Today’s episode is a repeat appearance by Barbara Taylor one of the Principals at Allan Taylor and Co., a mergers and acquisition firm. In this episode, Barbara and I are going to have a conversation about the world of virtual assistants and how smaller companies can take advantage of them.
I’ve been using VA’s in my operation for several years now and believe it’s the best way to get great talent, especially if you live in a smaller town like I do where getting people with specific skills can sometimes be challenging. Also, in most smaller businesses you’re not going to want specialized talent for more than a few hours a week.
Here are some of the things we’ll be covering in this week’s episode:
- How to identify when a virtual assistant would be a good idea to add to your business.
- Making sure you evaluate the economic opportunity before bringing a VA into your business.
- How to scale your operation using virtual assistants.
- Make sure that you correctly identify the skill sets you’re looking for.
- Knowing what type of outsourcing help you need and whether it’s ongoing or project based help that you need.
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, how are you today? This is Josh Patrick. You’re at The Sustainable Business.
Today, we have a repeat guest with us. Barbara Taylor was one of our first guests when we started the podcast about a year and a half ago. She is one of the two owners of Allan Taylor & Co. She’s in business with her husband which is an interesting thing by itself. And we might actually pivot and talk about that a bit.
But today, we’re going to talk about how you build out your business without having employees come and live with you. In other words, using virtual assistants to help you do this. And Barbara has a really kind of an interesting issue that she’s been working on and we’ve been helping her think through this which is “How do we do business valuations in a cost-effective manner so it can add value for our customers?”
So, let’s bring Barbara in, we’ll start talking about this and we’ll see where it goes.
Hey, Barbara, how are you today?
Barbara: I’m great.
Thanks for having me.
Josh: Well, thanks for joining us again.
So, let’s talk about this then, what are you trying to accomplish with your business right now?
Barbara: Well, like you said in your introduction, I have a very small niche professional services firm where my husband and I are the primary rainmakers as well as the primary people who do most of the work. And over the years, it’s been ten years now, like a lot of business owners have gotten to a point where a couple of things have happened, there’s a lot of work that I’m either tired of doing or really needs to be delegated because it’s not the most high value work for me to be doing in some sense. And we’ve reached a point where we could scale a certain service in particular which is the valuation process. But it’s not something that I’m going to scale until I have found some sort of support to get the work done from what I think will be a virtual team that’ll help me get those done.
Our valuation has always been popular and it’s a big part of our process but I’ve always kept a cap on how much I market it or push it because I know I can’t do much more than maybe three or four of them a month. And I just don’t want to open the floodgates. So that’s my issue.
Josh: Okay. So if you did open the floodgates, how many do you think you would be doing a month?
Barbara: I think we could pretty quickly be doing more like ten, maybe in the eight to twelve range, a month. The most I ever had myself in a month was eight. And that was with no pushing at all.
And currently, we usually have one, two or three going at any given time. So, I think with just a little push, we could probably get in that eight to twelve range a month probably pretty quickly.
Josh: So, it sounds to me like there’s two things you need. One is you need somebody to actually do the valuation work. And then if you really did want to push up to 100 valuations a year, you would probably need to also have some sort of a regular ongoing marketing campaign. Does that make sense?
Barbara: Yeah, definitely
Josh: So, what you’re probably thinking about is first scaling the operational side which is having the ability to do ten or twelve valuations a month. And then after you get that built out, then work on the marketing so you can actually create ten or twelve a month.
Barbara: Right. Yeah, I think that’s definitely the order to go.
Josh: Okay. So, here’s the interesting thing about virtual assistants or virtual scaling as we might call it for here, or for what I’m thinking about anyhow, is that if I wanted to do this with an internal staff, it would cost me a ton of money. And the reason it would cost me a ton of money is because I’d be hiring somebody to be inside my four walls. And until I got to the point where I could actually keep them busy, I’d be paying them to do nothing.
