Barbara Turley the founder & CEO of The Virtual Hub, a business she started by accident that quickly exploded to become one of the leading companies that provides virtual assistants in the digital marketing space to businesses who need to free up time so they can scale. Tune in as Barbara shares how to confidently and successfully use VA’s to scale your business.
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The Virtual Hub – Barbara’s company
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3 Value Bombs
1) Delegation is one of the key things you have to learn as an entrepreneur who is hiring virtual assistants.
2) Understand that you and your VA will undergo a transition period.
3) Always share your vision and goals to your VA’s so they know what role they play in your business.
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**Click the time stamp to jump directly to that point in the episode.
[00:09] – Today’s Audio MASTERCLASS: How to confidently and successfully use virtual assistants to scale your business!
[01:26] – Barbara shares something interesting about herself, and boy is it interesting!
[03:42] – Barbara shares WHY Virtual Assistants are the solution when it comes to scaling in a cost-effective way — Barbara uses Filipino VA’s as an example.
- About hourly wages — what’s live-able and what’s more
- Entrepreneurs create careers not jobs
- JLD talks about his experience with VA’s. Listen as he talks about JM, his executive assistant for 7 years!
[09:55] – The reason why SO MANY people FAIL at the “VA thing”
- People massively UNDERESTIMATE the amount of WORK that goes into delegation
- Tune in to hear why delegation is so important!
- Barbara talks about the second biggest problem
[12:40] – Set yourself up for success before hiring! Don’t skip this part, Fire Nation!
- Create a sample task list. Figure out what you will delegate before hiring. Some examples:
- Blog posts
- Creating images
- Social media content calendars
- Email can be one that’s harder to delegate
- Start with something clear
- Barbara talks about other tasks that work and don’t work for delegating
- Automate, and then delegate — keep this in mind
[20:10] – How to minimize confusion and save time when your VA first starts working
- Estimate a minimum of 3 months for the transition
- Be clear about what the task list includes
- Have a step-by-step process per task
- Recurring tasks vs projects
- Barbara’s reminder: Make sure you spend time with your VA to ensure they know what role they play in your business
- The Scrum Technique: Daily Huddle
[28:50] – How to give constructive feedback… tune in to hear details!
- Have a check-in call for reviews
- The Sandwich — sounds good, but it’s actually something to avoid…
- Barbara talks about what to do when major problems occur
- The importance of setting expectations at the beginning and setting up a process for feedback
[36:11] – Eliminating the Overwhelm: How to go from one virtual assistant to a team
- Draw out an org chart of what your company would look like with 100 people
- Barbara shares her own personal experience – how she learned the hard way
[40:46] – Letting your team run the business for you — an entrepreneur’s DREAM COME TRUE
- Empowering your employees and becoming an effective leader. This is your role for your team
- Have oversight of what’s happening in your business through project management tools. Asana and Zapier are 2 platforms Barbara uses with her team
- The Pipelines. Tune in to hear what this is and how it helped Barbara maintain control
[49:45] – Final piece of advice: Don’t look at getting VA’s for a couple of hours a week…
John: What’s shaking Fire Nation, and welcome to Episode 2009 of Entrepreneurs on Fire and today is an audio master class on how to confidently and successfully use virtual assistants to scale your business. Fire Nation, I have used virtual assistants to scale my business. I have made some mistakes, I have hit some homeruns, and there’s been some singles and doubles in between, so we’ll be talking about some of that, and, of course, we have our master class presenter, Barbara Turley. She’s in the house. She is an expert and she’s going to be talking to you all about how to confidently and successfully use those virtual assistants, so that you can scale, leverage, grow, and just create awesomeness within your business.
So, who is Barbara? Well, she’s the founder and CEO of The Virtual Hub, which is a business that she started by accident that quickly exploded to become one of the leading companies that provide virtual assistants in the digital marketing space to businesses who need to free up time so that they can scale. She’s also an investor, mom to a baby girl Ruby, wife to her best friend Eddy, and an adventure lover. Alright Fire Nation, hold on to those afterburners and away we go. So, Barbara, welcome to Entrepreneurs on Fire, and why don’t you share one thing about yourself that Fire Nation is going to find both unique and interesting?
Barbara: Hey John, thanks for having me on the show. It’s exciting to be here. So, I was thinking about this question, I thought something unique and interesting about me which I do think is quite unique and I’m hoping is interesting is that many years ago when I was about 19, I got into a situation where I managed to get my name on the credits of the U2 Pop album. So, not many people have their name on the credits of a U2 album, but my name’s actually there. I spent a summer working in a restaurant in Dublin, where I’m from, and Bono’s brother owned that restaurant.
And we got an opportunity one day to go to do an external event that we were never told what was going to happen at this event, but when we showed up, U2 were there and it was actually their recording studio and I spent that entire summer every day when they were recording the pop album, serving coffee and having lunch with them and cleaning up after them basically which was pretty cool, so they put all our names on the Pop album.
John: That’s phenomenal and I will say knowing that you, right now, are in Sydney, Australia, but are originally from Ireland, that must have been even double cool right there.
Barbara: Yes, it is, it’s pretty cool. I’ve lived here for about 16 years now. I’m a long time an Australian now, but I came for the weather and stayed for the lifestyle.
