Episode 172:

Before the ’08 recession, most agency owners couldn’t fathom the idea of remote employees, let alone working with a virtual assistant they’d likely never meet. But with sites like UpWork and elance teaching us that sometimes it makes good business sense to source work from with someone we’ve never met, the concept of working with virtual assistants has grown in popularity.

In my world, on both the agency and AMI side – we’ve found it to be a very effective way to get a volume of work handled effectively and efficiently.

This is definitely an ongoing topic of conversation with agency owners. How do we keep up with the needs and demands of clients in a cost-effective way, without putting quality or the client relationship at risk. For any agencies, virtual assistants are one of the answers to that question.

On episode #172 of Build a Better Agency, I talk with Barbara Turley of The Virtual Hub. She recognized the need for high-quality VAs and decided to create a business around that need.

We discuss the many upsides of hiring one or more VAs – like freeing up your most scarce resource: time. But we also discuss some of the pitfalls to avoid, especially around rigorous training and expectations on both the VA and the agency side. I found it to be a fascinating conversation and I hope it’s incredibly useful for you.

Barbara is the founder and CEO of The Virtual Hub – a business she started by accident that exploded in the space of 12 months to become one of the leading companies that recruits, trains, and manages virtual assistants in the digital marketing and social media space for businesses who need to free up time and energy so they can go to the next level.

 

 

What You Will Learn in this Episode:

  • How to set expectations for a virtual assistant – and your agency
  • Understanding the difference between hiring within your national borders and offshoring
  • The right questions to ask about prior training
  • How to share processes around tasks and check in
  • Why you should consider a virtual assistant a permanent and integral part of your team
  • How to integrate a virtual assistant into your team
  • How to choose the right virtual assistant for the right tasks
  • Your role as an agency owner as it relates to virtual assistants
  • Which unwanted tasks you can hand off to a virtual assistant

The Golden Nuggets:

“If you can get a offshore team running as part of your scalable business strategy, your agency will grow.” - @virtualhubltd Click To Tweet “You have to be realistic about onboarding a VA. Don't think a VA is going to walk in on day one and solve your problem. They won’t.” - @virtualhubltd Click To Tweet

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How to Contact Barb Turley:

Speaker 1:

Are you tired of feeling like the lonely light housekeeper as you run your agency? Welcome to the Agency Management Institute Community, where you’ll learn how to grow and scale your business, attract and retain the best talent, make more money and keep more of what you make. The Build a Better Agency Podcast is now in our third year of sharing insights on how small to mid-sized agencies survive and thrive in today’s market. Bringing his 25 plus years of experience as both an agency owner and agency consultant, please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.

Drew McLellan:

Hey everybody, Drew McLellan here with another episode of Build a Better Agency. Thanks for joining me, if you are new to the podcast, welcome, glad to have you. Every week we try and talk about a different topic that I think will help you build a stronger, better, more scalable agency, more profitable, and also one that is a little more worry free, not that I think agency ownership is really ever worry-free, but a little bit more anyway, and something that you can continue to enjoy, and that will help you meet your personal and professional goals, so that’s my purpose. If you are a regular, welcome back, thanks so much for sticking with me.

Tonight’s topic is an interesting one, I’m not sure why I said it was tonight, well, it depends on when you’re listening, maybe I know that you’re listening to this in the evening. Today or tonight’s topic, depending on when you’re listening, is one that I think many agency owners like in theory, but either have tried and had a bad experience or are leery of trying. As agencies struggle, A to hire well, B to retain good employees and C to get a scalable margin of profit into what I think of as task work, all of those challenges are presented to us every single day.

The topic today is really about how to use virtual assistance to augment your ongoing staff and to build out a team of people who help you do the tasks that quite frankly, no one in your shop really wants to do, it’s difficult to monetize them because they’re very labor intensive but clients don’t understand it, things like reporting, grabbing data and putting it into a dashboard, link-building, some administrative elements of SEO work.

For some agencies, what they’ve done is they have, as I said, augmented their staff by adding some virtual assistants. Now, we’ve all heard the horror stories and I certainly am going to be asking our guests about those, in terms of language barriers, time barriers, inconsistency, not reliable in terms of showing up or the quality of work isn’t what you want it to be.

I think that my guests, [Barb 00:03:12] Turley, from the Virtual Hub, has solved some of those problems. Here’s what I’m asking for you to do is as Barb and I talk over the next hour, what I’m hoping you will do is just stay open to the possibility. Some of you as soon as you heard me say virtual assistant, you went, “Nope, not going to do it,” or “Nope, did it, never doing it again.” But I do think that there probably is a place for this, and when you think about… Many of you swore to God that you would never use outsourced copywriters or art directors, and today many of you are doing that. I suspect this falls into that vein, that this is one of those things that wasn’t how the business was built back in the day, it’s a new concept, it certainly has some pitfalls that we have to figure out how to avoid, but it is a way for us to bring some smart economics to our business.

