Aderson Oliveira: I've spoken with Barbara Turley about why clients and virtual assistants need to be trained on how to work together. She talked about what are the key things that will make or break any virtual assistant initiative. Finally we spoke about what trends are currently affecting the virtual assistant industry in much, much more.
Hello, hello. Aderson Oliveira here. This is another interview for the OuchSourcing podcast where I talked to business owners, to entrepreneurs, to specialists, to people that know a lot about the outsourcing space and will help us bridge in the gap between where we are and where we want to be by leveraging outsourcing. Here today I have with me Barbara Turley. She is the Founder and CEO of Virtual Angel Hub which is a company that specialize in recruiting, training, and managing superstar Virtual Angels. Barbara, welcome.
Barbara Turley: Hi Aderson. Thank you so much for having me on your show.
Aderson: My pleasure. First question here. Do you have a virtual assistant yourself?
Barbara: I have 12 virtual assistants. Yes. I practice what I preach very much. I've got a team of 12 people, all based in the Philippines and we have another 40 almost 50 people working for our clients as well. I've got a team of 50, 60 people in the Philippines now which has been a very exciting journey. I know a thing or two about this outsourcing thing.
Aderson: Barbara, what is it with the water in the Philippines? It seems that they breed great virtual assistants. What is it?
Barbara: Actually they do and it is a fantastic industry over there. I'm not sure. I think there will be some people listening to this podcast saying I went to the Philippines and I didn't necessarily have a fantastic time with the VA over there because it's not actually as easy as people think. They do breed them very well over there but what I found in my experience is that the training is very catchy. The resumes at there are all people who gained experience from on-the-job and sometimes it's a bit of a mismatch of experience. Yes so that's why we develop the program where we actually train virtual assistants very deeply in what we do to make sure that we just get that extra edge for them.
Aderson: So Barbara that may seem obvious but what is the difference between going through a platform like Upwork and finding a virtual assistant there as compared to going through a company like yours?
Barbara: Yeah that's an interesting one. Of course, there are many great virtual assistants on a places like Upwork that you can find. What I typically found though, I started it that way and to be honest that business that I'm in, Virtual Angel Hub it kind of started by accident and here's how I'll circle back to your answer. I was recruiting and doing a lot of business coaching and I was noticing that all the business owners I was coaching the biggest problem they actually had was that they had no time. I isolated that the problem wasn't necessary they didn't know what to do, they just have no time.
I started recruiting some virtual assistants and in the Philippines for them. I was finding them on Upwork and doing the usual thing that we all do. But I found it very difficult once the virtual assistant went into work with the business they were a whole lot of challenges and I realize that the main problem wasn't actually recruiting a VA, it was learning both the client and the virtual assistant need to learn how to work well together and often like I said with the resume sometimes VA's can say "Oh yeah, I can do all this stuff." But they don't know what they don't know. I was helping clients build and marketing funnels on Ontraport and InfusionSoft and we're doing HubSpot as well. Some of VA's would come and say, "Oh yes, I've got an experience in that." But they didn't know the level of experience they have wasn't really quite what we wanted. I started training them and it sort of evolved from there and I started training the client on how to delegate more effectively so that you can actually get the best value out of the VA.
When people come to us they're typically coming because they like the model that we run, they recognize that outsourcing is not as easy as people think, they want our training for them and they also want their VA trained before they come to them in manly digital marketing social media type areas and then the final pieces that we also -- at Virtual Angel I have this grand vision of creating a virtual culture and making it like we're trying to become one of the best employers in the Philippines. We offer benefits to our VA's. We've got a whole culture going there and a lot of our clients actually like that because if they are a small client they don't have to create culture themselves and they know that their VA is just not sitting on their own at home with no interaction with them. They have a lot interaction with our team. We have Helpdesks and Support Teams and all that stuff as well. If you don't want to do leg work to sell and spend, you would come to someone like us and we'll do it for you.
