In this episode, Josh talks with Ann and Mark Lackey from HireSmartVAs.com. They discuss how they hire and vet full-time VAs dedicated to your company.
Together Anne & Mark own and operate several businesses. They have coached and trained hundreds of investors/business owners all over the US & Canada. In 2015, they determined they were working harder and not smarter, so they embarked on their newest business – HireSmartVAs.com which helps business owners scale by providing top-notch virtual employees.
Since then they have transformed over 60 businesses from chaos & overwhelm to calm, well run businesses making higher profits; their team dynamic contributes dramatically to their ability to scale and grow multiple businesses.
In today’s episode you will learn:
- How easily you can scale your business with VAs?
- How to hire VA?
- How much does it cost?
- What’s the difference between hiring VA and the person’s going to be in the next office from me?
- How to use VAs in your property management company?
Narrator: Welcome to The Sustainable Business Radio Show podcast where you’ll learn not only how to create a sustainable business but you’ll also learn the secrets of creating extraordinary value within your business and your life. In The Sustainable Business, we focus on what it’s going to take for you to take your successful business and make it economically and personally successful. Your host, Josh Patrick, is going to help us through finding great thought leaders as well as providing insights he’s learned through his 40 years of owning, running, planning and thinking about what it takes to make a successful business sustainable.
Josh: Hey, this is Josh Patrick. You’re at The Sustainable Business podcast. Today, we’re with Anne and Mark Lackey. They have done a whole host of things in the real estate business, specifically around creating passive income and rental properties. That’s not what we’re talking about today.
Today, we’re going to talk about virtual assistants and why you might need a virtual assistant and how you can find a virtual assistant. I know, this is like the second or third show in a row on virtual assistants but it’s a really important topic. Even if you don’t employ 150 or 200 people, you should be using virtual assistants as part of what you do with your company because it will save you a ton of dough and probably, if you live in a place like I do which is Burlington, Vermont, get you competent people that are really hard to find locally. Instead of me wandering on about all the reasons I love virtual assistants, we’re going to bring Anne and Mark on and we’ll start the conversation.
Hey, Anne and Mark, how are you today?
Anne: We are great. How are you?
Josh: I’m well. Thank you so much for joining me today.
Mark: We’re very pleased to be with you. Thank you.
Josh: You’re like the third show, in a very short period of time, that we’ve done on virtual assistants. People must start to get the sense that, here at the Sustainable Business, we think they’re probably a pretty good idea. I’m assuming you do too.
Anne: Absolutely. It was a game changer in our property management business which we did four years ago. We had people that said, “Hey, can you help us out?” We started Hire Smart VAs to help out some of our friends and it grew into the business it is today.
Josh: Let’s talk about your property management company because that might be a pretty good case study. How do you use VAs in your property management company?
Mark: Our frontline, in our day to day, is getting our properties leased. We manage about 225 residential properties in and around the Atlanta area. The frontline is, every day, receiving those phone calls, getting information to people so that they can go view homes and move in and make some money for our owners. What we have is our front office operation is all virtual – all the phone calls, all the emails, all the inquiries that come in regarding our vacant properties come into Hannah. Hannah’s supported by another person, Alvin, so that we have coverage seven days a week. We answer our phones. We answer emails. We respond to people that want to see those properties.
Kind of unwinding that backwards, an owner who wants to market a property, we go out with our boots on the ground people take some photos, fill out a few forms, send them to Hannah. She loads it up into the internet. Puts it on the MLS. Does all that groundwork to get it out there, make sure that the school information’s correct and all the details, and gets it out there in best light so that we start seeing the people viewing the property.
Josh: Before you had Hannah, how did you guys go about doing that?
Anne: Well, we had employees.
Mark: Yeah, we had employees. One of which was handling all that front end and never had enough time to do all the follow-up calls and the other things that really were essential. We went on a vacation. We hadn’t gone on a vacation a long time. Got to the beach and she texted us, at lunch time, and said, “I’ve gone to lunch and I’m not going back. I’ve left my keys on my desk.”
