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I'm so excited to introduce you to Kevin Fletcher, President and Broker of PMI Prime Property Services, as he shared with us his advantage and challenges toward his journey managing his own PM Service and how he's able to take advantage of having a virtual employee for his business.
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Anne Lackey: Good morning, everybody! My name is Anne Lackey. I'm the co-founder of HireSmart Virtual Employees. And today I have got somebody super, super special. I want to introduce you guys to Kevin Fletcher. Kevin is the president and broker a PMI Prime Property Services and his focus has really been on residential, commercial and association management. We're going to talk a little bit about association management. That's kind of a big thing that's kind of coming up, at least in my world. They've been in business for three and a half years. And so Kevin, welcome to the show. We're so excited to have you.
Kevin Fletcher: Hey good morning, Anne, glad to be here. Thank you.
Anne Lackey: Kind of give us a little bit of why property management? How'd you get started in the business? Kind of share with our listeners a little bit about kind of how you came to choose this as a profession?
Kevin Fletcher: Sure. I guess like a lot of other people that got into this business, it was kind of by accident, but I guess it's about four and a half years ago now, five years ago, kind of hit that point in my career where I had maxed out what I was doing in my corporate world. I was tired of traveling 25, 30% of the time. I live in kind of central New Jersey and my office was by the city so my commute was about four hours a day, four plus hours a day. I got to the point after many years of doing that and kind of reaching the apex of where I could go in that career, that I needed to change. And my wife and I did a lot of soul searching and trying to figure out, what would be a good fit?
Kevin Fletcher: I had done a lot of different things in the corporate world, but I've always enjoyed real estate in a previous life. I own several rental properties and I knew the challenges of trying to manage rental properties by yourself, working full time with a family, not having systems, not having processes, just kind of winging it. And it's by coincidence as we're talking about that, started going through my email and came across different business opportunities and franchise opportunities. And that was kind of how I got introduced to PMI or Property Management Inc. and started the journey to where we are today. And it's been an exciting journey and I'm really glad we did it.
Anne Lackey: Awesome.
Kevin Fletcher: Personally, it's made a big difference in our quality of life, which was the ultimate objective.
Anne Lackey: Absolutely. For those of you guys that are listening in here, one of the things I want you to take away from what Kevin said is it was with intention. He made an intention that he wanted a difference in his life for whatever reason. And I think when we do things with intention, we find the right opportunities. A lot of times, I coach and mentor a lot of young people because I think that's kind of the way I give back. And I always tell them, "Don't run away from something. Select going towards something. Don't just because something is not what you wanted, don't just jump ship." I think that's kind of a lot of our tendencies. We just want to get away from it and I always tell them, "Look, a lot of what you're going away from, you'll bring with you if you don't consciously figure out what it is that you want." I love the fact that you made that intention and started looking for opportunities. I have a question. Do you still buy your own real estate? Or do you just manage for others right now?
Kevin Fletcher: Right now we've been managing for others. We've actually, I've started up another company on the side. We're looking to start getting back into the investment area. I'm looking at some commercial properties and residential single, multifamily. We're definitely trying to take advantage of the, I guess, the downturn in the market. The good rates, but also recognizing, and this is the same philosophy in the property management business, is our goal is to try to bring the best quality properties to the tenant population.
Anne Lackey: Of course.
Kevin Fletcher: To give them a really positive experience. And we see there's a lot of slumlords out there. There's a lot of properties that are in really, really bad condition that people suffer with, unfortunately. And we're trying to help change that as much as possible.
Anne Lackey: Oh, I love that. Interesting, my husband and I have been in the rental real estates for 19 years and we also came out of corporate so you and I have that in common. I was an IT sales. I was a VP of an IT firm. And it kind of, just a little bit about my story, which is kind of inconsequential in this was, one of our friends got sick and subsequently died and it took a year because it was cancer. And I watched their family become financially destitute. And I said, my husband and I looked at each other, he was like, "That could have easily been us. Certainly. What do we need to do?" And so we actually started buying rental real estate and that's how we got started in property management.
Anne Lackey: I always love to hear kind of people's journey and how they get there, but our core value, even now in our property management company, 19 years later is quality affordable homes. I'm not going to be in the top market. I'm not going to be in the bottom market, but my properties are going to look better than everybody's else in the price point. They're going to be safe, habitable. Repairs are non-negotiable, but because I'm an investor, I always look at the repairs and go, okay, from an investor standpoint, what's the ROI? If I spend a little bit more money now, what will that translate down the road? We're not always dealing with the cheapest repair but we always look at what are the options?
Anne Lackey: Kind of as an aside, one of the things we've been doing is going to luxury vinyl tile in a lot of our properties. Nice, they look like hardwoods, they wear like hardwoods. They're amazing. But of course we have a lot more shelf life than the regular stock vinyl and better than carpet, because it's just cleaner. Again, it's kind of just how do you manage it? I love the fact that you're kind of in that same mindset, because I think more landlords need to be in that mindset. Like you said, tons of slumlords. Now you said you're up in New Jersey, right?
Kevin Fletcher: Yep.
Anne Lackey: For those of you who are looking for timing, we're about Thanksgiving in 2020. I think we can all agree that 2020 has been kind of this really kind of freaky year. How has your processes changed? How have you changed? What in your business has been kind of impacted either enhanced because of a new process or really you've struggled with? Kind of open up about some of the changes that COVID has brought to you.
Kevin Fletcher: Sure. Actually I'll step back into 2019 a little bit because that was the time that I brought my VA on and that was also a real big challenge for me. It's a little bit of a backstory and it kind of ties into your story a little bit, how you got into the business. Just at the point in time that I was bringing on my virtual assistant, virtual team member, which I prefer to call it. That was the end of September and I had been dealing with the possibility of having cancer since February of that year and had gone through a lot of non-invasive tests throughout the year. And it kind of got to the point where, because all the tests were not ruling out cancer, I ended up having to go for a biopsy at the end of October.
Kevin Fletcher: At this point, my virtual team member had only been on for less than a month and I guess like a lot of other companies when you're growing from nothing and still struggling with not having processes fully documented and because I'd been doing so much myself, I had also kept a lot of stuff close to me in terms of activities that I was doing. Fast forward to the end of October, I go in for a biopsy, 24 hours later, I'm being rushed to the emergency room in severe septic shock. I spent four days in intensive care unit and was really on the brink of not being on the planet anymore. And that was really the first eye opener that here I am laying in a hospital bed while my wife as a business partner in the business, she's not involved in the business. She has her own career, not being able to make contact with the outside world and all the stuff that Kevin was doing, all of a sudden wasn't getting done anymore.
Kevin Fletcher: And here my poor virtual team member who's only been onboard for a month is wondering, where's Kevin? Why isn't answering his email? Why isn't he answering his phone? And that was really the first realization that I needed to have a team around me. The business had grown to a point where I can no longer do it myself. I had to have a team around me. Gladys is my virtual team member. I needed to transfer more stuff over her and trust her more, which the whole reason why I brought her on in the first place and really start being able to delegate and move into that managerial role within the company.
Kevin Fletcher: And that kind of put us on a pathway to realizing that we really needed to document processes more. We needed to have a checklist that we could collaboratively work with. We invested in some different tools for that and that was all really good. As we came into 2020, of course and I had also a secondary property manager, which was really helping out more at the association type activities. Then as COVID came in, because of a lot of the work we were doing, we ended up implementing OneDrive. We put all of our documents and forms and information on the OneDrive prior to COVID. We had invested in systems and apps that help us work more efficiently in the business. Really when COVID hit, the reality was it didn't impact us that much. We were able to move our operations aside.
Kevin Fletcher: By that point we were in what? Mid March, I guess when the governor shut down the state. For all intents and purposes, we had a VoIP phone system, which we had been using. It was relatively seamless. The advantage of being part of Property Management Inc., we had talked a lot about the challenges that all of us were having in terms of one, trying to go to more virtual team members. And more importantly, just as we bring in team members, do we have all the processes and everything documented so that we can turn things over much easily? And now we've invested in Process Street. We're actually rolling out Process Street across the PMI franchise. And that has been really a game changer.
Kevin Fletcher: It's setting up the stage where we can add more virtual team members with ease. Through Process Street, have all the instructions that a team member, whether they're virtual or local, may need to execute a task. And then again, be able to control that task from beginning to end consistently each and every time, no matter who does it and how often they do it. That was really, I think for me, that was kind of going back to that incident in 2019 and realizing that that was going to be the key to success and that I also had to step out of the way of trying to do everything so the company can be successful and grow.
Anne Lackey: What you talked about though, is such a repeatable thing. I talk to hundreds of CEOs a year and typically that's kind of what keeps them where they are. And while I tell them, "I can give you the best virtual team member on the planet, but if you won't let it go, you're always going to be stuck."
Kevin Fletcher: Exactly.
Anne Lackey: And so actually I did a training last week called Fire Yourself. And unfortunately it was a very small attendance because a lot of people they feel like if I'm doing it, I'm of value. They associate their time with what they're worth. And this is something I'm really trying to tell people, "You can own a business and it can run and you can lead it and not do everything." I work two hours a week in my property management business and that includes a one hour meeting a week. But I have the asset, the asset produces money, but I don't have to do it. Do I have to oversee it and make sure that it's running and that? And so one of the things that I love about your story is, you kind of had the wake up call kind of. By the way, congratulations, I assume you're healthy and safe and all that good stuff now?
Kevin Fletcher: Unfortunately, the cancer did come back positive and as a result, I'm still dealing with the infection a year later. I was almost re-hospitalized in the spring for it. It looks like based on the tests that we might be getting ahead of the curve assuming we're looking. Unfortunately we're going to have to do another biopsy in the fall. We're all a little nervous about that.
Anne Lackey: Well, if it's okay, I'll pray for you. I'm a woman of faith and so I do believe in the power of prayer. And I do believe that that hopefully will give you wisdom and your doctors wisdom and it doesn't necessarily cure everything, but it certainly doesn't hurt.
Kevin Fletcher: Absolutely.
Anne Lackey: If that's okay with you, I'd love to do that for you. It's actually kind of is interesting though, because as you face that, and as you're going through it, you have a wife. Like you said, she's not in the business. And we see this a lot. A lot of the business owners, they're really good at what they do and this was the same situation that Mark and I were kind of going through when we were kind of woken up. It's like, if my husband is sick, I don't want to have to worry that everything else is okay. And so, that's why 19 years ago we got into systems and having not trading time for money because that's where whenever you're trading time for money, you're always going to be stuck in how much time do you have to give to whatever it is?
Anne Lackey: And so I love the fact that you are starting to transition that to your team members. And of course, I assume you're happy with Gladys. Everything's going great there. And I love the fact that you're thinking about how do I incorporate more virtual people into this world? Into your world. And so for those of you who are listening that are like, yeah, that sounds great but I don't know if I'm ready for that.
Anne Lackey: What I would tell you, and again, Kevin, I'll have you speak to this, is you're never ready. Your processors are never going to be complete. At some point you just have to bite the bullet and go, you know what? We start here. This is where we start. It's okay. Don't expect perfection. It's like, I was telling this to somebody, I guess, Daphne, who she's my client relationship manager, for those of you who haven't met her, she's amazing.
Anne Lackey: But I had a mentoring session with her yesterday and I said, "My goal for you in 2021 is for you to have more confidence." She's very good at what she does, but she's a little unsure of herself. And so I told her yesterday, I said, "We don't have it all figured out." I said, "I'm just going to be dropping you in the deep end of the pool and say, 'Hey, figure it out. But trust me, I will not let you drown. I will be here for you. I would rather you make a decision and it be the wrong decision but if you made it based on our core values, which are relationships are the most important thing, we're good.'"