John: Oh, cool, that’s kind of why I moved to San Diego and then Puerto Rico. I definitely moved for the weather, although Maine will always be the way life should be, you know, that’s our motto. I definitely moved for the weather as well, and Fire Nation, if you’re listening and you’re fired up for today’s content because you saw the title, you should be because Barbara’s going to be delivering an audio master class today, and that audio master class is how to confidently and successfully use virtual assistants to scale your business, and if you are an entrepreneur, Fire Nation, and I know you are because you’re listening, you need to use virtual assistants to scale your business, especially in the beginning.
We’re going to be talking about the pros, the cons, and everything in between, and let’s just dive right into it Barbara because I want to know why are virtual assistants the solution when it comes to scaling in a cost-effective way?
Barbara: They definitely are the thing that you’ve got to do. Not only are they highly cost effective because you can go offshore, you can even go to places like Puerto Rico. My company specializes in the Philippines, but you can go to places like that where – I’ll take the Philippines as an example. English is extremely good with Filipinos. Their education system is very, very strong, and their culture is really, really, really close to the American and the Western cultures in general.
So, what you end up finding is that you can hire staff to do so much work that you need – as we all know as entrepreneurs, there’s so much to do, that you could never hire those staff probably to do that work in your own country when you’re starting out in particular or when you’re in that ramp up stage. So, it really is something that people need to focus on getting right if they really want to scale a business cost-effectively.
John: Now I do know there’s a lot of people who I speak with who sometimes feel a little bit of guilt when they’re hiring virtual assistants and having them work 40 hours per week, and then paying them which, you know, in the United States or in a place like Sydney, Australia is not a livable wage, but the reality is for them where they are, whether it be the Philippines or some other third world country, it’s more than living wage. In fact, it’s allowing them to do incredible things. Like how do you talk to entrepreneurs who are having a hard time, saying what, I’m paying this person like $2.00 an hour, $4.00 an hour, how is this even possible?
Barbara: Yeah, so, you know, I struggled with that initially as well, I think it’s a common feeling and it’s a really normal feeling because you’re looking at it through our eyes. What changed it for me was when I actually went over there and I actually looked at places in the Philippines where there’s a lot of virtual assistants and I asked them, what was life like 15 years ago, before the BPO industry, which is the big call centers that came into the Philippines and transformed that country, and everyone was like, well, we all worked at Jolly B, and Jolly B is like the McDonalds of the Philippines and there was no work there.
Their country was significantly worse off, so when you look at it on a grander scale like this, you say to yourself, you know, because we’re going offshore, we’re moving – and we meaning the collective of the entrepreneurial world, you move into a country like that, you create careers, you don’t just create jobs. Like in my company we’re really passionate about creating careers for people, and when somebody from there comes and tells you how much you’ve changed their life by coming into the country and actually creating the number of jobs that you do, then you start to see that actually it’s better to look at it through their eyes and not your own.
Because the days you look at it through Western eyes and you want to – like sometimes I see people paying too much and what you can start to do is that causes its own problems as well when you start to put pressure on a society by people being paid way over what everyone else is being paid and it causes massive problems with inflation and etcetera. So, it’s really important to remember that you’ve got to work within the confines of that country, you got to understand the culture, and then know that what you’re doing is actually an epic thing for the people in that country.
John: Yeah, there’s nothing sadder in life than unintended consequences when people come in and they think they’re doing the best thing in the world, but then in reality what they’re doing that they think is so justice and justified is ending up having these massive negative consequences down the line for just those very exact reasons, and a quick story from my end. I’ve actually had many virtual assistants over the years, and I have many under my employ right now, but I’ve had one in particular now for seven years. She’s been my virtual assistant for seven years.
I’ve met her in person multiple times because I’ve flown over and spoken in the Philippines and I’ve always flown her to whatever island I’m speaking at and we get to hang out and she gets to kind of enjoy the conference and kind of meet some people and just continue to feel a part of the team which has always been a great experience, but I remember when I hired her and I was having my first conversation with her before I hired her actually, and I said like what do you do, JM, like what is your job. She’s, well, I’m a nurse. I’m like, well, why do you want to become a virtual assistant if you’re a nurse right now because, you know, that’s my perspective of a nurse.
And she’s like, well, John, I have to wake up two and a half hours before my job starts, jump on a bus for two hours just to get to my job. She’s like, I’ve been robbed on that bus three times in the last six months, everything was taken on those bus rides. Then I get to my job, I work for 12 hour shifts, then I jump on a bus and I’m two hours back to my house and I do that four days a week, and she’s like, and with the rate that you’re posting, I’m going to make more working for you from my home eight hours a day, from my home, than that 16, 17 hour nightmare that I just described to you. That really –
Barbara: I hear those stories all the time.
John: Yeah, and that was what really hit home to me was like, wow, this is really going to change her world. She can get to stay home with her family and have more time for herself to maybe exercise or do some hobbies that she loves because now she has 16 hours of the day to sleep and do other things that she wants to do instead of just those six, seven hours to just come home and pass out and wake up and do all over again, and since I’ve hired her, she’s bought a house, she’s provided loans for her family, I mean, her life has absolutely changed and she’s the most dedicated, loyal, virtual assistant that I could ever ask for and that’s exactly what we’re talking about, Fire Nation, when you bring these opportunities to amazing people around the world.
