Transcription: #17 - Karl Diffenderfer: VA Business & Social Mission
#17 - Karl Diffenderfer: VA Business & Social Mission


Aderson Oliveira: I have spoken with Karl Diffenderfer about how business leaders have a hard time delegating, and how he helps his clients to let go of the tasks that they don't enjoy doing. He talked about his virtual assistant company as well and how it helps businesses, and at the same time, it helps to empower people working from countries where it would be hard for them to make a living, and he helps them make a living. He also shared a horror story about a contractor disappearing on him.

Hello, hello, Aderson Oliveira here. This is another interview for the OuchSourcing Podcast, where I talk to business owners, to experts, to people that know a lot about outsourcing and how some of the difficulties with outsourcing can be overcome. We're here and today, I have Karl Diffenderfer. I think I got it right. He is a business and life coach at Higher Impact, and he's also the founder of Virtual Assistants Company. Karl, thank you very much for being here. Welcome.

Karl Diffenderfer: Thank you, Aderson.

Aderson: First question to you. Do you have a virtual assistant?

Karl: I do, yes. I've had her working for me for about six years now.

Aderson: Talk a little bit about where you are located and about your business as well.

Karl: I'm located in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and that's the United States, and I have been a serial entrepreneur for about 15 years. I've owned, started, run, and sold companies, and I just love starting companies. My current companies that I'm focusing on right now, one is a business and life coaching company, and that's where I help business owners build a company that runs itself, and then I also have Virtual Assistants Company. Virtual Assistants Company bridges the gap between the overseas community that likes to do work for people here in the United States and Canada, and then I help train both sides to be able to get the best impact of the work going overseas.

Aderson: I had a look on your LinkedIn profile, and I realized that the Virtual Assistants Company was founded about four years ago. Go a little bit deeper into what did you see back then that you said, "Hey, I might as well just build a business assisting people getting, business owners getting virtual assistants"? What was the need that you saw back then?

Karl: For me, I saw a need to be able to cut down on costs within my business while, at the same time, still providing the same quality level of service. I quickly realized that there are people overseas that their income is a lot lower than ours, and I can help them to provide for their families, while at the same time, making my businesses successful here.

Aderson: I'll be honest with you. That angle of helping them out there as well, giving them more resources as well, that's an angle that I haven't heard before. Of course, I heard about virtual assistants. Actually, I'm going through the process of getting one virtual assistant. But, the angle that you brought there is you're also thinking about -- not that I'm not thinking about them. It's just that it's not something that comes that naturally or easily to me. So, why that concern? I'm not saying that we should not have concern with somebody else, but why? That was the first thing that you mentioned there. So, why was that concern so prominent in your answer there?

Karl: It's a great question. I've traveled all over the world. I've been in third-world countries, second-world countries, and obviously, here in America, and I've seen the great wealth that we have here in America, and I think it's a blessing. I think it's great that we have that, but I also think that it's great for us to be able to share that with others. So, for me to be able to be kind of a social enterprise and provide for other families in the world while they're also helping to take care of stuff here for me is a win-win for everybody.

Aderson: Let me go deeper a little bit there, because whenever people - and I'm talking about people, in general - I think that this is a misconception, to be honest with you, but whenever people hear the word about "outsourcing", about working with offshoring work, sometimes they come with the misconception that we are taking advantage of people over there. We are paying them too little - and I'm going to use a word here that may not be that appreciated - but we are, in a way, enslaving people. We are treating people badly. Do you hear that, and how do you react to that kind of a reaction?

Karl: Well, you know, I think people could certainly abuse it. There's no doubt about it, and I think some people do. I think every person has value, and so, to me, what I do is I look at what they would be making in their current economy, where they live, how much they would make in their salary, and then I make sure that I'm paying them more than that to the point where one of the employees, recently, just commented that it's able to provide for her whole family. I'm still able to keep my profit margins good here in the States, but then also, provide more for them. So, like I said, it's a win-win for everybody.

Aderson: So, that's how you would answer to someone who would say, "Hey, are you exploiting people overseas?" This is how you answer them?