Anne Lackey: It's okay. And I think giving our people that permission to make mistakes and learn from them, is one of the best things we can do and not fix it for them. How are you? Okay, this happened, how are you going to fix it? How are you going to grow from this? And so if for those of you listening, I certainly encourage you to look at your staff and look at how can you grow them up? Because when you grow them up, then you can go to the next level yourself. If you're always kind of micromanaging, always hovering over your people and not giving them some structure to make those decisions on your behalf, then again, you're always going to be kind of tied into that.
Anne Lackey: Looking forward to 2021, what do you see as far as changes in the industry or changes in your business? Or kind of share with us what you believe 2021 has for us.
Kevin Fletcher: At least from our perspective, we're looking forward to a lot of growth for next year. We're looking to substantially grow the business. And again, that comes back to the realization that I need to step out of the way of the success of the business. I can't do it all myself. The past two weeks, we brought on two additional team members. One person locally for business development, one person for property management, which is going to help us also build out the commercial pillar and with Gladys and probably some other team members as we move forward, we're looking to really grow. We've got really, everything is in place now to make that happen. And this is a lot of, look back at what Gladys has done for us, our virtual team member, now kind of just take a step back and showcase what she's done.
Kevin Fletcher: When she came on board, really the first objective was, well, if you can answer the phone for me, that will help a lot. She started taking all the calls. And again, because we're hitting different business pillars, we have different systems in place. Of course you had to learn the systems. Well, she's gotten to the point now where she is the primary face to our current owners, association board members and residents. When they have a question about their account or the status of a payment or maintenance, whatever it is. She's taken all that off and done a phenomenal job with it. She has taken over a lot of the back end data entry. We use Propertyware as our core system she's handling. We built out a 120 day lease renewal process and she's driving that entire process right now from front to back. Everything about the renewals, getting the owner confirmation, whether they want to renew or what have you.
Kevin Fletcher: Again, that entire process is now completely off my shoulders. She's taken over all of the maintenance. We've implemented Property Meld and things like that. She's taken ownership of that application to help build it out and make sure it's running correctly and set up. She's overseeing all of our maintenance partnerings. We've implemented ActiveCampaign as our CRM. She's helped build out automation. All of these things that needed to get done for us to kind of be where we are today to really grow the business and we kind of call those foundation building blocks, she was instrumental in. And there's no way I could've done it done by myself because of all the other stuff I was trying to do. And now, as we kind of get ready to jump into hopefully a non COVID 2021 without masks, she's been instrumental in helping us get Process Street set up and review the processes and that, fine tune them as we need to locally.
Kevin Fletcher: And my goal for her is to be able to transition her into, especially as we bring on more team members, to try to develop her into a managerial type role. And I've talked to her about that in the past. And she's, I guess kind of like Daphne. She's like, "Me? Really?" But, she's demonstrated and this came out in the interview as well. She had the right personality. She has a phenomenal personality and her personality was a good fit for me and I think for the climate that we're trying to create here. She has the knowledge, even though she doesn't feel like she has the knowledge, but we're always helping to build that. And she is resourceful. Whatever I throw at her, even if she doesn't know how to do it, she's like, "Oh, you know what? I'll research that." Or, "I'll look on YouTube and see if there's some instructions on that." Or, "I'll reach out to if we have a contact person in corporate to do it."
Kevin Fletcher: I really feel like anything that needs to get done, I can entrust with her, which is probably the most important aspect of that relationship and not have to worry about it. I don't have to micromanage her. And again, as we start moving into 2021 and we're looking at that potential increase in business, more maintenance, more doors, more and more and more, I really feel like I have a solid team member that's there that I can count on.
Anne Lackey: I love that.
Kevin Fletcher: And vice versa.
Anne Lackey: And that's one of the things, again, just from a takeaway standpoint, I want to make sure everybody heard this, they will rise to the level that you expect of them. Especially hire smart virtual employees. I do a very excessive screening process, vetting process, interview process. We spend a lot of time to curate the right people for our clients because what's right for Kevin is not necessarily right for Susie is not right for Jason. But I think I can give you a great person, but if you're not willing to train them up, if you're not willing to invest, I call it mentorship. Really, because that's what it is and giving them a career path that says, "I want you to manage more people. I believe in you and here's what has to happen for that to take place."
Anne Lackey: I love the fact that you are looking long range and that you're including her in that thought process and then equipping her, help figuring out what does she need? It's sort of like what I was just saying with Daphne, it's okay to make mistakes. You've earned my trust. I love you. I love how you think. I think you're amazing. What tools do you need from me to help you feel more confident? And then just constantly meeting with them on a regular basis and reaffirming those things and correcting when you need to. But I think specifically for Filipino virtual employees, which is all that we source, they're very sensitive. That's a generalization of course, but with a little bit of love, with a little bit of mentorship, there's nothing they can't do as long as it can be done with the computer or phone. Seriously, at this point, we're placing property managers, we're placing accounting people, we're placing maintenance coordinator. All, literally every department. In the HOA division, we're doing literally community association managers where they own a community and they are the focal point for that community. I just love that.
Anne Lackey: Kevin, what else would you share with me? Is there anything else you would want to kind of share with our people listening in?
Kevin Fletcher: Kind of coming back to your 2021 objective as well. The other thing we're implementing, I've talked to Gladys about this and the team here, is we're implementing the Entrepreneurial Operating System or EOS.
Anne Lackey: EOS, yeah.
Kevin Fletcher: And we've talked to some of our other franchises in the network that are larger than we are today, have implemented that and really talked about what a game changer it is, but also how it helps to develop the accountability and the growth at the, I'm going to call it the business unit level. We've talked about that and it was kind of interesting when I had the discussion with Gladys last week, because we're also trying to figure out how to get her to book now.
Anne Lackey: We can help you with that.
Kevin Fletcher: But you could see her light up with the fact that she's going to have an instrumental role in and helping to design where we go. For example, the community, as we kind of restructure with the new team members, once they're up and running, my goal is to try to move her into more of that community manager type role as one of her primaries versus being more of the administrative assistant. It was interesting to see how appreciative she is of the opportunity. And a personally, my wife happens to be Filipino. When I work with and we meet every morning, so to your point with the time investment, we meet every morning for 30 minutes and most times she has questions and we run through the questions and some days we just talk, we do it, we have some relationship building. And because I have an understanding of the culture and in the area and stuff, it's really helped too.
Kevin Fletcher: And just that time. You can see she's appreciative of, unlike maybe some of her previous employers, actually getting to know her as a person. And I think the other side of that is she had some recent medical issues and just a simple thing like covering the time off. Not docking her time off. A simple little thing. I guess for us in the US, we would look at that and again, we don't offer sick pay, but a lot of people would say, "Well, you're hourly so no, you weren't working. You're not getting paid." But especially in the Filipino culture, that little token meant so much to her. And you can see the impact. I can see where she has gone above and beyond in certain areas just because she's so appreciative.
Anne Lackey: It's an investment. It's an investment in your people. And again, I think the more you invest in people, whether they be local or virtual, it doesn't matter, but the more you invest just in people, the better your results. Again, Daphne and I have this kind of repartee a week ago because I'd rolled out my 2021 KPIs for her, and she's a little nervous. That's okay. I'm good with that. If she like, "Easy peasy," I'd be like, "Okay, well, we need to ratchet that up a little bit." But I wanted to give her something I knew she could do. That's the other thing, you don't want to set goals so far that they can't reach them because then you're setting yourself up for failure all the time.
Kevin Fletcher: Exactly.
Anne Lackey: I always pull the target a little bit closer because I think success breeds success. I wanted something that was very, very doable, but a stretch. And so her conversation was, "What happens if I don't meet these?" And I said, "It'll be my fault." And she's like, "Well, what do you mean?" I said, "If you don't reach the goals, it's my fault." And that was very, she could not quite get that. And I said to her, "What you don't understand is a leader takes responsibility for all the failures. If you are lazy because you're not doing your work, that's my fault. I've allowed that to happen. If you can't reach them because you don't have the skills, that's my fault. I've either put you in a position that wasn't right or I didn't equip you enough to do that." And she was like, she still couldn't get her head around it.
Anne Lackey: I was like, "Daphne, I'm telling you, I have full confidence in you. I know you can do this. Is it going to be hard? Yes. That's what life is about. I want to stretch you to your capabilities. But if you fail, it's not your fault as long as you're doing your best, communicating what the challenges are, we will fix them." And I think she's still processing that in her mind. She still hasn't quite figured that out. But I truly believe that. I believe people rise to the expectation that you give them, but you have to equip them. You have to give them everything that they need.
Anne Lackey: I am looking forward to a fabulous 2021 as well, and certainly wish you much health and happiness. We will be claiming that for you and super excited to hear about your expansion and growth. We are here to help you when you're ready. Because what you're going to find is the two people that you've hired are going to need support and they're going to need people. I love the fact that you're doing that. And again, EOS is from the book Traction for those of you who don't know. Great read. Lots of great things to implement. We have not done all of EOS, but we certainly have parts of that incorporated into all of our businesses, because the better your processes are, the easier it is to be able to scale.
Anne Lackey: Kevin, thank you so much for being with us today. I appreciate you and I'm thankful for you as a client and thankful for you coming and spending some time with us today. If you want to reach Kevin and talk to him because you have property management needs in his area, his contact information is down below. Feel free to connect with him and see if he would be a good fit for your community or for your rental property or commercial. You never know. We're kind of getting into that as well. Thank you so much for being here and have a great rest of your day.
Kevin Fletcher: Okay, thanks Anne.
In this episode of Company Spotlight, we're so excited to feature Sam Shwetz, Inland Empire Branch Manager of Mesa Properties Inc., as he talks about his journey and strategies on scaling a Property Management business and how he was able to take advantage of our virtual employee service effectively for his business growth.
If you are looking to grow your business and want to avoid the chaos of a wrong hire, we're always here to help! Feel free to book an appointment with us today so we can help you strategize all throughout the process!
Good afternoon, everybody. My name is Anne Lackey and I'm the co-founder of HireSmart Virtual Employees. And I have an amazing, talented person that I'm excited to introduce to you guys today. We have Sam Shwetz and he is one of the owners and managers of Mesa Properties.
I want to just take a minute and drill down a little bit on Sam's background and bio because I find it absolutely interesting. First of all, he also is a family-owned business. As you guys know, I work with my husband as well, and I think there's always different dynamics when you work with family, so we're going to dig into that a little bit. But his dad started it in 2009, and they started kind of with distressed properties in Southern California. Interestingly enough, that's how I got started too, buying homes and putting them rehab and rent strategy. Sounds like they got started with that themselves and handling their own. And then started Mesa Properties by them getting third-party managers.
They were on the same track that I was, way back then. In high school, he helped out, so they kind of started him really young. But interestingly enough, he's had a varied background. He went straight out of high school and he joined the Navy as an electronics technician in the nuclear field. So, wow, I just can't wait to dig into that. He got the GI Bill and went to school and got his BS in business finance with zero out of pocket expenses. So you guys are going to be listening to a very, very smart cookie today, and I'm excited to introduce them to you. Sam, thank you for coming in and joining us.
Yeah. Thanks for having me, Anne. Yeah.
I always love doing these clients spotlights because one, I get to know you guys a little bit in a different light, and I also get a chance just to kind of drill down. You've been a client of mine, I think for over two years now, right?
Yeah. Just about two years.
And so we've had a nice run and a lot of good experience, and all of that. When you got started with us, I wanted to ask you, how many people did you have on staff locally where you were?
We had about 20 on staff.
20?. You're a property management company, so how many doors did you actually manage at that point two years ago?
Two years ago, we were at about 725, 750, somewhere around there.
And so fast forward, where are you now, how many people do you have locally, and then how many remote staff do you have?
