Karla Singson is the CEO of Scalewind, a company that provides creative, tech, customer & admin support to companies that want to grow and scale without the hassles of HR, legal, and manpower management. We talk about the Distributing Growth framework, the scary part of growing a business, and factors to consider before outsourcing tasks.
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Ignite Distributed Growth with Karla Singson
Our guest is Karla Singson, the CEO of ScaleWind, a company that provides turnkey teams, creative tech, customer support and admin support for companies who want to grow and scale without the hassles of HR, legal, and manpower management. Wow, that’s the holy grail. Back up to the show, Karla.
Hey, Steve, and I’m super excited to be here. I’m grateful to be invited to your podcast, and I am super thrilled to be talking about outsourcing, team management, and growth today.
Absolutely, that’s why you’re here. We’re going to talk about all these topics, but before we go there, I’m very curious about your journey and what led you to launching this company and you’re here in the U.S., which is also pretty unique for these kind of outsourcing companies to be run from here. And you also do automation. So please tell us a little bit about your journey and how did you hone in on this niche that you are serving?
Right. So I’ve owned service-based businesses since, you know, I say I would, you know, still I was 17 and I used to own a flower shop, an events company. And in 2019, I moved to Las Vegas from the Philippines to start an events company. And when the pandemic happened, we had to close that company and my investor and I were brainstorming on what a good business would be. So I was an SEO writer, you know, in 2009, and I’ve always kind of used the internet and writing and my knowledge in digital marketing to start businesses in outsourcing also, you know, on the side, and I just thought that it would be a great time to go all in on this specific industry.
And so I sold my ownership and the other companies anyway to my sister, and then I focused on Skill Win. So during the pandemic, we started Skill Win. We initially served companies who needed virtual assistance, creative work, and tech work, and basically helped them grow. Because with the trend of people being laid off, people being transferred, people moving to the suburbs, and, you know, we, you know, a lot of people did movement, you know, decisions over the pandemic. They moved to a different country, moved back to, you know, with their families and all that.
So the job market was in a weird place, you know, in a very peculiar place in the U.S. And, but it doesn’t mean that these services are not needed. So even if they laid off, say, someone, it doesn’t mean that they don’t need that service in a company. So we hope to be able to bridge that gap, and that’s why we started managed outsourcing company. So from 2020, when we started this business till now, I probably say, you know, we were able to grow from zero to a seven-figure company without spending anything on ads. And we’re just really excited to further this growth and help more companies scale.
Yeah, that’s a very remarkable, I mean, many companies were retrenching during the pandemic and you were actually expanding. They say that in a recession, sometimes the best time to launch a business, because if it’s sticky during a recession, you’ve got to take off afterwards. So I’m very curious. This was not a question I was thinking about, but now that you mentioned, you know, virtual assistant, creative and tech being your three legs of the stool. I wonder why did you pick these three? And if you had two more slots, what would they have been?
Right. That’s a very good question. So right now we actually have seven brands already. We expanded to customer support. So we have a call center doing customer support. And then we also recently expanded to copywriting. So we provide copywriters and content writers and our team is also trained in AI-empowered copywriting. So it’s, as the technology continues to advance, like we have AI art now too, which, you know, like you can just type certain items that you want drawn into like an animation and the computer will just generate, you know, original images. It’s really pretty crazy.
I tried it last week and, you know, so technology is always advancing, but we’re also always like improving, you know, our team skills to catch up with that. So the reason why we chose virtual assistants, creative and tech is I would say with my tenure in the digital marketing industry in the online business world, these are the top three things that people always need. So if you have a business and you have a website, the mere insurance that your website does not go down or if you’re launching something new, you would need a new page. So there’s, it’s kind of, there’s always work for designers and tech people. And of course, virtual assistants, because as businesses grow and as more people, you know, try to dive into business also for the first time, affordable help is always, you know, welcomed.
