On this episode of THRIVE—sponsored by Workamajig—Kelly and Nate Hirsch from Outsourced School talk about delegation as a means to one of the ultimate goals for every agency leader: living a fully integrated life. Watch or listen (and share!).
EP 80:Delegate to Attain Work/Life Integration
Kelly: So welcome to this week's episode of Thrive. I am joined by Nate Hirsch. She's the co-founder of Outsource School, which is an educational platform for entrepreneurs that want to learn a little bit more about how to scale their businesses with reliable virtual assistance. We're going to be talking about how to delegate in order to attain that elusive work-life integration, not balance, but integration. Nate, thank you so much for joining me today.
Nate: Yeah Kelly, thanks for having me. Yeah, it should be a lot of fun. Excited to be here.
Kelly: So we talked a little bit earlier that prior to Outsource School, you actually founded FreeUp, which is how I've known you for the last couple of years. You ran that for about five years straight, and you were able to turn a $5,000 investment into a $12 million company which you're able to sell. Can you go into a little bit more of that story? And even some backstory before that. How were you able to do all of that? And, what did you learn from all of it?
Nate: Yeah, so before that, I mean, when I was 20, I started off buying and selling people's textbooks. That's how I first got into being an entrepreneur. I was a sophomore in college, and I started doing that. And I actually got a cease and desist letter from my college telling me to knock it off. And my parents were both teachers. So I didn't want to get kicked out of school. That wouldn't have gone over too well. So I pivoted, and this was 2008, 2009. Amazon was bursting onto the scenes. They were just starting to sell things more than books. And I had sold books there. I had an Amazon account. And I thought it was so cool. I could have this 24/7 storefront that would automatically deposit money in my bank account, like all this stuff was new. And I started experimenting, and I tried products I was familiar with. Through a lot of trial and error, I eventually got really good at selling baby products for whatever reason. If you can imagine me as a 20 year old single college guy selling millions of dollars of baby products on Amazon. That was me. And I got in a really good time. The business was scaling and I needed help. I had to start hiring people. And I tried hiring college kids, they were pretty unreliable. They were smoking weed and drinking on the job and over sleeping shifts. So I had to pivot out of necessity. And a buddy of mine told me about the oDesk of the world, the online hiring platforms. And I started hiring people there. And at first I had no idea what I was doing. It took me years to develop a really good hiring process, which we actually now teach at Outsource School. But I also didn't like those platforms. It took forever to post a job, get 100 applicants, interview them one by one. I wanted something better, something faster. And eventually I said, you know what, I'll build this myself. And so my business partner, Connor and I, we took $5,000, we built this very crummy software that no one really liked And we took it to market. And we had, at that time, a really good hiring process and a really good Rolodex of VAs and freelancers that were reliable that knew the Amazon space well. So we started going after Amazon sellers. And our whole pitch was we pre-vet people before we let them in on our platform, which Upwork and Fiverr don't do. We’ll match you up quickly. If you need a designer, we'll get you someone within an hour, within a day and you can get started right away. You don't have to go through 50 applicants. And if even the smallest thing goes wrong, we'll have great support, great protection in the back end. If someone quits on you, we’ll cover all replacement costs. And while people hated our software, they loved the VA and freelancers. They liked the support. And we were able to scale. And I think that there are lots of reasons why we were able to scale. I think, going into the lessons that we learned. And I'll let you jump in here too. I mean, with the Amazon business, we had no idea how to hire. It took us years to figure that out. And when we started FreeUp, we knew how to hire, we could hit the ground running. But we didn't have any idea how to market because with Amazon, you pay Amazon the 15%. They get all the customers for you. And with FreeUp we're having on website, we have to get SEO or we have to learn SEO, we have to learn how to market, we have to have an affiliate program, like all this stuff was new. And we started doing a lot of trial and error figuring out. Hey, how do we set up a really good affiliate program? How do we get on podcast? How do we set up partnerships? How do we put out great content? Networking is a big thing that I started doing. I'm a big proponent of networking. And how do we get in front of the influencers that promote us and that's really the organic marketing playbook that we learned how to do with the help of VAs. Our VA is doing 80 90% of that. And now that we do Outsource School, we're kind of applying the hiring, applying the organic playbook, and teaching other people how to do the same thing.