Okay, so it's actually still the same number locally. It's still about 20 locally, and we have six remote staff. We've grown from that time, 725 to 750, I don't exactly remember, to now, we're at about 870.
And so what was the thing that prompted you to hire remote staff? What was it about that that was kind of interesting you or made the business decision to do so?
Well, we actually had somebody who was working for us and she was licensed, and then her husband's job moved to Arizona, and so she was going with him. So she asked if she could stay on and work remote and she helped process applications for us. So we already had her in place, so we effectively had a remote staff member, obviously US-based, who was at one time working in our office. So we had some familiarization with that, doing it that way. And then we thought, "Hey, we heard about the term BA being thrown around, and other companies where we're going that route. We had experience doing it in the US but still paying obviously US dollars for that person. And so got connected with you at a NAPRM event, I believe, and decided to explore remote staff overseas for our staff.
So you brought Rebecca, I think this was your first hire, that you brought on. And so tell me kind of about your evolution of working with her, because she's kind of really changed a lot of your business processes and how you work, right?
Yeah, absolutely. Rebecca was our first hire and super smart. We could tell that we liked her right away just from the interview. And obviously, you had done all the background stuff on her, so it was more interviewing for cultural fit, personality, as opposed to skills to do the job. We knew she had that. And she's been great. We've grown her from just answering our phones, that's kind of what we started her out doing. And she's actually now managing the team of virtual employees that we have. She's the direct manager really of the other five, which has been really cool to see. We do a book club thing, so I've got to read some management books and we meet weekly just to go over that, kind of developing her. And then in turn, she's taking what she's learning and developing the other remote staff, and it's awesome. I'm not as involved with the rest of them because we've got Rebecca in place doing that. So she started out just as our first and is now involved in interviewing and hiring future remote staff that we bring on.
Help people understand, because I think everybody's always nervous about the first one. Because unless you've gone through the process, it's a little, "I don't know if this would work." What were some of your hesitations? I know it might be a long time ago, but try to remember what were some of your hesitations in working with HireSmart, and hiring remote? And then also kind of get into what was kind of an aha that you had from this process?
Not so much a reservation with HireSmart, but just doing it on our own. We had tried doing it on our own and just the reliability of people, are they going to show up every day? Are we going to have a hard time hiring them? Can we trust them? Just that whole dynamic of somebody who's on the other side of the world and you're trusting them with log-in to our World Property Management software and other data-sensitive applications that we have. It was a little bit nerveracking there, mostly with the reliability factor. And because we had, prior to HireSmart, tried hiring on our own and just couldn't really find a good fit. We spent a lot of time doing interviews and never really found somebody that we thought would fit the ticket.
So going to you is actually a solution for, "Hey, maybe. Anne obviously does this on a regular basis. Let's see if she can help us out." And that was just a much simpler process, just everybody's pre-screened and have some basic kind of training going into it. Three interviews, we pick one, it was 45 minutes of time. And then they get delivered to us with some basic knowledge and essentially ready to go. The whole backend stuff and trying to figure out good fit was eliminated by going with a company like HireSmart that actually did some of that screening for us. That was alleviated. And then with Rebecca, she's been obviously incredibly trustworthy. The software that you guys have that's doing some tracking and monitoring, put those concerns to rest as well.
I love that, that you actually tried first. We get that a lot. A lot of people are like, "Okay, I don't want to go through an agency. I'm just going to try to do it." And they don't realize that I just even in the last nine months, have done 20,000 assessments. I look at data all day long and I profile our top people to try to get people that are close in different areas. I think you're right. I think if you don't have somebody that is... That's my whole job. It's sort of like a landlord that tries to manage their own property, just kind of the same thing. They can do it, but the results aren't necessarily as good, as quick, as profitable as then hiring obviously you as a professional property manager, to come in. You know the laws, you know what you can and can't do.
I actually am kind of tickled to some degree that our process here at HireSmart kind of parallels the property management business. We have the same kind of fee structure in some ways, and we obviously deliver the same type of results that you would want from a professional property manager, so that's funny.
Let me just ask one more question about that. When you were doing it on your own, you said he had several interviews. How much time do you think you spent trying on your own, how many hours would you say that that took you to find somebody, anybody that might even closely work?
Well, somebody on Upwork or one of those sites, that would talk to you, that's not hard. I mean, that part's pretty easy. But then somebody that's going to show up to the first interview, you schedule something and people would blow it off, and obviously, that's a big red flag. I would say cumulatively, we probably spent 10 to 15 hours over a couple of weeks of just back and forth scheduling with folks. We looked at people that were working out of India, the Philippines, Mexico, all through Upwork, and I think one other site, that I can't remember the name of, that we were just trying to find someone to work remote for us. It was a lot of wasted time.
I was going to use the same analogy you did of just when people come to us and say, "I tried on my own," luckily we didn't make any crazy mistakes like a lot of the landlords that come to us have because we didn't hire somebody then have them go south or anything like that. But definitely found that the pain was relieved by going to somebody who does it all the time.
Sure. And I think also, one of the reasons that HireSmart specifically is able to attract good talent is because we have the benefits. We have the HMO healthcare. And usually when you go direct, first of all, I think you have two issues when you go direct. One is you aren't able to really get the benefits and certainly not as cheaply as we are, because we can't get a grip policy. So even if you pay them for their portion, it's still again, an add-on for you.
The other thing I think, and this is something I think that's going to really kind of bite a lot of businesses in the fanny is hiring direct, you're telling them when to show up, you're giving them software, you're directing them. Especially, I think in California specifically, they would be considered employees. And so how do you handle that? I don't think the IRS cares that your workers are outside of the US. I think they want their money. So I think it's going to be interesting over the next couple of years to see how many people get caught up in that situation where they are going to own payroll taxes and all of the other things that kind of come along with having an employee. It'll be interesting to see how that plays out. I actually know one person that had a $30,000 payroll hit because they hired direct. And so I think we're going to see more and more of that as the IRS needs more money.
So really, we are glad to have you in part of our HireSmart family. I'm glad to see we got it down to 45 minutes. And then of course, you have your onboarding and training, like you always do. There's nothing that's going to eliminate that, and that's probably the one thing. So I can take care of a lot of the heavy lifting on the front end. But honestly, the more you pour into your remote employees, the better relationship you're going to have, the more they're going to understand, and the more they're going to be taking on. Now, granted, you're not doing that anymore because Rebecca is, but she's still managing them. She's still pouring into them. She's still teaching them.
You want to make them Mesa, right? For us or for whatever company you're with, my biggest thing with the virtual staff is I don't want them to feel like they're in a call center, they're somewhere far away. They're on the team. We put them on the website. For all intents and purposes, when people call in, they often ask to speak... When they come into our office to speak with the virtual staff, and we just say that, "Oh, they actually work remote." We want to cultivate that for them because that in turn, I think creates loyalty, and then they provide better customer service as a result. So definitely they come with the training that you give, so there's a good baseline knowledge, but then we still want to turn them into loyal Mesa employees, just like we would with anybody working in one of our physical locations.
And I think that really is a key component to success overall, is really just treating them like the employees, trading them good and bad. So that means, if they don't do something right, you can correct them just like that. And you hold them to the same accountability standards that you would anybody internally.
Let me ask you this, when you were hiring or when you are hiring, do you prefer to wait to get the perfect person, or would you prefer immediate assistance? Because that's one of the biggest challenges I think that I have is that people want somebody tomorrow, and that's not something we do because I have so much of the backend kind of screening that we do. But regardless of that, what would be your preference?
I guess it would depend on where you're at and what the task is that you need done, and what the job responsibilities would be. But for us, it's almost always going to be wait until you get that perfect fit because you want them to stay for a long time. Training takes a long time. You realize how many hours go into that. Even if it's not me directly, that's Rebecca's time or somebody else who's helping them get up to speed. So I would much rather take a few weeks to find the right fit, someone who wants to stay for the long-term, not someone who's maybe in between jobs themselves and just looking for a quick fix. If I was being hired, I wouldn't want a company that was just looking for a quick fix. So I think it's just better for both the company and then the remote staff member as well, if it's a good fit and it will be hopefully for a long time, long-term.
Well, and one of the reasons I have that one week that I spend with the trainees after they've been picked, is I find that you can fudge something for eight hours, maybe 12. You can't hide from me for 40 hours. I've got a system and a process that kind of weeds out some of that stuff. It doesn't bother me to fire them. I'd rather fire them in that process, and I do. This time last year, I had a 20% fallout rate from my course. I'm down to about 12%. COVID's had a little bit of issue the last couple of weeks, so I'm trying to tweak that. I don't think it's anything in our assessments, but I do believe that just kind of the world in general is a little different today than it was even at even six, seven, or eight months ago.
Let's talk a little bit about COVID. How has that affected your business? Has it, or has it not? Kind of share with us some of the challenges that's presented for you as a business owner.
Oh, it's definitely affected us. Not a lot, at least where we are in Southern California. We've definitely seen a decrease in the number of new owners that want to rent their house out for the first time. So as far as growth, we've slowed down. We're still bringing on new properties, just not quite at the same rate that we were last year at this time. But the rental market has just exploded where we are. I think it's because, we're suburbs of Los Angeles, so we're about 45 minutes east of LA, without traffic. So that can be two hours, depending on the day and time. But I think a lot of people are going to remote work permanently, people in the US and are going, "Okay, I can stay in this two-bedroom apartment in LA for what I could get a three- or four-bedroom house for just a little bit east in our area.
We've seen just a massive influx of highly qualified tenants, which means tons of phone calls. Our rentals are on the market for honestly, sometimes hours, not even days anymore. It's like we put something up and we've instantly got a line of qualified applicants to rent. It's been affected in a good way, in that sense, in that we're still placing well-qualified tenants into homes and stuff is renting really fast, which is great for our owners as well.
And then our remote staff has been extremely helpful in that because we do an average of 2 to 300 phone calls a day for our rentals, so that's 2 to 300 times the phone in my office doesn't ring, which is distracting, especially if it's somebody sitting at the front, who's answering those questions. It's ringing in the Philippines and somebody is answering there with great customer service, and able to provide the same level of help that they would if they were actually in the office. But yeah, COVID had a big impact, but honestly I try and put a positive spin on just about everything. It's had some positive effects on us, obviously the damage that has done, but for our business, it hasn't been too bad.
Were you part of the shutdown? Did you guys all have to go remote at some point, or were you all able to come in.
What was that transition? Because I found with most of my clients, they didn't skip a beat. They already had all the technology. It literally was super seamless. They just now take their laptops home or whatever. Did you experience the same?
Yeah, I would say it was the same. And a lot of that is because having remote staff in place already, it's no different. So we've already learned how to manage remotely. A lot of the same maybe hiccups or kind of stuff that we had to overcome with our remote staff, we found the same with our in-office staff when they went remote as well. But we have that experience and it wasn't like, "How do we handle this? This is brand new." We kind of had a handle on that already when everybody went remote. We're thankfully, back in the office now, which is great, just at least for the social aspect of it and just to be able to see people on a daily basis. That's certainly nice. But yeah, that was a very, very limited interruption for us when we did shutdown.
Well, that's awesome. I found that to be the case with, like I said, most of my clients didn't even miss a beat. It was just like everything was just okay, and they kept their same team meetings. Now, everybody's remote and zooming in right, versus a couple of people. And then as far as communication amongst your team, what are some of the things that you attribute to that good communication? What are some of the things that you do as a unit, as a business, and then, how do you make sure that you don't lose cultural fit as part of your team being remote?
