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. Today’s guest has a company that when you hear it, you might think, “Oh, this is so easy. Of course I could do that. I can copy it.” I got to admit, I thought that too but it’s a lot harder than it seems. And I want to understand why.
What Barbara Turley does is she runs a company called The Virtual Hub. They are basically outsourcing simplified. And here’s why outsourcing needs to be simplified. I like many of the people who I interviewed read “The 4-hour Workweek” soon after it came out and somewhere in there Tim Ferriss talks about how to hire outsourcers. And he makes it sound like such a revolutionary concept that I had to go and use one of the companies he mentioned.
And, man, it was frustrating. It was so frustrating. They didn’t get anything done. Then the person had to go for a wedding and I had to be happy for him for going for a wedding. But then I had to go into like train or get ready for somebody new and I didn’t get anything going in the first place and I paid for it and now I have to go get somebody new? It was such a frustrating experience and I thought for a while there, “Maybe this actually doesn’t work, maybe this whole virtual . . . ” it might as well be virtual reality outsourcing as like an unreal and ineffective as it is.
But eventually, through a friend, I met someone who became my assistant, and yes he’s kind of virtual and I work down and I realized, “There must be a way to do it.” And what I realized too, Barbara, was part of it was me. The way that I sent over instructions made fricken sense. Of course the guy didn’t know what to do. He must have been sitting there going, “How do I please this guy?”
And then also frankly on their part, have some kind of system so if the guy goes away, I don’t have to figure out for myself what to do next. So that’s what Barbara did. She said, “I’m going to create outsourcing simplified, make it really easy for the person who’s hiring an outsourcer to get a virtual assistant who knows their work.” And also let’s accept that a lot of people who are hiring aren’t that great at it. We’re going to teach them how to give instructions to somebody who’s not sitting right next to them and needs things explained explicitly.
So that’s her idea. She’s got this business. It’s ramped up. It’s doing well. I invited here to talk about how she did it. And I know it’s hard because we tried something similar at this company that I created and I want to know how she overcame the difficulty and what we could have done differently.
All right, so if you’re in the people business, you’re going to want to learn how she did it. If you’re selling entrepreneurs and you’re going to want to know how she did it. And we can learn all that thanks to great sponsors. The first is a company that Barbara’s company actually uses. It’s called ActiveCampaign. It’ll do email marketing so right for you. And the second is a company that I wasn’t sure about, but man, do I love now. It’s called StartEngine. They will help you raise money for your business. Barbara, good to have you here.
Barbara: Thank you, Andrew. I’ve been nodding at everything you’ve been saying because, you know, I have felt that pain myself and I have, you know, heard people echo exactly what you’ve been saying.
Andrew: Getting an assistant thing. Every time I was struggling someone said, “Get an assistant.” But I tried it. Quit making it sound so simple. Thank you. Now I’ve got my problem and I’ve got the problem of dealing with them. But, you know, you could eventually make it work and I want to find out from you how you make it work for your clients. But first let me ask you the tough question, the revenue question. What kind of revenue are you guys pulling in?
Barbara: Sure. So we’ve just kicked into seven figures, which I’m really proud of because . . .
Andrew: Within 12 months? Annual revenue . . .
Barbara: No, not within 12 months. No, no. Look, the business is four years old now but in the last 12 months I practically rebuilt it, and we can sort of get into that, but we’re into to seven figures now. We’re proud of where we’ve come from.
Andrew: Since the beginning, seven figures over four years?
Barbara: No. No, no, a year. So we’re doing that per year.
Andrew: Okay. So over a million dollars a year and what about profits?
Andrew:You got people from the Philippines. What are you making? Like 90% net?
Barbara:No. Everyone thinks that. So let’s blow this wide open, right? So everybody thinks that. Of course we take a clip. You know, we charge up what we charge out. The big thing is that, as you would know, when you get . . . I think when you’re starting out, right, you can either go and you make a nice income and you’ll get to 100 grand or 200 grand and whatever. It’s great. What you will rapidly realize is when you actually scale something up to sort of seven figures, everyone thinks that’s like the goal to get there. But the costs involved sometimes in getting a business particularly like what I’m doing to that level actually explode as well. So we are profitable. But over the last year, I’ve pretty much taken 90% of the profit and I’ve invested it back into the business. Some of that has been in we’ve gone to the office model. So we’ve got offices in the Philippines now. I set up a company there.
Andrew: You mean you’ve rented office space there, you’ve incorporated the whole thing?
Barbara: Yes. Yeah. And there’s a couple of reasons why I’ve done that. Look, I was doing the work from home model when I started this business out.
Andrew: Meaning everyone in the Philippines could work from home and . . . ?
Barbara: Yeah. Yes.
Andrew: If we’re going to start unraveling the story, let’s go way back to the beginning. You told our producer, “Listen, I’m not super entrepreneurial. You’re not finding lemonade stands sprinkled throughout my childhood.” But here’s what you are, you are somebody who just values freedom. And in your 20s, you were a stockbroker and working in Ireland where your accent and your body comes from. You were from there. And you said I want to go do what that shocked your boss at the time?
Barbara: I had an amazing job, you know, big stock broking working firm in Dublin, but I wanted to go to Australia. I wanted to live in Australia. And I remember him sitting me down and saying, “You’re making the biggest mistake of your career.”
Andrew: Why did you want to go Australia? What was it about Australia that captivated you?
Barbara: Look at the weather. I mean, the weather in Australia is just amazing. I had been there before as a sort of the backpacker like we all do in our 20s. I had gone back to Dublin, got the big job, done everything I was supposed to do and I couldn’t settle. I just found myself really struggling to settle back home.
Andrew: But fair to say, Spain has got nice weather just like Australia. It’s in the same time zone.
Barbara: That’s what my dad said.
Andrew: That is right. But is it fair to say that I remember going backpacking. There’s a sense of freedom that comes from backpacking. You almost want to go back and eat the same food and go to the same country to experience what you were like before. Was it that, a connection with that freedom?
Barbara: No. I’ll tell you what, because everybody said to me, “Why can’t you go to Spain? Why can’t you go . . . ” wherever. I was very specific about what I wanted. I wanted to stay in my career so I needed to be an in an international city with a decent stock market. And I wanted to live by the beach and I wanted to have nice weather. Now, you’d sort of think San Francisco where you are might have those things but Sydney is better. Sydney was like the vibe that I was looking for was here and 11 of the global investment banks were already here and it had a massive footprint. They had massive footprint in Asia. So I was very strategic about what I wanted to do. And I did come down here and I built an investment banking career over 10 years down here. So I was very successful when I got there.
Andrew: So then why leave? If you’re finally on this track, you got the sun, you got the investment banking career, you’ve got the high profile, like people respect you in that space, what got you into entrepreneurship?
Barbara: I got bored. A couple of things. Look, I’m very itchy. I get bored with things very quickly if things are too routine. I’m hunter and not a farmer. And also I wanted to be a mother and I didn’t want to be a corporate mother. Now, no offense to the corporate mothers that do it. I think you are amazing because I think it’s really difficult to do that and I didn’t want that.
And also it was, again I have this freedom. Freedom is my highest value. And in your 20s like working in the big banks, making loads of money, big party lifestyle is great, but when you get to 30, I was like, “I don’t want this anymore.” And once I made that decision, I just didn’t want it anymore. Now, it took about five years for me to actually exit that because I did a whole pile of things along the way. One of them was an entrepreneurial pursuit within the financial industry. So I got involved in a management buyout of a business from Deutsche Asset Management. And so I got a chance to kind of learn the entrepreneurial thing . . .
Andrew: What does that mean? That Deutsche funded your buyout of your department?
Barbara: No, no. Look, the financial crisis in 2008 that we all or most of us in my industry anyway remember, it produced a lot of blood on the street. But, you know, they say you should buy when there’s blood on the street, and there was blood on the street. And there was a department, there was a business that was going to be sold in Australia by Deutsche, and a group of us got together and look . . . kudos to the CEO of Australia at the time. He asked me, “Was I interested?” And I was like, “Yeah, I want in.” And, you know . . . .
Andrew: And so you bought, you’re one of the people who bought it?
Barbara: I’m one of the people who bought it. Yeah, so there was a big bunch of us that did it.
Andrew: And what you guys do?