We’re going to dig into all of that, how to find a good virtual assistant, what work makes sense to give them to do and what stuff you should not ask them to do, and then what’s your role as an agency owner or leader in making sure that that relationship works and that the output of work is of a high quality and actually serves your clients and your agency well.

With that, let’s jump into the conversation. Barb, welcome to the podcast. Thanks for joining us today.

Barbara Turley:

Thanks so much for having me, very excited to be talking to your audience today.

Drew McLellan:

You live in a world that I think a lot of agency owners and leaders have this fuzzy understanding about, and in theory they go, “Oh, a virtual assistant, that might be nice to have,” but there’s a lot of fear around it, a lot of fear about finding the right one, about consistency, I’m going to get somebody in my groove, and then they’re going to go on and do something different, is this really a career choice or is this somebody doing this in between gigs. When somebody calls you and they’re interested in this, how do you dispel those fears so that they’re willing to give it a shot?

Barbara Turley:

Well, the first thing I would say is all of those fears that you have listed are absolutely legitimate fears and things that do happen. I wouldn’t necessarily dispel those fears because in the broader direct market, if you’re going to go to the Philippines, which is where I specialize in, but obviously any of the outsourcing markets, you may come up against people who will ensure that those fears come to life for you. I always say to people, it’s an amazing thing to get right, if you can get it right especially for an agency, because it’s a great way to leverage a team that’s off shore, it’s much more cost-effective and all of those lovely things, but it’s not as easy as people think because the recruitment part of it and the management part of it, that’s where we come in and we will remove the fears around all of those issues you just brought up, because we actually take care of that on the ground. I’ll tell you now, it is extraordinarily difficult, those fears are real.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, I bet. I’m an agency owner, which actually I am, what things am I doing right now that a virtual assistant could do for me and take off my plate? Because if there is one common ailment that agency owners and leaders have is that there’s too much on their plate and they can’t get it all done and they’re working 60 or 80 hours and they feel like the hamster in the wheel.

Barbara Turley:

Absolutely. There are so many things that you shouldn’t be doing as an agency owner, but if I was just to narrow it down, some of the biggest ones are things like, let’s say you are a digital marketing agency and you have an SEO part of your business which involves link-building, which we all know is an excrutiatingly arduous task of sending lots of emails, and it’s very much an admin task actually, your job as the owner or as the agency head or whatever, is to come up with the strategy, the process, how it’s going to work, how you’re going to get success, and then your job is to delegate that. That’s a perfect task to be delegating to a virtual assistant where you could be paying 10 bucks an hour instead of paying one of your project managers who might be on a hundred bucks an hour, it’s classic.

Another great one, and we’ve got some Facebook ad agencies that are using virtual assistants to tinker around in Power Editor and come up with a lot of the reporting. A lot of just the admin part of getting the reports out and the analytics, again, you’ve got to set that up and you’ve got to do a bit of training with your team and you’ve got to take ownership of how they’re going to be doing that, but it pays so much dividend to get that right in the end.

Another example, those doing social media, granted you can have people off shore do your social media content calendars and all that sort of thing, if you want to maintain control of the content, which a lot of agencies do, part of the job is creating canvas images, creating and loading everything into Hootsuite or HubSpot, or one of these scheduling tools for all your social media accounts. That’s another classic one.

The list goes on really, blog optimization, all this sort of thing can be done by virtual assistants.

Drew McLellan:

As the agency owner, how do I screen a candidate to see if they actually have the chops to do that work? Because what a lot of agency owners probably are thinking is, “I’m not sure a virtual assistant from Philippines can optimize a blog post or can understand Google analytics enough to pull a report.” If I were going to hire someone, how do I screen them to know that they actually know what they’re doing?

Barbara Turley:

Yeah. I wouldn’t screen them to know that because they’re probably going to tell you that they can do it and then you’ll find out pretty quickly that maybe they can’t or their experience was limited. You’ve got to accept that if you’re going to be going to the Philippines, as I said, it’s a very cost-effective leverage strategy for any business, but you have to take ownership of the training demands. In my experience, we’re an agency as such in that we recruit, train and manage, we actually do our own training programs and all that sort of thing. But we do encourage clients particularly agencies that know exactly what they’re doing, that you have to then take the person that we’ve pre-trained and you’ve got to have your own processes already ready to go and you’ve got to do some training with your new team to get it to pay the dividends that you want.