Kelly: Right, right. So what would you say are some of the advantages of actually going with a VA over hiring someone that's well, in person is an interesting word right now, but as an employee who's not a virtual assistant? What are some of the advantages of one over the other specifically for the agency leader himself or herself?
Nate: Yeah, so before I answer that question, you have to understand how I define a virtual assistant because some people think that everyone that works from home is a VA which is fine. When I'm talking about a VA, I'm really talking about followers. So there's three different levels that an entrepreneur, that an agency leader can hire. That's followers, doers, and experts. So, followers think 5 to 10 bucks an hour, non-US, they might have years of experience, but they're there to follow your system, your process. If you don't have a system and process in place, you can't hire the follower. And that's what I'm talking about virtual assistant. The doers are graphic designers, video editors, writers. You're not teaching a graphic designer how to be a graphic designer, but they're not consulting with you either. They're there to do that one task at a high level. And then you've got the experts, high level freelancers, coaches, consultants, could be agencies or white labeling, labelling their own system, their own strategy to the table. And just like you wouldn't hire an expert and say, hey, I'm gonna train you how to do this, you wouldn't hire a VA and say, I don't know how to run Facebook ads, go run my Facebook ads. That's not gonna work out too well for you. So when you're just talking about the followers, and I like hiring US people for the doers and the experts. If you hire let's take customer service, for example, or executive assistant, you hire an executive assistant in the US for 15 bucks an hour, which isn't a terrible rate, isn't an amazing rate, it’s pretty average. And let's say best case scenario, you spend a lot of time training them, they're a rockstar, they're really good at their job, but how long are they going to be happy at 15 bucks an hour? Eventually, they're going to want 18, 20, 25. And then you run into a tough position as a business owner because your options are, you drastically overpay for a following position, or you start all over and all that investment you made in them is gone. And if you hire someone, let's say in the Philippines, 5 bucks an hour, which minimum wage in the Philippines is $12 a day. So 5 bucks an hour is a pretty great opportunity for them. Let's say best case scenario, they're a rock star, pay them 7, pay them 9, pay them 11, they're going to be with you for a very long period of time. So a lot of agency leaders aren't thinking about that long term. They're just more focused on the convenience of having someone in the US short term.
Kelly: Okay, so that's great. So that gives us an understanding of that follower, doer, and expert. Are there additional advantages specifically for the followers, hiring the VA versus the in person? I guess we could call it, you know, it's so funny we have to change our language. So instead of in person employee, now we would just say maybe someone who's on payroll in some capacity.
Nate: Right. So you go back 20 years ago, and you have to hire people full time, you have to hire people in your town or the towns around you. You need an office. And fast forward to today, you not only don't need to hire people in your town or the town around you. You can hire people from all over the world at different price points, different skill sets; you can hire them. I just hired a bookkeeper 5 hours a month. I have an EA that started off 10 hours a week. So you have a lot more flexibility as an entrepreneur that you didn't have before. There's also a factor of time zones. Most businesses now run 24/7. And while people in the Philippines might be willing to work graveyard shift because they're a little bit more used to that, getting people in the US to work overnight usually doesn't happen. So by hiring people from all over the world, you get to really make your business run 24/7. You get access to a lot more talent, and you make it a lot more flexible than if you're only hiring people in the US.
Kelly: So you use a VA yourself. Maybe you use multiples, I don't know. How do you personally think about designing your ideal day? And then how does that fit into how you utilize those VAs?