Barbara: So we bought the distribution rights to their managed funds in Australia. And then over the course of the following five years, we eventually actually bought the actual funds from them and we repackaged them as our own. And, look, that company stays running $5 billion of assets. So I’m still involved . . .
Andrew: And so if you’re managing a fund, how does that bring you into contact with entrepreneurs?
Barbara: It doesn’t it.
Andrew: It doesn’t?
Barbara: It doesn’t at all. No, it doesn’t it all. I wasn’t actually managing the money. I went into the sales side at that point.
Andrew: Oh, I see. So I’ve got here my notes. It helped you understand how big teams work and you saw the struggle of entrepreneurs. You mean the people who bought it along with you, they’re the entrepreneurs who struggled. And then you said to yourself, “Look, I’m going to do something else.” You got into coaching consulting. What’s coaching consulting for you?
Barbara: Yeah. Look, you know, when you leave corporate, the natural progression is to do some consulting because it’s the quickest money, right? So I picked up quite a bit of small business coaching, kind of by accident, actually. I think people just respected that I had this background and I got a few clients. And I saw that they were all having the same problem. They all had no time and they were trying to do everything themselves. They had no systems, no processes, no teams. They couldn’t hire people because they had no money.
So the natural thing was for me to go, “Well, look, you can get these VAs in the Philippines.” I had one myself. So I started recruiting VAs not as a cost thing, like just to help clients out. And before I knew it, I was like, “I’m getting more demand for this than business coaching. Hmm, I wonder should I pivot . . . ” and I actually just pivoted out of that and created The Virtual Hub, the initial stages of The Virtual Hub which was very different than what it is today.
Andrew: So at first it was, “I’m just adding this on as a service to help the people who I’m coaching.” And then what was it . . . so when you finally said . . . actually what did you do differently when you hired for them? Did it work out?
Barbara: No, it didn’t.
Andrew: No, it didn’t?
Andrew: What did you do differently than the people you got virtual assistants for? What did you do right and they didn’t do right at the time?
Barbara: So just from, you know, the way everyone tells you in business, right, when you’re starting up. And I’m sure you’ve had people say this and you tell your audience this, “You’ve got to find a problem that we people will pay money for you to solve today. Not in the future, but today.” So I found that people were willing to pay me money right now, right here, right now, to get them a cost effective person.
So when you solve for one problem, what you usually find is that you will unearth another problem. And in business, what I’ve done really successfully by accident, again, was to solve for all the problems that kept coming up along the way.
The next problem was I discovered people didn’t know how to manage a virtual assistant. In fact, they had never even run a team before and they didn’t know how to delegate effectively or write a task. So I realized then that I have to solve this problem and help people to understand how to manage an offshore person.
And of course, then the next problem that raised its head after that when people still weren’t getting success was for me to go, “Well, maybe it’s the person.” So I would look at the virtual assistant . . .
Andrew: Maybe it’s the client, you mean?
Barbara: No, maybe it’s the VA.
Andrew: Oh, got it. Okay.
Barbara: Yeah. So the resume is like you can interview people. Yeah, awesome. People can rise in an interview. Their resume can say whatever. And then you hire them and they actually don’t know what they’re doing or they go AWOL or they’re . . . you know, all the problems . . .
Andrew: So let me see if I understand this. The first problem you found was people just didn’t know how to run their business well and you realized, “Hey, you know what? The problem is they don’t have the time to think about their business because they’re doing all these micro tasks. I’m going to bring a VA for them.” Bringing a VA helped but actually, no, it didn’t because the problem still stuck around and you said, “What is the problem that is leading to this ultimate issue?” Which is they’re not running their business right. It’s that they don’t know how to work with their virtual assistant. So then you started training the client?
Andrew: Oh, and then you went back to the virtual assistant said, “What’s wrong with the virtual assistant?”
Barbara: And then I was like, “We need to launch a training program.” I mean VAs are kind of, you know, they’re working online but they’ve never been . . . even if they’ve got digital marketing sort of experience, like you need to train them properly. So . . .
Andrew: You know, let me take a take a step back before we get into that. When you saw that people were the way I was after reading Tim Ferriss’ book, they’re not working with their VAs right. What are the problems that you saw that you helped them lock when you work with them?
Barbara: Look, I think a lot of it is people assume that when you hire someone, you’re just going to tell them a couple of things and they’re going to go off and be all showing initiative and they’re going to know your business. People assume that everybody thinks the way that you do. But when you employ somebody, or you bring someone in, a VA, right, they’re a virtual assistant. They’re there to assist you and not to like take your business and run it for you. Although you can get to that point, but you’ve got to like work with somebody.
You’ve got to learn how to create your recurring task list. You’ve got to learn how to write a task effectively. You have to have processes and a system for how you do things. And then you have to train that person that comes into your business on how you like things to be done and how you want to be reported to. But those are things that you only learn by accident often.
Andrew: You know what? So if I think back to my first version, this is not a task that I sent out to the virtual assistant, but it was something like edit my interview. And to me editing takes 5 to 10 minutes, I swear. But I would send it over and say, “I need you to use Screen Flow to edit. I need you to do this other stuff.” And then they wouldn’t get it done. And it wasn’t until later that I realized, step by step, show how to edit. And then I felt like I was being a jerk for doing step by step.
It’s like I was telling the barista how to pour my coffee. I felt like I was doing too many step by steps and belittling them. And what I realized was if they were sitting here wouldn’t need to do that. It’s the remote part that means I have to be explicit about every step. That’s what you’re talking about or am I missing something?
Barbara: Yeah, no. There is these two things I want to point out here. So number one, if you hire an editor, right, so somebody who specializes in audio podcast editing, you can just give them a podcast and say, “Look, just make me sound great.” If you hire a virtual assistant that’s such a broad term. These guys are doing everything from admin like, you know, answering a phone or replying to an email or managing your calendar, to sometimes being asked to build a website. Like we’ve got our VAs. Clients will say, “Can you build my website for me?” I’m like, “Well, they could have a go but they’re not a website. You know, like you just got to be clear about what you want.” So when it’s a virtual assistant, you do need to lay it out and you need to have a process for that . . .
Andrew: So you started showing them here’s how to lay out step by step?
Andrew: What about what to give them? I remember I didn’t know what to give someone else. Noah Kagan, a friend of mine said, “Andrew, I want you to have . . . you have two monitors?” I said, “Yeah.” He goes, “On one monitor, I want you to have an empty doc and by the end of the day I wanted it to be full with everything that you did, and then start picking off things that are easy.” And that helped me. It didn’t solve all my problems. It turned out there a lot of things I didn’t know how to explain to someone else that just took up a bunch of my time, but at least it helped me identify. Did you do anything like that?
Barbara: Yeah, you do. So you have to kind of . . . first of all, people think they can come up with a task list like tomorrow within a second. It takes time for you to actually figure out what are the . . . like I always tell people break it down into two lists. The first one I always recommend you do is your recurring task list. Now this is the tasks in your business that needs to be done daily, weekly, monthly. They are routine and they keep the engine of your business moving. Then you’ve got to create exactly what all of those tasks are. You’ve got to figure out which ones really need you.
And hopefully, hardly any of them need you. If a lot of them need you, you need to think about what you’re doing and you need to reframe it so that you can actually delegate that. The other one is your projects list. Let’s say that you want to launch a podcast. That’s not a task, that’s a project out of which a lot of tasks will fall. So there’s the set, there’s the little image, and you got to lay out all the tasks within there and you’ve got to project manage project.
Andrew: And it’s on me to do that.
Andrew: Okay. And so you were showing them how to do that, that still didn’t really solve the problem. And then you said, “Maybe it’s the VAs who I need to work better with.”
Barbara: Yes. So that was kind of the next stage and then after that I’ve kind of come back again to client. But with the Vas then I realized that, you know, it’s actually better if I . . . and actually this was a major pivot in the business as well. I realized that instead of allowing clients to come to us and say, “Hey, here’s my brief. Here’s what I want.” We actually do it a little bit differently here.
We actually say “Hey, here’s . . . ” we sort of productized it, right? So I’ve kind of created a product of people. And I say, “Here’s how we train them, here’s the people that we have, here’s what we do. If that looks and feels like what you need in your business, and I’ll help you to figure that out, then we’re the people for you. But if you’re looking for example an accountant, we don’t do that. We actually specialize in people who are trying to get their digital marketing strategy . . . ”
Andrew: And that took you a while to get to also.
