As the coronavirus continues to rattle countries and its economies, the COVID 19 is also beginning to affect the BPO industry. The BPO industry in the Philippines accounts to over 11% of the GDP. It is the single largest sector that employs over 1.2 million people and outsourcing companies in 2020.
In my interview with Mr. Aaron Dancel in the Virtualpreneur Summit of 2020, he shared his insights and the strategies he implemented to keep his BPO employees safe as well as actions to reduce the spread and exposure of the virus in the workplace while adapting to the current requests of his clients and protocols of the local government.
The Speaker: Aaron Dancel
Aaron Dancel is a Filipino serial virtualpreneur and is the co-founder and CEO of Bookgini, a tech startup based in Singapore.
Dancel is also the co-founder of Ink Shared Solutions Inc, an outsourcing company based in the Philippines and co-founder of Stratton Press Inc which is an only publishing company based in the U.S.
What Can You Learn from the podcast:
- How COVID 19 is affecting the BPO industry (6:32)
- COVID 19: The tough decisions business leaders and owners need to keep their business afloat (10:21)
- How improving your learning, improves your business (23:46)
- Business: The benefits of having an online presence. (30:56)
No Business Is Spared
Dancel jumped directly into his discussion into the summit reminding the entrepreneurs that every business is being affected worldwide. Nobody is spared and each business owner and leader is struggling to keep it afloat.
The first message from the Filipino virtualpreneur said was “You are not alone. We just have to ride through this.”
Dancel believes that COVID19 is probably bigger than the disaster that happened on 9/11 or the web bubble hack as the effect of the pandemic affected businesses worldwide and not just one country.
Dancel expressed his sentiments on how difficult it was to balance the problems on the scale.
He mentioned that he is thinking about:
- What the government is imposing for his business,
- What your employee needs,
- What your clients require,
- And, what he, as the business leader or owner, has to do.
“It’s difficult to balance as a scale only has two sides and supposedly this one has four,” says Dancel.
The BPO Industry In Cebu
Dancel is the CEO of a BPO industry in Cebu, Philippines. He mentioned how lucky he is since the government is pretty lenient on BPOs because they are one of the biggest taxpayers in the city.
So what Dancel is doing now is following the mandates given to them by the local government.
He believes that his employee’s safety should always come first. Dancel didn’t want to be the same as the folks that are still trying to do business even when the government tells you not to do business anymore.
Working from home
One of the strategies he implemented is sending his morning shift on a work from home protocol. Dancel confessed that he wasn’t prepared for this strategy and he never saw this coming. However, as an entrepreneur, he understood how important it was to adjust to the current situation and adapt.
“That’s also the reason why sometimes planning your business doesn’t work because a few outside factors like this will come and you have to adjust as an entrepreneur,” says Dancel.
The morning shift was sent to work from home and the night shift was provided with food, some beds and he also auto-approved any leaves or vacation leaves without any question.
The BPO Is Lucky
Dancel was open to sharing how his clients and customers had expressed some concerns if they were still operating or not.
“They’ve heard a lot of news from BBC or from New York Times that everything has been basically shut down here,” said the CEO.
Dancel was basically around the clock with calls from his clients and reassured them that we’re still okay, we’re still operating although it’s mostly through a skeletal operation.
“I guess I can consider myself lucky because most of our clients have been very considerate and I haven’t really heard the word like withdrawal from the contracts,” Dancel added.
The BPO industry is somewhat protected but Dancel mentioned that he has no concrete data to provide to really figure out if this severely affected his business.
Letting people go
The Filipino CEO is aware of how physical businesses like restaurants, salons, and spas have been badly hit with the pandemic. He is considered lucky that the government has been very friendly with the BPOs.
However, he mentioned how this is the first time in his life as an entrepreneur where if you sit down with your management team or your executives and you actually talk about letting go of people.
Letting people go is the hardest part. As the owner has to personally talk and build connections with the people and as an entrepreneur, you have to be the one to tell them when things go bad.
“I explained to my people and had them understand the situation,” says Dancel.
Dancel mentioned how his priority is to save his ship. He reassured the listeners and that his employees were told that if you’re being laid off, it doesn’t mean that he didn’t want to work with them anymore. It doesn’t mean that you did not do a good job.
“It just means that my priority right now is to save this ship so that once COVID19 settles down, we would still have this ship to bring you back. That is if you still want to work for us,” Dancel said solemnly.
The Beauty of COVID-19
“If you’re listening to this summit right now and you still have a job I think it’s a very important message for you to understand that you are one of the lucky ones. Let’s be grateful for that,” said Dancel.
Dancel dropped a bit of wisdom to the listeners of Virtualpreneur Summit of 2020 saying that “with disaster comes realizations”.
“The beauty about COVID 19, at least on my end, as the one leading the entire company is that you get to realize your flaws,” he said.
COVID 19 has provided business owners and leaders the chance to re-examine themselves as to what could have been done better.
Making tough decisions
We went further into the topic of making tough decisions. Dancel mentioned that as an entrepreneur if you don’t have if you don’t even have enough cash, you have to start making tough decisions.
The tough decisions he mentioned included letting go of some people to ensure that the business will still last for a few months. To let the people go on a floating status because the client is unable to continue paying.
The Filipino serial virtualpreneur mentioned how these are really tough because entrepreneurs generally want to provide employment.
