Social Enterprise as a Business Differentiator

So, I been thinking (I do that on certain rare occasions). Back in the US, during our presentation at the State Dept, Catherine Muther happened to be one of the panelists. Trust me, she intimidated me more than the idea of being inside the State Dept. I am a horrid public speaker. I get nervous, I twitch, worse of all, I GIGGLE, and I run away. So when I breezed through the presentation (thank you, Thunderbird) I was beaming with pride and was confident of receiving a “slow clap”. Of course, that wasn’t to be. All I saw on the faces of the panelists was mild amusement. Uh-oh! Q & A starts and Muther asks, “There are so many similar service providers available, especially in India and Philippines. Why would I invest in your company?” My heart in mouth, I blanked out for a moment. But only for a moment. Until that time I believed it was the fact that we were affordable, cost-effective, and all those boring words every business throws at you. But right at that moment I knew why Women’s Digital League was different. More or less, this is what I told them …

If you are looking for the most affordable service, you can find many that beat WDL on rates hands down. If you are looking for a service with a clear niche like writing or concierge solutions, there are many others doing wonderful work at much lower rates. Born out of frustration with the lack of choices available for a “respectable” job for women and an innate abhorrence of accepting “fate” as a reason for not doing anything to make things better, WDL had no choice but to turn out the way it has. It’s a social enterprise endeavor. Simple as that! We only employ educated, skilled women to work from home on digital tasks. I strongly believe that if women are empowered they can be a strong catalyst in bringing a positive change in society. I was inside the State Dept and it wasn’t the best of times with the guy on their most wanted list killed only 2 weeks ago in Pakistan but I couldn’t help saying that if the mothers are strong, both emotionally and financially, they will raise more stable families instead of the tide of “crazy fanatics” we see now.

The world needs ventures like WDL despite there being some very negative connotations around the word “Outsourcing”. We have to be able to see the bigger picture. Is outsourcing only meant to make the rich richer and take work away from people who deserve it more and pass it on to someone less skilled? I am not going to argue the case of stolen employment opportunities for those in the developed countries; very frankly, I also don’t know what effect it is having the world over. But in my own small world, it’s changing lives. Small changes with big impacts. I am not going to share the stories of these women and sound like I was cashing on their hardships. That’s not my intention and I won’t say more, but for those living in Pakistan – you know what it means to be able to work from home doing tasks that challenge you and give you a feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction, making you realize your education was not in vain. I speak from the heart … that’s how it made me feel.

If you need someone to do your digital tasks and do them well, and paying $3/hr is a steal then WDL is what you might want to look at. For most financiers, this whole speech is not impressive enough to make them want to throw their money at you. But I also won’t even DREAM of taking money from someone who only wants to see how we are going to double the returns on that investment. It will have to be someone who is as passionate about the idea behind WDL as I am. If I never find her, no worries. I’ll do what someone said to me: “You can do business the rich (wo)man’s way and gamble a $100k on your idea, or you can do business the poor (wo)man’s way and make it a success with sheer belief, energy and talent.”

WDL, for me, is already a success because it’s not an idea any more. It’s a reality! I took the initiative and said “I’ll never know if it’ll work unless I try”. Some day, if not me, someone else will pick the idea, find my notes useful, learn from my experience, the mistakes I made, the things that worked and that didn’t, and reach more lives with it – and I assure you I am happy being the nameless, faceless person who conceived it. Maybe this self-depreciating attitude won’t take me far … and then maybe it would … will find out. Until then … I chug away …



Lesson 3: There is no Lesson 3

Yep, you heard me right. There is NO Lesson 3. I have told you all you need to know in 2 lessons about what VA is and how to get started. You know what to expect, what to do, the do’s and dont’s. It’s that simple! What you need now is to get your ass out there and work it off. Why didn’t I tell you there were just 2 lessons? Because I wanted you dummies to understand you don’t need to pay $$$ to attend some crappy 4 day workshop to hear someone like me tell you how it’s done (trust me I have been offered to speak at workshops). It will be a complete waste of both your time and money. Some crook will throw fancy words at you (oDesk, VA, RentACoder), show you some slides with intimidating figures about how big the outsourcing industry is, give you some case-studies to ensnare you good and then just tell you just what I told you in 2 FREE lessons, you ungratefuls! (I love exclamation marks … they are perfect for creating abit of a drama.) 😀

Does this mean the end of my blog? FAR FROM IT. I still have to tell you tons about content writing, transcribing, dealing with clients, virtual companies that can help get you work, and so on. So, keep coming back for more dahlin’s.

See you on the other side … 😉

Lesson 1: What is Virtual Assistance?

You don’t have to be a genius to put together the 2 words and get some sense of what it means. It means assisting someone in the virtual world … duh! But exactly what do you assist with? Who do you assist? How do you assist? And most importantly, how do you find someone willing to hire you for your skill-sets? Whoaaaaa … slow down your horses, take a deep breath and lemme answer all of above as best as I can.

