Episode: 40 |
Karen McGrath:
Virtual Assistants:


Karen McGrath

Virtual Assistants

Show Notes

Our guest today is Karen Awan, who runs a firm of virtual assistants called Awan’s Assisting.

If you are an independent professional and feel crunched for time, this episode is for you.

Karen and I discuss why an independent professional should consider hiring a virtual assistant (a VA), the types of tasks that VAs are most commonly asked to do, how to find and screen a VA, and some tips on how to build an effective working relationship with a VA.

Karen clearly knows her business, and you can find her firm at http://awansassisting.com/

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Will Bachman: Hey there, podcast listeners, welcome to Unleashed, the show that explores how to thrive as an independent professional. 

Unleashed is sponsored by Umbrex, the world’s first global community of top-tier independent management consultants. 

I’m your host, Will Bachman. 

Our guest today is Karen McGrath, who runs a firm of virtual assistants called Awan’s Assisting. If you are an independent professional and feel crunched for time, this episode is for you.

Karen and I discuss why an independent professional should consider hiring a virtual assistant, or VA. The types of tasks that VAs are most commonly asked to do. How to find and screen VA and some tips on how to build an effective working relationship with your VA.

Karen clearly knows her business. And you can find her firm at Awansassisting.com and that’s spelled A W A N S assisting dot com. It’s actually quite a nice website. I got some great ideas from my discussion with Karen on how I personally can better leverage my time, and I hope you find the discussion helpful.

Karen, thanks so much for joining. It’s great to have you on the show.

Karen McGrath: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.

Will Bachman: So Karen, I’m really excited to speak with you and get your perspective on how independent professionals can find a virtual assistant and the best ways of starting that working relationship and the types of things that virtual assistant can do. But maybe you can give us a quick sketch of your background. I think that you’ve been a virtual assistant and also supervise them maybe in kind to help us understand your background and the business you’re running today. 

Karen McGrath: Sure, sure. Well, I’ve been with. I started Awans Assisting in 2015 in August. I used to work for a larger virtual assisting firm and they closed their doors, and that was my opportunity to go independent and start my own business. So I’ve been doing virtual assisting now for about two and a half years on my own, about three and a half to four years if you count the previous experience. 

And prior to that, I worked in the corporate world and sales and things like that, so I was familiar with the business model corporations et cetera. But yes, currently I function as a supervisor. I have a staff of virtual assistants as well as my own client load. So I am both a virtual assistant as well as a business owner.

Will Bachman: Great. So why should an independent professional think about hiring a virtual assistant? Talk to me about that.

Karen McGrath: Well the first thing that I’d have to say about that is professional, people who are running their own businesses or even work in other businesses, that your time is extremely valuable, it’s your greatest asset in most cases. And the cost of the VA is going to be … I’m sorry, a virtual assistant, VA’s for short, is going to be a lot less expensive than using your own time to do tasks like travel booking, scheduling, anything that can be easily outsourced should not be bogging down the person who’s running the business or who’s developing business or who’s doing the sales. 

You shouldn’t be bogged down with the simple tasks that are just easy to outsource to somebody else who’s got the experience. And then on top of that, I know for me with a lot of my clients, I can do their travel booking and scheduling a lot faster than they can because that’s what I do all day long. 

So not only does it cost less to have me do an hour of work for them and their schedule and their calendar in their travel booking, but I can accomplish a lot more in that hour than maybe they can, because this isn’t the kind of task that they are dedicated to, they’re dedicated to their business not to scheduling and finding a flight for tomorrow. So it’s just a lot more efficient to hire somebody that you can outsource these kinds of tasks to. 

Will Bachman: So what you’re saying Karen is not only would your hourly rate, or one of your staffer’s hourly rate be less than a professionals, but you’re also better at it. So, it’s not even changing one hour for one hour. But give up one hour your time and Karen or her folks can just do it more efficiently, because that’s-

Karen McGrath: Well, sure, sure. Because they’re dedicated to their whatever their business is, whatever they’re selling that’s there that’s their main drive. So you don’t want to waste your time trying to book a flight to go to a sales call or something like that. 

Will Bachman: Okay got it. So, I’d like to get into kind of looking for how to find a virtual assistant and so forth, but maybe before we do that, could you talk about some of the types of tasks that an independent professional could think about outsourcing to a virtual assistant. 

