Our Company Spotlight features another Atlanta property management and community association management firm that leverages staff for growth. Learn how Jen Talley with Backyard Realty Group as she talks about her experience in hiring her own virtual staff and how it helps her move things effectively!
If you want to learn more about hiring your very own virtual staff member, always feel free to book an appointment with me and I will help you strategize all throughout the process!
Anne: Hey everybody. Welcome to the show. My name is Anne Lackey. I am the co-founder of Hire Smart VAs and I have a wonderful friend and guest today. We have Jen Tali. She is an RMP and an MPMC, which for those of you that may not be within, you don't know what that means, but let me tell you it's a lot of dedicated time, energy and effort. She's an associate broker for Backyard Realty Group, Tali Community Management and has over a decade of experience working within real estate in the Metro Atlanta area. Of course, she's a licensed broker, has a real estate team and she's an investor like me, so I always love talking with other investors that are doing fun stuff. She oversees the rental division, real estate division and marketing for Backyard Realty Group and Tali Community Management. She specialized with working with investors all over the world and her team helps them find them, fix them and then put them into buy and hold, and she manages them after the purchase. And so, kind of that well-rounded person. But you know what? She also has a husband and a baby. Well, not so much a baby anymore. She's getting to be what? She's how old Jen?
Jen: She'll be two in a month.
Anne: Yeah, I know it. Times flies-
Jen: Time flies, yes.
Anne: And she also has a dog named Bella. So Jen, welcome to the show. We're so excited to have you. And why didn't you just ... Did I miss anything or did I get it all?
Jen: No, I think that was pretty good and I appreciate it. Thanks for having me on, looking forward to it. And I think you covered just about everything.
Anne: Well I'll tell you, I've worked with Jen professionally in different committees and just had the opportunity to work with her. And then, of course, she became a client this year and I've been thrilled to have her as a client. And one of the things I love about Jen is once she finally makes a decision, she's like me, she just goes full force ahead, right? She just loves to embrace whatever the decision it is. And so, you started out with one and then very quickly ... How many VAs do you have now?
Jen: We have four currently. We have three in our community management division and we have one in our maintenance company.
Anne: Yeah, so-
Jen: I'm sure we'll have more soon.
Anne: Which I love to hear. Tell us a little bit about your thought process of why you decided to go virtual and what have you found the benefits to be? And then I'll go back to what was that catalyst.
Jen: Yeah. So, our decision to do VAs was probably a little bit different than maybe some. We ran out of space. So, we were growing and growing and growing in our community management division and we got to the point where we had two people sharing offices, we had to keep adding cubicles. And really, having another brick and mortar location just didn't a lot of sense for us. I mean, since the brick and mortar is going away, continuing to put offices in places didn't really make sense. So, we started transitioning some of our managers to be remote and said, "Okay, well it makes sense to get some of our admin remote as well so we can still have chairs and stuff here for the admin that we do need to have in our brick and mortar locations.", And so that's really the reason why, and we were growing very quickly.
Jen: We have about 130 homeowner associations, so that's roughly between 25,000 and 30,000 doors. And so, we are constantly bringing them on every month, so we had to bring in more hands-on deck.
Anne: So, one of the common questions I get from people, and this is all over the place, is what can they do? Because I know what they can do, but a lot of times they don't trust what I have to say. So, I always like to ask our clients, what do you have your virtual assistants doing and how do you find working with them versus working with in house staff? What's the pros and cons, and what's the benefit?
Jen: Yeah. At first, we weren't sure what we could have VAs do either. So, that took a little bit of conversations of course with you and research. And actually, they're doing the same positions that we have people in our office doing. So, it's not just a data entry, it's not just a behind the scenes. They're speaking to board members, they're speaking to clients and they're in executive admin roles. So, we have people who are doing very high level community management admin work. We have one VA working in accounting. And when you have 130 different homeowners associations and some of them have two, three different bank accounts, you're working with hundreds of bank accounts, and she's doing awesome. And we have other admin that are doing our ACC requests, being assistants to our managers. I mean, really anything that we have someone in the office doing. Of course, not the required license positions, but other than that, we've pretty much figured that we can put them in that role just through a very extensive training.
Jen: So, we've put them through the same training that we put anyone that comes into our office through. So, typically if an admin is hired, they're not usually working on their own until over probably a month and a half, six, seven weeks. And so, all of our VAs went through a six week training with me after their one week with you. So, they went through quite a bit of training, but they know just as much as anybody else here in the office. They catch on very fast.
Jen: I would say I really like the team. The team aspect is one of my favorite parts of working with the VA. They love being a part of the team. We make them a part of the team. So, if we're having team meetings, they're remoted in, we get them on the phone. They're treated just like as if they were in the office. We just can't see them all the time. But I think having that inclusion really helps. And that's really one of my favorite parts, is just how grateful they are to be on the team. I think that is a huge difference, their work ethic and attitude. Of course, we have great people in our office as well, but I think that it helps everybody to have such a great attitude, such a positive energy every day.