Karl: Yeah, I mean, there's people that abuse that. Yes, there are shady business owners out there that will take advantage of people overseas. That's not my heart. So, I guess, I can't judge other people, but for myself, I keep myself in check with that.

Aderson: You have a virtual assistant company, you provide net service to business owners of America. Where did you decide to do business to find those professionals to become VAs for North American leaders?

Karl: I worked with people all over the world. Depending on what kind of work I'm looking for, I will interview around, and find the person I think is the right fit. I've had people in Russia, the UK, I've had people in India, Philippines, China, I've had people in South Africa, and in Colombia, South America.

Aderson: But, when you say, "I have people," are those professionals providing services as VAs through your platform?

Karl: Yes. But, some of them have been like programmers maybe per website development, or maybe for a mobile app, or something that I needed developed. But, my primary team is located in the Philippines, and that's where all of them are situated right now.

Aderson: I had the privilege of talking to a North American-based virtual assistant last week, and the interview will be live soon. One of the things that I spoke with her was the fact that what is the line that we draw there, and do we need a line for that? For instance, web development, what is coding? And is that VA work or is that, "I need a coder here, I need a developer here"? How do you distinguish them, or you don't actually need to distinguish them?

Karl: Yeah, that's a really good question. They are separate services for sure. I think web development probably should stay within a web development firm. But, for me, and the fact that I've owned a marketing company, I've felt comfortable going overseas and finding that person. I would say the virtual assistants do a little bit of, maybe, WordPress updates, or Google AdWords, or Facebook advertising, or that kind of stuff. But, it really would be advantageous to have a web development firm take care of that for you.

Aderson: Okay, so you mentioned a few different countries there depending on your needs, I guess, depending on the specialty as well. My question is, and that's my impression as well. It might be wrong, but you are here to correct me as you are doing very focused work on the VA space, but why are the Filipinos so in line with that type of work? Because, it seems to me that a lot of the VA professionals and VA companies, they focus a lot on the Filipino market. Why is that?

Karl: That's a really good question. Their cost of living is a lot lower, for sure. Over there, people might make anywhere from $300 to $800 a month as a full-time salary. But then, more importantly, I think they really care about their English, they care about learning and growing. I've seen that to be true all around. They're good communicators, and they care about people. So, they're not just like run all over the place, just try to make money, but they care about doing good work and caring about the people they work with, and I appreciate that.

Aderson: Do you think that this is a cultural trait of them?

Karl: I do, yeah. I've worked with many different cultures. For example, the Russian culture, not especially UK, but the Russian culture, they can be more cold in their demeanor and how they communicate, and it's just how their culture is. It's nothing against them. But, sometimes people like to communicate with somebody that's a little bit more warm and more relatable in that conversation.

Aderson: I find that as well. I not only work with Filipinos as well, but they are actually there in the Philippines, but I have Filipino friends here in Canada as well. So, I find them very warm, as you're saying. Now, we're talking about the positive aspects of their culture and how great it is to work with them, but do you see any challenges, culture-related as well, of working with - we were talking about Filipinos. Is there any challenge that you see, "Hey, this is one trait that I have to talk with anybody new in my organization because we have to work around this." Anything come to mind?

Karl: A lot of what I deal with, and we just basically pay more to get them a higher quality internet, but their internet goes down frequently, depending on the weather, depending on the time of year, the heat. So, there might be a day where there's a project due and I can't get ahold of them, and that's why. So, how I deal with that is I just make sure that I'm planning ahead, and that I'm not like needing something to be due right in that moment. It's a week in advance, so I'm not rushed around, and ultimately, as a coach, I should be running my business that way anyway. It really is good exercise for me.

Aderson: Now, I saw something on your site while I was researching is that there's a question there on top, very prominent, is, "What should you delegate?" Let's talk a little bit about that. What is it that you should delegate, in general?

Karl: Well, that's a great question. As I coach business owners, one of the things we look at is what do you love to do in your business and what do you loathe doing? What do you hate doing in your business? We go through an exercise that helps them delineate between the two, and then once we've figured out what are those things that, "Boy, I think you just get rid of it," they would be so much more happy in their business.