I wouldn’t just be like, “Okay, you say you know how to optimize a blog post, here’s a blog, off you go, goodbye, I’m not going to talk to you for a month,” you have a bit of engagement with any team. With optimizing blog posts, again, it’s quite a big job, but there’s lots of little jobs within that like keyword research, narrowing down lists based on competition and search and all these things, and you can create your own metrics around that and give it to a virtual assistant to bring you back the data.

Again, you’re not hiring a specialist, you’re hiring someone that you’re going to work with, and that’s the mistake a lot of people make when they’re offshoring, is they think they’re going to get an expert and you might hit a home run, you might, but it’s actually quite difficult. It’s just accepting that in order to get the benefits of it, you have to have that approach to it.

Drew McLellan:

Well, honestly, I don’t know that that’s any different if you’re hiring a VA from the States either.

Barbara Turley:

I agree.

Drew McLellan:

You have language issues maybe in some of those cases, but the reality is, if you hire a virtual assistant from anywhere, the more precise your system or process is, because you’re really asking them to follow prescribed steps, right?

Barbara Turley:

Yes, absolutely. The reason I stress that point is that you would be surprised the amount of people who still show up on our doorstep at the Virtual Hub and say that they want somebody who’s going to show initiative and the lines get blurred between what is strategy and what is process development and what is actually execution of a process that is very detailed and has been trained on for a VA.

Drew McLellan:

Right. What you’re saying is that the best use of a VA is a repetitive task that they can learn and then just follow the recipe over and over and over again.

Barbara Turley:

Absolutely. Then you work together. The next step that people miss sometimes is they roll out a process that’s recurring, and then they never really have a check-in point with the virtual assistant to see how it’s going and to improve the process or to get better results or to engage them in what you’re trying to achieve so that they feel like they’re not just a monkey in the Philippines doing a repetitive tasks, they actually feel like they are a really important input to a strategic business decision or direction or whatever they’re trying to achieve.

That’s a key thing as well, to make them feel part of the business so that they can get more success for you and they’re more engaged. If you just give someone a repetitive task and ask them to do it every week, and you have no engagement strategy with that person, you’ll find that mistakes will slip in naturally. That applies to any country like you say, it wouldn’t matter where the person was.

Drew McLellan:

Right. If I’m the director of account services and I am going on behalf of my agency, I’m going to engage with a virtual assistant, how often should I talk to them? How often should I check their work? How engaged are they with the team? What’s the best practice around all of that?

Barbara Turley:

Yes. That’s a really great question. Number one, I’m sure most agency owners would agree with this, we’re big fans of using a project management tool and not using email for internal and team and task communication flow. For example, I’m a huge Asana user, but there’s Trello, there’s Teamwork PM, there’s all these different ones. Number one, you’ve got to bring them in, if you work with an offshore person at this level, my advice is to not treat them like a contractor or a freelancer. I would probably steer clear of freelancers as well for other reasons, but you want to bring them fully into the business, you want to give them an email address that is part of your business, so it’s [email protected] You invite them into your project management tool, your Slack channels, you bring them into any other meetings that you’re having with the team, so that you fully incorporate them into the team.

Also, it’s good to set expectations when they first join around the communication flow that already exists within the business. For example, are you the type of person that likes to deal with questions or problems or roadblocks immediately because you’re available all day or are you in meetings all day and it would drive you nuts if somebody was asking you questions all day? You got to set that expectation with the person from day one. Then you’ve got to set your meeting rhythm, you probably have a meeting rhythm already with your team, maybe you’re running daily huddles, maybe you’re running weekly strategy meetings, I would encourage you to include a virtual assistant in those meetings.

I’m a big fan of the daily huddle technique, which is like a short 10 minute meeting where you address, what have I done, what am I planning to do and where am I stuck, that’s the big one. To do that with a virtual assistant is very powerful, 10 minutes a day and have it as a non-negotiable in your diary, especially in the first six to eight weeks of working together.

Drew McLellan:

Does that imply that I’m working with this person 40 hours a week, as opposed to that I might buy 10 hours a month from them? That sounds to me like I have an employee now.

Barbara Turley:

Yeah. Just dealing with what we do, at the Virtual Hub we specialize in dedicated staff, we do part-time contracts of 20 hours per week, or full-time at 40 hours per week, that’s how we operate. You’re going-

Drew McLellan:

Okay. If I was hiring a virtual assistant through you, the minimum I’m getting is 20 hours a week?