Now, let’s kind of flip this around, Barbara because we can go on in stories about this all day long, but I want to talk about why so many people fail at the VA thing and they end up losing so much time and so much energy and frankly a lot of money as well, and by the way, I’m raising my hand right now because I failed at it. JM was a homerun. She was my first ever hire, she’s still with me today, but I’ve hired people since then that we’ve had to let go, and I’ve hired others that have been other homeruns, but you’re the professional here, like you’re the expert, like why do so many people fail at this VA thing?
Barbara: Oh, look here, it’s a fabulous question because the internet is littered with stories of people that have really been burnt with this whole thing and we hear it all the time on our sales calls. People say I’m really nervous because I tried this before, it didn’t work for various reasons. So, the first thing I will say is let’s say, for example, the most common problem that we see is – and that I particularly see, is let’s assume for a second that you’ve got a good person. Let’s assume that you’ve recruited well and you’ve got a good person. You’ve got like a homerun like the first person that you hired.
The problem usually there is people massively underestimate the amount of work needed in order to delegate effectively and to get ready for a VA before they arrive in your business. Now, what I’ve discovered over the years is that delegation is actually a skill that needs to be learned and most people are extremely bad at it, but they assume that they’re great at it because they just think, oh, I’ll just hire for this job, throw the task list, and it should be all amazing and come back to me beautifully. So, we see this problem happening all the time, and it’s one of the things I’m really passionate about.
I was previously a business coach and I saw people doing this all the time, so I actually built an onboarding process for all of our clients that actually makes sure that this doesn’t happen and they don’t fall into these traps, and the next biggest problem is recruitment and managing. So, unfortunately – I’ll just give you some stats. I mean, in our latest round of recruitment that we’ve just done, we have hired seven people this week and we had 180 people come through our offices in the Philippines to do a five hour exam as the application process. So, that’s how difficult it is to actually find really good people, particularly in the digital sort of space.
So, recruitment is kind of the – it’s an art in itself as well, and a lot of people just meet someone they really like, hire them, and they didn’t really look at whether that person actually had any skills, and then they don’t want to train them. So, there is actually a lot more work involved in offshoring and outsourcing and getting VAs on board than just hiring one, and I think people fall into the trap of thinking, oh, everyone just told me to get a VA and I’ll pay two bucks an hour and it’ll all be awesome and my business will explode, and unfortunately, that’s not true. It can be true, but that’s where people trip themselves up really badly.
John: So, let’s talk about some specifics and that being how can we, as entrepreneurs, you know, people who are running our business, how can we set ourselves up for success before we actually hire that virtual assistant?
Barbara: Okay, so the No. 1 thing that people need to do before you hire a virtual assistant is you have to get clear on the task list that you’re going to delegate to that virtual assistant. Now, a lot of people write a job description and I don’t think you should think about it in terms of outsourcing the job. You need to think about it in terms of delegating a task list and that’s much more granule. Now, a lot of people have that in their head, but they’ve never really sat down and thought, well, what are the actual tasks that I’m going to give this person to do?
And it’s really important to do that before you hire someone because once they’re in there, sitting there waiting for you to delegate to them, you’re going to be running around like a headless chicken trying to figure out what to give them to do, and then what I see happen all the time is people have then created another job for themselves as opposed to getting ridding of jobs, they’ve created another daily task where they’re like, oh my God, what am I going to give my VA to do today because you’re not organized. So, key No. 1 is figuring out what you’re actually going to delegate before you hire someone, that’s really important.
John: Give me a sample task list, like what are some tasks that you see entrepreneurs giving to their VAs that seems to really work out well, especially maybe in the first few weeks, in the first few months.
Barbara: A lot of entrepreneurs – I mean, everyone has an online presence these days, so the biggest tasks that I see being delegated are blog posting. So, for example, let’s say you have a writer or you’re writing your own blog content, writing blog content is one part of the job, but the actual posting of it correctly onto your WordPress site with images to match, tweet boxes, you know, the right key words in there for SCO, all that sort of stuff. We see a lot of our VAs are doing that kind of stuff for people. They’re also keeping the social media train going, like the content calendars, so creating images for tips and things like that; those are really easy things to delegate pretty quickly.
Everyone thinks that the easiest thing to delegate is your email or some of the admin tasks. In my experience, those can actually be sometimes the more difficult ones to delegate because they’re very much based on your way of doing things and it’s in your head the way you’ve been doing it. So, they can sometimes take a little bit longer to get right and people usually start there. I recommend starting with something that’s a bit more clearer like posting blog posts or creating some images for social media is actually easier.
John: So, delegating images, structuring a blog post, those are things that are good to delegate. Things like email and personal admin stuff like maybe even managing your calendar, that stuff can be tough, Fire Nation. I mean, Barbara said it, I’m going to echo it as well because like I’ve tried to bring that in and then it has just seemed to really cause almost double the work because as much as I would love to just have somebody who is a second JLD who’s able to be in my inbox and set my calendars up and do all those things, in reality there’s only one me and I need to be answering certain questions and certain emails and I need to know in my heart that I’m on top of everything and I’m getting to the right inbox there that I want to.