Could you walk through maybe, because you’ve seen a lot of it. What are some of the most common tasks, go through several different examples.

Karen McGrath: Yeah absolutely I mean, we have a range of clients who do … I mean, you name it across the board we can work with a lot of different need. But primarily we work with a lot of scheduling, so especially people a heavy scheduler during sales there. It could be consulting, it could be … I mean, anything, conference calls, board meetings, anything especially complex things to schedule.

There are people who it’s hard to coordinate a whole board of people who are all who all have high end jobs and they’re difficult to get together, so it’s really nice to have a VA try to get all those people together instead of wasting your own time trying to coordinate many busy schedules. 

Like I mentioned before, we do a lot of travel planning and booking people there. Maybe they’re doing sales calls around the country one week and they need to be in five different cities in four days. So we can research and find the best way to get you where you need to go with the best itinerary that you can have. 

We do a lot of research so it could be anything from can you research a competitor. Can you research how somebody handles this sort of business in the past et cetera, to product research, like I need to buy a gift for my nephew and I want to know what the most popular toy is for a 7 year old right now.

It could be any kind of research that you need or need apart from a machine in my office the ice machine and can you find me this part, so research across the board. 

We also will do inbox management. So I’ve been known to be log into somebody’s e-mail, and client e-mail and they have 10,000 e-mails sitting in their inbox, and I can set up filters and get everything all cleaned out and all organized, so that they can find what they need get their inbox back down to zero. Not so overwhelming for them anymore but everything is still there in a nice and organized fashion, just like how you’d do a

Calendar management, which that’s related to scheduling. But a lot is going to be looking at somebody who’s calendar for the next week, are they double booked? Is it impossible for them to be in California New York on the same day and they book themselves in those two states. Things like that. Making sure that their schedules are going to function for them and fixing things that aren’t going to work for them. 

We can do transcriptions. That would be anything from, sometimes I transcribed voicemails for certain clients, or it could be recorded meetings, like board meetings things like that, or just meeting minutes even. So that’s a useful service.

And data entry, purchasing, the list goes on and on. That’s a pretty short list compared to the things that we often actually handle, we do a lot of event planning, I mean, you name it. So, anything we can do virtually. 

Will Bachman: So let’s talk through some of these in some more detail, so travel planning and booking. How would someone work with you on Can you just give you access to all of their different frequent flyer programs and logins to American Airlines and at Hertz and so forth, so that you could sort through those. 

How do you first get somebody preferences and understand like how they like to choose, because that’s one thing that I would maybe struggle with outsourcing, is just a personal preference. Does he want a connection? Does he want direct flight willing to pay more first class, economy? What part of the plane? Leave early afternoon, late at night.

How do you kind of learn somebody’s preferences?

Karen McGrath: okay well, when we start with somebody we do an intro call, it’s usually 30 to 60 minutes, once they’re assigned a virtual assistant. And we try to cover those things we say are you going to have us the travel booking? If you are, could you please give me your preferences and your frequent flyer numbers and you’re all your frequent program numbers right now. Usually we’ll be given all that information upfront. 

A lot of the time there are gaps in it because we don’t anticipate everything we need right out the gate, it takes a little while to build that relationship. But within a few months generally speaking we know Will is going to want an aisle seat. He would like to be upgraded if possible to first class, and he always buys the United or something, some examples like that.

We’re going to know what your primary airline is, what you’re if you’re willing to fly, if you want the cheapest ticket possible or if you want nonstop because you want to preserve your time. All these kinds of preferences we ask in the initial interview, and then anything that gets missed, because there’s always something we don’t anticipate, we ask the first second third time we’re booking and we keep it all on the client profile.

So we have notes on everybody that we work with, and it says Will would like to do this, or whoever we’re working with, so just you as an example, so-

Will Bachman: And I suppose the flow the first couple times maybe would give two or three alternate options. And then, the person chooses and that helps you do some not machine learning, but human learning. You kind of-

Karen McGrath: Yeah. hopefully, we know what a person’s preferred airline is, generally speaking everybody has one preferred airline that they do all their booking with because they want to build up all those miles. So usually we’re going to say okay I know you want this airline. 