Barbara Turley:

20 hours a week, yeah, it’s more like you’ve got to have a good, strong task list. Now, if you are going for a virtual assistant where you’re just doing 10 hours a month or whatever, that’s can work great, but I think at the minimum you want to have some check-in points during that month. Maybe it’s a bi-monthly meeting, or I wouldn’t do monthly, initially you want to do maybe a little bit more often, but you just have to have check-in points where you address the roadblocks and how it’s going.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Right. Typically in your model and in your view of this, are they transparent to the clients? Are they interacting with clients? Are they completely behind the curtain? I know you work with a lot of agency clients, how did they integrate this part-time contractor, because that’s really what it is, part-time or full-time contractor, how do they integrate them with clients?

Barbara Turley:

Yep. Typically the agencies that we’re working with have their virtual assistants doing the backend work, but they are very much engaging with the team, even if the team’s only two people, there are engaging. When I say back office, I don’t mean they’re just way off in the Philippines, nobody speaks to them, they’re very much part of the team. We have a couple that have a VA doing some client facing work, but it’s more like an onboarding process, they may have the VA emailing to follow up for documents that are needed or contract to be signed, but that again would be a process.

But in general, it is more the back office [crosstalk 00:17:20] internal team that I would recommend. Unless you build them up, I don’t think you’d want people of that level engaging with your clients, you want to show your agency wants to have the top people engaging with your clients, I would think.

Drew McLellan:

Right. What are some of the mistakes? One of them, obviously it sounds like is not having enough touch bases with your virtual assistant. What are other common mistakes that agencies or business owners or business leaders make when they engage with a virtual assistant? Again, regardless of where they live, to me that’s irrelevant, how can I mess this up?

Barbara Turley:

Oh yeah. The biggest mess of point is in the first four weeks, probably the first week. Usually where people mess up is they come in with an expectation that this person is going to hit the ground running and the reason I’ve said it that way is because we hear this all the time, “I thought we were going to hit the ground running,” I’m like, “Look, even if you hire somebody who’s an MBA qualified U.S. in your business, nobody comes into any business and hits the ground running.” They might, but really you’re shaking your head because I agree, people have this perception that if you hire the right person, they’re going to hit the ground running.

Usually with a virtual assistant then, in the first week they go, “Oh, I don’t know,” and then they panic because it’s off shore, they immediately go, “This doesn’t work for me.” That’s a huge mistake and it’s a mindset issue that you have to come in, you’ve got to make sure that you do not have that bias before you come in. You’ve got to come in with an open mind, you’ve got to come in prepared to potentially take a pause for a month in some processes to get them delegated effectively. After that first hump, you need to have an onboarding time with a new person in your business, you got to tell them about what you actually do, what you’re trying to achieve, all that stuff, and then delegate the processes slowly, don’t slam someone on day one with a recurring task list. That’s number one.

The second one I see all the time, I call them the lemon squeezers, I’m sure the agencies have clients like this, where you hire somebody for whatever, 10 hours a week or even 40 hours a week, doesn’t matter, but you actually try and shove a full-time job down the throat of a part-time person and then you blame them because they can’t get the results for you. That’s a major issue that we see there, people think, “Well, I can do it in four hours a day, so why can’t they?” I go, “Well, they possibly will get to that level, but again, you need some time.” Again, if it’s costing you 10 bucks an hour, or if you go direct you can get much cheaper than that, it doesn’t matter if it takes a bit longer or they take their time with something, [crosstalk 00:20:17].

Once you get through that first four to six week hump, let’s say you get through there, the next major milestone is after three months, people tend to see slippage or mistakes happening. Usually the problem with that is that there’s no leadership, you’re not doing the check-in milestones, you’re not leading that person in your team. Those are issues that happen in any business, it’s not just with Vas, but we see those happen quite a lot.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. I would guess, I’m surprised that one of the mistakes that you didn’t list and maybe it’s coming next, is that agencies come in expecting the VA to have a process. I hire a VA to let’s say optimize blog posts, but I don’t feel like I should have to teach them how to optimize a blog post, they should just know how to do that and they should know how to do it the way I want them to do it.

Barbara Turley:

Oh, yeah. The good thing about our agency is that actually, our business at the Virtual Hub… This was a problem in the market and I decided to go after, that’s why we were doing quite well, because we run massive training programs where we train on specific processes around all of these things and we give the process to the clients, we say, “You can have the process, your VA has been trained in this process and we will ongoingly help and support along the way, but you can modify the process to your own liking or just use it or not use them, use your own,” that’s how we operate.

