirmation rate is 2 out of 5 enquires, then our study tells you, there can be 2X increase in booking confirmation if response rate is within one hour. This will mean 12 confirmations coming out of 14 enquiries on weekends.
Isn’t that something to really focus on, if you are a vacation rental owner?

The paradox of calendar management

Our survey finds rental owners rank calendar management as their top priority problem or issue to contend with. While guests looking to book rentals also mention the calendar as the first place to check before a booking decision is made. So calendar management is a double priority.
Vacation rentals will see significant increase in booking confirmations, if the calendar is maintained with complete information. Though maintaining the calendar with updated availability at all times is a difficult task, remember that it is of prime importance to a potential guest and could mean the difference between a booking confirmation or a dropout.

What influences a booking?

When we asked guests about the factors influencing their booking, two points stood out –
1. Higher quality pictures leads to decision making while booking.
2. Higher number of pictures give confidence while booking.
A Google study confirms that 42% of travelers get inspired by YouTube videos of their prospective travel destination during the decision making process. So it is important to visually appeal to guests.

What amenities do guests want?

Our study shows cleanliness of the house tops the priority of every potential guest. We recommend a gap of 5 hours between a check out and new check in for the property to be cleaned satisfactorily.
And surprisingly Wi-Fi accessibility at rental houses is also being requested as a prerequisite during enquiry by many guests in recent times. Google’s traveler survey finds 94 % of travelers like to stay connected even during a vacation. We recommend vacation rental owners consider installing Wi-Fi at properties.
These best practices can make your business stand out amongst competition and get your better ratings on a consistent basis.

Identify new revenue channels

Constantly searching for new channels of revenue can increase your return on investment from property and help you find new segments of guests.

Weekend pricing

Our study finds guests do not mind paying higher prices for weekend. A different pricing for weekends can be a new revenue channel for your business. An average difference of 10 % between weekend and weekday pricing is not seen to have an adverse impact on guests deciding on bookings.

Peak season pricing

Our study finds a higher peak season price can have significant benefits. Our survey also finds that a small discount at the beginning of peak season can help you fill bookings for the entire peak season very quickly.

3x increase in leads

Our study finds that listing your property on multiple sites can increase your enquiry leads by 3x.

Provide multiple payment option

It is noted from our study that customers prefer properties which offer multiple payment options like PayPal, Credit Card, Debit Card and also paying through Cash. This flexibility can provide a steady stream of customers thereby an assured revenue flow. Of particular interest is cash in hand option preferred by some guests, providing this option opens up a new segment of guests to your property, while also gaining the confidence of other prospective guests.

By following these simple tips, you can improve you vacation rentals income as a property owner significantly. And you would be surprised to know that many of these activities can be effectively outsourced to a competent virtual assistant so that you can sit back and relax, while the job gets done.

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Oh! The 100 things to do before I die

Here is a guest post from our client Mats Goldberg, an aspiring writer and philanthropist. He lives in Sweden and his goal is to become an accomplished author someday. While going through his blog, I found an interesting video post featuring “The Buried Life – 100 things to do before you die” a reality documentary series which aired on MTV several years ago. Inspires people to get on with doing the things they really want to do and so my pick for the title of this blogpost itself. I posted the video at the end of this blog post. And we (GetFriday) would be happy, if we can help you do that in our own small ways. Here we go with Mats, thanks for spreading the word.

Sunder P
CEO
————

I was surprised when they contacted me from GetFriday.com (as mentioned in Timothy Ferriss book “4 Hour Work Week”) to ask me to write a guest blogpost for their blog. I have only used virtual assistants since the beginning of 2012, so mind me; the surprise and appreciation I felt when asked to write this post.

After some thinking I realized I have quite a good hang of this thing called outsourcing. Sure in the beginning I wasn’t too clear with what I wanted to accomplish or what tasks I would hand over to an assistant. I was in fact rather stupefied with bad directions and wishes. Of course that sometimes happen still today, but I have learned to better structure my ideas and wishes.

