Aderson Oliveira: I've spoken with LaTonja King about how an online business manager can help you grow your business and also why she decided to focus on having more women clients. She talks about the strategy she's using to find and hire professionals by using Facebook user groups. She has also shared a horror story about communication with a client going bad, and the lessons she learned from that.
Hello, hello, Aderson Oliveira here. This is another interview for the OuchSourcing Podcast where I talk to professionals, business owners, ace owners about outsourcing and the do's and don’ts, and how they can help to make the process a little bit easier for you and for me as well. Today I have with me LaTonja King. She is the founder and CEO of L.K. Executives and Online Business Manager Agency, in short, an OBM. LaTonja, welcome.
LaTonja King: Thank you for having me.
Aderson: Perfect. Looking forward to our conversation. Let me start by -- before I get to that, where are you located and what's your business about?
LaTonja: I am located in Atlanta, Georgia. My business is basically I help small and large businesses with their everyday tasks. I work directly to the CEO and President, and I take on those tasks that are just too trying for them. When you're growing and expanding a business, it could be difficult not to have a team, and my team trains, coordinates, does systematic strategies to help that business grow and expand.
Aderson: Okay. Is that your pitch that you have been sharpening over the last few months?
LaTonja: I would like to say yes, but honestly, in our reality my pitch changes every time, but it just the gist of everything that I do. It does change every time I talk to someone different.
Aderson: Perfect. That's how it goes. We are just talking. First thing I'm curious about, LaTonja, is OBM. First time that I came across the term "OBM" was when I was watching one of your previous interviews with someone else. Can you tell me a little bit more about OBM? Is OBM a thing?
LaTonja: It is. It's a huge thing. It's actually sweeping the nation now with virtual businesses. Basically, it's not like a VA, it's not like a PM. However, VA's and PM's can subject themselves to becoming an OBM. OBM's are basically strategy managers. It would be something of the nature of a business manager in a corporate field. It's just that we do it virtually, and it's expanding because a lot of businesses are outsourcing their business managers because it's a lot cheaper, actually, on their end, financially.
Aderson: Got it. You mention there a VA, a virtual assistant, which is where you came from originally. Can you give us a few examples of what an OBM will do for a business?
LaTonja: Absolutely. One of the major things that I do that a PM and a VA does not do is I give business audits. Whether it's their financial statements, their trainings they miss within their organization with their team members, whether it's their education within their firm, marketing, social media marketing, email marketing, you name it, we do a business audit on it and we find the holes within the organization, and help that CEO or President to build and plug those holes in where necessary in order to expand and grow their business.
Aderson: Just by first hearing about that, it's much more comprehensive than - I don't want to say just a VA - but as compared to a VA, it's a much more comprehensive offering. I think it's a little bit difficult to deliver on that promise. Can you tell me a little bit about your processes and how you go about doing those things that you have mentioned?
LaTonja: Yeah, so basically the first thing we do is the business audit, and basically what I do within the business audit is that I break down everything within their organization, and it starts from the beginning. If that organization has been open for about five years and they still have not grown, I'm looking into their financial statements, their processes and procedures, their policies to find out what it is that's stopping that organization from growing.
For example, if they've been in business for five years and their social media, they only have about 11,000 viewers, then there's a problem there. Five years is a long amount of time in social media years. You should have a profound amount of followers, a profound amount of action within that marketing scheme, and the fact that you don't means that there's something that's missing, as well as financials.
We look in financials for two reasons: 1, to see where your money is going and, 2, to see where it's coming in from. Also, we check and see, "Well, this particular software program that you're using is about $10,000, and your business has not grown to the point where it needs a $10,000 software. We need to scale down with all these wonderful softwares out there that are lot less expensive but can also give you the professional help that you need within your organization."
A lot of companies tend to grow too fast for themselves because they think that they need everything when, really, they need the key points within their organization and what they need to grow their particular business. A lot of businesses tend to copy other businesses because they say, "Well, it's working for that business, so why not try with mine?" What they're not understanding is that business could be profoundly a lot bigger than where they are in their professional building. I try and go in, we literally scale everything down, and I build them from the ground up.
