On today’s episode, I’m going to challenge some of the business owner ego I know some of you have. I realize I’m only about one sentence in, and I’ve mentioned you have an ego problem. Sorry. Not Sorry. I can start off with an insult because, admittedly, as a business owner I’m just as guilty of a large ego—what do they say, takes one to know one. Right? But hear me out. We’ve stepped out on our own, which is scary. Some of us have built something from nothing. That’s something to be proud of. And instead of saving our hard-earned money or just purchasing something on our wishlist, we’ve been bold and brave enough to invest it in a business—something a lot of people don’t have the luxury or even self-discipline to do. Whatever our particular circumstances may be, we’ve all sacrificed personally to do what it takes to make our business work. All if this is worth being proud of, so I think we get to keep our egos. That being said, I’m going to preemptively apologize for stepping on your toes today. This episode isn’t to downplay your skills. No, my goal is to hopefully clear up some of the incorrect assumptions people make when they hear the “assistant” part of Virtual Assistant.
In my day-to-day as the owner of Check Off Your List, I’m constantly being asked about virtual assistants. When I tell people about the services we provide, they typically come back with follow up questions. They want to know how to hire a Virtual Assistant. They want to know where to find a Virtual Assistant that can do what they need them to do. And they want to know how you know when you find the right Virtual Assistant. Answering these kinds of questions in a straightforward manner is why I started this podcast, and I think I’ve addressed them in previous episodes. If you’ve listened and have questions I haven’t addressed, definitely let me know. Send me a DM on Instagram at @rachelluther or Facebook at Checking Off Your List with Rachel Luther. I’ll do my best to answer your questions. But with this episode, I want to address a bigger picture of outsourcing. Something I’ve learned—call it a valuable lesson or whatever you want – is knowing you’ve found the right person to add to your virtual team has more to do with what they teach you than what they actually do any given day.
To introduce this lesson, I want to talk about two of the more common comments I hear from business owners when they’re talking about their virtual assistant. They’re sharing their experience or attempting to answer the questions I’m frequently asked, and I think it’s quite telling about how they view their team and how to go about finding the right person for you. I’ll share the two extremes. There are always a few in the middle, but I think these examples show the range of responses and the difference between the two. With the first type of response, people merely share a link to someone or a company they love and rave about their Virtual Assistant because of how great they are and how much of an impact they’ve had in their business. They have complete confidence their Virtual Assistant has it under control.
Let me show you rather than tell you more about this kind of response. I’ll read an email I received not long ago: “I wanted to drop you a note about how fabulous our VA has been doing! We LOVE her! (that’s with multiple exclamation points). She is so professional, friendly and efficient. We can’t say enough about how much we appreciate her. It has made our lives so much easier since she has been assisting us! (multiple exclamation points again) She is doing a top notch job. (now, this is the important part) I personally can’t share enough with other business colleagues and friends about how amazing she is! Thank you for all you do and for connecting us with her!”
This e-mail literally made my day. Probably my week, because I get so much joy from sharing the benefits of outsourcing. This e-mail is very much in line with the responses praising their Virtual Assistant that I see or hear about on a regular basis.
The second kind of response is much more sober about the wonders of a Virtual Assistant, and much less what you want to hear if you own a Virtual Assistant business. This response typically starts with people outlining the parameters they set for the Virtual Assistant and their screening process and couple it with warning to be wary of who they hire, because they’ve had bad experiences in the past when their Virtual Assistant disappointed them or couldn’t get things done.
So what went wrong in this second scenario? It’s hard to say for sure, unless we look at the specific circumstances, but that’s not what I’m going for with this episode. No, I’m talking about a general approach to incorporate into the specifics of building your remote team. Yes, it’s hard to generalize when we’re talking about something as unique as your business and your specific needs, but from my experience, this mindset will help your business achieve success in ways you maybe didn’t even know was possible. I think it’s something that directly correlates to choosing a Virtual Assistant and having the first kind of response like the email and not the second, but it’s bigger than just that. It’s something I see leaders apply to all areas of life in general in order to succeed. The one thing I truly believe is at the root of your success in outsourcing and business is - This is the part where I might hurt your ego a bit - surround yourself with people who are smarter than you.