Whenever I mention that I do outsourcing to India people always ask what I let my assistant do. To clarify this I usually refer our relationship as me being the owner of the company, my assistant being the CEO that delegates all the tasks I want to have done to more suitable people. In short a machinery built to work as smooth and as fast as possible with every single task, since time is my major concern. I don’t just see the one assistant I see a whole team!

“So what tasks do you hand them?” is the second question and to be frank my answer is simple: “Anything!” I started out by sending a scanned document with about 3700 contacts that I needed to turn into an Excel document. After two hours I got a report saying they finished 900 of these contacts. In eight hours the job was done. had I done it myself it would have taken at least 40 hours without including all the interruptions at work.

“Wow!” if that could be done, what else could I hand over? I started to make my own list of things that could be done and then assessed what I wanted to be done first. The bullet points that has come on print is the following:
- Send physical birthday cards to near and dear people.
- Buy Christmas gifts online and have them sent to me.
- Create logos for my business ideas.
- Research legal issues in operating and starting online gambling companies in Aldernay, Gibraltar, Singapore and Malta.
- Contact and get confirmation of the right to print the high definition material of creative resumes of almost 200 people for an upcoming book that I write.
- Research online lotteries and calculate odds of winning them.
- After the above mentioned research create a website based on the information found offering my own salary up for winnings.
– Together with my virtual assistant build an e-commerce store from the base of Tim Ferriss book.
- Create iPhone apps for a new way to barter.
- Structure my addresses and contacts.
- Proofread my blog.
- Help me plan and execute adventurous trips.
- Help in marketing and SEO campaigns.
- Make background research on several private issues.
…and so forth!

The list can be made infinitely long and the areas just as wide. In working with my virtual assistant (VA) Diyva, I have set a goal for us both to gain knowledge in new areas in life. I thirst for knowledge but don’t want the hassle it gives by making me have to spend all my free time doing things others can do better and faster. I don’t need to manage everything with hiring personnel and seeing to that they do their job. My goal is to free my time from necessary work to things that I’m more passionate about. GetFriday helps me with that!

In short; if you want a full and free life, make sure to understand your capabilities and hand over the tasks that you know others can do better and focus on what makes you passionate. In that way you become interesting and an inspiration to others to do the same with their life. Become a person of influence and help change the world for the better in the way that suits your heart the most.

The Buried Life video

Read more about what you could outsource to a virtual assistant at: http://www.matsgoldberg.com/42-things-you-could-outsource-to-a-virtual-assistant/. If you want to follow what I do, just click on through to www.MatsGoldberg.com or follow me on Facebook (www.facebook.com/matsgoldberg) or Twitter (@MatsGoldberg).

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Digital Marketing Entrepreneur goes virtual

Back after a longish break due to getting too busy with incubating a new startup idea within our business. Getting from the germination of a new idea to a proof of concept or roll out out stage is certainly the most challenging phase. Especially because the torque required to start something from a state of inertia is obviously the biggest. But that is just the beginning of tighter days ahead. As with every new idea, there is a huge adrenaline rush and the thrill of waking up to something new while running an obstacle race against time, to get things started. All part of the game.

So when I had a client of ours send us a guest post for the blog, I was more than thrilled. Our guest Christian Hollingsworth, a smart boy entrepreneur and now an ambitious young digital marketing consultant commands a twitter following in excess of 170k and that’s no mean feat. He is a guy who knows his stuff when it comes to digital marketing. So here we go.

 

smartboydesigns

Christian Hollingsworth - Digital Marketing Consultant, blogger


MY GETFRIDAY EXPERIENCES

Working with GetFriday has been nothing but pleasure.
For months, if not years, I’ve read about many online professionals who have had great success in outsourcing a portion of their work to virtual assistants. It seemed to be the very last post I read about virtual assistants, which finally tipped the scales.