Affordable help is very welcome. So, you know, this podcast is all about blueprints and frameworks. And when we had our earlier conversation, we were talking about what kind of framework would be the most appropriate that you could share with our listeners. And we are well into the 110 plus episodes. So, we have seen a lot of frameworks. But you talked about distributing growth. And I was really thinking about this whole idea of distributing growth, what does it mean and how does it empower entrepreneurs to distribute growth?
So I’m really excited to share this because I actually don’t talk about this part in detail because it’s not a secret strategy, but I think it’s a good way to always remember, especially for people who are starting their business and growing their business and really investing in their business, you know, for the first time. So, as I’ve mentioned before, we have achieved, you know, incredible growth in like on our first year, we were able to achieve six figures in monthly recurring revenue just after one year. And I think that the main reason why we were able to do that is because of this framework. And so what we did is that the distributing growth framework is distributing accountability and the desire to grow amongst your teammates.Distributing growth means distributing accountability and the desire to grow amongst your teammates. Click To Tweet
And with that also distributing the rewards. So what we did is that we built two teams. So we have an acquisition team and a retention team. And then we obviously told the people like which team they belong to, and then we let them just focus on the tasks that are involved in that process. So team acquisition is just focused on showing, say, my brand or SkillWin’s brand to as many people as possible, and then getting as many appointments as possible, and getting as many introductions as possible. And right now we’re also investing in getting me, you know, booked on more and more podcasts, more and more, you know, stages to speak. So that’s part of their task. And then the retention team is just focused on retention and making sure clients are happy, expectations are met.
And so even small things such as, you know, forms, onboarding forms, support cards, everything that makes a client happy, delighted, and makes us want – makes them want to tell other people about us, that’s their job. And then the next step is we were able to identify the needle movers and the speed bumps of every process along the way. And so, for example, there are certain items that would stop or prevent from someone to be acquired as a new client. So for example, how do we improve show up rate in appointments? So the way we do that is maybe this is our strategy. Maybe we send them a text reminder and an email reminder and maybe we’ll call them too, or maybe we’ll tell them, you know, if you show up, we’re gonna give you a coupon code or something like that.
So we actually always differ the promos that we give or the rewards that we give. But then when we saw that speed bump, then there might be other items that we have to solve or say invoicing. So there’s also speed bumps along invoicing. Like there are times when a client would say yes to the call on the call, like, oh yeah, I’m ready to, I’m ready to sign up, you know, send me the invoice. But then there would be time when, you know, between that call and the invoice is paid. And sometimes the client just forgets about it. So we identify what these speed bumps are and then we solve them. And then we also reward every person that gets to solve it.
So I’ll give you an example. So we reward our acquisition team for booking appointments. We reward the salesperson for closing the deal. We reward the person who was able to get an invoice paid through a follow-up. And then on the retention side, we reward the customer success managers so it gets to retain every client every month. We reward them per client per month. And also we reward them for being able to cross-sell a client to other services. So as you can see, we have distributed our growth by distributing the rewards and distributing accountability and identifying where our real opportunities lie for growth.
So a little caveat here, we are a subscription-based service and we really lean on having monthly recurring revenue. So you have to include all of these rewards in your cost of acquisition and you have to probably accept the fact that you probably be profitable on the second or third month of the subscription. So it’s kind of a, the cost of acquisition might be higher, but 100% it’s more, it’s definitely worth it. And in my experience, it’s really more effective for long-term growth.
You know getting to cover the cost of acquisition within two or three months is actually a very good number. For big companies, they sometimes are willing to go out 18, 24 months to cover the cost of acquisition when they can keep that client for a long time, it’s worth their while. I really like this, the way you framed it, that you are distributing the desire, the accountability and the rewards. So that’s very, very interesting.
So another question that comes to mind is this whole idea of, you know, Jeff Bezos talks about he wants to build a company that is, that the company, he wants to build a company with missionaries as opposed to mercenaries. how do you thread the line of not falling into the trap of everything is monetary based, or people stick here just because they make money? How do you keep them also connected to the mission and the vision?
