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. Joining me is someone who was working at a company, decided she want to go virtual, was told she couldn’t, and she found a way to make it happen. And then, she stopped working for the company. I’m kind of telling your whole story here in the intro.
Andrew: Well, I think the transition to how you went from there to then doing virtual assistants’ work yourself, to working for people who I think, I imagine, are some of the most demanding people but also the most nicest people to work with. Like Michael Hyatt, I’ve only known Michael Hyatt a little bit. He strikes me as somebody who was so on every detail of everything, that if you can make it with Michael Hyatt, you can make it anywhere. If you could represent him well, so you became his executive assistant, you became an executive assistant for Amy Porterfield and others and then you went on to create your own virtual assistants company.
The person who I keep referring to as you, you, you is Trivinia Barber. She is the founder of Priority VA. They are an executive virtual assistant service. What I’m curious about and the reason that I’m excited to have this interview is how she went from doing a job to slowly doing it as a freelancer to . . . it feels to me kind of quickly, maybe slow at first and then kind of quickly, building it up into this big agency, this big company. Do you think it’s big or do you feel like it’s not big enough?
Trivinia: You know, I feel like it’s big enough for me. And it’s actually something interesting that I’ve learned along the way is that what is big enough for everyone else wasn’t necessarily where I wanted to take this company and that’s something I’ve learned just actually recently, but, yeah.
Andrew: What do you mean? How big is it now? I should say actually, this interview sponsored by HostGator for hosting websites, Toptal for hiring developers. What do you mean? How big is it now and how big do other people want?
Trivinia: Yeah, so we just finished 2019 at 1.6 million. I had really big goals of wanting to be at 3 million by now and, you know, we didn’t hit that. A couple of years ago, we were at, what, 1.7 in 2018 and I was like, “All right, this is going to be at 2019, like, we’re going to do it,” and we didn’t but we’ve ended up, I think, creating a business that I can actually love now.
Andrew: You’re someone who I said was working for a company. Did you try when you were working for them to go virtual, to work from home?
Trivinia: Yeah, it was funny and I started with an anesthesia group in Denver, Colorado, where I’m from, in 2000. And pretty quickly, I just would think all the time like, “Why do I have to drive 45 minutes a day and pay $8 to park?” It’s just felt really dumb because everything that I was doing was on a computer, using the internet, you know, and I could do from my house and I would talk to my project manager and practice managers there and I would kind of break it down to them. I even did research one time and figured out like what we were paying for square footage in the office building at downtown Denver and the money we could save and I presented them this big thing and they’re just like, “Nope, not having it.”
And then I got pregnant in 2002, gave birth in 2003, and I was going to go on maternity leave, I banked a bunch of like sick time, vacation time, PTO, all this stuff and I was going to end up taking like five months off and they were like, “So you remember that work from home thing you talked about? Like, how do you feel about doing that?” And so I actually started my first foray into working virtual and it was really cool because they were able to see that I was not just producing, like, the minimum viable work to kind of count. I was actually doing better work because I was working when I wanted to, instead of, you know, being forced to clock in at 7:00 and being forced to stay there until, you know, 4:00 when they said I was done. I was doing more at midnight when I was awake.
Andrew: I don’t know how, I tried working from home yesterday, it’s so distracting. There’s so many different things to eat. There’s so many different things you need to tend to. I start to put stuff away when I don’t usually put stuff away.
Trivinia: That’s really interesting. I think it really takes a special kind of person to work from home and it takes a lot of discipline. I worked from home in a little office for a really long time. When my family and I moved to Georgia a couple of years ago, one of our requirements is that I wanted a separate office space. So I’m actually coming to you from a little kind of cottage house that’s on our property and now I have about 150 yard walk to our main home and that separation helps me a lot.
Andrew: Yeah, that would help me too. The other thing that happened I think last week, again, I worked a little bit from home, and Olivia, my wife, was working from home and that’s a no go because I’m talking on the phone, she’s talking on the phone, she’ll have a thought about something that she needs for me, I’ll realize that I don’t want to be distracted so I’ll be shut off and then I’m a jerk and all that.
Trivinia: My husband works alongside me now, Andrew, which is kind of funny because when we first started that, we worked in the same office in Colorado, we kind of had a long desk and Chris is his name and he . . . day one, I took a video of this and it’s such a funny visual, if you can imagine. I work in silence, I have no background noise, anything, no white noise and then here’s Chris with these big giant headphones on and you could hear the techno, like thumping around him, and he’s cracking sunflower seeds and just bouncing his head. “This is not going to work, honey, go elsewhere,” so he worked in our basement for a long time.
Andrew: So you got to work from home, you got your setup, why did you leave that company?
Trivinia: Well, they got bought out by a national anesthesia company and at that point, I’ve been working virtually for a long time and they said, “You know, come back into the office if you want to still have a job here,” and at that point I’m, like, six years into working at home and I was like, “Yeah, I’m good, thanks so much.” And so I went part time for them for a while and . . .
Andrew: From home or part time from the office?
Trivinia: Yeah, all from home at that point.
Andrew: Okay, so they agreed you could work from home but only if it’s part time and you at that point knew, “One foots now out of the door, I got to get my whole body out.”
Trivinia: Yeah, it just wasn’t going to work and at that point, we had a lot of stuff going on, we were doing foster care moving into adoption and life was just getting fairly chaotic for us. And so we decided we’re going to call it, I’m going to start getting my own freelance clients and I started doing that and then that’s when I got connected with a company that ended up ultimately pairing me with Michael Hyatt.
Andrew: What’s the company?
Trivinia: So it was called eaHELP at that time, now it’s called BELAY.
Andrew: And what they do is they help you get full time work with someone?
Trivinia: No, so they’re a virtual staffing company. They actually started as an outsourced bookkeeping company called Mag Bookkeeping, I have no desire to do bookkeeping, and then they branched off to be eaHELP at that point and that’s how I got connected with them. Again, just freelance contract work part time.
Andrew: What was it like working with Michael Hyatt? Michael Hyatt, how would you describe what he does?
Trivinia: Well, he’s a coach, really. I mean, that’s really what he does. He’s a leadership expert and coach. Now, he’s got masterminds and he’s got books and programs and software, all based on helping you live a life that you love, basically.
Andrew: And because he was an executive at a publishing company, I think he’s known for being the person who helps you get your voice online for saying, “I help these authors publish their ideas, I’m going to help you publish. If they did it on paper, you’re going to do it digitally, but we’re going to get you well known and build a platform for you.” What was it like . . . ?
Trivinia: Yeah, and when I started with him, he was a little bit different, right? His book platform had just come out and he was not speaking a ton, now he’s really built a beautiful empire. It reminds me very much of sort of, you know, John Maxwell Foundation or Dave Ramsey Foundation, where it’s sort of this conglomerate of a bunch of different avenues to help people in their entrepreneurial journey.
Andrew: And so what did you do for him and what did you learn by working with him?
Trivinia: Yeah, first, it was simple, it was just customer service. You know, he got a lot of emails, so I was doing that kind of stuff and it turned into being his executive assistant, managing his email and his calendar, his travel, things like that. And what did I learn? I learned a lot about myself, honestly. I learned so much about the things that I enjoyed, the things that I didn’t enjoy, the kind of team environment that I would thrive in or not. And I think most of all, I learned . . . this is interesting, I’ve never had this conversation with somebody. Most of all, I learned that I didn’t want a boss, I wanted a dad.
Andrew: What do you mean?
Trivinia: Well, Michael is a father of, you know, multiple daughters and he’s an incredible dad. He is so good at how he shows up for his kids and that’s sort of what he did as a team, right? We would be on a Zoom call before a webinar for a promo or something and he’d like pray, you know, and it was just like, “Oh, my gosh, he’s just this good fatherly figure.” And it just helped me understand that I didn’t really want a boss, I wanted someone to be more like a father figure to me. It was interesting.
Andrew: I’ve kind of gotten a sense from you that you’re somebody who wanted to be a boss from the beginning, like, even at an early age, you were a boss.
Trivinia: Yeah, I kind of like to run the show. Now, I didn’t realize that I would own my own company. I didn’t have any sort of entrepreneurial spirit where I was like, you know, selling Skittles out of my locker or something like that. But I knew I wanted to be in charge and that sort of came evidence . . . even when I was a young kid, I remember my grandmother was having brain surgery and my family is probably a little more on the uneducated side, if I can say that respectfully, and I remember having conversations with neurosurgeons about what was going to happen to my grandmother in the surgery and then me kind of going back and digesting that to my whole family. So I was sort of filled the leadership role in my family, even if it was, you know, me helping people through their relationship issues or cat fights between girls at school, I kind of ran the show and I really liked kind of being able to have a say in what happened and how.
