Have you ever wished that you had a team member dedicated to helping manage your day, your email, your commitments, and your goals? When we have someone in the office, they often get usurped by other teams or the crisis of the day. That’s one of the many advantages of working with a virtual assistant. Many agency owners are enjoying added productivity and peace of mind that comes with someone always having their back thanks to their VA!
My guest Jess Tyson takes a people-first approach to virtual assistant matchmaking. She facilitates the connection and establishes a professional relationship so you can start delegating and focusing on your highest priorities.. Jess is also the author of Panic Proof: How the Right Virtual Assistant Can Save Your Sanity and Grow Your Business, a speaker, and the Director of Calm at Don’t Panic Management. In this episode of Build a Better Agency, we talk about how virtual assistants can help you get your calm on.
VAs are a flexible commitment that ebbs and flows with your agency. Most agency owners I know use VAs to increase their efficiency and effectiveness, and VAs can become trusted members of your team if you approach the relationship the right way. It’s an option worth considering and my goal with this episode is to broaden your sense of what’s possible with a VA by your figurative side!
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: https://www.whitelabeliq.com/ami/
What You Will Learn in this Episode:
- How Jess’s new operations audit can help people figure out where to best spend their time and relegate, automate, or delegate the rest
- How VAs work and how the relationships are structured
- What Jess looks for as she searches for a client’s VA
- The advantages of hiring a virtual assistant over a traditional admin
- Why agency owners need to delegate
- How a VA can manage your biggest time-suck; emails
The Golden Nugget:“It’s not just about giving someone a task and making sure they do it efficiently; It’s about finding someone agency owners can trust.” @jessostroff Click To Tweet “Virtual assistants allow you to open the talent pool outside of your local community.” @jessostroff Click To Tweet “When I talk to agency owners, one of the common misperceptions about VAs is that their skillsets are primarily administrative.” @DrewMcLellan Click To Tweet “The more I delegate in my business and give up the things I’m not supposed to be doing, the more I can grow.” @jessostroff Click To Tweet “I’m always thinking about what I can do today that will help me a year from now—that’s how all agency owners should think about hiring.” @jessostroff Click To Tweet
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Ways to Contact Jess Tyson:
- Website: https://www.dontpanicmgmt.com/
- Twitter: @jessostroff
- LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/don’t-panic-management-llc/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/dontpanicmgmt
It doesn’t matter what kind of an agency you run, traditional, digital, media buying, web dev, PR, whatever your focus, you still need to run a profitable business. The Build a Better Agency podcast presented by White Label IQ will show you how to make more money and keep more of what you make. Let us help you build an agency that is sustainable, scalable, and if you want down the road, sellable. Bringing his 25 plus years of experience as both an agency owner and agency consultant, please welcome your host Drew McLellan.
Hey, everybody Drew McLellan here from Agency Management Institute. Welcome back to another episode of Build a Better Agency. Super excited to be back with you this week. Thanks for coming back if you are a return listener and welcome if this is your first time. This is a very practical, actionable episode. So I’m excited if this is your first one, that we’re going to immediately give you things to think about things to do. Before I tell you a little bit about our guest, let me do a couple of quick reminders.
First of all, remember that we give away a workshop, a live workshop or one of our on demand courses every single month. So that’s a value of around $2,000. We give those away to people who leave a rating or review on the podcast. Here’s what I need you to do. I need you to go to whatever site you download the podcast. It might be iHeart radio or iTunes or Stitcher or whatever. Leave us a rating and review and take a screenshot. Because as you know, when you created your iTunes account or whatever account it is, odds are, you didn’t do it in the agency name and you might not have even done it in your full name. Disney Dog 62 does not tell me anything other than that I probably love you because you’re a Disney fan. But it doesn’t tell me who you are.
So take a screenshot and send it to me by email, and we will put your name in a drawing. And every month we pull a name out of the hat, if you will, for a winner for one of the workshops. Happy to do that, a happy to have met a lot of listeners because they won a free workshop and it’s cool to be in the same room with them for a couple of days. Super eager to do that for you, and all we ask is a rating or review, and then just send me a note so we can make sure we include you in the drawing.