We figured out how we can systematize those things and make a process for them, and then we also figured out if it's possible to digitize those things in such a way that an overseas admin would be able to handle it, or if it needs to be a local person. From there, that's how we help them begin to delegate the things that they hate doing inside their business.

Aderson: Talking about delegation, why do people, in general, have a hard time to - and business leaders, I think that it's the extreme example of that - why do they have such a hard time delegating?

Karl: Oh man, that's such a great question.

Aderson: Start there. I know that you can spend an hour just talking about that. But, again, give us some clarity here.

Karl: Well, a lot of the times in the coaching world, what I see is that the business owner doesn't -- how do I put this? They don't know how to take their time to slow down and create a process that actually works so that they feel comfortable handing it off to somebody else. That's the first thing that I run into.

The second thing would be they're not willing to allow somebody to mess up in doing that process. So, they just were like, "Well, I handed it to this person. They didn't do a good job, so I'm taking it back." Really, ultimately, for all of us, as people, we need to have a couple shots at things to make them right and get them perfect. There's the training and teaching. They don't take that time to slow down and really engage with that person that they're training to get it right.

Aderson: As a coach, how do you start to break that pattern? How do you break that?

Karl: I will help them create the process, and then I will be with the coaching client. I will be with them in that delegation process. So, when they get frustrated, I'll say, "Hold on. This is the way it would go with an employee here or an employee overseas. It's across the board. You're going to deal with this. So, how do we make it right the next time?" I'll just continually work with them until we get it right.

Aderson: Let me mention a little bit about a theory that I have. For you to be working with other people aside from yourself, you have to be okay for people to mess up, for people to do things wrong, because you know what? When you are dealing with somebody else and even yourself, something can go wrong and will go wrong most likely eventually. It's not really a matter of "what if", but "when", and you should be ready for that when, and decide, up front, of, "Okay, when that happens, this is how I'm going to behave. I'm not going to walk away. I'm not going to fire the VA." I'm just going to, "Okay, what did I mess up here? How can we do better next time?" Does that make sense or am I completely off here?

Karl: No, you're completely on. I would say, though, that finding a good VA is also important with that. Because, I would say many, many people, probably dozens of people over the years that didn't care as much as I did. So, it is important to have somebody that does care, but once you have that person, train them, teach them, take your time with them, because it's hard to find people that really do care.

Aderson: When you say "train them", what is it that you're talking about? Are you talking about us being on Skype? Are you talking about, "I should record a video about how to do this"? Again, without disclosing any secret information or secret processes you have in your company, how do you go about that? What is that training? How does that training look like?

Karl: One of the things that I've seen with business owners is that when they create a system and process, very often, they do it, they have 10 different ways that they do it. So, they might do it this way, and then this way, and then this way, and they never have any consistency with it. So, I'll work with them to funnel it down to one thing that they do, and that one thing will become the way we hand it off to somebody else.

That's really the first thing with that, and then after that, we're just providing grace, and I'm just reiterating to that business owner over and over again, "Let's provide grace." Sometimes, they mess it up. Sometimes, they decide to do it a different way, and then the VA is like, "Wait, I'm confused," and so there's a lot of communication stuff that goes behind all of this.

Aderson: Correct me if I'm wrong here, again, Karl, but I think that when we are working with remote workers, remote people, and in an outsourcing model, and VA is no different from that, I think some people have the tendency of not connecting with that other human being out there, and thinking that they can just throw tasks, throw stuff at them, and on the other side, we just have a machine that will be doing that work and spitting out results for you. Do you find that some people have that attitude of, "I don't want to create ties with this individual, and I want to keep my distance." Do you find that a pattern? Do you find that hard to break? What's your take on that?

Karl: That's a good question. I tend to shy away from people that don't value other people. So, I probably wouldn't even be doing business with that business owner. I really think it's important for us to value those that are working for us because, ultimately, they're the ones that make the business.

Actually, yeah, within the last year, I was working with one guy that he just really struggled with controlling his temper. So, I'm working with him on it, and finally, we were able to pull that together, and he was able to manage his temper with his clients -- or sorry, with his team. I think it's important for us to treat other people the way we like to be treated.