Andrew: Is Chris someone who also likes to be the boss?
Trivinia: No, he’s not, we are the most opposite people. If you’ve ever taken a StrengthsFinder test, you know, my number one strength is responsibility and Chris . . . and my number 34 if you think of that as like being your weakness, if we’re really honest, my number 34 is adaptability and Chris’ number one is adaptability, so we are so unbelievably opposite. He’s a great balance for me because I’m pretty intense and he’s really laid back and calm and I’m freaking out about something and he very much is like, “It’s all going to be okay. We’re going to figure it out.”
Andrew: You know, my wife and I are different. We both like to be the boss of everything, we both like to decide where we’re going on Friday night, we both like to decide like what’s going to happen with the kid because he did this one thing this one moment. And one of the things that we got out of couples therapy was this exercise where we’re supposed to put our hands up like this against each other and then I’m supposed to lead and she’s supposed to lead and whatever I do with, like, touching hands, people who can’t see it we have our hands up kind of like in a “Don’t shoot me” position, but we’re touching.
And then, I’m supposed to move my hands and she’ll follow, then she’s going to move her hands and I follow and our whole bodies and we’re just supposed to let each other go back and forth and figure out who’s leading in the moment, just so we could learn how to both trust the other person to lead but also take the leadership ourselves and not get into conflict. It’s a challenge.
Trivinia: I love this idea, Chris and I should probably steal that and try it because one of the things that I have had to really work hard at doing and by no means I’m there yet, but, you know, I run Priority VA and I’m kind of giving orders and telling people what to do and helping navigate in a real leadership role here at Priority VA. But then, I would go home and I’d be kind of doing the same thing there and turning off and stopping my role of CEO to, like, be a mom, right? I tell people all the time I would have made one hell of a drill sergeant. I feel like I am a better drill sergeant than I am a mom sometimes, which is why this business is so important to me because the whole reason I started it was I wanted to be able to spend more time with my kids, right? Yeah, I got to lean into being a mom, though.
Andrew: Which sometimes means don’t argue with them, don’t guide them, just let them take their time getting where they want to go. One of the things I’ve learned with kids is if you need them to eat their vegetables and you say, “You have to eat your vegetables,” and keep pushing back when they say, “I don’t like it,” they’re never going to eat it. You got to be more subtle.
Trivinia: You know what, off topic a little bit, but it’s such an interesting thing I learned in therapy with one of our daughters who came to us via adoption, is that when you ask your kid, “Can you put your shoes on?” Like, they’re going to say no, like, “No.” Or, “Can you eat your peas?” Can you whatever. But if you just change the way that you talk to them, and I find this works with your team too, that if you say, for us it’s, “Miranda, please put your shoes on,” right? It’s a directive and they know that they’re expected to do it and you’re not giving them an option not to, so team building is just like children.
Andrew: I’ve heard that a lot, actually. When you were then working full time for someone, I could understand how you had your own responsibilities and it satisfied that inner boss. I wonder at what point did it . . . what parts of it rankled? What parts of it did you have to almost calm yourself down and force yourself to do?
Trivinia: What parts of being a job leader?
Andrew: The job, the full-time job, yeah. No, before.
Trivinia: Oh, man. Yeah, not getting in everybody’s business and telling them how they should do it because I thought my way was the right way, that was really hard.
Andrew: But you would even want to tell the boss?
Trivinia: Oh, all the time.
Andrew: All the time? Like, what?
Trivinia: All the time.
Andrew: What would you want to say?
Trivinia: So, you know, when I worked for the anesthesia group, you know, we’d be bringing physicians on all the time and I’d be doing my little onboarding stuff with them and then they leave and I’m like, “That guy is not going to work out,” and they were like, “What do you mean?” And I’m like, “Just trust me, it’s not going to work out.” And then, you know, a few months later, he’d be found in the hospital parking lot with a needle in his arm like strung out on fentanyl.
Trivinia: Literally, yes, that happened. You know, so I had this sort of intuition about people and I wanted my boss, I wanted the practice manager to sort of tap into that and to see it and to utilize it and, you know, I think a lot of times they just thought I was kind of crazy.
Andrew: So you’ve got this, like, boss instinct, entrepreneurial instinct. You could have gone the path of being a CEO or being an entrepreneur, but I wonder if you didn’t because of the background you came from. You kind of told us a little bit about it, you grew up in North Denver. What was that like? What were your parents like?
Trivinia: Yeah, so I didn’t know my biological father growing up, but my mom remarried when I was like three so kind of my stepdad was my dad, right, all growing up. And my mom’s a housekeeper, my dad was a laborer, a drywaller, and we lived in the ghetto. I remember when Chris first came to our home when we were dating, he’s driving and he’s like, “This is the ghetto,” and I was like, “Dude, you don’t say that to a girl you just met, like, yes, I know I live in the ghetto, it’s rough.” But, you know, we grew up kind of borderline poor. You know, my grandma lived with us and she got commodities and so I eat a lot of commodity cheese and canned grape juice and powdered eggs and . . .
Andrew: From the government?
Trivinia: From the government, yeah. And my parents worked really hard. They taught me the value of hard work because their jobs were physical, right? When they came home, they were tired. But it also showed me that I didn’t want to be like that, right? That I didn’t want to live paycheck to paycheck and I wanted to . . . you know, back then in the ’80s and early ’90s, like, Keds were the cool shoes, right? They were cool and Z Cavaricci were the cool pants and we just didn’t have that kind of stuff. I wore Kmart clothes. You know, my mom would go to Kmart at the end of the school year and, like, put stuff on layaway so that I could have stuff for the beginning of the school year and it was like you got three outfits and you made it work, right?
Andrew: Wow. And so you knew you didn’t want to be that, my sense is . . . and this is just me theorizing here so you correct me. My sense is if you would have listened to an interview like this, if you would have met someone like Amy Porterfield and seen what was possible, your life could have gone . . . maybe not in a different direction but you could have gotten to this, to building your own company sooner. Am I wrong about that?
Trivinia: Yeah, I think that if I would have saw that there was even a thing such as entrepreneurship, you know? And you have to remember, all I saw were my folks doing jobs, like go to work, you know, work 10 hours a day, and keep putting the time in and maybe you’ll get to take a vacation one year after you stay there for a long time. I think it would have put a little sparkle in my eye to start something on my own because I feel very much like an accidental entrepreneur. I didn’t, like, have this bright idea of starting this big business. It really just kind of came to me. You know, I was at the anesthesia group and I was matching doctors at hospitals. Well, that’s really all I’m doing right now, I’m matching entrepreneurs with executive assistants.
Andrew: Right, the same matching process except it’s not only . . . forget making you more money, but now it’s giving you more control of creating the life that you want. But you were at that anesthesia group for 12 years and then you were with Michael Hyatt, according to your LinkedIn profile, for what, like three years or so? But there’s an overlap. How did you go from working with him to saying, “I’m going to take on other clients?”
Trivinia: So a writer that was working for Amy Porterfield who also was doing some freelance stuff for Michael Hyatt knew that Amy was hiring and I was only with Michael for 20 hours a week and so I was like, “Well, I need more clients, I’ll take more,” so I started working with Amy. And hers was like 5 or 10 hours a week at first and then it just started increasing and increasing and pretty soon, it got to the point where I had to decide, “What are you going to do?” Everyone wants your time, right? And they are both very intense entrepreneurs and I was like, “I got to decide, do I want to work with Michael all the time or do I want to work with Amy?”
And I remember talking to Michael and saying like, “If I could just kind of cut back like five hours a week, like, just five more, that’ll allow me a little bit of breathing room.” We had a foster kid at the time that was an infant and so I thought it would just help me kind of breathe and he said, “You know, like, do you want to just be all in or all out? Like, what do you want to do?” And at that point, I just knew that I could not do the things that Michael needed or wanted.
He at that point was starting to grow his team and I knew he wanted, you know, to have a team that was close to him. I remember him asked me like, “Will you move to Nashville?” and I was like, “No,” you know? And so that’s when I chose to, you know, just go all in with Amy and did that for a few years until similarly, her team was growing in a way that I didn’t want to have a boss and I wanted to be my own boss and so then, you know, I went all in on Priority VA.