Confucius said, “If you’re the smartest person in the room, you are in the wrong room.” I believe this whole heartedly for my business. As I began my outsourcing journey, I didn’t always hire experts. I hired thinking I can train them. Part of this was my insecurity as a boss and not believing I deserved or could afford expert employees. I guess you could say my business owner ego was still growing. I was just thrilled someone wanted to work for me. I think part of it was optimism, thinking I could train them effectively. Yes. You can train people. That’s why there’s such a thing as on the job training, but that takes time and management –luxuries a small business owner doesn’t have or shouldn’t devote to a new team member. It slows down momentum and costs more money that we even realize in wasted time and lost revenue.
As a result of the lessons I learned from my early experiences, I don’t hire to train anymore. If they aren’t verging on overqualified, my HR Virtual Assistant doesn’t give them an interview. I want the Check Off Your List team to be smarter than me. It makes me look good. There’s that ego talking. But seriously. Having a team of people who are better at various tasks in your business doesn’t mean you’re incompetent. It means you are optimizing your resources. You’re intentionally building accountability into your business and into your life. And your business is better as a result.
Something that I learned from growing up in church, and I see as a Christian, is how important community is and how much the people you surround yourself with impact your life. You may not agree with my spiritual beliefs, and this isn’t a religious podcast so you don’t have to, but you don’t have to agree with me to get what I’m trying to say. As a kid, this was summed up by a phrase we’ve all heard. As an excuse for behavior my parents didn’t like, I’d say, “Everyone else was doing it.” and they would reply – I’m sure you’ve heard this before, “If your friends jumped off a cliff (or a bridge depending on your parents or where you’re from), would you jump too?” As a teen, it was my parents’ reminder that the people I chose to hang out with can greatly affect my life. If my friends were making poor decisions, if I was there, even if I wasn’t participating, it reflects on me and my character and can have serious consequences. We’re all familiar with these concepts as we go through the rite of passage of growing up.
See? That wasn’t too preachy for a business podcast. Right? But what I’m saying is true, whatever your beliefs are. You become like who you surround yourself with, and even if you ‘re able to avoid becoming them, the rest of the world will put you in the same category regardless. This isn’t always a negative though. In contrast, I look at it as using peer pressure for the good as growth comes from the accountability provided by the right group of people. There’s sort of two different aspects of this growth. Sometimes, you’re on the holding accountable side, and other times, you’re on the being held accountable side.
In life or business or whatever you do, there are people that you can mentor, because you know more than they do. For instance, I sew clothes, costumes, formal dresses, things like that. I used to do formal and wedding dress alterations before I started Check Off Your List. I was an intern as a stitcher in the costume department at the Balletmet here in Columbus Ohio. So, I know my way around a sewing machine. I also alter quite a few of my clothes. I’m almost 5 feet tall, and clothes are not designed for someone as short as me.
I have to share… there’s a saying I've seen circulate around social media that really resonates with me. It says, “God only lets things grow until they are perfect. Some of us just didn’t take as long as others.” My husband will be the first to tell you, I believe this whole heartedly (see we business owners have egos!) [laughs] Maybe when my ego is feeling a bit more down to earth I’ll instead say, “I’m just fun sized!”
Either way, clothes are not made for me, so I learned to alter clothes a long time ago. Well, I’ve taken that knowledge and taught a lot of other tiny people how to sew over the years. It’s something I know how to do, so I help other vertically challenged friends by showing them how to do a basic hem or adjust the tapering in a dress to better fit their natural waist and hips. I’ve been down the path of learning how to compensate for my height, so I enjoy helping teen girls feel confident in the body God gave them by changing the clothes that make them want to change themselves. That’s mentorship at its best. Investing in someone else and using your experiences to hopefully make someone else’s path easier.
On the other side of accountability, you grow by surrounding yourself with people further along the path than you, people who can do things you can’t… or merely haven’t done yet, and they guide you through learning a new skill or growing in some way as a person. To give another example, we have friends who recently taught Colin and I to play pickleball. Now, I don’t sports in any way. I was a gymnast as a little girl, but you won’t find me playing with a ball… ever. Well, we recently learned to play pickleball, and I’m proud to report, I sportsed more this spring than most of my life put together. I now willingly pick up a ball and a racket, because of the influence of my friend group. It’s caused me to grow as a person, even if it’s just getting outside and moving. It’s a small thing as far as accountability goes, but it’s made me healthier, even if it’s just playing pickleball on the weekends.
