Issue #10 - SMBs, VAs, and No Code/Low Code
A Very Potent Combination
To make sure we all have a common understanding of what follows, here are definitions for the terms I'll be using throughout this post:
SMBs are small and medium-sized businesses.
A VA is a virtual assistant. Virtual in this case doesn't mean that the assistant isn't real, existing somewhere in the metaverse; rather, what it means is that these workers are remote and commonly located offshore in a lower cost labor market like the Philippines, Mexico, or India. And in many cases they perform functions well beyond what an assistant might do. They can be accountants, content creators, analysts, researchers, lead generation specialists, etc. (While VA seems to be the most commonly used term, I'll use remote worker here since I think that's more representative of the broader set of roles I have in mind when sharing my ideas on this topic)
No code/low code software refers to a growing list of software tools that require very little to no prior coding experience and that allow their users to create custom software and workflows that just a few years ago would have cost 10x-100x what they cost today.
This article explores the tremendous potential for small businesses to combine software with remote offshore workers to dramatically improve efficiency and results. Once you understand that these resources exist and how they can be used, you'll start to see endless opportunities to utilize them.
Primer on Remote Workers
Over the past few weeks, I've had no fewer than half a dozen conversations with small business owners who are using remote workers, sometimes as part-time contractors and sometimes as full-time members of their organizations, for various tasks. Interest in and awareness of the ability for small-scale operators to find and successfully employ these people is growing rapidly and the range of skills being outsourced is growing at a rapid pace.
The Twitter thread below, while tailored more towards hiring a personal assistant rather than someone for your business, is a very good place to start to develop a workable process for finding and onboarding your first remote workers.
I have seen some criticism about using labor from lower wage countries and I am sure that there are some people exploiting the people that they hire. But, I think that most people hire in good faith and try to provide a positive work environment along with career development opportunities and wages that provide at least a solid middle-class lifestyle. The most successful relationships that I've seen fully integrate their onshore and offshore operations and make specific efforts to make the remote workforce feel valued and included (shared Slack channels, remote social hours, birthday and other milestone recognition, genuine interest in the other culture(s), etc.).
The Core No Code/Low Code Technology Tools
When I first learned about these tools a few years ago, they were almost exclusively focused on helping technology companies with customer-facing (sales and marketing) projects. But I saw the potential for these to be used for streamlining and automating many functions across small business: HR, recruiting, and front-line operations, to name a few areas.
They weren't ready for that then, but thoughtful users can now do amazing things by utilizing one or more of these tools. Most SMBs still aren't using these at all, and only a few are building them deeply into their operations. I believe that will change-probably within the next couple of years-and, eventually, developing the ability to build and launch no code/low code solutions will become table stakes for most businesses.
Below is a list of a few of the most common tools available right now. Many have free tiers of service, but for most situations, a modest monthly fee is required. If you automate or simplify one process, that small cost will often be dwarfed by the labor savings alone.
Zapier - Connect and automate almost anything. This is an essential tool to link two or more web apps or documents into a workflow
Airtable - More than a database. Create robust back-end tables and collaborative apps.
Webflow - Design, build, launch, and manage websites using this tool.
Figma - Collaborative design tool useful for everything from websites to marketing collateral.
Bubble - Tool for designing digital products.
Notion - Easily create company handbooks, standard operating procedure guides, and more
Tango - Automatic screen capture tool for creating step-by-step guides
Loom - Asynchronous video and screen recording
Here's an example of what one organization has done using just Notion:
Putting it All Together
Imagine taking some of your most routine and manual processes and removing their daily burden from you and your current staff. Now imagine automating most of that and achieving higher accuracy and, often, better functionality with less duplication and better insights from the data that you are processing. Add in a talented, hard working, detail-oriented, and reliable assistant (that works when you sleep or during your same daylight hours) to handle other tasks, maintain and augment the systems you've built, and add capacity that fits solidly within most SMB's budgets. What used to take dozens of hours per week and frustrate your staff now is done effortlessly and with a dramatic impact on your efficiency, productivity, and cost structure. That's the opportunity available to SMBs who utilize a remote, offshore workforce and no code/low code tools.
Here's a final example that shows how an entire process was built out using everything we've discussed in this article. Again, once you start to understand the potential here, you'll see opportunity everywhere!
I'm really excited about all of this and we're building it natively into as much of what we do at Majority Search as we can. I hope you also find ways to leverage all of this for the betterment of your own company, too. Have fun!
Makerpad is a hub for the no code community. This website might serve as a useful resource or provide inspiration if this topic is one in which you'd like to go deeper.
You know when you have an app idea? Instead of learning to code or hiring someone, Makerpad teaches anyone how to build their ideas, without writing code.
AND ONE SMALL ASK...
We're looking for the foundational resources that have stood the test of time and proven themselves to be essential tools for small business owners. Things like articles, podcasts (both episodes and programs), books, social media accounts, newsletters, etc.
What resources have been of most help to you or do you turn to most regularly for insights?
Email Tim at firstname.lastname@example.org with your suggestions. We'll take the final list and post it on our website.