Andrew: You know what, one little detail that I love about being my own boss is this smallest thing that doesn’t matter to anyone, the idea that I could just go work from some random place in San Francisco tomorrow without having to tell anyone. That I can get on my bike and then go to the Exploratorium museum and not say, “Well, I’ll take my laptop with me,” or whatever it is, I’ll get it done on my phone in front of it and that’s a big thing for me. What is it for you?
Trivinia: Yeah, I think for me, it’s a couple things. It’s not having to type in the out of office Slack channel that I need to go to the bathroom. It’s definitely that. And more, it’s about me structuring my day. You know, some days I wake up at 5:30 and I am a ball of energy and I can get a ton of stuff done and then I’m done at 11:00 and I don’t touch the computer and other days, I don’t even get started until 2:00 because that’s just the way my day is shaped up. And that, I think, is what entrepreneurship has really meant for me, it is truly designing my own life. You know, we’re doing this in, what, Q1 of 2020, I took the last six weeks of 2019 completely off grid, I didn’t check the email, I didn’t check the phone, anything at all and I did that by design and I wouldn’t have been able to do that working for someone else.
Andrew: So was it Amy who started to talk to you about . . . talk about you on her podcasts and started to raise your profile a little bit?
Trivinia: Yeah, Michael had mentioned me a few times in his blog and maybe a couple on his first podcast but Amy really was vocal about me and the support that I brought to her and that’s when things kind of started taking off. I’d get random emails or messages on Facebook and that’s when I was like, “Okay, I think I can help these people,” because what I was realizing is that at first everyone is like, “Do you have more time?” and then I was like, “I’m just going to get myself in the same boat that I did with Amy and Michael, can’t do that.” But what I realized is that they didn’t care about me, they just wanted someone that they could trust. And that’s really what all entrepreneurs want, is they want kind of a partner that’s going to be their work wife or work buddy that they can trust when things are going well or not.
Andrew: And so they were coming to you, they were finding your email address?
Trivinia: Well, yeah, they find my random email, like hit me through my trivinia@amyporterfield email and then I’d be like, you know, kind of talked to them like, “Oh, don’t email me here, like, please email me, you know, my Priority VA email or, you know, searching through my profile in Facebook.”
Andrew: But at the time, they were just hunting you down before you even had the Priority VA? Or did you have the Priority VA . . .
Trivinia: Yeah, I had to start Priority VA because, obviously, I was working as a contractor, right? And so I wanted to have a business entity and so that’s where Priority VA came into it, but it was just me, you know, trying to be a legit business working as a contractor, I had no idea it turned into a little boutique agency.
Andrew: And so at some point, you said, “I can’t do this but I bet I can find someone for you.”
Andrew: And will you charging anything, charging different between the price?
Trivinia: Not at first.
Trivinia: Andrew, I was so stupid at first, it was really scrappy and I just really kind of wanted to get proof of concept, right, of like, “Can I do this?”
Andrew: So you were starting already to think about, “This could be a thing that I do.”
Andrew: Got it, okay.
Trivinia: It wasn’t necessarily “This could be a thing that I do,” it really came from a heart of service, right, of like, “Well, I could help people,” and that’s why initially, I didn’t charge anything for it. And I made several matches and things sort of were going well with those people and then we got . . . I don’t remember exactly the story of how it all happen, but we got Social Media Examiner and I was like, “Oh, this is like a real company that wants us, okay”
Andrew: Got them for what?
Andrew: Got them for what? As a client?
Trivinia: Yeah, as a client. Yeah, they wanted us to match them . . . Phil Mershon was sort of the second in command at Social Media Examiner and he reached out and we connected him with his EA and then a couple other people on their team wanted executive assistants and we placed several with them. And that was such a funny time, Andrew, because I was so new and so green and Michael Stelzner was brilliant and he was like, “I ain’t signing a contract,” and I was like, “Okay.” I totally did it without a contract, it was so terrible.
Andrew: Was it terrible?
Trivinia: It was terrible later, because when they started . . . you know, they had more EAs working more hours and then they wanted to buy out their EAs and I didn’t have anything to fall back on. So, yeah, it was a good learning experience for me and they were honorable in it, but I got to learn the art of negotiation in a new way and I got to . . .
Andrew: Michael is good that way. Michael comes across to me as a guy . . . if you look at his website, it looks like a standard blog with a nice template that he’d had for years. I don’t think he wears flip flops but he wears like a Hawaiian shirt a lot, so I always assumed he’s just like a casual nice guy.
Trivinia: He is.
Andrew: I just had a few people to lunch at a conference, he is, in his mind and then verbally, sizing up everything at the conference, pricing it out, “What it would cost to do this? How do they structure that?”
Trivinia: He’s brilliant.
Andrew: He is constantly on to the level that you wouldn’t believe. Have a conversation with him about anything business related, you realize that T-shirt or that shirt is just for comfort, the guy is all business suit up in the head.
Trivinia: Absolutely, but it was a great learning experience for me. I feel like so much of this business, you know, since really 2012, 2013, I’ve had a lot of really hard learned lessons about what to do and what not to do and that was one of them about, you know, don’t do things without a contract. It doesn’t matter who the person is, that you still need to be able to, you know, go back on the legal things to make sure you’re protected.
Andrew: You know what, I do think there are times when you can’t say, “I have to send you a contract, sign this or else,” here’s a good backup for that. An email with understanding where you say, “All right, I understand you don’t want to contract so I’ll just quickly write up the things that we discussed in our understanding of how we’ll work together,” and then you have like seven bullet points. Even if you have 12 bullet points, you’re clear and we all understand, you go back to draw on that and in some ways, that’s even more helpful than the legal document.
Trivinia: Yeah, yeah. Ultimately, it didn’t matter because, you know, Michael’s a fair man and so that worked out. But, again, I think that as a lot of us kind of accidental entrepreneurs stumble into this arena, I think we’ve got to be looking out ahead for what could happen, right? I didn’t think anything would happen, so, yeah, good lessons.
Andrew: All right. First sponsor is a company called HostGator. I’m looking at the very first version of your website, the one that has like your phone number on it and Chris’ phone number on it. It’s just like a really basic website, which feeds into the first sponsor, which is HostGator. If there’s anyone out there who’s doing something even as a freelancer and don’t have a website for it because you think LinkedIn and whatever and Instagram is enough, I really urge you to have a website.
The reason that I think you should have a website for it is it feels more real to other people who are checking you out, it allows you to control your message in a way that is more professional than just hoping somebody lands on the right LinkedIn and the right this and trusts just that. Number three reason to do it is because you get an email address, which again, adds another level of professionalism when you send a message from your own email address. I for a long time had a guy named Sachit Gupta, and still do, I think we’ve been . . . do you know him?
Trivinia: I do know him.
Andrew: He’s been repping my ads for years and years, did it kind of casually so for a while there, he was using his Gmail address, I gave him an @mixergy address. And for a long time, what he would do is he would say, “I also can represent other podcasts, I also can represent other creators,” and I think people just assumed that he was my guy full time or something or that he was just doing it kind of on the side. Then he went on, he got his own website, he got his own email address and then when he started emailing people from that, they understood, “Oh, he’s the guy who represents creators.”
They clicked over to look at his website, because we’re all smart people, we know to take off the stuff before the @ in an email address, look at the domains, see what the person is about. And so they did that and he was able to get himself taken more seriously and allowed his business to grow. If you’re out there listening to me and you don’t have a website for whatever it is that you’re doing, forget business, even if it’s a side gig, even if it’s just a passion project, go to hostgator.com/mixergy, you can very quickly create a website for it and then who knows where it will go? Maybe it’ll just be an interesting website that you have that will be a relic of your past or maybe it’ll grow up the way that we’re hearing here today, into a business that takes over your life and allows you to live the life that you want.
hostgator.com/mixergy is the URL you go to. Frankly, I’m going to tell you the number one benefit is to me, I hate to say it but it’s true, you’re going to give me credit for sending you over which will do really good stuff for my relationship with my sponsor, but number two, you will save some money but their price is already so low that I’ll be honest with you, you only going to save a few pennies a month by using that URL. Still, it is an upside and what I’ve noticed is entrepreneurs love saving money. So go do it, go to hostgator.com/mixergy, you’ll see a list of features, I’m not going to go through that list.