But then when it comes to the tasks that I can create a Snagit video for or a ScreenFlow video and I can just show them hey; when I send you a Microsoft Word document, this is what the next step is. You copy it, you paste it, text only into the WordPress site. I want you to add a tweet to share here, I want you to add images like this, and then they have that step by step process that they can really follow, and, of course, it’s not going to be perfect Day 1, but then you tweak them over the next few weeks and then before you know it, they’re coming to you hopefully with suggestion and that’s one thing I always encourage my VAs.
I say listen, if you’re doing something and you have an idea of how to do it better, more efficiently or any of the above, bring that to me because I’m not using my brain power anymore on this stuff. I’ve given this task to you, now it’s your job to tweak and improve and get better yourself and improve the content itself and always bring me your thoughts, your ideas. So, kind of have that end of week discussion where you open up that, you know, what’s something you recommend about your job that would make it better. Now, give us just a couple more things, Barbara because we said a couple things here, email, admin stuff as negatives; blog posting, canvas, positives. Give us a few other tasks on both sides of the fence that you’ve seen work for your entrepreneurs that have hired virtual assistants and that haven’t worked.
Barbara: Yeah, so let’s say podcasting since we’re on a podcast now, I’ve got a podcast. Most people – I don’t know how you manager yours, John, but with podcasting my view is that all you should be doing is recording the podcast, like doing this bit. Everything else can actually – the entirety of it can be managed by a VA. Now, not necessarily the editing of it, but they can liaise with the editor, they can get it up online, they can get it across all your social media channels for you, they can repurpose it so a huge amount of repurposing can be done from these kinds of podcasts, so, for example, you can create a transcript, you can create several, like maybe ten social media posts out of something like this and all of that.
I think recording a podcast is about 10 percent of the work and about 90 percent of the work is all of the other stuff that goes on in the background. This is where you can really leverage your time using VAs. I know that’s a big one for us. Now, I mentioned transcripts there. My view is transcripts – a lot of people get their VAs to transcribe stuff for them. I would probably advise against that because transcribing, the type of person you’re going to hire to be a great VA, is probably going to be terrible at transcriptions and the reason being is because they’re two different mindsets. I mean, I use a service like rev.com where they actually specialize in that.
So, I would always recommend that just be careful asking a VA to do – like if you want a creative type of VA, then they’re probably not going to be deep in excel, running like research programs and stuff like that for you. So, if you want that sort of stuff to be done, then you want to hire a VA that’s really specialized in those particular areas. So, a lot of people get their VAs to do research for them, so you can research competitors, you know, various bits and pieces like that. I mean, the list goes on, creating eBooks, setting up webinars. I’ve had my VAs create slides for me for webinars and things like that as well.
Calendar management – when you come into these admin tasks, I always advise people to, first of all, think about how you automate as much as possible, and then you delegate the rest, as opposed to delegating first and then trying to figure out what to automate, but often you can give your VA the task of figuring out what tools to use and maybe how to automate something. So, you could give them a bit of a research project like that which would take a lot off your plate, right, if you want to do it that way.
John: When you first start working with virtual assistants, there’s just a ton of confusion. I mean, you hire somebody, but you don’t know them yet and so there are a lot of mistakes, a lot of time that’s wasted. I mean, again, I’ve gone through this time and time and time again and some of them have turned out to be diamonds and some of them have turned out to be duds. It’s just the reality of my experience. So, how do we reduce that, how do we minimize that confusion, those mistakes, that time waste?
Barbara: And you know, what, it’s really frustrating as well because as entrepreneurs we’re all the type that want to hit the ground running, we want someone to come in and just blitz it on Day 1, and everybody always says to me, I want somebody who can hit the ground running, show initiative, and really get into it within the first week, and I’m like, look, it doesn’t matter if you’re hiring someone in the Philippines or someone with an MBA from the US and I’ve had experience with both ends of the spectrum. If you’re bringing someone into your business, you have to accept that it is a minimum of a three month transition no matter how experienced that person is because it’s your business.
Now, unless you’re hiring a consultant to come in as a sort of an external provider, it’s a little bit different, but even if you’re bringing in a sales person into your business that’s a Western or US person, it’s still going to take them time to get their feet under the desk of your business. So, there’s going to be confusion, mistakes, etcetera, in general, but there are ways of minimizing that. The first step is what we talked about earlier, which is getting very clear on your task list. No 2, then, for each task, and this is to VAs specifically, for each task on your list, you need to have your step by step process created. It could be, as you say, a video, it could be – I recommend having a few different medians so we do process maps, we got step by steps and we do have videos as well.
So, there’s like a training and onboarding time that you’ve got to spend with your VA. Again, it’s a mistake on Day 1 to just throw them a membership site and the login and say, there’s all your training videos, come back to me with any questions. There has to be a kind of a process that you take. So, just like having a process for your tasks, you need to develop a process for onboarding somebody in your business and making sure that you’ve broken it down into bite size chunks that both you and that person can actually deal with and get success with. So, I always recommend breaking your task list first down into your recurring task list and your projects list.