We’ve eradicated that issue a little bit. In the direct market though, you will still find freelancers that will have their own process, the problem with freelancers, and I’m probably going to get nailed here on this for saying this, I love freelancers for certain jobs, but what you got to remember, I heard, I think it was Gary Vaynerchuk the other day did one of those Facebook Lives on this, and he was talking about, the problem with hiring a freelancer is that you’re hooking up and dating when actually what you’re looking for is a marriage, it’s tricky. They will come in and have their own process, it may be completely misaligned to your process, even if they have experience, and then it’s very hard to break that and get them to do something else because they have their own idea about what they want to do.

Drew McLellan:

Well, one of the things, agencies have begun to embrace this idea of, find a contractor for a specific skill, hire them for a specific task, and then you move on and we certainly use outsourcing for maybe certain art directors or things like that. But what I’m hearing you say, which is an interesting mental shift, is that really the best way to use a virtual assistant is to not think about them as a temporary hire, but instead to think of them as you’re augmenting your staff through a contract relationship. Again, they’re not an employee, you’re not obligated in that way, but ideally this is someone who is going to stick with you for a period of time. Again, that-

Barbara Turley:

What I’m really talking about, you’re right, is that my background was all in investment banking before I did this, I was a business coach for a long time before I did this, and I saw the same problem coming up all the time. Lots of businesses, the issue they face is that they can’t scale what they’re doing because they need people or they need [crosstalk 00:23:40], and they’re hamstrung because you’re like, “I need more clients so I can get a salary in and hire someone or contract someone.” There’s this bind all the time, if you can nail this off shore thing and have that mindset shift and go, “Particularly as an agency like we started this call, so many things to do, it’s just incredible that to-do list that you guys have.” If you can get this off shore team running as part of your scalable business strategy, oh my God, your agency, your people in the U.S. or wherever you have them, you put them doing more higher value work and getting more clients and dealing with more accounts, boom, business growth.

It is a mindset shift, when you’re online just doing contractors here and there and tasks, it’s fine in the early days, but if you want to scale your business, if you want a really successful agency where your margins are higher, then this strategy is something you want to be thinking about get someone in on a longterm basis into your business. That’s where we specialize, I’m very passionate about that because that’s where we specialize.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Again, to me the off shore thing is, while there may be an economic value in hiring somebody from the Philippines versus a VA from Georgia U.S., even a virtual assistant here might cost you 25 bucks or whatever it is, but the point that’s interesting in this is the idea that many people would go into a virtual assistant relationship thinking that it is short term and what you’re saying is, when you find the right one and they are able to adapt to the way that you work and they learn your systems and processes, this can be a good long-term solution.

Barbara Turley:

Yeah, why would you train somebody up like that and then have them… I think as well, because your mindset is short-term, that person feels that so they’re going to be skipping onto the next client, they’re not committed to you because they can feel it. They know they’re just a fly by night for you. Just to voice the other side, I hear it in the Philippines a lot that people who are on Upwork trying to do the freelancing thing, and they’re getting railroaded by clients because clients are getting them to do work and then not paying them for it, I’m doing runners and all that. There’s a whole industry wide problem about this short-termism and nobody really committed of anyone, but that fuels annoyance and irritation on both sides.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. I have a couple agencies who the owners have partnered with a virtual assistant and that person manages their email. Talk to me about that because the idea of letting someone else in my email, when I think about that I’d be like, “Oh no,” and I can’t imagine that anybody else… There are certainly plenty of emails I get that anyone could answer and if they saw how I answered them for a period of time like, “Hey, when is that workshop? Or what time does the workshop end?” Probably somebody could, but is that a common thing that people hire a virtual assistant for?

Barbara Turley:

Look, I have a view on this, I do have clients that use their VA’s for certain amounts of email, but here’s my theory on email. The first step with email is not to delegate it, the first step with email is to eradicate and automate as much of it as possible. You want to try and minimize your inbox by clever strategies, for example, and these are where VAs start coming in. I’m a big fan of removing all the small questions and the customer support stuff to a customer support channel. For example, you could tell your clients that, “Oh, just email [email protected],” you can integrate that to things like Asana where the tickets pop up there and you can have VA’s manage that. Over time you would ask a VA for those questions to build you a, and we have a process for this, but a structure around what level of the question are they commonly asked questions? The more FAQ’s you’re getting, you may want to put that on your website or on the autoresponder so people get [crosstalk 00:27:57]. You want to move some of that stuff off your email.

Next step is then you want to move some of all your subscriptions and all that sort of stuff off your email. If you do a lot of that and you automate some of it and you just are clever about your email, all of a sudden your email is down to a point where you can actually manage it yourself, and it’s the important stuff like podcast interviews, or you can flick something to your VA if it’s an easy one that comes in.