Aderson: I think it's invaluable to do something like training for clients not only just for the VA's but for the clients as well. I think it's brilliant. One aspect that I personally find challenging in the Philippines in particular but in general, I've been doing outsourcing not only with VA's for 10 years now. I know a thing or two about outsourcing as well. How do you break in a way the pattern Barbara of assistant or just an outsourcing provider in general that is not that proactive? I would hope that they would confront me a little bit more. They would say, "Hey Aderson, you should be doing maybe this instead of that. You should go this direction. I think it doesn't make sense what you are telling me to do." How do you instigate that type of approach to be a little bit more, I don't say aggressive or proactive I would say? It’s better position to say proactive I think. How do you instigate that?
Barbara: This is a fabulous question that we deal with literally every single day. We probably have an issue around this or we have a client asking for it. The first thing I would say is in the Philippines because that's where I mainly deal; it is a cultural thing there as well because the Philippines is quite a Yes culture. The first step that you have to try to understand the culture and the psyche of the people there. If you go back in history and we can go on all day by this but culturally they typically still feel not everyone but I've been told this by my team, they still feel a little bit subordinated to us in the Western World. They feel like we're better than them, we know more than them. They sometimes don't realize that they know more than us in certain topics. They just assume that you know what you're doing as a business owner and that you just want them to do task for you.
What I found at this is we get client asking about this all the time. We're trying to do now is we actually in our training programs, we're training VAs in how to think more strategically and what I found is that they're well capable of it. They just too afraid or they're never been asked their opinion before. The BPO industry that is huge in the Philippines, and a lot of people go in there and they just told how to operate. They're not actually allowed to think. That's sort of step one.
Step two is the personality type. I can't give you a clue. For every 100 people that applied for a job with us our hit rate is about 2%. We will hire about 2% of people and what we're looking for we actually don't hire for skills. We used to but we don't anymore. We're looking for that exactly what you're talking about. That little personality type, the person that we can teach the skills but we can't teach enthusiasm, initiative, proactiveness. You actually can't teach it. You have to recruit for it. I'm just understanding the culture will help you to navigate that a bit better.
Aderson: Got it. What you're saying is that, if I got this right, your requirement to have a new VA coming onboard is not so much the technical side of things if they know how to do this or that but it's more of are they proactive. I don't know if the term that you use is proactive but do they have that edge, yes or no? Is that correct?
Barbara: Yes. We're trying to recruit for that now. I also remember some clients don't want that. You've got to be very careful here that some client wants proactiveness, other clients just want their task done and it could be an admin VA that they are really looking for and they like a bit of proactiveness but they kind of just want the task list taking care of and the processes. We do a little bit of both. I used to sort of say let's only recruit for proactive type of Va. But what we've seen is that some clients do come to us and they sort of just want someone who's going to focus on the task and be very methodical by getting through it without too many questions.
Aderson: And how do you identify that? Is that via an interview process, via discovery call? How do you discover that?
Barbara: The recruiting process, what a journey I've had with this. Recruiting is a really, really difficult thing to get right. You can kind of get lucky sometimes with it. Our recruiting process is very long. It takes about six to eight weeks for a VA to actually get into a job with us and part of that is because we have our own funnel. We built a recruiting funnel where we make them do a lot of testing on the way in. Then there's an interview process which is lengthy. You've got to meet a lot of our team. There's different types of questions and then they enter an intensive training program with us and each point in the training program we can knock people out because it's very easy to hide your personality traits for a few weeks but it's very difficult to hide it in a three-week long intensive full-time training program and through that program we also start to see where people's skills really like. Sometimes we may have someone that maybe not that proactive but they're very good and very diligent and we will still move forward with that person. The only way you can spotted is for us anyway is to deeply trained and to watch people intensively.
Aderson: Got it. I see. At the end day you cannot fake for too long. There's a point that you figure out isn't it?
Barbara: Yeah and our training program is pretty hard. You're tested and you get assignment from things. It's tough one.
Aderson: Let me ask you this I saw throughout the side somewhere that you mention that you offer full-time VA’s and part-time VA’s. Is that the two basic models that you work with the company?
Barbara: Yes, we do. We often get people coming to us saying, "Oh look. I just need a VA for a few hours for a week." At this stage we've chosen not to go into that market because the clients that we look to work with is not necessarily that they are a big company. I just personally feel that if you're going to get a virtual assistant four, five, six hours a week is nothing. If you can't find 20 hours of work for a VA to do in a business you're probably not pushing hard enough. For us we just specialize in dedicated stuff is what we're doing. It's also for the virtual assistant's side though because it's easier on them if they're doing two or three contract rather than six different mismatch contracts that are little bit too messy for them. We like to have more streamlined process for what we're doing on both sides.