All right. Let me tell you a little bit about the topic today. For many years virtual assistance has been a thing and people have approached using a VA in a lot of ways. Some people will just hire a freelance VA. Many people look to an overseas VA because of the cost savings. And there are certainly advantages and disadvantages to all of the different ways that you can connect with a VA. But I will tell you that I think of many agency owners and leaders have a very narrow view of what a VA can do and should do. I think many of you have dismissed this idea thinking that it’s not for you when I’d have a lot of agency owners that work with VAs and talk about the efficiency and effectiveness that that person has brought to their world.
I will tell you personally that at my agency and as part of AMI, we work with some VAs that do a variety of tasks, both client facing tasks, and certainly more administrative or what I would call Drew facing tasks. I just can’t imagine doing the work without them. It’s a beautiful thing. It’s an economical thing to be able to ebb and flow with them as the work ebbs and flows. They become a very trusted part of your team if you approach it in that way. That’s why I decided to invite Jess Tyson on the podcast. Jess owns a company called Don’t Panic Management. What they are is they help you find, they serve are a matchmaking service, if you will, they will help you find a good VA and then work with you and the VA on how to sort of kick off that relationship successfully. Then you can start delegating some of your tasks and spending more of your time doing the work that is truly work that only you can do.
Jess is also an author. She’s written a book called Panic Proof: How The Right Virtual Assistant Can Save Your Sanity and Grow Your Business. She is often a speaker at conferences and she calls herself the director of calm, which I love. We’re going to talk about how a VA can help you kind of get your calm on, if you will, in the next few minutes. I’m excited to have you think a little differently about what a VA can mean for you personally and for the business. Without further ado, let’s meet Jess. All right, Jess, welcome to the podcast. Thanks for joining us.
Thank you so much for having me. I’m excited to be here.
I think everyone has a pretty good idea of what a VA is, although I’m sure there are plenty of misperceptions around where those VA’s live and how they work and do they get them on up Fiverr account or something like that. Give us a little bit of background on how when you think about a VA and you think about your business, how is it structured and how does it work?
My business is really focused on providing a partner to other business owners and entrepreneurs and leaders and managers. What we find is that it’s not just about giving someone a task and having them do it well and do it on time. It’s finding someone that you can trust because the biggest thing I find with the people that we work with is that it’s not that they don’t think that they need help, it’s that they’re a little nervous about it, and they’re not sure how someone could possibly help them. It’s more about, for my business, developing a trusting relationship and a trusting partnership where our clients can say, “You know what? I really need to book this trip to Paris. Can you find my flight?” And then your assistant says, “Oh, do you also need a hotel? Do you need a car service.” Sort of anticipating needs and figuring out a way to make our clients feel a sense of calm.
That’s sort of my goal with Don’t Panic Management. That’s part of why I named the company that, because like I said, it’s not just about getting work done. It’s actually, I try to instill a feeling that things are going to get done for you, and you’re going to feel really good about it. It’s a little bit different than say just hiring someone from a marketplace. We actually do this matchmaking service that hopefully gives our clients someone that they can really feel good about working with and that they get along with on a personal level and can communicate well with, because we want these relationships to last forever, for as long as they want.
Help me understand the advantage of hiring a virtual assistant as opposed to what historically entrepreneurs have done is which is hire an admin that sits in the office and does the kind of things that you’re talking about.
Yeah. I mean, I think it’s really nice to have somebody in the office if that’s the kind of environment that you have. But these days, a lot of us work virtually and a lot of us are in our homes or in a co-working space or something, and we’re smaller businesses. So maybe we don’t need full-time support. I think that’s where people were starting, where they were like, “I have this company, my company is doing really well. Maybe I have 20 employees or 30 or 50 employees, but I still don’t feel like I have full time admin work to give someone, so what am I going to do?” There was no solution really, you could, I guess, get a part-time temp or someone who come into your office a couple of days a week. But a lot of the times those are hard to find because people want full-time work.