They’re good people and if you ever have a problem with them or any of my other sponsors, just contact me and my team will take care of you. We’ll help you out. hostgator,com/mixergy.
So you’re starting to get clients. At some point, you say, “I think I can charge a little bit more for the VA’s work than I am paying the VA,” so you’re going to start to get the payment directly to you?
Andrew: And then what’s the spread? What were you charging? What were you paying?
Trivinia: Yeah, I was charging clients $20 an hour and I was paying EAs $18 an hour.
Andrew: So two bucks an hour? And what did you think of that?
Trivinia: Two bucks an hour and I thought, “Hey, you know, I’m not doing much,” right? It’s like I make the match, I just have to kind of do the invoicing, no big deal, didn’t even take into consideration the 3% credit card fees. It was rough. And I remember Michael Hyatt, again, he’s told me some little golden nuggets throughout the years but he’s like, “I don’t like low margin businesses, Trivinia, like, you got to figure out a way to get those margins up.” Right?
So I learned a lot about that too but, yeah, I mean, I did I think what all kind of novice business owners do, like, I went to 99designs, and I got a logo, and we got our website and I was so convinced that if I didn’t have a logo, I wasn’t a business, right? Like, “We need a website, like, we’re not a business if we don’t do it.” I was everywhere. I was in every Facebook group known to man. I was scouring Craigslist for EAs or for clients who wanted assistance and just doing a ton of cold outreach trying to grow this thing.
Andrew: Cold outreach to get your . . . wait, so what’s the problem with just making $2 an hour? Two dollars an hour for . . . let’s just suppose you were to book them for 40 hours a week, which I know would end up being less than that, it comes out to $80 a week per VA. What’s the problem with that?
Trivinia: I think it just was . . . and I used to say this as sort of a badge of honor, right? I was like, for me, it’s going to be less about margin and more about volume and that was fine and it was great. There were periods where we had, you know, over 100 clients and like 80 executive assistants and it just got chaotic to manage all of those relationships, right? And then at $2 an hour, I didn’t have a lot of margin to then pay other people to start managing those relationships for me and it worked great when it was just all me, like, it was totally fine. But when I wanted to start to grow it and step out of more of the day-to-day, I ran out of time and money and so we had to figure out a way to increase our revenues and really be able to add more value to the clients as well, you know, because I didn’t want to be a task-based service. That was like problem number two is that we were all things to all people.
Andrew: All right, let’s come back to all things to all people in a moment, because I think that that’s an interesting problem to solve. But you were cold outreach, you mentioned earlier, to get customers. Who did you cold outreach to and how did you get customers?
Trivinia: Yeah, so Facebook groups were huge, at that point. I would be answering . . .
Andrew: What type of Facebook groups?
Andrew: What type?
Trivinia: Any kind of entrepreneurial Facebook groups, there’s a ton, there’s hundreds of virtual assistant Facebook groups where clients, potential clients would pop in and they’d say, “You know, job op, I need an executive assistant to do my graphics and my social media and my podcast editing,” and all the things and I’d respond like, “My company is Priority VA, here’s how I can help you.” So we did a lot of that. Similarly, on Craigslist, I would be searching for keywords, I use “IFTTT” a lot to have things sent to me so that I could respond to people who were looking for remote executive assistant or administrative assistant and then I’d teach them about virtual assistants. Yeah, it was pretty scrappy.
Andrew: What worked best?
Trivinia: The Facebook groups, for sure.
Andrew: Facebook groups?
Trivinia: Yeah, because I felt like I was already on Facebook, right? I had a lot of . . . not a lot, you know, but I had a few thousand kind of friends on Facebook, so I looked kind of more legitimate. They could see that I was, you know, working for Amy or Michael, I felt like I kind of legitimize myself a little bit there. Cold outreach on Craigslist was probably the worst because you would get some real interesting people and then you were like, “I don’t know, you know, now they have my personal email address or whatever, I don’t know if I should have done that.”
Andrew: Did it work at all on Craigslist?
Trivinia: Did it work well?
Andrew: Were you able to get any clients on Craigslist? It’s so hit or miss.
Trivinia: Yeah, yeah.
Andrew: You were? So it was a lot of trouble but it was worth the trouble?
Trivinia: Exactly. It was worth it because at that point, what I was trying to do was figure out what were the types of things we wanted to be doing to serve people, right? So what kind of clients do we want to have and what kind of talent could I get to be paying them, you know, 18 bucks an hour? And then at that point, it was like, “Well, could I pay them $15 an hour? You know, what was the lowest threshold that I could get to still get good talent?”
Andrew: And so you kept that model and what you needed to play with, if I understand, was what you were paying and what you were collecting.
Andrew: That’s it?
Andrew: Okay, you never switched to task-based services. I know that there are a few people who do that. No?
Trivinia: We tried. You might be familiar with Ari Meisel, maybe?
Andrew: Yeah, I know him but I didn’t know he was in this space in any way.
Trivinia: So he owned a virtual staffing company at one point, it was very much task-based, and then he split with one of his partners and I hired him as a coach for a while and he suggested that we do a very much task-based, Fancy Hands-ish, you know, type of thing. And we tried and just the management of it was so cumbersome for what we would get. So we tried for a year in 2018 and I killed it. I was like, “This is a piece of work and not very [inaudible 00:33:46].”
Andrew: What are some of the tasks that you would do?
Trivinia: Anything from, you know, putting Facebook pixels on websites to, you know, booking a hotel or a flight, doing things like, you know, research. I’m like, “You need a research company to be doing research, you do not need some random executive assistants,” so it was so random. And the challenge for us became I am very much relationship-focused and having this sort of nameless, faceless person doing a thing for you when all I’m doing is preaching that you need your person that you can trust that has training so you can get traction and then I felt like I was doing the exact opposite thing with this task-based service.
Andrew: Yeah, wonder how Fancy Hands does it? I find that the task-based services are really good when they’re dealing with one type of thing. Like, if it’s someone who handles Infusionsoft email, all they do is that, a task that you send them is, “Here is my Google Doc, turn it into an email and send it out.” That makes sense but I don’t know how Fancy Hands goes to anything, including, like you said, research. We’ve used them to research some guests in the past, they do decent work but . . .
Trivinia: Yeah. I’ve often said that anytime something requires subjectivity, I think you need your person, right? I think you need someone consistent who’s going to get to know Andrew and his brand and his sort of, you know, little methodologies of doing things. If it’s rote, then fine, you can have somebody else do that or you can use offshore support that you’re paying six bucks an hour. But when you need someone who’s going to represent you and your customers . . . or to your customers, man, you’ve got to have someone who’s actually invested in knowing you and them.
Andrew: And my way. Like, for example, somebody who put together my Google Doc, it’s Andrea, my virtual assistant who I’ve worked with now for the better part of a decade, she knew that I would want to see what your website looked like in the early days and so she got me that and those types of things that you need to know and it takes some time to build a relationship for. You were managing all these people . . . actually, you know what, you told me earlier that you were doing everything for everyone, I wrote a note to come back to that. How did you figure out what to focus on?
Trivinia: You know, I was in a mastermind with Todd Herman and he was giving me a really hard time and he’s just like, “You need to pick a niche, Trivinia, you have to pick a niche,” and I was like, “Yeah, yeah.” Because we were Infusionsoft-certified and we were DigitalMarketer-certified and I was going through his 90 Day Year certification, I mean, I was just like, “We’re going to rack up all these certifications so that we can just please everyone.” And what I realized is that we were doing really good at getting the volumes of people in but they wouldn’t stick around, once their little thing was done, then they were gone, right? And I just wanted those long-term collaborative relationships.
And so what we looked at is at our spread of clients, those who had been with us the longest, those EAs who really had great reputations with us and we were like, “What are those people doing?” And it all came back to very traditional executive assistant stuff, manage my calendar, my email, my projects, my life, right? Manage me as an entrepreneur and that’s where we were crushing it. And so we stopped trying to do, you know, graphics, social media, podcast editing and all of that and, like, just did away with all of that stuff and went back to kind of tried and true EA work.
Andrew: You know what, email is something that keeps coming up in your conversation with my producer, Arie, in our conversation here today. What do virtual assistants do for email?
Trivinia: Yeah, a lot of them will use their own branded emails, our contractors use their own emails, we don’t have them . . .