And we’re going to give you all your options with that unless we find that the tickets are three times as much as a different airline. For some reason on that day or and we’ll give you some alternate. But yeah, usually we work within all your parameters and people know what their primary is.

Will Bachman: I can definitely see how that would save some time, sometimes booking a simple down and back kind of trip can take an hour sitting at your desk to get the hotel airline and car, so that would definitely be a time saver-

Karen McGrath: And then to get all the details l, that doesn’t seem like a hard task. But with the time changes a lot of the time people use Outlook in outlook doesn’t have all the time functionality that some of the other platforms do, and it takes a lot of double checking to make sure that that information is accurate not double booked. You’re not on a phone call or in a meeting when you’re actually on the flight. Things like that. 

Will Bachman: So then, research if I understand correctly, it might not be the … Or maybe it is of the actual kind of let’s say someone is doing a consulting project and doing the kind of research on the set of computers, is it that kind of stuff, or is it general life and business things, like hey I need to order new printer but what’s the best high speed laser printer, you’d look at that.

Is it kind of both things or typically not so much the actual core business that they’re doing, but all the ancillary type work?

Karen McGrath: We can to like the core business research that they’re doing, which something guidance. If somebody has an example of this is the type of thing I’m looking, can you go out on the web and see what you can find?

We can definitely do that, or phone calling other competitors rates, things like that. We’ve done stuff like that where we’ve had somebody say can you call my competitors in a certain area and find out how much their comparable services cost for us. So we’ve done industry specific research like that, that’s really related to the core of the business. 

However, I would say more frequently, it’s going to be research like I want all the contacts that you can find in this specific industry in the state of Illinois, or something like that, and so we’ll go out and say well here’s all the businesses I’ve found, are these businesses that you want contacts for?

Yes they are, can you find contacts with this title? And then finding their e-mails and their phone numbers and their names and their LinkedIn addresses, done a lot of that. So I guess that is related to the core business as well. 

But then we’ve also done a lot of just purchasing research. I think I saw an order go through for a Halloween costume last week, somebody had us researching Halloween costumes, that’s more of a personal assistant thing you know. Now I’m getting recommendations for Patrick the starfish coming into my inbox, which is pretty entertaining. 

But yes, it’s just across the board. There’s no limitation on the types of things we can research, as long as it’s virtual or over the phone you know. 

Will Bachman: Right, and for an independent professional that boundary between what counts as a business versus a personal thing. It’s a fine line. 

Karen McGrath: Yeah, if we can save time … We laugh about the Halloween costume, but that saved that person’s time. They didn’t have time to go out and look for it. And so we did save them time so they could dedicate their time to their business, you know. So yeah, it is a fine line, or maybe there is no line between the two.

And meeting minutes. So you would like dial into a call and then kind of take notes? Yeah, yeah. So I have some clients where I’ll actually assist, and I don’t facilitate per se, but I just keep the call moving.

So I’ll receive an agenda and say Okay guys we’ve gotten through a b and c, now let’s move on to d. And while the call is going everybody who is on the call is in a google doc which is the one I’m taking notes in. So they can see the agenda. They can see the notes as I’m adding them to the agenda about what’s going on. So all the minutes are being added, and that way if they drop off the call for 10 minutes, they can see what they’ve missed. 

And at the end of the call, we have a really comprehensive set of minutes that tells anybody who couldn’t make the call. Anybody who wants to refer back to it, they all have a reference to go back to for the minutes.

Will Bachman: And without revealing anything confidential, like what kind of a meeting would that be? Would that be one of your independent professionals within a client meeting, or what sort of a succession would that be?

Karen McGrath: Usually board meetings a membership meeting. I have some clients that have membership groups, and so the membership might all be on the call. So might like an informative call about being a member of a professional group. I’m trying not to cross the boundary of confidentiality, but I’ll give you good information, so it’s a little difficult.

Will Bachman: Okay. And you’d also do some purchasing, so like you said, the Halloween costume or office stuff, research-

Karen McGrath: Yeah. We’ve done inventory. There was a couple businesses that we were doing inventory for, and they would have somebody email and say here’s a list of things I need for the business this week, and so we send them out paper towels, napkins, toilet paper, basic stuff. 