So enter the virtual assistant and this person now can be anywhere in the world, which I think is amazing because it allows you to open the talent pool outside of your own local community. I think I’m seeing this more and more just with people who are prioritizing their happiness and who are saying, “What makes me happy is living on a Lake or living in the mountains in the middle of nowhere.” If you’re doing that for the reason that you want to be happy and that’s the thing that you are passionate about, you may not be able to find somebody local to you that can come in. Having the virtual option for that reason is amazing.
But then the second reason is what I mentioned before that they can be someone who works 10 hours a week, 17 hours a week, 22 hours a week. It can be any number of hours. You don’t have to put them into a box. That’s really appealing for people because they don’t want to pay for more than they need and they want the person to be efficient. I think that’s the combination of people starting to work remotely themselves and also moving to places where they were not location dependent. They weren’t working at a factory that was in Detroit, Michigan. They were working at their lake house.
Right. Yeah. It’s interesting. I was talking to an agency owner the other day that works with a virtual assistant and she was saying one of the reasons why she chose and why she prefers now probably two years in to work with a VA as opposed to somebody in the office, and she has a brick and mortar agency, so she could have someone in the office, and she said my VA is all mine. When someone is in the office, other people go, “Oh, they can do this. Or they have this skill or that skill, and pretty soon their time gets usurped by other people on the team.” She’s like, “I know it sounds selfish, but this is my person to help me with my workload and to get the stuff done that I need to get done, hold me accountable, help me feel like I’ve got my ducks in a row and I don’t have to share her with anyone else,” which I thought was an interesting perspective.
Yeah. And that’s really special that she feels that way and she values that person so much that she wants to keep her to herself. We’ve had that situation too. We’ve worked with a couple of PR agencies that have brick and mortar, same thing, and they’ve chosen to hire VAs partly for that reason. But then we’ve also had some who have both. They have an admin in the office, but that person a lot of times is ordering toilet paper, making coffee, doing things in the office, around the office. Then their VA is actually sometimes doing higher level work for them, like managing their inbox for them, sending proposals and writing proposals for them, doing invoices. Stuff that someone in the office could certainly do. But that office person is spent doing the in-person tasks that a VA really couldn’t do.
I’ve worked in situations where there’s both too, but that’s sort of like, “This is my person” thing, I always love because I think that also shows that the agency owner is serious about their work and they know that they need to protect their time and they’re using their VA to help them do that. That’s really great.
Some of the items that you just listed. I think one of the misperceptions about VAs when I talk to agency owners about the possibility of having one is they assume that that person’s skillsets are pretty administrative, sort of the basic blocking and tackling kind of things, but you’re talking about handling billing or writing and sending out proposals. That’s a completely different skillset. How do agency owners, how do they think differently about what’s possible with a VA? Because I honestly think sometimes their definition is so narrow that they go, “Oh, I don’t need someone to do to help me, whatever, organize my contact list.” It’s like, “Well, they do a lot more than that.”
Right. I think that’s a big problem with the industry and something I’m working more toward, especially in this coming year of really educating people more about what VAs can and cannot do and helping people understand that the term VA is just really messed up right now because a virtual assistant could be Alexa or virtual assistant could be me in my house. We need to figure that out. I think it’s going to take some time and again, more virtual assistance providing the education around what they can do. But conversations like this certainly help. I mean, for me, I think a lot of VAs came from similar backgrounds that I came from, which is that I went to college, I learned a skill, I got a degree in marketing and international business, but I was also very organized and very detail-oriented. In my first jobs and internships, I was doing a lot of admin stuff because I had to-
Earn your stripes.
Right, right. And that’s a lot of us. A lot of us are really good admin, but we also have other interests. For example, in my case, I did a lot of writing and I did a lot of editing and content management. So then I started doing that for clients as well. I think that’s what a lot of VAs end up doing. They’re good at the admin and that’s where they started perhaps, but they also have these other skills. That is really, I think, special about Vas as well, because the best ones are very curious. They want to learn new things. They’re listening to podcasts like this. They’re taking online courses. There’s so much information and education available to a VA now that really a VA can do anything.