We had had it with employees at that point in time. That was about four and a half years ago. We then used that as an opportunity to start investigating other options. That’s how we found virtual assistants as a good option for meeting that front-end department.
Josh: You have two people today. If one of them happens to quit, you have a backup?
Anne: That’s correct. We actually have more than one but yeah that’s the goal, right, to have enough depth in your bench and processes and procedures so that you’re running your business. Your business isn’t running you.
Josh: If I want to hire a VA, you folks are an agency?
Anne: We’re a recruiting and training company that helps US people find good, quality, global assistants, specifically from the Philippines.
Mark: We have an affiliate in the Philippines that handles the day-to-day on that side of that world. We handle, over here, on the recruiting, training and certification of those individuals to meet the American businesses demands.
Josh: If I was to use your service, I would end up writing you folks a check for the VA work, correct?
Anne: You would pay via credit card the recruiting and training fee. And then, you would fund the hours to the staffing company in the Philippines. The reason that we set it up as a staffing company is because we never wanted our clients to have any even inkling that they were employees because we only do full time dedicated, the IRS would look at them if you paid them directly as employees, not independent contractors. We wanted to take that out of the equation. We have a partnership in the Philippines that fulfills that staffing role.
Josh: Okay, but you could also play that staffing role and checks could be written to you and they would not be W2 employees.
Anne: But because we’re a US company, then it just would be different. We wanted a clean break, it to be a Filipino company. Also, that we have boots on the ground there so that they can monitor the benefits and anything that we need there locally. We wanted to have a local presence.
Mark: Unlike many of our competitors that just have VAs available, we provide benefits to ours. We provide only full-time work to the individuals in the Philippines. That’s almost unheard of for having full-time work because most of the US Fortune 500 call centers that they work in, if the call is dropped off they send them home so they don’t get a full eight hours a day. Plus, they get very few other benefits. We offer a high-level healthcare to our VAs once they start with us, after a certain period of time. We’re actually providing careers to people in the Philippines that they wouldn’t have an opportunity to have otherwise to work with a US company.
Josh: How many clients do you have now? You don’t have to tell me exactly but bigger than a breadbox, smaller than a basketball is fine.
Anne: We have less than a hundred, right about a hundred at this point.
Josh: Okay. I’m using you folks to recruit for me and my VA quits. What do I do now?
Anne: Well, it’s just like an employee. When they quit, you have to figure out, “Why did they quit?” We do a lot in our training and development. We give them support after. We also support our clients. We become that HR function for our clients.
When our clients have an issue or problem, they can reach out to me and we will talk about what the issue is. A lot of times that involves coaching for the client, to say, “Hey, you need to treat them like you would treat an in-house employee. Have you talked to them? Are you having regular meetings with them?” Those types of things. If it truly is a VA issue, then we will counsel the VA and go through what we call our pathway to success to try to get the relationship back on track.
We service out clients ongoing. We also have monthly webinars and training sessions for both the VA and the client so that they can connect with each other and talk about issues, challenges, problems and successes. “How are you utilizing the virtual assistants in your business? How are you utilizing it? Here’s how were using it in mine.“
Mark: It’s very unique. In our industry, people that are doing this, typically, just give you the widget. You have to figure it out. You have to make it work. If it breaks, it’s your problem.
We found that we wanted, for us, to provide that support after the engagement that got started. We’ve had clients with us for over four years now. Some of those have the same VAs that have started with them a little over four years ago. Because of the continuity there, that we maintain with the client and with the VA, we have a client support relationship person and a VA support relationship person. We’re constantly trying to make sure that things are going well and improving.
One thing we do have, if somebody does leave, that’s really important is Anne’s teaching our clients how to develop better processes and better systems so that if somebody does leave, they have in hand an easy way for the next person that comes on board to be able to pick up and move the business components along that they were operating.
Josh: In the world of VAs (virtual assistants), one of the things that I have been reading and hearing about recently is that the difference between hiring a VA directly and the difference in hiring a VA through an agency, many people I’ve read are saying, “Agencies are preferable to individuals because there is turnover.” With an agency, the agency handles that issue. If you’re hiring VAs personally yourself you have to handle that issue. How do you guys bridge that because you seem to be sort of a hybrid?