Recurring tasks are those kinds of tasks that keep the engine of the business moving. So, for example, the weekly recurring social media content calendar, it’s the weekly blog that goes up, it’s all those things that have to happen on a recurring basis, and I would recommend that you start with the training and the processes of the recurring task list, delegating in the first week, three to five tasks, depending on the size of them and depending how long you have a VA for, and then you have to have check-in points. So, in that first week, it’s really important that you remember that not a lot of work may actually get done. It’s you guys kind of getting down to the nitty-gritty of what you’re doing together.
The other thing I always recommend in that first week is making sure that you actually spend time with your VA to introduce them to not just what your business does, but what you vision for this business is and how they play a part because sometimes when you show people the bigger vision and which part they play in the bigger vision, they actually take more interest, they take more time, and they’re more engaged in the whole thing and they see, then, that one little mistake, you know, like a wrong link in an email, for example, might seem like a small mistake, except if they realize that it’s on the back of a webinar that has a thousand people about to show up to it.
So, sometimes I see business owners making the mistake of not bringing the VA fully into the kind of business team and the vision, and that brings me on to the next key point which is I’m a big fan of Scrum technique and huddles. I say to all clients that come to The Virtual Hub that you need to make a day huddle a non-negotiable in the diary of you and your team, and the biggest trick with it is to make sure that you’re the one who’s showing up every day so that you actually give that message to your team that that’s how important it is, and in the huddles is where you’re going to find the confusions very quickly.
So, for those that maybe haven’t heard of the Scrum techniques, it’s like a very quick kind of standup meeting. You can do it virtually as well. I do them every day and it’s basically, what have I done, what am I planning to do, and where am I stuck, and that’s the biggest question that you want to be there to answer for your new VA. You can spot the problems before they actually occur. So, those tips are really key.
John: Okay Fire Nation, first off, three month transition, just recognize it’s going to be a three month transition. It’s not going to be overnight, over a week, it’s going to be over three months and then a couple key points, a couple key takeaways to make sure, from what Barbara just shared. No. 1, create your task list. You have to have that task list and know what that task list is going to be before the hire, so you’re not just waking up every day saying, what is my VA going to do today. Again, that’s causing more work for you. No. 2, create your processes and really figure out which ones are recurring, which ones are the one offs, like really label those out.
And then again, so key, I love the fact you brought this point up, of introducing your virtual assistant to your business. What is the big vision of what you do every single day and specifically what role is your virtual assistant going to play in this business? That is so key. Bring them in, make them loyal, make them part of the team, let them see that what they do really does matter because it does, and then that daily huddle using the Scrum technique. So, definitely look into that if you’re interested in checking out what that means. There’s a couple good books written on that technique, so you can definitely check that out, and Fire Nation, if you think Barbara’s been dropping value bombs, you are correct, and we have some more coming up as soon as we get back from thanking our sponsors.
So, Barbara, we’re back and I’m kind of curious when it comes to virtual assistants because I’ve been in this situation more than once and how do I give constructive feedback because they didn’t do something right or how I wanted it, but I don’t want them to think I’m coming down too hard on them so they kind of retire into a shell and like maybe never give their thoughts and feedback again because I want their thoughts and I want their feedback, but at the same time I want them to know that this is what I expect and this is how things should be done. So, how can I give constructive feedback that feels good for my virtual assistants or has them leaving that conversation, feeling good, and is going to result in me getting the results that I want?
Barbara: Oh, John, what a juicy question. You know what, communication has been the downfall of many a marriage and many a business partnership and I think communication is something as humans that we naturally – we think we’re great at it, but we actually are probably not that great at it. So, most people, I find, here’s what happens: You give your VA tasks, it comes back and it’s a mini disaster, and you go okay, that wasn’t what I was looking for, and then you just say to them, oh look, then you give them something else to do. You just say, oh yeah, it’s fine, I’ll just fix that one and you give them something else to do rather than addressing the issue.
So, you don’t want to be giving feedback on a sort of a daily basis, but what I recommend is that you have to – along with the daily huddle concept, right, you’ve got to try and get the problems there and then over time you want to be having like a check-in call and you want to make it very clear in your sort of initial onboarding of the VA that this is going to be happening, and how you frame it up is you say, what we’ll do then is we’ll have a check-in call, like a milestone maybe every month or every – you know, whatever way you want to set it up yourself, and on that we’re going to review kind of the work, review how it’s going, review how you’re feeling, and review how I’m feeling, and I always think, if you frame it that way, they know it’s coming.
So, then when it comes to the feedback thing, too many people dance around the issue and they don’t actually say what they really think because they don’t feel they can deliver it in a way that everyone’s afraid of criticism. Now, I suffered this for years. I mean, I did all this. I found it really difficult and I would do the – I think what they call it is the sandwich where you sandwich a piece of negative criticism in between two awesome bits and what happens is the person doesn’t’ really – they focus on the good stuff and they don’t really focus on the negative and then you feel like, oh, well, I got that off my chest.
Then the mistake happens again and then your blood boils and if you’re anything like me, you explode and give it all in the wrong way. You might fire someone or you might just not speak to them for a week. So, it’s really difficult to do it right and what I’ve learned over the years is it’s far better to put your mentor cap on, and you get on a call with someone and you go – like let’s say it’s going to be a small negative at the moment. The check-in points are really good to say, hey look, you know, I think the process here, you followed it great, but there’s a point – like if they actually missed a step, that’s where you kind of have to say, like okay, you’ve missed a step, but then say to them, look, it’s really an integral part of the process, so I really need you to really focus on getting every step right.