Aderson: Got it. That sounds amazing, but how did you learn about those things? How do you know those things?
LaTonja: I went to school. I have a degree in International Training Finances and a minor in Humanities. But, I'm going to be honest with you, the schooling teaches you the breakdown, but real life, when I was working as a VA, I started to notice some things that I like to do a lot more than just administrative tasks, or design, or those big software programs that we would help about Infusionsoft and Facebook Ads, and things of that nature. I felt that I actually I wanted to be a part of their organization, I wanted to know more about their business. How are you growing? I would start asking questions like, "Where are you putting your money? What's happening with your social media? I see that I'm managing it, but it doesn't seem to be growing. We're missing some key points." Once I started to ask myself those questions, I actually did some research and realized that it's just in the line of business management. I will just be doing it from a virtual standpoint, and there was such thing as online business manager.
Aderson: As far as I understand, and I'm not downplaying on VA's. I'm just stating what I understand here is that a virtual assistant, they really are taking, in a way, directions, orders, they are executing on some specific tasks, and what you're bringing to the table is more of you are actually strategizing, you are analyzing what the business is doing. Is that a fair assessment?
LaTonja: Absolutely, yes. VA's, or virtual assistants, they do a specified task within an organization. They don't really know the inner workings of that organization. They do know that they're an expert in the specified task that they're doing. So, whether it's a social management, they're gurus in that area. However, they do not know the in’s and out's of the operation, or the subject or the vision or mission of the business.
Aderson: How about we get a little bit more specific here, and without mentioning business names, nor anything like that, but for instance, what have you done recently for a client that you can give us as a very concrete example of the type of work that you do for an organization?
LaTonja: Actually, recently I am helping a business. The founder is creating a doll, a multicultural doll, and she's basically building that from the ground up. She was having issues within the manufacturer, and she was having issues with finding the proper person to tell her story, things of that nature, and she reached out to me and she said, "I don't know where to go next. I don't know how to handle this situation. Where do you come in? "
My team came in and we took over everything, but we did it within her objectives. We sat down very specifically with that client, we asked her what her objectives and her vision and mission was for the business, and we took that and we honed it on it. I contacted manufacturers in different countries - New Mexico, China - we delivered time frames, schedules, we also looked within her financials, we signed her up for different business funding that would not allow for her to have to get a business loan, such as pitches, competitions, and things of that nature where she can earn funds without having to put her business into debt. We also set her up on missions. She goes to a lot of conferences to promote her doll and her mission, and we also took over her social media, posting on a regular basis, posting at a time that her followers are in, and connecting her with organizations who also feel her mission and her vision and want to see that happen.
We literally had to dig in to her business, and we had to take over in the aspects where she was not capable of doing at that time, because she's the creative. She's the one who's doing all the creating, and creating these beautiful dolls, and she needed somebody on the business and to come in and handle a lot of the business situations, and the contracts, and things of that nature.
Aderson: That sounds amazing. I think that you are helping a lot of business like that, but to do that, you mentioned about your team. Can you talk a little bit about that side of your business? Who is on your team? What type of professionals do you have on your team?
LaTonja: That's a great question. I have lawyers on my team, I have an OBM of my own that I have on my team, I also have a project manager on my team, social media gurus on my team, and web designers on my team as well. I also have an awesome branding guru on my team. I also have a team of subcontractors, like VA's, who do subcontracting information just, for instance, for small businesses who do not have a team. If they do have a team, my training team goes in, and we train their team. However, if this is a small business, and they do not have a team yet, I reach in and dig with my team, my subcontracts, my VA's, who come in and assist that business with me.
Aderson: Got it. Is your team mostly local, or do you have them spread all over the globe, all over the U.S.? How does it look like?
LaTonja: They are spread all across the world. They're not in one place. Especially my writer, she's in the UK. My copywriter and editor, she's in the UK. My OBM, he's in Florida. My branding guru, she's in New Mexico. They're spread across the nation and across the world.
