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An Interview with Virtual CEO Chris Ducker

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I first came across expert and serial entrepreneur Chris Ducker when researching my third book, The New Small. Ducker is arguably the top authority on virtual staffing and personal outsourcing.

I recently sat down with him to talk about his new book Virtual Freedom: How to Work with Virtual Staff to Buy More Time, Become More Productive, and Build Your Dream Business (BenBella, 2014). He's got tips and advice for others who are ready to venture into the realm of hiring and managing virtual staff.

PS: Talk to me about the "freedom" aspect of being a virtual CEO.

CD: Becoming a digital entrepreneur changed my life. I hire virtual assistants to manage all those time-consuming, annoying tasks that used to make me hate my work, such as replying to inquiries, training new recruits, copywriting, keeping up with social media and SEO, and doing marketing in order to generate new leads. Outsourcing these and other jobs turned me into a business owner--instead of being owned by my business.

PS: What other advantages are there?

CD: Instead of finding talent within a 50-mile radius of where I am, I have the whole world to choose from. I can also work from anywhere I want to. Telework grew a whopping 79.7% from 2005 to 2012, and there's a good reason. Employees love working from home. It makes them happy. Working with a team of highly motivated, extremely talented people who love their jobs really is a tremendous competitive advantage.

PS: But you still have to manage these people. Is that a challenge?

CD: Absolutely. There are always challenges to managing, and managing virtual staff comes with its own tricks and traps. The most successful virtual managers I know spend time and effort upfront, training their hires to use a project-management system, such as a shared Google Drive document or software such as Basecamp, HiveDesk, Asana, or Teamwork Project Management, and Huddle.com. They require daily progress reports, give them clear expectations and deadlines, and encourage dialog and questions. The key is to demand and create a culture of collaboration and closeness.

PS: Given the cultural diversity of a global staff and time-zone problems, is it possible to maintain a sense of teamwork?

CD: I look at such obstacles as opportunities. Virtual team members should be in regular communication with each other. This is where technology is a beautiful tool. One can use social media for teambuilding-places like Yammer.com and LinkedIn, for example. I mentioned the project-management solutions, but there are also great communication tools--the obvious ones like Skype and GoToMeeting, and places like Google.com/hangouts--perfect for virtual meetings.  

PS: You're very transparent about how you do things. Any parting thoughts?

CD: Thanks. I'm a big believer, as I know you are too, of sharing information. I have a lot of free tools and resources at my website for entrepreneurs who are looking for ideas or support. I really encourage smart people who have good entrepreneurial ideas to consider virtual staffing. It changed my life for the better.