Anne: We are a hybrid. Again, because a lot of times they’ll hire them in a call center or some other type of shared environment. We hire direct and they are placed like a recruiter for a client. Just like any other recruiter that you would hire to help you find and train the talent, we do that. But one of the things that I think makes us unique is, again, in the screening process because we screen so much better than most people direct have tools to do.
We’ve had hundreds of placements and successful placements. As Mark said, four years running. That’s a pretty long time for a VA to continue to work with a client, at least from our experience has been. We’re able to kind of give that help to the client. But also, because we have that relationship with the VA, we’re constantly checking in with them, seeing how their workload is. We’re giving them an opportunity to not just quit. We’re giving them an opportunity to talk with us, let us work kind of in that middleman role as an HR manager.
Mark: As you indicated, we’re a hybrid where most individual business companies come up and say, “Okay, I need about 20 hours’ worth of work, or 30, or 40 hours a week or whatever. I need 10 hours a week, 40 hours.” They buy blocks of time from these VA companies that manage their own HR and a little call center. And so, they have different people answering the phone for them if they’re maybe doing front-end phone calls and they have scripts. It could be a different person answering the phone for them on an ongoing basis which is great if you want to make sure, if somebody leaves, that you have coverage. But then, again, if you don’t have somebody – the same person answering the phone for you each and every time and gets to know you and your company, that’s a little more dry. You can sense that. It’s kind of like the cold call that you can hear them reading the scripts.
Our uniqueness is we only place full time so they work full time with our client, on their client’s platform, their client’s hours. They get to know who that business owner is, all the people that are on the staff. They become an integral part and are really functioning at a much higher level. If they do leave, certainly, that creates a void but we’ve taught the business owner how to create the least amount of impact by having systems in place to eliminate that.
Josh: Actually, systems are one of the five areas of sustainability that I talk about in my book so I would agree 100% with you on that.
Let’s talk money for a minute. I’m going to hire one of your people full time, what am I going to pay?
Anne: $9 an hour.
Mark: $360 a week. It’s a little less than $20,000 a year. That provides them also a high-level HMO healthcare program for the VA at no additional cost to you. The only additional cost might be is, if you use a credit card, there’s a processing fee for it. I think that’s really it.
Anne: And then, of course, we have our training fee—
Mark: Up in the front end.
Anne: –and our placement rates. That’s $24.95.
Josh: There really is no recurring revenue model, really, in your business. You place somebody, then you’ve got to find someone else to place, correct?
Anne: We have a partnership with our company in the Philippines so.
Josh: Oh, okay, so then there is a recurring revenue model then?
Anne: Yes, because we need to be incentivized to make sure that this works for everybody long-term.
Mark: The incentive to keep happiness with the clients because of that relationship ongoing. That’s where many of the individuals that are not in our hybrid or created their own other models, they don’t have that incentive except maybe in the front end where the incentive goes on the other side of the world where the call center is.
Anne: Part of our certification fee, that $24.95, is not just getting you three quality candidates that are fully vetted but it also is me working with that person after they’re selected, for 40 hours. We put them through a one-week certification class where we are giving them specific tasks, putting them through the paces. Because, a lot of times, we’ve had issues – before we did this many, many, many years ago, where we would place the virtual assistant and it just wasn’t a good fit like they weren’t. Their communication wasn’t as great. Maybe they had some other issues. Well, you can pretty much put on a good game face for about an hour, two hours, or three hours. You can’t keep that. That’s not sustainable for 40 hours when I’m working elbow to elbow with you and putting you through the paces.
I think, probably, what makes us really unique is that certification platform. We have a 97% success rate in our placements. We also have a six-month guarantee as well. We really do back up each and every placement that we do because of the process that we’ve developed over time.
When we do run into an issue which we haven’t in a while, we’re also the first people to get in there and say, “Okay, what was the issue? What happened? How can we prevent it in the future?” At this point, in our business cycle, we’ve dealt with just about everything that we can determine can come up and we have a solution for that.