Josh: So, when we go to a virtual assistant, big difference there. We’re only paying a virtual assistant, at least in this particular case, for the hours that they actually spend doing the work for us.
Barbara: Right. And there’s a little bit of seasonality to what we do – not a lot. But it is hard to predict how many I’m going to have going. But there are usually between Thanksgiving and the first of the year, we tend to have a little bit of a slowdown in general as people are just sort of finishing up the year and involved in the holidays and what not. So, I can definitely foresee times – like you said, if I had a W2 employee, where I’d be struggling possibly to have work for them to do.
Josh: So what are the skill sets that you need for, first, the person that’s going to help you do the valuation work? Or people?
Barbara: I’ve identified two areas where I need help. One of them has to do with the design and putting together a sort of a modular document template where they can be customized for every business center and every valuation. But to some degree, there’s always going to be the same components in the document.
And up until now, I’ve just been doing it myself in Word and putting together a pdf document which really is not reflective of the quality of most of our work. I mean, it’s okay and people have given us good feedback but our main document that we created our firm is the CIM (confidential information memorandum) which I have a design firm that helps me. They’re absolutely fantastic work products that we’re kind of known for and I feel like the valuation from a design standpoint needs to look more professional. But also, I don’t want to spend a couple of hours putting together a document into pdf. So, there’s sort of a design and document creation aspect that somebody else should be doing who is actually better at it than I am.
And the other person I have identified that I need is someone to help put the financial analysis for a couple of reasons. Again, I’m pretty good with spreadsheets but there are people who are a lot better. And it’s very time consuming sometimes to pick the information that I get from a business owner and put it into the format that we like to look at.
And it’s also kind of a check and balance. If I can get the right person with the right qualifications, it helps to have multiple people sort of filtering through financials, all looking for the same thing. And it’s a bit of a check and balance if I can get somebody else to help with the financial piece as well.
Josh: So what I’m hearing here is that there’s actually three different functions. One is that we have a data collection piece we need to be accounting for. We have the design piece which also would probably be a template of some sort that needs to be established. And then, we need somebody to actually run the numbers and crunch them and take those numbers and put them into the template. Would that be a fair thing to say?
Barbara: Yeah, I think so.
Right now, I’ve just been thinking of two roles that I would need to fill. But I guess, there is probably a third, in terms of the data collection, which is, for us, it’s collecting the actual P&L’s and balance sheets and tax returns. But then, we also—
Our valuation is for one purpose which is to analyze kind of a pre-sale scenario and help business owners determine, “Do I want to sell my business? Do I want to do that today? Do I want to do that later? What drives value?”
So there are a number of what I call salability questions that we need to ask. And I’m trying to put those into a format as well where I can take that qualitative information which helps make an assessment on the valuation as well and have that somewhere. So I could certainly see that data collection, their client management type role being something that I can hand off to somebody as well.
Josh: And so, the data collection, once you write down what it is, your design person can actually probably put that into some sort of a questionnaire, you know, a survey monkey type of thing where—
Josh: Potential clients would fill that out. The data would go to your number cruncher who would crunch your numbers. And then they would take that information and put it into your template which you would then get a chance to review and go over with your client. Would that make some sense?
Barbara: Yeah, definitely.
We’re looking into some options for that type of information gathering too, including maybe some secure gravity forms on our website. But yeah, that’s definitely something that we need to get a process around.
Josh: So, what it seems to me is, you actually need somebody long term to do number crunching and taking the information and putting it into your report. But you also need some short term help which is project work for designing what your report will look like and putting together your data collection forms. Does that make any sense?
Barbara: Yeah, it does.
I think I will be able to use the same design firm for both designing the template as well as having one of their graphic designers, because they have several freelances, be the person who will put all the information together and create that report. So, I think that can actually be achieved with one firm.