This side of accountability is true in the bigger things too. There are people who have been through what you’re going through. They probably have insight into what worked for them and what didn’t, and you can learn from their experience. It’s the same in business. While pickleball is fun, to give a more pertinent example, I have a business coach who challenges me as the owner of a multi-six-figure company. I’ve never run a successful company before, but he has, and I succeed by listening and learning from him. He sees things coming that I don’t know to expect. I have someone to turn to when I’m unsure of the next steps. The great thing is he typically has a few reference points of how we could handle anything I throw at him, because he’s been there before. It makes my life so much easier, and makes my decisions so much smarter, which really appeals to my ego.
Hopefully you see the connection with all of this and how you can experience giving a raving response like I mentioned. Your Virtual Assistant should have an expertise, and that’s what you want. When you utilize their expertise, you’re much more likely to tell your friends about your awesome virtual assistant and everything they’ve done for you rather than warn people when talking about your Virtual Assistant. Your Virtual Assistant should be specifically trained—that's really a non-negotiable in my mind. An Under grad or a masters degree is common, not your niece who is working her way through school. There’s also additional certifications and training for industry specific tasks, so you’re looking for someone with credentials and experience in areas that you don’t have the same level of knowledge.
I’m not saying a Virtual Assistant doesn’t start somewhere. Most of my first years owning Check Off Your List were professional development. I’d learn how to do something in my personal time, to better meet the needs of my clients. But this is about your needs, and unless you find someone whose already been through that grind and can do it better than you, your needs are not going to be met and you won’t be satisfied with your Virtual Assistant. When considering who to add to your remote team, there are a few key questions that should be answered. Can they check off your list faster and better than you can? Will they make your day easier? Will you be able to rave about them to your friends and colleagues? The answer should be yes to all of these, and it all comes down to surrounding yourself with a remote team who is smarter than you in the areas you outsource.
You either have experience hiring or you’ve been hired for a job, so you know the difference between knowledge and experience in the workplace. You know the difference between knowledge acquired in a textbook and knowledge you gain from being in the middle of it and having to make real decisions that have real consequences. Lets call it books smarts vs street smarts. And when it comes to your Virtual Assistant being smarter than you, this is exactly what I’m talking about. There are Virtual Assistants who have experience in all areas of business support, and you want to tap into each of those very intentionally. By doing this, you build yourself an entire virtual office that’s smarter than you.
In talking to business owners, not many of them realize this is a possibility. They have no idea the expertise that should come with a Virtual Assistant. I would venture to guess that it’s the word “assistant” that may turn some off. The stigma attached to this word really does the qualifications and experience brought by a Virtual Assistant a dis-service, but that’s a whole other soap box. You can see that I’m trying to clear up this misconception when it comes to what a Virtual Assistant does, so I thought it would make sense for me to share what my remote team does for me so you can see firsthand the types of resources that are available. The thing you should remember as I touch on each one of these is that these experts can perform these rolls much better than I can.
I’ll start with the easy one. Executive Virtual Assistant – Mine manages my calendar. She books my guest appearances and speaking engagements. The expertise here is quick and easy navigation of the necessary tools, but the experience she has that takes it a step above and makes my life that much better is the intuition and decision making to know how to respond and what information to provide without asking me every single detail. This intuition and attention to detail as she represents me are the skills that take her to the next level as my executive assistant. It provide the excellence I look for in all areas of my life and want people to think of when they think of me and working with me. In other words, she helps maintain my ego...
Along the same lines of representing me how I want to be perceived, is my Social Media Virtual Assistant. She sets the social media strategy and outlines the social media calendar to ensure a variety of information shows up on my social media. She even throws in sales content, but her many years of social media experience keeps it from being too in your face as she sprinkle it in with the helpful tips and fun bits about me. I don’t have to worry about designing graphics, so I can focus on the message and what I want to share with my social platforms. I have no clue about the algorithms and hashtags and ads, but she is up on all of that. I just get to do the fun parts of it, which for me, is giving feedback on what I like or don’t like to keep us all on the same page about a consistent message and our goals.
An expertise I recently gained new respect for is a Copywriting Virtual Assistant. As I produce this podcast, I am more and more aware how difficult it is to choose your words and communicate effectively. I have someone who edits my podcast episodes and blogs to help me stay on topic by avoiding tangents or off topic stories. He even writes and proofs social media posts so there’s a consistent voice and concise message. I could spend hours doing this, because I’d have to remind myself of all the idiosyncrasies of the English language. Thankfully, having a writer with a PHD in his back pocket helps me focus on the message and worry less about crossing Ts and dotting Is.