Again, I think a key component is working with that VA. If, in two days, I figure their communication isn’t good, we kick them out of the class and we go find three new candidates for our clients at no additional charge.
Josh: Before we get started, we talked about hiring a little bit although we really didn’t talk about it except that we’re going to talk about it.
Anne: Let’s talk about it.
Josh: Let’s talk about it.
I’m going to hire a VA. What’s the difference between hiring VA and the person’s going to be in the next office from me?
Anne: Honestly, there’s not a whole lot of difference in the person and what they can do. Where I think that there is a difference is, when you’re hiring from a different country, understanding those differences, understanding what can go wrong because you can’t see them every day. We have tools and methods to make sure that the virtual assistant stays on task. We’re not about policing them. We want them to be valued team members. We have methodologies that we teach as part of our certification class to our clients as well as to the VA so that communication flows through and everybody feels comfortable in their role in what they do.
Mark: As you probably know, in hiring, most of us aren’t great hirers. We aren’t great managers. We hire somebody because we like them. Their personality, their profile of what their skill set is doesn’t always fit into what we want. What we’ve done is we’ve gone through a very rigorous program of meeting the requirements of our clients by doing personality testing, looking at what attributes they have that will fit into a particular job. And we hire for a job not just a group of people that we have available for work.
If somebody’s working down the hall from you, in a cubicle, versus around the world, the only real difference is you can go down there and say hello to them. Here, you have to Skype them or you message them and say hello but there’s not a lot of difference in it except that there’s a big advantage for the way we look at it is, in the office, there’s a ton of office drama and a lot of distractions. Our VAs are working in a remote location. For us, it’s the other side of the world, at the other side of the night, and there’s not a lot of distractions.
What we have found is we give them work that we think is going to take four hours to do. In two hours, they come back and say, “I’m finished with it.” You give it to somebody down the hall from you and they’d have a distraction about, “Wait, what— did you enjoy the Superbowl? What about the halftime show?” That probably was the conversation of, you know what, an hour or two, everybody, in every office this week. We don’t have that. We find that they’re much more productive in what they’re doing. It’s really unique to have that.
Josh: Let’s talk about culture for a second because I heard you talk about personality profiles and I heard you talk about technical skills but I didn’t hear you say anything about culture. Where does culture fit into this? When we hire— I mean, our hiring system that we use. By the way, it’s the same we use for VAs and for local folks, is that we start with values which is culture. That’s the most important piece for any hire we ever do whether they’re a VA or they’re a local thing.
What I heard you guys talking about is pretty much what I hear most executive recruiters saying is that they bring in people who are willing to do the job, willing to do the activities, to do the persona profiling and they’re really good at screening for technical skills but it’s rare that I see a recruiter or an agency screen for corporate culture.
Anne: Well, part of that is we have hundreds of clients. We have hundreds of different cultures. And so, what—
Mark: But our company does have a culture that they have to abide by.
Josh: Well, it seems to me that if I was in your shoes – and you guys are very successful with long‑term VAs so you may not need to do this. I’ve talked to a bunch of folks that aren’t as successful. We get down to this thing about this, I said, “You know, it might make some sense when you bring a new client on and you’d say, “You need to tell us what your culture is so we can help you match that.”
Anne: One of the things that we do is we have a company culture that we go through. That is our values are smarter because we needed a quick, easy way to keep up with that. And so, our VAs understand that that is it and it’s our commitment to excellence. If they don’t resonate with our core values then they’re never going to get through. Most of our core values are very similar to our clients.
We do a lot of technical screening now. However, we also teach our clients that they need to be the ones to interview for their cultural fit. They need to pick the one they like. I’ve done all the heavy lifting. I’ve made sure that they’re all good, technically, and I tell them, “You are here to interview them for cultural fit.”
Part of what I do is I host the interviews. I’m looking at body language. I’m looking at their responses. I’m doing all of the subtle cues. If a client – this just happened today, likes a couple of them, then we drill down and we say, “Okay, who do you feel like you could build a team around? Or, who would sit in your team?” I help guide them through that process.