Well, with communication, it's similar to Slack, but we use Google's solution to that, Google Chat, because we're on everything else G Suite. So we have different rooms for different things, and so people are kind of constantly talking there. Every manager and direct report has a weekly one-on-one meeting, so communication stays open in that way. And your question was about cultural, with people being remote, how does that affect your culture? And that has definitely been probably the biggest challenge is not necessarily with the management dealing with the remote staff, but with the other folks that are in the office that are working hand in hand with the remote staff members, to get them to connect, and to have that same type of connection that they would have if they were working in the office together.
It's like I said, I think just treat them like employees, give them shout outs in the weekly team meetings, just for things that they went above and beyond for, giving them steps on reviews that they're able to get those just like we do for our in-office staff, kind of having everybody together, that certainly helped. And then we also try and make sure that if there is an opportunity for a video chat, similar to what we're doing, we prefer that they do that with remote staff. It's easier sometimes to pick up the phone and call or send a quick chat. But if it's a longer conversation, just get on a video with them. They're sitting in front of their computer anyway, in their home office. They'd probably love to see somebody's face, and that just helps, kind of have that connection for the in-office folks and the remote staff as well.
Do you talk about your core values as a company with everybody together, or is that pretty much just kind of the management team and deals with the next layer and the next layer? Or do you guys all kind of embody that in your meetings?
I think we all embody it, and we're too small to be layer upon layer of management like that. So I think we all embody it and we've always had weekly team meetings. We have two offices and two physical locations in Southern California, so we've always done video calls for those meetings every Thursday. And so obviously, having the remote staff in there is the same and then we're all embodying the company values during those meetings, I think.
Now, one of the things that we've really focused on in the last two years ourselves, for our company culture, because we've gotten kind of big, is talking about the core values, making sure that every virtual employee that works for us embodies that same core values. We talk about it regularly. We give examples of when people have gone above and beyond. And I think that that really reinforces how we want people to be treated and how we want them to treat our clients and our client's clients because we're three layers deep.
I always think that the companies that really have a good handle on who they are and can kind of attract the people that are in alignment with that, tend to have better results. Interestingly enough, I also have my weekly meetings on Thursdays, as a company, for my property management. Bonnie who is my kind of VE that oversees pre-tenant... I'm weird, I don't have mine in departments. I have pre-tenant and post-tenant. Bonnie takes care of everything pre-tenant occupied. So all the marketing, all the data for CMAs, and all that kind of stuff because we're much smaller than you.
She's responsible for taking the notes in the meeting, and making sure everybody's doing what they're supposed to do, which was great, because I tend to say stuff and not always remember because I forget to write it down. So it's kind of nice for me to have somebody take the notes and keep me accountable for all the things that I'm supposed to do, because I don't spend a lot of time in my property management company. I only spend that meeting and a couple other hours, maybe, a week, at most, because most of my time is spent here. But work still has to get done.
Kind of going off of that kind of topic, so when you are looking for advice or you're looking for inspiration, where do you go for that?
I'm a pretty avid reader, so I'm reading a couple books at any given time. My dad started the company, like you mentioned in the intro, so he's less involved on a daily basis now. But I mean, he's started other businesses as well. He started a residential cleaning service, and then he's been in the corporate world. So he's just got a lot of well-rounded experience and he's always happy to help out. I've learned a lot from him, continue to learn a lot from him, and his involvement in the business. And I have some connections still from leadership when I was in the Navy, that I will still connect with and see how they're doing, because that's just... Leadership is the same, right? Whether it's military or private sector, it's all motivating people and achieving results ultimately. And there's different leadership styles in the military then you'd have maybe in the private sector. But I do still go to some of those old guys that I worked for in the Navy and get some advice every once in a while.
I'm telling you, they definitely know how to lead a team, inspire people. And some of it's fear-based, but some of it is just good people skills, so that's awesome. So you've mentioned you're an avid reader. What's been your favorite book over the last, let's say, six months? What have you really enjoyed, sunk your teeth into?
I really liked Radical Candor.
Oh, I love that book. That's one of my favorites. I love it.
It was great. It was really, really good. And so we're trying to roll out radical candor, if you are familiar with that. It was a little bit of a stretch, I think at some points to apply some of her stuff, because it's all Silicon Valley, kind of tech world. A little bit higher level than what we're doing. But just her four quadrants. And I probably would find myself falling into the ruinously empathetic quadrant more often than I care to admit. So just the clarity there, working on that, because there is a cultural difference that I've noticed with the folks in the Philippines and us, especially when it comes to being candid and just speaking your mind.
They're very - they don't want to talk about what they need. It's a real hard thing. That's something I've struggled with too.
Totally. And I know I've offended them, just by being direct and saying, "Hey, you should have known how to do that." That book was really helpful just in being able to speak openly and honestly with them, and then get them to understand that. I had Rebecca read that book, and I know that that was a very culturally, probably shocking book for her to read, just in terms of "Wow, you can call each other out. We can debate things and we're debating ideas, but we're not going after the people." That's been a really useful book. It's been especially useful for a cross-cultural work environment that we have, by having six remote staff, so that was a good one.
I love that book. It's actually one of my favorites. I was introduced to it because I was in Michael Wyatt's Leader Book, when it was truly Leader Book. Now, it's kind of evolved into something else, so don't do it anymore.
But I'll give you mine. Because I asked you, I'll give you mine.
You didn't ask me. So I've been reading The Big Leap, that's by Gay Hendricks. Have you heard of it?
Yeah. I haven't read it though.
Well, I encourage you to do so. I've actually been talking and thinking a lot about... He talks about your zone of excellence and your zone of genius. And your zone of excellence is where you are really good at something, but you don't love it. Versus your zone of genius, you're good at it and you love to do it, and it's not like work. And so being able to get more of your day to be where you're in your zone of genius, not necessarily your zone of excellence. It has very interesting kind of impact here, as I look at, again, I have multiple businesses and so where do I spend my time? What do I do in my time?
And in the last, probably since COVID, I've really been asking myself, where everything that I'm doing, literally I talk it out and go, "Should I be the one doing this? Yes or no. If it's yes, great. If I should be doing it and I love it, then it gets a higher priority. If I should be doing it and don't love it, how can we tweak it? How can we change it?" I actually had a really interesting evolvement of my tasks and duties. And so my team has been elevated up because if it's not in my zone of genius, I'm committed to reducing that to a very small amount of time. And what the consequences of that is, it has allowed my staff to raise up because they get more responsibilities. They're able to take more on their plate and they can be a more fulfilling contribution to the role. So definitely love that book, and I encourage you to do that. And I just got the companionship of that, which is, I think it's called The Joy of Genius, which he wrote afterwards. So I haven't started that one yet.
That's kind of like E-Myth, kind of working on your business and offloading tasks like that to other folks.
But it's a little different. E-Myth is all about process and having a system that works, which is important. I mean, I love the E-Myth. I read it many, many years ago. Actually, somebody gifted it to me, literally just this past weekend. I'm like, "Okay, well maybe I need to-
You can reread it.
It happened for a reason. Maybe I need to reread it. But the Zone of Genius is really just about again, loving what you're doing, and making sure that the majority of what you do on a day-to-day basis is really, honestly pretty short, making sure that you're enjoying every moment. And we all have to do stuff we don't necessarily love to do. But if we can do it with the spirit of this is to help someone else, or this is to help me in my personal growth or whatever, I just find it to be amazing.
My last question as we wrap up here is, who do you trust for information other than your dad, when you're looking for solutions? What's your problem-solving process, or how do you work when you're faced with something that's a little challenging in your business?
I like to see sometimes outside the industry, what other people are doing. We kind of talked a little bit about process improvement, this was specifically around what E-Myth talks about. So I'll look at what are other industries, service industries like ours doing that make them successful, and see if that can be applied to property management. Obviously, being in networking groups, being a member of NARPM, being in a mastermind group that meets once a month and kind of running stuff by other property management companies and seeing what they're doing, is certainly a great way to go. But ultimately, somebody's got to start doing something different at some point, and being innovative. So looking at outside of our industry for solutions to similar problems that other service companies have, has been helpful.
That's great. Any advice that you would give someone who's considering hiring remote staff, anything that you would share with them as a parting note?
I kind of touched on it earlier, but make them feel part of your team, even as far as calling them remote team member, maybe instead of virtual assistant. I think of Siri when I think of a virtual assistant. And incorporating that with the rest of your staff and making sure that they feel part of the team. I've noticed that that obviously not only morally is it kind of the right thing to do, but you get better results out of the remote team member because they feel they're part of the team. They take more ownership over the outcome that they're delivering to the customer. And so it's just all around better. They're more loyal. They want to stay. They're not looking around for maybe another company that's going to treat them better.
Unfortunately, it seems they're sometimes surprised by that, if you treat them that way. It just kind of goes to say how maybe some other experiences they've had in the past with other companies. But I think if you can really do that and cultivate just your own little culture within your remote team members, because they are... We do a weekly just remote team member meeting. It's just me and the six remote staff. And it's really like they're friends. I know they talk a little bit during the workday, and just seeing how each other are doing. It's great, and I think they get more job satisfaction out of that, being able to see each other on the split screen on Zoom, and just by cultivating that culture instead of being like, "Oh yeah, they're just kind of out there, and they do all those tasks that we don't like doing." And if you do one-on-ones with them, just like you would with anybody else, and treat them well, they will treat you very well.
I totally agree with that. I've been preaching that for two years because I think it's so important. It is. I tell people, what you pour into them, you'll get out of them. If you pour a little, you'll get little. If you pour a lot and you mentor them, and teach them, and have high expectations of what they're able to accomplish, they will rise through the challenge.
There's nothing that they can't do, that someone in the US could do. I mean, a lot of them are outperforming some of our in-office staff and it's awesome to see, and we want to continue to see them grow. And we've tried to create a pathway for growth, starting in maybe an entry-level answer the phone, and then move your way up to being more of an assistant property manager, doing lease journals, stuff like that, gives them advancement opportunities within, so that they can see growth within the company for themselves, instead of just being, "Okay, I'm just stuck. This is just what I'm going to do. I'm just going to be answering the phones for the rest of my life." It's been really fun to do that and to see the results that that's given them.
Well, for you guys that are listening in, if you want an excellent property management company outside of LA, check out Mesa Properties. We certainly loved having you on the show and appreciate your time, Sam. And again, if you want to connect with Sam, his information and website is below, so make sure that you do check them out. They're one of the best in the area. And I don't say that just because they're my client, but I know how they work, I know how they think, and I know how they treat their people. And how they treat their people is typically how they care about their customers. So if you're looking for property management services in that area, please, please, please check them out. Sam, thank you again.
A very exciting episode of our Company Spotlight with Elisa Schunatz of Alpha & Omega Real Estate Group as she talks about her business experience after considering a virtual staff member and how it impacted her business to her advantage.
If you're looking for a better way to manage your team just like Elisa's, hiring your virtual employee offers a long-term productivity experience! Feel free to book an appointment with me today and I'll be glad to guide you through the process.
Welcome to HireSmart Virtual Assistants newest edition of Company Spotlight. We celebrate the best in our clients and want to recognize them for the leaders that they are. We hope you enjoy listening in, and that you're able to pick up some words of wisdom that you can apply in your own business. Welcome to the show.
Good morning, everybody. My name is Anne Lackey. I am the co-founder of HireSmart VAs. And today we have got an amazing guest that's going to be joining with us. I have Elisa Schunatz and she established Alpha and Omega Real Estate Group in 2015. And that's kind of where her story began. You see, in 1998, she had two young kids, jumped into real estate investing, and man, that fire is still going today. One of the things I love about her, she has a strong belief that family, friends, and community are all one together. She lives in the Mansfield, Ohio area since 1997 and she raised her three children there and she never plans to leave. She loves it there. So, if you are looking for property management services, I hope you will reach out to Elisa and we are super excited, so welcome to the show.
Hello. Thanks for having me.