Aderson: One thing that I got from the interview that I've watched from you is that you mentioned that you have a trial process that you put new contractors to go through. Can you talk a little bit about that trial process that you put people to go through?
LaTonja: Absolutely. The first step that I take is I go on there and I say, "Okay, I'm looking for this specific thing. I need you to be able to work on these specific programs," and if I have some of those contractors say, "Yes, I can do that," I then bring them onboard as a trial period after the interview process. We do a written interview, then we also do a face virtual interview, and then I put them on a trial period if they've passed those two tests.
Once the trial period goes on, it goes on for 30 days, because within 30 days, I know that habits of that subcontractor, I know how they operate, I know if they're someone that I need to hold hands with or if it's someone who can go on and take their own initiatives. By 30 days, that habit, they won't be able to change, they would have to be consistent. That's how I know if they need to be on the team, or if we need to move on to someone else, because someone can't fake a habit for 30 days.
Aderson: You mentioned there about habits. What is a red flag that, "Hey, you know what? This person here may not be a good fit."
LaTonja: First off, a team player, I have to know that you are a team player because you're working with a lot of people within my organization. So, if you can't be a team player, that's mostly a big red flag for me. We can't move forward after that, because I need to know that, within a team environment, you are open to communication, open to critique, and open to growth.
Aderson: Because you have such a vast team throughout different places, how do you synchronize them. By synchronize, I mean how do you have them on the same page of where your business is heading to? How do you gather them around your cause?
LaTonja: Wow, that's a big question, and that is something I work on on a regular basis, building morale and making sure that my subcontractors are happy within my organization as well. I have a lot of different referral programs that I do for my subcontractors, I also have a training program for my subcontractors if they want to grow into the field of becoming an OBM for my VA's. I help them within their businesses because I have to realize that they also have their own businesses. So, building morale and helping them to expand where they want to go as well as I know they are a part of L.K. Executives, and that we care about you as well. That is huge.
It's a learning process, and I learn every day from my subcontractors, and I also have meetings with them. We sync our meetings every week. We have one big meeting once a week, and then we have a mid-week meeting, and then an end-of-week meetings. So, Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays is usually when we meet, and it's usually during the time where everybody can meet up. I have some people who work in Kenya, so the time difference is they're vast, but we work around everyone's schedule, and we come up with a mid-time to communicate, and sometimes it's midnight here in the United States.
But, the key point is communication. Everybody needs to know what they're doing, where their next task is coming from, and also having a great project manager and a great OBM next to me, because they're the ones who keeps the team on a regular basis, because I'm out doing business, gaining business, and networking, and things of that nature, so I can't always be available to my team like I would like, which is why I have my OBM and my project manager, and we stay stick. We use a lot of processes and software like Trello and Asana to keep our team on task and let them know the dates that things need to be done so that we can keep on schedule. A lot of that has to do with communication, the right software program that you use within your organization and the right team.
Aderson: Let's talk a little bit more about your hiring process. When you need another specialty, or maybe to add on a new assistant, a new VA, what types of platforms out there do you use to go looking for those professionals? There are many marketplaces out there. I'm just curious to see what's your specific process on finding those talents.
LaTonja: Actually, I don't use any of those other networks. I go straight to Facebook. I love Facebook for it. I go into a lot of the VA groups and I hire from there. I also have my own group that I hire within with the VA's, and the photographers, and the virtual businesses within those networks, because those are the ones that need that client, and need that training, and they're trying to build their organization, and I feel that I have something to offer them by bringing them onto my team and teaching them and helping them grow while helping my business grow.
Aderson: I see. That's a strategy I have not tried before, but it sounds very interesting. You're right. Why not use Facebook groups? You have a pool of professionals from that specialty right there for you. If they are part of a group, and if they answer to you, you assume that they are active and they are engaged in, why not leverage that pool of talent there as well, correct?
LaTonja: Absolutely. You're hitting the nail on the hand right there.