We do podcast production, we do video editing. That’s something that you could certainly hire a freelancer or a video production company to do. But a lot of people, especially online agencies don’t need super high… unless they’re doing it for their clients maybe, and then that’s something that they’re providing as a high level service. But if you’re making video content as an education tool for your agency, you maybe don’t need the super high production value and you can hire a VA to put your logo on there, add the captions, do all the things that you might be able to do yourself, again, but don’t have the time or it’s really just not a good use of your time. You may have time, but it’s not worth it. Really almost anything that in the admin and sort of marketing content, social media realm that you can think of that can be done online, a VA can do.
Yeah. In my world, I own my agency and then I own AMI, and we’ve worked with VAs for quite a few years, and we have a couple that are pretty consistent team members. It’s interesting to watch how their role in the organization changes over time as you say, as they get curious and ask more about the business and as they go, “Well, I could do that.” But what I found for me anyway is that I went into that relationship pretty narrow-minded in terms of the skill sets that I was going to tap into. I had to sort of change the way I was looking at this team member and really begin to see her as a team member. It was really about my mindset and my understanding of what was possible and how I define team and all of those things. Do you see that that is a common challenge, is that when clients come to you and they start talking to you about maybe being matched with a VA or something like that, that they have to sort of be in the right head space too to make the partnership work?
Absolutely. I think that people are sometimes asking the wrong questions. They need to know the basics. They need to know “Well, how much does it cost and how many hours am I going to get?” They need to know that, but they’re not asking, “How are you going to help me reach my goals this year? Or what is our relationship going to look like five years from now?” I mean, those are things that you can be thinking about and asking when you’re looking for a VA and hiring a VA, because those are the things that make for the best relationships. Like you said, this happens all the time. The VA starts out with something small, let’s say, booking travel or scheduling meetings, but then next thing you know, they’re actually managing your whole inbox. They’re sending all your invoices, or maybe they get to know you so well that they’re able to ghost write for you on your behalf.
You don’t have to do all that right away, because it does, like I said, I think it’s really important to develop that trust with the person and feel like you do know them and you know what you can give them and not give them, but it’s on you as the owner to understand that there are possibilities, but I would say it’s also on the VA to do what you said sounds like your team member has done, which is that, “Oh, I can do that. Hey, I saw you were in QuickBooks last night sending invoices. Did you know that I could be doing that for you?” Or “I saw that you were ordering supplies from Amazon. I could do that for you.” You want to find those proactive people because I know…
I always use myself as an example because I’m just like our clients where I want to do everything myself because I think I’m the best at it and I think I’m the only one that can do it. That’s just not true. The more times that I’ve been successful delegating those kinds of things are when the person continues to prompt me, almost managing me. I think that’s another trait of some of the best Vas, they sort of manage up. They remind and remind and remind. “I can do that for you.” It takes me a little while, maybe a couple of months to say, “Oh yeah, I’m going to try it. I’m going to let this person do something for me.” Then once I do that, and once it gets done well, then I say, “Well, why the heck was I ever doing it in the first place?”
It is that mindset shift of not just knowing that you need help and hiring the help, but actually embracing the help and being willing to take the help. I mean, I think that’s something that’s a challenge. We were talking about this earlier. I just became a mother and accepting help with the baby is hard too. But I need it. We all need help. Not just knowing you need it and not just hiring the help, but actually accepting it in your heart and feeling like the more I delegate, the more I give up in my business of the things that I’m not meant to be doing, the more that I can grow, the more mental space and energy that I have to work on the big things in my business and the more I can focus on other things, like my family or any other hobbies that you have. I think that it’s a holistic process.
One of the things that I did was I started just keeping a list on my computer of everything I did, and then I put on a column next to it what I thought the ROI was, how was it helping me actually grow my business or make more money or whatever, and anything that wasn’t directly related to that. Then the third column was, “Am I the only one that can do this? Does my audience, do my client base, do they expect to get this from me or did they not really care? They just want to get it, or they just want it done.” That allowed me to start going, “I’m doing a ton of stuff I don’t have to do that. I’m not adding value. It’s not that it’s not that it’s beneath me or I shouldn’t do it. It’s just that I’m not better at this than someone else. And there are some things that I am better at than anybody else, and I’m not getting to those things because I’m busy uploading and doing other stuff.”