Unless you have somebody that can do the job, and wants to work, and do all that other stuff, that’s part of what my job is as the recruiter. We test those theories in our certification class and course. Ultimately, the client’s got to feel comfortable in the VA’s communication and the way that they connect with each other.
Mark: If they meet our company’s core values, our core responsibilities and all that we’ve laid out, they have to sign off that they do. There are certain commitments that they have to make to us as a company. Then, they still have to go to that company that we’re placing them at that each one has their own unique personality, depending on the size, of experience, the type of business they’re in. Part of what they have to do is make the commitment to that company’s standards, that company’s core values.
Josh: We have time for one more quick question. I might want to use your agency. I don’t have 40 hours’ worth of work. Do you say no to me?
Anne: I would tell you, “Think about it in this term. When I got started, I didn’t know that I had 40 hours’ worth of work for my personal property management. I’d never done it before so I wasn’t sure. The pain was so bad that I knew I needed help that I was willing – even if they were only productive 20 hours of the week, I was still saving money over what—
Mark: Over what we were paying a full-time person here, hourly.
Anne: I was okay with paying “double” because you’ve 20 hours. You double the rate. I’m still paying the same 40 hours, right? What I found really quickly was that I had a lot more work than I thought I had because there was lots of stuff in my business that we weren’t executing or we weren’t doing.
Let’s take the property management business as the example that Mark gave you. We weren’t following up on every viewing of every call. We didn’t have enough depth to do that. That was one of the first things we said. It was like, “You need to call and follow up with these people that have seen these properties and see if they’re interested–
Mark: Yeah, “Do you want to buy? Do you have any objections? What is that?” We never did that before.
Anne: What that did is it translated similar tenant placements for us. We were able to get our vacancies filled faster. Well, that and in of itself had a huge impact on our revenue.
Other things that we needed to do was audit. Auditing some of the paperwork. Again, in property management, we had to have proper insurance from our vendors, from our owners, from our residents. And so, making sure that we got the correct up-to-date information on that. Well, that’s a huge project in and of itself.
There were a lot of things that we weren’t doing that, honestly, we were just was like getting by. Now, we could actually grow and have a better customer service. Property management kind of has a bad reputation in that there’s not a whole lot of service in that organization as a whole. Kind of close to used car salesmen, to some degree, but we are able to elevate that by saying to you, “Listen, we appreciate your feedback.”
Josh: Okay. We’re out of time, unfortunately. I’m going to bet that there are some people who are listening who might be interested in getting in touch with you. If they were to do that, how would they go about doing so?
Anne: The easiest way is to go to www.hiresmartvas.com. We’re actually willing to give you a free book about this. It’s a best-selling book that we wrote called Multiply Yourself by going to hiresmartvas.com/podcast. If they want, they can put their email address and it’ll deliver directly to their inbox.
Mark: Compliments of you. Thank you.
Anne: And that’s on you.
Josh: Great. Well, thank you so much. We appreciate that.
I also have an offer for you. As I mentioned, I wrote book last year. It’s still out in print. You can get it at Amazon, in either a print version or a Kindle version. It’s called Sustainable: A Fable About Creating a Personally and Economically Sustainable Business. You can get it there or you can go to my book website where you get two bonuses. The book website is www.sustainablethebook.com. If you go there, you get to have a free 20-minute coaching call with me which you may or may not want because sometimes I’m a little bit rough but not usually. I’ve also written a 37-page book on how to implement all of the stuff in the book Sustainable because the book Sustainable is a parable. It’s a novel about a dysfunctional business family and what they had to go through to create a sustainable business.
This is Josh Patrick. We’re with Anne and Mark Lackey. You’re at the Sustainable Business. Thanks a lot for stopping by. I hope to see you back here really soon.
Narrator: You’ve been listening to The Sustainable Business podcast where we ask the question, “What would it take for your business to still be around a hundred years from now?” If you like what you’ve heard and want more information, please contact Josh Patrick at 802-846-1264 ext 2, or visit us on our website at www.askjoshpatrick.com, or you can send Josh an email at email@example.com.
Thanks for listening. We hope to see you at The Sustainable Business in the near future.