Right. Actually, that is a very good question, because you would quickly learn that people are not motivated by money alone. And as a leader, you need to be a good role model. I know that most people actually want to be just good followers. And if they’re inspired by a great leader, it’s not that easy to make them do the job and do the work, you know, do the work very well. In our experience, I, you know, we’re a team of 200 people. In our experience, I, I really have close relationships with my top managers. And I really try to get to know them and discover what their personal goals are.As a leader, you need to be a good role model. People are not motivated by money alone. Click To Tweet
And if there’s a way I can help them, then they also, I also help them. And then I also encourage them to do the same to the people under them. And you know, until we get to like the bottom, right? The other thing for us is we also continuously invest in soft skill development for our team. Every month, we always have a seminar about something that’s not related to work per se, but it’s related to their personal life or improving their lives. Last month, we had a seminar on communication and improving, you know, your conversational English and we made it fun. We had prizes and all that. Next month we have easy investing or, you know, savings.
So it’s like not really related to their work, but to improving their personal lives. And the HR stuff that we expect, like birthday greetings and gifts if someone, like, you know, just delivered their baby or something like that. So, but I also remind them that we are not, you know, we operate on that principle that we are not a family, we’re a team, which means that, you know, in a family, it’s kind of like, we have to accept everyone as they are, because they are our family. But in a team, you have to really step up because your teammate could be, you’re doing them a disservice if you don’t live to your highest potential or do the work, right?
Yeah, you can hurt the team. No one wants to pull the team back.
That’s really cool. So let’s talk about growth and distributing growth. So is there like a good luck zone of growth where you’re, you’re not hurting retention because you are distributing the rules and responsibilities for retention, you could theoretically grow at any rate without hurting retention. So what is your perspective on this.
So that was actually kind of a scary part of growing because when you grow a company, you don’t know what is out there. You know, like when you say, when we made our first $10,000, we don’t know what it would feel like, what our problems would be when we make 50k a month. And then we don’t know what our problems would be when we make 100k a month. And so my business partner and I decided to operate on this busy restaurant theory. So this is just our own name. So our busy restaurant theory is in a restaurant, if there is no, if, have you noticed like when you go to a restaurant and there’s just like one table, which is just you, you’re the only customer.
Have you noticed that sometimes the service is actually worse and you’re just so frustrated because you’re like, oh my God, we’re the only customers here. How can they get my order wrong? How can it take 40 minutes for my order? Like this is unacceptable. But there are also experiences where the restaurant is so busy, but they’re just so on point. The waiters know all of your orders, your food arrives on time. And I think it’s an energy management thing. Like when people are bored, they’re not motivated to work. And as a result, they produce subpar work. But if, if we’re so busy and everyone is seeing everyone work so hard, they also be inspired to work hard and they don’t want to be the one that slows down the team.In business, embracing growth can be like managing a busy restaurant. When everyone is motivated and working hard, they inspire each other to excel. Click To Tweet
So what my business partner and I decided, we actually took the risk and we were like, let’s reign them with some leads and let’s just wait for it to break. And then when it breaks, we apologize to the client and we fix it and now we learn. So we actually took that risk. And we’ve had some clients who were like, oh my God, like this design was taking too long. And so we use that time to study what the correct cadence is for our team, in terms of hiring and growth. And then we made good with a client.
And at the same time, along with that, we deployed the distributing growth, distributing our rewards plan, which kind of protects retention also, because now these people are really just taking care of retention. So we actually hired, our top teams for customer retention is our client success managers. We actually hired them, I think a year and two months into the business. So we didn’t hire them from the start, but it was a position that we decided to do after a year when we focused on really growing and determining the right cadence.
So Jim Collins in his book, Grade by Choice, he talks about this concept of the 20 mile march, which is basically the maximum sustainable growth that you can do. You can grow faster, but then you will have to stop growing because you will have to consolidate. Right. If you grow slower, then you’re actually creating this empty restaurant effect that people are not stretched and they get bored, they drop the ball. So what is the sweet spot growth that you can sustain year on year? Do you have a sense of what that is in terms of percentage of new employees that you can absorb into the organization?