Barbara: Yeah. It took a long time, a lot of pain.
Andrew: At first it was, “I’m going to have to do everything,” and then you went to talk to the . . . you know what? Let’s come back in a moment to talk about what happened when you went to investigate what was going on with the virtual assistants. But the company I’m going to start talking about is a company called StartEngine. Do you know StartEngine at all?
Barbara: I don’t, but you were telling me about it off air.
Andrew: You know what? I didn’t fully trust start engine because I didn’t know it. In fact, I even interviewed the founder of StartEngine on Mixergy and you could hear the first 10 minutes or me just like saying, “Is this BS? Am I about to mislead my audience?” Because here’s why, what they do StartEngine is help entrepreneurs raise money. How many people come along saying that and then they basically are there to fleece entrepreneur by charging and stuff? But I talked to the founder, Howard Marks, and here’s what he said. He said, “I made money in the video game industry. I started investing in companies. They were basically all flops.” I said, “Why?” Because they couldn’t raise the next round of funding for one reason or another.”
And you realize, meanwhile, this whole Kickstarter thing, people are spending tons of money to buy a product but they get no share in the success of the business. Like the Oculus people, millions of dollars, people paid to get Oculus, the goggles. They own no share the business. It was the venture capitalist who owned the share the business who made out big.”
And he said, “Hmm, what if we allow crowdfunding? What if we allow people to sell piece of their business the way that they might sell piece of their product on Kickstarter?” And it took off. And actually there’s like a car company, a couple of them that have taken off because of this and there are other businesses. Like some guys got this golf cart riding thing. You stand up like a surfboard on a golf cart to . . . anyway. All these things that ordinarily wouldn’t get money from venture capitalists, he was able to raise for.
Barbara: I love that idea. I love that.
Andrew: So this is all he does. Like think of it as . . . I don’t think this is the right approach. They probably don’t want me as a sponsor to talk about it this way, but think of it as like Kickstarter for selling equity in your business for actually getting people to put money into investing in your business. And again, it took me a long time even trust this guy. We had a mutual friend, I still didn’t trust it. Then I started looking into it. He also is into ICOs. What is it called?
Barbara: Coin offerings. Initial coin offerings.
Andrew: Thank you. Initial coin offerings. Thank you. Which again I thought, “Did this work? Did he ever do any one of them?” He did one of the biggest ones, the one for Overstock. I’m fully bought in now. I think it makes a ton of sense. Anyone out there who’s looking to raise money, could be as skeptical as I am and go and investigate them. And if you’re interested in working with them, I’ve got a special URL called mixergy.startengine.com where they’re going to give you $5,000 in premium service fees to receive free legal and accounting services, direct onboarding and marketing guidance and campaign page creation is on.
Basically, look, guys, you’re going to be doing me a solid if use the URL mixergy.startengine.com and they’re going to give you some services for free. But the reality is whether you go to my special URL or go to their site directly, whether you mention me or go directly and say you never heard of this guy Andrew Warner who was a bit of a jerk to the founder, it doesn’t matter to me. If there is a new way to raise money, if this is a way that makes sense to you, go check them out at startengine.com. If you throw in mixergystartengine.com, they’re going to give you a bunch of extra stuff and they’ll know that you come from me and it’ll help me. And I think having somebody a skeptical and as hard as I am on your team as like the referral will help you, but if you don’t think so I don’t care. Go try using them.
This is revolutionary and I want my audience to take advantage of it. ICO, Crowdfunding, lots of different options. Check them out, mixergy.startengine.com. I’m so glad they’re a sponsor. I’m really sorry that they’re probably not going to continue reupping with me because of the way that I’ve been mentioning them. But, man, they’re good. I love that he came up with this idea. It’s got this whole thing there.
All right. You then start investigating, coming back to your story, Barbara, you start investigating the . . . I’m thinking, boy, now maybe you can raise money from StartEngine and blow this thing up.
Andrew:And then people don’t pay with cash for the assistance, the pay with coins for the assistance. All right. I don’t want to redo your business, but if you need that . . .
Barbara: It sounds amazing. I’m going to look them up.
Andrew: What did you find on their side when you started going to investigate in the Philippines?
Barbara: Yeah. Okay, so there’s the culture. Okay, so let’s start with the big one. There’s a cultural . . . people have said to me, “Why do you specialize in the Philippines?” There’s a couple of reasons. Number one, they speak amazing English, right? Their English is never going to be perfect but it is amazing versus the other Asian countries. Number two, their education system is really strong. And number three, they are the closest that you’re going to get to the Western culture. They are actually quite American in the way that they are in their culture.
But you have to remember that although all of those things are true, there is still a cultural block in how their culture, how they’re brought up, how their culture operates versus how we are. So that creates a massive communication barrier. And anyone listening is going to be nodding when I say this . . .
Andrew: Like what?
Barbara: They have a habit of saying yes. They go yes to everything and then they go and try and figure out how, which is great, but sometimes they make a mess of it, or they don’t come back with the result or they don’t do the work. And the client is like, “But she said, ‘Yes.'” And I’m like, okay, this is a major problem because they’re afraid to say no. It’s a yes culture. So I had to really work. There’s a lot of not just training on the skills but there’s a huge amount of coaching that we do around finding people who are not yes people, but then training them on how to actually engage with the client on this level, like how we’re engaging and not to be afraid of that. And actually . . .
Andrew: Not to be afraid of interrupting the way you and I have done me more than you in the conversation, not to be afraid of guiding.
Barbara: Exactly. Idea sharing. So the VCs are like, “Well, I don’t want to say like my idea because they own the business. Surely they know what they’re doing.” I’m like, “Half the time they don’t. They want to hear your opinion. They want to know if . . . ”
Andrew: Right. Especially not an area that you’re working on. So if you’re using ActiveCampaign or Infusionsoft on regular basis, you got to know more than the founder.
Barbara: Yeah. Totally.
Andrew: Okay. So you went in and you started to do this. You told our producer one of the ways that you got started was you did this webinar on how to confidently work with or successfully hire a VA. Who did you do this too and why did this work?
Barbara: Yeah. So I had done other webinars before with the business coaching thing and, yeah, they were okay. Like selling on these things is hard. And I thought, “Okay, people are asking me about this VA thing. I think I’m just going to do a webinar and see what happens.” It was the most successful one I ever did, right? I just couldn’t believe it. I didn’t spend any money on it. So zero [inaudible 00:24:11].
Andrew: I’m going to do of how to work with and hire a VA?
Andrew:And then at the end, say, “If you want, I’ve got a service . . .
Barbara:I’ll do it [inaudible 00:24:19]
Andrew: . . . where you can hire them through me.”
Barbara: Yeah. So it was basically, “I’m going to show you how to confidently and successfully.” And I think those were the words that resonated because people were not confident with it, and they couldn’t get success. So I was showing them step by step how to do that using tools like Asana, creating your task list, basically show them exactly how to do it.
Andrew: What’s the technique in Asana that would help somebody get the most out of working with an assistant?
Barbara: Yep. So number one tip, biggest tip, Asana can be Frankenstein if you’re not careful. Don’t go nuts, right? Just get into Asana and create two lists. Create your recurring task list and within there have sections: Daily, weekly, monthly, and lay out your tasks in there, right? One project, that’s it, right? And then your other one is to-do list and those are the quick 30-minute things that you want done like today, tomorrow, off the top of your head sort of things, but only 30-minute tasks. Nothing like a project. And just keep it simple like that and delegate your recurring task list first, and create processes for each one.
Andrew: So within the task list, have a list of steps for doing it.
Barbara: Absolutely. Yeah, I would. Or like a link to a Google Doc. But it’s better, like if you want someone to actually read it and follow it, I would just put it in the description and keep bullet points. Use bullet points. Don’t go nuts writing stream of consciousness with no punctuation, which I see all the time. People write tasks like a massive paragraph with no punctuation and just like a brain dump and expect people to decipher what they want.
Andrew: Yeah. And you’re right about Asana being really helpful as project management task list, but Frankenstein really is the word. And I feel part of it is I think the responsibility of Asana. I can’t tell where I’m chatting in there. Like some people create tasks with sub-tasks and then I think like dates on some, dates on others. You can’t find them. Okay, so you’re saying simplify things like that. Out of that, you said you got 10 signups to our producer. Ten signups for what? What are people at the time paying for?