Preparing For the “Virtual Assistant” Jump
For most people, there are areas of concern before making the jump into hiring a virtual assistant.
Many people wonder, “Should I trust a virtual assistant? Will they be able to handle everything I give to them? Is it worth it?

  • As with all new ventures, there’s a certain degree of trial, error, and testing. It’s important to keep the communication lines clear when working with your virtual assistant, otherwise, the channels could become quickly cloudy.
  • Let them know what you expect from them, be clear in dictating tasks, and track their growth and progress.
  • I’ve found that it takes time getting used to working with a virtual assistant. One area, in particular, is continually finding those tasks that you’re able to outsource.
  • I always enjoy asking myself the question, “Would my assistant be able to handle this task, and allow me to free up more time?”

What tasks do I outsource?
After doing some research, I found GetFriday to be the virtual assisting company that would best fit my needs. I noticed they offered completion of web design, blogging, and administrative tasks.

Now, as I sit here writing about my few months with GetFriday, I smile. Here are just some of the tasks I’ve already been able to assign to Muzamil, who is my wonderful administrative assistant.

  1. Daily the spam emails that come to my inbox are combed through, non-spam emails are saved, and the rest deleted.
  2. On a daily basis Muzamil prepares an email with the top five blog posts from the day within the business, social media, and technology industries. I’m able to click through, use the ones I want to share, and stay updated on the latest happenings I need to be aware of.
  3. Calls are made to people whom I need information from.
  4. Appointments are scheduled.
  5. Emails sent with my media kit to potential clients.
  6. Muzamil is my main administrative assistant. I’m able to forward him any blogging or web design related tasks that need completion, and he is sure to organize a team of individuals who are prepared and skilled enough to complete the task.
  7. Blog post research.
  8. A healthy dose of motivation. I know that if I’m not feeling particularly motivated one day, Muzamil will be on my case, asking what’s needed next. This is a great benefit to me as a self-employed individual, as I know Muzamil is sure to check on me daily.

Virtual Assistant Muzamil


As you can see, after only a few months I’ve been able to outsource quite a few tasks to GetFriday. I know that as this year develops, the tasks I outsource will be even more, and the accomplishments greater.

The services provided by GetFriday cost little, are of supreme quality, and free my time for the tasks that only I’m able to complete for clients. It’s a win all around.

That’s one smart young man helping another one, across the globe. Thanks, Christian and Muzamil for this one.

Sunder P
——–

About Christian Hollingsworth: Christian is a digital marketing consultant, blogger, entrepreneur, and recording artist. He makes money online and teaches others how to do the same.

Image copyright: SmartBoyDesigns and Muzamil

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Out-of-the-box Task Ideas

A post from GetFriday after a long pause. Been busy with too many things (like launching a new business idea for the Indian market). My apologies. Our client and old friend, Norman Wilson sent us some of his task suggestions, out-of-the-box ideas that can only come from someone like him. I hope this will prompt some of our clients to get little more adventurous in terms of their goals with GetFriday. Here we go, hope you like them!

Norman Wilson’s Task Suggestions
toy-boat construction

Toy Boat Construction Manual by Akhil Chalil

In April of this year, I introduced my project Virtual Assistance here on the Get Friday blog. In that post I outlined my approach to engaging with Get Friday, which prioritized artistic, ethical, and intellectual value over economic value. In forgoing a profitable engagement for myself with the service, Akhil and I were able to peel back the corporate veneer, revealing limitations, histories, networks, power, and desire by making toy boats, construction manuals, a video about the best fighter jet in the world, PowerPoint performances, international mailings, pulse rate tests, Excel graphs, office installations, and more.

Akhil has left the company and I am no longer an active Get Friday client. Though I’m grateful for what we learned and accomplished with the project, there are still a bunch of ideas for tasks (some more feasible than others) that were never actualized. In publishing them here on the Get Friday blog, my hope is that others will be inspired to take up my approach and start their own versions of Virtual Assistance.