And if they needed something more elaborate, of course, that as well. But a lot of the time it was just their basic things that you run out of every week or two in a business. So we can do that kind of purchasing or just personal stuff. So, anything.

One common thing that I have been asked to do quite frequently is, “Hey, we’re going to a conference. I want 10 different things with our logo on it. Can you research lanyards, mugs, whatever it might be and so we’ll find the best deal within the timeframe that we have, and where’s it going to ship to and get it set up to go maybe directly to a conference so they don’t have to cart it all with them. 

Work with the conference coordinator to get that stuff shipped in, because a lot of the time you have to work with the people who are on site to make sure that products get to the client. Stuff like that. 

Will Bachman: And events. Tell me a little bit about the kind of events that you would help organize.

Karen McGrath: Yeah. So I personally with my clients have helped organize several different types of small conferences. So I will do a lot of reaching out to get hotel blocks at discounted rates. Do the RFPs, requests for proposals, out to maybe 5, 6, 7, 8 local hotel groups and see if I can get discounted rates for people coming in.

And then, I’ll help coordinate the restaurants, private parties. What are your food and beverage minimuns? What are your private room minimums and negotiating within a budget. So if somebody says I would like to have dinner, but this is all the money we have. 

Well then maybe I’m not going to look at a place that requires a minimum room rental on top of the food and beverage minimum. 

So things like that, and I’ll assemble an entire research document of here every location that we looked into, here’s their minimum. Here’s their cost. Here’s their menu, or for the hotel, here’s the type of rooms offer out what kind of cost and here’s your minimum commitment. So across the board.

Will Bachman: Got it, so that sounds pretty compelling. If someone, let’s say one of the listeners is saying, “Wow, that sounds good. I should really get on that.”

Maybe you can walk me through what are the steps someone should take before they start looking for VA? And then, what’s the best process to go find and hire a VA?

Karen McGrath: Sure. Yeah. So I think before you look for a VA, it is really important to have a clear understanding of what your needs are, and what kind of expectations you’re going to have from a VA.

When I’ve had people come to me and they are so overwhelmed. Maybe they’ve gone too long and they needed an assistant two years ago. That happens a lot. People wait until they’re so far beyond that they can’t organize they’re thoughts enough to delegate and have a successful relationship with the VA. 

So that’s a really important step to take before you get a VA think about what am I able to outsource. What exactly do I want from a VA. What exactly are my expectations what kind of turnaround times do I expect. And what kind of questions do I have for VA about what they’re capable of doing for me, and make sure that those things are really going to align.

Some people, they think a VA can do everything an in-house assistant, can do. And that’s not always the case. We don’t do anything, at least at my company, we don’t do anything that’s not virtual. 

So you can’t ship us a shoebox of receipts and have us scan them all in for you, we don’t do that, you know. 

So just having a really clear understanding of what your needs are. And if a virtual assistant is going to fulfill those needs, and what are your expectations of a VA are.

And the other component would be to think about in order to meet those needs. Do you have processes in place? No matter how well trained your VA is, they’re not going to know the inside of your business the way you do. 

So if you don’t have processes in place to delegate to them, step ABCDE, it’s gonna be a lot more difficult to have a successful relationship. 

But if you do have those processes and you’re able to outsource to them and say this is what I want you to do, this is how frequently I want you to do it, here is what I expect to receive back, that’s going to be the basis for a really effective relationship between a client and a VA. 

Will Bachman: Okay. Let’s talk about, someone says Okay, I’ve done that work, I’ve thought through my priorities, other than just going on Google, and saying find a virtual assistant. What are the steps for finding and hiring a virtual system?

Karen McGrath: Yeah so of course like you said Google, go and Google right. Once you find kind of a list of people, because that’s just going to be the standard steps of going on Google and finding the sources that are out there for Vas-

Will Bachman: But I was actually kind of being a little facetious there. Do you think that the best place, or are there kind of aggregators, or do you think you should just ask around? Or like are there recommendation sites or Upwork, or how do you even find the list of names?

Karen McGrath: Yeah, that’s a good question and that’s something I haven’t broached because I am a VA. So of course I’m going to say we’ll come to us. But I guess if there’s somebody you know, go for the referral, go for people go through people that’s always the best practice if you can. 