It is my pleasure. So, we have been co-workers or together for a while now. And so, what I wanted to do is ask you to talk with people a little bit about some of the aha moments you had in hiring your wonderful VA.
Okay. Then it wasn't as hard as I thought it would be to get virtual. So, I was really worried about, am I going to be able to make sure they had enough to do? How do I put this policy and procedures into place? Because we didn't have one. We all just kind of did the work. So, it's been very good for my company to be able to put those procedures in place and everybody has their own jobs now. And so, after doing that I'm like, "Oh, maybe we should have done this a long time ago."
I always say, it makes you a better business, but not everybody can appreciate that until they've gone through that process. So, talk with me a little bit about, how big are you? How many people do you have on staff? A little bit about your structure, if you don't mind.
Sure. So, we currently have just over 600 units that we manage. I have a full time front office admin, an office manager, and then we have our VA. She's our maintenance coordinator and myself. Occasionally I have been hiring in different people to help me with the social media and different things like that, but I'm finding the more I work with, the less I need actual other people because it's freeing up my time to do what I need to be getting done.
What is it that you like to do? What have you gotten back to because of your hiring Mela to assist?
Reading. Reading books. It has nothing to do with work. Honestly, it's been, it's been a blessing because now that we have the procedures in place, everybody in the office is like, "Oh, we're going to do this over." There's not been as many questions for me or how do I do this? Or I don't have to approve every little step. This is what you do. So, it's just freed me up to not be in my office until eight o'clock at night or to have to worry about working the weekend because I have to get everything set up for Monday. So it's just freed up me not being in the office as much.
So, she gave you your life back.
A little bit.
It's a wonderful... That's why I did it, too. I wasn't necessary wanting to grow any bigger, but certainly, that's a strategy for some people, too. If they want to grow or scale, it's a great way to do that. But for me it was just like you, I just want my time to do what I want to do. Now, what I want to do is hire smart. So, I've kind of transitioned from one business to another, but we still have a property management business. And that is because of VAs and policies and procedures and guidelines. So I love that, that's been the result. So, what are you reading right now?
I actually just finished a book last night and I'll be honest with you, I don't know the title of it. About a year ago, I've completely switched to online reading. And so it's just kind of like a clip, you just, okay, that looks good and you read it, but I actually enjoy fantasy, urban fantasy mostly.
That's a new one for me. I'm not familiar with that genre. I'm a fantasy like Sidetrack fantasy.
Okay, yeah. No.
That's kind of my thing. I'm a live long and prosper kind of girl.
Yes. I watch all of those. My husband and my son are both into all of that fun stuff.
Yeah. Actually, I was Tasha Yar for Halloween a few years ago.
That's how bad we are, but anyway. So, tell me a little bit about your journey. Obviously I introduced you and you got into investment properties, which of course means that you then have to manage them because you have them, or you hire a manager. So, why did you choose to pick up the torch of property management versus partnering with a property manager? Share with me a little bit about that thought process.
Sure, so I'm actually third generation landlord. So I was raised in the business and we jumped in. I was 19 when we bought our first rental property. And when you only have one or two, it's very easy to self-manage. I worked with my grandfather and his company and he did some property management for some people, but he really just did it for himself. And so, I learned the business and then found out that he really shouldn't be doing property management.
So, in Ohio you're supposed to be licensed. So, when we found that out, I got licensed and then it just snowballed from there. So, our area does not have a lot of property managers or legitimate property managers. So once I kind of got my shingle out there, so to speak, it just snowballed. And I went from taking on his handful of clients that he was doing it for to make sure it was all done legitimately, to well over 200 in less than a first year, and it's only gotten bigger. I probably wouldn't have to work based on our investments, but I've got to do something. I had little kids and we needed money and this is all I've known. So, I basically just went from having a boss, doing property management, to doing property management on my own.
That's awesome. I love this. I love hearing people's stories. I started in the investment world myself. That's how I got roped into this. And so, I love always hearing people's journey because I think it's amazing how different opportunities show up and you take advantage of them and you find, you either really love that or you don't, and how you can maneuver your career path, wherever it takes you. If you said this, I'm sorry, I don't remember, but how many people do you have on staff for your 600 units?
So, there's four of us full-time.
Including our VA and myself. So, I have two other full-time people.
Which is very good. That's actually very nice and compact, which is great.
150 units to me, means I need to hire somebody else.
Okay, average is 75 to 100 per property manager. And I think when you have VA support and you're structured right... I actually have one employee. We could actually go up, and one full-time VA and one VA that splits between HireSmart and my property management business, so I have seven days a week coverage, but I actually think that we could do 250 doors in our area. We're at that capacity based on where we are. So we’re - you have systems in place.
Yeah. I think that's a big part of it. So, you had no policies and procedures when you started.
What kind of timeframe did it take for you to work with Mela, who is your VA, and get some of those foundation things put together? What would be the timeline you would share with someone?
So, after I spoke with you, I think there was a little bit of a lag before I said, "Okay, I'm ready," because I read what you sent me, and I said, "We don't have any of this in place. We are not ready to bring somebody in virtually who I can't just sit here and be like, do this, do this." So, my office manager actually used to work with big corporate, so I said, "Make a policies and procedures manual for me." And so she did, and then we just tweaked it and things like that. So, we had it in place, but we had not implemented it until Mela came on and she spent a week working with it. We've asked her a few times if there was anything she thought we needed to change, and she hasn't said anything. So, we're hoping that, that means it's working well.
We really tried to sit down and as we were doing any particular item, these are the steps. So, she's done really well. We gave her a whole week of going through our policies and our procedures. And then we use Ffolio. So, we had her do all of the training videos, even if it was not maintenance, which is what she was hired for. We wanted her to understand the whole system. So, after her week with you, she had a whole week of nothing but watching videos and asking questions and different things like that. So, we still obviously, just like with the people in the office, there's always things that come up. They're like, "Oh, how do I take care of that?" But really she's done an amazing job of being able to just go, just do what needs to be done.
So, how was her role handled before her? Did you have an inside person doing maintenance? Did you outsource? What was your position?
So really, my office manager took care of it. And one of the reasons we decided to hire a VA was that, I didn't feel like things were being taken care of, either as quickly or as follow up. Follow up was our biggest thing. We would take the call and we would send it to the vendor, but then we wouldn't know what happened or whether the vendor got anything done. So, that was my big thing, is I want our activities and I want our maintenance touched every day. Even if it's just a note in there waiting on this, or followed up on this, because we can't force people to do things any faster than they get them done, but we can have notes of what we've done. So if there's ever a question later, we can follow up. So, Jennifer was taking care of that with me as backup, and she wasn't getting her other things done either because maintenance is a full-time job. It just-
Especially for 600 units. I mean, that's a huge, huge thing.
Yeah. Yeah. She does a very good job.
I love that. And so, one of the things that people are always a little nervous about, is their English or their ability to communicate or how will tenants feel if they feel like they're not from the U.S. So, have you had any pushback or have you had anything that has come up or how did you address that or?
No. So, that was important to me as well and it's one of the things that we took into account when we were doing our interviews, was their speech patterns and their fluency and things like that. My only issue, and I think that it's a cultural thing, I don't think that it's a Mela thing, is that she's too nice.
Well, that's true. They are too nice.
It's like, no, just tell them... and sometimes I have to be like, "Word it exactly like this," because she wants to please everybody. So that's probably our only thing, is sometimes you have to be very stern with, especially with tenants, "No, we're not doing that," or whatever. And I had to explain to her the other day, too, that our maintenance guys don't work for the tenants. They work for the owners. So, I think that's my biggest thing. She's too nice and I don't want to change that but-
Right. Well, so it had nothing to do with language. You've never had anybody complain about that. I definitely agree with you. They're very much programmed through their BPO experience, through just their culture in general, to always accommodate the person on the other line, whoever it is. That's just their wallet. I think you're absolutely right, that we as business owners and I've had this with in-house people, too, that's just not feasible. And so, I love that. I'd actually rather err on that side than on the other side, personally.
Well, if you ever read any of our reviews, most of them are because we can be too harsh, because I personally have a no nonsense, I'm not dealing with that crap. So, people take that the wrong way. That has been my only experience as far as cultural, language, her fluency is perfect so, that's not a problem.
Well, I love that because again, that question comes up literally every day about, well, I'm just not sure they could speak well enough. And so, I'm glad you talked about the fact that that was never an issue. Certainly, accommodation is kind of the key, and we've got clients that love the fact that they're accommodating and some that are like me, and no nonsense like you. This is the rules. If you get to a point where you feel like you can't take it any further, then that's fine. I'll come in as the manager and do the email and just say we're done. And that's so, very, very rarely, but that is our policy.
I have found and I do think, just for our area, we're still probably 25 years behind some of the cities. So, I wasn't really concerned. The language was a humongous thing for me, but I think with technology and so much emphasis on not being racial, that people are not... if someone has an accent, they're not pointing it out. So, you can tell that English may not be her first language, but it doesn't affect her speech patterns and you can understand her.
I think for me, I always say this, and again, it just comes down to the way I run my business, but I would take somebody who is happy to talk to me, that answers the phone live, and that gets me an answer or result, regardless of where they're from. To me, I want somebody that's friendly and nice and addresses my concern.
If they have a little bit of an accent one way or the other, I don't care. Even when I call some of the All States or the larger companies, Home Depot, Chase, whatever it is, all of those big companies have call centers down in the Philippines, and some of those reps are better than others, and that comes down to the vetting process. And I think one of the things that we do really well at HireSmart is in that whole vetting process. Probably in the last year alone, I have evaluated over 17,000 applications and tests, and I don't have 17,000 VA's working. So, it's interesting to watch those numbers and see the progression of how picky we are for our clients to make sure that we're only getting the people that are the very best.
What was been the biggest just the thing you weren't expecting that kind of happened as part of hiring Mela? What would you say like, "Wow, I wasn't expecting that, but that's a nice bonus."?
The flow in my office. So, because we hired her, we had to have these policies and procedures. Nobody had a real definition. So, we had to create this role. And so by doing that, we created everybody else's and I just feel, had we not gone with a VA, we would still be where we were, with everybody taking care of everything. And by having her in place, it's changed the last... It's been what, about nine months, has just changed the way everything works in my office, for the better. I mean, way better. So I wasn't expecting that. I figured she would be in the background, doing her thing, and it would probably free up Jennifer's time a little bit, but it's completely changed how we've done things and how we see things. So, I'm glad that we took that step.
We're doing this interview in May of 2020. So, we've been dealing with COVID for a couple of months now and I find that, in talking to most of my clients, other than their regional regulations, it really hasn't affected them much. Their business because they have that remote component, was very easy to transition, to comply with the shelter in place guidelines, even if we're essential business. Would you say that you were better prepared or you would have expected it? Tell me how that worked for you.
So much more prepared. Google docs and all of those things were already in place, but the communication between all of the different parties, we really don't need to be here anymore. So, the last piece of our property management is self showing boxes. If we had had that in place, we really would not have had to come into the office at all. We could have all worked from home. Now, we closed to the public and a lot of us chose to be here because it's just easier to work where your stuff is, but especially in the beginning, there were several days, and I sat on my porch and did my work, and I felt I got as much done into one or two hours I put into work because I would just jump on every couple of hours and be like, okay, what needs to be taken care of? And I know that my office staff did the same thing.
So, Mela's job was consistent because she does the maintenance for 600 people. But everybody else's had slowed down so much since we didn't have the walk-in and the phone calls and different things like that. Had we not started this process, we would have not been as prepared and would not have been as ready for this to happen.
I love it. And so, what do you use for communication amongst your team? What platform do you like to use? What tools do you have?