*Note: Get Friday “assistants” will be referred to as “coworkers.”

-Ask your coworker what their favorite recreational activity is. For instance, jet skiing. Assign your coworker a task in which ride around on a rented jet ski paid for by you (on a credit card). Also hire a videographer to shoot a video of your coworker riding the jet ski. Make an account on a stock media marketplace and upload the jet skiing clips to the stock media marketplace. Title these clips “Young Indian Professional rides jet ski.” When the clips have made enough money to pay off the original jet ski rental and the videographer, plus another jet ski rental, this time with the full-insurance package, send your assistant on another jet-ski adventure with a hired videographer. This time ask your assistant to set off the jet ski, jammed in full-throttle, towards a pile of rocks. Upload this exploding jet ski footage to a stock media marketplace, and when it has generated enough money to buy a custom finish jet ski, buy Get Friday a company jet ski.

Jetski

-Ask your coworker to call a friend who works in an Indian call center that provides outsourced customer support for an American company. Just to chat.

-Imagine and draw each other’s respective work spaces. Mail your drawings to each other.

-Make an animated e-card for your coworker, but email it to yourself. Then print it out frame by frame, and send it to your coworker as a FAX. In the FAX cover letter, state that you would like the hard copy scanned, turned back into an animation, and archived in your client file.

Fax machine

-Ask you coworker to go on a freestyle web surfing adventure and to document any locative advertising they witnesses.

-Ask your coworker to collect objects, materials, and samples from their local environment that have become internet and computing metaphors – window, folder, file, server, superhighway, shopping cart, traffic, trojan horse, spider, virus, worm, web, packet, page, desktop, attachment, stream, chain, link, spam, junk, net, board, paste, copy, etc. Have them mail you as many of these objects as possible.

-Call your coworker from your office water cooler. If you don’t work in an office, call your coworker from a display water cooler at Office Max. Ask your coworker to stand near the water cooler at the Get Friday office, and then ask them what they did last weekend.

-Order your coworker and their team a pizza from Dominos in India, and then order yourself an identical pizza from Dominos in your country. Eat simultaneously.

-Ask your coworker to send you a favorite picture of themselves. Commission a painting from www.yourartnow.com of you and your coworker jet skiing through the internet. If Your Art Now asks what the internet looks like, tell that the painter should decide.

-Hire additional virtual assistants from companies such as Brickwork, Bpovia, Ask Sunday, and Outsorcerer. Initiate an online political think tank with the goal of establishing a virtual nation state. Codevelop a currency, a flag, a constitution, an anthem, speeches, ID cards, ideas for social welfare programs, and more for this international organization. Online performances of this nation state, such as conferences and the inauguration ceremony, can be shared live online.

-Send your virtual assistant a survey for ranking you and your relationship.

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Getting your Outsourcing Right!

It always been quite a baffling experience over the years trying to understand as to what makes outsourcing tick. If we knew the answer, we ought to be able to solve the issue of customer satisfaction and keep all our clients happy. But time and again, we kept witnessing an unpredictable phenomenon; Outsourcing on an individual or small business level works well for some, while it backfires miserably for some others.

The moot question being why is it so unpredictable, though the most obvious reasons would simply point to poor quality of service. The fact remains that it isn’t the only reason for failure. We found that success is not exclusively dependent on the quality of service alone, but depends on a lot of other factors, especially when you are dealing with a situation of cross-border global work exchange.

So I tried to set forth on understanding the factors that affect the success of outsourcing especially w.r.t individuals and small businesses. With large business or Fortune 500 outsourcing, it is usually a business process or a transaction flow that gets outsourced and there are typically large teams on both sides to manage the transition and the associated risks. It is relatively harder to manage expectations when compared to let’s say manufacturing outsourcing, but is still easier when compared to managing individual expectations.

The key problem here being that an individual’s expectations are rather fluid, likely to change with time, seldom possible to capture / document properly and is quite unlike a business process. Can one capture an individual client’s needs within a Service Level Agreement? Extremely difficult, if not impossible.