Barbara: Purely just to recruit a VA at the time. I think actually, sorry, at the time, I had done a bit of recruitment. At this stage, I was charging a fee, a one fee, but I would take care of payroll. So I was like, “I’ll pay them. I’ll do all that I’ll do HR. And I’ll just charge a small clip on top of what . . . ” you know, I think I was charging like six bucks an hour or something, Aussie, which would be like, I mean, you know, it was nothing. It was purely a test thing.
Andrew: On top of?
Barbara: No, no, in total. So I was just doing [inaudible 00:26:49]
Andrew: Wait, $6 an hour I pay you, you take care of the virtual assistant, I just know that I’ve got someone to work with?
Barbara: Yeah, yeah. [crosstalk 00:26:56]
Andrew: I was going to get one person who is going to be my person? You did?
Barbara: Yes. Yeah. So I was doing it as a beta test. I realized afterwards that it was like a beta test. And, look, two of the clients that joined at that time are still with us four years later. The others, most of them failed. So there was a time I had to fire some clients as well, because we just couldn’t work with them. But, you know, that’s all learning to on your ideal client. So I realized that we were in business and I just thought, “Wow, we’ve got to get a website or something. We’ve got nothing here.” I rang my VA and was like, “Hey, I need 10 of your friends. Have you got 10 friends that want a job but we can have a look at this?”
Andrew: Wow, okay.
Barbara: Yeah. It was very sketchy in the beginning. It was just a trial and error.
Andrew: Okay. And it was all people who how? How’d they get on your list? How were you able to get them into the webinar?
Barbara: Yeah. So I had a list at that point because I had built us another website which is still there but I don’t do much with it today. I had built a following on a site called energizedwealth.com, which was . . . .well, I suppose it’s still there. It’s about . . . it’s energized with an “S,” the British spelling. It is there. The point of it was to teach women about money, basically. So it was everything from like savings right through to investing and just get them more comfortable with money mindset and stuff like that.
So I had built a pretty big list through that. People were very interested in that, but it was monetizing okay. I just didn’t really . . . I lost a bit of energy for it after I saw . . . Look, I as I said, I’m a hunter not a farmer. So I saw this VA thing and it was like, “Hey, I’m going to jump on this bandwagon because that’s more interesting to me right now.”
Andrew: You know, and I see it as you’ve got your podcast on there. I see you’ve got your Pinterest connection and all that. And the revenue there was coming from what?
Barbara: Business coaching, really. Really, it was business coaching.
Barbara:I did do a product launch. I did do a product launch and I had an online product which was . . . it was okay. Look, I did a massive launch. It was great for branding, but I’ll be honest with you, it was a kind of a flop, like it didn’t sell enough and it was very tiring to do that launch and I didn’t. So from the ashes of that, though, I had to think of what am I going to do next. So I offered the VA thing and here we are four years later. So, you know, it’s a good story. Sometimes you can pivot out of disaster.
Andrew: So you ended up with the first four people and then so here’s . . . again, I’m going back to the notes. We do pre-interviews with our guests. And you said, you talked to someone who said you got to find something people are going to pay for. This became something that people would pay for and was profitable from day one because you were taking a little bit of a cut from what you were paying. And I like that you were productizing . . .
Barbara: It was zero dollar spend. This is the key thing. This business started with I had to invest nothing. And not even $50 on Facebook ads, it was profitable from day one.
Andrew: So here’s the part that in the same section of the notes shocks me. You say six figures was easy. Meaning to get $100,000 in revenue was easy because of what? If you’re charging, you said, $6 Australian, and I looked it up, by the way, $6 Australian is like $4.43 today anyway in U.S. dollars. The Australian dollar is losing value apparently to the U.S. dollar. So how are you getting to $100,000 with that kind of price?
Barbara: So the first 10 I took in, as I said, were kind of a beta test. We got going with that. And then they told their friends, then I did a couple of speaking gigs, then I did a couple more webinars with other people. And I just found that people were so desperate for this that I just got flooded with demand and I actually had a problem where the money was flowing in really quickly. It was easy to do that. But to deliver on it was very painful because there was the feedback loop was just daily. You know, clients complaining. VAs complaining about clients. So it was really messy in the beginning. The money side of it was the easy part actually. It was more just the navigating the mess.
Andrew: I wonder why? I’m looking at our expenses. Oh, I’ve got an assistant. But I also have . . . we use Fancy Hands for like what is it? A few bucks per task. I had a guest on here who was from MOD Pizza. The guy is incredibly famous. There are tons of articles written about him in the U.K. We did a pre-interview. We basically asked him the same questions that he’s been asked a million times before. I said, “Somebody is got to do research before the pre-interviewer.” So he said, “All right, let’s go to our Fancy Hands. They’ll do it.” And they’re good for those little tasks. They’ll do research, but that exists. And then you’ve got what? What is it called? The freelance . . . I’m about to talk about all your competitors.
Barbara: Oh, that’s okay. I don’t mind. I welcome that.
Andrew: But there’s tons of them.
Barbara:Upwork and all of those.
Andrew:Why is there such a desperate need? There’s AskSunday I think is the one that Tim Ferriss talked about. There’s HireMyMom. With all these out there, why did people still feel such pain?
Barbara: I think people have tried it and they get scared. They’ve either been burnt or they don’t know anything about the Philippines. They just don’t even know where to go. You go on Upwork, look, of course, you can go direct. You can go direct and find a VA yourself. You don’t need to come to me. But the problem is that you’re going to get about 5,000 applications for your job ad or you’re going to have to look through so many people, then interview all of them.
I mean, look, I’ll give you the stats, right? For every 5 people that we employ in the Philippines, almost 200 people will come through our offices and sit a 5-hour exam before we will even look at their resume. So it’s really hard, right? So people know . . . .
Andrew: I actually feel like I get why you guys would be better than Upwork. I’ve never had good results without Upwork. Like you said, it’s a lot of work on my part to pay someone 6 bucks an hour instead of $16 an hour and then they go . . .
Barbara: And we don’t even charge $16 an hour, right? We’re still cheap. Our lowest level VA is still only $8 U.S. an hour because I want to make it . . . the point is that, look, you know, we’ve got a really great business here. There’s no objectional pricing.
Andrew: I get [inaudible 00:33:01]. Back then I guess I didn’t realize it was that much of a demand but you’re saying there is.
Andrew:You’re saying what you saw was people needed help. They didn’t know how to get it. You were reaching out to them. It wasn’t anything about your marketing back then? I know you’ve gotten better at it. You’ve got partnerships. It was just they needed this. It was that desperate. Okay.
Barbara: You find the problem and people need it. Yeah.
Barbara:And they also talked to me.
Andrew:So you then you said, “All right, finding the people who need an assistant who’s inexpensive and is good is easy.” Creating the good assistants is not easy. Creating the good relationships between the assistants and the people is not easy. So then you started training. Did you start training first or hiring? What do you work on first?
Barbara: Well, I was putting people in clients’ businesses first and then I started training kind of on the go. I mean, it was really, like I said, a bit messy. But then now these days we do. We actually hire them now and we train them. So I take a lot of risk on in the business that I have today. In that I basically say to people, “I’m going to back myself that we’re going to go out and find the people that we want, because I know what our clients need.” And then the client has to kind of trust that we’ve got their back and we’re going to put the right people in, and we’re going to train them. And sometimes we take people with no experience and we bring them in. But if they’ve got the right enthusiasm, the right attitude, and what we know is going to work, we can train them to do anything. It’s we’re looking for a personality type and a character, a work ethic and a character.
Andrew: How can you test to see if they have a work ethic and character?
Barbara: You put them in a training program with us for six weeks. Very hard to hide.
Andrew: To see if they can survive the training program?
Barbara: Yeah. Look, the training program runs anything from about three weeks to six weeks depending on the level. So like if we’re going to go into HubSpot or Ontraport or Infusionsoft, they spend a lot more time with us. But it’s very difficult to hide your character full time on an intensive program where you’re in the room with us over the course of even two weeks. [inaudible 00:35:00]
Andrew: Okay. So you’re paying them to do all this and as they’re being . . . you’re paying for their training?
Barbara: Yeah. Yeah, we pay them.
Andrew: You test them beforehand to see if they have the ability to learn?