Will Bachman: Well of course if people do want to come to you, Karen, how would they find you?

Karen McGrath: AwansAssisting.com, so AwonsAssisting.com. 

Will Bachman: All right, we’ll say that, so you like what you hear from Karen, give Karen a call or reach out on her website.

So let’s say Karen’s on the list. And how do people find other people beyond you? Do you think it’s asking around people, is the best thing or are there other sites? Howw do you find the list of people?

Karen McGrath: There are other sites. I mean, there’s Virtual and Upwork, and going through Google, you do see a lot of different  [inaudible 00:23:08] There are international ones that are at international prices, for like five dollars an hour things like that. But you’re going to get what you pay for. So, that’s something they keep in mind. 

And then I would definitely look at reviews. So it’d be better to go with something that has some reviews and some I don’t know, you definitely … because you’re going to be giving them your credit card information, your frequent flier number, your home address, your phone number. Access to your e-mail perhaps, most likely.

So you definitely want to go through a process of screening and find somebody that you feel has some reviews. 

I wouldn’t just go online and go oh this person has a nice set of qualifications but no reviews, no ties to a bigger company. I would definitely screen to see what’s going to make them legit. Are they insured? Are they going to protect your information? Is there businesses that endorse them, things like that. 

Will Bachman: Let’s talk about screening. What questions should you ask? What should the checklist look like for screening a VA?

Karen McGrath: Okay. Sure. Well so beyond what I mentioned before about your needs and ma, that’s your first step.  Because if they’re not a match, if they’re not going to be able to meet your needs and your priorities and your expectations, then the rest of this is null and void. 

But if they’ve met all that and you’re ready to screen them because you are ready to hire them, you’re you’re going on to talk to them about first off confidentiality. Do they have a contract or? are they going to protect your intellectual property if they know a lot about your business, is that something they can disclose to other clients that could I disclose that on this podcast. You want to make sure you’re protected. You don’t want them to go out and give your secrets and the things that make you successful just out to anybody. 

So that’s going to be really important to have a contract in place, make sure that they have a practice for that. I definitely would talk to them about security. Where do they keep your passwords? Where do they keep your credit cards? Is it all written down in a book in their house where everybody who comes over to their house could see it, or are they keeping it digitally. Is it protected is it insured is it guaranteed? What kind of protections are in place for you once you give up all that information?

Background checks, if it’s a company, 

I run a background check on everybody who works for me. So, that’s already a done deal. But if I was just a single virtual assistant and you were coming to me to ask me for my services, I would expect you to want to do a background check. 

And then and of course, I would do that because, even as a company on assisting, you are welcome to ask me about the background checks that I’ve run my visa or if I would take a background check of course I would do that because you don’t know me where am I at and what am I going to do with your information. You have a right to have some protection in place. 

Definitely go through your standard interview process. So beyond your needs and expectations beyond making sure that your security is all set. Just a kind of standard interview would be that the other step of that to make sure that they sound competent. They’re going to be able to take good care of you. 

Will Bachman: Talk to me a little bit about what people should expect to pay, what’s the typical cost for a VA?

Karen McGrath: I think for a quality VA you’re going to look at probably 30 to 40 hours an hour. Now I would like to qualify this because, in some markets that might sound like a lot of money. I think you’re out in New York and that may not sound like a lot of money, but in other parts of the country that’s a pretty high wage for some people. 

But if you take into account that you’re not covering HR, taxes, real estate meaning a desk in computer etcetera. And the fact that you’re not covering any breaks or any downtime, you’re only being billed for the time that somebody is working for you, the amount of work that can be done in an hour is a lot. It’s pretty amazing how much work can get done in an hour. So I think that that rate 30 to 40 dollars an hour would be for a quality good virtual assistant. And I think that that’s a very fair rate for the return that you get. 

But generally speaking, I have to qualify this as well, because generally speaking it’s fulled in chunks of time. So back when we used to buy a thousand minutes on our cell phone plan. So and you had a month to use them, and they didn’t roll over. And if you didn’t use them they expired. 

So virtual assistant contracts are pretty much the same. You’re going to sign up for a number of hours that you need every month whatever you don’t use does not roll over, but you can use up to that amount of time. So even though there is an hourly rate that I mentioned, it’s generally sold in blocks of time.

