Episode 452

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Agency owners who want to scale their business often run into a chicken-and-egg situation. To scale and grow sustainably, you need to hire more people. But to be able to hire more people, you need to scale and grow to have the money to do so.

This is where hiring international employees can help solve your problems.

This week, we’re diving into the growing trend of hiring full-time international employees with Kim Walker. Kim and her husband Brian initially had reservations about hiring international workers for their agency but quickly realized the immense benefits to them and the people they were hiring.

Kim details her thorough hiring process, how she overcame cultural barriers, the amazing talent and value international hires bring, and the life-changing impact it has had on their agency. We also touch on common concerns like pay rates, taxes, benefits, and time zones.

Whether you’re struggling to find affordable talent locally or just want to build a dynamic, multinational team, this episode is a mini crash course in finding incredible international employees to help supplement your U.S. team.

A big thank you to our podcast’s presenting sponsor, White Label IQ. They’re an amazing resource for agencies who want to outsource their design, dev, or PPC work at wholesale prices. Check out their special offer (10 free hours!) for podcast listeners here.

international employees

What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • How Kim and her husband got the idea to hire international employees
  • How they started the process of finding international talent
  • The worries they encountered when making their first international hire
  • Average pay for international employees in the Philippines
  • What they learned about hiring foreign workers
  • How the hiring process differs from stateside interviews
  • The secret lies in strong core values
  • Weaving different cultures into the agency’s culture
  • Taxes and benefits for foreign workers
  • The mistakes they made and what they learned from them

“We treat them incredibly well and pay them a very fair wage for their work. They're very, very loyal and do incredible work.” - Kim Walker Share on X
“The secret to my success lies in our core values. Our core values drive everything.” - Kim Walker Share on X
“In the beginning, my hiring process wasn't super thought out. The mistake was hiring too fast.” - Kim Walker Share on X
“The downside is dismissing it, not exploring it, not considering it. It's been a life changer for us, our team, and for them.” - Kim Walker Share on X
“Connecting with these humans on the other side of the planet has been one of the biggest pleasures, seriously, of my entire professional life.” - Kim Walker Share on X

Ways to contact Kim:

Resources:

Hey everybody, drew here. You know, we are always looking for more ways to be helpful and meet you wherever you’re at to help you grow your agency. It’s one of the reasons why we’ve produced this podcast for so long and I’m super grateful that you listen as often as you do. However, there are some topics that are better suited for quick hyper-focused answers in under 10 minutes. That’s where our YouTube channel really comes in. For quick doses of inspiration, best practices, tips and tricks, head over to youtube.com/the at sign Agency Management institute. Again, that’s youtube.com/the at sign or symbol.

And then Agency Management Institute, all one word. Subscribe and search the existing video database for all sorts of actionable topics that you can implement in your shop today. Alright, let’s get to the show.

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 the money you make. The Build a Better Agency Podcast, presented by a White Label IQ is packed with insights on how small to mid-size agencies are getting things done, bringing his 25 years of experience as both an agency owner and agency consultant. Please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.

Hey there everybody. Drew McLellan here with another episode of Build a Better Agency from your friends at Agency Management Institute. Super happy to be back with you today. As always, I love these conversations. I love bringing you new ideas and smart folks who can get you thinking a little differently about your business. And this episode is no exception. So the conversation we’re gonna have today is this growing trend of agencies hiring international full-time employees. This is not contractors, this isn’t hiring a company that does things for you offshore. This is about adding to your full-time team.

They just happen to live somewhere outside of your native country. So could be the us, could be you, might be in Australia, but nonetheless it’s about finding offshore talent to augment your team. And I think there’s a lot of misperceptions around this. I think a lot of people think that you can only hire them to do super simple oriented things. I think a lot of people think it’s very complicated, but what we’re finding is as agencies, as our agencies are embracing this more and more, that it really is a very viable solution. There are systems and processes and people set up to help you make it super easy and that a lot of agencies are finding that it’s really impacting the culture of their team, that it’s leveling up their American based or their Australian based or where their UK based employees by adding some international flavor and sort of attitudes about work into the team.

