Startup of the Week: Save your money and energy by hiring a professional virtual assistant

The company now has a team of qualified professional associates and works with more than 100 clients from industries in Saudi Arabia and the UAE. (Supplied)
Updated 14 May 2019

Startup of the Week: Save your money and energy by hiring a professional virtual assistant

  • The company now has a team of qualified professional associates and works with more than 100 clients from industries in Saudi Arabia and the UAE

JEDDAH: Most people would like to increase their income potential, but all too often find the stresses and strains of workplace administration tasks get in the way.
Associates is a Saudi startup set up in 2016 with the aim of saving professionals’ time and energy by providing virtual assistants to allow them to concentrate on the work that matters.
Jawaher Afandi, general manager and co-founder of Associates, told Arab News that the company targeted those who “love what they do and want to focus on it more.”
Associates (@AssociatesCo) offers virtual support services, through monthly subscription plans, tailored to the specific needs of its clients.
Tasks that are not the customer’s main duties are handed over to the virtual assistant allowing the client to get on with their core responsibilities and so giving them “the confidence they need to do great work,” Afandi said.
Jobs that can be delegated to virtual assistants include managing calendars and work schedules, making travel arrangements, following up on tasks, collecting data, building and updating databases, and screening CVs.
The remote help is aimed at saving money for clients on the costs of training, insurance, extra office space, equipment and supplies.
“We also save our clients the time and effort of going through the recruitment process, and find the best fit based on a client’s requirements in 24 hours,” Afandi added.
When it was established three years ago, Associates brought a new concept to the regional market, and it took time to convince businesses of the merits of the services it offered. There were also high costs attached to marketing campaigns, office rents, and meeting government requirements.
“Since the concept of virtual services is not fully applied in our region, especially the type of services that we are offering, we always aim to delight our clients by our flexible plans, prompt actions and response, ensuring the best quality is provided and that feedback is acted upon,” Afandi said.
The company now has a team of qualified professional associates and works with more than 100 clients from industries in Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
“We aspire to be one of the most trusted virtual support service providers in the GCC,” Afandi added. “Away from the key performance indicators and targets we have, we rate our success on achieving Associates’ purpose with each of our clients, which we see in their feedback and expression of trust in us.”

Saudi Arabia’s Cabinet approves new tobacco license regulation

Updated 44 min 39 sec ago

Saudi Arabia’s Cabinet approves new tobacco license regulation

  • Annual license will cost more than $26,000
  • New measure could lead to more vaping, says expert

JEDDAH: Cafes and restaurants in Saudi Arabia will have to pay up to SR100,000 ($26,675) a year to sell tobacco products inside and outside their premises, after the Cabinet approved a new licensing regulation.

Saudi Arabia was one of the first countries to ratify the World Health Organization (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in 2005, an ambitious plan to reduce smoking rates from 12.7 percent to 5 percent by 2030.

The Health Ministry has taken steps to curb smoking through awareness campaigns and cessation clinics. Taxes on cigarettes doubled in 2017, leading to a 213 percent increase in smokers seeking help to kick the habit in the months that followed.

Saudi restaurant owner Hassan Moriah supported the Cabinet decision, although he said customers would be hit the hardest.

“Every restaurant and café manager should be licensed to provide this service. I believe all restaurants and cafés will support this decision too, but I believe the only people who will be affected by this decision are the customers,” he told Arab News. “All outlets will raise the price of hookahs. The actual people who would be paying for it to reach SR100,000 are the customers and not the cafés. Yes, there will be people who cannot afford to pay the new prices and they may have to cut down on their hookah consumption.”

The new regulation would also affect places that were not so popular, he added.

Associate professor of history at Middle Tennessee State University Dr. Sean Foley, who is writing a book on smoking in Saudi Arabia and the wider Muslim world, said the new law was part of the Kingdom’s attempts to address a serious health crisis while also meeting a goal of the Vision 2030 reform plan to move away from non-oil revenues.

“While raising cigarette taxes is a proven strategy for reducing smoking, the new SR100,000 annual fee for Saudi restaurants to permit patrons to smoke may be even more important,” he told Arab News. “Many restaurants may not be able to afford to pay for such an expensive permit, so there is likely to be less smoking in restaurants. That would mean there will be fewer people exposed to second-hand smoke in restaurants, itself a serious problem, and existing smokers would have a powerful new incentive to quit. Studies have consistently shown that creating smoke-free areas is one of the most powerful tools to motivate and help existing tobacco users to quit while preventing new smokers from picking up the habit.”

"The academic, who has written "Changing Saudi Arabia: Art, Culture, and Society in the Kingdom" published this year, said the Kingdom had some of the highest smoking rates in the world.

He added that the problem was getting worse as the number of smokers in Saudi Arabia was expected to rise from six million to 10 million in the coming years.

He warned that while there was the danger of a rise in smuggling and other black-market activities — because of the higher costs associated with smoking — there were other challenges too.

“The real danger is not the rise in black-market activity but that Saudis will continue to switch in large numbers to a product that is currently legal to use — vaping. While purchasing any of the products associated with vaping is illegal in the Kingdom, it is legal to vape in public and many Saudis buy vape juice and vape modules online.”