Nate: Yeah, so with FreeUp, we had 35 full time remote VAs in the Philippines. That company was obviously acquired. And now we have two VAs that are working with us in Outsource School and we'll build up from there. For me a big part of being an entrepreneur. And I wish that I had learned this a long time ago is figuring out what my ideal day looks like. And what works for me might not work for other people. But what I start with is what are the most productive hours for me? And for me, it's right when I wake up from 7 to 9 AM. That's my most productive. I have a buddy who's most productive from 2 AM to 4 AM. That's his thing. And that's fine too. He better be maximizing that every single day. So when I wake up whatever the most important thing is that day, that's what I'm doing. And what I have a VA do is they wake up before me from 5 AM to 7 AM. They clear my inbox. They book all my podcasts. They schedule my meetings. And that gives me a head start to every day. So instead of spending the first hour of my day answering emails and booking things, I can get started on that big project right away. Then I know that I want to break. Once I've spent two hours working on the most important thing, I want to go to the gym for an hour. I do very intense workouts. That's my break. And when I come back, I usually have another good hour left in me of maybe not the most important thing but some kind of project that day. I'm also a big proponent of going on podcasts. I go on a podcast today. I'm booked out through August. And for the most part, I like doing my podcasts between 11 AM and 1 PM. I don't want to do them first thing when I wake up. I don't want to do them later in the day when I'm exhausted. So my one podcast is scheduled during that time, and then the from 12, or 1 to 3 o'clock. And I try to end my day at 3 so that I can focus on my fiancé, my dogs, whatever. That's the time that I'm doing phone calls, and now I work remote so I can walk outside. I don't necessarily have to be in my office or at my computer, whether it's an internal call, an external call, like a networking call. So that's how I structure my day. And that's the same foundation that other entrepreneurs can use, to do the same thing.
Kelly: Yeah, that's great. And I think a lot of people are like, wow, that sounds amazing. I could never structure my day like that. But the reality is, you have the choice to do that. And delegating gives you that ability to have that work-life integration, which is precisely what you've just described.
Nate: Right. And there are exceptions to every rule, right? Like Roland Frasier invited me on his podcast last week, and he had an open spot at 7 PM. I'm not going to say oh sorry, I only do podcasts from 11 to 1. Like, at some point, there's a certain element of common sense where you'll make exceptions, but you want to make your ideal day as consistent as possible, as many days as possible on the weekend.
Kelly: Allowing for a lot of that flexibility.
Kelly: So with Outsource School, and the fact that it's an educational platform to really help entrepreneurs understand more about all of the different facets that go into hiring a virtual assistant, what are some of the most common mistakes that you've seen some of those entrepreneurs make prior to coming to Outsource School?
Nate: So I like to divide hiring into four parts. You have interviewing, onboarding, training, and managing. Most entrepreneurs know you need to interview someone. Most entrepreneurs know you need to train someone. And most groups know on some level you have to manage them. Where everyone messes up is the onboarding. And I'll give you an example. Let's say that you interview a bunch of VAs. You like Jane, you want to hire Jane at 5 bucks an hour. What the average entrepreneur does is they say, Jane, that was a great interview, you're hired at 5 bucks an hour, let's jump into training. Well, what we teach people to do at Outsource School is what we call our SICC method, which is Schedule Issues Communication Culture. And we go to Jane, and we say, that was a great interview, we want to hire you at 5 bucks an hour. First, let's make sure you're really good with 5 bucks an hour. Maybe she got another job offer. Maybe her other clients are paying her 10. And if she is, we'll talk about bonuses and raises, so she knows what to expect. And then we'll have a 20 to 30 minute conversation where we go over the schedule for me, what other commitments she has, what other clients she has, what are their schedule, how many hours is she working total, is she already working 100 hours a week before she adds my hours. So we go through that. We go through issues which could be personal, computer, internet, power, weather, for every issue we want to know how often you had that issue. What is the backup plan when you have it because we don't work with VAs that are one issue away from not being able to work for an extended period of time. And how are you going to communicate that issue? If you lose power, we're not just going to wait for you to come back in five days. How are you going to get a hold of me or my team? Then we go through communication. What channels we use? Do I like email? Do I hate email? Am I using Time Doctor, am I not. We want to make sure they like the software and agree to use the software that we use to communicate. And then lastly, we go through culture, which everyone's culture is different. But we set the expectation that we don't care how talented you are, how good at your job you are, if you're not a culture fit, you're not going to last in this business. We don't put up with drama. We don't put up with any of that. And once we've gone through rate, bonuses, raises, schedule issues, communication culture, we give the VA a chance to ask questions, and we give them a chance to back out. And we would much rather that the VA backs out than for us to find out that our expectations were too high down the line. That 20 to 30 minute conversation can save you tons of hours, tons of money down the line in issues.