To add to the complexity there are other issues like cultural differences, sometimes communication barriers and the willingness of the client to get organized. Many clients read about outsourcing, get excited at the prospect of being able to do it as an individual and promptly sign up. And 99% of the time, they either over anticipate their needs at the start or they haven’t organized themselves properly and analyzed as to what can be outsourced and what is best kept in-house. When this happens and there is a mismatch of expectations, it generally leads to a sense of disillusionment for those that are under prepared for the challenges of outsourcing.

There are some clients who have been with GetFriday for the past 5 plus years and are still going strong, while there are others who drop out in frustration within weeks. So after years of studying cases of failure to meet client expectations, we came up with the idea of a video tutorial to help clients understand what it takes to succeed. We used the concept of illustrative story telling (concept inspired by RSAnimate) to capture the essence of it, in 7 clear steps. And hence titled ‘The 7 Steps to Outsourcing’. We hope you will like it and please do share it with friends / co-workers and others who may find it useful.

P.S. This video is definitely not meant to pass the buck of making outsourcing work, exclusively to the client. It is meant to help clients and potential clients understand what it takes from both sides to make it a success. This apart, there lies an even bigger responsibility on a VA service like GetFriday to understand client expectations better, deliver good quality of service and be able to help the client gain time.

Regards
Sunder P
CEO

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Getting your Ideas to Spread

In the context of a more interactive world, the old rules of marketing are quickly falling by the wayside. From an era of TV commercials aimed at mass markets, where the consumer was a passive spectator, we have moved into a world where consumers are not only interacting with the products / brands they like or hate, but also sharing their likes and dislikes with other consumers in real time on the web / mobile web. Feedback is easy and instantaneous and the rules of the game are changing rapidly.

Seth Godin in this 2003 talk, argues that when consumers are faced with way too many choices and have too little time, the most obvious thing for them to do is to ignore stuff. So if your product or service doesn’t stand out and if the people at the fringes of the normal distribution curve don’t care about it, then you have a loser on hand. He further stresses that being remarkable and appealing to a smaller section of loyal innovators (consumers) is more important in today’s world than being mediocre and mass market. Watch this fantastic TED clip from Seth.

Looking back at our trajectory in the global VA space, GetFriday certainly wasn’t the first virtual assistant service on this planet. In fact, the concept of virtual assistants has existed for decades in the US and other parts of the developed world. These were mostly people who were employed as secretaries or assistants in large corporations who at some point decided to get out of it and work on their own terms with a select few clients from the comforts of their home / home office. All very good as long as you knew your clients very well and have had shared a good relationship with them for a very long time. But that was unremarkable and wasn’t something that caught people’s attention. Not yet!

With technology enabling really cheap long distance communication via the net and the emergence of tools such as google, there was an opportunity that emerged. Through a stroke of luck, we ended up doing the most bizarre things for a journalist (AJ Jacobs of Esquire) like reading a bed time story to his child in NYC from 10,000 miles away in India. It seemed really queer at that point of time (2005), but was indeed a remarkable thing to attempt and carried a good amount of shock value. And its success proved an important point that it didn’t need a huge corporation’s might and machinery to be able to work with someone on the other side of the globe. With the Internet, it was all possible. That caught people’s fancy and created the first wave for personal outsourcing.

And the next important thing for your idea to spread is to find a bunch of people who really care. People who are really passionate about what you do and then hope that they will tell their friends about it. GetFriday literally grew from zero to where we are now on zero marketing budgets only through client referrals or word of mouth. This is not to say, that we had impeccable service all through. We have had our fair share of terrible slip ups, errors and inconsistencies due to a host of reasons. But people who knew what to expect and how to make it work (your band of faithfuls), really manage to reap the benefits and eventually becomes evangelists for the service. And hopefully if you manage to keep and grow this flock steadily, at some stage you will reach a inflection point where it can explode. Facebook, Twitter, Wiki are all good examples for this.