I was like, “Why in the world am I doing this?” For me, anyway, it started with having to sort of assess what my day look like and what my… if you will, my task list or my to-do list look like and saying, “There’s stuff on this list that maybe is not my best use of my time.”
Right. That’s awesome that you knew that you could do that and should do that. That’s what I tell everyone to do is audit your time. That’s the first step. You have to know what you’re doing. A lot of people don’t. They get through their day and their week and they’re like, “Ah, I know I did this one thing, but somehow the hours slip away and I was in a meeting and I did… I know I did things, but I don’t know exactly what I did.” Sometimes you forget some things are so automatic. Checking this thing or crossing this task lists off. Especially if we’ve been doing this for years and years and years, there’s just things that become… they’re almost like you’re unconscious while you’re doing them. I think that audit of every hour, every minute of every day… I mean, I tell people that even include your personal life. How many hours are you spending cleaning your house and do you want to be doing that?
Okay, that one I figured out a long time ago.
Okay, good. Well, that’s great.
I’m better at hiring people to do stuff I don’t want to do.
I think that’s human nature, right? If it’s something you don’t want to do, then it’s easy to justify… “Oh, I need to hire someone to do that.” But if it’s something you enjoy or you’re good at, it’s hard to let go. You said something though earlier that made me twitch a little bit and I’m guessing the listeners did too. I want to take a quick break, but when we come back, you talked about having someone else manage your email, which to me sounds horrifying and daunting. I want to hear what that looks like and how feasible it is. Let’s take a quick break, then we’ll come back and talk about how a VA might actually relieve… because when I talk to agency owners and agency leaders, and I say, “What is the biggest time suck?” Without exception, it’s email. If we could relieve them of that, maybe you and I would get flowers and gifts.
Let’s shoot for that after the break.
Hey there, sorry for the interruption, but I wanted to just remind you that we’ve got a killer workshop coming up in March. If you want to join one of our peer groups, one of our live agency and our peer groups, this is one of the two workshops that serves as a prerequisite for that. So if you’re interested in a peer group, this would be a good time to go to this workshop. This workshop is called the Run Your Agency for Growth and Profit. It is in March, March 24th and 25th in Chicago.
At this workshop, we’re going to talk about all of the backend parts of running the business of your business, making your agency more profitable, run more seamlessly, then operations go better. That biz dev is better, that you are growing and nurturing your team in a stronger way, that you have all the systems and processes you need. What we’ve done is we’ve collected all of the best practices of the agencies that we serve and the agencies that we work, whether they’re in a peer group or we just see them in workshops in just our twenty-five years of experience, and we’re going to teach you all of those best practices so that you can indeed grow your business and run it more profitably. We would love to see you at that workshop in March. You can sign up by going to the AMI website, agencymanagementinstitute.com, and under the training tab, you will see a workshop list and you can sign up there. We’d love to have you.
Let’s get back to the show. All right, we are back with Jess. We were talking about all the ways that agency owners and entrepreneurs are using VAs. Prior to the break, Jess had mentioned in a list of things that VAs are doing for their bosses is email management, which I’ve certainly heard before. I just can’t fathom how it works. How does it work?
Well, it can work in a couple different ways. The most common thing that people do is in the beginning, especially, is it’s not that somebody is in your inbox right away necessarily, but it’s that you maybe have some rules set up. If you use Gmail or Outlook or whatever, you can set up some rules where certain things get automatically filtered out or they get filtered to your assistant and your assistant can set those up for you. That’s the first step. There is a lot of clutter in an email and I think that’s the first thing to address. For some people, once that clutter goes away, then they feel like they can manage their inbox again. It could just end there.
The next thing that can happen that does work really well, and depending on your personality, what we’ve done that we like and it sort of… it not only helps you manage your inbox, but it helps you put some boundaries around your own relationship to your inbox. What we would do is kind of come in usually twice a day, maybe in the morning and then the afternoon, or depending on time zones, sometimes people like when they can just get there to their inbox after somebody has already done some work in there, sorting things manually for them. I would go into your inbox and I would say, “Okay, which things… I know Drew wants to read this, but he doesn’t need to read it today. I’m going to put it into a read later folder.” It’s like a, a newsletter or something like that. “Here’s some spam emails, I’m going to flag them and unsubscribe. Or here’s some non-urgent things, but I think he just will want to read this. I’ll mark it as red and move it down into this other inbox.”