But it’s also been pretty impactful from a financial point of view. So we actually, one of the workshops, as you know that we teach is called Money Matters. The next one is coming up September 19th and 20th. And one of the things we talk about a lot is sort of keeping your payroll in check, keeping that number sort of in that 55, 25 20 ratio of how much of my a GI should I be spending on my people versus my overhead and my profit. And you know, as as your native land salaries get higher and higher, staying in that 55 to 60% range is getting more challenging. And this is this idea of international employees. One of the reasons why agencies are embracing this is because it does help you manage your payroll expenses differently.

And so that may be an option for you. We’re gonna actually talk about it in great detail at the Money Matters Workshop September 19th and 20th. So if you haven’t attended that workshop yet, people say that it is absolutely game changing in terms of how they run their business, how much profit they put into their business. And so we would love to see you in Denver in September on September 19th and 20th. You can check out the website under How We Help and you’ll find the workshops there and you can register there. But in the meantime, our guest today is gonna talk about how she and her husband who own an agency together, how they’ve changed their financial picture and their structural team by adding an international component to it.

So Kim Walker and her husband Brian, own an agency called Shop Marketing Pros. They are part of the A MI community and have been for a long time and they’re very financially savvy people and they run a really great shop. And a few years ago they decided that it might make sense to explore adding some international talent again, full-time, team members, not contractors, not VAs to their team. And so I asked Kim to come and talk to us about that experience and how it worked and the mistakes they made and the lessons they learned and and how we can do it better and augment our team potentially with folks from their countries.

So without further ado, let’s welcome Kim to the show. Hey there, Kim, welcome to the podcast. Glad to have you back. Good to

See you. Thanks Drew. I’m really excited to be here with you.

So we’ve known each other a long time and you are a long time agency owner. And the reason, as I told everybody in the intro that I asked you to come on the show is because you and your business partner slash husband Brian, have really done an amazing job of enhancing your workforce with some offshore talent. So even I kind of wanna go through that journey with you. So let’s start with what prompted you to even think that that was a good idea?

Yeah, so lots of people, that’s their first question. And truly, even though I’m the one really implementing it and doing it now, Brian was the first one who had the aha. And he was at a training event in Dallas, Texas with a bunch of alpha business owners. And, and he first learned about the idea of hiring international team members. So we don’t call them VAs because I feel like VAs is like, that’s just someone on the other side of the world that you like send a little task and they get it done, or you send a big task and they get it done.

We have international team members. These are people who are fully ingrained in every bit of the operations of our business and totally baked into being true members of our team. And when he came back and said, Hey, have you heard of hiring people from the Philippines? ’cause we have had a team member from Egypt for a long time that we’ve been utilizing for projects here and there that we found through legit, you know, the freelancing SEO place. And this was different though, this was to add to our team members, but hiring from the Philippines.

And I thought, I don’t know about that. And I felt kind of weird about it and, and wasn’t really sure and had to get more information. And so I sort

Of, so at, at that moment, what were you feeling weird about? Were you thinking it didn’t work? Were you thinking they’re halfway across the globe? How are we gonna connect with them? Were you thinking, how will I ever be able to trust them because I don’t actually see them? Like, what were your worries early on?

All of that, including, I don’t know what the cultural difference is. Like, are they gonna work our time? Are they gonna work during their day? How do you logistically how do you pay them? How do I communicate when they speak a different, like I didn’t even, I knew nothing like from, I was literally asking every question because I knew nothing. My biggest thing was Brian kept saying their cost of living is so much lower that a good, good happy paying job for them. And I’m not, I’m not even ready to say the number yet, but, but it was five.

He’s like, we, we can pay people $5 an hour. And I’m like, hold on. Time, time out. Like that just sounds like the whole cheap labor. Like you are really not doing good and we want to do good in this world. And I was super panicked about

So you felt like you would be taking advantage of somebody from another country?

Absolutely. I, that, that was the initial just terrible feeling, like there’s no way that I can pay someone that, that’s not a livable wage. And once we started digging in and really researching, we learned what the real cost of living is and that there are people who are working these types of jobs, a lot of digital marketing, content ads, all that kind of stuff. And, and so we just started really exploring it with an open heart and an open mind. And that’s when we really started realizing, wait, there’s an entire world of this happening out there.