Aderson: We spoke a little bit, and what I love about your profile is that you outsource, but what you provide is outsourcing as well, so you know both sides of the equation. Let's talk a little bit about the other side, you as a provider now, you as providing outsourcing services, in your case, OBM. I've noticed from the interview I've watched that you have a lot of women as your clients. Is that a strategy, is that on purpose, or that is happening by accident?
LaTonja: It's a strategy. I love working with women, and I love working with women who have profound businesses. I really pick my clients specifically. I don't work with everybody, because everybody doesn't work with me. I love invading in other people's businesses, and as an OBM, you have to invade yourself in someone's business in order to be successful. You have to love what they do, and that's why I only work with three at a time because it's a very detailed job. It's a very detailed position. You can't expand yourself too wide and too vast, so I pick my clients very specifically. I work with specific clients, which is mostly women and I have to really love what they're doing. I have to love what their organization is about, their mission, their vision, because I have to work at it as if it's my own organization.
Aderson: I get it, and you are very right because, again, as an OBM, you have to get a deep understanding on what they are trying to achieve so you can really make a difference for them.
Aderson: What is a good client and a bad client for you?
LaTonja: A good client is a client who has great listening ears. Coming in as an OBM, we are strategist, so we're there to fix the holes within a business. If I'm working with someone who does not have good listening ears, it becomes a problem because they're not open to change, and the whole point of bringing in an OBM is to change. We do change organizations, we build you to a different level. So, if you're not ready to change and you're not ready to listen, that would not be a great fit for an OBM, in general, especially for myself.
Aderson: The same way that you have a trial period for your people, do you put clients through a trial period as well?
LaTonja: I do. I put them through a three-month trial period, because within three months, they will see a difference within their organization by working with me. After that three months is up, if they do not feel comfortable, nor do I feel comfortable, and we're not seeing a change within their business, we separate ties.
Aderson: The same thing that I asked about red flags with contractors, through those three months, what are some of the red flags that you detect that, "Hey, you know what? Maybe this is a client that will not fit what I'm proposing to do for them"?
LaTonja: Again, it goes back to if that client is flexible and willing to do the change. If, within I’m giving them suggestions and feedback, and they're still pushing me back, then that's one red flag. Also, if they are not willing to hire or fire, and I know that's huge with businesses. Firing is not a great word, right? We don't like to say, "I have to fire someone," but in reality, if we come to find that there's a particular person holding the company back, then that CEO or that President has to make the hard decisions.
Do you want to keep this person on and continue to bring your business down, or do you want to have that person leave with integrity, right? We're going to let that person leave with integrity, but allow your business to grow by hiring and putting someone in the position who sees your vision and your mission. Then, also we have to assess the relationship between my team and that CEO, because I do work with a team, and so they have to be understanding and knowing that it's just not me that's working through. I could possibly never do this by myself. My team is a huge part of my operation.
Aderson: We only work with people that we like to work with. I mean, why have a business if you are having to work with people that you do not enjoy doing business with? You're more than right there. In regards to firing, one thing that I see people talking a lot that they regret is not firing fast enough. I'm just going back to your firing point there.
Another topic here: one of the ways that I believe that people learn. Not only people, but businesses in general, business owners, leaders is when they face problems. Maybe they have done a mistake, maybe they have gotten to a bad situation. My question to you is can you share with us a little horror story that you may have gone through maybe with a client that it didn't really work out, or maybe with one of your contractors that things didn't work out that well. Of course, without giving names, but try to be specific in your horror story and what lessons did you learn from that story.
LaTonja: Actually, one story does come to mind when I think of horrible story. This story was very horrible for me because this is one of my second clients that I have ever seen as a VA. This person was an author, and I was contacted through my website by the author's wife, also business partner, and we had a 30 to 45-minute conversation on what she was looking for, and basically, we really got into detail, and she mentioned to me that she had just separated ties with another VA. To me, that's a real red flag, because I'm like, "Okay, so you've worked with a VA before. However, it did not work out. I wonder why it didn't work out. Did it not work out because of the VA or did it not work out because of you all?" But, I didn't really go into detail. Again, I was pretty fresh and new into the VA field at that time, so I didn't ask those types of questions, which I know now is okay to ask.