We're very Apple here. So, we do a lot of the instant messaging between us. With Mela, we have group chats and individual chats with her, so if it's something that affects all of us, we do it there, and then our property management software has activities that... and I like that the best personally, because then it's on whichever property or person or owner that it needs to be taken care of and to have that log. But then, unless it's an emergency situation, you can just add those notes, send it to whoever it needs to go to, and it just sits there until they can respond back.
That's great. You're actually one of the first people I've heard of that uses Apple products for this, so that's kind of interesting to me.
Oh yeah, no, I am totally 100% Apple at work and at home.
Well, we will agree to be friends otherwise. I know Appel are like, oh, I'm a person.
No, no. You're a person.
Android, but we'll still be friends. We'll still have a cup of coffee when we can get together in person, which God only knows when that's going to be.
What else would you share to somebody that's maybe considering it or thinking about it or worried about it? What would you share with them? If you could go back to talk to yourself, knowing what you know now back when you were getting started, what advice would you share with yourself or what would you tell yourself
To probably jump in sooner? Isn't that how we all... when something goes well, we're like, "Oh man, why didn't I do that six months before?" For me, my biggest concern was the communication and making sure that things were getting taken care of. So, I'm personally glad that we went with HireSmart versus some of the other companies that we spoke with, because I feel the people you offered up for interview were best qualified. So, had we not won this route with you, I'm not sure that we would have had the same experience and then it would have turned me off to the whole thing.
In our area, we're not saving that much money by having a VA versus what we can have locally. The difference is that our VA's are... She's very well educated, and so she has a very good background. I'm not hiring some 19 year old kid off the street. I was worried about that. I was worried about what kind of education and understanding of the business, of the communication, English as a second language, that type of thing. And so, I worried about it for six months and I didn't need to.
I guess I kind of look at it as like, go ahead and take that plunge and if you follow those steps that HireSmart offers, and all of the other people that you're in all the different groups with offer, if you do that and you put in the work, then it will run smoothly. If you just hire them and expect them to be able to do the job like with anybody else, you're going to have frustration. They are a new employee and you have to train them.
I think that's a good distinction. So, what we do is we offer virtual employees. We really don't have VAs. I mean, we call them that because that's kind of the term, but truly what I provide is, as a recruiter level person, somebody that's totally vetted, totally screened, background check, all of the things that if I was hiring regardless of local or otherwise, that I would want to have done, done for you, and trained in property management. A lot of people go, "Well, I want somebody who's had property management experience." Well, I have hired people again locally, as well as virtually, that have had it and have not had it. And I can tell you that a lot of times not having some of those bad habits or that bad information is sometimes easier. The only thing I think it consistently helps with is the terminology. That part is, if they've had the experience and they have some of the background and the terminology, but honestly I can train that up pretty quick, and we actually provide a glossary to all of our VAs in certification, so that they can reference that.
We also have a maintenance guide that we teach them and how to reference. Even though maintenance in your area is different than maintenance in my area, the heating and air conditioning is different, those types of things are going to be different, but there is a process. So, even though people are coming in and maybe they don't have everything detailed out, we're going to give you the key components, the cornerstones, of what you need to be successful. We're going to teach you methods to quickly get to where you want to be by the time your VA is there, but you have to treat them like employees. And the other good thing is because you're paying a staffing company and you're not paying your VA directly, it's never construed that they're an employee.
The IRS is pretty picky on what is an employee and what's not, what's an independent contractor. And I think, some people are pushing the envelope with that. And I would say, IRS does not care that your person is located in a different state, city, country. It doesn't matter. They want their taxes. But when it's been proven over and over again, we are paying a staffing company, there is no employment guidelines. And of course, that also saves you from other employee claims as well. And so, that's I think, a big thing that we offer our clients, too, is that safety of, "Okay, I'm not going to have that issue." Plus, we offer health care, which I think is another big differentiator between us and the marketplace, because we want to take care of our people. It's important to us to have that connection and that type of relationship. Anything else you would share before we end?
I guess I would just say, if you're new to this, try it. It's not going to be for everybody, but I think that if you try it and you put in the work, that you'll find that it is for you and you just have to take that step and trust the process and work through the process. And you know what, at the end of the day, if you hate it, it's going to be like anything else, you just stop doing it. But I have found that, some things in our office are changing in the next few months and in my head I'm like, okay, how do I make this work? Because I love having a VA, and to be able to make sure that everybody is still able to work here and locally, and virtually.
Yeah. I love the fact that my VAs support my internal, my one employee, but it allows her to do a lot more. It's not about reducing head count. It's about getting the very best. Being able to save, I mean again, it a cost saving. In my area it is, for the same caliber of person, but I'm able to support and take some of that savings and pour it into my local staff and give them bonuses based on performance and giving them the opportunity to win when I win to make more, more money as well, because I have those resources now available to me. And so, it's changed our compensation plan. It's changed the caliber of people that we can attract in our market because honestly, a lot of things that my VAs do are things that I could not. I would be a revolving door here because nobody wants to do that type of work. But it's very well suited for VAs.
Well, Elisa, thank you so much for your time today. If you're looking for property management services in the Mansfield area of Ohio, her contact information is below and is going to be on the next slide. So, make sure you reach out to her. She's amazing, and we are very, very thankful to have her as a part of our HireSmart family, so thank you again.
Thank you for having me.
Such a great conversation with Jennifer Ruelens of One Focus Property Management! She has a passion for helping landlords create stable, optimized portfolios that provides them the return they want and tenants a safe and comfortable home. Now, she found her great companion with us that shares the same passion!
Want to learn more about how you can hire your own virtual employee? Feel free to book an appointment with me today and I'll help all throughout the process!
Good morning, welcome to the show. My name is Anne Lackey, and I'm the co-founder of HireSmart Virtual Employees. And I have such a great guest today. I have Jennifer Ruelens. She is with One Focus, and she has a business in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. So, she's going to tell us a little bit more about that. She has started her business back in 2012, and really had just an amazing growth. And so, I wanted you guys to meet her. She also has her husband and two dogs. And I love people who have loved dogs. My dog is actually sitting below my feet right now, and anybody that knows me knows that I always have him very close. So, Jennifer, welcome. So glad to have you.
Thank you. Thank you for having me. So, you started your business in 2012. Kind of talk to us a little bit about that journey. Did you go, "I'm just going to start a business." Kind of tell us how that all began. Yeah. Lack of options leads people to great things. So, I came up after my undergraduate education and a short entrepreneurial stint. I got into property management as a leasing agent in multi-family, so large multi-family. And I had a good several years, about seven years doing that. And the housing crisis hit. And when that hit- Really? Yeah, lost my job, went through downsizing, which completely got, but for me it was a real opportunity. So I had been itching to pursue my full-time MBA for a long time. And I didn't really want to give up the job. I was scared of it. And then I had nothing to be scared of. And so anyway, I was unemployed for just a year. And during that year I studied and took, what do you call them, to get into business school. I can't remember the tests. Something like that. Yeah. Something like that. GMAT. I think the GMAT, yeah. Took the GMAT and was lucky enough to get into Penn state. They gave me a really nice package to help them be a TA there and get some tuition waived and things. So, I did a full two years at Penn state and just loved it. It was really my like, if I won the lottery the thing I would do. So I lost my job and did it. But anyway, while I was there, I met my husband, and he was here in Williamsport. This a small town, 30,000 people. So, I was a brand-new MBA with a property management background and there weren't large apartment communities to manage here. And so, our story is one of success through LinkedIn. I got myself on LinkedIn, and I just looked for anybody who was anybody in real estate. And I found my business partner, Brent Fish, who is a third-generation family real estate brokerage owner here in town. And they are the best name, the biggest company. And I'm so fortunate to have partnered with them. They said, "Hey, people ask for property management all the time. Do you want to do this?" And I was like, "Yeah. It's what I know how to do really well." And so, we started that as a division of Fish Real Estate in 2012, and very quickly grew to where we had to be our own entity and all of that. And so that's where we are now just about eight years later. Well, that's great. So it's so funny because I obviously have a lot of property management clients since I'm a broker-owner myself, and I don't think any of us really wake up and go, "I'm going to, I don't know, property management business." Yeah. Nobody wakes up and goes, "You know what? I really want to be a landlord." But I always say God made me to be a landlord. I have a special blend of skills and abilities that really work in this business. And thank goodness I found it. Yeah. That's great. So, kind of tell us a little bit about your structure. You manage employees, you kind of got a big team. Kind of tell us a little bit about what that looks like. Yeah. So, we have, oh gosh, as we stand today, I think 15 full-time employees. Three of them are remote. We call our VA's remote employees here at One Focus because they are really a part of our team. And so our, what, 12 people here in the States, they're a mix of maintenance, techs, management and property manager and leasing agent people. And so we're managing about 600 doors across two counties. We have a pretty decent, because we're a bit rural here, but more spread out, so we have a pretty decent geography that we're covering and we're departmental still. So we are set up in a PM department, maintenance department and an operations accounting department. The other thing that's probably really notable about my team is that we run on EOS and traction. And so we are just really effective and really focused. So let's talk about that because EOS and traction, some of you guys may not have heard of that, may not understand what that is. So can you kind of just, why you decided to do that, what EOS stands for, and just kind of tell us a little bit about that? Yeah. So oh gosh, the story kind of goes, we made an acquisition at the beginning of 2017 and it was awesome. It really got us to the point of scalability, but I was really green. And I didn't really know what I was doing. And I don't think I managed it super well at the time, learned a ton of lessons. But the fallout from that was really stressful. And I'd had a couple employee, people issues that had happened. And I would say at the end of 2018, I was really questioning my path forward. How am I going to lead this company? How am I going to grow this company? Because I'm not finding success with the tactics I was using. And I got hooked up through chance with the CFO mission, Phil Mazur. And he has started this company where he was bringing CFO support to companies who can't afford a CFO. Right. So, kind of like on a consulting basis, which really worked out well for us. And he was really able to bring us a lot of great insight and great advice. But the one thing he was really talking about a lot was traction. It was something he believed in, something he'd worked with with previous companies and saw a lot of success. He didn't say, "You need to do traction." I heard this, read the books and there's none handy right here, but I read the books and they spoke to me. I would say me as a person, my core values really aligned with what makes traction work. And so Phil became an implementer and started implementing with us January of 2019. And we haven't looked back. The success we've had with traction has really helped us solidify what we have. I personally, as a business owner have a much better quality of life. I think my employees love it a lot, and we're just, "I will never turn back." So EOS stands for Entrepreneurial Operating System. It's just a way of doing business. And so there's professional implementers. You can self implement. It's really kind of a buzz thing that people are talking about. I encourage anybody who reads those books and it speaks to them, look into it. It is remarkably, I don't want to say easy, because easy isn't the word, it's remarkably doable for just anybody in their business. So, it's really just a framework of management, isn't it? It is. So, we focus on the six main components of any business, and we measure them and we track them, and we use these tools to really move those things forward. So, we focus on vision, and data, and people, and process and things like this. And so like I said, it really spoke to me. It's about building core values as a company. And that's been a huge success for us, is focusing on them. Our hires are so much stronger. I was making a lot more poor hires prior to traction. Yeah. I always tell people, you know what, you can't get where you're going if you don't have a map and you don't have measuring points. However, you do that, whether you implement something like EOS, or I use Alex, kind of the cadence, that's what we use here in our business.
There you go.
And so I love the fact that you have found something that you embrace. And I've read traction to you. I do love the principles there, and they are kind of very much close to what we do. But I think when you talk about hiring, and of course that's all of what I do, right?
It's so important to be able to articulate what it is that you stand for and stand against. I mean, I know we're very clear about who we serve and how we serve and who we don’t, like not a good fit for us. And I don't care what business you're in. I mean, whether its real estate, property management, e-commerce, it really doesn't matter. We all have kind of who we are in essence. And when you get people that are in alignment with that, the pace is just so much easier for us as leaders.