Aderson: Got it. Based on that I would assume that as you just mentioned the same VA will not be able to handle a lot of clients. If a full-time VA does a full-time position for a client I would assume that there's not much time for any other clients there with that VA correct?
Barbara: Yeah. Look, being honest I originally had a rule that you could only have one full-time client. Again understanding the culture in the Philippines we have found that some of our VA's operate really well with one full-time client and then a part-time client they may do in the evening or early morning because culturally in the Philippines they're like work horse over there. What we have found is if they don't do it for us they're going to do it for someone else online and we would rather that they remain within our culture. If somebody really wants to do that we do a lot of that but no more than that is what our rules are.
Aderson: What about time zone Barbara? I came across people that say we're willing to work on your time zone and I know that's the complete opposite time zone wise as compared to North America and the Philippines. Is there a best practice there as to let them work in their time zone or have them work in the same time zone as you work? What is the best practice there?
Barbara: Again I've toyed with this one a lot actually. Ethically I’ve gone, do we do a night shift? Do we allow VA's to work two o'clock in the morning? At this point I have resisted it because I feel that the well-being of our people is very important to me. How we operate is we operate -- it's a very small window that we don't do. Between the hours of midnight and sort of 5 am we don't really do. We have a couple of VA's that might stretch into 1 am but between kind of midnight and 5 am we don't do. The reason we've chosen not to do it at this stage is because we have a work-from-home model. There are lots of VA's in the Philippines that work the night shift. There's a massive culture of night working over there. Sometimes in our culture we think it must be terrible. There are cafes open. It's usually like the night market is huge. But because we have a work-from-home model I just feel it's very difficult to three o'clock in the morning on your own in your own house to be motivated particularly if you're working for a client that doesn't engage with you that much.
My advice to clients on this is always like this. If you're running the type of business where you're online all day and you literally are going to be interacting like, "Hey Barbara. Can you do this for me? Where is that thing at?" Then it's fine to do a night shift. If you are not going to be interacting with a VA much through the shift what does it matter? You can have some crossover. I always recommend that you have to have a meeting every day like a huddle or something that crosses over in your time zone. But does the work really need to be done in that time? If it doesn't we ask client not to do that because you won't get the best work. It's the truth.
Aderson: Got it. I see as I have some experience with outsourcing I see how important it is to be able to communicate well and frequently and not disappear on people. How do you recommend clients to define expectations on how frequent they want to be communicated? How do you define expectations better on this VA-client relationship?
Barbara: Wow. I feel like did I plant these questions in here Aderson because these are the great questions that people need to really look at. I actually have a podcast too called Virtual Success. It's like what you're doing where we're trying to help people to understand how to get success. We did a whole show on defining expectations with your team and we did the communication topic is so huge that we had to do a three-part podcast on it because it's massive. It is one of the, I would say communication is the make or break. If you have great systems and processes in your business and you got well on the machine, everything is running well, you can still fail with virtual teams because of your communication style and because it doesn't match with the VA that you have.
A couple of things on this. We can talk forever on this but I'll try to narrow it down to a few key points. Don't use email. Please like literally in 100% of cases that I have seen people who try to deal with virtual teams using email will fail or best be very frustrated. Not because email doesn't work, it's just email things can get lost too easily. We recommend always a project management tool. Asana is what we use but there's Trello, there's teamwork. There's loads of them out there and it just helps to create order and to keep the comment flow on a particular task in the task so that you don't lose instructions and there's never the "I didn't get that email. Which email was that?" There's no confusion. There's nowhere to hide and there's no confusions.
On top of that you need to discover, for example a problem we see a lot a VA will say, "I'm communicating with the client but they're just getting annoyed at me or the client is complaining." What we've seen is if you have a VA like for me I'm at desk a lot so I work quite operationally in my business. I like them to keep me updated constantly. I like to be things are in flow all the time. For another client that may be a naturopath or something or they maybe have appointments all day with clients, they don't want the PA pinging them all day with questions. But that's about deciding together what communication style is going to work for both of you. The client may get really upset with VA that's annoying them but they haven't actually clarified to that VA when is the best time to contact them or how to contact them.