And what you’re trying to say there is that it’s like that three strikes and you’re out sort of rule. You’re saying that it’s really important to me, it causes me stress if the steps are not followed correctly, so next time we just can’t have that one again, and usually people are okay with that sort of thing. I think the major problems occur when you’re trying to get feedback and maybe there’s a hole in your process. So, that’s another problem where you’re sort of implying that you’re blaming the VA, but you can’t actually see that the process you’ve created has holes in it and sometimes that occurs when people – like let’s say you create a process where there’s a certain amount of IP that you have in your head and as you’re thinking and writing the process, you forget that the person who’s doing it doesn’t have the same thinking as they’re doing the process.
So, there’s like iterations of the process that they may come up with. So, that’s a key one is to remember that when you’re giving feedback, don’t shoot the messenger first. Always look at your process first and look at it together with the person. So, let’s say you’ve done that and you’ve discovered that it’s not the process, it’s the person. I think it’s really good and it’s not something I’ve done that successfully myself, and it’s something I’m bringing in to my whole team now, is laying expectations at the beginning. So, I would advise anyone listening to this to think about creating an expectations – I call it expectations document, but that sounds a bit corporate, but it can be a warm and fuzzy thing.
And basically if you say to your VA, hey, something that really stresses me out is when there’s a problem and you don’t let me know straight away. So, other people would hate that, but you’ve got to lay your expectations of how you want things to happen with your VA. So, then when you come to the feedback meeting because you’ve set it up in such a way in the beginning, you’ve created your expectations, you’ve made the boundaries around processes and how you want things done, then when it comes to the meeting that you’ve already laid out to the VA that’s going to happen, you can sit down and review what was laid out in the beginning and how it’s going.
And it doesn’t have to be a negative feeling for either side. It can be a mentorship thing; you can actually mentor someone through that. I think the trickiest part is when you’ve done that a couple of times and it comes to the difficult conversation. So, you know that one where you’ve told them five times and it’s still not happening? In that meeting you need to be really direct. You need to say, this is not working, you know it’s not working, I know it’s not working, what do you propose we do?
And you push it back on to them if it’s a really difficult conversation situation, and I think as well with feedback, if you set up processes for the feedback, it actually takes away the pain from you because you stop avoiding the calls, you don’t put it off to the next day, you actually know that this meeting is coming and the VA knows it’s coming as well, so there’s no kind of surprises and it makes it a lot easier for both sides. I found that to really work for me.
John: There are a lot of great takeaways there, Fire Nation. One thing that I kind of want to hammer home is the sandwich technique. I thought that was super cool. Sliding one negative between two positives, it might make you feel better, it’s definitely going to make your VA feel better, but the problem is they’re only going to remember the positives and they’re going to make the same mistake again and then you’re going to fly off the handle because you’re like, I already told them this, but no, you didn’t really tell them this because you like basically earmuffed them, you basically didn’t allow them to hear the negative comment because you just squished it right between these two big positives that, of course, they’re going to focus on and gravitate towards.
So, don’t use that sandwich technique, and Barbara, I know a lot of my listeners right now, they’re entrepreneurs, they want to grow their business, like yes, you start with one virtual assistant and then that one virtual assistant gets to the point where they’re working full out and they can’t handle anymore, so you start hiring another virtual assistant and another virtual assistant and before you know it, you’re like, oh, I seem to have a little bit of a team here, but the problem is people do that unintentionally and obviously there’s a right way to do that intentionally.
So, how do we go from just one single virtual assistant to a whole team without overwhelm, without overwhelm for us, for our other virtual assistants, for the whole team and business in general, how do we make that happen?
Barbara: Yeah, look, this is something I learned the hard way. I’m sharing all my lessons here about the years of doing this. So, I did exactly what you said, I hired one, then another, and then before I knew it – what typically happens is you end up with a team and what you find is you end up in more chaos than before you ever had a team, and you think, oh my God, this is just – I mean, I’m more chaotic now than before I ever had anyone and I was doing it all myself, and the reason for that is because the minute you have more than about five to seven people reporting to you, you have a lot of people asking you stuff all day long.
So, even if they’re just reporting to you, you’ve got to approve things, you’re reviewing things, and before you know it, you’re completely in chaos trying to manage all these people, and you essentially become your own project manager. So, you’re not only trying to grow company, build the business, but you’re also now a project manager as well for all the VAs that you have. So, that’s why that transition is actually quite difficult. So, the way to avoid that is actually – someone gave me a tip a few years ago and it was the best piece of business advice I ever got.
They said to me – I was really in chaos about this and I was like I need to hire a project manager, I need to hire the next person, and he said to me, why don’t you take a step back for a second, and he goes, I want you to draw the org chart of what your company looks like at a hundred people, and I was like, oh, I can’t even imagine that. And he said, before you decide who’s your next hire, I want you to draw the org chart of who you are going to look at and what it’s going to look like at a hundred people, and then from that, I want you to make a strategic decision about who your next hire is, and it was really useful for me because the business that I’m in – and now I’m almost at that hundred person mark.