Will Bachman: Got it. Then what would some typical entry level blocks look like? what sort of the typical minimum per month that that would sign up for?

Karen McGrath: Sure. I think that this is really going to be a matter of personal preference depending on who you’re working with, whether it’s a big company or a little one. For us we start at 20 hours a month and we go on 20 hour increments for 20, 40, and 60. But I know other companies they’re doing like 16, 32, and 56. 

I think the idea behind that, when it divides up between the four week evenly. So it can really vary. But most people I would say would have a minimum block of I don’t think anybody go below 10 hours. 

Will Bachman: All right. And you mentioned that … for US listeners it sounds like the typical arrangement is not this person is not a W2 full time employee or even a part time employee but it’s typically as a 1099 or you’re engaging a vendor right. So it’s not employee but it’s it’s a nine type situation. 

Karen McGrath: Yeah. If you’re working with a virtual assistant one on one who is not running a company per se then it’s going to be a 10 anytime situation with us we’re selling a service. We don’t even have to provide a 1099. I take care of all that.

Will Bachman: Got it. Okay that’s helpful. 

[inaudible 00:29:48] what would you recommend on how you go from starting. How do you how do you start a relationship. Should you outsource everything at once? Should you start with just a few things and then get some experience and build up to it? Talk to me about how to build a success relationship with your VA.

Karen McGrath: Yeah. So the first thing I have to say is that when you’re building a relationship with your VA I have taken on some clients. 

Expect things to be running like a well oiled machine out the gate. And I mean this is the same in terms of the relationship, it’s the same concept as hiring an employee even though they come into your business with skills.

You’re going to have to spend some time teaching them about what your needs are and what your industry is. So it is an investment. It does take some time for things to develop and for the relationship to be successful. For example, I just took a month of leave and I had another VA filling in with my clients. And they were like wow it was really different working with her. And I said well yeah I’ve been with you guys for almost four years, and she did it for one month. It’s difficult to come in and know how to do everything right out the gate. So it does take time. 

So to build a relationship, number one, you have to expect that it’s going to take some time and expect that you do need to train your VA. If you’re having to train them on technology I would say about the problem like if you have to train them how to deal with e-mail or how to convert a document or things like that then you have not selected a good VA, you shouldn’t have to train them on any skill that span all industries, but you should have to train them on your industry and your needs. 

So what we like to do is we do an introductory interview at the beginning, which is going to set up a lot of those expectations a lot of those needs at the gate. But then over the coming weeks it’s really good to develop that relationship, get on the phone. I think that’s something. It’s like phone are going out of style. People don’t want to get on the phone anymore, they respond through e-mail, they respond through text and it’s just a quick one sentence. You know, you need to do this or you needed to do that. And I think that there’s something really lacking in that training process when everything is just done through e-mail. 

So I highly recommend when you get a VA, maybe set up a weekly call the first four to six weeks or eight weeks and go over the things that the media has been doing for you hey has really like when you did this. You know I really appreciated the quality of this work. Or this is really off the mark. This isn’t what I was expecting. I was hoping more for this this and this. You know out of a project I think that that kind of feedback is just vital to being successful because you’re going to keep getting the same thing if you don’t give any feedback. And so getting on that call explaining it or even getting on a screen share if it’s something that’s totally online I’ll have people. I had somebody show me how to use their WordPress site, and I was posting, I was doing a blog post for them and they had to get on and show me how to use their site. 

You know we’re not web developers but we can certainly post if you show us how. So we did a screen share and she showed me how to do everything, so screen shares, phone calls. It’s just a lot better than everything via e-mail and text message. So I think that that’s a big component in training and building a relationship with the VA is the feedback and the real conversation.

Will Bachman: Yeah, and that sounds like an additional type of task to outsource. It sounds like you can help with posting blog posts or routine updates to a website kind of thing. 

Karen McGrath: Yeah I mean as long as it’s clear that we’re not web developers. If somebody can show us how, then absolutely I mean if it’s a standard process you click A, B and see you post this here screen it for grammatical errors and then you post that absolutely if people are willing to teach us we can absolutely do things like that.

We just have to draw the line between what can we do. Can we do web development. No, we’re not we’re not web developers, can we post simple blogs. Absolutely, not a problem. 