Andrew: Do you also look for somebody who’s connected to the people who work with you because that helps?
Barbara: Yeah, we do. But funnily enough, sometimes the referrals, people refer their friends, and you would think that that would be where you’d find the gold, often not really. Yeah, sometimes they apply and they don’t get through, and the friends are like, “Oh, she didn’t make it.” We’ve got very clean metrics. So it’s not an opinion thing.
Andrew: What’s the metric on? I find that that’s a hard thing to have metrics on.
Barbara: Yep. So we grade their testing when they come through. So the English tests that we have are the first test. There’s a whole raft of tests.
Andrew: And that’s pretty easy to come up with a number for. There are enough tests out there that you can . . . what else are you testing throughout?
Barbara: We have a process that we make them do. So for example, we actually give them a podcast and we asked them to create an infographic from it. So they’ve got to pick out the top five points that were made in the podcast, and then they’ve got to follow a process that we give them. So it’s testing around, “Can you follow instructions? Do you understand what we’re doing here? Can you decipher like . . . you know, have you got good smarts?” Like that’s what you’re looking for.
Andrew: What about as they work with a client, do have a way of measuring that?
Barbara: Yep. So we have KPIs attached to everything. But we do need quite a lot of client involvement for that. So the client . . . and actually, here’s the thing, another problem I discovered, after we fixed all those other things I found the clients were not . . . they would come to us and say, “Oh, I just . . . yeah, this problem.” We’d say, “Look, let’s jump on a call with you, your VA, and us and we’ll . . . ” or, “Oh, I don’t want to tell them.” We’re like, “But if we don’t give them the feedback . . . ”
Andrew: Oh, you don’t want to tell them that they didn’t do it right.
Barbara: If we don’t discuss how to give constructive feedback in a way that everyone feels great, then how are we going to solve this problem? Otherwise, you’re just moaning, right. You just want to complain. Yeah, so we do a lot of that.
Andrew: From what I heard, firing is a big issue for you too.
Barbara: Yes. I don’t fire people particularly easy. I tried to hire them slower. We tried to put them through a lot.
Andrew: But when you’re apparently at one point you were so . . . it was a big issue for you? Was it?
Barbara: Yes, it was. Yeah. So learning to fire somebody has been probably my biggest weakness I’d say is that I would hang on to people for a little bit too long because I really believe in people and I love mentoring people and I definitely have hung on for too long with some people. But I’ve had to learn that myself. You know, I’ve had to learn to navigate that emotional part of myself to learn to put more metrics in place and to be [inaudible 00:37:35]
Andrew: Because it becomes clear to you and to them this is not working and . . .
Barbara: Unemotional, yeah.
Andrew: It’s so weird for me, by the way, to be sitting down during an interview. I’m getting antsy now. But I’ve got cracks in the heel bone because of running and when it first happened I had all this pain and I said, “I’m going to run anyway.” And then people will say, “Andrew, if you’re feeling pain, you shouldn’t run.” Like, “I have to run now to just prove to you that I am man enough, strong enough, whatever, to run.”
Barbara: Running is overrated. I’m not a runner and I just look at runners and go, “See, it’s painful.”
Andrew: Oh, I love it. I love it. I’m now forced to sit. And I realized standing up in these interviews was an issue too. So until this heals up for the next six weeks, I’m going to try to sit. It’s hard. I’ve been standing most of the day. Two years it took you to fire your first person.
Barbara: Yes, it did. Yeah.
Andrew: And so they were just staying on or you were cutting back their work time?
Barbara: No, they were there. Look, the first person that I eventually fired, look, sometimes people are, they do a great job but . . . this is the thing that I now don’t . . . I see in the beginning, “Yeah, just stand up. Why don’t you just stand up?” I see it in the beginning. So we don’t hire people like this anymore. But when they’re slippery, right, so if a person online and everyone listening who’s had a VA that was slippery will know what I mean. They’re there, then they’re not there. Then they say they’re there, then they sort of lie and then it’s all that crap. It’s like when someone’s cheating on you, you can’t catch them. And it’s just like slippery and you keep blaming yourself. So I have gone through the pain of that. And I’ve also seen clients go through it and we have now eradicated that problem.
Barbara:Well, with VAs that work with clients . . . look, one of the reasons I went away from work from home is, look, you can’t grow that, right. So work from home is great, right? So if you’ve got to work from home VA, I’ve got lots of them, that’s great, right? If they’re good. I couldn’t grow it though. You can’t go to 500 people on that model. So that was the reason. But also I just felt I needed people who want to show up for work on time. They don’t want to do it whenever they feel like it because that just doesn’t work right? It just . . .
Andrew: If they’re in an office there’s not much room to be slippery, but if they’re doing at home, stuff comes up, it becomes backburner.
Barbara: There’s kids. They’re doing work at three o’clock in the morning and they tell, “You know, I’m a night person,” you’re like, “No, it’s just not working right. It’s just not working.” So I . . .
Andrew: And they have to work there evenings because they have to be on U.S. time? Is it U.S., Europe, or Australia?
Barbara: We run 24/7 now so we have a night shift that runs in the office. But those are people that choose to work the night shift and we pay more for that and we’ve got like lots of programs for that. Yeah, it’s this whole thing of, you know, if people are given too much flexibility, I sort of say, you’re better off doing flexibility within a bit of a structure. Because as humans, if you give yourself even too much flexibility, you won’t do anything. Nothing gets done, right? So I learned through my own experience of allowing too much freedom, allowing too much like you have to have some form of structure. So again, I was great with processes and I needed to bring that process management sort of thing into how I manage people because you’re managing people at the end of the day.
Andrew: All right. Let me talk about my second sponsor and then come back here and find out how you grew beyond this. Because the first batch was just people who knew your website, who came into the webinar. But you got better at getting clients. The second sponsor was a company called ActiveCampaign. You know them. What do you know about ActiveCampaign?
Barbara: ActiveCampaign are awesome. They just kind of burst onto the market a few years ago and they’ve really . . . you know what? Active Campaign I have to say, they took a problem and they massively solved for in that the gap . . .
Andrew: What’s the problem?
Barbara: I think the gap between MailChimp and like Infusionsoft was too big. Ontraport came in and solved a lot of that problem in terms of their pricing. I’m a big Ontraport user myself. But there was still a gap in that MailChimp to Ontraport place and I think initially ActiveCampaign came in and solved for that problem massively. And now they’re solving more problems in that. Like they’re not just in that space. They have really become a player, a contender in this particular CRM space. So I really . . .
Andrew: Yeah. Because, you know what? The problem I think with MailChimp was you couldn’t do marketing automation really. They could always say, “Yes, you could.” And, yeah, if you like figure out these hacky ways of doing, you could do it. But you really couldn’t say, “Someone just hit this thing, did that thing, did that other. Tag them in a certain way so when we have a new product that fits everyone who did all those steps, we can talk.” You couldn’t do that really with MailChimp.
Infusionsoft, you’re right, you could do it. The problem is, you could do everything and it gets so complicated and convoluted that very few people can manage it themselves.
What Active Campaign . . . and they’ve actually been around forever, but they were just like basic email. They weren’t being considered by the majors. They had their business. It was growing. But they weren’t being considered in the marketing automation space. And then I said, “We’re going to make it simple to do marketing automation.”
Anyone should be able to say, “If someone’s on this page of my site, the page that is made . . . ” in your example might be, “The page it’s made for clients. Let’s not tell them that we have excellent hiring opportunities in the Philippines. Let’s not email them about this new job that we have. We should instead say, ‘Hey, they keep looking at this. How do I hire a virtual assistant?’ Let’s tag them as someone who’s looking at those pages and then send them email that teaches them how to hire and teaches them what to do once they hire and then say, ‘By the way, we also have the service where you could just hire through us and we’ll take care of it,'” right? That’s how The Virtual Hub would use it.
Anyone who’s listening to the sound of my voice, who’s been interested in email marketing automation, you just heard, Barbara just gave you a list of competitors and I’m actually going to give them to right now. You go to MailChimp, you can go to Ontraport, you can go to Infusionsoft, you can go to . . . what else is there? They’re a bunch of different ones out there. Try them all. Try them all. In fact, some of them actually are going to charge you a couple of thousand dollars just to try them. But you can find a way to experiment.