I went on, we signed a contract, we moved on. My contract is very detailed because I do have lawyers that review my contract and things of that nature, and everything seems great. I have been working with her for about two months at that time, but I never really met the gentleman, basically the author, her husband. It was mostly through Slack communication with him or between her. Never did I directly have a conversation with him ever, and within the two months that I was working for them. Basically, it became a time where we would meet every Tuesday, and it became where she was just like, "Tuesdays aren't going to work for me." There was this one particular Tuesday where she's just like, "I have something going on. Do you mind if I reschedule?" I said that's absolutely fine.
On the next day which was Wednesday I get a horrid call from her husband, which is the author, saying that it was very unprofessional that I missed the meeting on Tuesday, and it was from his understanding that we met every Tuesday. I was just like, "Yes, we do meet every Tuesday, however your wife contacted me and said that she needed to reschedule." He was just not happy. He did not want to hear that. I told him that I would forward him the email conversations that her and I had just to prove that there was a reschedule and that is why we did not communicate on that Tuesday. But, he straight out said, “I am the CEO of this business. I'm the one who makes the business decisions, and I don't feel like I want to work with you anymore."
I was just flabbergasted. I was really like taken back. I was just like, "I'm sorry if you feel that way. However, I would not want you to stay in a relationship that you're not comfortable with, and according to our contract, I will finish any work that's necessary, and then we can separate ties." He was not happy with that. He was just like, "No, I want a refund of all of my money." He gave me a specific amount that he wants back. "I appreciate the work that you've done. You did great work. However, I just don't appreciate the fact that you miss meetings and things of that nature." I was just like, "But, I didn't miss a meeting. You're missing that point. Two, I don't give refunds after the first 30 days, and we've been together now for 60 days, and my work speaks for itself. I've been delivering work on time and things of that nature, and again, like I said, I don't mind finishing the work and then severing the ties." He still wasn't happy.
I basically told him and I said, "I have an idea. How about you go back and communicate with your wife, and then tomorrow I will give you a call, and then we actually discuss details on the matter of how we will end this relationship in a professional way, because I can understand that you're really upset right now, and it's best that we just hold off, take about 24 hours and recupe and come back on this conversation." He agreed.
The next day, we came back, and he was just like, "I hope you've decided that you're going to refund me, " and I said, "No, I have not decided. Actually, I've decided the opposite. I've decided that, if you would like to separate ties, that's fine. I will finish the work, and you will still have to pay me for the month in advance, which is stated in my contract." He was like he couldn't believe it. But, after that, surprisingly, he was very flexible after I stated that, and he was just like, "Actually, I really respect you for that. I respect the fact that you hone in on your contracts. We're both small businesses, and I understand, from a business perspective, what you have to do, and again, your work speaks for itself as great work, but at this time, we're just not in a position to hire a VA."
I actually ended up getting the real light of the story. It was horrible at first, because it was my first time encountering such an altercation, and it was also at that turning point within my business that I didn't want to work with men anymore. It wasn't the fact that he was a horrible person, because he wasn't a horrible person. It wasn't because of the fact that we had some miscommunication, but it really shed a light on me that it was not in a situation where I wanted to have to set out fires like that, and that men see things differently than women, and we communicate differently. So, what may not come off offensive to my husband may come offensive to me. When working with men, you have to really hone in on their character traits, because my husband, he also has those character traits, and you don't know, from a woman's perspective, if he's being belligerent or if he's actually just being really sincere, and that's just how he talks. At that point, I knew that I have better chemistry with women, and that I wanted to work more with women, and that's why I ended up rebranding myself more towards women.
Aderson: I see already a lesson learned there that you decided to shift your focus to more women-oriented businesses. Aside from that, anything from the start that you would have done differently that would have avoided -- for instance, today. Today, something like that can happen again. What do you do to avoid getting into those kinds of situations?