Andrew: No, what I mean is what type of email work are they doing?
Trivinia: Oh, my gosh. So, yeah, I like to say that . . . I learned this from Taki Moore, he said at random comment in a Facebook group probably six years ago and he said, “You know, what if instead of us trying to get to inbox zero, we had zero inbox?” And I was like, “Ooh, I like that, how can I make that happen?” And so I really went on a mission to do it for myself, like how can I truly get out of email? At that point, I was only getting maybe 30 emails a day, it was not a ton but I still wanted to do it. And so for us, we worked at creating a process on how we could teach our EAs, my EA specifically at first, how to handle and process my email.
And so a lot of it was using something like Help Scout, right? So all the email goes into Help Scout for us and then I would just like comment on notes like, “This guy is part of mastermind talks community, I want every single email from this person,” right, because he’s sort of a VIP in my world. “This is junk, you can just unsubscribe from this.” And it took a little bit of back and forth but it’s just deciding what to do with that email, creating a process around what happens with that email and then documenting that, right? And then, really, just detaching from the outcome and trusting that your team is going to do with it what you have, you know, trained them to do.
Andrew: Right now for many people who are listening to us, their email is a Gmail inbox and they’re going into it themselves. You’re saying move it from there into Help Scout, which is collaborative email meant usually for customer support, and the benefit of that is we can leave messages for our virtual assistant on people’s messages so they know what to do with it.
Trivinia: Exactly, and then there’s a record of it too, right? So, if someone comes into my email, a new email, let’s say Gary emails me, well, my team can search in Help Scout, “Oh, look, well, there is, you know, the last time Trivinia talked to Gary and this is what they talked about,” and so it just allows a little bit of transparency of what’s going on. Now, don’t get me wrong, you don’t have to have Help Scout. I think this is absolutely doable just, you know, sharing your credentials of Gmail and letting your EA get into your inbox.
Andrew: Actually, Gmail has a way of passing on . . . I forget what it’s called, of authorizing someone else to answer your email without giving them your username and password, right?
Trivinia: Exactly, and they can, you know, create . . . my EA used to be able to, you know, just reply as her but from my inbox, right? And so she’d be like, “Hey, this is Kate, I saw this before Trivinia did,” so it’s super transparent, it’s not like . . .
Andrew: Right, but with Gmail, they have to say that that’s who it is. I wish Gmail was better about putting, you know, “Someone via Andrew’s inbox” in the “From” line but they don’t do that versus Help Scout which does allow that type of thing to be done more easily. You know, the first time that I noticed that happened was Drew Houston, the founder of Dropbox, he and I were emailing and then at one point, I emailed him about something like, “Do you want to come over for scotch at my house?”
I don’t think that’s too personal, it’s just that his assistant jumped in and said, “He’s not here that day,” and I said, “That’s great, I got a quick response, she’s checking the email, this is wonderful, but who knew you could have somebody else check your email?” And the thing that went to my head was, “Isn’t he worried about the dangers, the risk of handing over his email?” Aren’t you? Shouldn’t I be? If somebody is looking at my inbox, they have access to everything at that point. They really could screw me over.
Trivinia: Well, I think then that goes back to your hiring process, right? And are we hiring people just based on, like, interest and availability and affordability, or are we hiring people because they’re passionate about you and what you do and they have a purpose in their business, you know, and they’re actually proficient at what you brought them on to do? I think that if we’ve got the right people on our team, we’re not going to get it right 100% of the time, but I think that’s less of a worry if you’re hiring somebody you can actually trust. And I’ve never had that problem of being like, “Oh, I don’t want Sara in my inbox,” so then that’s the wrong fit for you.
Andrew: I have someone that I trust and that’s true, I still had a lot of trust issues around it. It’s not even about trusting them, it’s what happens if somebody sends me a personal message about an issue, I don’t know, that they don’t want anyone else to know about. And then, I just have to accept it, I can’t live the other way, if I’m in my inbox all the time and I’ve got . . . and I literally was at 150 a day at one point, it’s just too much, nobody gets a response including a person who has this personal issue for me and then my assistant stays away from those.
Trivinia: One thing that you might consider and some people do this is that they have . . . I have one now as well, but it’s called a lockdown email. I learned this when I worked with Michael and it was just a very private email, you know, my husband, my accountant and a couple other people had it and if it was something that, like, I absolutely needed to see and respond to, then my assistant would, you know, push it to the private email. Or if it’s something that, you know, is super private, then people know, you know, they’ve got to email me at that private email but not everybody has that, a handful of people.
Andrew: I did that and I couldn’t maintain it, I realized that the people who really need me privately are going to text me and if my wife has a really long thing to do, she can tell me about it at dinner or she could text me a Google Doc link.
Trivinia: It’s just better to have no inbox, so don’t worry about it.
Andrew: Yeah, actually, I literally wrote down that phrase that you mentioned, “Instead of getting to inbox zero, have zero inbox.” That’s the future, that’s the way to go. All right, let me talk about my second sponsor and then I want to come back in and see how you grew this business beyond just using Excel spreadsheets to manage it. My second sponsor is a company called Toptal. I told you before we started that I was going to use Toptal as a sponsor and you said that you refer people to them. What type of people do you refer to Toptal?
Trivinia: Yeah, again, this became that whole thing where we were trying to do all of the things, right? “And do you know someone that knows CSS? And do you know someone that knows Drupal?” and we were just like, “Oh my gosh.” And at first, I would try to find people and I’m like, “I don’t know how to do this. I wouldn’t even know how to vet if someone actually had the credentials to be helping you with this kind of development stuff.” And so we just started . . . I looked and asked a client of ours, his name is Dev Basu, and I said like, “Who would you refer to for these types of things?” and he said, “Hands down, Toptal.” So that’s how we got to know them.
Andrew: Toptal is phenomenal. I’ve talked a lot here about how if someone out there is looking to hire a developer, Toptal is the place to go. I’ve talked a little bit about how . . . Trivinia, I had this issue where we were bringing in more and more revenue but profits were going down. I said, “What is going on?” And I went to Toptal and I said, “Can you bring somebody who can help me figure this stuff out and I need an outside CFO,” and they introduced me to someone, to Jack, and frankly, four other people. Usually they only give me two people, in this case, they gave me five because I think I wasn’t clear about what I wanted.
I ended up with Jack, not only was he helpful in helping me cut costs, like you mentioned earlier, credit card fees are really high. Whenever I hear Walmart complain about credit card fees being high, I think, “It’s them, that doesn’t really relate to me,” and then I realized, “No, we had that issue too.” Jack kept looking at it and he goes, “These numbers are really high, let me take a look and see what I can do.” We negotiated those down. I had no idea you could negotiate those down. So they ended up being in the thousands and thousands of dollars, that type of thing that you don’t notice because it’s just a few pennies at a time and it often doesn’t even hit QuickBooks until much later.
Actually, what happens is if we charge $25, we see in QuickBooks $23, so there’s not a clear line item saying here is how many thousands of dollars we’re taking away from credit card fees. Anyway, he got obsessed with it, he noticed it, he helped us improve our bottom line and that’s the beauty of Toptal. Yes, they have developers, I’ve also talked a little bit about how they have designers, but they also have finance people, people who work for some of the major finance companies and business management companies. Or people who’ve just gone through MBA school if you need someone who is younger and newer to help you increase your profit, help you organize your business, help you think through the future and also help you, if you’re raising money, organize your data in a way that will allow you to communicate well with investors.
Go to toptal.com/mixergy and when you do, you’ll get 80 hours of Toptal developer credit for free when you pay for your first 80 hours in addition to a no risk trial period. They’re not offering this to anyone else. If you need this, use this URL, it’s “top” as in top of your head, “tal” as in talent, T-O-P-T-A-L dot com slash M-I-E-X-E-R-G-Y, toptal.com/mixergy.
When you got to 20 EAs, you told our producer how you were managing all those relationships. How are you doing that?
Trivinia: Yeah, Excel spreadsheets and Evernote and I thought it was so cool. I really thought that I had such a great system down.
Andrew: I bet you did. Can you describe what it looks like? Before we talk about how you got better, I want to see how you were thinking when you were using these simple programs. What you do in Excel?