Anne: So, how did your internal staff embrace the virtual? Did you have any pushback when you got started? Has it been something that was fairly easy? Share with ... Because that was another big concern that people have is my staff is going to freak out. So, share with me a little bit about that process for you.
Jen: Of course, yeah. I think with any kind of change you're always going to have uncertainty. People are always going to feel uncertain about it, and that did happen. We sat everybody down, we talked and just let everybody know. Everyone knew we were out of chairs, we were out of space, so at some point in time we were going to have to go remote. So, people understood that that was coming. And of course, it did take a little bit of change because we're not used to Skyping, we're not used to video conference. Those are all things that came about with moving some of our managers remote and then also bringing in remote admin. And so, that took some getting used to, handing around the webcam and saying, "Okay, who's calling who?" and passing the microphone around. But overall I think it's gone very well. I don't have a lot of complaints on that regard. It was quite smooth.
Jen: But I think the important part is communication. You always have to be communicating with your team. You need to make your team a part of the process. And one of the things that we do, and part of that six week training, is all of the people here in our office are all contributing to that training. So, they're not sitting there speaking to me on video all day. Actually, they probably speak to me on video the least amount. And they report to me because it's going through and they're literally doing Skype with each different person in the office. So, they got to speak to everybody, learn their personalities and I think that helped on both sides. It's going to help your VA feel a part of the team, get to know everybody, but then it allows your other staff to become comfortable with the process.
Anne: Well, I think that's very important. It's one of the things that I have a mantra about, is treat them like you would normally treat a new hire. Just like you said, you put them through the same new hire training. Because I find that when there are challenges or problems, one of two things happens. When I talk to the business owner and I say, "Well, tell me a little bit about their training pro-"
Anne: "Well, you know, I didn't really sit down with them." I'm like, it's hard. That's why we're having the challenge, right? You've got to have, you've got to treat them as much as you can, like an employee where you're putting them through. You probably wouldn't have a brand new employee train another brand new employee, and I see that too. They'll have a great experience with VA number one, so VA number two, they're just like, Oh VA number one just train VA number two. And I'm like, you don't make that same relationship. You don't have those same connections. So, try to be consistent and you'll have the consistent results.
Anne: So, I love the fact that you have embraced it and you've shared with your staff and made them a part of it. Because again, that is part of what makes it successful is that cohesion of team, and the only way you get that is by that communication and having those communication loops. So, as I would have expected you are the professional in that as well, so kudos to you and your team for for doing that.
Anne: Have there been any challenges? Has there been anything that you like, okay, well I wasn't prepared for this, or this was a little bit of a bump in the road?
Jen: Honestly, not so much. We have been very, very blessed and very lucky with the interview process. I mean, typically if we're going to hire someone here, you're usually going to go through multiple interviews. You're going to have your first interview and you're going to have a second interview with maybe two senior managers and possibly maybe a third. We're going to verify references. There's a whole process, but this just fell a lot easier if I'm being honest. I know you've vetted them a lot, so you've already went through interviews with them, so we just came in on the end. And the last two times we had such a hard time choosing between the three people we interviewed because we just really liked them all. And so, it was really just coming down to the one that we clicked with the most in all reality. But I really just think the positive attitude that they have really helps. And the fact that we have a training program established, so when they come in they're not sitting there, they're not just twiddling their thumbs. They have stuff that they're starting on right at 8:30 AM on that first Monday. We really didn't hit a lot of bumps.
Jen: My biggest, I guess challenge I would say was, and it really has nothing to do with the VA, more so our side, is we were bringing one in to be a manager's assistant and so you're on the phone a lot. And so, typically we would have an admin shadow our receptionist. We get anywhere from 10,000 to 12,000 phone calls a month coming in our office, so our receptionist, that's purely her job is answering the phones. There's a little bit of administrative work, but it's purely customer service. And so, we would always have our admin sit with them so that way they can hear the phone calls, hear how we answer, get the consistency. That was my biggest challenge is how am I going to do this remotely? How can I get them trained without just having them sit and listen to recordings all day?
Jen: So, our phone system company actually has a really cool option where they could barge into phone calls. So, we got the VA set up to where they could barge in and listen to anybody's phone calls that we set up the extensions for that and they could hear how they were answering the phone, what kind of phone calls they were getting, who they were transferring to. And then we would block out certain times of the day to just purely barge into phone calls and listen.
Jen: I'd say that was probably my biggest challenge on the training side, but otherwise we really have not hit any bumps yet. Knock on wood, everything has went fairly smooth.