The business that I’m in, I realized okay, at a hundred people, I’m going to need probably 6 team leaders, I’m going to need a team manager, I’m going to need a head of HR, I’m going to need a sales team. Like all of a sudden, it just all became clear to me and actually the next person I took on was a sales person and not a project manager. I continued to do that myself for a little while, and then the next stage after that for me was looking at my five people or my seven people that were reporting directly to me and asking myself, well, what if I was to give them a team, how would that now look?
And I will warn you that that transition is quite painful because all of a sudden someone who was your employee and doing their own job, is now elevated into a position of leadership and your job then becomes helping them to be leaders of their teams and it is a little chaotic while that happens. I was in a unique situation when this happened because I was actually pregnant having my first baby, so I had no choice but to kind of really elevate several people on my team into that position of leadership and to help them to run their own teams underneath them. That was how I did it.
John: That’s really interesting, and Fire Nation that might be overwhelming to you because I can tell you it’s definitely overwhelming to me as well. I mean, I’m not even at ten people yet, so to think about drawing an org chart about what my company would look like at a hundred people is super overwhelming, so don’t worry about the fact that it is overwhelming to you as well, but just realize what that did for Barbara.
It put things in perspective for her, and I can tell you straight up, Barbara hired a sales manager and I kind of chuckled to myself a little bit because if there’s one thing I’ve learned in the past six years, running a seven figure a year business, is that businesses thrive and whither based on sales, Fire Nation, they thrive and whither based on sales. If you are doing what you need to do when it comes to sales of your products, of your services, of your communities, fill in the blank whatever that is, you’re winning, and if you’re not, you’re losing.
And so, like hiring people that aren’t getting you to that goal first is going to be a mistake, and I love how that hundred person org chart really brought Barbara to that realization. Now, Barbara, one thing that I know for a fact is that a dream come true for most entrepreneurs, myself included, is you want to be at a point in life and business where you can let your team actually run your company for you, but the problem is maintaining control when you get there or if you get there and while you’re getting there. So, how can we build that dream scenario of being able to let our team run our business for us, but still maintaining control?
Barbara: Yeah, so this is something I’m super passionate about and like I said, I mentioned that when I started this business, I was actually pregnant and I had my first baby and she’s now 21 months old, so I went through this whole journey, and any women listening and even men who may have partners that are having babies and stuff, it applies to everyone, or even if you just want to climb Machu Picchu, it doesn’t really matter about having a baby. My biggest – I don’t want to work – I was 15 years in corporate in investment banking and I didn’t want to be a corporate mother. That was one of the reasons I left.
I didn’t want to do the 7 until 8 p.m., never see my children and all that sort of stuff. So, it was really important for me when I was building this business not to lose sight of what my personal goals were, and my personal goals are still that I very much want to be a mom, so I want to be able to be at home, I want to be able to be there for my children, and I want to be able to have more children. So, for me it’s really important that I empower my people to run the business for me, but that I become an effective leader. So, at the moment I’ve handed off most of the things. I don’t actually do – this makes me sound lazy.
I’m really busy, but I don’t do any of the – I actually don’t do anything in the business these days, but I do a lot of mentoring and coaching my team and advising and guiding them on what to do in certain situations. Now, I don’t have to answer questions all day long, but my role is really that sort of guide for my team. Now, the problem with this is that if you have a team like that and they’re running teams under them, you can lose control very quickly because they’re all doing their own thing, they’re starting to develop their own processes which is something that can really pinch at you as the leader because you’re like, I don’t know what’s happening in that process.
So, I fell into this trap a little bit and sort of saw it coming, so I, over the past year, I’ve worked very hard the past year on this and I would advise anyone to just think about this as you grow. You need to have an oversight, a way of having your finger in every single process without you doing anything. So, the way I’ve done it and it’s been very effective for me – I didn’t mention this earlier, but one of the things you really need to use is a project management tool. Now, I’m a massive fan of Asana. There’s Trello, there’s Teamwork, there’s all of these tools, but my entire business, like the king in my business is Asana and using Zapier, we have integrated a lot of our other systems so that everything drops into Asana.
So, everything from Zendesk customer support tickets and sales leads coming through, and client briefs coming through, the trainers are all commenting on the VAs that are going through our training programs. So, it’s all in Asana and that for me means that everyday all I’ve got to do is open one program and everybody’s reporting to me in Asana. Now, I’ve made a very strict rule in my business that every process has to be approved by me, which might make me sound like a control freak, but if you have people creating their own processes, you start to lose the stamp of what you created and at the end of the day, the reason you’re the leader of your business is probably because you’re the best at it and you’re the one that really knows the vision and the direction.
In order to do that, I feel and you were pressing me, that you should have that stamp on everything, and so, with your processes you’ve got to know all the processes, everyone has to document something and they have to actually show it to you. So, my team know that when they create a new process, they book a call with me and they present it to me, and then I know where it’s all filed, I know how it’s working. Now, recently a few things kind of went a bit awry. I had too many things to watch. So, I started a new process which is working, an absolute dream, and I’m rolling it out across our entire business.