My final piece of advice on this a 10-minute fast, it's a daily huddle really but a 10-minute meeting that has a very strict agenda every single day -- what have you done, what are you going to do and where you need help. Absolutely, vitally it would be a game-changer for you if you do that with your business from communication perspective and commit to it. Don't cancel it. Those are my three big tips for that.
Aderson: I get it. That's why you need to train the clients as well, isn't it?
Barbara: Yes, massively. In fact, we'd like to rebuild our team program because it's not robust enough. There's a three-part training that we do but you still see like at the moment we have a client that is struggling so badly. This client really needs a business coach to go in and rip her systems and operations and her communication apart just so she stops wasting money with a VA. Sometimes it can lead to that level. You may actually need to get a coaching to help you with your systems and your operations because otherwise you're going to continue to blame the VA when a lot of the times, nine times out of 10 it's not actually the person it's the operating environment in which you're both trying to get success together. It's very important.
Aderson: Because at the end of the day people seem to expect to be able to dump a bunch of tasks to this individual and hope for the best and that's just not the way it is. You have to train. You have to put systems in place to be able to best use that resources.
Barbara: And for them to feel part of your -- just because they're virtual doesn't mean they're not like any employee that you would bring into your business. Even if you've got someone for five hours a week show them a little bit of your culture and bring them in and you've got to have an onboarding process. You've got to have training process. The other reason a lot of clients come to us is because in the areas of social media, content management, digital marketing implementation is what I would say not strategy we actually have develop a whole pile of processes and we train the VA's on them. We say you can just take our processes and not have to build your own and then get the VA to execute those for you and that's why I love clients control us because we did this sort of plug and play thing because this was such a massive problem and building process is not that easy.
We still see clients have problems. The communication styles don't match. One client would go on a holiday for a month. He didn't speak to the VA for the whole month and I was like that's probably not a great idea. At least check in.
Aderson: Of course. You brought a good point that I forgot to mention. I got to Virtual Angel Hub profile that says you got specialize in social media, digital marketing and system automation. It almost like you have developed a set of skills that we have virtual assistants but they are very good at this, this and this. Is that the strategy behind that?
Barbara: Yes and I’ll tell you why I did that -- a few reasons. When I started doing this first I got a lot of people coming and looking for VA's I was very grin myself. I had VA's but I didn't realize the breathe of what is the VA, that's the biggest question out there. There are something like a hundred different definitions of the type of VA that you're looking for. A bookkeeper can be a VA. We have lawyers coming to us looking for legal secretaries and different skills and I became overwhelmed with trying to recruit and I decided that my area of love is digital marketing and I know the growing area. I also love to build companies and businesses so I've got a lot of background than actually doing this and I thought I'm going to create sort of a productized service. Rather than people coming to us saying here's what I want, we say, "Hey marketplace. Here's what we deliver. If this looks like what you want then you come to us and here's how we deliver and we don't customize for anyone." That sounds a little bit shortsighted but when I started doing that and we develop the training program and we're very clear of what we do our success exploded because we only got people who want what we have and we turned the other people away.
Aderson: Exactly. You created a future right there. You only get people that are interested on that scope, on those different services. I find that very, very great as compared to a general VA type of organization.
Barbara: I'm sorry. We can also control the training. Because I saw the issue of delivery of quality you've got to keep the quality high. We don't always get it right. It's a people business, always problems. But to maintain the quality that's why our success rate is high because we deliver certain thing. We train on it and the client know what they're getting before they're coming in.
Aderson: Barbara, let me ask you this. In a more global, overall 10,000 feet pack of "look at this" why now there's such an explosion and I know VA's are not something from last year, from two years ago. It's something that's going on for few years now but there just seems to be an explosion right now of people offering their services of VA's, of different companies offering different things within the VA space, companies like I don't know if you have come across this name before but like Zirtual which is they hire VA's, US-based. Why? What is the site guys? What is happening right now that its conversion to such an explosion in this space?