Josh: Most likely. So, the thing here, which I think is really interesting for folks who might be listening is that when you’re outsourcing, there’s actually two ways of outsourcing. One is a project, which means I have a specific project that I’m trying to do. You know, for example, I’m going through a web refresh right now, since we formed our own registered investment advisory, so that’s a project. But then we have the ongoing stuff like video editors, and my podcast editors, and transcribers and, you know, my researcher. Those are ongoing things.
So it’s kind of important to think about as you’re saying, “Okay, I’m going to outsource, but am I outsourcing to a project? Or am I outsourcing to an ongoing regular business activity?” And it’s kind of a different sort of thing that you’re going to want to do with that.
Barbara: I think that most of what I’m going to be looking for is ongoing stuff. But yeah, I see what you’re saying, there’s a distinct difference between the project-based and the ongoing.
Josh: And I think just understanding that is really important because one thing that’s important I found when I work with our virtual assistants is that we’re very clear about the scope of the project is. One of the things that I’m always concerned about which is why we don’t charge project fees, we do retainer fees, is what I call a “project creep”. I bet you’ve even had that happen in your business, Barbara.
Barbara: Sure. Yeah. What you thought was only going to take a certain number of hours ends up taking a lot more.
Barbara: Is that what you’re talking about?
Josh: It’s that but it’s also is that if I’m hiring somebody for a specific outcome, like designing the data collection system or designing a report. They often want to keep the engagement going so they find a way to make the project creep. It’s not you who’s necessarily making the project creep. So you have to say, “Here’s my beginning. Here’s my end and I’m going to end the contract at that period. Now, I may re-start it for something else down the road but I want to clear that this is a project, it’s not an ongoing activity.”
Barbara: Yeah. I think that’s a good way to start a relationship with this firm as well. I’ve clearly got an outsourced marketing system. Obviously, I’m not the type of firm that’s going to have in-house marketing help. And I found, with a lot of those folks in particular, that I start with one project and see how it goes before I give them additional ones. In that way, I get a feel for “what are they really good at?” so that they can stick with the things that they’re best at. And then maybe find another firm for something else.
So, for example, I’ve got a marketing firm that does really great design work. And so, they’ve helped me with a lot of online and print design but I’m not sure that SEO strategy and pay-per-click and things of that nature, you know, if marketing is in their wheelhouse. And so, I’ve taken that elsewhere.
But I think that starting with just a project with a firm is frequently also a way to determine how you work with them and if you would want to give them any more work, whether they ask for it or not.
Josh: That’s a really good point. The other thing which I think is useful and we don’t do it very often is that when we’re hiring these virtual assistants or any outside advisor, do we hire them as if they’re going to become a regular employee of our company? And the answer is often “no”. And in my opinion, I think that’s a mistake.
Barbara: What do you mean by hire them as if they’d be a regular member of your company?
Josh: You would do the same hiring process you would do for an internal employee for an outsourced employee.
Josh: In other words, you put together a criteria for what you’re hiring. You take a look at the values that you hold clear in your business. You don’t want to have that value mismatched. You want to make sure they’re willing to do the activities that will be successful. And you want to make sure they have the technical skills to do it.
Now, when we tend to hire outside advisors, we stop at technical skills. And in too many companies, when we’re hiring internal people, we stop at technical skills and that’s where the brilliant jerks appear.
So, in my opinion, I think you’re really well off to do two things when you’re hiring virtual assistants. (1) One is to hire two for one job. In that way, you get a chance to see, “Gee, this one works better than this one works.” So you’re not doing a serial thing.
Now, you would never do that internally because it’s way too expensive. But on an external thing, specifically for your number cruncher which will be an ongoing, regular feeder where you’re going to be sending these people regular information.
The (2) second thing you want to be thinking about, especially for an ongoing relationship is, “Do you use a solo virtual assistant? Or you hire a virtual assistant firm?” And believe it or not, the cost between the two isn’t that much different. But here’s the advantage of using a firm, I think, is that when you’re using a firm, people leave, people get sick, people retire, people go on vacation. And when that happens, you’re sort of stuck. There’s nothing else that you can do while they’re gone. But if you’re using a firm instead, that’s just a hiccup for them. It’s not your problem.
Barbara: Yeah, that makes sense.
Josh: So your work and your scalability continues on. So thinking through these things about, “As I’m hiring outside help, what’s my strategy for doing so?”
Josh: And like so many things within the business, if we think about our strategies before we start getting to the tactics, we’ll often end up in a much, much, much, better place.
Barbara: Yeah. That makes sense.
Yeah. Just to give you some specifics about where I’ve looked for my number cruncher. I identified three different online sources. And I guess it bears mentioning that I’m a big believer in whether it’s the freelance economy, or the gig economy, or virtual, whatever. I guess, having had a business where I had a lot of W2 employees which can be a good thing or not.
I really want to build my business with more virtual help involved. So, I found three different websites for that financial analyst type of position. One was Upwork, one was Hourly Nerd, and the other was Spare Hire which is more finance and investment banking based. So, I sort of dipped my toe in this water already and it was interesting.
I hear what you’re saying about hiring a firm and that’s definitely a consideration because I agree. If I’ve got a job – I have a three-day turnaround or a five-day turnaround, I need it done. I’ve already told the client to expect something from me, so I’m in a position where I have to have somebody do that work.
But I was sort of encouraged that, at SpareHire in particular, they make you do kind of what you’re saying where you put up your job description, and the scope of the work, and how long you think it will take and that type of thing. And gosh, within 24 hours, I had nine responses. So, I’m wondering if maybe that’s—there are enough freelancers at SpareHire that I would always have more than one person responding or able to do the job.
Josh: What you probably want to be doing – and then we’ll end it here, is that as you’re going through and you find somebody you like working with, you probably want to make them and/or their firm become your go-to person for the number crunching part of your work because there is a ramp up in training period, that happens when you hire anybody, whether they’re internal or they’re virtual assistants. And frankly, I don’t think you want to be in the training mode all the time.
Josh: But you obviously have to do that when you start. So, that would be something that I would highly recommend.
You know, Barbara, unfortunately, we’re out of time today.
And for folks who are listening, if you have a company and you’re in the south east of the United States, around the Bentonville, Arkansas area, I don’t think I can recommend a firm higher than Barbara’s firm. I’ve spent a lot of time talking with her and her husband Chris about the world of M&A and how they go about doing it. And for anybody who’s spent any time around me, know that I’m very cranky about what I think is appropriate and not appropriate. And Barbara is very appropriate. If you’re trying to sell your business, it’s worthwhile having a conversation with her.
And Barbara, if someone wanted to contact you, how would they go about doing that?
Barbara: Yeah. Well, first, thank you so much for the recommendation. I can’t say how much I appreciate that.
And the best way to contact me is probably e-mail Barbara@allantaylor.co. Allan is A-L-L-A-N T-A-Y-L-O-R.C-O – no “m” on the end. And also, yeah, feel free to check out our website or follow me on Twitter. I post a lot of good content there for people who are considering selling or exiting their business. And my Twitter handle is @ballantaylor.
Josh: Barbara, thanks so much for your time today. I really appreciate it. And I’m really happy the direction you’re taking your business. It sounds very cool.
Barbara: Well, thank you, Josh. Thanks for your help.
Josh: Oh, my pleasure.
And for those of you who are interested in learning five things that will make your business sustainable, so you can call Barbara and have her sell it for you sometime in the future, we have a one-hour audio CD. It’s free. It’s called Success to Sustainability. And all you have to do to get it, which is really simple, is just take out smartphone – and if you’re in your car, don’t do this while you’re driving but text the word SUSTAINABLE to 44222. You’ll get a link. Just click on the link and you’ll fill out your address and we mail your free audio CD to you. And again, that’s SUSTAINABLE at 4422.
This is Josh Patrick. You’ve been at the Sustainable Business. Thanks so much for stopping by today. I hope to see 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 100 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 e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks for listening. We hope to see you at The Sustainable Business in the near future.