Will Bachman: Right. Right. OK let’s see. Any talk to me about the types of Web services and software programs that that that your firm is familiar with that that it that a good VA should be familiar with?

Karen McGrath: Yeah, yeah. So I was anticipating you would ask me this and I kind of made a short list, but it’s so extensive. I know the most common thing I work with every day are basically all email servers, but most primarily to Gmail and Outlook, which also ties into the Google and Microsoft suites. So that’s going to be your word Excel PowerPoint etc. and then all the Google versions of those programs Constant Contact, MailChimp, Survey Monkey, we’ll do a lot of maintenance of contact lists and those or can you create this event really quick and come in contact for me and send out my membership group or things like [inaudible 00:35:06]. 

I’ve set up [inaudible 00:35:08] for a lot of different clients so that they can people just automatically book appointments with them through their calendar. Let’s see here, WordPress, which I already mentioned, which is a website interface.

We do a lot of stuff in Expensify. So I know from back when I was in the corporate world, that expenses were one of my least favorite tasks in the whole world, or submitting all my expenses or tracking all my expenses. I bet a lot of people would pay good money to outsource that, because I know I would have, so that’s, but Expensify is the one that we’re really familiar with, and do a lot of organizing, tagging, making sure things are on the right report, right the right amount, et cetera.

Will Bachman: No. That’s interesting, so Expensify is, I’m a huge fan, and Expensify has a pretty decent app where you can scan a receipt and upload it yourself. How do your clients work with you? Is it just too much of a hassle, so what will they do? They’ll just like take a picture of something and just email you the picture of the receipt, or like what are you doing with Expensify for your clients?

Karen McGrath: Well I mean they could take pictures and e-mail us or take a picture and upload it right into the app, like you said, but it still needs to be tagged for, maybe they have multiple clients or maybe they have multiple places that they bill that those receipts. So it needs to be properly tagged occasionally. The amount doesn’t come out right. I know there are certain receipts that just always tend to show up wrong, I think, because they have different amounts on the on paper and it just doesn’t it doesn’t translate well with like the auto scanner. I mean, I would say it’s 90%.

I’m not insulting them, they’re a great program, but you still need a human eye to go over it and go did it get on the right. Did he get the right amount, did it get the right vendor?

Will Bachman: And I’ve seen that. I’ve seen an uber receipt for thirteen dollars and ten cents get scanned is thirteen hundred and ten dollars.

Karen McGrath: Yeah, yeah and at the Uber one, that was the one I had in mind because you tip on the card. It separates the cost of the right and the tips the app add them together. So any receipt that has more than one charge on it doesn’t know how to scan those properly. And I mean that can cost you a lot of money you know. 

Or what if I look at your calendar and I go hey will it looks like you drove 7500 miles this month to business meetings and none of that is in Expensify. Can I go google map it all for you and put it all in?

Will Bachman: You know, that sounds awesome yeah. Yeah that’s helpful thing. Okay. So Expensify would be one of the types of things you work with Survey Monkey, MailChimp, Constant Contact, and I imagine there may be some clients that have some kind of more specific SAS solution maybe, like a CRM system or something that you work on. 

Karen McGrath: Yeah. So anything that’s industry specific or a proprietary system, we can absolutely work within those. We’re going to require some training, it would be highly unlikely it be something we have experience with before you came to us if it’s industry specific or proprietary, so we would have that we’d have to be trained. But we can absolutely work in anything that has a web interface.

Will Bachman: And what types of. I mean just not just necessarily even just your client base. But having seen a lot to live with the firm that you were at. What types of professionals, independent professionals are using virtual assistants? I mean I’m closest to consulting world, but beyond that I’m curious what other types of independent professionals are working with VAs?

Karen McGrath: I mean it spans, it’s across the board. But I would say I’m seeing a lot of entrepreneurs and startup companies from all over the country and in varying levels of their development. Some of them it’s a one man show or a one woman show, and they just need an assistant, or some of them and the whole team and they need an assistant for the team. So that is something we do as well. 

So it could be entrepreneurs and startups. It could be people in sales help with getting sales calls and things like that small business owners even if they have a brick and mortar location but they just need somebody to do a lot of their online stuff just like what I was saying before expenses inventory ordering things like that.