Barbara: That's a great question too. There's a few things. Outsourcing is nothing new. I've been thinking about this. I think there's a few reasons. The first one could be we're getting where we used to speaking to offshore people on the phone in general. You've got like this Uber, this Airbnb’s, there's all these massive companies that have big offshore teams and you're getting used to chatting to people from Philippines on the phone in general. Generally the world has opened up in that way where it's more normal for us. People are starting to think maybe I could use that.
The other thing I think the explosion in digital, people listening to this podcast probably know that if you are running a business today you need to be online. It doesn't really matter what your business is. There's an online presence that you need to maintain. Social media has also exploded. It only started 10 years ago and it has literally exploded in the last few years. But the management of all of that is a massive amount of work for anyone in a business and it's becoming a massive headache. It's causing a lot of stress to a lot of business owners and you can get a lot of that by outsourcing going online and the Philippines in general and I'm talking a lot about the Philippines here. There are other countries but the tech space over there has completely exploded in India, the app developers. This sort of thing that is just pushing and everybody just starting to talk about it and I think that's what's fueling the explosion really.
Aderson: What do you see as the coming trends in the VA space not only with your business moving forward which we're going to touch in a second but in general within the VA space? What are some of the trends that you see going on right now?
Barbara: One of the big ones that a few people have pinged me about saying, “Are you not worried about this?" I'm totally not is the explosion that's coming in the AI -- Artificial intelligence, bots, messenger bots, etcetera. I'm very excited. I'm a huge fan of automation and so are our VA's. Often we love when YouTube comes out because it frees off the VA's time to do more high value stuff. I think we're embracing bots in our business and in our client's businesses. We're helping them to put them in.
For example on our Facebook page we have a new VA. Her name is Jane and she is an automated assistant and she works fabulously well for our team. There is going to be a big explosion in automation systems, artificial intelligence and I'm very keen to explore how we can -- the VA's are going to have to be more trained so they're going to have to do more high value stuff which we're excited about because that's what we actually do. You're still going to need people. People are the backbone of business right? It doesn't matter what automation comes out or what new thing comes out. You're still going to have a need for people and that's the thing that I'm excited about and I'm really getting more into listening to big speakers if they're talking about how to engage people, how to create amazing cultures that people want to be a part of. I'm excited for the future of this whole game and see where it's going to go.
Aderson: You know what it's so great to hear you talking about AI because this podcast is around outsourcing and I have interviewed already two AI companies because again I see the link between AI and outsourcing and again you brought some great points there. I have covered some other interviews. I get great points there. Barbara we're coming towards the end here. Is there something that you'd like to people to keep in mind after listening to this conversation here, anything in particular but pick one thing?
Barbara: Look. I really do and I'm going to circle back to the communication thing. Communication will literally make or break your success with outsourcing in general. If you can learn to write your task descriptions or video or whatever you want to do, you have to be clear. You've got to slow down in order to be able to speed up in business and with outsourcing. I see it happen a lot that we get VA's that are frustrated. We've got a success coach team that help our VA's as well and they elevate situations to me and to HR where we look at the situation and the client is annoyed and the VA is annoyed and it actually all comes down to how the task is written and it's like a brain dump from the client's head and nobody actually can decide from what they really want. If a client could just get it right around using bullet points, being clear of about the steps that you want to happen and how you write things. Seriously it will be a game-changer for you.
Aderson: I think that's a great point. However, you know what I find challenging is what is it that I should not assume here? At which point? Am I just giving an excessive level that deals here that is useless or just taking a lot of my time? At which point do we have that crossing line that when is enough, enough? When is too much? That's what really bugs me a little bit. Do you have anything to say about that?
Barbara: Yeah. I do actually. That's a good one. I have seen that happen too where we've just grimes of instructions like it's just way too much. What I do in this situation is I think with the task it doesn't matter how much experience somebody has. I think what you have to do is you got to create your task or your description, put a few points in there and then say that the person he may just use the training, he may have the video or whatever but say to the person, "Here's what we're going to do. Let's start this task." Don't just wait till the deadline date and go, "Hey, is it done?" Maybe have a check-in point and let's have a look at what that person's experience of doing that task is.