It is difficult but not impossible to do it provided you understand the new rules of the game and start playing by it!

Sunder P
CEO

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Morgan locks spurs on transparency

Transparency; an often repeated word that pops in everyday corporate life. Everyone accepts the need for transparency but when it comes to actual practice, we find it incredibly difficult and possibly even painful.

Morgan Spurlock, the academy award nominated documentary film maker needs no introduction to people in the US. He became famous (or rather notorious) with his movie ‘Super Size Me‘ of 2004 that was a hard hitting critique of modern day fast-feeding (read: McDonalds). His critics, of course question his methods at deriding the companies he targets. Despite die-hard fans and an equal number of detractors, one thing is for sure, you can hate him or you can love him, but you just can’t ignore him.

In this hard hitting but humorous TED talk, Morgan locks spurs with the hidden, but highly influential world of brand marketing. It is downright hilarious as he shares the video of his quest to make a completely sponsored film on the issue of sponsorship and transparency. It is quite obvious that transparency isn’t something that sits well in the world of advertising.

At the end of it he makes an important point that companies that are not paralyzed by fear of the unknown (consequences), willing to take risks, and most importantly embrace transparency, will be able to go a long way.

And I can’t agree with him more. Here is an account of GetFriday’s personal tryst with Morgan.

On 28th April, 2006 we received a request from Carolyn McEwen, the producer of the reality TV show, “30 days” asking if we would be willing to participate in an experiment on outsourcing with Morgan Spurlock. While most of the episode was supposed to cover IT and call center jobs that were getting outsourced to India, they wanted to include GetFriday also, if possible. Given Morgan’s reputation, one should have been wary to join in on any effort that carries the risk of showing the Indian outsourcing industry in bad light.

After some thought I sent back a reply to her a day later, expressing our willingness to participate. I reckoned that we had nothing much to lose, but everything to gain. Given that we were small, we decided to take a bold and positive approach to the whole thing. Our goal then was to handle things as honestly as possible, while hoping that it turns out to our advantage in the final cut. We kept doing Morgan’s work for about a month, while keeping our fingers crossed.

Finally, on 9th June, 2006, Carolyn sent a message confirming that the experiment was over. Am reproducing the mail verbatim without her permission. Sorry, Carolyn! But six years later, it shouldn’t really matter!!!

Hi Venky,
I’m finishing up at “30 Days” tomorrow (Friday). I want to make sure we have Get Friday’s address so that we can send you a DVD of the outsourcing episode once it airs. In case you have access to U.S. TV, it’s supposed
to be broadcast on Wednesday, August 30th at 10pm on the FX Network. There is a chance that FX will rearrange the order the episodes at the last minute, so I’d keep an eye out for it in August. The second season of “30 Days”
begins on Wednesday, July 26 and runs for six consecutive weeks. Outsourcing is supposed to be the last episode.

Please send me your address by Friday, if possible. Also, could you send the spelling of the fellow who was Morgan’s personal assistant? Thanks for everything! You guys were great.

Cheers,
Carolyn

Despite the fact that we were happy to have impressed Morgan’s team with our service, we waited with bated breath for the episode to air. It did and to our surprise it turned out to be the most balanced and honest view on the subject of outsourcing, both sides of the globe. It didn’t turn out into an episode of India bashing, as most would suspect. Unfortunately we didn’t get air time because the episode was too call center focused and we probably got edited out in the 30 short min. Here is a link to Actual Reality – 30 days, though the video has gone missing.

Looking back at it, we were happy to be part of such an experiment and have learned our lessons in not shying away from taking risks and being honest. Am a Morgan fan!