Anne: Well, that's great. For those of you that don't have the barge feature though, let me just share because I do think it's important to have people listen to calls, isn't it?
Anne: Actually, I just did an office hours about how to create a call flow and how to deal with this, because we do do a lot of receptionist placements and people don't know how to necessarily train their people with that. And so, I went through a little training with our clients of how to do that. If anybody's interested in that, certainly feel free to reach back out to me and I'll give it to you.
Anne: But one of the things that I think is important, because I didn't have that feature in my system and I don't know that a lot of people would, is I actually do make my VAs listen to X number of calls a day. So, they're calls either that I've done, that a previous VA's done, whatever, because we record every phone call that comes in.
Anne: And then we have what's called an FAQ. So, we have a written document that talks about these are the commonly asked questions and here's the response. And they can use that response via email if it comes in via email or they can do it verbally. It doesn't matter, because these are pre-approved canned messages that we have developed because I want the consistency across the board. And so, it sounds daunting to put that stuff together. But honestly, when you think about the fact that if you've been recording calls for a while, you probably have those FAQ kits covered. And if you have them recorded, you can actually have your VA, before they go live on the phone, listen to those and actually start writing down the answers themselves, and that helps retain the learning. So, for those of you that are thinking, oh my gosh, I don't have that as an option, that's something else.
Anne: The other thing that I recommend that they do is listen to their own calls. So, once you do have them on the phone, listen to their own calls and rate themselves. How do they feel they addressed the concerns of the caller from 1 to 10? And you'll be interested to know that when I've done this, most of the time the VAs score themselves a lot lower than what I would've scored them. I mean, I thought they handled it fine, but they see things in themselves, but it allows them to improve too. So, those are just some tips. But of course I love that barge feature. I'll have to figure out from you later what system you have and how that works.
Anne: So you decided to move forward. You have four now. How do you see the roles evolving as you go into a full year's worth of using virtual assistants? Or how has that changed your staffing and planning purposes as you continue to grow?
Jen: Yeah. I mean, it's really set us up into a position to be able to grow faster because like I said, we don't have the space to keep adding people. And so, we kept going, well do we slow down? What do we do? And so, this is going to give us the option to grow faster and continue at the pace we are and pick it up a little bit.
Jen: I would say the roles, I definitely would like to eventually make one of our VAs the head VA that is in charge of our other remote people checking in on them and taking that workload off of myself. And I think we have definitely qualified people of doing that. Also, bringing them in to help with some training after they are fully confident in their positions. We first started in February, so our oldest VA will have a year under her belt in February. And so, at that point then she'll be more comfortable in the role that she could actually be helping with some of putting the training together for our future people.
Jen: I'm in the process of building out a learning management system to where we can make it online, and that would be something they could help with. And then of course possibly bringing in other roles that we don't have here currently that we could make into a VA role is something we're looking at as well.
Anne: Well, that sounds great. It was a true game changer for me, and of course I'm much smaller than you are and in my property management business, but just being able to have the freedom of doing what I want to do in the business I think is probably one of the most ... for me, the biggest benefit of incorporating that. And I would definitely tell you, you should have an executive admin that works as your right hand, because that was one of the things that makes my life just so much better. If I need something, I either have Hannah or Daphne, depending on which part of the business I need help with, and they got it. I don't have to worry about it. I know they'll call customers, they'll do whatever. They're like a mini me. And it truly does allow you to do more of the creative or whatever it is you want to do, or sales or whatever you you enjoy. Swing that hammer, do those renos, right?
Jen: Yeah. I'm definitely excited to get to that point. We're getting there-
Anne: There you go.
Jen: Slowly but surely.
Anne: So, what other things would you like to share with some of your fellow executives as far as things that you think they should know about incorporating staff or just anything else that you think it would be important for them to know if they're considering going virtual?
Jen: Yeah. I would say go for it. Make the decision, and when you make the decision put everything into it. It's going to take a little bit of time and effort on your part in the beginning because you need to put together clearly defined roles and responsibilities if you don't already have that and put together training for them, because I think it's important to start it off on the right foot and to set a good first impression for your company as well as for the VA. And so, I spent probably a good two, two and a half weeks before our first VA came on really ironing out the process.
Jen: We were very lucky in October of last year, we actually redid all of our policies and procedures, and we had someone come in and shadow every person in the office and write out step by step how they do processes. So, we already had a lot of training information, so I was able to just compile it into one document that this VA would need for their position.
Jen: But spending the time to do that I think is super important because it's going to help you set up for a longterm relationship. When they come in and they feel like, okay, this is awesome. They have their stuff together, everything's good. I feel like it helps that first impression on both ends.