I actually do have multiple clients who are working with groups that have memberships that have a board and a membership or maybe nobody has a full time employee for that group. So they need an assistant to keep things rolling. If that makes sense, because the board might be all born here and then the members say they’re not going to keep the group running. So the professional group

Will Bachman: Got it. I would be completely overwhelmed doing your job. I would be fully fired by you on day three of you hired me. I’m wondering how do you and your staff keep track of all of the to do’s in action items that are coming in? Like how do you keep track of all that. 

Karen McGrath: Yeah well I spend a lot of time. I’ll tell you what, I wrote a 100 page manual on how to do that. So I could give you quite a lengthy explanation for that. 

But I spend a lot of time training my staff on the types of things that you are that you do right away like scheduling requests if, say it asked me to manage your schedule for example scheduling requests for that type of thing that if you’re in the middle of a four hour research project and a scheduling request comes and you stop and you go deal with that scheduling requests. 

So I train my staff and myself on kind of a prioritization. These are the types of things that you drop everything and you go deal with that because it’s only a three minute task. But it is urgent and it is a high priority thing but is there not a software tool that used to kind of track all the to do’s everything.

So at the end of every day we put everything into Asana which is the product management software. So and that can be shared with our clients if they like to see that the processes we’re working on a lot of the time we just see as an internal tool though. 

[inaudible 00:42:00] in your inbox at the end of the day you send in there and a pending reply follow tomorrow or whatever the status of it is and then you assign it to whoever needs to follow up and put a date and time on it so that you’ll you’ll see it the next day and things pop up in order of when they’re too. So that way you set yourself reminders of all that. 

Will Bachman: Got it. And what happens when somebody goes on vacation. Yeah. 

Karen McGrath: So generally speaking, at least where Awan sitting now with everybody else. I’m not sure what their standard practice is but with us if it’s three days or less generally we just ask if the client can just wait and see how the system is back because it nobody takes off much time. I mean it’s the standard work here. So up to two weeks I believe. 

So with our clients we say after three days hey can you just hold at this point of time if it be on three days we give them the option to have somebody fill in for them. But of course anybody who is filling in isn’t going to know what that client needs as well as their primary. So I mean it is it’s working with somebody else for a short period of time while they’re gone. 

And we make, we do the best we can we try take the best care and we can be who lead and we’ll train the RBA for a week or two before their leave them out of all the kinds of tasks that are pending. And then it’ll usually be usually the clients will just do a little bit of a lesser load for those few days while they’re being out and then go back to normal speed once their VA returns.

Will Bachman: I guess that is one of the advantages of working with a firm rather than working just with a purely an independent VA, is that you could have that kind of coverage, at least some of the people who are somewhat familiar with your account, and can-

Karen McGrath: Absolutely. Yeah. And it’s up to you. I mean, some people they don’t want to work with somebody else. They say, “No, absolutely not. I don’t want them in my business. Nope.” Just shut it down for three days are gone, and we can do that. So it’s, yeah, it’s whatever they prefer. 

Will Bachman: Got it. Karen, This was fascinating for me to hear about all this, and it’s pushing me to think about what in my life should I be outsourcing and getting off my plate, and I imagine a lot of listeners as well, will be thinking, “Wow, I should be thinking about getting a VA.”

So thanks so much for sharing, and taking some time to help us understand that world and how to make the most out of working with a virtual assistant.

Karen McGrath: Absolutely. I really appreciate your time, as well. Thank you. 

Will Bachman: Thanks for listening to this episode of Unleashed, the show that explores how to thrive as an independent professional. 

Unleashed is sponsored by Umbrex, the world’s first global community of top tier independent management consultants. The mission of Umbrex is to create opportunities for independent management consultants to meet, share lessons, learned and collaborate.

I’d love to get your feedback and hear any questions that you’d like to see as answer on this show. You can email me at unleashed@umbrex.com, that’s umbrex.com.

If you found anything on the show helpful, it would be a real gift if you would let a friend know about the show, and take a minute to leave a review on iTunes, Google Play, or Stitcher, and if you subscribe our show will get delivered to your device every Monday. 

Our audio engineer is Dave Nelson. Our theme song was composed by Gary Negbauer. And I’m your host, Will Bachman. Thanks for listening. 


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