The near delusional ecstasy of kick-butt administrative support

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adminteamIf you have been reading my blog for any length of time, you know that I am a big fan of outsourcing tasks that you are either not capable of completing (like taxes, creating legal documents or whatever is your skill gap) or loathe doing (like filing, making changes to your website or responding to tons of administrative emails).

At different points in my business, I had some really great support from top-notch administrative and business managers.  But since moving to Arizona 3 years ago, I went back to doing all administrative tasks myself.

Last year, things really heated up in both my and my husband’s business.  I got pretty stressed out trying to get everything done (while raising an active toddler) and resolved to get ongoing help in place.

The first step was hiring a virtual assistant from Multiple Streams Dream Team which hooked me up with my fabulous online biz partner Wanda.  She is helping to set up the back-end of my online business, including a shopping cart system for new products, management of my ezine list and teleclass participants, website changes and a whole range of other infrastructure-building activities.  I have been really excited to slowly delegate tasks to Wanda, and find more time freed up for fun and revenue-generating activities.

The second step was hiring someone to handle my in-office pile of papers and forms, invoicing and bookkeeping, since I was way out of control and just looking at all the piles of important but loathsome administrivia made me feel sick to my stomach.  So at the end of December, I decided that I would hire an administrative assistant/business manager person to work part-time at my home office.  I was prepared to write a job description and list it locally, although the thought of interviewing a bunch of people was not appealing.

When I got home from vacation, an email appeared in my inbox from Organizational Empowerment, a local firm that provides office organizing and “Girl Friday” services in your home or small business office.  When I spoke to the owner, Suzanne Babb the first time, I got chills up my spine.  She had spent years organizing offices in large corporations and had the exact skill set I was looking for.  So much for going through painful interviews … it appeared that the perfect person had dropped herself into my email box at the right time.

Yesterday, Suzanne came here for the first time.  I spent the first hour going over the pile of paperwork to delegate, which had things I had been accumulating for many months.  Once we reviewed the pile, I went off to my room to prepare for my interview for Martha Beck.  I could hear Suzanne cheerily calling people on the phone, typing furiously, copying and faxing.  At the end of 2 hours, I was stunned, shocked and ecstatic that she had gotten through most of my immense pile of to-dos.  It would have taken me 3 months to complete the tasks, and with much angst and frustration at that.

My conclusion:  I am a lunkhead for not seeking help earlier.

With the star partners Wanda and Suzanne in my corner, I am now free to focus on the things I really enjoy that will bring my business to the next level.  Like interviewing Randal Pinkett, Chairman and CEO of BCT Partners and last season’s winner of The Apprentice who I will be talking to in 30 minutes.

Don’t be a slow learner like me.  Get yourself some help, pronto.  You won’t regret it.

Filed Under: Managing your business

16 Responses to “The near delusional ecstasy of kick-butt administrative support”

  1. Marilyn says:

    I only have two issues with this post: 1) there are only women in that photo accompanying it, and 2) I can’t believe that in 2007, the term “Girl Friday” is still in use.

    Hi Marilyn:

    Thanks for your perspective. Here is the background:

    -The reason I used two women in the photo is that I was using it to illustrate my 2 virtual partners, both of whom are women. I try to link the picture to the content of the post, as well as show diverse faces as my readers cover the spectrum of age, race, profession and background. If you cruise back over a number of posts, you will see that I do not only feature one type of person.

    -I used the term “Girl Friday” when referring to Suzanne since that is the name of the service that she provides in her company, Organizational Empowerment. You can check it out by clicking on her link. She is a strong, capable and confident business owner. Like many terms, she may have chosen to “reclaim” this one, since she is clearly NOT in a subservient role with her clients. But she is probably the best person to ask about why she chose that term.

    Thanks for the perspective and challenge.

    All the best,
    -Pam

  2. Erin Blaskie says:

    As a VA myself, I was very happy to see that you blogged about this (even though I’m a bit late on the subject!)

    I read through all of the comments and I think that there are a lot of valid points.

    I’m totally for bartering, if what is being bartered is something that would be beneficial for my business. As an example, a client of mine and I trade my services for business coaching. She’s a great coach and has helped me immensely grow my own business (and she’s referred three clients to me which has benefited me much more than one hourly rate could have!)

    I think the key is finding someone who is aligned with what you are looking for / what you need and who can ultimately assist your business without having the dollar sign at the forefront of their mind. I mean, we’re all running businesses and earning income is a big part of that – but so is generating a solid network of great people, business owners and leaders alike, and using that network to reach higher levels.

    We could all benefit from accepting assistance rather than always looking to the bottom line.

  3. Great article!
    For Glenda, I have convinced many executives to give up some control by asking them to make a list of things they must accomplish every day. The most accurate lists come from people who take one day and write down each thing they do. Then I ask them to check off each task that directly results in more revenue coming in. It’s much easier for them to delegate the tasks not checked because it shows them where their time is best spent. It’s a great starting point, and as the relationship between “boss” and “assistant” matures and trust is developed, some of the checked items can be delegated as well.

  4. In addition to Jason’s concern about paying for assistance when you’re barely getting by, my other main control is how do you give up the control and entrust the task to someone else? And how do you organize tasks so that someone can make sense of what needs doing? Right now, I don’t think anyone else could make sense of my disasterous desk – assuming that I would let anyone near it! However, I’m beginning to realize that I do need some assistance to get ahead — my left thumb can’t do it all. Isn’t admiting you have a problem the first step!

    Another good post, Pam!

  5. I’m sure Pam will have expert advice for you there. My thinking is that in the same way that entrepreneurs and those escaping “cubicle nation” often start their businesses through sheer force of will and determination, they should apply that same dogged determination to getting support because it really does mean all the difference between succeeding and thriving, or struggling and failing.

  6. Good advice. What I wonder is — when is the right time to hire someone? For instance, if you’re already profitable, it is a no-brainer (as you put it — “lunkhead” like) to hire someone for the low value or high-dread items. What if you’re just getting started? Does it make sense when you’re no longer running the biz on debt? Does it make sense before then because you’re less stressed & can do more value-add activities?

    Any great criteria newbies can use to make such a decision?

  7. Thanks for all the great tips, Danielle and Pam. And yes, if the person I’m talking to about being my VA doesn’t pan out, I know exactly what organization I’ll be turning to for help! (Yours.)

  8. I can appreciate what you’re saying, Michelle. 🙂 What I advise Virtual Assistants that I mentor is not to devalue the very thing that brings value to their business. Like Pam says, trade can be a neat thing–when it is fair. Sadly, in my profession’s experience, it’s often the VA who gets the short end of the stick, and they have expended precious business resources–their time, skill and knowledge–in the process. There are exceptions, of course, but they are just that–exceptions. I usually advise people to work out the trade just like they would a paying client. Invoice up whatever you would have charged by the hour or by value, and have your barter partner do the same, and bill monthly so you can keep track of the ongoing trade credits and debits.

    One other point to clarify–all Virtual Assistants are expected to be *seasoned* assistants as far as skill level. Those who are qualified to enter our profession are expected to have many years experience in the real (non-virtual) world earning their stripes in upper level administrative capacities. However, there are people who really don’t have the qualifications to do this work so the consumer should do their homework. My organization helps business owners find qualified, professional VAs–look us up when you’re ready. 🙂

  9. Pamela Slim says:

    Thanks for the great conversation everyone!

    I would say yes, yes, yes to all you have said.

    Jason: I totally understand the “where/when do I spend money dilemma” when you are first starting your business. Sometimes it is scary and painful to part with hard-earned cash to pay others when you don’t know how you will pay yourself. But it all comes down to investment like Danielle says. Because Suzanne and Wanda are taking care of things for me, I am working on the higher level things that will ultimately attract a lot more income. I am designing programs and products and marketing my services. If I were to do all administrative things myself, it will take me 6 times as long to build revenue streams for my business.

    That said, be very careful what you are investing your hard earned $ in. Don’t hire someone to do unimportant tasks. Hire them to do the critical things that will bring you and money together the fastest.

    There is a lot more to this … probably worth a blog post. 🙂

    As for bartering, Suzanne will crack up, because we talked about a “premium services” barter between ourselves aside from our paid agreement. Right now, we both have skills that will greatly enhance each other’s business. I know I can help her grow her biz. She knows she can really organize mine. So we will do a little bit of “hour for hour” bartering on certain things.

    Trades can be great when they are fair. Make sure both parties are focused on the value, not just the time.

    And Christina, I am thrilled to hear of your successful marketing campaign!

  10. Danielle, didn’t mean to devalue what you do. And I also think maybe I wasn’t clear in my earlier post. What I was implying is that maybe Jay finds someone who is trying to make a name for themselves as a VA, a newbie, someone who needs experience to get experience (that old catch 22-22) and needs a starter client. Perhaps by giving them some advice of his own Jay might be able to strike a trade, or at least get a lower rate.

    That said, I think the point that hiring a *seasoned* VA is an investment is more worthwhile anyway, so thanks for saying that. At first glance, it appears I can scarcely afford an assistant myself, but I am well aware of the fact that I can’t keep working at the pace that I have — and that I could probably make more money in the time I free up by getting some help. Or at least have more fun.

    OK, I’ll stop talking now.

    -Michelle

  11. Jason, VAs have to pay the bills just like anyone else; I never advise them to barter services, especially because (sad to say) people often don’t tend to value something unless they pay for it. However, to address your concern, my question for you would be “How much money are wasting, and how much revenue are you losing by NOT getting support in your business. I think my pages here will help you understand the value that support from a Virtual Assistant (and other support in your business, for that matter) can create in your business: http://www.virtualassistantnetworking.com/you-want-to-make-money-right.htm

    Remember, it’s an investment, not an expense. 🙂

  12. Jay, maybe you could trade services with a V.A. and promote the heck out of them on your website? I’m a big believer in bartering.

    -Michelle (www.anti9to5guide.com)

  13. This is great advice. But there is a question that always comes up concerning this issue:

    What do you do before you have the money to pay someone to help with these tasks? OR…

    What do you do when you’re in that in between stage of just covering your costs & living expenses and you don’t quite have the money to spare for help?

    I’m always looking for input on the best way to answer this question. I would love to hear your thougts, Pamela.

    Jason (Jay)

  14. Oh, Pam!!! I just love you for your kick-butt testimonial for the Virtual Assistant profession! Having advocates like you is helping us propel our industry forward. We exist to help support business owners in their success. Thanks for helping us get the word out. 🙂

  15. Cristina says:

    Today I’m a very excited on-line office professional – last night I took the advice in one of your links and sent an intro email to all my friends and colleagues about my new business ExpertPA, an online secretarial service. The response has been amazing – thank you for your blog Pam, and may I brazenly include a link for my outsource service (since we’re on the subject!): http://www.expertpa.com.au

    Sincerely,
    Cristina

  16. Great advice! Thank you. And Suzanne sounds like a gift from the heavens!!

    After being spoiled late last year by having an intern (a friend who needed work hours for her graduate program), I decided to break down and hire a virtual assistant. Just knowing that someone is going to help me with some promo activities this spring makes the task at hand seem so much less daunting.

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