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Summary:

I had the chance to speak with Chris Ducker of Virtual Business Lifestyle about what it takes to become a virtual CEO, and how he transitioned to the role in just twelve months. Becoming a virtual CEO, he says, starts with passion and a plan.

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I had the chance to speak with Chris Ducker of Virtual Business Lifestyle about what it takes to become a virtual CEO, and how he transitioned to the role in just twelve months. Becoming a virtual CEO, he says, starts with passion and a plan.

Identify Your Reason for Going Virtual

After becoming a father for the third time, Chris knew he wanted to change things. With his first two children, he was always working, but now, he had the perfect opportunity to become a virtual CEO: he was his own boss, had his own company, and a couple of hundred people working for him. If he was ever going to go virtual, this would be the time to do it.

He says, “I wanted to get to the point where I was focused on more than just my company. I wanted to be focused on my family more. I wanted also to start focusing a little bit more on my other entrepreneurial projects.” The motivations for becoming a virtual CEO vary from person to person, but in his case, Chris says, “I never liked being handcuffed to a desk.”

Before setting out to become a virtual CEO, figure out your motivations.  As Chris explains, “[it] comes down to a passion to want to make it happen. A lot of people like the idea of being out of the office, but when it becomes a reality, they get really antsy about the whole thing and end up coming in the office everyday.” If you’re not clear about why you want to remove yourself from certain roles within your company, it will be a lot harder to succeed.

Create Your Exit Plan

As Chris details, “To be able to get to the point where you can start taking yourself out of the office on a regular basis and [become] more virtual, you really only have to do one thing: delegate. I hired nine people to replace myself in a number of areas across the business, everything from sales and marketing to operations, HR, accounting, training, the whole lot.” It was a year-long process based firmly around specific goals he wanted to achieve and tasks that he knew needed to be outsourced in order to free himself from the day-to-day operations.

Four steps to creating your plan:

  1. Set clear and incremental outsourcing goals. “The nine people I hired, I didn’t just hire all at once,” Chris explains, “They were very systematically put in place throughout the course of 2010. That one year-long goal I broke down into twelve monthly goals, so for instance, January I wanted to take myself out of as many email loops as possible. When I eliminated that, overnight, it freed up three hours of my day.”
  2. Decide how you will recruit. What you need in the way of virtual support will determine how you recruit. Some tasks and projects are one-time, while others are recurring, and you may prefer hiring a virtual staffing company over several individuals.
  3. Hire the right person for the job. It’s unlikely that one person will handle all of your outsourcing needs. “I get emails from people all the time that say, ‘I need a virtual assistant to handle my blog for me, do my SEO, handle my flight itineraries, and do my graphic design.’ This is four people we’re talking about here,” he explains, and “the first problem entrepreneurs make is that they expect that one virtual assistant can do everything.”
  4. Spend enough time training new recruits. Another common mistake, Chris adds, “A lot of people look at outsourcing as a magic pill. They expect it to work perfectly from day one.” Plan to spend enough time training new members of your virtual team on how you like certain tasks done, making sure to be very clear and direct with instructions and feedback.

Develop Trust and Avoid Micro-Managing

When you’re first getting started with your virtual team, or even with an individual new hire, it can be challenging to establish the trust that important tasks will be completed. Chris adds, “It’s hard to be able to just turn around and trust [a new hire] and expect them to get on with the work.”

In the beginning, it may be helpful to closely monitor the work of a new hire. Chris recommends using tools like Hive Desk, which “allows you to keep a tab on what people are doing. They have to clock in and out, just like they would in a regular office environment, and it takes screenshots of their computer every ten minutes,” which can give you a bit more confidence from the start.

It’s important, he adds, not to micro-manage. After the initial few months of working with someone, you should have a pretty good idea whether or not they are going to make a productive addition to your team and if you can trust in their abilities so that you can provide them with the autonomy they expect as virtual workers. “Something like Hive Desk is great to begin with,” he says, “but once that rapport and relationship is starting to be built, you should be able to take your eyes off the ball a bit and just make sure they do what they’re being paid to do.”

What tips do you have for getting started with a virtual team?

Photo courtesy Flickr user Steve Keys

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  1. What company is going to let you sit around at home and pay you while you hire 9 people to do your work?

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  2. Great post Amber! As more and more people come to realize the benefits of outsourcing, that social stigma will slowly fade away. Tools like HiveDesk.com give you confidence from the start that your remote workers are performing the tasks you have requested of them. You can then focus more on growing your business than micro-managing your staff.

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  3. The advice works for small operations, which I think this article means for “Virtual CEO”. Managing outsourcing resources can only scale to a certain extent, say you probably manage at most 5 remote people at the same time. Task assignments, coordinations, monitoring, integrating things together will probably consume most of your time. A business still needs a structure when it comes time to scale up, that is when you need to find a partner, a co-founder, or a core team. Yes, a “Virtual CEO” using outsourcing resources give you some satisfaction of being independent and the good feeling of calling the shots. But you still need to think about expanding your business, which sure will require skills beyond managing outsourcing.
    As for Hive Desk, also check out http://www.worksnaps.net. Similar tool with more capabilities.

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