Aderson: You're definitely right. Let me ask you that. Let's talk a little bit about the other side of the equation here. I mean, we're talking a lot from the client point of view. How about the VA point of view? What's, more or less, your process there for training them for onboarding new people? Again, you can disclose whatever information you want to disclose, but I don't know how big is your team there from a VA point of view. Talk a little bit about your process of bringing people onboard from the VA side of the business.

Karl: We go word-of-mouth first because I have people that I know I can trust over there. We have five people over there that are full-time for us, and as we find more people, we add them to the team, and the people that have kind of been there for a long time and have seniority train the people below. So, there's always cross-training going on amongst the team so that each person knows how to do multiple tasks for each of the customers, and that ensures that if we have internet problems or if somebody's going away or whatever vacation, we have things covered, and that's been working really well.

Aderson: One other point here, can you talk a little bit about the tool sets? Because, I'm sure that there are many tools that you use on your business not only personally, but from a VA point of view to help on communication, on the project management. Are there any tools, unusual tools that you use on the business to help processes, projects, communication, or just email has been enough?

Karl: No, we use Trello for projects, we use Wunderlist - both free applications. We look at what the customer needs. So, if a business owner back here has something they want to use, or if they have something they want to accomplish, we'll go and research it and find the right tool. Recently, we've found, and I can't remember the name of the app right now, but we've found an app that will text people reminders of your calendar appointments coming up. So, we signed up for that for the customer, and now the VA manages that for our customer here in the States. We use Google Drive pretty extensively, Dropbox pretty extensively, Evernote. Those are the main ones. There's probably a bunch other ones, but those are the main ones.

Aderson: Something else that I found on your site, Karl, that you mentioned there is that you have an assessment process for a new client to come onboard and figure out whether or not a VA is the right choice for them. So, are you saying that, at times, VA is not the answer that they are looking for?

Karl: Yeah, for sure. Sometimes, I have a business owner that really they need a project manager, and they don't know that they need a project manager. They think they need an admin. So, this process really helps them discover that, and also helps us. I have a business partner with Virtual Assistant Company. He and I worked together to discover what traits about this customer here in the United States, really, what's important to them, what their needs are, and how we're going to best fit somebody with them. It's kind of like a personality assessment, even, to some degree.

Aderson: That also helps to pick the right professional from your team, correct?

Karl: That's correct, yes.

Aderson: One of the ways that we learn as, I think, human beings and business owners as well is through errors, through problems, through tough situations that we come across, and things go wrong, and then we say, "Hey, next time we're going to do this better. Next time, we're going to do this differently." I want to explore, a little bit, your experience there, Karl, and if you are open to that. Can you talk about a horror story? It might be a personal horror story outsourcing to somebody that didn't work that well. It might be a horror story of a client that you are trying to work with a VA but didn't work out because this and that. I'm interested in knowing about the horror story and the lessons you learned from that situation.

Karl: I appreciate you asking that. That's the reason I started this company was because I saw that all of the experiences I've had over the last six years are valuable. For somebody to go out and do this by themselves, I can save them many, many, many headaches, a lot of money, and really set them up to be on fast track to be successful faster with their VA.

Aderson: I'm going to stop you there. Which headaches are you talking about?

Karl: The headaches of -- let's unpack there a little bit. I've had people that I've paid money to that have never delivered what they said they were going to deliver. They've fallen off the face of the Earth -- I mean, they haven't fallen off the face of the Earth, but you know what I mean. They're not available, they're not around, they don't reply. I've had quality control issues where people provide something that's really just a fraction of what it should be, and usually, in those cases, I'm paying somebody else to go fix it. And that's why I build a team of people, because I know that I can trust these people to always give me quality.

I've had responsiveness issues. People, they say they're going to do a project, and they do it, but it takes them twice or three times as long as it should have taken them to do it. Even though we communicated up front, "This is the timeline, this is when we need it done by," they just kind of disappear, then they come back a couple weeks later and say, "Well, what about this?" and we answer that, and then we wait a couple weeks, and then they come back again. I guess it is what it is, but that's why I have a team. I just got sick of that.

