Rarely, in the lifespan of any commercial enterprise, do you have the privilege of learning that the hypothesis behind the configuration of your carefully developed business model was, after all, absolutely spot on.
Especially in a very public way.
Consequently, it came as a great surprise to me this weekend when I learned that our client Josh Steimle, Entrepreneur and Writer, wrote a piece in Forbes Magazine about the experience he had had in setting up a Hong Kong branch of his US SEO firm MWI which recently came to a successful conclusion with the grant of residence visas here for him and his young family.
Josh’s article is a must read for any foreign national entrepreneur thinking about taking the plunge in setting up shop in Hong Kong but naturally enough it was the incredibly kind words he had for his dealings with me and my team these last few months which struck home the hardest.
” As we tried to figure out which visa scheme fit our circumstances, we stumbled onto Stephen Barnes, a Hong Kong visa consultant who runs an informative blog on immigration to Hong Kong at HongKongVisaGeeza.com.
Although the price seemed high, we decided since this would make or break our plans to move to Hong Kong, we wanted to make sure our visa application was successful.
And Stephen’s expertise along with his guarantee to get us our visas or give us double our money back gave us the confidence to work with him.
I don’t want to gush too much, but Stephen was perhaps the most professional person I have worked with, ever.
Never have I seen someone juggle so many different pieces of information and stay on top of things and in touch with the client as well as he did.
When I was in college I often felt as though the professors were unaware that we were taking any class but their own, based on the amount of homework we were assigned.
With Stephen I couldn’t understand how he could be working with any other clients, given how much attention he was giving us.
As the complexity of the paperwork grew and we went through multiple submissions of information, my wife and I many times commented on how glad we were to not have tried to do it ourselves.
The visa Stephen counseled us to apply for is called the Investment visa, or more commonly the “business investment visa.” This visa is for business owners or entrepreneurs who are coming to Hong Kong to start or expand their business, and turned out the be the only visa I was qualified to apply for…
We first contacted Stephen on October 15th, 2012 and signed up with him a few days later. Our visa application was submitted January 3rd, 2013, and we received our approval April 25th, 2013… “
Now, without wanting to toot my own horn too loudly, it’s important to know that no man is an island and the service that we provided to Josh (like we do for every client) is the culmination of a significant team effort here at the Hong Kong Visa Centre.
Whilst I am responsible for the strategy devised for every application as well as all of our client relationships, Ruby, Amy, Alexandra, Chirag, Aaron and Martyn (along with Josephine and the entire back stage team at Centre O) work tirelessly to support me and all of our clients to get the immigration outcome that we promise when we take on their instructions.
But Josh’s words have validated what we new intuitively all along.
Namely, in the immigration services industry here, the internet has changed everything.
As I discuss in Part III of My Story, Martyn and I designed the Hong Kong Visa Centre to be a highly internet focused immigration practice.
We always knew that that producing lots of valuable Hong Kong visa and immigration related content and giving it away on the internet for free would lead to professional client engagements.
But what we had to consider for the first time was the possibility of providing those professional services entirely via the web: video Skype, VOIP telecoms, DropBox, Fax2Email, online billing management, online payments and a whole lot more…
And these were just the practical mechanics of managing our professional relationships.
What about credibility and trust?
Historically, these all-important aspects of client relationships are settled through in-person meetings if not via trusted third party introductions or word of mouth referrals.
The problem we had in this regard was that, due to a non-compete provision in a previous contract, I was effectively radio-silenced for the 2 years immediately prior to starting the Hong Kong Visa Centre.
This kept me very much out of the Hong Kong immigration services game professionally so recent client relationships were a bit thin on the ground when we first started out in April 2011.
Moreover, with my daughters in high school in Western Australia, it was tough for me to be back in Hong Kong with any level of regularity whilst the practice was in launch phase, so the chances of meeting clients in person according to any kind of predictable schedule meant that we needed to hang our hat on video Skype when we first opened our doors for business.
So, in facing these constraints, we knew success would lie in building into the fabric of our online business model, service standards driven by the need to try harder than every other player in the immigration services industry here.
That is, we would compete aggressively on high quality service and value-for-money (but not price).
Moreover, for Martyn and I, technical competency is a given, not a strategy. We would let our content speak for itself.
Fortunately, as an on line business with a plan to grow organically, we would not have to carry the typically large overhead burden that plagues most immigration practices in Hong Kong when they first get started. Hong Kong landlords were not going to dig their shovels into our hard-earned revenues as they had done for so very many years in our previous immigration businesses here.
This means we can invest in content which allows clients to do their cases for free or for significantly reduced service fees as they pay for partial assistance reflecting the real value in their relationship with us, namely our expertise, experience and immigration know-how.
The immigration consultants we brought on were going to share in the service fee charged to the client; no fixed salaries effectively means no professional talent overhead to carry, moreover our rate of pay is 300% more than that typically earned by Hong Kong immigration consultants on a monthly wage.
This is a powerful incentive to attract first class, motivated immigration consulting talent and for the provision of excellent customer service where the inability to meet the client face to face on a regular basis dictates that to reinforce our bona fides, we have to try that much harder to keep our clients informed, engaged and satisfied with our work.
As contractors, not salaried employees, our immigration consultants would work from home or wherever they find themselves connected to the internet. They would keep their own hours and be driven by deadlines and client service needs, not automatons enduring a daily 9-6 traipse into an office staffed by workers who can’t wait to go home again.
This means that our professional talent can work where they want when they want – offering unparalleled flexibility in work-life balance, making them happier all around which in turn reflects on the quality of the service received by our clients.
The internet was going to keep us honest and focused on what really counts – a positive immigration outcome, for a reasonable fee with the highest standard of personal service delivering what the client is ultimately paying for – their peace of mind.
Live by the word, die by the word. If, as we do, you invest continuously in content which answers peoples questions and helps solve their problems, distributing that content using social media, folks are going to get to know about you. They are also going to tell the world if you have done a shoddy job or not lived up to your promises. Overnight, a carefully managed brand can come crashing down if you don’t keep your promises. This is a virtuous circle that rewards the brave and punishes the fool hardy. It probably explains why so few businesses in Hong Kong have adopted the internet to underpin their business models as we have done. But it is inevitable that they will. The empowerment of the consumer is unrelenting and if the business you work for doesn’t adapt to the realities of the network economy, someone else’s will (and there goes your lunch).
As experts in our field, it was incumbent upon us to assume the responsibility for the value we promise to deliver. So, not only were we going to reverse the risk to our clients in doing business with us, we were going to place it squarely back onto our own shoulders.
This is the reality behind our double-your-money-back guarantee. This is the only way we can definitively prove to our clients that, once we have committed to their immigration outcome, we are lock-step in it with them – wholeheartedly, no reservations, til-death do us part. We have serious skin-in-the-game of the visa applications of our clients and it’s amazing just how galvanizing this is to the provision of excellent customer service. Whilst we never ask directly why they end up instructing us rather that one of the many other providers in our industry, the freely offered testimonials of our clients repeatedly mention this facet of our service model as to why they chose our firm to help them with their visa applications instead of running with our, often cheaper, competition.
More Stuff Which Sheds Light On Our Industry Here