Here’s what in the end you’re going to like about ActiveCampaign. All this marketing automation like tag people based on what they clicked on, based on whether they bought or not, based on whether they clicked the page on your site or even watched a video to the end. It’s all much easier to actually implement in use in ActiveCampaign.
Except I’m actually going to say video I think is a little bit harder to tag someone if they watch the end of the video. The rest of the stuff that I said, fairly easy. You don’t need any programming. You just add a little bit of code on your site and you can figure out what people are doing on your site. You just tag them when they’re clicking a link and you can keep track of what people are interested in what they’re clicking on.
So try ActiveCampaign. If you want a little bit of extra incentive to go try them, if you go to a special URL that I’m going to give you in a moment, they’re going to let you try it for free. They’re going to give you your second month free, if you decide to work with them. They’re also going to give you two strategy sessions with their consultants, experts in the platform, who’ll hear what you do, and then say, “Here’s how you can use ActiveCampaign.”
Then you got to do it and then you come back again for a second free one-on-one session with them where they check in, see what worked, what didn’t, give you another set of directions and set you out into the world. If you’re with any of the other competitors that I talked about and you want to migrate, they’ll migrate you for free. They will make it easy for you to move.
One of the big problems, by the way, Barbara, is these email marketing automation companies or email companies in general. They got a lock on you. Once you’re in, it’s so hard to move. ActiveCampaign said, “You know what? We’ll just move it for them.” So here’s the URL where you can go check it out, activecampaign.com/mixergy, activecampaign.com/mixergy. I’m standing up. I hope this is not going to break my leg.
Barbara: You’ll survive.
Andrew: I will. But the hardest part is just not being able to run or being able to cycle. I’m not taking the train like a sucker.
Barbara: Do you know that I was listening to one of your podcasts actually the other day with a guy called . . . is it Chris Heron? Who’s the guy that you were talking to you about the COO?
Andrew: Oh, yes. Cameron Herold.
Barbara: Oh, that’s his name. I looked him up just before we spoke and I thought I forget his name, right? And I would encourage anyone, that was an amazing podcast that you did with him because he talked about that whole thing of like, if you’re the crazy entrepreneur type, right, which a lot of people are to try to put a team in and implement stuff even if they’re VAs is actually really hard, right? So you almost need, well, CEOs like way off the charts probably for most people. But like to get a really good operations person or a project manager that can manage, like take your ideas and filter them down into task lists and break it down to everyone is actually quite a beneficial thing.
And the reason a lot of people struggle with the outsourcing thing or even building teams is because a lot of stuff like in startup land, they’re all entrepreneurs that have that, you know, crazy mindset where it’s all idea driven, and they’re not really interested in sitting down and developing processes because it’s kind of boring. But the dividends that it pays you in the end are enormous. So it’s worth it for any entrepreneur to just really think about this.
And I think for me, when I was listening to that podcast with Cameron, I realized that, yes, I wasn’t the entrepreneurial type as a child, right. So I wasn’t a natural entrepreneur. I do have that sort of freedom feeling, but I actually think that where I was falling into is more that sort of I’m very good at systems processes and like implementing stuff. So the business, interestingly, that I have, it’s not like a startup that nobody else has thought of. I just took a business that I didn’t think was working particularly well in other places and I have evolved it to what the market really is asking for. So the market is asking for more help.
Andrew: So it’s really tough. If you’re connecting me to a virtual assistant, you’re not giving me a product. You’re giving me a person. How do you know if the person did the job? How do you measure like if I’m the one who’s not sending it right, if the virtual assistant is doing it wrong, or if I . . . how do you keep track of that?
Barbara: So we encourage a lot of feedback. So, and thankfully, our clients like on our client onboarding process, we sort of talked to them about the fact that if it’s not working for you, even if you’re just feeling, just tell us, right, so that we can come in and actually have a look at things. So we can decipher. We have fixed many problems. And sometimes I remember getting an email from a client once that was like, “I don’t know what you guys did, but it’s amazing now.” And what we did was we put someone in who coached the VA on how to manage the task list, their productivity, what they were doing, and how to kind of manage the expectations of the client better, rather than that whole thing of just saying yes all the time. That’s just one example.
Andrew: So you’re not checking in after every task. Are you requiring them to use . . . I know one of your competitors, I forget which one, people are required to use their email system, it’s like Zendesk or something so that they can keep track of the tasks and then score them or something. You don’t do that?
Barbara: No, I know who you’re talking about who does that, but that’s a slightly different business model from us. No, we don’t. We do use Time Doctor which is a screen tracker. A lot of the reason we use that is because, you know, people think, “Are you using it to kind of, you know, track people?” Not really. It’s dispute. We can actually see, you know, where . . . and also we encourage clients to use Asana or Trello or somewhere where we can go back and look at the task and look at the whole flow. And then on the screen trackers, we can see kind of how it went.
But also if a VA is having a problem, they all have team leaders and success coaches. So usually like each team, there’s team of 20 people, the team leaders always know when somebody is struggling with a task and they usually elevated to our trainers, our help desk, or even to me.
Andrew: Okay. So that actually is one of the things the reason The Virtual Hub can do this is because you’re not letting your virtual assistants do everything. They’re not doing my bookkeeping, my personal bookkeeping. It’s not that hard, right? Tag the supermarket as grocery, etc., and then at the end of the month, I’ll pull a report that tells me how much money I spent on groceries. You guys aren’t doing it.
You’re spending time in just marketing software. And so if someone has problem with ActiveCampaign or Infusionsoft or HubSpot, there’s someone else in the company who knows how to use the software and can help them.
Andrew:But if they were using another piece of software, you wouldn’t have like an Intuit expert on hand in addition to a HubSpot. Okay, how did you know to get to that? That part is impressive to me that you said, “We’re focusing on virtual assistants, but also within this space.” How did you know that was the answer?
Barbara: Yeah. So a couple of reasons. I was doing a few implementations myself with clients more on the consulting side of, you know, platforms, like ActiveCampaign, for example. And I noticed that, you know, the big problem out there, and I was reading it in all the marketing places. All the consultants, right, they’re saying, “Are you just using 10% of your marketing software?” So everybody’s buying these softwares, and they’re using, like, they’re just scratching the surface. Because they don’t have any time. They haven’t really learned how to use it. They don’t even know what it can do. They know what they’d like to do with it strategically. They have no time to do it, right?
So I saw this as a problem. You can hire a consultant but the consultants had the same problem. The client they would end up doing all the doing for the clients and they have to charge that up with quite a high clip. So we’ve had what I found was I had a few consultants who made their clients hire a VA from us. I would make sure the VA was completely deeply trained in the platform, so the calls would work like this. The strategist gets on with the client, maps out the strategy, and lays out the task list, and then the VA implements over the following week. And the client just has to sit in the call and go, “Great. That sounds great.”
Andrew: With the managers at your company at The Virtual Hub?
Barbara: No, these would just be strategist that are out in the market. Implementation was huge.
Andrew: Oh yeah, you know what? So we interviewed them they’re a bunch of them. They never have enough team to do the work. They want your team to do the work. And so you’re saying you partnered up with them and . . .
Barbara: Yeah. Some of them. Some of them hire their PAs, but then you’re running an agency. So some of them don’t want to do that, right? So some of them will get their client because the VA . . .
Andrew: Because of low margin stuff. For them just think through, “Okay, your funnel needs to be this thing that we give away followed by these sequence of emails that you’re going to write, followed . . . ” that is helpful and they could plan that out and set it up. But when you have an email to go out, that’s low margin. You’re not willing to pay a couple hundred bucks to send out an email. And they don’t want to get paid $7 just to send out an email. And at that point, they say, “Go hire a virtual assistant, have someone on staff,” or at some point you partnered up with them.
Barbara: You know, the rules like even things like, okay, this loading all the emails into the software takes ages. There’s formatting and all that stuff, right? That’s all low value. That’s all VA stuff. But there’s also the tinkering with Zapier to make systems talk to each other. There’s the rules. There’s figuring out if something’s possible. There’s troubleshooting with the support team at ActiveCampaign or whatever to figure out a problem. All of that stuff would take you all day if you’re doing it yourself, right? And anyone trying to do this knows it is so time consuming. There’s the VA, right? You just say to your VA, “Can you just ask ActiveCampaign why that [crosstalk 00:52:49].