Kelly: I agree with that. My natural question to the last C about culture is so you're sort of telling them upfront, this is what our culture looks like. Do you fit into that? You're having that conversation. How do you I guess from an onboarding standpoint, how do you educate your clients on Outsource School as to how to best support that VA? So you're saying culture from your end to theirs? But how do you support them, so that they're set up for success as well?
Nate: So they understand what their culture is. Is that what you’re saying?
Kelly: Yeah, so instead of it being just this is the agency culture like you're either a fit or not, or like where is the reciprocity? Or where's the support for them as an individual in that.
Nate: Sure. So culture is a tough thing. There's kind of three parts to it. You have to figure out what your culture is. You have to find people that are fit your culture and then you have to maintain that culture down the line. So step one is figuring out what your culture is. And we share what ours is. We're all about ideas and feedback. And people that don't just say yes, because I'm the boss, I'm the owner that will speak up if something's wrong and bring stuff to the table. And we also teach them what we look for in VA. We want someone that has an entrepreneurial spirit that doesn't just care about money, that cares about self-improvement, and learning and building. And they can tweak that however they want. And by time you get to onboarding, you've already done an interview process and our interview process, we call it the care method, which is Communication, Attitude, Red flags, and Experience. And when you go through the attitude, that's when you find out what's important of the VA, that's when you tell them a little bit more about the culture. So by the time you get to the onboarding, you already know what the VA is like from the interview, you've already kind of told them what the culture is. And the onboarding is more of that chance to reinforce it and make it very clear what you put up with, what you don't put up with, and really encourage the VA that, hey, like, it's okay, if you're not a good fit for the culture, like we want to create a win-win for you and for us, where if there's a company that's a better fit for you in what you're looking for, then we want you to go take that opportunity. So it's really educating our client base to figure out what their culture is, figure out how to find out if the VA has that culture and how to communicate that to the VA, that isn't in an intimidating way where they're maybe a little bit shy, they might accept the job because they need a job and really making sure that it's a fit for everyone.
Kelly: Got it. Okay, so you are making sure that they understand that they have a voice as well. And they can bring up different concerns or different things that they need in order to do their jobs well to support the organization.
Nate: Absolutely. We have clients that will send us screenshots of them communicating with the VA, and sometimes people in the US, including me back in the day tend to be a little bit more direct, a little bit more aggressive when we're handling issues or something comes up and sometimes we have to teach them to hey, take a step back, approach this a little different way. Because a lot of times they'll just retreat and become shy and tell you what you want to hear, which isn't really good for anyone.
Kelly: Right. Well, that's where the more feminine language comes in.
Nate: Hundred percent.
Kelly: All of that. Yeah. Okay. So as we start to wrap up, I mean, what would you say is your very best piece of advice or pieces of advice for agency leaders who are not already working with a virtual assistant, but are considering doing so especially right now?
Nate: So there's two steps that I would take before you even get into the interviewing, onboarding, training, and managing, and that's figuring out what your budget is, which is incredibly important. A lot of people skip this step. They hire someone, and they realize I can't afford them. And we have a free VA calculator on the Outsource School site. You can do the math yourself, but you want to figure out how much money do I make every month. How aggressive do I want to be in my hiring? Do you want to invest 50% of your profits? 10%? I tend to be around 20 to 30. And from that, you can figure out, hey, the average VA is 5 to 10 bucks an hour. How many VAs can I afford? Can I hire, afford three full time, one part-time, 10 hours a week, 20 hours a week, whatever it is. Once you have that, create a list of everything you do on a day to day, week to week basis.
Kelly: And not just you as the agency owner, but some of your team members as well?
Nate: Exactly. I like to start with the actual owner, because usually there's a lot of very easy stuff that can just quickly get off their plate and you can get the 5 to 10 hours a week back but then it becomes your team depending on what your budget is and how many VAs you can afford. And by ordering it easiest to hardest, that's a really good starting point to find the easiest tasks that you can relocate 5 hours from day to day operations or repetitive tasks that you know how to do into the strategy, the sales, the expansion, the marketing. And once you figure out how many you can afford and what tasks you want to take off your plate, then the interview process begins.
Kelly: Okay, great. Well, I'm definitely going to put a link to that as well as just a general link to outsourceschool.com into the show notes. And Nate, just want to say thank you so much for joining me today. This has been really, really helpful.
Nate: Yeah, thanks so much for having me.