You have to have a system for how that email is going to be managed, you have to have a voice in the response that matches your [crosstalk 00:28:39], be realistic about it. Like I would, say three to six months to get somebody to really emulate your brand voice, your email responders, don’t think someone’s going to walk in on day one and solve your email problem, they won’t.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, I just can’t imagine it. Okay. I want to ask you about the ugly side of, when does it not work and how do you separate in a minute, but let’s first take a quick break.

Thanks for tuning in to Build a Better Agency. I just want to take a quick second and remind you that throughout the year, AMI offers workshops for agency owners, agency leaders, and account executives. If you head over to the AMI website and you check out under the training tab, you’re going to find a calendar of all of the workshops we offer throughout the year. We cover quite a wide variety of topics, everything from Biz Dev, to creating a content machine for your agency, to making sure that you are running your business based on the best financial metrics and dashboards that you can. We also have a workshop on agency owner management hacks, all the best practices that agency owners are using to run their businesses well and profitably. Of course, you’re always going to find our account executive bootcamp and our advanced AE bootcamp.

Go ahead and check it out on the website and hopefully one of those will meet a need for you and your agency and we’ll see you soon. Let’s get back to the episode.

All right, we are back and we are talking about how agencies can use and leverage the power of virtual assistance. Again, whether you go through a central hub like a Barb’s firm, or you hire them in a different way, to me the question is, how do you find the right person and then what work can they do? But sometimes it just doesn’t work, how do I know? Because one of the mistakes you said that we make is that we come unprepared or maybe our expectations are unrealistic, that first week is a disaster and we think, “I need to fire this person, this is not working. I was right all along, this is not for me, I want out.” How do I know when I actually should fire a virtual assistant or a virtual assistant firm that’s helping me do this? What are the non-negotiables in this space?

Barbara Turley:

Yep. For me, and I’ve been through a long journey with this, I’ve met every problem in the market myself through building my own business and I’m proud to say that we have eradicated a lot of the recruitment problems that happen particularly in the Philippines and off shore, for example, I was talking to a woman recently, I was at the Digital Marketer Conference down here in Australia, and this woman asked me exactly the same question and I said to her, “Tell me a bit about your virtual assistant,” and she said, “When he shows up, he’s great.” I was like, “Okay, what do you mean when he shows up,” and she’s like, “[crosstalk 00:31:31] full time with her, but he shows up whenever he feels like it.” I’m like, “Okay, just fire his ass.” That’s just not acceptable.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, unacceptable, right.

Barbara Turley:

Unacceptable, yeah?

Drew McLellan:

Yeah.

Barbara Turley:

If you’ve set an expectation like one of my strong expectations with my team is that we’re heavy users of Asana, we have huddles every day, I’m like, “If you don’t show up to the huddle or if you’re late and you don’t come prepared and you don’t update everyone in Asana and if you don’t hand the baton correctly the way we’ve set up to the next person and it all falls apart, I’m going to nail you for that.” But those expectations were set by me from day one, you’ve got to be really clear on your boundaries, your expectations, not in a mean way, just being very clear that this is how we operate and showing somebody what failure looks like.

I’ll try not to go on about the skills yet, let’s say that you’ve gone through the first, let’s say you’ve recruited well and you don’t have those issues of people going [crosstalk 00:32:37] slippery and all that. If you’ve invested a bit of time and you’ve got a good process, the first step when somebody is not working out so well with a process is to just before you shoot the messenger, take a little review of the process together because sometimes with processes, there are steps in processes that you have a certain amount of IP that you don’t realize you have when you’re doing a process, but your virtual assistant may be missing, so you might be able to fill a gap in for them. Now let’s say you’ve already done that and it’s just still not working, at that point it’s okay to say, “Look, you’re a lovely person, you’re just not the right fit for the speed at which we work.” But I would give it a bit of time.

Look, at the Virtual Hub we don’t hire for skills, we’re very strong about this. If we try and hire for skills we end up in all sorts of pain, we hire for things that you can’t teach, character, enthusiasm and smarts and English obviously. The only way that we can find those things, you can’t find that in an interview or from a resume, we put them through an intensive training program with us full-time for a month, just so we can see the whites of their eyes every day for a month, because you can’t hide for that long, you see people’s character come through. Again, you can do that in your business, if you see a character that you’re not sure about coming through, then is it culturally a good fit for you in your business and the way you operate, you got to think about those things, skills you can teach.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Again, especially if you’re asking them to do process-driven repetitive tasks-

Barbara Turley:

Yep, they should be able to deliver that. Look, another little tip, sorry, just to round that out though, and with your process and your repetitive tasks, you also have to set up a structure, I would recommend this, you’re reporting back to you structure, that’s your weekly meeting or whatever you’re having a meeting, of the results, how’s it going? Have a little look, that’s an oversight thing that you have to do with any team.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Other things like writing or graphic design, it’s just not realistic to expect a virtual assistant to be able to do, that you really do want to go to an Upwork or someplace like that to get that-

Barbara Turley:

Writing, a hundred percent. People ask VA’s to write a blog post for them and I’m like, “Look, you can ask them,” someone might produce an okay piece of content, but they will hate every second of it because they’re not a writer and they do it because you asked them to, and it’d be crap content, really, they’re virtual assistants.