Andrew: Okay. So at what point did you realize that what you’re going to focus on?
Barbara: I think when I was getting too scattered and I realized that I just couldn’t deliver successfully enough for people . . .
Andrew: Is there an example for something you weren’t able to deliver on?
Barbara: Yeah. I had a couple of people come. At one stage we were doing really well in that space because I had a natural interest in it. I love marketing software. I love marketing in general. I love that space. But we had a couple of clients that we had one that wanted a bookkeeper. We had a client at the time that was a recruiter. We had people wanting VAs to do sales calls. But because I couldn’t control the training for those clients, I was saying, “Okay, you do your own training.” But the ones we were controlling the training for was going so well, but then I was putting fires out all the time with these other ones. And I wasn’t making any money there. So I just thought, “You know what? Bin that. Let’s just do this.” So that’s it. Yeah.
Andrew: And that’s when you started firing some of your clients?
Barbara: Yes. Yep. Yeah. And some . . .
Andrew: You also fired the entrepreneurs. You know, I’m going to sit down while we talk about that. Why did you fire entrepreneurs?
Barbara: Look, there’s a type of entrepreneur out there that, you know, has a great vision, wants to change the world. And I will openly admit, I have no patience for this. I’m not a very patient person. I’m a doer. I want to build a company and I want to build a scalable business that is a company that is a saleable asset but also creates impact in this world. In order to do that, I know that I need teams, systems, processes. I need all this stuff and it’s a lot of work on my part. And I need to be the leader of that.
Other people have a wish to do all that. They want to change the world, but they want someone else to do it for them. They mix up a VA with a strategist and they’re like, “I wanted my VA to take more initiative.” I’m like, “Well, describe that to me.” And what they describe is actually a COO. I’m like, you know, “Come on, you’re not going to get that for eight bucks an hour.” So that sort of thing, I have to be very clear that the people who are not ready to accept the responsibility of the business that they want to build do not hire a VA because you’re going waste your time, energy, and money. So we turn them away now. We don’t we don’t let them in.
Andrew: And you also have minimums. At what point did you add minimums?
Barbara: Twenty hours a week. I added that pretty early on because I realized that if you do the task-based thing, 10 hours is I did that initially. And what I found was the actual virtual assistants approach me, because I take feedback from the VAs as well. I’ve built the whole company by feedback from both sides. And they came to me really scattered and they were like, “I’ve got 4 clients 10 hours each in a day, sometimes five, and it’s just, I’m too scattered. I can’t cope.” And I just listened deeply to them and they don’t like doing it. So I stopped doing it.
And then I realized as well that the ones that were committing to 10 hours, look, you can get a VA for a few hours a week. I just think you’re either committed to this or you’re not. And again, that’s me being impatient. I’m like, “You know what? If you’re in a business and you want to build something that is a business, then I think you should, you know, hire. Somebody 20 hours a week as an assistant in the Philippines. If you can’t afford that, well I think you need to rethink your business model potentially or your focus.”
Andrew: Is this $8 U.S. or $8 Australian?
Barbara: At the moment our pricing is three levels. We’ve level one, two, three. It’s in U.S. dollars. It’s $8, $10, $12. But eight bucks an hour, being honest, you’re going to get an admin VA. Do not expect them to be creating social media images for you or navigating your WordPress site. You know, they’re more admin. You know, they’re going to help you out . . .
Andrew: Twelve-dollar an hour is the email marketing software people.
Barbara: Yeah, ActiveCampaign. Yeah, we train them really deeply. Yeah, yeah. So, look, it’s cheap, right? I know that, but I know that at the moment we’re in a sweet spot where we can help a lot of entrepreneurs. It’s an easy entry price, and there’s very low objections to that price right now.
Andrew: Okay, so I’m coming back. I want to understand how you got clients for this. I’m coming back to my notes here. And it says, “To get to the million dollar revenue mark, you needed to do deep training on the virtual assistants.” But that doesn’t tell me where the clients came from.
Barbara: Yeah, yeah.
Andrew: Tell, some of it is partnership. What else?
Barbara: So a really interesting thing happened. You would think that I’d be running a massive affiliate program, I don’t. I did initially. It was a nightmare to manage it. We were getting all the wrong clients. It was really difficult, right? So I stopped it. But what I found was that we were getting referrals from people I’d never even heard of. So business coaches out there were referring clients to our business because people were talking about us in Facebook groups.
So, you know, some of the big Facebook groups somebody mentioned, “Hey, there’s this company called The Virtual Hub and they train them really deeply. So I’ve got a really deep training program.” And people started talking about it naturally. And what I found was business coaches . . . I have been a business coach and I know that if you want to get success for your clients, you need to get them to take action. And the reason some of them don’t is because you leave them with a massive to-do list that they’ve not time to do. So business coaches figured out pretty quickly that, you know, this was a place they felt they could trust that they would get decent VAs. Number two, I also . . .
Andrew: Is it an affiliate program with them?
Andrew: And do you do anything to recruit them?
Barbara: I don’t think people even cared. None of them even approached me to ask about that. But they just felt that this was really important for their clients to get this right. So we did really well with that. I did a couple of speaking gigs, just through people I knew at smaller events. I also have my own podcast. So I’ve got a podcast called “The Virtual Success Show.” Look, it’s, you know, I love doing it. I’ve got a cohost on there. But I wouldn’t say it’s a massive spinner for us at this point. We are going to ramp it up. But getting on other people’s podcasts has also been great for me. Even small podcasts, we get a trickle of clients from every single one. So I was on the ActiveCampaign . . .
Barbara: Yeah, we do. Yeah, yeah.
Andrew: What’s the deal with the EOFire? I was looking at SimilarWeb to see where you got your traffic. One of the top referring websites is eofire.com, John Lee Dumas podcast. Was just that you? Do you have a partnership or anything with him?
Barbara: No. I was on his podcast and, you know, I actually wanted to reach out to him and just thank him for the opportunity. He interviewed me. I did a master class for his listeners. And we, honestly, we did get flooded after that. So one podcast for me is quite a good set. Look, I think it’s because it’s a topic that people really want to learn about. They really, really desperately want to know how to get success with it and everybody’s asking themselves, “Why am I not successful with it?” And I’m here to tell people, “It’s because it’s not as simple as people are telling you.” The market is saying, “Just get a VA. Pay three bucks an hour.” It’s really difficult, right? So it’s you can do it but we help you to do it.
Andrew: Yeah. I get that. What I’m intrigued by is building the business behind it because the idea of saying I’m going to systemized or productize people make sense. The execution is tough. It’s an nightmare. We have a mutual friend, what’s his name? Carl Taylors [SP].
Barbara: Yes, Carl. Yeah.
Andrew: Carl. You know, Carl. In private he told how much of a nightmare it was for him to keep track of his people.
Barbara:It is a nightmare.
Andrew:And what he does is he doesn’t let those people do anything. And it’s all in his own project management software. And even then, when it’s limited scope, use his software, and so on, it’s still a nightmare. So I’m curious about how you did it. It looks like what you . . . here’s what I’m taking away from it. Focus down on a handful of things that you can train people for and get good at and then even have someone who’s even better internally to help them out. Actually, that’s the biggest takeaway from this, right? Train both sides.
Barbara: Look, I’m like the CEO, right? I’m a very good project manager. I know if I was to say what’s my greatest strength, I’m a master executor, right? So I will go in and take a vision and execute that. Like that’s just my natural strength. My natural weakness is not firing people fast enough, right? I’m too nice, but I would agree. And Carl and I talk about this all the time. We’re both in Sydney. It is a nightmare, right? Even if you are good at this, it is not easy because you’re dealing with people.
Now, how I’ve managed to get over the hump of that is to try to strip the emotion out of everything. So I do not interview people anymore. I’m not allowed in it. Actually it was my team who said, “Barb, we can’t have you in the interviews anymore.” And I was like, “Why? But why?” And they said, “Because you’re too nice. You want to give everyone a job.” So it’s moving everything back to metrics, being unemotional . . .
Andrew: And you would put a metric on everything like if someone sent out an email. How could he put a metric on that? I’d love to. I want to put metrics on stuff.
Barbara: Yeah, yeah. Okay. So emails, now here’s the other trick, people think email is the first thing you would outsource. I’m telling you it’s the last. It is very difficult to outsource your email.
Andrew: You mean my personal email?