Why the sudden need for VAs? There is a huge market out there for VAs and if you are in a “developing” country like Pakistan, India or Phillipines you are in luck. The WORLD loves you because it can exploit you (or so it thinketh!) … HELLOOOO outsourcing. Now don’t ask me what outsourcing is.  Just Google “what is outsourcing” … I can’t do everything for you 😛 Small and medium sized businesses are looking for tax-free, benefits-free, insurance-free workers who’ll work for pennies compared to what they’d have to pay someone in say the US where they have to pay minimum wages or face a law-suit (wait, I am not sure about the law-suit bit but I do know that they have minimum wages they have to adhere to – the going rate is between $6 and $8 these days depending on the State). Now with the economy being as bad as it is they can’t even pay that much and are not sure if they need to increase full-time work-force so they divide their work into bits and send it to us and we happily work for as little as a shocking $1/hr … I kid you not.

What do you assist with? Required skill-sets range from basics like writing content for website (how to get rid of cockroaches, where to find the best deals on iPods in San Francisco, quotes from famous Renaissance dramas, or even coming up with fake testimonials!!), transcriptions of YouTube videos, clearing up data on an excel sheet, transferring content from one website to another (basically just copy/paste) to very hot skills like creating websites (PHP, Joomla, HTML), graphic designing, database management, and accounting.

How do you assist? I have partly answered the question above but there is another side to it – what equipment(s) do you need to be able to work from home? This is the best part. And this is the worse part. All you need is a computer (single core P4 with an OK graphics card and RAM would do), a reliable Internet connection and electricity. Now all of my sisteren (“brethren” is a word so why isn’t “sistern”? I find English a bit sexist sometimes *annoyed*) in Pakistan know that though getting a cheap desktop with the aforementioned specs is no problem at all and you can even manage to get a satisfactory internet connection but reliable electricity is a whole different ball-game. IT’S IMPOSSIBLE TO WORK VIRTUALLY WITHOUT A GOOD POWER BACKUP. Yep, had to shout that out. Do not even think about becoming a VA unless you have or can invest in a generator or a UPS. Your clients are busy people living a charmed life where they don’t know what it’s like to be without electricity for even a minute unless Katrina hits, or for that matter what it feels like not to have hot water … I could seriously cry now … :'(.  Ummm … where was I? Yeah, so get a generator or a UPS so you don’t miss out on deadlines. Trust me “We had a power failure” is as bad an excuse as saying “the dog ate my homework”. You simply can’t do that unless it’s a long term client you work regularly with and who knows you have a very high level of professionalism and would never delay delivering the goods so you can go to your sister’s friend’s aunt’s nephew’s wedding.

How do you find work? I know – this is the hardest part but no worries … you are with a pro … 😉 When I first started all I had was a randomly dropped word “content writing” to begin with. I had left my teaching job, was going to have my 2nd child and was bored as hell so I googled. Have I ever told you how much I love Google? No? OK … I LOVE GOOGLE! So I googled and found several essays explaining what content writing was but hey you obviously don’t know zilch about me if you thought I was going to read all of that. I was looking for work/job postings. So tried a few different search terms and found Rozee. Have I told you I love Rozee? And BrightSpyre? Well, I do. Rozee was how I found, (for privacy’s sake let’s call her ASK) ASK … my introduction to the beautiful world of virtual work. She was a 20-something with a team of about 10 content writers. In my first month I wrote 200 essays/content articles at the rate of Rs. 100/$1.2 per 500 words which is SHIT right? But I have never regretted it. It was great experience, I learned a lot. Uhhh wait this isn’t about me but how you can find work … sorry … got carried away. On second thought, I am going to make it about me because THIS IS MY BLOG … I’LL TALK ABOUT WHATEVER THE HELL I WANT TO … :P. *cough, splutter* … ignore that. Um, so yeah after my first month my brain started working overtime … how does ASK find work? And who should come to my rescue but good ol’ Google. (Have I told you I love Google?). I googled her and HURRAYYYYYyy … I found oDesk. Now oDesk is this magic VA land where clients or buyers come to look for VAs or providers who can do tidbits for them that they are too busy to do themselves. You’ll find thousands of job postings for varying skill-sets. Now nailing a job can be extremely frustrating if you are a newbie. More on that in Lesson 2 or 3 or whenever it suits me to talk about it *evil grin*. You go and check out oDesk today. But it’s the site I found easiest to use, the most reliable and the one I can assure you will bring you success. Another great site is Elance but between us I find the interface pretty complicated and I gave up on it after the first couple of days.

End of Lesson 2 – I know no one is reading this – got a total of 8 hits – but hey one of you 8 might really need this and benefit from it and become a famous VA one day and leave me half your wealth when you die (I shock myself sometimes). So for you I hope this made some sense. It’s beginners stuff. There is much more but we are making a start. Any questions … just ask here.