And so our first putting our foot into the shallow end of the pool was utilizing a service, like a recruiting service, a staffing agency, if you will, that helped, you know, we, we would tell them, here’s the position we’re looking for. And by the bring us the candidates,

The the positions you were hiring for weren’t VA positions, they weren’t just people doing like answering your email or doing sort of predetermined tasks. You now, today, and I know I I’m jumping the gun on the story, but you now today have international employees doing all kinds of different levels of work. Is that correct?

Absolutely. I, I’m literally minutes before I came on here with you, I was filtering candidates for what will be our 19th current employed team member, like I I, today I have 18 international team members working everything from social media management to digital ads to optimization of digital ads, SEO, graphic designers, assistants, like administrative executive assistants, all all that in between. I’m, I probably am missing Oh, developers as well. So yeah, all the way, all the way through that whole process. I mean every, everywhere in our company.

Okay. So now back to the story. So you found somebody who sort of acts as an intermediary to help you understand sort of how to do this. So all right, pick it up from there.

Yep. So we utilized that company and I, I don’t, I don’t, I’m not gonna say who it was ’cause I ended up not being super happy with them and I was paying them a lot of money. And in the process of using them where they were bringing us candidates and we were hiring from their pool of candidates, somewhere in there I found this resource, which I am obsessed with and it’s online jobs.ph and John Jonas is the founder of that. This guy is American, he lives in Utah. He’s had a similar experience to me where he was using a staffing agency in 2008 or 2009 to hire his first person.

And the process all in there, he decided, I’m just gonna do this myself. And so essentially it’s like an indeed.com or a monster.com, but it’s in the Philippines. And so I’m able to use this, this online platform to go and I can reverse search so I can go search for content writer, right? Or whatever it is I’m looking for, and filter these candidates to find exactly what I’m looking for, dig in, and then I can message the individuals and invite them to look at my job post and apply. And so the flip side of that is putting your job post up and just letting them come to you, which is what I’m doing today, literally right now as a content assistant.

I’m hiring for, for that someone who will work with our content director. But that’s, that’s where we started. And I have just grown to find that these humans are phenomenal. I mean, they love being on our team, so we take great care of them. That’s super, that’s a big piece of that is that we treat them incredibly well. We pay them a very fair wage for the work that they’re doing. They’re involved in our company with our other team members. We give them everything that they need and just love on ’em and take care of us. They’re very, very loyal and do incredible work.

And just, you know, as we hired one, we were like, okay, we’re trusting them. They’re trusting us.

So let’s go back to that first hire.

Yeah.

What, what were you worried about as you as, as, so you, so you went through this job board, you found a candidate. What was the role for this first tire?

Gosh, if I go back, it’s been two or three years now, I wanna say my first hire in that realm. ’cause our very first hire was through like Upwork or Elan or something like that. But, but with this, I believe it was SEO and, or it could have been a social media manager, but our, my first worries were was, is what, I don’t know, I, I was like very clear about with the, the team member. This is our first time doing this. Like we’re jumping in and we don’t know what’s next. What we do know is here’s what we need you to do and here’s what we’re gonna give you for doing it and here’s how we’re gonna treat you.

And we just started from there and it was an unfolding of learning together. They were teaching us some things and then we were teaching them some things. So I, I think that the biggest worry was just, I don’t know how to do this. And Brian and I are big advocates of done is better than perfect. So like, let’s just jump in, like let’s go. We’ll learn as we go. We joke about, yeah, yeah, we joke about the Walker way is make a decision, steamroll forward and don’t look back and just learn from your mistakes. Fail forward. And so yeah, that’s, that’s what we did.

And we just jumped in to the deep end of the poll.

So let’s talk about, I think one of the misnomers and I, and different people probably view this differently, the, I can pay them five to $8 an hour. Some people are, are, have the reaction you did, which was that seems inhumane, I don’t know that I can do that morally blah, blah, blah. And other people are like, sweet, I can pay ’em $5 an hour. So talk a little bit about bit how you wrestled through that and, and sort of where your belief is on compensation for international employees today.