Yeah. Anytime you can pick up a program that helps you get what's going forward, it doesn't matter what it is. It doesn't matter if it's cadence or traction. There's just something that works for you and business. Yeah.
Well, that's awesome. Well, we met, I guess officially this year or early 2020.
Oh no, late 2019.
2019. Oh my gosh.
I do. I mean, time just flies. I think the last six months because of COVID has kind of been a little crazy and I think I've just kind of blocked that off.
That fine. It doesn't exist.
Thank you for that. Well, so even more success, so thank you. How was it? Obviously, you got the EOS, you got the traction. Now, you've kind of got a feel for who you are. And now you have global staff, virtual employees working on the other side of the world. And how have they fitted it into your culture? Because we just talked about how culture is important. How were you able to integrate that?
Well, I don't know how much luck, or your ability is to find people. These three are just remarkable. They're remarkable people. They're tremendous employees for us. And from, I would say not day one, but by about day five or six of their employee here, they really start ... like the buzz around the office was, "Oh, there's a new bar." Like, Oh. We can react. People can react this fast. In fact, people all the way across the world are accomplishing what we want in a faster and really efficient way.
And there was a lot of, for the first several months, there's just a lot of amazement of, wow, this is the kind of what it's like working with people across the world, and how capable they are, and how they're teaching us things. And they're making it possible for us to do our jobs in a new way.
So how did we integrate them? We were really purposeful about it. So what brought me to you when I came to you, we had used virtual assistant services on a task basis before, so we had not hired a person and that was fine. I mean, it works for certain applications and whatnot, but we were really looking for something more. And we knew that in order to grow, we needed these people to be part of our team. And we knew through EOS that they couldn't just be the satellite people who did certain tasks, and we didn't want that. That wasn't desirable to us.
And so, we made ... of course the decision to go with HireSmart was about finding the right people, making sure that you understood who we were and what we were looking for. And then I actually spent two full days with them when they arrived. And that was the first kind of employee onboarding orientation we had ever done.
And I put it together specifically for these three, spent time going over our business, our core values, what that looks like in our business, not just talking about owning it honestly, and we stand up, talking about what does that mean? What does that look like? How do we feel about it when somebody's acting outside of those values, and what are we going to about it? And so we spent a lot of time doing that. We did some basic training as to our company, and then they went to train with their department heads except for Lindsay who works directly with me and we continued her training.
You're the department head, so she did go into her department head.
That's right. She did go to her department head. And what's great is through Slack, that's our primary intercompany communication tool, that's when I think of our remote employees, I think of Slack because I think of the little emojis they're commenting on things at the comments. We share pictures of our weekends or our families and things like that on Slack. There's a certain channel for that. And the team here really appreciate seeing what their lives are like. One thing we did is we did a video tour of both of our offices when we hired these new folks. And so it was just for them, it was like, "Oh, Mikko, this is Andy. And this is his desk." And when you see him, this is where he's sitting. And where we park, where we go to lunch. Where do we eat our lunch? And I think they really appreciated that to just bring us together.
Well, I always tell people, the more you do that, the more you integrate them into your meetings and give them responsibilities and really treat them like you would any normal employee, which again, you wouldn't have a new hire come into your office just say, "There's your office. Have a good day." I mean, you carve out that time to set them up for success. And it's the same thing. And I've been preaching this for years. So I'm so glad that you embrace that because it is such an important key part for them to get connected. And I love your Water Cooler channel because that's what I call it. You may call it something else, but it's basically, hey, my dog's here. I'm here. I had a great weekend or whatever.
Because business obviously always has to get done. The first person ... I'm mostly business, but I think it's important for us to connect with our team, especially as leaders. I mean, I know I specifically make sure I meet with every key person that reports to me and carve out, even if it's 10 minutes of time a week just to connect. And just to say, "I know I've been really busy, but I just wanted to have this time where ... I'm kind of like the old open-door policy. Right. We're doing that.
And that first two days, I'll say, when I made that decision to do that, it was a risk. I didn't have two days. I don't need to make it sound like, "Oh, Jen just can take two days to train like three new remote employees". No, I don't have that time to be very, very clear, but I made it. And when I look back on that, I go that, I don't want to say sacrifice because it was a delight to do, but that investment in taking away resources from other things for that amount of time has paid huge dividends. And I'm very happy about that decision.
So, let's kind of fast forward, then COVID hits. How has that affected your business? And I don't want to lead you in a direction, but it's been interesting to me to see how my clients have faced that versus the world. And so, kind of share with us a little bit about what effects that's had or kind of what happened, if anything business as usual?
No, it's not business as usual, but it's business much more usual than my friends who are entrepreneurs and things like that. So one thing I would say about us is, when COVID hit, and I kind of had my head in the sand about it. I'm notoriously focused, but you can also say I don't see anything else. So I am very, very focused, and it really took a while for COVID to break through. And it broke through when the governor said, "You're not coming to work." It was like a Thursday evening. He said, "You're not going to be at work on Monday. Figure it out tomorrow."
And luckily, I knew immediately in my head, okay there's some things that can't happen, but as long as we take our laptops home, we're good. So I've set this company up from the very beginning with a voice over IP system on laptops because we work remote. I don't know. I just thought that's how I wanted things. I don't like the idea being tied to a desk or tied to a server or something like that. It wasn't really for me. And so anyway, we had things really well set up that way. Our remote employees were great because they didn't miss a bit.
So, they were already home. We missed a bit or two just getting our home offices set up, learning what that meant. And then of course dealing with all the other things, people losing their jobs, we're not able to go into units, we're not able to show properties, just that kind of stuff. And so we made the adjustments we needed to make. I'm proud of my time as a leader through this adventure because I've been very purposeful about it. And I say that because I haven't always. So, this is an upward trajectory change for me, but we managed it really well.
We had six of our domestic staff laid off for only three weeks or furloughed, as we called it. So, they were temporarily out of work for three weeks while we were legally prohibited from doing certain activities. And then we were able to get everybody back full time. One decision we did make was not to furlough our remote staff. And then some of that is contractual with you as the company, but it really was a decision of what do I want to be here when this is over?
So you can look at dollars and cents and believe me, that bill is one that when we were in that moment of cut the fat, cut the fat. We don't know what the next six months or year is going to bring. You look at that and go, okay, can I do without it? And honestly, they didn't qualify as something that could be eliminated at One Focus. These three people, and I'm convinced whoever you placed with us would fall into this category, are now so integral to our business that we had to retain them in order to keep business continuity.
And so, yeah, as we've now gotten back to work, the PPE and all these wonderful things, I feel like I'm wrangling masks on faces every day. I want to super glue them to their face, because we've got a great staff and they're really cooperating. So, we're really back in full swing. We set a leasing record last month, 47 units in one month.
I know. So everybody's really moving full steam ahead.
I do think there's a lot of pen up just kind of stuff going on. People are ready to settle back down and while the threat is obviously still out there, we kind of have to just get to some semblance of normalcy. Well, it's so funny because I'm very fortunate through COVID, I mean, I honestly, I had one person, no, I probably had two clients that said, "I can't." Everybody else stuck with it. And they're glad that they did because now, I don't know where you are, but where we are, there's the school issue, daycare and all of this craziness of like, what do we do? So we're looking at employees that have issues that need to take care of stuff at home. And how as a business owner do you keep everybody kind of motivated?
So a lot of the conversations I'm having with clients is, okay, well, let's look at your staff. Who are the key people, like you were saying, that no matter what this has got to happen? These are the core people I have to have. And then kind of going from there, what else can we shuffle around that makes sense? And I do think a lot of people are trying. So when we started out with HireSmart Virtual Assistants and now virtual employees, because it's really more what we do. People think of a VA and they think temporary project, and that's never what I've done.
That's so funny. So why still use virtual, I wonder?
Okay. Because I'm not an actual placement company of people that are in their office. And so that is the main reason because-
I think that's what the industry understands that word to mean.
I always struggled with it.
Well, not just our industry, any industry.
Yeah. I struggled with virtual because there's nothing virtual about them. They're very real people.
True. That is true. HireSmart Real Employees in Philippines. It's a very long company name.
I still catch myself almost saying VA, because that's what we talk about in the industry. People use that term, but I don't like to refer to them as that. And not because I don't think it's offensive to anybody. In fact, that's what Lindsay has on her LinkedIn. That's her role in her profession. But yeah. And she was saying that actually this BPO industry in the Philippines is the strongest right now. That they're facing a lot of issues, of course, economically. And that this industry is really helping keep the country going.
Well, it's true because a lot of times people have looked at hiring in different countries and different ... of course I chose the Philippines for a very specific set of reasons, but none of ... because we allow our people to work in their home office and always have literally since I started over five years ago. That's always been our mantra.
So the challenges that we've had on our side is the BPO's have forced people to come home. So now we have multiple people trying to figure that out. So we're trying to work through that. But the good news for us is because our people work in the middle of the night. Everybody else is asleep. So there are minimal distractions. And of course now all the BPO's are coming back open. And so a lot of people don't want to go back to that environment because it's like literally a two foot by two foot little cubicle.
Well, yeah. And she's explained to me that the fear they have about the virus there is so much more severe because they don't have the medical infrastructure we have. So if you get sick, it could be a death sentence, even if it is a minor illness. And so they worry a lot about that, but I mean, taking precautions like crazy, these folks.
And one of the reasons that we wanted to do healthcare for them is to give them freedom to be able to get whatever healthcare they could. Right. So, I mean, that's, again, talking about core values. That was a core value for us is taking care of our people. Right?
And so that they would be able to relax and focus on their roles in their jobs. What's one piece of advice that you would give someone that's maybe on the fence of thinking about working with HireSmart, and kind of what advice would you give them, or what would you share with them, or what would you tell them they need to know?
Well, I've been a bit of an evangelist for VA since I've started this with you and for HireSmart, because I think that's part of the process, is picking the right person to help us. Right. So like most people when I thought about, okay, and Phil Mazur was a big proponent of this. He explained to me that in order to scale, I really needed to consider this as an option in a way to accomplish what I needed to do.
And so I had to get over ... one, I had some reservations about whether people were being taken advantage of in this situation. And I feel confident that that's not the case at all. I was completely clueless. And I know some of my colleagues have tried to do this directly, try to hire people directly or through various like Upwork or Fiverr kind of sites. And they've had really bad results. And I've gone to those sites for different tasks and also had a poor experience.
So I think picking the right person to help you and then prepare. So in our business, I didn't have a big problem and then the VA's were brought in to fix it. I had a workload. I solve the problems. I solve the processes and things like that, but I still did need the work done. And so that's where these people were super helpful. And now that they're integrated into our company, they're solving problems right and left. So it was just a little bit of a process. It's a leap of faith.
And our situation was a little different. I want to share this because I really do think it's why I trusted you to bring on three at one time is that we had actually talked at the end of 2019 about hiring one person, a maintenance coordinator. And we went through that process, and we selected somebody. And I was very confident. We were moving forward. And you explained to me the training process and how that worked. We were getting close to the holidays. And you let me know, "Well, if at a point in the training process they're not going to be able to move forward, I'm going to let you know."
And I got that call. I got that call and, oh, and believe me, we were waiting. It was like, okay, we get this person in two days. We get this person soon. And you told me I couldn't bring them into my business. They're not performing to my standard. And I said, Oh my gosh. Especially because due to your scheduling conflicts, we had to wait about a month. And I said, "Well, listen, here's the deal. We're going to hire someone else. We're not going to take this person on which you were great about, but I need two more. As this has happened, I realized I need two more people.
I had some shakeup in my staff, and I had created these positions. And so we recruited three at once. So, I went from zero remote employees to having three in one day. And that interview process was, I mean, it wasn't bad. You kept telling us it's going to be kind of a slog, but it wasn't bad. We interviewed nine people. And I mean, we found three winners. I mean, really ... not a single one of them would I give up. So, all great people.
