RCA Technology & Intelligence Briefings Issue 2

Interview with Michael Russer— First Quarter 2006

Michael Russer
Michael J. Russer, also known as “Mr. Internet”®, is an internationally recognized speaker, author and strategic consultant to the real estate industry concerning business transformation and the Internet. He is the father of "Virtual Outsourcing" for the real estate industry and coauthor of the industry’s only book, workbook and tape program on Virtual Assistants—Transform Your Business Using Virtual Assistants.
Listen to the interview (mp3 format, 17MB).
Virtual Outsourcing
1. Virtual outsourcing is not about hardware or software but about real people who do work for you from a distance instead of from your office.
2. There is a distinction between virtual service providers who primarily do projects and those who do ongoing work like a staff member; they are found in different places.
3. Project-based virtual service providers, sometimes called virtual consultants, have a specific talent or expertise; if you post a project on appropriate sites, these people will bid on the privilege of doing it.
4. In contrast, you build a relationship with a virtual assistant who provides you with ongoing support; this arrangement is much like having an employee but without the hassles and the costs.
Resources for Virtual Consultants
1. Two good marketplaces for finding virtual service assistance are eLance.com and Guru.com; there is no cost to use these sites to find talent. Russer always posts his projects on both of them.
2. Once you register as an approved buyer of services, you can post a project, be clear about which category of talent you need—e.g., graphic design, web design, programming, copywriting, editing, marketing plans, business plans, etc.
3. Posting your request involves completing a request for proposal (RFP) form where you describe your project. When the form directs you to indicate your budget, opt “not to disclose”—otherwise, the amount you list will become the floor for bidding.
4. The low cost level of some of the bids is certain to surprise you—from people who do very competent work, responses may be numerous and come from around the world.
5. On a recent posting to design a new business logo, Russer got over 100 responses before cutting off the bidding, many were guaranteeing to work with him until he was satisfied. Russer chose a designer from Argentina at a cost of $139; to have the work done locally would have cost him $1500–$2500.
How Commercial Agents Might Use Virtual Help
1. For the design and/or writing of any kind of marketing materials—print or digital.
2. For branding you or your organization —help with the look and feel as well as some of the copy.
3. For copy writing of brochures. A good direct-response copywriter will interview you about your target audience and purpose and then put together a marketing piece.
4. Russer used a talented copywriter to produce an email solicitation for a high-priced workshop and received double the enrollment from just one email distribution.
5. One of the biggest mistakes people in business make is to think they must do everything themselves.
Mutual Protections at the Virtual Consulting Sites
1. The systems on eLance.com and Guru.com protect your anonymity when you post projects—you are not vulnerable to spamming; the providers see an internal user ID that relates back to you only through the system.
2. Along with bids sent to you, you get valuable information about the providers, including how many projects they have done through the system, their total dollar amount of services and their average rating from people who have used them—you can look back at specific ratings comments.
3. Providers also rate you as an employer; others will see the rating providers have given you, the higher your ratings, the more likely you will get attractive bids.
The Virtual Assistant Industry
1. The idea of virtual assistants is an emerging industry that is growing rapidly; workers are migrating to this model to spend more time at home and to avoid tiresome and costly commutes, office politics and uncertainties of the workplace.
2. This new industry allows people with talent to express it via the Internet, a phone and a fax; the quality of talent available is extraordinary.
3. Associations have sprung up to support virtual assistants; one of the best known is the International Virtual Assistant Association (IVAA.org), which includes members from around the world and with a variety of specialties and skill sets.
The Process for Working with VAs
1. The way of determining whether a VA can do a good job is similar to a traditional vetting process for a staff employee.
2. Because commercial agents are generally pressed for time, they can potentially benefit from a VA’s help in consistently developing and utilizing an email database. Virtual assistants are adept at employing drip marketing systems (drip marketing is a direct marketing strategy that involves sending out several promotional pieces over a period of time to a subset of sales leads.) to market the agent and property listings using email, snail mail or by telephone.
3. The first step is to determine what kind of support you want—step back from your business and assess what needs to get done that you could outsource; consider what you don’t like to do and/or what is time consuming for you to do but has to get done.
4. One practical strategy for evaluating how your business runs is to draw an organizational chart from a functional standpoint and consciously evaluate which functions could be outsourced.
5. Ideally, you hire virtual assistants according to their specialty, unlike onsite assistants, who tend to be generalists; e.g., to handle your ongoing marketing campaigns, you should hire someone who understands marketing, not someone who understands commercial real estate—you are the content expert.
6. Handling a monthly newsletter could appropriately be part of your marketing campaign run by a VA. Freeing up your time on the production and distribution of the newsletter, you will have time to attend to the new business it can generate.
Resources to Find Virtual Assistants
1. Beware of the numerous sites that tout individual assistants; two excellent, broad sites are IVAA.org and IAVOA.com (International Association of Virtual Office Assistants)—neither are real-estate specific, but most outsourced functions do not require RE expertise.
2. To find people who are more real estate savvy—though more on the residential side, try REVANetwork.com; Russer co-founded the organization as a free, non-profit community of virtual assistants dedicated to real estate.
3. Specialization among VAs has progressed to the point where groups within the REVA community are forming guilds for particular specialties such as drip marketing. The guilds are define the skill requirements for being a master, journeyman and apprentice.
4. The guild concept is a way of standardizing and improving skill sets and of guaranteeing quality of work to purchasers.
VAs to Find VAs
Once you start hiring more than two or three virtual assistants with their own specialties, it is useful to find an executive level virtual assistant to help you manage the others—there are VAs who specialize in that.
Products and Sites mentioned by Michael Russer:
Russer Communications:
International Virtual Assistant Association:
International Association of Virtual Office Assistants:
REVA Network: