Andrew: Hey there, freedom fighters. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy where I interview entrepreneurs about how they built their businesses, and I do it for an audience of entrepreneurs who are kind of learning from other people’s stories. Some of the people listening are building businesses as they’re listening. I’ve learned that others are people who have this entrepreneurial bent somewhere inside them and they’re listening to try to be inspired and to finally go out there and start a company. Either way, don’t worry about taking notes, just listen to the stories and understand that as you listen to them, you’re picking up on tips and techniques and ways of thinking about business that will shape the way that you think about your own company. That’s my vision for this. That’s why I do these interviews.
And joining me today are two entrepreneurs who, in many ways were not meant to be entrepreneurs. One of them actually had something in her background that would have almost forced her not to be an entrepreneur except that something happened. And that led her to realize, “Hey, you know what? Not everyone wants to work full-time in an office. Not everyone can work full-time in an office. But the people who can’t or don’t want to are actually really good people the businesses want to hire. And you know what? On the other end, every business needs a full-time staff. Not every business needs to have everyone internally.
What if,” she thought, they both thought, “we could create a service where people can get, say, the best virtual assistant to work just a few hours a day need them and wherever they are.” That started this business that’s now grown way beyond virtual assistants.
The two founders you’re going to meet today are Nicole Grinnell and Liz Goddard. They are the founders of my . . . Wait. Cc: My Admin. Cc: My Admin. And what Cc: My Admin does is lets you hire more than just virtual assistants. You can hire somebody to do your social media for you. If you signed up for one of my sponsors, ActiveCampaign, and you’re using them to send out email marketing but you don’t want to get into the software, you can hire one of their assistants to send out your messages for you. You can hire them to do bookkeeping. You can hire them to do all those things just on the hours that you need and build relationships with the people you like working with through their service, Cc: My Admin.
And we can do this interview thanks to two phenomenal sponsors. The first will do your email marketing right. It’s called ActiveCampaign. And the second if you’re looking to build a business, you need a website, go check out HostGator. I’ll tell you about those later. But first, Nicole and Liz, good to see you here.
Liz: Hey, Andrew, thanks for having us.
Nicole: Thanks for having us.
Andrew: Thanks. What’s the revenue of the business? I want to get a sense of whether you guys are new, just figuring this out or is just something big already. How big?
Liz: You just jumped right to it, didn’t you?
Liz: Yeah. So I can tell you we’ve been around for two years and we’ve had growth year over year two years. And this year, we will close out somewhere between 1 million to 1.5 million.
Andrew: A million to 1.5 million. And last year 2018 you were close to that it seems like, right? Around there.
Liz: Yeah, we were close. We were dancing there.
Andrew: Okay. Congratulations on doing so well. Profitable?
Liz: Thank you. Very profitable, yes.
Andrew: And is your team mostly in the U.S.? Or where’s your team?
Nicole: Yeah, they’re actually all U.S.-based.
Andrew: And that’s one of the things that separates you from other companies. It’s all U.S.-based, people like you and me.
Nicole: Yeah, exactly. We really wanted to stay strong with that and felt like something we could quality-screen and understand and wrap our head around, and so we are very committed to that.
Andrew: Give me an example of somebody who works with multiple people on your team, someone who may be hired several people to do several different tasks. I want to get a sense of how I could put together a whole team if I wanted to work with Cc: My Admin.
Liz: Awesome. So we’ll use a good example of a service-based company similar to us. What happens is they get is maybe one or two of them working there maybe it’s a solo entrepreneur and they get to this point where they’re bottlenecked. They can’t get sales . . .
Andrew: Yeah. Give me an example of one person if you could. Before we started, there was someone I think it was Dan who was a solopreneur or someone who was a married couple who were working with you guys.
Liz: Yeah, yeah. So Dan and Sheila were a couple started business. They bottlenecked, they couldn’t get sales, service their clients and onboard them. And so a great example then building out a team is they are using us for social media and marketing to bring in sales. They hired an operations coordinator which works about one to two hours a day that’s bringing on clients, is the first “face” or voice they hear and make sure all the documents are in their CRM and in their cloud that their payment information is recorded. Then it gets handed off to a relationship manager who’s also through us and they’re going to make sure that the quality is there, that everybody is getting what they need to and then that moves on to bookkeeping, making sure they get invoice, and everybody gets paid and everyone’s happy. So, that’s a great example of how someone would use us to build an entire team. And all . . .
Andrew: And each person would be a few hours a week.
Liz: Yeah, it depends. Sometimes the bookkeeper is probably what, five hours a month. But then the operations coordinator and RN is not one to two to three hours a day.
Andrew: And then if I’m getting a bookkeeper through you, do I have to train that bookkeeper? Is it someone who . . .
Nicole: Yeah. No.
Andrew: What’s the difference between hiring a bookkeeper that I would just find online or through friend versus hiring someone through you?
Nicole: Right. Well, obviously, we do a lot of the screening process. So we do internal simulation testing. We love to get people that are QuickBooks certified. And we actually have them really work with your CPA because while we don’t do the advisement, we make sure that everything is in order come tax time that we can hand those books off and everything is cleaned up. So it’s a little different in that we’re taking that kind of screening process off of you. So like you said, we get a lot of people that it’s, “Hey, my aunt, my uncle, my cousin has been doing this for me,” but maybe they’ve dabbled in it. They can push the numbers around, but we really like to get that screening process taken and qualified people in there.
Andrew: Okay, that was Nicole speaking. Liz, you’re the one who I kind of mentioned earlier. You had this terrible thing happen.
Liz: Well, it’s funny. Nicole and I both had very similar upbringings and as adults, we came together and we were like, “Wow, we had very similar childhoods.” Both had serial entrepreneur fathers. My father passed away suddenly when I was 19 and my brother and I were forced into running this business that we knew nothing about. I was a sophomore in college.
Andrew: What was the business?
Liz: It was a mattress outlet. It’s similar to like a T.J. Maxx or Marshalls but on the mattress side.
Liz: And so we had . . .
Andrew: Where? What city?
Liz: Nashville, Tennessee, which is where I’m from. And we had two retail stores when he passed and a small wholesale division. And then within the next year, we had opened two additional stores. So we had four and then a larger wholesale division. And then 2008 happened. And so we just . . . It was just a really, really trying experience as 19 to 21-year-olds.
Andrew: And he passed away and you had the business, you inherited it. And I remember one time my dad took me into his store back when he owned a store in Queens. That was Brooklyn. Took me in upstairs and he said, “I want you to understand how the whole business works.” And he showed me all these books and he showed me all these like his systems and . . . Systems weren’t real systems. They were in his head, but there are things that he did over and over again. He said, “Now you should know it in case something . . . ” Is this tough for us to talk, Liz? I’m watching you as I’m talking about this.
Liz: No, no. It’s just it’s so . . . It’s just very telling. And I would love for him to have done that, but, no. We . . .
Andrew: My dad’s stuff, by the way, made no sense. It made sense to him, but there’s like no process I could sit down and follow along. He was very proud that it was organized, but it was organized for him. There’s no way I could have picked it up. He saw it in my eyes. I saw it that he understood and we both backed away knowing that if he died, we are in trouble and we just hope nothing happen and hope that there’s not too much debt. What happened with your dad’s situation? What was his mattress place like?
Liz: Oh, it was very profitable. It was doing quite well, but no one knew how to run it. And so . . . I mean, I think that he was in denial of where he was with his battle with cancer, which is ultimately what took him. And so it really . . . It just happened overnight and so no one really knew how to handle it. There was no plan in place. And so my brother who’s also an entrepreneur and I just jumped in, sat on the board and worked with the people that were there and ultimately, it was just . . . There was no one who knew how to run it the way he did. And what was a very profitable business went sideways over the course of three years. And I honestly walked away. I don’t want to say this lightly, but I had like, PTSD over running a business.
Andrew: You did.
Liz: I said I would never run a business again.
Andrew: And you were never going to do it because this thing closed down and it was successful before you took it over. It was then a nightmare afterwards. That’s really painful, by the way. Even the thought of closing up is tough. Meanwhile, Nicole, what was your background?
Nicole: Yeah. So very similar to that my parents actually owned a medical lab. And we were kind of where the idea of this came out for is I was basically in child labor since 10 years old. He was like, “Hey, we don’t have money to pay employees, so guess what? You’ve been promoted.” So I grew up just working all the time to the point of they pulled me out of high school, I had to run the front office.
Andrew: Wait. You weren’t going to high school for this?
Nicole: I went half days. I would leave every day at 11:00 and then go work. And . . .
Andrew: To a medical lab. Doing what?
Nicole: Yeah. So I ran the front office. And then eventually, the day most people get excited you get your driver’s license, they say, “Congratulations, you’re a courier.” So, I began picking up urine and blood samples as a teenager and running around. So I just grew up working all the time. And my dad worked tenfold. And he didn’t have any kind of option to scale. And really, that’s where a lot of our passion comes from because he really was forced to do it all because there just wasn’t money to do it otherwise.
Andrew: What are the pluses and minuses of having to work for an entrepreneur?
Nicole: You know, it’s something . . . I have kids now and I actually struggle with it in that I want them to get that same kind of work ethic.
Andrew: You do.
Nicole: It’s awful when you’re in it, right? I mean, it’s horrible, kids are going on vacations, you’re stuck at a lab. But you come out of it, like, “Wow, I wouldn’t trade that for the world.” I mean, I learned so much the work ethic that you develop and the way you have to figure everything out. So I really see it as an advantage and obviously, I’m very thankful for where it’s brought us today.
Andrew: But here’s the point that I didn’t like about mine. The parts that I loved was I was forced to talk to people. I was forced in some way to sell. You’re standing outside of a store and you’re either just going to be bored or bring people in the store and then you’re the hero by handing out flyers and getting people in the store. The part that I hated was the mundane stuff that was mind-numbing but you had to do it, like, separating hangers. That was just like . . . And it forced me to say, “You better work your ass off. This is the way work could be for you. It is for my dad. He’s a smart guy. He owns his own business. He still has to separate hangers. You better work like crazy so you’re not having to do this and see your fingers like shake at night because you’re separating hangers.”
Nicole: Exactly, yeah.
Andrew: So you talked about the positive which is a work ethic for you. Any other positives? And then what’s the negative in the way that you did it because I want to teach my kids to do it better?
Nicole: Yeah, I know. I think we . . . My husband, actually, was from an entrepreneurial family too, so we came out of just tons of experience and then, of course, being with Liz. So the negative is you miss a lot of family time. I mean, my parents did a lot that they could. I mean, we had dinners over my dad running lab tests and . . .
Nicole: . . . slept on the EKG table. So we have a lot of funny memories that we can laugh at now but you obviously miss out on a lot of things. But truly, if I had to trade it, I wouldn’t. I mean, it was crazy and even people joke about our childhood trauma of just weird stories that we have, but I’m thankful for it and so it’s something that I try to balance with my own kids of just they’ve got to work and if nothing else, I want them to come out with that work ethic and able to support themselves that way.
Andrew: Liz, you went on to be an HR director. Where?
Liz: It’s for a company actually in Atlanta. It’s called Priority Payment Systems. And it was a company when I came on board had about 99 employees. So it was still a startup and I really enjoyed that. It kind of triggered . . . It kind of scratched the entrepreneurial itch in me and as much as I got to wear a lot of hats. And then over the next seven-plus years, it grew to be about 500 employees and I got to see a lot of mergers and acquisitions.
Liz: And that’s what, Nicole and I talk all the time, the experience of working with a growing in small . . . growing up in a small business, helping run one and then going to corporate environment really taught us a lot about how to take a small business to a different level and the pros and cons of both. And we may go into it later, but, I mean, the pros of small business—super nimble, really fun, so energizing. The cons, you don’t have the resources, you usually hire one person to do eight different jobs. And the pros of a corporate office would be you have all these resources, but employees are wasting time, they’re sucking money, and it was like Nicole and I couldn’t stand that about . . .
Andrew: You saw that. How did you see that at Priority Payment Systems? As the HR person, what’s an example of somebody who was wasting time that made you realize there’s a better way to do business today? Oh, I love that you’re smiling at that.
Nicole: I mean, I feel like we shouldn’t name names. I mean, you just you see it constantly. I mean . . .
Andrew: Give me a type of job. And I could see that we wouldn’t want to talk about someone specific.
Nicole: Yeah, obviously.
Andrew: That’s been over 10 years now. What’s the type of job where you see someone go to waste where maybe some people who are listening are going to nod and go, “You know what? Yeah, I get it.”
Liz: I think it is more just like anywhere you would go, any company would have this where you may be an executive and you look out and you see, “Well, I’m paying for people to talk about the Super Bowl Weekend. I’m paying for people to go on break.” So just this lack of efficiency that happens in every office. And so you would see that and then when we talk to executives from different companies as we were building this business, that was a common theme we heard was, “I just wish I could just pay for the work that was getting done because I feel like . . . ” Again, I polled a lot of CEOs and COOs and said, “If you’re hiring a 40-hour employee person which is a full-time employee, how much work do you think you’re getting out of them?” And they said, “Well, we’re paying 40 hours but consistently came across as 30.”
Nicole: I think the biggest difference too when you come out of a small business family is you realize how much every dollar means. And so you go into even a corporate life knowing how much . . . You’re so much more appreciative of every dollar they’re even willing to pay you. And so when you see that and you . . . And I mean, we would see it in our own parents thing where you know you’re sitting there with an employee that your dad’s paying and we’re not going on vacation and we’re having to not buy groceries that week and this employee is on their phone playing. And so you come away from it just with a different appreciation and not taking it for granted. And so it’s just a whole different mindset.
Andrew: Yeah. You know what? The example that comes to mind is, there’s a company where when I go into their office, I could see the receptionist is sometimes doing email and responding to issues but largely she’s just doing Facebook and stuff like that, but they can’t give her any more work. What else is there to give her? You can’t start making stuff up. You can’t have her start doing your social media. That’s not what she’s doing. And so I don’t fault them. They need the receptionist to sit there, but it does feel like a waste? I get it, Nicole. That’s Liz working in HR. Nicole, you were an executive assistant supporting C level staff like COO, CEO, CFO, that level. And what were people saying about your work and what was it that made you think there should be a better way where people can get access to this?
Nicole: Well, it’s funny because we were actually just talking about that the way that we changed the business model because when we first started it, it really was all virtual assistants. Well, in my mind an assistant is everything because that’s what I’ve always had to be, right? You need to go get the trash, you need to book my flights, you need to do my P&L reports, you need to make hiring decisions. That’s what you are.
Andrew: You would do their P&L profit and loss reports?
Nicole: Oh, absolutely.
Andrew: And pull it out of what? Like QuickBooks or something?
Nicole: Yeah. Pull it the way they want it format. I worked for a petroleum company for a long time. They had this thing called 13 weekers. It was a running total. And you would pull them out, pull the stores, analyze it for them and shoot it off to him every Friday. And so, because of my work ethic where it was a lot of EAs get the reputation of, “Well, I booked travel and this is what I do and don’t ask me to do anything else.” But I was sort of eager to help out with anything that they needed and wanted to be that right hand. So that was really the goal of the business is to do that, but what we realized is like, “Oh, we need to reframe this into, we’re actually a whole team for you.” And that’s what I had always been for my executives, but we realized it’s actually small businesses that need that even more.
Andrew: Okay. And some of the people who saw you do this said, “You know what? I could use someone like that. I could use somebody like Nicole who could do my 13 weekers or could do my email or whatever it is that you’re doing that was especially good, but all I have is two to four hours a week. I don’t need to pay someone tens of thousands of dollars a year to do that.” And so you started to see that opportunity. What was it that finally kicked you since you both were seeing this? What was it? For Liz, it was in HR. For Nicole, it was doing work that other businesses would need or other businesspeople would need. What was it that finally made you say, “It’s time. We got to start this business.”
Nicole: Yeah. Well, actually, it just kind of snowballed like that. I took on a couple of clients myself. I’ve always put my kids as first-priority, so I knew I wanted to go back to working remotely. And I took on one client and they told another executive, “Hey, this girl is really great. You need to use her?” I got on supporting board members, different corporate offices here in Atlanta. And all of a sudden, I realized, “I have like, 80 hours a week of work here and this has to be a need. I mean, it’s just snowballing and I know that there’s all these people in small businesses that need this and they just want to pull people in.”
And so Liz was actually at a point in her career where she was looking to change and she decided to take a month off just truly debrief from everything going on. And when she came back, I said, “Hey, we’ve got to do this. It just . . . I know there’s a need for it and we need to get on it.” And so she came on at that point and we just kind of shifted the business model to like, “Hey, we need to build off this team.” And she started doing sales and that’s really kind of how it, what am I trying to say, took off from there.
Andrew: With you still working full-time, Nicole?
Nicole: No, no. I actually left. So I left in April. One of my CEOs that I worked for retired, so I became his first client. I still work for him today. And that kind of just snowballed into that kind of thing. And in fact, we now have two clients who I have worked through as his assistant that they’ve said, “Hey, I need a Nicole. Figure out how I can get a Nicole.” And that’s why they’re coming back to us. So, yeah.
Andrew: All right. Not to make trouble between the two of you, but why did you need Liz? People were coming to you. Why not start with . . .
Nicole: Well, I totally needed Liz because . . .
Nicole: . . . I am the like, please stay in operations. I just want to focus on admins getting work done, making sure things are going. Liz, with her HR background, can go to a business owner and be like, “This is how much you’re spending. This is how much you’re wasting.” She can speak to that human capital side that I just couldn’t. I can know exactly what you need done and take care of it, but I really needed her to go into business owners and say, “This is what you’re paying for and this is what . . . ”
Andrew: Okay. All right, Liz. I’d love in a moment to hear the first client or one of the first clients and how you got them as a business. But first, let me talk about my first sponsor. It is a company that will host people’s websites. Is it kind of weird that I’m doing the ad with you two sitting here?
Nicole: No, you’re fine.
Andrew: I know that the two of you also didn’t start a website as soon as you had this idea. It was just like, “Let’s start the idea and then go.” How long before you started a website?
Liz: You know what’s awesome about that?
Liz: It was six months. Maybe six months.
Andrew: Six months of just talking to people and not even building the site.
Liz: Yeah, right. When did you say that?
Nicole: Well, yeah.
Liz: What we see is interesting was the person who built our website was actually one of our first clients because he needed our services and we need a website, so we bartered.
Andrew: Great. And I do think that for many businesses, you don’t need to waste time building the website. You can just go out get clients and then build a site once you know it instead of you’re emailing them, why tell them “Now go check out my website.” But when it is time to get a website? I noticed that one of the things that you guys did was you just did WordPress. WordPress is such an easy way to publish, it’s such an easy way to maintain your site, it constantly gets updated, there are plugins for every little thing that you need. If you want to add a form, if you want to add this and that, there’s a plugin somewhere out there for it.
The thing about WordPress is it’s a solved problem. And hosting is not that difficult for it. Now, I couldn’t host it, but it’s a solved problem. There are companies that know how to host. So if someone’s out there listening to us and saying, “Where should I get to host my website? How do I figure out who?” Well, number one, you can go to hostgator.com/mixergy, which you’d be throwing me a bone. You’d be saying, “Hey, Andrew, I’m getting you another customer and another pat on the back from the sponsor.”
But number two, what you get for yourself is . . . And I appreciate that, don’t get me wrong. But what you get for yourself is a company that’s been doing hosting for years that can do it right that will price it at such a low price that you won’t believe it. And then frankly when you grow and you need more features or you need more space or you need more this or that, they will hook you up because they’ve got it. They will scale up with you.
If you go to hostgator.com/mixergy, you will get the lowest price that they have available which is . . . I’m going to scroll down here and I’m going to tell you. It’s the hatchling plan, $2.64 a month is what it comes down to. Super inexpensive. Unmetered disk space, unmetered bandwidth, unlimited email addresses. Do I need to go on? Forty-five-day day money back guarantee. Go to hostgator.com/mixergy.
Want to talk about one of the first customers?
Liz: Yes, I was trying to think through it.
Andrew: I figured.
Liz: I thought we’re like . . .
Nicole: I’m trying to thing which one was first, but . . .
Andrew: The very first ones were the ones that Nicole was already working with. She was contributing them into the business, right? The next batch though, you had to go out. If you have any memory of one of the early ones and how you got them may be interesting. It doesn’t have to be the very first one.
Liz: Yeah, I would love to. So what I will tell you the number one thing that we did it was just kind of . . . We live in Atlanta and we always said like, “If you can’t make a business grow in your backyard,” like Atlanta is great for business, “then we need to close up shop.” So, I literally just went out, hit the pavement, went to every networking we called the island of misfits. When we go to networking you never know what you’re going to get.
Liz: And you just talk to as many people as you can get. And at first, again, we thought it was just going to be someone needing an executive admin. But then I met somebody with an e-commerce site. And listening to what they needed. And there’s so much about Nicole and I that we love small businesses. I just started listening and saying, “What are your pain points?” And that’s when we developed the idea that this really needs to be more than just an executive admin. This needs to be back office solutions. And they needed somebody who’s going to help take their orders, put orders into the back systems of the retailer shops and make sure that they get paid on time.
And so that’s, I would say, the first like full-suite client that we got is someone who was doing an e-commerce site or bakery. She’s a [Lex 00:23:00] wedding bakery and she’s been on TLC shows and she needed somebody who’s going to help coordinate all her deliveries and take orders and qualify leads. And that’s another example. And so really it’s just getting out there and grinding, I guess, and working your hardest.
Andrew: Yeah, it does seem like a lot of it is offline. In fact, I’m looking at SimilarWeb to get a sense of where you guys get your traffic. You hardly have any traffic and there’s not a lot of keywords that are sending traffic to you, right?
Nicole: Yeah. We don’t do a ton of just web leads. We’re really . . . Like she said, she’s out hitting the pavement. We’re very hugely referral-based. I would say that’s really our bread and butter of how we’ve grown is people get success and they want to share it.
Andrew: What do you do to encourage referrals?
Nicole: We do do discounts on their invoices when clients sign. And honestly . . .
Andrew: Meaning if a client refers another client, the first client gets a discount.
Nicole: Uh-huh. Yeah. Exactly. And honestly, like, it’s been great because people are really satisfied with the service and they just naturally want to connect and share. And we’re very thankful for that. Even people that we don’t work with where they say, “Hey, I don’t have this need right now, but I know a ton of people and I’m going to send them your way because they could really use you.” I always laugh and say, “We’re just selling help, and everyone needs help.” So it’s a really easy conversion rate for us.
Andrew: I don’t understand how other businesses can manage the back end of this because I do see that more of the people who I interview, more the people in my audience offer services in addition to software sometimes instead of software. And we’ll get to that in a moment, but let’s continue with how you get customers. So, now that I am now using Ahrefs, one of my other sponsors, a lot. It’s not a sponsorship message for them but I can’t help but use their freaking software. I typed in ccmyadmin.com to get a sense of where you guys are getting links, what your traffic situation is. It seems like you’re out there a little bit more now like republicradio.com, I see that there’s a post including you somehow. There’s one on Blog Talk Radio with Jason Hartman. Are you doing these things now as part of your new promotional push?
Liz: So we really . . . I mean, obviously to get the first clients we were out hitting the road. So we are not big fans of outside sales. There’s different people who have experienced. That’s just not our model. And so we look at things like podcasts and we look at partnerships where we can really get huge funnels with clients. And also we don’t want to go into too much of that just because that’s a competitive advantage that we don’t want to do.
Andrew: I’ve got to tell you, Ahrefs, it’s keeping it from being a competitive advantage. It’s showing me that something happened around January of this year. Am I right? Even if we don’t get into specifics of what you did, right?
Andrew: And was the site up on ccmyadmin.com last year?
Andrew: It was. Okay. So there wasn’t much action but suddenly this year, boom, I’m seeing it come through. I see by the way, as I was saying it you were like pursing your lips, Liz, which tells me, Ahrefs, I should have been using them longer for these interviews.
Andrew: And I can see that you’re kind of new to this and you might not be eager to talk about it much, but I know that there’s some who are especially proud of what they’ve done and now that I have some insight into it, I should be using this more to get a sense of what people are doing. So, it was mostly offline until last year and then now you’re starting to go online? Or when you stop paving the pavement, when you said, “We need to do more beyond getting referrals,” was there anything else?
Liz: It was really developing channel pipelines. I mean, creating partnerships with . . .
Andrew: What are some of the partnerships? Yeah. Give me a sense of how that works.
Nicole: She doesn’t want to answer because it’s her secret sauce.
Liz: It’s my secret sauce there.
Andrew: Even if it’s not a specific, can you give me a type of partnership that would work?
Liz: Okay. So for your listeners we would give maybe an example. I mean, you hear such a buzzword right now is like the center of influencers, right? And people find the center of influences within their industry. And so . . .
Liz: Yes, sorry.
Andrew: No. I’m saying okay, I’m with you.
Liz: And so to me like . . . And we’re trying to add value to this awesome podcast is like to find what that is for you. So who is in contact with people that you want to do business with? So it’s so much easier to talk to one person, so one person and they’ve got network of 150 people and they tap into it and they promote that for you. And so without being specific on what we’re doing, that would be if you have a service-based business or you’re looking to grow your business in a way that doesn’t require you to be out pounding the pavement anymore, you need to be more strategic about your time and you don’t want to take a risk on hiring sales development reps, which we don’t. That’s how we’ve been successful.
Andrew: So you know what? I remember interviewing Carl Taylor. He’s the founder of the Automation Agency. What they do is outsource people who manage your marketing automation software, the ActiveCampaign, Infusionsoft, that type of thing, but that’s all they do. One monthly fee, they do the whole thing. And what he told me worked well for him was partnership with people who teach marketing. And so if those people have an audience of people who are learning how to do it, at some point, they say, “I don’t want to do it for myself and I’m just going to ask for referrals,” that’s what you’re talking about, someone like that.
Liz: Bingo. That is exactly what I’m talking about.
Andrew: When did you get into that? How far into the business was it that you started to make those partnerships happen?
Liz: I would say that we really evaluate and made goals and we were laying tracks, Q3 of last year and we really started to see those come in and solidify in January and since then have seen tremendous growth.
Andrew: I’m seeing that it’s getting dark on the East Coast. Is it too dark? Do you want to turn on the lights?
Liz: Oh, sure.
Andrew: Yeah, go for it.
Liz: I want you to be able to see me purse my lips.
Andrew: Right. That’s the only reason I keep the video up. I want to see where am I pushing people too far.
Liz: Oh, I see.
Andrew: So the back end part intrigues me. I’ve got to say, I’ve been thinking about doing something like this too. I’m really big into chatbots. I actually invested in a couple of chatbot companies. I started to see the growth. I said, “This is amazing.” I started teaching it and I realized, “You know what? A lot of people don’t want to learn how to do it. They just want to hire somebody to do it.” So I partnered up with a couple of our graduates and I said, “Hey, let’s create an agency where anyone who needs chatbots specific work and only chatbot specific work can pay a monthly fee and get access to it.” It’s on Chat Blender for anyone who wants to go check it out, chatblender.com. That’s a lot of promotion. I swear I’m not meaning to promote.
Liz: It’s okay.
Andrew: No one’s going to go and sign up just from one mention, but we are going to understand through this. One of the challenges that I have and that we’re thinking through is when we get an order, how do we keep it manageable? How do we not have anything goes situation? How do we keep track of what’s working, what’s not? Talk to me a little bit about the back end? If somebody signs up for Cc: My Admin and sends a request in, where does it go? How do you manage it? How do you make sure they get the results they are looking for? What’s that process behind the scenes for managing a business like this?
Liz: So we actually spent a lot of time into this because if you mess this up, you mess everything up. I mean, the first impression is so important. So we see ourselves as from the beginning like what we call like a small business advocate. So anytime we touch a business we act like it’s our parents’ like the same ownership or if it’s ours. And so what you’re going to get is we handle it almost at a consultation, and so we say like, our next business should be consultants because we really help people.
So whether users or not, you’re the way you are outsourcing is kind of messed up. Let me tell you how to do it. So that’s the first experience. We want them to gain trust, let them know that we understand their business. As well as we have people on our team who’s going to be able to do that also. And we do spend a lot of time training them on what types of businesses they should be targeting and how to coach them. From there, we create this form and it really is just a dump of everything that the business is going through, their needs, whether it be today or six months from now.
Andrew: You mean, you internally have a form, so when you’re talking to a customer, you want to get all those pieces of information to keep for everyone on the team to know. What are some of the things on the form?
Liz: Well, one is expected . . . I mean, we don’t require blocks of hours. We think that no virtual admin company should. But we can estimate hours. We can make sure that the assistants have bandwidth. So that’s on there. And honestly, stuff like just what systems are they using? What honestly emotional pain points are they going into? Because business they say it’s business not emotions, but they’re so uniquely tied together. And so it really gets you the person who’s doing the initial consult to put everything that they’re feeling into a word form so then it can go on to matching because if there’s not a good match, then it’s not a good experience for the relationship manager.
Andrew: Matching meaning internally. So you know that somebody needs a bookkeeper for example, but you might want to know what type of bookkeeping. You know someone needs social media, but are we talking about LinkedIn social media or Twitter? Is that the type of thing? And what their personality like?
Liz: Yes. And then we go into personality. So, what . . . Andrew, who do you like to work with? Who are kind of people do you surround yourself with?
Andrew: Yeah. One thing that I’ve learned about myself, for example, is I need people who just work on their own and don’t need a lot of conversation with me but are willing to do a lot of hand-holding with me when I need to do work. So, Andrea, my assistant needs to be able to go and answer all the help support email by herself without coming back to me a lot, but when I need to do basic email, I need her to screen-share with me and just walk me through it all. It’s kind of a weirdo thing, but you need somebody who can get on with me but get on a screen share with me. Right?
Andrew: That’s what you’re looking at.
Liz: Absolutely. And you try to see what really complements them because they may be having trouble with other people they’ve hired in the past because they don’t know how to hire, they don’t really know what they need. And so that’s that time. So, this is a long-winded way to say, we first do a consultation and we get into not only are the skills that are needed, but we go into personality tests we do just to see what is going on behind the person so it’s a better match. We pass it on to our recruiting team. They recruit and they match. Once we’ve found a very good match, we move them onto a relationship manager on both the client and ensures the success of a virtual staff with that client.
Andrew: And then what do you do to manage the work behind the scenes?
Nicole: Yeah. So the client is actually assigned one dedicated relationship manager. And that’s really who they go for anything whether they want to add work, there’s an issue.
Andrew: For anything. I noticed that on the home page.
Andrew: Anything. So if I say, “I need social media to go out,” my relationship manager is who I talk to . . .
Andrew: . . . and then figure out who on the team needs to get it done.
Andrew: Then you guys build different hourly for each thing?
Nicole: No. So relationship managers are completely free. It’s just part of the service. If only . . .
Andrew: But if I needed, say, an admin or social media marketing or something else, is there a different price for all that?
Nicole: Yes, there is. And so that’s really what your relationship manager would do. She would kind of go back to the beginning and assess your current needs, what you’re looking for, we would assign it, send you basically an agreement or an amendment to your services and with what that is.
Andrew: So every time I need . . .
Nicole: Your marketing . . .
Andrew: . . . a new feature, you guys will say . . . or the relationship manager says, “Here’s the price for it. I’ll take it, but you should know that when you send me work, here’s what I’m going to price it at.”
Liz: Correct, yeah. Yeah.
Andrew: Wow. And then how do you know? Like, what’s the project management flow behind the scenes to manage this?
Nicole: Speedy. It’s, like, we understand where businesses are coming from. Most people want to come to us, it’s because they’re up against the wall and they need something.
Andrew: No. But what I mean is, do you have some software that you’re using to manage the projects when somebody asks you for something? Is it going into a Trello board, into Pipedrive or something like . . . ?
Nicole: Oh, yes. So we actually use HubSpot . . .
Andrew: HubSpot. How?
Nicole: . . . which is kind of from sales all the way ’till end and matching and keeping updates.
Nicole: We’re really committed to keeping the relationship manager’s workload very small because we want them to have the time to focus on each person. And then we kind of have directors of each team that check in and make sure that everything’s moving smooth and . . .
Andrew: But the project’s themselves aren’t going through HubSpot, are they?
Nicole: No. The work does not go through there. So everything is basically contractor base. So we’re implement . . . We are basically migrating into the clients’ systems, so we see everything come through, but internally HubSpot.
Andrew: And if internally . . . If I want to send a request, I send it via email. How do you keep track of whether the email is getting . . . whether the work is getting done, whether it’s getting done fast, how long it takes? Do you do anything with that?
Liz: What did you say?
Nicole: Hubstaff. So we use Hubstaff, at all of our . . .
Andrew: Hubstaff, I never heard of that. What is it?
Liz: Oh, we love it. Hubstaff is really great for anybody out there who is either doing contract, a freelancer or really even if you’re doing W2 employees. There’s all projects set up in there. We have . . . If you want to it can take screenshots of the person who’s working so that way you can see how actually like a percentage of how active they are and productive they are. They have to leave notes in. So we say like, “Hey, if you don’t put notes in, then you didn’t do it essentially.” Right? And so it sends reports right from Hubstaff to the client and it says, “Hey, this is how long they worked. This is how much it cost you. This is what they did while they were on there.”
Andrew: Oh, I see. So this is project management software for your type of business. Never heard of it.
Liz: We love it. It’s been really good. We took a long time . . . It’s our second timekeeping system and we’re really we’re fans of it.
Andrew: Yeah, it could be crazy-making behind the scenes to keep track of one company’s work, but multiple company’s work with multiple contractors, that’s just really nuts.
Liz: And what makes it unique, just to dive into that, is similar too I’m sure you, Andrew, is you may have several DBAs that you’re working with or different companies that may need to be billed differently because this much needs to come out of this account or these hours need to come out of the other. And so we can really format it to where when you get an invoice, it can go directly to the entity that that one assistant is working on your five companies.
Andrew: Yeah. So if I’ve worked with you with five companies, you’ll price it based on which company needed the work?
Liz: Well, the pricing will be the same but you’re going to get an invoice that detailed out specific to that company.
Andrew: That details it out. That’s fantastic. Wow.
Liz: [inaudible 00:36:57]. We had a client who he works with mergers and acquisitions with one company and then another company. He is the COO and then he has three side companies that are just his fun projects. I mean, he literally runs the gamut from a product all the way to, “Hey, I’m helping you close down a company you just acquired.” And so we have five different entities that we bill for his one assistant, so he doesn’t have to worry about it. He just knows that the entity that is getting billed goes to the correct company.
Andrew: Yeah. You know what? So I hired a finance person and one of the things that he helped me realize was, I need to know not just overall whether we’re profitable or not or how profitable we are but also individually for different products. Are we spending a lot of time on a product that actually is losing money and not producing enough revenue? And so the only way that we figured out to do that was to estimate, to talk to people individually on our team and say, “Roughly how much of your time is spent on this versus that?” And that’s what we do now in our income statement. We just estimate. But it was would be really interesting if we knew more specifically how much of their time goes to each of the different projects.
All right. I can see how that would be an advantage of working with you. Speaking of, let me talk about my second sponsor. It’s a company called ActiveCampaign for email marketing. This is the type of thing. If I use ActiveCampaign and came to you and said, “I just want you to have a Google Doc. I don’t want you to get into this software.” A Google Doc and at the top say, it goes to this audience at this date. Here’s the subject, here’s the body. You do that.
Nicole: Absolutely, yeah.
Liz: We absolutely do that. You can even . . . We go even further. You could say, “Hey, I want something written like this.” We do the content writing, we pull the graphics, we do design and then we implement it and send it to your distribution list.
Andrew: Really? And you have a writer on staff who can do that?
Liz: We have multiple writers.
Nicole: Multiple writers.
Liz: We have an entire creative team that we work with that’s from graphic design, content writing, social media, even some web stuff.
Andrew: I didn’t realize that. I was looking on your site. And so the truth is ActiveCampaign is easy enough for anyone to use on their own. They have all the features, the major email marketing automation company. I so want to mention their competitors, which there’s one that I specifically hate. They have all the features but it’s confusing. You have to hire people at tens of thousands, literally, tens of thousands a month. And then I had to beg them to work for me at over $10,000 a month. It’s unreal because they get so much work because the software is just so clunky but it’s effective.
ActiveCampaign said, “You know what? It doesn’t have to be that complicated. What do people need to do? Track what someone’s clicking on? Great, we’ll tag it automatically based on clicks. Figure out that if somebody is clicking on one thing on your website over and over again that that means that they’re interested in that topic so you could send an email based on that topic. Let’s just make it super-easy.” All that stuff is super-easy.
All you have to do is go to activecampaign.com/mixergy. When you do, you can try it for free and because it’s like a really popular piece of software. It’ll integrate with all the software that you already use to collect email addresses, to manage your list. And it’s easy enough that if you hire somebody to do this for you or you go to Cc: My Admin and you say, “This is my software.” They’re familiar with it. It’s popular, it’s easy, it’s effective.
Go to activecampaign.com/mixergy. You’ll get to use it for free. If you decide to sign up, they’ll give you a second month free. And they will migrate you from your other email software for free. And finally, they even do free consulting. They’ll do two free consulting sessions. Go to activecampaign.com/mixergy. You’ll love it.
Let’s talk about like working with admins. A lot of people because they don’t see them, because they’re not working . . . the admin is not working directly for them, they don’t treat the admin like a person sometimes, right? Talk about the issues that comes up that gives us a sense of what’s going on.
Nicole: Yeah. I mean, it definitely can happen, but that’s really what we’ve tried to focus on internally is making sure that the client does see them as a team member. Even just using different tools. We also develop that once you’re onboarded, you actually get basically org chart that allows them to see who their relationship manager is, who their VA is, a bookkeeper, etc. and build it out for them so now they can pin that Cc: My Admin team org chart on there and know exactly who they need to go to.
Because that was one thing that we did run into at the beginning was we didn’t want them to be seen as just day laborers that you brought in and out and they weren’t really part of that. And so we really put a focus on that. Even just using internal tools like Zoom to put a face to that name, being able to train via share screen and trying to connect that bond really between them. And I’d say we’ve really seen a big push this year with keeping that atmosphere with them and feeling that the VA and the client are more connected.
Andrew: Because what was happening was somebody would send out a project, the project didn’t come out right, and they’d say, “I don’t like this person. Give me another person.”
Liz: We’re not going to say the project didn’t come out, right? True.
Andrew: But there was some issue. So what was the issue that would lead them to say, “You know what? I don’t want this. Give me someone else.”
Nicole: Oh, yeah. And sometimes it wasn’t even an issue. It would just sort of be like . . . It was easy to disappear on VAs. And I would say that was more of our issue was even outside of problems was just, “Well, I’m going to take off and leave for a month,” where you would never do that to an actual employee. You would let them know or talk to them about it. And so we really wanted to kind of fix some of those internal cultures with them.
Liz: Maybe there was a chemistry issue. I mean, we are big believers in chemistry. Someone may be incredibly skilled, but at the end of the day, it may not be a good fit. And it’s, “You know what? Just don’t worry about it.” I’m like, “That’s not what you would do if someone was an active member of your team.” So we realized there was this pain point for our business to solve which was, “How do we make this person a person to you?” And we started incorporating more teleconference calls. We started building that . . . I mean, that org chart has been huge. So they really do feel like, “Wow, I’m at the helm of the ship. And I can call my sales agent if I need this. I can call my relationship manager if I need this. I’ve got my graphic designer.” And it made them feel like, “Okay. I am responsible to these people and they’re responsible to me.”
Andrew: So, you know what? I actually, I have this issue that maybe you can help me with. I used a service called Video Husky. I upload videos to them via their project management software, they edit it to my needs, and then they send it to me. I ran out of video that I needed edited and I felt really sheepish about it and so I didn’t respond to them. And they messaged me from time to time and I feel guilty because I don’t know what to do and I feel even worse because I’m paying and I’m not using it. It’s awful. And I feel like, I don’t know. I’m kind of stuck, but I have all this other stuff going on. And I’m ghosting them. I hate that I’m ghosting them. So what do you do to stop some situation like that? Because it’s horrible for me. The more I ghost them, the less ideas I get and it must be terrible for them.
Liz: I’m going to ask you a question then.
Andrew: Yeah, do it.
Liz: Let me ask you this. So who is your contact at . . . Is it Video Husky that you said?
Andrew: Yeah. The contact is . . . It’s been a month now and I’ve only used them for a little bit and I forget the name of the person who’s there, but they have someone who’s there and they have someone who’s been editing my stuff. And I don’t remember their names and I just know them through their project management software that they use which is Wrike.
Liz: So that would be, I would say, one of the reasons why it’s easy for you to ghost them is because you . . . And that’s okay you don’t know, but you probably don’t know their name. And so what we try to do . . .
Andrew: [inaudible 00:44:12] it’s Casey. I should know it. I do know it, but you guys are like . . . Well, you say . . . No. Casey is the guy who edits. He’s in the Philippines. He’ll do it overnight. I’m not insensitive to them even though I’ve only worked with them for like two weeks before ghosting them. But the thing that I wonder is, like, what do you do? Do you get them on email with the . . . Would you get your people on email with your clients? Would you get text messages? What do you do to make sure that people stay in touch?
Liz: You develop a relationship and that’s one thing we’ve learned. And we try to develop a relationship from several fronts, but sometimes on internal team calls whoever’s on that team with the clients who’s got the relationship with Andrew. Once Andrew and I were talking about how our kids play soccer, and so I’m going to, like, shoot him an email or I’m going to try to call them and he may be more likely to pick up his phone. At the end of the day, sometimes they just ghost you and it is what it is, and when they come back to you, and this is not helping your situation, but what they should do when you come back to them is, “Hey, Andrew. No worries.” Like we know you’re busy. That’s why you have to use people like us.
Andrew: Instead of feeling . . . Yeah, instead of feeling . . .
Liz: That’s way you’re shamed triggered, right?
Andrew: I’m already ashamed. You’re right. My shame is being triggered by this stuff. What do you think about these services now that are focused on one thing that it’s just only one thing, not we’ll do anything that you need?
Liz: Well, I think it’s great, honestly, and I know that it may be contradictory to what we do, but we actually believe in doing that one thing. I would say we are just the person who can find you the person that can do the one thing. So we’re big believers in that. I mean, what we try to do is take away the pain of the Fiverrs or the Upworks where you can go find somebody who does that one thing. But instead wouldn’t you like to have a guy or a girl that you can call and they can find that person does that one thing for you? And that’s the pain point we’re trying to solve.
Andrew: And it’s all backend stuff, so at least there’s a theme to it. You’re not doing . . . You’re not doing specialty work like video editing or are you?
Nicole: We actually do some of that. We say that we will do anything that we can accurately source for and really do a good job at. So because we know small businesses have all these one-off little projects and stuff, if we have someone that is qualified for that, of course, we’re going to help you out and do that. But there’s many times we have to say, “Hey, that’s not our gig but we can refer you to someone,” or, “Here’s somebody that we found that’s worked really well for us.” We don’t ever like to do anything that we just don’t feel like we’re going to give you 100% on.
Liz: The strategy would be a great example. We don’t . . . If someone comes to us and wants marketing strategy, that’s not our thing. We do marketing administration. So we’re going to do the execution of the strategy.
Andrew: Would you guys do Valentine’s Day, stuff like that where you get stuff for my wife?
Andrew: As well.
Liz: Well, Valentine’s Day is a big day for us. We call it the VAlentine’s Day and that’s the day that we celebrate our VAs because we don’t want it to get lost at Christmas or whatever other day maybe it would be. And so we go hard in the paint on Valentine’s Day. We’re sending out packages and t-shirts and messages . . .
Andrew: To all the VAs who work within your network.
Nicole: Correct. Yeah.
Liz: Right. Because . . . I mean, we’ve talked a lot about the client side which is . . . When Nicole and I we really were creating this company we said, “What makes sense on the client side and the assistant side?” because the reality is . . . I’m sorry. Who did you say your assistant was?
Liz: So, Andrea . . . you say, “Andrea, go do your thing.” Well, the reality is Andrea probably also needs you to remember when it’s her birthday, she needs to vent about you or to you about something, but the client doesn’t always have time for that. And so what we do is we insert ourselves and we say, “Client, we want you to have a happy, efficient person when they clock in for you. You’re only paying for productive hours.” But the assistant says, “Yeah, but I still need affirmation and I still need a pat on the back.” And so, we don’t hire robots, like, they still need that. So we spend our time loving and appreciating those people, so when they come to their clients, they feel so fulfilled.
Andrew: I get that. And so you’re making sure that people who hire your team are letting your team members know how appreciative they are and just checking in with them. All right. I like this business model a lot. I think that there is . . . I think we started out with internet companies with the idea that software is better than people and then we realized, you know what? People are actually really useful and there’s things that software still cannot do. And this fear that we had of people is maybe some of it is justified, but not all of it. And I’m noticing a lot of businesses being built around this service component and I’m fascinated by it. I’m excited to see how your business has grown.
For anyone who wants to check it out, it’s ccmyadmin.com. And I want to thank the two sponsors who made this interview happen. The first will host your website right. It’s called HostGator. Check them out at hostgator.com/mixergy. And the second will do your email marketing . . . I was going to say justice but that doesn’t feel like the right word. They’ll do email marketing right. They’ll help you send the right message to the right people based on what they’ve done and what they’ve told you about themselves. It’s called ActiveCampaign. Just go try it at activecampaign.com/mixergy next time you’re looking for email marketing software. Nicole and Liz, thanks so much for being here.
Nicole: Appreciate it.
Liz: Thank you.
Andrew: You bet. Bye.