I think in terms of hiring, I would be nervous if we are growing anything more than 20% a month in terms of hiring new employees. Um, in terms of, we actually experienced that we experienced hit, you know, hitting the ceiling and kind of stagnating between a style, a level of revenue. So there was a time we were making X amount and we were making this amount for six months and we didn’t grow. We kind of just, there was just like a $15,000 difference and it was just this window. And I was getting frustrated because I was like, is there something I’m doing wrong? What can I improve on? And I was even questioning if I was still the right leader for this or something like that.
So, but thankfully we’ve gone out of that, you know, lull and we’re starting to grow more now. I would say in terms of revenue growth, as long as you, right now we are still two years old, so I’m shooting for at least 200% growth per year, year per year, for the first three years. That is my goal and I’m definitely on track to make that happen. And then I think with additional investments in automation and tech, we could also still improve where we are at.
That’s awesome. So let’s switch gears here a little bit and let’s talk about outsourcing as well as kind of an industry that is growing. What do you see as some of the misconceptions are about outsourcing and is it appropriate for all types of businesses?
Yeah, so it’s super nice that you asked about that because outsourcing has been around for a very long time. I grew up in the Philippines and a lot of people are still surprised why we speak English like this. It’s almost like it’s very Americanized and that is because business process outsourcing, BPO, as we call them, BPO companies in the Philippines have been around for decades. And companies like Verizon, AT&T, 1-800-Flowers, they all have their customer support centers there. And it’s actually pretty common for college students who are taking a gap year or for your first job to be at a BPO. So, you know, outsourcing has been around for a long time, but until now, we still find ourselves re-educating the market every now and then.
So first, biggest misconception about outsourcing is outsourcing is not consulting. So outsourcing is having a set system, having templates, having process, you know, if then SOPs, and being able to determine that this is the right way to do it, and then transferring that to someone, you know, to another company, doesn’t necessarily mean they have to be in another country, but to another company or another entity so you don’t have to do it yourself. That is outsourcing. So if you need advice, if you need strategy, you need consulting, and that is not what we do.Outsourcing is not consulting. It's having a set system, templates, and processes. Click To Tweet
The difference, though, with near outsourcing or freelancing, going to freelancers, going on Upwork, going on Fiverr, compared to managed outsourcing, which is what we do, is that if you hire a managed outsourcing company, you’re not going at it alone. Your payment is protected, you’re dealing with a company with a reputation to protect, not just an individual freelancer who can easily run away with your payment or not do the job right, and sometimes you can’t do anything about it. So the management can also give you a little bit of advice in terms of tech, in terms of platform, and in terms of expectations.
And if you have any questions about managing your expectations or how to manage your virtual assistant, how to communicate with them properly to also help support your virtual assistant or give your virtual assistant the support that they need to succeed in the job, then you have an extra layer of help. Next misconception about outsourcing is it’s not a Hail Mary. A lot of people, when they run out of ideas about how to keep their company afloat, if they’re kind of struggling, sometimes they think, you know what, let me just hire a VA to take care of these things, and then it will solve it. So that is a very bad idea.Managing expectations and providing feedback are essential when working with virtual assistants. The journey to success often begins with a lot of coaching and communication. Click To Tweet
And even if you have the money right now, and if you tell me, no, Carla, I wanna hire you guys, I have the money right now, let me just pay you, we will not accept that, because outsourcing is not a Hail Mary, because if we’re just copying your processes and it has not worked for you, it will probably likely not work with an outsourcing company. However, if you have a couple of things that you wanna trial and error, the advantages with outsourcing, someone else is doing it for you and then you can focus on bigger things. You can focus on networking or other cash producing tasks, but you have to accept that they are trial and erroring things for you.
And doing the trial and error is the job that you are outsourcing. So don’t try to outsource if you feel like you need a Hail Mary. And lastly is when you hire an outsourcing company, you are not hiring an employee, so boundaries still apply. So you’re hiring, you’re dealing with a business, so you have to understand that, for us, we are a US-based company, so we operate on US hours, but if you need extra help because you hired an executive assistant or a personal assistant, boundaries for like working on weekends or working on holidays still apply, and you have to respect those boundaries still. So yeah, I think those are like kind of the top misconceptions and I wanted to address that.