Something that always looks pretty but isn’t necessarily pretty on the back end is a website, and my Website Design Virtual Assistant helps me look good online. I know nothing about key words and the flow you want as users experience your website. My web designer takes the jumbled mess of brand guidelines and copy that supports the message of any give web page to create a website that works. It goes further than creating and updating the website. The expertise in SEO takes it all to the next level. By providing SEO tips and insight for the website, blogs, podcast, all that stuff, our visibility goes way up, which is exactly what anyone wants from their business’ websites.
There are so many Virtual Assistants who are experts in different areas that I could keep going, but I don’t want to bore you. I also don’t want you to get the impression that these specialists are limited in their narrow expertise. All my Virtual Assistants are experienced and skilled enough to handle a multitude of tasks that branch out into neighboring specialties. I’ll just name a few more to keep it brief, but if there is business support you can think of, there’s probably someone who specializes in it. Everything from interacting with people to provide customer service to bookkeeping.
My Graphic Design Virtual Assistant designed the Check Off Your List logo, picked and prioritized the brand colors, selected the fonts, and created the brand guidelines for Check Off Your List and this podcast. She continues to influence our brand by creating the free digital downloads for these episodes so you get the information you want in easy to consume formats.
Now, my background is in bookkeeping, but I still use a Bookkeeping Virtual Assistant. She enters month end journal entries, creates the reports I need for meetings, and generally monitors the accuracy of the profit and loss statement so I can make educated decisions for Check Off Your List. I’m able to focus my bookkeeping savvy on evaluating the financial data rather than devoting time to creating the data.
The IT Virtual Assistant who supports the entire Check Off Your List Team sets up our online file storage and coordinates the file sharing. He sets up e-mail inboxes for new team members and coordinates shared e-mail boxes when needed. He makes all the technical stuff work, which is awesome, because I cannot.
Most recently, I’ve incorporated a Podcast Virtual Assistant who edits this podcast, pulls audio clips for social media, creates show notes, and publishes the audio file to makes sure you can hear this on all the podcast platforms. I couldn’t have started this podcast without my Podcast Virtual Assistant, because I knew nothing about any of this, and the greatest part is that’s ok. I didn’t have to.
Alright, that’s an exhausting range of responsibilities, but it’s just a small list of tasks on most business owner’s to do list. Again, that’s worth being proud of, and you’ve earned a bit of your ego. Just a bit though. What takes any business to the next level is minimizing your to do list to the tasks that get you the best results in your business. Marie Kondo talks about finding joy in your possessions as you minimize your things. Whatever you think of minimalism, from my basic exposure, I’ve realized minimalism doesn’t only apply to things like the utensils in your kitchen or creating a capsule wardrobe. I find that same joy in minimizing my to do list to only the tasks that bring me joy, because I’m passionate about them or because of the results I see in my business when I do them.
But how do you get there? The list of tasks and roles you can add to your remote team was extensive and probably, a bit overwhelming. So tangibly, where do you start? I’ve covered this in previous episodes, and I didn’t really plan to dive into the nuts and bolts today. I will say, my success in deciding what to outsource and when goes back to a checklist I use. I’ll put a link to download that checklist in the resources section of this episode, just for easy reference. Actually, my team will, because updating our website brings me no joy whatsoever. But they will get that link there, and you can download that checklist to help pinpoint what to outsource on your to do list.
I feel confident that so far on this podcast I’ve shared how the expertise your Virtual Assistant provides is what generates exponential results. The right remote team brainstorms, gives ideas, and challenges your thinking as they pull from their expertise. My team challenges my thinking as a business owner every day and pushes me to be a better CEO as I learn from them. I’m excited to share such an intangible benefit of outsourcing with you today, and I have so much more to say about the personal benefits of hiring a Virtual Assistant, so next episode’s going to be more about how my personal life —see there’s that ego again, more about me—but really I’m going to let you in on how things like hobbies, family, and a flexible schedule have improved just from incorporating a remote team of virtual assistants .... So yeah, it will be more of me, but its really all about you, and the you you can be when you just let go of that need to be smartest person in the room and decide, instead, to be the happiest. So be sure that “You” catch up with "Me” on the next episode of Checking off Your List with me Rachel Luther.