Aderson: Okay, so let's go back to the horror story. Sorry I've interrupted you, so if you can go back to the horror story that came to mind, please.

Karl: I think the only thing that came to my mind is I had a lady working for me in Russia, a very nice lady. I really liked her a lot, and she worked hard. But, she was in college while she was doing this work, and I gave her a forward of money thinking that -- she asked for it, she said she needed it to pay her school bills, and then she stopped responding. I think it's because we weren't a fit as a company or me as a person, I wasn't a fit. That's okay, but it's tough when you give somebody money and they don't follow through. But, be that as it may, that's part of the risk of working overseas.

Aderson: Yeah, the person disappearing. At the beginning of my outsourcing career 10 years ago, I made a point of working with Brazilians in Brazil. The reason was that I could get their phone number and I could call their house in case someone was not replying to me. I was actually doing that, so that's the reason why. But, again, sometimes it's not -- I mean, you're talking about overseas, you're talking about Philippines, and India, and Russia. So, sometimes, we don't even know how to call a number there, and again, think about talking their language. Philippines, English, that's fine, but Russia, we're not going to be doing well there.

Karl: Well, the people in the Philippines, they all have each other's cell phone numbers and they're not even -- they're on different islands, so they're not even close to each other, but they're able to text each other. This morning, one of the team members wasn't available for a team meeting, and I messaged one of the other ladies - we use Slack for our communication - and she texted her, and it turned out that she was on the road traveling and just wasn't available. So, it is nice to be able to have them being able to text each other and figure out what's going on.

Aderson: Great point on that. Let's shift the conversation a little bit here, Karl, to online platforms, to marketplaces. Because, you have been doing this for a while, so of course, you know about the platforms out there: 99designs, and Upwork, and What's your view on those platforms?

Karl: I think they're a great way to start in testing the waters to see if you can find somebody you like. I'll tell you the problem, or the hard part about it is you really have to have patience. I probably went through 10 or 12 different WordPress developers to work on my WordPress websites before I found the one that I liked. They might have five stars, but it doesn't especially mean that they're actually a five-star person. So, I'd just caution you. If you're going to use those sites, be advised that you're probably going to have to hunt a little bit to find the person you like.

Aderson: Okay, so on that point there, I could, very much, if I need a virtual assistant, I could go to one of those platforms and look for a VA, or I could go to a provider like yourself, and some other people out there that are doing work on a similar fashion, and work with one of those specialized sites. What will be the difference in my experience if I choose a platform like Upwork, or if I choose to go with a service like yours?

Karl: You have to have a lot of intuitiveness with what you're trying to accomplish and what the specific steps are that need to be done if you're going to use something like Upwork, because the people overseas might not know exactly what it is you're trying to accomplish, or what the metrics are, or what the goal is, or the strategy behind it.

If you have those things defined, then Upwork works great. If you're not crystal clear - and when I say "crystal clear", I mean crystal clear - on what it is you're trying to achieve and how you're going to get there, it's probably better to work with somebody like me who's going to be a coach to help you unpack all those pieces floating around in your mind to make a plan that's really clear and cohesive to be able to hand off to one of those overseas admins.

Aderson: That's a good point because just about a week ago, I listened to the interview of the co-founder of a platform called Contently, and Contently, what they do is they have writers -- I know we are talking about VAs, but I just want to quickly run the comparison here. So, in this individual, this co-founder, he was talking about the fact that, yes, a few years ago, 10 years, 8 years ago, those platforms like Upwork, and back then, oDesk, and Elance, they were very popular, and the only options to go and find resources like that overseas in other places in the globe.

But you, as a client, had to do the legwork to test, and to see, and to make sure that there's a good match between yourself and the right provider, and there might be a lot of a trial and error there. Now, more recently, in the last few years, they have seen the resurgence of platforms like Contently, like Toptal as well where you come to them, and that's what you were talking about, I think, where you come to them and say, "Hey, this is my situation. This is what I think I need. Can you match me with someone that can provide me what I need here?" and they do more of a hand-holding. Is that the model that you are pursuing?