Jen: But I'd say go for it. Change is good, it's needed. We're in a different time. Remote is the new thing and there's nothing wrong with it. A lot of people are like, well, I'm not sure if that's the right option. But you know, in the grand scheme of things, give it a try. We thought about it for years. Wish we would have started sooner. However, we had to wait for the right time. We had to wait for it to feel right. We had to wait for us to be pushed into that position, because it is different if it's something you've never had in your office before, but it's okay. With the technology that we have these days, why not use it? I think there's just so many ways that you can incorporate someone virtually with your software, with Skype, video conferencing. You have pretty much all the tools you need, most of them are free, in order to be able to do it.
Anne: Well, I love that. And so, again I think it's such a, ... I love talking to my clients because they always help me figure out new things, and certainly I love the idea of your LMS, which stands for learning management system. It's usually a tutorial or online. That's a big investment. But again, as you're growing, it makes sense for your whole team to be on the same page and make sure that everything is documented the way it needs to be. So, I love that you're an innovator and always thinking about how to improve processes. I'm a process person too, so I can totally appreciate another good process girl. So, that's exciting.
Anne: Now, you work with your husband and your father-in-law-
Jen: And my mother-in-law-
Anne: And your mother-in-law. Didn't know that she was in there as well. So, truly a family business. So, we're going to take it a little bit out of VAs and into family. What has been the biggest challenge just in general with working with family and staff, and how do you balance that?
Jen: Yeah. A family affair can be difficult sometimes, but it's also awesome. The fact that you get to work with people that you love and trust daily of course is always a benefit. We have 30 staff members total, so of course a large chunk of them are not family. But we do a lot of things because they're like family. We do a lot of office events and gatherings. But I mean, it does present its challenges to separate personal from business. You don't truly ever go on vacation without talking about something, because you're in the car, you're driving and now all of a sudden your business planning on your way to Florida-
Anne: The best time to actually business plan-
Jen: It is-
Anne: Take six hour drives and knocked all kinds of stuff out.
Jen: Yes. Yeah, you actually can, getting away and just ... But it never turns itself off. But we all are kind of those people in all reality like that's how we function. Jason and I have worked together for 11 years now and probably 98% of the time we're on the same page. So, we just have a very good working relationship. And the awesome thing about all of us is that we have key people above each division that we love and trust and can do it together. I also have my brother-in-law who works here, my cousin. My uncle at one point worked here, my dad worked here. So, we truly had a family affair and it's great. It's good to know some day hopefully Olivia may decide that she wants to work here, and if not I'm sure she'll be earning an allowance while she's going to school working here at least. But yeah, I really do enjoy it. I think that's one the best things about the company.
Anne: Sure. Well, and of course I work with my husband and people are like, I don't know that I could work with my husband. I'm like, well, it's a joy for me. It sounds like it's a joy for you as well. I don't know that I could have worked with in laws. I don't think I could have done that. But you know, unfortunately now they're both passed, so it's not even an option. But ... this is what I love about what we do, right? We work hard, we play hard. We just love what we do so much. I mean, truly there wouldn't be another choice for me.
Anne: Now, you have a new responsibility coming up next year. You are the incoming president, I believe, of Atlanta chapter, right?
Jen: I am, yes for 2020.
Anne: And so, how do you envision your reign as president next year? I mean, share with us a little bit of foreshadowing of what's to come.
Jen: Yeah. Well, I hope it goes well. We'll start with that.
Anne: It will go well. Anything you touch goes great, so that's not-
Jen: Well, I appreciate that for sure. I'm really excited and honored to have been nominated and chosen because I didn't exactly submit my name into that hat, so I feel very blessed and honored for that. And it makes me feel good that the rest of the chapter feels confident in that decision, and I'm excited. I'm really looking forward to trying out some new things.
Jen: So, one of my goals is to implement our very first Atlanta chapter Day on the Hill at the Capitol in Georgia. And although we are a small ... Well Atlanta is the largest chapter in for a city chapter. However, compared to the Georgia Association of Realtors or the Community Association Institute, we are quite a small organization. And so, our voice hasn't been heard and I really would like to see that changed and get us in front of some people to help us with some of the legislation that's a little bit outdated, needs to be updated and fixed. And so, that's my biggest focus. I can't say that legislative and civics was on my top subjects in school, so it's learning process for me, but it's exciting because it's something new that I've never really dealt with before. And there's a ton of support, which makes me very excited about it. There's so many brokers and people who have joined the committee to be a part of it, so I'm very excited about what we're going to be able to do.
Anne: Well Jen, thank you so much for being with us. And if you are looking for a community association management firm or rentals, certainly I would tell you to reach out to Jen Tali and her staff. Her contact information will be at the end of this video. And we are super thankful to have you with us. Thank you again Jen, for joining us-
Jen: Thank you. I appreciate it.