Yeah, no, that makes a lot of sense. So what I’m curious about is, is about decision so when you say, if I have something a repeat of process that I have a process where some level of judgment is required? So let’s say I have a personal assistant. It’s not all mechanical. It’s not all process driven. Sometimes there is emotional intelligence is required because not every inquirer is going to be the same. Different people will require different treatment. So how does that work? Is it possible to, I mean, is it fair to expect or is there a level of service where high level judgment is, can be expected, or is it a one size fits all from that respect?
Right, that’s a very good question. So there’s definitely a lot of expectation management that has to go from the start. And we always tell our clients that the first month, on the first month, we will need a lot of coaching, a lot of feedback from you as our client. So we have certain positions that definitely include a lot of judgment from the virtual assistant. Like for example, one of our best client, one of our favorite clients is a guy who has a very large social media following and he’s a dating coach. And so on his social media profiles, he posts a lot of videos about how to talk to girls, how to flirt with girls and like stuff like that.
And then he would always say, send me a DM if you want to check out my offers or if you want to work with me. And so he always gets, you know, a lot of direct messages, a lot of DMS on his Instagram or on his Facebook, and then our virtual assistant goes through these DMs. So first of all, she has to sound like him. See, it’s even a girl, it’s not really a guy even. So she has to sound like him, she has to follow his language. So she has to study how he talks and she has to study the previous conversations. Next is the client has to be able to tell what the top five, for example, what the top five scenarios are. This is what usually happens.
And then he has to educate the virtual assistant or the person they’re outsourcing to how to respond to each of these situations. And then after that, they have to determine what needs to be escalated. So what is something that the virtual assistant should bring to the client to escalate to the client in order for less mistakes and to not be able to deal with it in a weird or awkward way. Sometimes it’s not wrong, it’s just awkward. It’s awkwardly said and it doesn’t sound genuine, but it doesn’t come with bad intention.
So as long as that’s communicated well and it’s built into the SOPs and then just a lot of feedback, really. So the first day, they submit an end of day report, the client should look at the report and then give feedback. And then they improve for day two. Same thing, record feedback, improve for day three. And then, of course, the job of the manager is to make sure that the client is happy. So once again, in this situation, managed outsourcing has a lot of advantages versus doing it by yourself.
I can see that. And I get it. It’s probably takes some level of courage for the person to hand over their Instagram and to respond. But if they want to scale their business, there’s no other way for them to do that. So that’s what I think. So, Akala, I love our conversation. We probably should schedule a part two because I couldn’t get through half of my questions, but our time is coming to an end. I just want to ask you, if people would like to learn more, find out about different options that they can explore with outsourcing, how do they find you? How can they reach out to you personally or to your assistant who sounds like you.
You got me. That’s so funny. Yeah, so, you know, I’m always super excited to share, you know, a lot of options for you to grow your company. You know, we love saying that ScaleWind is really growth on demand. That’s what we provide. So you can find all of our services and all of our brands on scalewind.com. And then you can also get in touch with me on Instagram. It’s Karla Stephan, K-A-R-L-A-S-T-E-F-A-N. Or if you’re feeling adventurous and you want to get in touch with me right away, I hold an open, kind of like an office hours every Wednesday where you can just ask me any outsourcing, team management or leadership problem that you have. And then we can kind of brainstorm on it. And you can send me an email on Karla, K-A-R-L-A at scalewind.com. So there’s tons of ways that an outsourcing company can help your business grow, even just hiring someone for lead generation or research or social media. You have no idea how much growth you’re super, you’re actually really close to if you just, you know, take the plunge and hire help. So, and here we are, we’re happy to help.
Fantastic, I’m very excited about that. I’ll probably call into one of your office hours as well. So thanks for coming on the show and to our listeners, stay tuned, next week we’ll have another exciting entrepreneur join us.
Thank you so much, Steve. This is a great show.