Look, the problem is the word virtual assistant is very broad and it’s anyone with a heartbeat who can type right through an accountant. Again, be realistic about a virtual assistant is there to assist you with certain processes. Things like writing, web development, coders, all that stuff, they’re all specialized areas. Graphic design is, but it depends, if you’re just doing canvas images for social media, most virtual assistants can nail that with a bit of rounding testing and stuff. But again, they’re not graphic designers though.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Really we’re talking about administrative tasks for the most part.

Barbara Turley:

Yeah. Well, that’s a general virtual assistant, you can get a specialist virtual assistant could be a graphic designer for example.

Drew McLellan:

Sure. Right. I’m thinking about a lot of agencies that I know and in some cases the owner could probably use their own virtual assistant and then the agency for specific tasks like SEO reporting or blog optimization or whatever it is, they could probably use a different one. Is it better to buy one person for 40 hours a week and have them have multiple bosses, or is it better to say, “Those were three different channels,” you’d be better off getting three people for 20 hours and let them have one focus and they’re focusing on [Drew 00:36:49] and what he needs you to do as the agency owner and you work together as a team, but he’s not having to share you with other people because then that’s problematic.

Barbara Turley:

Yeah. The trick with this is, you can get one person, but it depends how organized you guys are as a team and how structured you are in leading one person and making sure that person isn’t scattered. That again, comes back to a leadership thing. It’s probably better to do the part-time because they’re different personnel, some of our VAs are great at the techie stuff, they love tinkering with Infusionsoft, setting up campaigns and all that sort of thing, while others prefer social media and they’re a bit more graphic design-y type bends, again, they’re different personality types. The ones who like to do link-building tend to be not great conversationalists because it’s just backend work completely reporting that, all that stuff. Yeah, it’s probably better to not scatter one person, although our VA’s can do all that stuff, you just got to think about that, but again, if you hire three people though, then you’ve got to think about, you’ve got three people to integrate into the business from off shore so just keep that in mind.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Well, I wasn’t even thinking about the skill sets, I was just thinking about even in an agency with employees when a full-time employee has multiple masters inside the agency, they get pushed and pulled in a lot of directions and they get conflicting priorities and my priority is more important than someone else’s, but the other person’s priority is on fire and then you make the poor employee, or in this case, virtual assistant either have to negotiate between you or try and decide what matters more. As we were talking I was just thinking, “Oh, I bet that could be a sticky wicket.”

Barbara Turley:

Yeah. With a Filipino VA, because you’ve got to understand the culture they come from, they are a non-confrontational, instead of negotiating with the three of you, they’ll try and just work themselves to the bone to get it all done and what you’ll find is everything will done, but there’ll be littered with mistakes, miss deadlines, then feeling down on themselves because you’re the boss. They don’t feel like I could go to you and say, “Hey, Drew, you’re putting a bit too much pressure on me,” they’re never going to say that because their culture won’t allow them. You got to keep that in mind as well that they won’t say that to you, you have to see that. It’s a leadership thing at the end of the day.

Drew McLellan:

Well, it’s a struggle for agencies even with their own employees, somebody who’s shared across departments or an art director who works at multiple accounts will feel that push me, pull you between teammates sometimes.

Barbara Turley:

Yeah, same off shore.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Obviously the obvious upside of this is that you can get a lot of work done at a lower cost than if you hire a full-time employee and that you’re getting some tasks off of higher paid people’s plates, have you seen other benefits? I might think about, if I could get rid of some of this mundane task work, if I could say to one of my employees, “You don’t have to do the SEO reporting anymore,” I would think the satisfaction from that person, not the virtual assistant, that the teammate on my team, my employee would go, “I love you most of all, I don’t ever want to work for anyone else. Thank you so much.” I have to think that part of the rationale behind this is really to free your people up from the work that they don’t like to do.