In the beginning of your relationship you got to see what is that person's experience of working with you and is there more communication needed or did they nail it? Maybe they just nailed it. When you see mistakes I always say to clients mistakes are like gift because mistakes, sometimes not always, can show you where the holes are in your process that you didn't think about. You may have to teach your person how to think the way you do while you're doing the process and that's like an iteration which is very difficult to get right. The only way to do it is to accept full responsibility, being open to and working together as a team with your person and not just like dumping the task less and it's them and me. It's hard to get right. The piece of advice I would say, if you get this right it pays so many dividends. It is just the most explosively good thing for your business. Anyone who's not willing to invest the time, energy, and I'm not even going to say money because it's times and energy. If you're not willing to invest the time and energy you won’t reap the benefits of it but if you do you will.
Aderson: Awesome. Barbara let's talk a little bit about now Virtual Angel Hub. What type of clients are you looking for? What is the typical client profile that you think is a good fit for you and your business to help with VA's?
Barbara: We are actually narrowing a lot to our client's avatar right now because again you learn from working with people around who we're really looking for. The typical business that does very well with us, I'm not going to say any business. A lot of it is we deal a lot with people who have big online presence obviously because that's the area that we like to specialize in. But it's not just having an online presence. We like to get businesses that are and this might sound a bit too narrow, we like to bring in businesses that have a sense of structure who know where they're going, they've got a strategy in place, and they know how to create what needs to be done, and then they're willing to learn, and to be open to being taught about how to delegate more effectively so that they get success.
If somebody is open like that, we can definitely help them. But we have a situation where we have clients that come in that do have big online needs but they themselves and their business is so chaotic and crazy that nobody can work with them, not even a coach. I've actually refuse coach to a couple of people, because it's just a crazy hot mess. A business that is willing to create some structure, and slow down in order to speed up later, and is coachable in that way, then we can definitely help in terms of the online place. A bit like the VA's coming in. It's a personality type as opposed to a business type.
Aderson: Got it. I would welcome to plug your podcast as well because I know that you have a podcast.
Barbara: Yes. Virtual Success. We'd love people to jump on there and have a look, because we do case studies. Basically it's trying to help people to get success with outsourcing,because we've just seen so many people fail, and everyone's talking with this outsourcing thing but they don't realize how difficult it is. On the show I have a co-host who is a business coach and what we do is we either interview people who have big offshore teams and how they do it. We dissect case studies that we both come across where people may have failed or we help or they struggled and we show how we got them success and then we talk about our own businesses and tips that traps that we've fallen into. It's a very tactical type of podcast that you'll get a lot of insights and what not to do.
Aderson: Perfect. As usual all the links mentioned here by myself, by Barbara were all be place in the show notes. Everything will be available for you to get the link from there. Barbara we're coming towards the end here. I just want to finalize by letting you tell the audience how they can reach out to you, how can they connect with you, with your business. What is the best way to approach you?
Barbara: If you want to talk to us about Virtual Angel Hub you can jump on at virtualangelhub.com and just hit up, there's a live chat button. There isn't an AI on there, that's a real person on that one and you can book an outsourcing discovery call with one of our strategists. We have two strategists. One in Australia and we have one now in Ireland so that we can deal with the US time zone more effectively and at Ireland where I'm from. You can chat with those guys and they're very good at -- we don't take everyone. A lot of time on that call is somebody's onshore. We can really help somebody on that call to tell them what they need to do to get ready and to come back in three months’ time. It literally is a free strategy call where somebody will tell you whether you're ready for this or not so that you don't waste your money. If you want to connect with me personally LinkedIn is always the best one for me. I am on Facebook. See if you can find me on Facebook too but I try and keep Facebook for personal and LinkedIn more for my professional side and the Virtual Success podcast as well. We're on iTunes and you can catch us there at virtualsuccessshow.com
Aderson: Perfect. Again Barbara thank you very much for your time. I really appreciate the knowledge, the experience, the willingness to share your cases there and what to do and what not to do. Again a very, very valuable information that you have shared with us. Thank you very much and I hope that we can talk again in the future to see how the business is doing and how things have along. Thank you very much. Bye.
Barbara: That would be great. Thanks. Bye.