Trivinia: Yeah, so I had tabs of EAs and potential clients and the EA tab would link to the potential clients I thought they might work with and then I had other tabs of like their personal information and other clients that they worked for. And I had all of these, just millions of tabs in Excel, thinking that I was organizing the information in a way that was going to have me be able to retrieve it fast because that’s what I needed, right? I’m looking at one client and I’ve got 70 resumes here and like, “Who am I going to position them with?” And I’m an incredibly visual person so I thought, “Okay, I’ll just get it all, like, lined out in Excel.” Then we switch to Zoho and I thought, “Oh, this is cool. I can have like a little card for each person.”
Andrew: Zoho has a . . . anything that’s out there, they will basically copy and make cheaper. I interviewed the founder of Zoho, I said, “Can this really be a business model?” And he told me about how much money WordPerfect was still making and goes, “Yeah, you might think that everyone is using Microsoft Word but let me tell you about these other companies.” So that’s his model. You used his CRM?
Trivinia: Yeah, we used him CRM and then, again, this is one of those things that I thought . . . I was working with Amy and she was on Infusionsoft and I said, “Oh, I guess I think I need Infusionsoft,” right? I made a list of like 200 people and I started paying for Infusionsoft because I thought we might as well just build all of our campaigns and, like, build it from the ground up instead of like having to do it more complicated later. And I would use Evernote to put my presentations together for the EAs when I was, like, pitching an EA to a client and just say like, “Here’s who we chose for you and here’s why,” and I’d use all of their personality profiles and have their picture up there. It was very scrappy. It was so scrappy. Now that I look at it how we used to do things and it just was messy. I mean, I felt like it was great but it was very messy.
Andrew: And somewhere around 20 virtual assistants that . . . we keep using VA and EA almost interchangeably and it is, a virtual assistant is someone who works for you virtually, not in your office, and the work that they do is executive assistants work, meaning email and . . .
Trivinia: So let me clarify, though, because a lot of your listeners may have had experience with virtual assistants or executive assistants. Think of virtual assistants as assistants, not people but as an industry, think of it as an industry because you might have graphic designer virtual assistants or copywriter virtual assistants, right? We focus on the executive assistant in that space.
Andrew: Your prices are pretty high, 1,600 a month for 40 hours a month.
Trivinia: They are.
Andrew: I’ve seen people charge low like a third of that. Why high? Yeah, why high?
Trivinia: We chose to go high because I want it to be the best that we could provide as far as quality and service for what we are getting. Again, when I started, I was charging $20 an hour and I was paying $18 an hour. And then, I started finding the level of clients that were coming to us, you know, Todd Herman is looking for an executive assistant, he did not want an $18 an hour virtual assistant, right? He needed somebody who is going to be performing at, like, a $40 an hour virtual assistant level.
And so, you know, for a long time, we had EAs that we were charging 30 and then we bumped up to 35 and then it went up to 40. I found that 40 is our top. We can’t really do higher than that and still make it make sense financially for people to do it, especially because we have a 10-hour per week minimum requirement, but 40 is because I think that’s what I’m confident that our EAs are worth.
Andrew: I went for one of the cheaper services, I remember I read “The 4-Hour Workweek” and at first I thought, “Oh, this whole thing . . . ” Before I even read it, I dismissed the whole book and then I read it and I understood, “Oh, yeah, he’s kind of using an interesting title to get attention but it’s talking all these little life hacks that he uses.” And so I thought, “I’m going to try some of the cheap virtual assistant services that are in India or Eastern Europe and all that,” and I couldn’t make them work. And then finally, I sent a message to Ramit Sethi and I said, “Where do you get your virtual assistants because these people that I’m working with, I can’t make it work?”
And then he blew my mind, he said, “I just work with people in the U.S. and I pay them more,” and I go, “Right, he’s a cheap guy, if he can’t make it work on the cheap, then maybe I can’t either.” And then I ended up through a friend finding somebody who was here in the U.S. and it cost more but it was worth it, the quality . . . I’m not saying that you can’t get somebody great in the Philippines that you’re going to end up boasting to your friends that you only pay $4 an hour to. I just wasn’t able to make it work for what I needed and I needed somebody who was basically going to be me.
Trivinia: Well, right, and that I think is the differentiating factor. Again, we go back to that whole idea of rote tasks versus subjective tasks, right? I say all the time, I believe that entrepreneurs should be outsourcing outcomes and not tasks, right? You want tasks, go to Philippines and do all that, that works great for a lot of people. But what many of us need if we’re really going to grow our businesses is really a strategic partner and you’re not going to get somebody who’s going to be caring as much about your business as you do when you’re paying them, you know, 8 bucks an hour or 12 bucks an hour or whatever. They need to be making a decent wage.
And I can say that because I was the lady working for very high intense entrepreneurs, where people would actually say, “I want you to be available 24/7 but I don’t want to pay for it.” And I felt that having been in that EA seat, I want to pay these men and women who are working for me a living wage. They’re contractors, right? So they’ve got to pay taxes on all of that too and I want them to be able to wake up every day and come to work for us knowing that they’re getting treated the way that I believe that they deserve to be treated for the work that they’re providing.
Andrew: So now you’ve got people . . . I’m curious about software because you told our producer that that’s something that you just didn’t know at first. I think the first version of your website was pretty basic but it worked. At some point, you learned about Leadpages for creating landing pages, right? What would you use a landing page for?
Trivinia: My husband would just create landing pages on Leadpages for us to do opt-ins and things like that for us. We did a lot of webinars for our team, for our EAs, right? So we would host these, like, training webinars for them and we would have them . . .
Andrew: And you need them to register so that they could learn your way?
Trivinia: Yeah, so that they could, you know, get to understand our methodologies and what we would do. We also had a pretty significant amount of time where we would bring in different trainers to come, so I might bring in somebody about creating visual graphics, right? And so we want our EAs to register for that webinar, so we used Leadpages a lot for that. So our little tech stack has changed a lot over the years, Leadpages and the cheesy WordPress site to now where we’re pretty in bed with Airtable, it’s a huge part of how we do our business.
Andrew: What do you do on Airtable? Airtable is like . . . they call themselves like a spreadsheet with superpowers, but I think that’s because they don’t want to intimidate people. It’s a database.
Trivinia: It is.
Andrew: Right? And so what do you do with it?
Trivinia: So all of our hiring process goes through Airtable, we’ve created a really robust process for, you know, applicants hit our website and they interview or they fill out their little form for us.
Andrew: And when they fill out a form, it goes into Airtable, just like if you use a form with Google Sheets, it goes into the Google Spreadsheet. Then, what’s the next step? What did you do with it?
Trivinia: So, if you think of Pipedrive, like, you can run people through Pipedrive to, like, get to the next stage of what they’re doing. So we do that, some of it is automated, some of it is manual, my team is clicking through and approving someone based on a test that they took, you know, for whether or not they could . . .
Andrew: Because what would happen is they fill out the form with Airtable, not only can you have a standard spreadsheet view, but you can also have column views. You use each column as a different step of your hiring process so as soon as they fill out the form, their data goes into column number one, somebody takes action on them, maybe they decide to move them in and ask them to take a test or maybe they decide it’s just not a good fit. If they do, they move . . . if they think it’s a good fit, they move them one column over, if they think it’s not a good fit, maybe they automate something that sends out a message saying, “Sorry, it’s not a good fit right now.” Got it.
Trivinia: Exactly. And then similarly, we do this with our clients, right? So my team is on the call, it used to be me all the time but my team is on a sales call with a potential client. We’ve got some information already in there that they filled out pre-phone call and then they’re typing in, you know, notes from their call and then at the end, it’s like a drop-down menu, right? How many hours per week? You know, what’s the contracted rate? What’s the setup fee? All of that. They click a button and then it’s automatically sending a contract via HelloSign, populates welcome emails via Infusionsoft. I love it. It streamlined things for us so much.
Andrew: Yeah, I didn’t know this. So HelloSign sends out contracts to people and you could automate that using Zapier if you’re paying for the HelloSign software, instead of using the free version. How do you get into this, into all of these different software? You’re someone who seems at the beginning to not have known about it all?
Trivinia: I’m not, and this is the beauty of hiring people that know how to do things better than you. So my husband is absolutely incredibly techy and he and a gal on our team who is now our chief operations director, Monica, she loves Zapier. She was learning it and she said, “I just want to look at all the tools that Zapier might be able to help us, like, knock out hours.” She was working, you know, 20 hours a week for us. We implemented Zapier and a lot of the automation, it took down, like, automatically like four hours a week of work for her. And so it just helped us do more faster and it works great for us.