Barbara Turley:

Yeah, a hundred percent. They feel like they’ve got an assistant and don’t think that the virtual assistant then in the Philippines is getting dumped with all the crap, because for them how they see it is that again, it’s still a third world country, these countries for them, they’re working with an amazing U.S. client that’s running an agency, that’s a big prestigious job for them and they’re really good at it and they don’t feel the same way. You’re making them happy by giving them responsibility for that. It’s a good strategy.

Drew McLellan:

We got to wrap up, I have more questions, but of course we can keep talking for hours and just the Australian accent I could just talk to you forever.

Barbara Turley:

Oh, actually I meant to tell you that I’m actually not from Australia, I’ve lived here for 17 years but I’m actually from Dublin in Ireland. I forgot to tell you that.

Drew McLellan:

Oh, it’s a little mix, I like that.

Barbara Turley:

Yeah, it’s a mix.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. When you go back home to Dublin, then do you pick up your full on Irish accent?

Barbara Turley:

Totally. While even on the phone with my brother or my mom or anything, I pick up the accent again, yeah.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. That’s crazy. Any last minute tips for us, if this is something we’re going to do, if we want to be successful at this, boy, it sounds like it would really relieve a burden to your point earlier, it would let me scale the business, any last minute tips that we haven’t talked about.

Barbara Turley:

No. Look, the thing I would say is that, I’ve given a lot of tips through this podcast, even listen back to it again because there’s a lot of things you need to do to get ready before you hire someone. You can absolutely go direct, but there’s a couple of things I would just say, obviously I’m blowing my own trumpet here because I run a business like this, but even for us in the Virtual Hub, for us to hire 10 people and they’re all full-time employees of our company in the Philippines, we actually hire them. In order for me to find 10 of them that are good, 200 people come through our offices and sit a five-hour exam of which about 20 will end up maybe entering the training program and we’ll whittle those down to maybe eight that we’ll end up getting hired. That’s after about a six week process. Don’t underestimate how difficult it is even if people have expertise in this market because you’re dealing with an offshore country, a culture that’s different, don’t beat yourself up.

If you’ve done this route before and it didn’t work and you feel like it was just so painful, it is quite painful, but if you get it right and you can use an agency like ours, or if you go direct, maybe bear in mind that you’re taking on quite an enormous task, but if you get it right, it will pay dividends in the end enormously. We can see it with our clients, our clients are growing, they started with one, now we have an agency that’s up to four with us and they’re really growing their team off shore, it’s absolutely possible.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Thank you so much. This has been fascinating and I’m hoping that a lot of people who had a preconceived notion about what working with a virtual assistant might be like are looking at it through a new lens. I appreciate your perspective and you sharing all of these ideas and tips so that we can do it well.

Barbara Turley:

Great. Thank you for having me.

Drew McLellan:

You bet. If folks want to track you down, if they want learn more about your business or reach out to you, what’s the best way for them to do that?

Barbara Turley:

Sure. They can find out about me on LinkedIn, I like to connect with people over there, and then on our website, thevirtualhub.com, we’re going to have the link in the show notes, we’ve got a special link for your listeners where we’ve got some free goodies there that’ll help you to take this show and take the next steps, we have the mistakes people make with VAs and how to fix it, there’s an ebook there, you can book a call with us there and also we have a scalable business success formula E-course that takes a bit more in depth into what I’ve talked about today.

Drew McLellan:

Okay. That’s awesome. Thank you so much, appreciate your time.

Barbara Turley:

Thank you so much for having me.

Drew McLellan:

You bet. All right guys, this wraps up another episode of Build a Better Agency. Again, they’re so many different ways to skin the cat and to get the work done, and Barb just outlined for you an option that I’m guessing a lot of you have poo-pooed in the past, or you’ve tried it a couple times and it didn’t work. I have lots of agencies that have successfully figured out how to make the virtual assistant work. Part of it is really understanding what their wheelhouse is and what they can and can’t do. As Barbara told you, a lot of it is about what we put into the relationship.

It can’t be as one-sided as sometimes we would like it to be that we could just send them an email and they magically know how to do everything and do it, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a good option for you. Give it some thought, go over to the website, it’ll be in the show notes and check out the tools that Barbara’s put together for you, but don’t dismiss it, don’t decide off the bat that it’s not the right choice for you.

With that, we’re going to wrap up this episode. I will be back next week with another guest who is going to challenge you to think a little differently about your business as you think about scaling and growing it. In the meantime, you can track me down at [email protected] managementinstitute.com, and as always ratings and reviews make me very happy, so I would appreciate it if you would take the time to do that, it’s how we get found by other folks and it’s also one of the best ways for me to get some feedback from you about what you like and don’t like, and what you want more of. We can fashion the show to be better and more helpful to you, the more feedback we get. With that, I will catch you next week. Talk to you soon.

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