Barbara: Any of it. Even your customer support is tricky, right? Because . . .
Andrew: No, I meant sending out an email using whatever CRM people are using, whatever email service provider.
Andrew:Right. So you said that. How do you put the metric on? Where do they do it right?
Barbara: Well, is the link correct? Was there any mistakes with it?
Andrew: So does that mean that the client has to come back and have a checklist of things to check out?
Barbara: Well, I wouldn’t check every email, but you’re going to figure out pretty quickly like you’re on your own email list. If it comes out wrong, you’re going to know about it.
Andrew: So it’s how many complaints there are? Because I’m metric driven person too but I find that certain things are hard to put a metric around.
Barbara:Give me an example, yeah.
Andrew:Like, for example, interviewing this interview, how do I know whether Ari is done as good a job as possible? And actually, I know she does a great job. She just picked this stuff up. How do I know whether she’s improving between this month and next month? I couldn’t even come up with a metric. One of my past guests said, “For some things, you could just let the person put their own number on it, their own quality. If they know their stuff, they’ll know when they haven’t done a good job, or when things just suck.”
And Ari has been looking at and said, “You know what? The last few were not very well edited.” And she said, I know why, Skype is not that great. We’re going to shift you now to Zoom because Zoom is updated, and they keep getting better audio quality. I’m going to figure out how to edit Zoom and we’re going to shift to that.” But that was a tough time to come up with a metric for both of us to see how well she’s improving. How do you do it for certain tasks?
Barbara: Yeah. Here’s an idea that somebody else shared with me. So my cohost on my podcast is a fantastic business coach. And he said to me, “So, first of all, if you have people on your team, you have to accept that another job that you have to take on as a leader is that you have to actually review . . . you’ve got to do reviews, right, and you’ve got to have KPIs with people,” right? So a great way to do this is to allow people to rate themselves. So let’s say you’re going to do a six monthly review, you can set this up in your automation software. Set an automation, send them their own evaluation sheet at month five, right?
And asked them to rate themselves and get send the same sheet to you. Now, if it’s a podcast, what I would suggest doing, you don’t have to go through and listen to every podcast. Randomly select a few and just quickly run through. Because you’ve got to have oversight, right? Yeah, at some point, you have to have an oversight of what your people are doing. That’s not micromanaging. That’s purely just leadership. And then you will rate that person based on . . . it could be things like how many ideas they came up with? How many times they wow you? Like, you know, are they coming up with ideas? So . . .
Andrew: For Michael, our developer, I should be how many times you said no to people, because everyone wants to throw stuff at the developer.
Barbara: That’s a great one. Are they overwhelmed with the job? So you got to really sit down think this out. But when you look at how they scored themselves and their own comments, and then you don’t look at that while you score them, and then you guys come together and have a meeting and look at what the scores were, and it makes the conversation much more open because there’s no dancing around what . . .
Andrew: What do you do to . . . do you have a spreadsheet where everyone puts their numbers in? Do you use different software for that?
Barbara: You can just use a JotForm and just have it show up in a Google Sheet or something like that. I mean, we’ve got an eternal HR management system now that does that.
Andrew: What are you using for that?
Barbara: Well, we’re using a tool called Zoho People but we’re kind of moving away from that at the moment. We’ve actually built our own internal one, so we’ve got an internal an app for that now because Zoho People is pretty good. There’s trackers in there. But I was just using a JotForm though and people were just . . . like the images update their own JotForm.
Andrew: It’s that big spreadsheet that I want with the key ideas, the key numbers.
Barbara: You could use ActiveCampaign for this. You could have a profile for your person. Okay, mine is different because I’ve got loads of them, loads people. But like we would have profiles for them, contact records. And in the contact record, we could have like custom fields for all these things where they rate themselves and my rating.
Andrew: Yeah. And then you see it over time. Yeah, ActiveCampaign as a CRM and email service provider. I hate when we go into ESP, Email Service Provider. I wish there was a better name for this stuff. All right, for anyone who wants to go check out your website, they . . . Oh, look, here’s another thing, what’s LifterLMS? They’re sending you a bunch of traffic.
Andrew: Why? What are you doing with them? Learning Management System.
Barbara: You know, not only I met someone who I literally think I actually became friends with this person. So Chris Badgett who’s the founder of LifterLMS, it is a learning management software tool. It’s a plugin for WordPress where you can create a learning experience for your course. So if you’re creating an online course and you want to have a learning management system that can give out certificates and do all these sort of fun stuff, LifterLMS is a great little tool for that.
So he had me on his podcast and he also had me do a full webinar for his internal audience. And I had him on my podcast and stuff like. So, yeah. He’s run big teams before.
Andrew:Okay, so now I’m getting a sense of where you’re getting your clients, how you’re working. I don’t know how you’re not more exhausted. But what time is it? You’re in Sydney?
Barbara:Look another strategy we are running right now and just for people listening, this is . . . Okay. This is a marathon long game won, not a short game strategy. We do a lot of organic content marketing. Now this is when I’ve delegated really successfully. I have a full team that run this. So there’s everything from the long tail keyword research right through to the . . . you know, so we’re very specific about our topic maps, what we’re writing about. We have the writers. I’ve got somebody managing that. I’ve got another person who manages, putting it up on the content, on the blog, all the images and social media distribution, blah, blah, blah. We’re getting traffic a little bit.
Andrew: You’re still not great at it from what I could see on SimilarWeb? This is new?
Barbara: No. Yeah. We’ve been it 12 months and we’re getting there now.
Andrew: Wow, 12 months to get there.
Barbara: Yeah. It’s a long game. That was the long game strategy.
Andrew: But look at this, your keywords are “virtual agent hub,” “our assistants, your success,” you’re doing well. All right, I’m glad that [crosstalk 01:07:41].
Andrew:There’s a guy who just wouldn’t stop with us until we had you on. He was right because we made a mistake. I don’t know why we didn’t have you on sooner. Paul Higgins, he found me every fricken method online and I appreciate it. And somehow our system broke down and we didn’t have you on. And you were in our system but we lost you and so I’m glad that he followed up and we have you on here. Anyone who wants to go check you out should go check out thevirtualhub.com. And I’ve got no affiliate program, so you guys can just go sign up directly.
If you want to check out my two sponsors, I still don’t have an affiliate program but I do get credit if you guys go to not just ActiveCampaign but check out activecampaign.com/mixergy. And if you’re raising money for your company, think about crowdsourcing through StartEngine . . . no it’s mixergy.startengine.com I hope I did say it wrong previously, mixergy.startengine.com Let me confirm that, Mixergy.
How are they ever going to buy another ad from me again. I did that to their founder. I basically I didn’t trust them until I did all this research. And then I gave the wrong URL. I think. I don’t even know.
Barbara: I think that’s better. I think that you’ve given them, you know, you’ve said it like it is, what you thought.
Andrew: Maybe given them some attention. There’s no way they’re buying another ad. There is no way. I got a feeling. You know who’s going to buy a bunch of more ads? It’s ActiveCampaign. We’ve turned a lot of people onto them. It’s Toptal because they’re really good at converting people. Toptal and ActiveCampaign are basically like in a fight with Sachit. “Can you us more spots?” But I’m proud of the relationship I have with all my sponsors. I see a lot of podcasters now, they’re playing music under their ads to let you know, “This is not really me. I’m getting paid for this.” I go, “If we ever get to that point where I’m taking distance . . . ”
Barbara: You’re in a business. You’re running a business. And like people are always feeling funny about like, “I get paid for this.” I’m like, “It’s a business, right?” I mean, you have to get paid for things you do, right?
Andrew: This is most tangible experience that people are going to have in my business. If they sign for StartEngine or ActiveCampaign, the experience there is more impactful on their business than the hour they spend with me here. And if it’s a crappy experience, they’re going to hate me. If it’s a great experience, they’re going to love me. So I can’t get 100%, but I got to get as close to 100% success for my audience as possible. Okay. I better run. I’m running late to pick up my kid from school. I’m now a dad. Can you believe that, Barbara?
Barbara: I’m a mom. We have kids the same age.
Andrew: Yeah, I’m responsible now. All right. Thank you so much for being here and thank you all for listening. If you’ve got an Alexa or any other smart speaker, please shout at it and say, “Play Mixergy podcast.” I think you’ll be excited. Bye, everyone.