Then the things that I can respond to, some of them are going to be things like, “I want to schedule time with Drew.” Okay, well, I can do that for you. So I’ll go in and I’ll just start responding as myself, as the assistant. I’ll make sure that I forward it to myself or whatever kind of rule is set up with the inbox, I’ll make sure that I’m responding as your assistant and copying you. But then I’m going to filter those emails out for you so you don’t have to really bother with them.
Then that way, all that’s left at the top of your inbox are the things that I either don’t think need to be filtered because they need your attention or things that only you can answer. Things that are personal questions I don’t know the answer to or things that somebody needs from you that I want to make sure you see. But I still might… if it’s something where it’s related to a task, I still might put it in project management tool for you. That’s another thing. A lot of times when people are managing your inbox, they’re also managing your projects.
It might say, “Hey, Drew, I really need you to write this blurb. I want to feature you in this article.” Okay, sure. I’m going to put it in the task manager. It’s due on Friday. I’m going to create a task for you. And I’m going to put all the details in there, but I might leave it in your inbox just so you know that it’s coming.
Got it. Got it.
And if you get a chance to do it sooner, you do it sooner. I think the thing that people are most nervous about with someone managing their inbox is that they’re going to lose something or that the assistant’s going to say something that’s wrong, embarrassing. The list goes on. It’s more about you setting boundaries with yourself and with your assistant of, “Okay, these are the things I want you to respond to. These are the things I want you to filter.” Maybe start small like, “Okay, can you just go in and unsubscribe to all this crap that I don’t need?” Maybe that’s the first step. Then a couple of months later, “Okay, can you go in and start scheduling things for me. Just respond to this person and get it on my calendar.”
You can do it incrementally. It doesn’t have to be like, “I gave the way the keys to my email. It’s all done now,” because that’s not going to work anyway. You have to be giving feedback. You have to be setting up rules and parameters around what you want. You might not really know those yet until you get in and do it, but we can give you suggestions of folders to create and times that you can check in. If an assistant’s in there in the morning and you know they’re in there say 9:00 in the morning, well, you can’t also be in there. You have to say, “Okay, I’m going to check at 10:00, and then I’m going to check at 3:0o.” Maybe you have your own rules about when you check your email, which maybe will also just help your sanity. Some people I think are just so chained to their email and it’s not healthy.
It’s not healthy, but boy, it’s an easy addiction for people, I think. Well, I think the gray area would be somebody is asking a question that the VA may not know the answer to, but it’s a factual question like, “When does the agency billing go out,” or “Hey, I have a question about a bill, yada, yada, yada.” Probably with some coaching, I think a lot of this is our assumption is it’s easier just to do it ourselves than to teach someone else how to do it.
And we don’t really think about… and I think this is a challenge for a lot of agency owners. We know that if we could teach someone else to do it, then we don’t ever have to do it again. In the long run, we win, but in the short run of finding the 15 minutes to gather up this stuff, to be able to teach them how to do it, and then to check in and be a resource to answer questions, that people just go, “You know what? Screw it, I’ll just do it myself,” which is short-sighted, but I think common.
I think the best time to hire someone is when things are a little bit in a low, which might also seem a little scary because you might feel like, “Oh, bills are tight or whatever,” but you have to think about it as an investment in your future. I know when we’re recording this, it’s getting toward the end of the year and people are thinking about the new year and resolutions, but I’m always thinking about that. I’m thinking, “What can I do today that’s going to help me a year from now?” That’s how every agency owners should think about hiring, is what can I do for this person? How can I educate this person or teach this person something? Because in a year from now, they’re going to know the answer to 50 questions.
That’s 50 emails times however many days that I don’t then have to answer. If you’re worried about the time and if you can, try to hire someone when you’re a little bit less busy. That’s the best time to do it. But if not, you just need to commit to taking the time. Maybe that means you’re working some extra hours, but it’s short term, that you have to remember that the short-term investment gives you that long-term gain and