LaTonja: Now, I know the questions to ask. In the situation in the rare fact with the VA, I would ask, "Have you worked with a VA before? How was your experience while working with that VA? Do you know what were the success points with working with the VA and what was the challenging points of working with that VA?" I also gave them a breakdown of how I work, I tell them my non-negotiables, because I find that when you tell your non-negotiables and you listen to what their non-negotiables were, and if they are in sync, you know then that it is possible to have a really great relationship with this client. I also learned in this situation is to always talk to both parties. Ask if there is a second CEO or a second person in seat who makes the decisions. I did not ask that question. I was just working directly with the wife.
Now, I know to ask, "Do you have a partner in this business? Is it possible to meet with you and that partner? Is it possible to coordinate our meetings with that partner?" things of that nature, because you always want to have both perspectives within a business. You can't just talk to one party and expect the other party to follow. You have to hold both parties accountable when working with yourself, because you don't want anything to get slipped behind. You don't want anything to be falling back. Those are some key lessons that I learned, and that I will never make that mistake again.
Aderson: You know what? I love the non-negotiables. I think that's very smart to see whether or not your non-negotiables are in line with the client's non-negotiables as well, very smart point. As I said before, OBM, to me, it was a new concept. I just learned about that yesterday, today while researching to talk to you. If people are curious knowing more about what OBM can do, and even how to become an OBM, where can they find more information about that?
LaTonja: I found information online, and I also offer a group called OBM Executives where I teach VA's, PM's who want to establish their place in the OBM field and who wants to grow their place in the OBM industry. I offer training, but I know there's a lot, a lot of training online. You don't have to go with one person, and I always tell my VA's and PM's that, "Don't go with one person. Expand your knowledge to everyone. Get bits and pieces that align with your goals and objectives and work with that." You don't always have to take one guru's word for it. I always suggest in expanding your knowledge, because that's what I do. But, I'm always open to answering questions and helping others, because I feel like that's the base of the business is always helping other people grow, and learn, and expand, because there's money to be made out there for everyone, and no one person has to take it all.
Aderson: LaTonja, we're coming towards an end here. I usually like to finish my conversations by asking the guest for one thing that they would like people to leave this conversation knowing about, and whether it's from a client's standpoint, from a contractor's standpoint, but what is one thing that you'd love people to leave this conversation knowing more about?
LaTonja: I guess one of the key points that I would want someone to leave by listening to this interview is to never give up on yourself, always, always, always build that knowledge base, and don't be afraid to take risk. Starting your own business is difficult, but find what you love and let it grow with that. Grow with that and go with that. Don't let anything just hold you back. Being an OBM, a VA, or a PM, or whatever virtual business you have that you want to grow, go forward. Also, invest in those online groups. Get into some conversations, get into some networking, and speak your truth, and there's people out there who want to help you grow and be your accountability partner. That will be the key point that I want people to understand. No one person is right, and no one organization is right.
Aderson: Perfect. Love the thoughtfulness of that, and I also like the fact that you leverage a lot of Facebook groups, and I was just talking to a friend yesterday how one of the main things that I enjoy in Facebook are really the focus groups that I'm part of. Thank you for that note as well. LaTonja, before I let you go, I'd say can you tell us how people can reach out to you, how people can connect with you, and maybe to ask more questions, maybe to hire you as an OBM? Tell us.
LaTonja: Absolutely. You can reach me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also reach me in my virtual newbies group on Facebook. We have a group of 300 now that you can come in and connect with me. I'm always on there. I do live videos all the time, as well as my OBM Executives group where I'm always in there helping others to grow their OBM business. You can also reach me online at www.lkexecs.com, and you can follow me on my social media networks @LKExecs. I'm everywhere. You can come find me. Come talk to me. Come chat with me.
Aderson: Perfect. As usual, all the links that were mentioned by LaTonja will be posted in the show notes, so everything will be there if you have missed anything that LaTonja may have mentioned there. LaTonja, once again, thank you very much for your time here. Your insights were really, really invaluable. I loved our conversation, and I hope that we can talk again in the near future. Thank you very much. Bye.