Karl: Yeah, I'm doing hand-holding on both sides. I'm hand-holding the overseas admins and I'm hand-holding the business owner here. So, the business owner, in a sense, they get free coaching out of this where I'm teaching them the systems and the entrepreneurial models that are going to make them more successful, and then I'm helping them hand that over to the overseas admin. So, they're kind of getting coaching and an admin out of this process.

Aderson: Talking about your Virtual Assistants Company, how do you see that evolving in the next few years? I mean, when you get to a stage that, "This is really successful," how does it look like? What is the end goal here with a virtual assistant company that you are working on?

Karl: Christie, my overseas admin, and I were just talking about this last week, and I was talking about it with my business partner too. We're heading towards opening a coffee shop/place for people to work in the Philippines, almost like a co-working space, I guess, and Christie will be overseeing that and will be taking care of that. In doing that, we're going to have one location that everybody comes to to work, and that will enable us to have greater communication with the team.

Then, on this side of things, we're only taking one new customer a month. We're not growing fast, and the reason for that is we really want to make the business scalable, and we know that if we grow too fast, our customer service will drop. So, we're taking our time growing it in short steps, and that's ensuring that each of our customers is getting the greatest quality for what they're after.

Aderson: I'm hesitant on mentioning his name, but I'll mention it because most likely, I'm sure you know him, at least from his name, and I would be curious to see your take on what he's doing: Chris Ducker. Chris Ducker with -- what is it? Science? Virtual Assistant Finder? Anyway, have you come across his material and his site as well about VAs?

Karl: I've heard of him, but I don't know anything about him, so I really can't comment on him. But, there are tons of other companies out there. I think the thing that sets us apart from those companies is that I really don't want to be taking advantage, and I will not take advantage of those people overseas. Part of the goal behind this business is to be taking care of people overseas in economies where it would be hard for them to make money. That's unapologetically one of my focus is, and I know we're probably one of the very few companies that have that as a focus.

Aderson: Again, as I said at some points prior to what you mentioned now, it's an angle that I haven't heard before being promoted as, "This is our goal." So, I admire that, I like that. Karl, we're coming towards the end here. Let me ask you this. If there is one thing out of this conversation that you'd like people to leave knowing about, whether it's about outsourcing in general, whether it's about VAs, virtual assistants, what is it? What is the one thing that you'd like people watching this interview to leave it knowing? I'm curious about it.

Karl: I think the one thing, and it kind of goes back to that word "delegation". I think that's spot-on. That's a very important word to focus on. If you, as a person, are focusing on building your business, and you want to have more people in your team, whether they're here or whether they're abroad, it's really important for you as a business leader, as a business owner, to slow down and really think through how you want this to be done, and to document it and create a process, and study and research how it should be done, and then hand it off to the person. Don't just say to the person, "Go do this," and expect them to do it properly. Really take your time with them, and teach them, and train them.

Aderson: Makes sense. Anything else that we haven't touched, Karl, again, either as outsourcing or specifically about VAs that you find that it makes sense for you to touch on that, or did we cover it pretty okay?

Karl: I can't think of anything else. I think we covered things pretty well today.

Aderson: Very good. Karl, thank you very much for your time. I really appreciate you taking the time to talk to us. If people want to reach out to, maybe, know more about what you're doing, or even engage with your services, how can people find you?

Karl: is our website., that would be a great way to reach out to me. We have a contact form on the site. I'm meticulous about getting back to people, so if you don't hear from me, call me. My phone number's on the site. I'd love to talk to you and see if there's any way that I can help you.

Aderson: Perfect, and I love the domain,, you can find Karl as well.

Karl: It was a good find. The other domain is, and that's another way to reach us.

Aderson: Karl, again, thank you very much. I really appreciate the time, the knowledge, and hope that your business flourishes, and you come back at some point to talk more about how things are doing for you. Thank you very much.

Karl: Yeah, thank you, Aderson. Take care, bye.

Aderson: Bye.

I'm an Outsourcerer. I'm a DNN Geek. I help people with their sites @ DeskPal. I'm a #Pomodoro practitioner. I'm a husband and a father of 2 beautiful girls.

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Aderson Oliveira
Aderson Oliveira