Sunder P
CEO

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Internet’s role in economic progress; India

Can the Internet make a difference in a country like India that has 37 percent of its 1.2 billion population living below the poverty line? According to the Indian Planning Commission (govt. body that sets India’s economic policy) the poverty line for the nation’s cities was 578 rupees ($12.75) per person a month. For rural India, it’s even lower at about 450 rupees ($9.93) per month. The World Bank global poverty line, at $1.25 a day or about $38 per month, is three times higher than India’s urban level. In this context, does having the Internet or not having it, make any difference to the common man or people living in abject poverty?

While it is appears that the statistics make the Internet look inconsequential to people living below the poverty line, there certainly is more than a glimmer of hope.

One of the earliest Internet based initiatives (launched in 2000) in the rural sector that found success was the e-choupal from ITC. Prior to that, farmers in rural markets were deprived of market information and were forced to sell their produce through middleman at ‘mandis(indian term for agri markets). ITC empowered farmers by setting up internet kiosks in villages that enabled access to real time market price info for their farm produce. ITC (that required the farm produce) benefited from making their supply chain more efficient through direct buying from farmers. Since then 6,500 e-choupals across 40,000 villages have empowered more than 4 million farmers in 10 different states. A clear case that grass roots application of technology can make a huge difference in the lives of people.

ITC e-choupal

Internet Kiosk for Farmers in Indian Villages

ITC, incidentally started life as the Imperial Tobacco Company (sharing ancestry with Imperial Tobacco, UK) and then was known as the Indian Tobacco Company before being rechristened as ITC. They took their rechristening quite seriously and worked on changing their portfolio and becoming one of the most respected firms in the area of CSR. There are many more companies like Bharti, HUL, Tatas and foreign firms such as Google and Microsoft that are trying to make a difference in this space. Unfortunately, all their work put together will only amount to a drop in the ocean due to the vast expanse of India’s rural landscape.

Recently the Govt. seems to have woken up and is coming up with an ambitious plan to connect 160 million Indians with high speed internet by 2014. Only time will tell whether they will succeed or allow India to fall way behind the other BRIC nations in terms of Internet connectivity. Watch the video and read Moska Najib‘s report for BBCBringing the Internet to Rural India’s business community“.

If there are still lingering doubts on whether the Internet can play a role. Have no doubts, it certainly can; in education, tele-medicine and micro finance. Looking at this 2008 report “Internet changing life in Bihar & Orissa villages” by Nilanjana Bose for CNN-IBN it is clear that there is no dearth of ingenious ideas (DakNet) for using technology (wi-fi and wi-max) to connect villages that were hitherto unconnected. You can also see how the spread of knowledge and skills happens so fast with the Net that people can be trained to become employable with some efforts (in areas that don’t hinge on how well you speak English).

Education through the Net

Rural Children - Learning on the Net

And with connectivity, knowledge and awareness of opportunities improve and with it, lives of people are expected to improve.

Speaking from our own personal experience at GetFriday, a significant number of our employees are from tier-II towns and rural centers. Some of them would not have stepped out of their towns all through their lives. But with a little bit of skill development and training, these same people manage to cut across cultural barriers, develop personal relationships with their clients and handle work across the globe. It is just amazing that very many innovations and ideas would not have been possible without the Internet.

Knowledge is awareness and awareness empowers people. In a bid to create social uplift through entrepreneurship, good friend and veteran of the Indian IT industry, Dr Sridhar Mitta created a social entrepreneurship firm “NextWealth“. The idea is to provide IT and BPO services for the Indian domestic market through partnering with entrepreneurs who run centers that locally employ people in rural markets. Here is a Knowledge@Wharton report on this innovative concept.

Arogyaswami J Paulraj, a professor emeritus of electrical engineering at Stanford University, says Mitta and his team are on the right track. “Offering employment opportunities to segments of population that have been locked out so far will make India more competitive in an increasingly tougher world market for IT services.” The social impact, Paulraj adds, will be to “improve wealth distribution and reduce migration to larger cities.

If the Govt. does its bit then technology can be real game changer for improvement of society. Especially in places like rural India or sub-Saharan Africa.

Sunder P
CEO

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