For sure. That was my biggest hurdle, no doubt it was Brian’s as well. But Brian had already been talking to other business owners who were already in the trenches utilizing international team members, specifically from the Philippines. But we do have Adamo who’s amazing from Egypt. So he came back and we started digging into this. And for me a lot of prayer and just wisdom and, and figuring out, okay, is this really okay? And once I started talking to the current team members that we had and learning that truly the $5 an hour that we’re paying them, and look, some of our team members are five, some are six, some are eight, some are 12.

It, it just varies. It depends. We do give raises, we do take great care of them. But we, we learned that from them telling us no, like I’m the sole breadwinner in my family, right? And they live multi-generationally. There’s, there’s grandparents and great-grandparents all living in the same household. And they’re telling me that I, my, I’m the sole breadwinner and I’m feeding all of my, all of my family. I’m helping my siblings go to college. And I’m like, you’re paying for college. Like what? I don’t, I just could not fathom.

I remember you telling the story that they saying some of your employees were like buying their parents’ houses and like, it’s not just that they can feed their family, it’s

That Yeah. That they’re living,

It’s that based on their economy, our $5 an hour, our $8 an hour is making them affluent, probably not rich, but affluent enough that they can not only provide for their immediate family, but for their extended family in a way that they never could if they had a job locally.

Yeah. I mean they, some of them, I, I told them this morning I was doing this, this podcast with you and I said, tell me what I have forgotten. Tell me what you want me to remember. And some of them were, you know, I even, I even put it here so I could even read it. But for example, they’re, they’re, they’ve bought their second car. One recently bought their, the first vehicle for their entire history of their family. They’re taking vacations regularly. They’re coming in on Mondays talking about being grateful for the, the full body massage they got and how they took their family and did this.

And they went here and you have two, one just moved into his dream home that he built. He started building it when he took this job. And then there’s another one that I didn’t even know, it just started building his dream home home and then sent me the pictures and I’m like, oh yeah, this is not, this is living, they’re happy. They are living, thriving, having a very fulfilled paying for kids’ schools and helping their kids to dream. And yeah, they, they, they are doing very well.

Alright, so I wanna talk about like the hiring process and the mistakes you made and what you learned about hiring someone from a different country with different culture and all of that. And then we’re gonna talk about some other things. But first let’s take a quick break and then we’ll come back and talk about the mechanics of how to do this well based on, ’cause you now have how many team members from the Philippines?

18.

Yeah. Okay. So we’re not talking one or two experiences. We’re talking and some of them have been with you for a couple years, right?

Yep, for sure. Okay.

All right, let’s take a break and then we’re gonna talk about the mechanics of doing this. Well, we’ll be right back. Hey everybody, just wanna remind you before we get back to the show that we have a very engaged Facebook group. It’s a private group just for podcast listeners and agency owners that are in the AAMI community. And to find it, if you’re not a member, head over to facebook.com/groups/baba podcast. So again, facebook.com/groups/baab podcast. All you have to do is answer a few questions to make sure that you are an actual agency owner or leader. And we will let you write in and you can join over 1700 other agency owners and leaders.

And I’m telling you, there’s probably 10 or 15 conversations that are started every day that are gonna be of value to you. So come join us. Alright, we are back with Kim Walker, one of the owners of an agency who has successfully implemented a program where more than half of their employees do not live in the us They are, in their case, they happen to live in the Philippines. We have other agencies that have folks in other places. But for shop marketing pros, these folks are from the Philippines. So you now have 18 international employees. Talk to us about sort of what are the mechanics of hiring well and understanding the cultural differences and all of that that you have learned over the last few years.

Yeah, for sure. So I do things a little differently with regard to online jobs and posting my job. I’ve learned, even though very often, less is more for me, I have found that, and I’m not talking about writing a book, but being very specific and putting all the details in the job description. But my big, I would say secret to my success lies in our core values. Our core values drive everything. And so before they apply for positions, lemme back up step one, post your job, right?

And so you’ve done research, you’ve created your job description, you know what your benefits are going to be, what you’re offering, all that stuff. So you’ve created, you’ve posted your job description in it, I make it very clear the steps to apply. One, I’m telling them, do not email me if y