“As an entrepreneur you want to provide a living to your people so telling them in the face, that we have to let you go is really hard,” Dancel added.
Dancel expressed his bitterness that he only sees only two options right now. One is to either have enough cash to ride through this wave of COVID 19. Or two, you have to start letting people go and stop bleeding money to keep your business afloat.
If you don’t choose any of the options, he believes some will be lucky enough to go through the situation but he doesn’t deny how it’s gonna be ugly.
Waves After Waves
Dancel mentioned that the New York Times has also released a report for how the US will combat COVID 19 and the gist of the report says that the US government thinks this will last for 18 months.
“It’s gonna come with waves after the first wave is only the beginning and then another second wave will be coming in to disrupt the business,” says Dancel.
Although he is unsure how they write those reports but that report but he is anxious about the thought of COVID 19 lasting for 18 months.
“And if that happens to the Philippines, we would not have an economy anymore,” says Dancel.
Dancel wants every entrepreneur to realize the thought that this might last longer than three months. He believes that if business owners and leaders continue to think that this will be over next week, they aren’t preparing themselves with the worst-case scenario.
“Don’t get me wrong I don’t want to be a pessimist. I’m probably gonna have a lot of hate for this but my point of view is that if we can develop a vaccine, like tomorrow, and we can be in our normal you know routines again the day after that’s the best-case scenario for me,” he continued. However, the entrepreneur within him forces him to think about the worst-case scenario.
Dancel urges business owners and leaders to start thinking on how their business can survive this and you understand how you have to make those tough calls.
The VP Summit Is About Helping Entrepreneursthe Vp Summit Is About Helping Entrepreneurs
As the interviewer, I shared that the main reason that we really had this summit is that there are plenty and numerous friends and local business owners that were already affected by this pandemic.
Aaron Dancel added how he also has a couple of friends who own restaurants. His friend is wallowing and drowning himself in liquor.
“I understand how he is feeling helpless and also how most of the employees couldn’t understand,” says Dancel.
The saddest part about COVID 19 is that business owners and leaders are also unsung heroes. The employees are unable to be in your shoes to truly appreciate everything you’ve done to keep the business going.
“The reason why I registered for the VP summit is to grab the chance to inspire other entrepreneurs who are in despair,” said Dancel.
The CEO mentioned that the best course of action right is to survive to fight another day and to ride this wave over. Even if it is to do a temporary closure.
The idea is simple however, it’s a tough one. Although what Dancel truly ears right now is not about getting sick. Bu how people are not spending and might not be spending even after all of this blows over, for him that’s how the economy will struggle to recover.
Dancel expressed that the right time to reopen the business is when the people are starting to go to the malls again and start spending again. That’d be the time that you know you can open up again.
GO DIGITAL. GO VIRTUAL.
Aaron Dancel also mentions how going digital is now essential for businesses. He mentioned that it’d be best that by the time your business reopens, you’ll have a strategy laid out to have an online presence.
Dancel’s reasoning is simple. Because if something like this would happen again five years ten years down the road, you’d be better off because you also have a digital business line.
Although it will be difficult for spas and other physical services to apply a digital line. With a social media account or a website, your business can literally continue to sell the food or products and have them delivered to your customers.
“The endgame is not about having to be hundred percent digital but just make sure you have a presence online,” says Dancel.
What An Online Presence Did For Dancel
To follow up on how having a digital presence is beneficial for you, Dancel mentioned how he started his business without any budget but just a few digital assets.
Dancel was also a regular employee for 15 years, he was also a dropout but he chided that he wasn’t a Bill Gates type. Basically, Dancel started his business by following the system he learned by being one of the top management levels of the BPO.
Dancel though that the system could work for him and after a short while, he started his own website. His first digital asset was a website and a LinkedIn profile. Dancel remembers the work he spent for 12 hours a day just to reach prospects and lead them towards the website.
After leading them into the website, he follows up late at night just to call them on Skype since the clients were mainly from abroad.
Aaron Dancel clarified that he didn’t have any knowledge about social media back then. He focused in building up his LinkedIn profile to get some leads and that was the only thing on his mind.
Obviously, there were plenty of things that he needed to overcome but that was how Dancel built his current BPO business. A lot of trials and errors, 15 plus years of management experience and lastly an online presence.
Don’t Waste Time
To end his discussion, Aaron Dancel reminds entrepreneurs and business owners that the time now is best spent to improve your learning, to improve yourself thus improving your business.
It always starts with a book or getting to understand how going virtual is essential for your business. You can look up how bloggers earn income, check out other fields if you have the time.
Lastly, it’s best for you not to worry much about it because there’s really nothing much you can do about the situation. Instead, use the time to develop yourself and train yourself while you’re at home.
You can look for topics learning how to advertise through Facebook or Twitter. This isn’t just gonna lead to nowhere as in this millennium of where the information is being transferred so fast from one person to another you could literally ask anything out on the website right now called Google.
Aaron Dancel reminds us that we’re all on the same ship and we’re experiencing the same thing you’re going through. Maybe you are not at a hundred percent right now but don’t lose hope.
For the entrepreneurs listening, have the confidence that you can ride this wave. If you can go through this, it means it’s that you set up a really successful system in your business and this is the best validation you can have. (A. Menchavez)