Andrew: I feel like almost Zapier programmer will at some point become not a job title, but a job, somebody who can just fix your business using nothing but “coding” using Zapier. That’s a thing.
Trivinia: Yeah, and I think it takes a different type of mind too, right? So I would sort of look at things and be like, “This just seems very cumbersome,” and like, “How come we can’t do this different?” And Monica is just like, “We can cut out this stuff, this stuff, and this stuff,” right? And so it takes a certain mind to be able to see how to use Zapier but, man, it’s efficient.
Andrew: I don’t know what it is but I feel like that would be a whole interesting business, “Hire our people to automate your business, hire our people to use Zapier but do nothing about that.” By the way, you mentioned Chris, your husband, working with you a lot, at what point did he come into the picture?
Trivinia: He came in in 2014, I think, because, yeah, we’re going on Year 6 of him working for us, and it’s been probably the biggest challenge is figuring out his role because I want him to do stuff that challenges him and that makes him feel like he is like a man, right? That he’s not just, you know, my little lackey or anything like that. And so we’ve done a lot of stuff, he was doing our operations for a while then and then he started doing a lot of the Infusionsoft stuff. He was doing some Ask Method certification stuff, that’s when we were on our kick of “We’re going to be certified in all the things.” And now, we’re kind of just playing with it right now. He’s doing some sales stuff right now. We don’t know where he’ll end up, he might actually end up doing his own thing, we’re going to figure that out.
Andrew: What brought him into the business? What was it that you’re going through?
Trivinia: Well, our adoption stories, right, are pretty insane and crazy, adoption through foster care is rough and it’s kind of all hands-on deck and it felt very much like that. But more than anything, I just wanted to be with him because I was at home all the time and he was in a corporate marketing career, he worked for a national furniture chain and he could have died there. I mean, he was so set there but he wasn’t going to go anywhere until someone else died or retired and he’s often says, he said, “I was just kind of dying inside,” right? He’s just doing the same thing over and over again.
And they were on . . . I’ll probably mess up, they were on a software called Quark there, it’s like a design software and they refused to even, like, upgrade to, you know, Adobe Photoshop or whatever it is. And he was just like, “They’re using these antiquated systems and they don’t want to grow,” and he was like, “I just want to be able to grow.” And so Priority VA kind of gave him a blank canvas, like, “Create your job, what do you want to do? Just figure it out.”
Andrew: I see even in the beginning, the first mention that I see on your website, on priorityva.com, is him just being the tech guy without a clear description and at the time, he must have been focused a lot on WishList Member, which was, I guess, the platform that your clients would go to to see their data, is that right?
Trivinia: No, WishList Member is actually a membership site that Stu McLaren and his partner started years and years ago. And, actually, Chris still works in a contract basis for them just a few hours a week doing some project management stuff for them but he’s got a great relationship with WishList and we used to encourage all of our people to go to WishList if they were building out courses.
Andrew: And so then, you had somebody through him who understood the software really well and could take care of your clients, I see.
Andrew: All right. Let’s talk about some of the problems that you’ve had as a business owner. One of them was you had a client who was a really big customer of yours, he was an Amazon reseller. This was back soon after you quit working with Amy?
Andrew: What happen to that person?
Trivinia: That was probably the most terrifying part of being a business owner. So, you know, we have this great Amazon reseller, he was scaling really fast and I remember talking to him and he had brought on five or six EAs and he wanted to, you know, bring on like four more and I’m like, “Oh, you’re going really fast, you sure you can onboard all these people, you know, at the same time? Do you have enough bandwidth to manage them and all of that?” And he ended up having 13 executive assistants with us, some of them were working, you know, 25-30 hours a week. It was a lot, and it was a huge chunk of our revenue.
And I remember I got a call from my accountant, her name is Jessica, and I was in my kitchen. She said, “Hey, what are you doing?” and I said, “Nothing, what’s up?” And she said, “I think you should probably sit for a second,” and I was like, “What’s wrong?” Like, I’m thinking who died, right? And she said, “You know, I just got off the phone with,” enter is his name, “and he needs to push pause,” and I said, “What do you mean?” And she said, “He’s out of money,” and I was like, “I don’t understand what you’re saying, like, he has 13 people.”
And basically, he needed to terminate his services immediately. He had, according to what he said, over $1 million in inventory, like, stuck in China and he couldn’t do it anymore and it was the worst day of my entrepreneurial life. It was the beginning of May, school had just let out for a lot of people and I had to get on Zoom calls with each of those 13 women and say, like, “As of today, you have no work and I don’t know what we’re going to do.” It was horrific looking in those ladies’ eyes and basically firing them, you know, just telling them their contract had ended right there. It was rough.
Andrew: You ended up also finding new types of work for them. You tried to rebuild it. One of the things that I . . . again, I’ve heard from Arie, our producer, was that under pressure, you’re really good. You may not know that you’re good under pressure but once the pressure comes on, you’re really good. And so Arie told me, one of the things that you did was you started looking to make up new jobs, new positions, new work for them, like what?
Trivinia: I was posting on Facebook and Instagram and I’m like, “Do you need your Dropbox organized?” I mean, it was literally anything that I can do because, you know, I’ve often . . . people think I’m joking when I say this but I’m like, “There are literally men and women whose diapers on their babies’ butts come from the work that we provide,” and I take that very seriously. And so that was such a gut punch for me, it was like, “All right, kind of like roll up your sleeves and, like, what are we going to do?” And I was calling . . . I went through our database of, like, clients that maybe had a consult call with us and didn’t sign and, you know, we had that 10-hour per week minimum and I was like, “What if we did 5 hours a week? Are you okay with five hours?”
You know, I mean, I just doing anything and ended up that . . . I think, nine of those EAs ended up staying with us, sort of sticking with us and waiting until they were reassigned a new client. And there was one gal, she was a hairstylist that had gone to, like, business school. She actually went back to doing hair because she just couldn’t . . . you know, she couldn’t wait for us to find clients for her. But it was like when your back is against the wall, it was like what are you going to do? You know, the whole idea of ingenuity comes when you’re faced with a crisis and I just like, anything that we could pull, we tried to keep those ladies afloat.
Andrew: I like the organize your Dropbox idea, that’s something that . . . I’ve got to find a way to do that on my own. By the way, Amy, what was it like to leave her when you were finally ready to go off on your own?
Trivinia: You know, it’s so funny is like you wouldn’t . . . your guests or your listeners aren’t going to be able to see this but if I go to my voicemails and I have a saved voicemail from Amy, March 3rd, 2017, and it was like her . . .
Andrew: Do you still have it?
Trivinia: I still have it.
Andrew: Don’t hold it up to the screen just in case I show up by accident. No, don’t, don’t, don’t, I don’t want to see her phone number but it didn’t show up.
Trivinia: Oh, I was like, “Oh, I’ll show it, I don’t care.”
Andrew: What was it? So this was from her voicemail to you after you said what?
Trivinia: Yeah, it was just my last day, you know, it was my last day and she said, “You know, I’m so glad that I got your voicemail,” and, you know, it’s just her thanking me for helping her along the way. One of the cool things about Amy is that she . . . no matter what, whether it was like the first in-person meeting that I had with her or every kind of subsequent time I’d ever be in San Diego, she’d always be like with all of her team, “So what’s going on in your business? Like, how can I help you in your business?” You know, she was always . . . like, she knew that I wasn’t going to be there forever and that a lot of her other contractors would probably move on to other things and she was always encouraging us to continue and push, which then many people will have noticed if they follow her, that she has since builds an in-person team, right?
Because I think that that happens for a lot of us where we start out with this virtual kind of contractor stuff and then as our businesses grow and scale . . . you know, she’s I think, you know, doing like $7 million a year or something now. She can afford an office space and buildings and all of that stuff but working with her was fun. She is so funny. I often say like she’s the sweetheart of the internet but she is sassy also. And so it was really fun to kind of be able to see her grow and her transformation as she went on to build her little empire too.
Andrew: How would I describe what she does? I think according to her Twitter profile, she’s an online marketing trainer.
Trivinia: Yeah, so she actually started teaching people how to do Facebook ads and then as that grew, she was like, “You know, I don’t want to be teaching Facebook,” so she’s taught people how to build online courses, how to build their email lists, and then how to use webinars to then sell those courses to your email list and she’s got a really incredible podcast that’s pretty popular called “Online Marketing Made Easy.”