I do the daily huddles every day and they worked great, but I actually added this new concept called the pipelines. Now, it might be specific to my business that we can use this pipeline strategy, but just let me give you an example of how it works. We started doing it with the client VA matching process and every day on our huddle we have a pipeline meeting where we go through all the VAs coming through training. So, our recruiters are on the call, the master trainings are on there, our client liaison officer, and our systems person is there who manages all report and all the tags and everything coming through, making sure everyone’s moving through, our accounts person is there.
Now, I do lead that huddle because I still enjoy doing this bit where it’s the matching of the client briefs with what’s coming through from the trainers. So, the idea of this huddle is that every day we are pushing clients and VAs through the pipelines. Now we do it with a lot of tech, but because we meet every day and do this pipeline thing, we get things moving really fast. So, we’re matching the efficiencies that are there. So what we started doing – this was working so well in our business and it’s all in Asana, that we started rolling it out across other areas.
So, now we have a HR pipeline where we have all the new VAs that have just been chosen by clients, we’ve got all of them dropping into the other project which is the HR pipeline which is the onboarding, and they drop back in there using Zaps. I won’t get into the technicality of it, but when they’re up for their six months review, when their KPIs are due, all that sort of stuff, so that every month we can go, okay, this month we’ve got 15 VAs coming up for their six month review and it all just drops in. So, the tech all works. We’ve rolled it out across our sales channels; we’ve got it in our training programs, and now in our payroll.
So, we’ve got payroll coming through where the pipeline there has all the bonuses that have been paid by clients, all the overtime that’s been booked, and it’s all in Asana. So, the trick for me is that I now can be the ultimate conductor of the business by conducting everything through Asana. So, that might be overwhelming, I probably just like overloaded everybody on this call, but it’s tying things together and making sure that you are always in the conductor role and what do you need to do in order to conduct and be able to see everything without touching anything.
John: That is overwhelming but Fire Nation, remember Barbara got there one step at a time, so no matter where you are in your journey with zero VAs, 1, 6, 11, no matter where you are, you’re taking one step at a time and you’re just going to be moving towards that final pipeline scenario.
Barbara: John, can I just – sorry, just on that point, just to share with the listeners. It is one step at a time and I just want to tell you this one small thing. The reason I started this business, I did not have a business plan, I did not have any of this planned. I call it my accidental business because I did not mean to start it. I was a business coach, I’d started another business, I had done a massive product launch that honestly was a flop and it didn’t go well. I was very depressed after it for about three months and I’m sure lots of people on this call have felt the pain of that. I had lost money and I was doing some business coaching and all the clients I had had the same problem, they had no time.
So, I started recruiting VAs in the Philippines just because I had read The 4-Hour Workweek like everybody else. I had one VA there and I said, can you get ten of your friends, so we did that and before I knew it, I was getting more calls for VAs than I was for business coaching, and I was like, do you reckon there’s a business in this. I actually asked my brother, I was like, do you think there’s a business in this. So, I did a free webinar, I had no name, we had nothing, no website, nothing, and we got buyers on that webinar. It was the most successful one I ever did and from that, within a month, this business was borne, hashed together from just an idea. So, it’s four years later now, it’s built like this, but it didn’t start that way.
John: Well, Fire Nation, I hope you enjoyed this audio master class: How to confidently and successfully use virtual assistants to scale your business, and that big takeaway, just one step at a time. So, Barbara, let’s end today on fire with you giving us one parting piece of guidance, the best way that we can connect with you, and then we’ll say goodbye.
Barbara: Sure, yeah, so the best way to connect with me personally is on LinkedIn, so you can just look up Barbara Turley on LinkedIn. You can find me there, I’m CEO of the Virtual Hub, and if you want to connect with us at the Virtual Hub, go to TheVirtualHub.com/Fire and we have some really cool bonuses for you guys that you can pick up over there on that page. We’ve got a checklist to show you the five reasons people fail with VAs and what to do about it. We’ve got a scalable business success formula over there for how to use VAs so you can recap a lot of what we talked about here today, so there’s plenty of goodies over there for you.
John: And just one parting piece of guidance?
Barbara: One of the things with VAs is we all think, you know what, if I could just get two or three hours a week of a VA, and I understand that we’re under financial pressure when we start a business. The problem with doing it that way is that that VA is never really committed to you and you’re not really committed to them and sometimes that’s why they disappear or they leave after you’ve trained them and all that sort of stuff.
I would advise people, you know, in every business you can at least hire a part-time VA and I wouldn’t kid yourself in thinking that you don’t have enough work for them to do because if you don’t, you need to reconsider what you’re doing in the business, and I would commit to someone. Commit to this, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Commit to a person, bring them into your business, bring them into your vision, and then fly together.
John: Fire Nation, invest in yourself, invest in your business. It will be the best investment you make hands down, and you’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with and for the last 45 minutes or so, you’re been hanging out BT and JLD today, so keep up the heat, Fire Nation, and head over to EOFire.com and just type Barbara in our search bar and her show notes page is going to pop up with everything that we’ve been talking about today. These are the best show notes in the biz, timestamps, links galore, and, of course, connect directly with Barbara Turley on LinkedIn and the strong call to action because she has a wonderful set of gifts waiting for you at TheVirtualHub.com/fire. Barbara, thank you for sharing your journey with Fire Nation today. For that we salute you and we'll catch you on the flip side.
Barbara: Thanks, John.
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