Andrew: Yeah, I didn’t know much about her and then every interaction that I had through Mixergy interviews with her, with her people just been amazing. I don’t know how she can be so caring with so many people as her business is growing and I’m sure she’s got her own issues too, you know?
Trivinia: She’s a good human and ultimately, I think her role in life is to encourage men and women that that little dream that they’ve got in them can actually be real and so that’s really beautiful to see her be like that.
Andrew: And you see, when you say stuff like that, the part of my brain that went to NYU to study business, to crush others, was like, “Yeah, she’s probably taking advantage of people, that’s just not . . . ” I don’t know.
Trivinia: I didn’t say she wasn’t a capitalist.
Andrew: No, she’s definitely a capitalist but I’ve talked to people who’ve gone through a program, entrepreneurs who I respect who have gone through her program and are friends with her and I’ve realized that, “Andrew, just calm down, not everything has to be like a New York fight in an alley.” But one of the things that I heard was when you were leaving her, you were still a significant portion of her business, this was when her business was smaller than it is today. You said, “I’ve got a plan, I’m going to give you six months, I’ll make sure that we’re going to make the transition go well,” and so on. Three months into it, you realize, “Hey, my business is growing too much, I can’t do this,” and you went back and you had a conversation with her. She wasn’t just understanding but she gave you something as a gift. Do you remember what that was?
Trivinia: Absolutely, I remember because it made me cry like a crazy person. Yeah, very randomly, I got a big box in the mail and I opened it and it was a beautiful Louis Vuitton bag. And I still have the note and it said, you know, like, “Trivinia, thank you for all your support, every kick ass entrepreneur needs a Louis and I knew you wouldn’t buy it for yourself,” which is so true because I would never in a million years buy a Louis bag.
Andrew: But now you got it.
Trivinia: Yeah, I still have that bag and think of her fondly whenever I take it out.
Andrew: All right, let me close it out with this. Imagine somebody listening to us who says, “You know what, I’m not doing virtual assistants but I’d like this model, I’m going to do something like maybe what Andrew suggested, I’m going to do the automation for you, I’m going to be the Infusionsoft person, whatever it is. But I don’t want to build a one-person operation where I’m doing freelance on my own, I want to build up a company the way Trivinia did.” What advice would you give them for how to go about that? Turning this idea of the thing that maybe they’re doing already or that they know they could do into a business that has multiple clients, multiple people doing the work?
Trivinia: Yeah. I think one of the things that I had to determine and it took me probably a lot longer than I wanted to, was who I wanted to be in the business? Like, did I want to be a $10 million business or did I want to be, you know . . . was I happy with being a smaller business but not requiring all of my time? And so, for those, I think, that are wanting to start their own thing, their own agency, agency life is hard, okay? And you will have churn and one of the biggest challenges I’ve had in this business is not taking it personally when people leave.
I still sometimes will cry if a client that I feel like I’ve built a great relationship with leaves because they can’t afford it or they want to hire . . . even when it’s good, Andrew, when they want to hire their EA out full time, right, they want to buy out a contract, I still take it personally like I’ve somehow failed. And so you’ve got to have thick skin when it comes to this and I think you’ve got to do everything in your power to separate you from the success of the business. Like, no matter what, you have to be able to have a line that, like, your worth and your value is very different than what the success or failure of the business is. It’s not a personal reflection of who you are as a human and I think if you can start there, it’ll help.
Andrew: I’m looking for more specific work things, but I’ve got to tell you what you said completely resonates with me. There was a period when my success was the business and the business success was my success and I thought that was the only way to go because who needs a distraction of outside stuff. And if I’m more excited when the business is well, then I’m going to want to keep feeding that excitement by having the business to do better. The problem with that is there are always outside forces that, you know, you can’t predict, you have no impact on, and they’re just kind of random, like what happened to you with the person who worked for . . . who did the Amazon business who just suddenly left, outside of your control.
If then your confidence takes a hit, if your sense of self-worth takes a hit because of that, then you can’t bring it the next day and really be at your best. And so I have learned to do things like take up running or some . . . actually for me, it’s running, any outside passion project I think is worthwhile. Having friends, which I wouldn’t have thought I’d want friends outside of work but they know you outside of work, you don’t feel that they have changed their opinion of you based on how your work is doing and it helps. It helps a lot. But mechanically, if somebody is doing this . . . here’s what I’m taking away, number one, it helps to have these high-profile clients.
So, if someone’s going to do . . . I don’t love this necessarily as a business but let’s say they were going to do Zapier as an automation company for clients, it’s worthwhile going after the big names like you got with Michael Hyatt and Amy Porterfield. Again, I went back to the early version of your website, I saw you use their names a lot for credibility and it does add credibility, right? I know Sachit Gupta uses my name a lot for credibility and say, “I represent Andrew, go call him, you should work with me.” So that’s number one.
Number two, that hustle mode is try everything to get new clients and start looking to see if you could figure out your niche, your thing that you’re doing, and maybe you start out doing Zapier but you realize, “No, it’s automating businesses or systemizing businesses,” and go from there. Number three, we learned a lesson from Michael Hyatt, which is low margin business is stink. You might be happy that you’re making $2 now without working but then you start realizing there are all these hidden expenses that you don’t understand until you run a business. Right? What else? What else am I taking away from this that I missed?
Trivinia: I think documenting your process. We talked about that all the time with the clients that we work with, but you as your own business need to document it too, right? So you’ve got to get down on paper the things that you do even when you’re just like, “But it’s just me.” If you will get in the process of documenting it, when you want to grow a team and bring on your first person, it makes that onboarding process so much easier.
And then, I think one of the other things that people don’t realize they’re doing when they’re building a company, is you’re building a culture even when you have a person of one, right? So, if you’re blowing past deadlines or you’re working till midnight and getting up at 5:00 or whatever every day, that’s the culture that you’re building in your company before you ever hire your first person. So I think that’s really important to kind of nail down the culture you want first.
Andrew: I want to say this about documentation, I’ve been thinking about this a lot. I feel like we talk a lot about documentation through documentation, but documentation through systemization seems to be even more effective. What I mean is you talked about your Airtable system where everyone knows what steps go into handling a new onboarded or potential virtual assistant, but they don’t need to go through a Google Doc to understand it, it’s just automated in the system. There’s something that triggers an email, there’s something that then has to happen next, right? What do you think of that?
Trivinia: Yeah, well, you know, this is a really good example. I have my own podcast and we built a system within Airtable and Zapier for my podcast that literally all I have to do is go and record the episode, put it into Dropbox, and put that Dropbox link into Airtable and then click a little button that says, “Ready for editing.” And it automagically goes off to where it needs to go and I do not touch it, I’m not posting on social about it, I’m not doing any . . . I’m not creating show notes or anything about that and it was because we looked at what is that outsourced outcome that we wanted to have happen.
I want an episode to drop every Tuesday, right? And then we sort of reverse engineered it to what was all of the systems that we needed to have in place to make that happen. And so, if you can look at the end goal that you want to have happen and then reverse engineer it from there, it doesn’t end up being a 30-page Google Doc because what you find is that you can use software, system, tools to kind of get a lot of that done for you.
Trivinia: Yeah, not to say that Google Docs don’t have their place but if you could automate it in a place where the system makes sure that everyone knows the next step, I feel like there’s a lot of value in that. All right, we’ve talked a lot about your business, for anyone who wants to go check it out, the best way to do it is to just go to priorityva.com, Priority, V-A as in virtual assistant, dot com, right?
Trivinia: That’s it.
Andrew: All right. And I want to thank the two sponsors who made this interview happen, the first, if you’re motivated by this, if you’re excited by this and you’ve got some idea, just go do it right now, go to hostgator.com/mixergy. You will get a good low price from them, you’ll get a quick trial period so that you can see if it makes sense for you and an opportunity to experiment to see maybe your next idea will be the one that you end up spending . . . how long have you spent, Trivinia, on this business?
Trivinia: We’re on seven years now.
Andrew: Seven years, maybe that’ll be the business that you spend the next 7 or 70 years on. And if you’re looking for a developer, I can tell you that there is no better place, there is no better place to go to get the best developers than Toptal, go check them out at toptal.com/mixergy. Trivinia, thanks so much for being here.
Trivinia: I appreciate it.
Andrew: Thanks. Bye. Bye, everyone.