It's so interesting because people don't realize that my secret sauce is that one week of my working with them. And I mean, I certainly have a team that helps with the training. I'm not doing it all myself, but I review every file. I review their communication. I do all of that. And I do it because I have that guarantee. Right. I want to make sure. And I always tell people, if I wouldn't hire them for my company, they're never coming to a client. And I think people think, yeah right.
But I have a 12% fall out rate. And I used to have a 20% over a year and a half, two years ago, I had a 20% fallout rate. We have since, again, processes, procedures. We have upped our assessments. And now that I've had two full years of running these assessments, I can profile people in different roles to figure out, okay. But even with the best testing, even with a grueling interview process, even with all of that, until you work elbow to elbow with somebody and kind of get a sense of who they are, you don't know.
Right. No, you don't.
And so, I don't want to waste a minute of a client's time if I don't have to.
Yeah. And again, when that happened, I thought, "Oh, how am I going to get through this next month?" And then I'll visit more people. But we did it. It was fine. We did, it was fine. It was certainly worth the wait to get the right person. Yeah. And really why we chose HireSmart was because I had seen you speak at various conferences. And I'm actually one of the founding officers of the Pennsylvania chapter. And I'd seen your competitors speak, and all very qualified, all wonderful, but like traction, I went, "That person is speaking to me." I feel like if I have to communicate something in a little bit amount of time, they're going to see what I'm showing them a little bit easier. And that's why we went for you.
I do think that one of the biggest differences ... I think there's a couple of big differences. One where now a couple of my competitors gotten into the full-time dedicated space, which is whatever, but they all have levels of 15, 20 people. They're not the people doing it. They may have the knowledge, but they're not the people doing the final selection. They're not the people doing the matching. They're not the people that are doing the training. They're not the people that are doing all of that.
And so I will never be the biggest. And I'm okay with that because my love, again, talking about following passions and things, my love is being that marriage maker and making those good matches, and having clients like you that have fallen in love with my people and really want to serve them because that goes down to what I'm all about, which is, I'm going to change the world.
Okay at a time.
Well, you changed our world. That's for sure.
Oh, that's awesome. Well, Jennifer, any last final thoughts that you would want to share with our listeners?
No, just that if you're watching this and thinking, should I, shouldn't I? Will this work? Working through HireSmart is the best chance of success I think that you could have, and you just got to do it. And I'll tell you, what I always say is, they raised the bar. You have to erase what you think these people are capable of, is they are more capable, especially at the things that are done remotely than your in-house team. At least here in Pennsylvania, my workforce is not sophisticated, not very technologically advanced. We are as a company. And that's been great to have that extra resource here to help me keep that going through the team because these people are very, very savvy. Very savvy and smart. Yeah.
Thank you so much for being here. If you're looking for property management services, I hope you will reach out to Jennifer if you were anywhere near Williamsport. And certainly, we love our clients and thank them for the love that they give to our employees. And again, my name is Anne Lackey. I'm the co-founder, and you can find me and Jennifer down in the information below. So have a great rest of your day. And Jennifer, thank you again.
You're welcome. Bye.
In this episode, Paul White, with Real Property Management, East San Gabriel Valley, talks about his experience using a virtual staff and how things have changed for the better with his business.
Just like Paul, you too can recreate your internal business structure by hiring an excellent and experienced virtual employee with us today! Feel free to book an appointment today so I can help you set up from start to a new start!
Anne: Welcome to HireSmart Virtual Assistants' newest edition of Company Spotlight. We celebrate the best in our clients and want to recognize them for the leaders that they are. We hope you enjoy listening in, and that you're able to pick up some words of wisdom that you can apply in your own business. Welcome to the show.
Good morning everybody. My name is Anne Lackey. I am the co-founder of Hire Smart Virtual Assistants, and we are here today with Paul White. He is the president of Real Property Management in Pasadena and Thousand Oaks, California. He and his brother David own both offices in both locations. One of the things I like about Paul is that he grew up in Utah and he enjoys the mountains and great outdoors and moving to the peak city was a little bit of a change, but he's a country guy at heart. We were talking about that right before we got started. He has three boys, which is unbelievable. I have two little girl grandchildren and they keep me super busy. Ages six, three and 11 months. So he is super busy right now. In addition to that, on the side he runs a property management business of 400 units and has been doing that for eight years. So I'd like everybody to do a big welcome to Paul. Paul, thanks for joining us today.
Paul: Thank you. It's great to be here.
Anne: We are super excited to have you. So we've worked together, I think almost about a year now, maybe a little shy of a year. It is post-COVID. So life has changed for a lot of my clients in this environment. Why don't you just tell us a little bit about, I want to take you back to before we met. Share with me a little bit about what that was like, what you were feeling, why you were looking to hire. Give me a little bit of that background, if you can remember back that far.
Paul: I remember, because I used to be the one-man show. I used to be the actual employee for about six months. So then I, whatever, bought out my brother's partner and all that. So I continued to be the employee, taking care of everybody's little things here and there. And before I knew it, I knew that I saw that we had 150 work orders. I was closing out all the billing in it. I was on the phone for three, four hours a day, just trying to close things out. And I'm like, "Wait, hold on a second." I was in California as well, where the minimum wage keeps going up and up and up. But my fees, unfortunately, a lot of times are going down, down, down.
So anyways, I remember I reached out to you. I don't even remember where. It was Facebook or something, one of these groups, property management groups. And yeah, I remember I saw my work orders. I'm like, "Wait, there's someone who, I'd have to bring them on for eight hours a day." I was thinking like, "Oh man, eight hours, do I have enough?" It was kind of a commitment. I remember doing the interview process and I was like, "Oh man, this is how an actual interview goes." You helped me out with that. I've only been through, I think I've only been interviewed like two or three times ever for a job. Anyways, you helped me out with that and I guess you let me know that you'll have someone who will answer their phones. And I was sold from that point on.
The fact that someone would actually answer our phone calls. We were getting a lot of complaints about that as well. So it was the closing out things and then we got complaints because people weren't answering their phones and then they'd text back or they'd email back and owners are like, "I'm just wondering why nobody ever answered their phone."
Anne: So you hired one. How was it once they onboarded and started with you? How did your life change from that?
Paul: So the onboarding was great. I remember also, I mean, you wanted to make sure that my processes were done. I thought that they were done. Anyway, we brought on Umi, and right away I was blown away with how much she could actually get done. And she was keeping people in my office accountable. It was almost like, "Whoa, hold on a second. There's almost too much info." She's building up things. I gave her a massive list of about 300 work orders that needed to be fulfilled, figured out, notes, and she got back to me in like five, six hours, at the end of the day already, and she had already completed it. I'm like, "Well, I guess I need to figure out what we're going to do tomorrow," because she got way more done than my maintenance coordinator, who gets paid two or three times as much, was getting done because they visit in the office and all that.
So first day it was, "Whoa, she's finished everything. Now I need to figure out something for her to do tomorrow, basically." And it was getting the weekly process and the daily process of, I'd like for you to do this and then this, because I was realizing they're getting way more done than I thought because of my office staff here was getting done not as much.
Anne: It's funny, I hear that theme quite frequently. Actually, I had one of my clients who hired right before she went on a two week vacation to Thailand, and she gave what she thought was two weeks worth of work based on her experience of hiring locally, and the VA was done with all of it four days in on Thursday. So she literally had to stop her vacation in Thailand, come up with what the next week was going to look like, gave the VA the day off on that Friday, because she's like, "I can't come up with something in literally a few hours." So I think it's funny because people, I think around here a lot of times, like, "Well, it sounds good, but I just don't know how efficient they'd be or if their English is good enough or if they really can do the work. I just don't think some of this work can be done virtually." Well now COVID has actually taken that off the table. We're all working from home remotely. So it's a different set of skills, right?
Paul: Yeah, for sure. No, I'm sitting in a empty office right now because the rest of my office is who knows where now. Fortunately, because of the systems that I've put in place for my Vas, for Cheryl and Umi, now they actually, I asked them when all this started happening, I asked them, "So what is it exactly?" I mean, I probably should have come up with a better plan anyways. "Where did you learn how to do your reports so well?" Because their reports they send me each day are awesome. Well, I need to have my other people who aren't in the office, my office staff here in Pasadena and Thousand Oaks, I was like, "Hey, whoa." I didn't know. They were kind of working. Their hours were still about the same as they were. And I'm like, "Wait, hold on a second. This does not make sense."
So then I asked Umi to make me a little template of what she thinks would be useful. So she helped me as the boss of doing it versus me having to come up for them all on my own. So she did it. I asked her. A half hour later, she sent me this template, shared it with everybody. Now everybody in my office each day, even if some of them come in the office, some of them are going out to properties, they sent me a report each day and it's almost overwhelming them because our VA's been doing it forever. So I'm like, "Man, you guys are doing a way better job than my office staff here, who in theory I think would have better opportunity." That's what I thought initially.
Anne: For those of you that are Hire Smart clients, or don't know what he's referencing, we teach as part of our process, what's called a close of business report. And every VA is taught about that through our process, because I think it's really important for people to understand what did get done that day. What did you do of value? Because you can't see that. It's not like when you're walking down the hall and you can see that Susie's in her office and yeah, she's sitting the computer, so she's got to be busy. She's certainly not looking at Facebook or anything else.
Anne: But there's that perception of, well, they're not working because you can't see that. So one of the things I implemented early on in our process is to teach the VAs how to do a close-of-business report and how to make it meaningful for the client so that they knew what was getting done every day. And the reason, again, this comes down to a philosophy. A lot of my competitors all about time tracking software and monitoring them and doing all that. And I think, we're not in elementary school anymore. This is my personal professional opinion. I don't do that with my in-house team. I certainly know that they're adults and need to be accountable for their production. So I don't have our VAs do time tracking software either for that main reason. So the close of business report, and it's something that I tell every VA has to be done. It has to be done well to give the clients the confidence of what's being done. So, yes. A close-of-business report for everybody is a good thing, especially now, right?
Paul: Yeah. I think even after this is, I mean, after people aren't virtual or working wherever they are, I think I'm still, even if they're in the room next door, I'm going to ask them for a close of business report because sometimes I wonder, I'm like, "What have they done all day?" Even though they've been sitting on the other side of the wall, I feel like they did like two or three calls. I'd go and look through my emails. We use Help Scout to see emails and that. We don't do the tracking. Look at me, look at your computer at any time. I'm not either, I have my kids I have to do that with. So yeah, I'm even going to institute it after, because it's so much ... I mean, even while they were still in ... They come in. I know that they're working on something. I see, oh, we did 10 lease renewals today. Oh, awesome. So I'm going to continue it for forever, now I've implemented it. So it's-
Anne: I actually do one myself and I use it for my planning. So every day, I look at what needs to be done for the week and my progress. Then I go ahead and pick three things that I know I need to get done the next day. So at the end of the day, I look at, did those three things get done, which in my case they typically do, but there are days that I have something on there I don't necessarily want to do, and maybe it'll slide a day, but I don't allow myself to slide much past that. And again, I think it's as much for keeping myself accountable for moving the business in the right direction. So I drink my own Kool-Aid. I make myself do it too. I mean, I actually don't send it to myself, but I actually do review the work that I do every day to make sure that I'm focusing on things that are moving the business forward. So if you're a CEO, highly recommend that you do that too. It'll just help you stay more focused and make sure that things get done.
So it sounds to me that you found my process of hiring and picking the people out and doing my certification was very easy. On a scale from one to 10, how would you rate it? 10 being super easy, one being super hard.
Paul: Compared to what I do, probably a 15. Like I said, I've been interviewed for two jobs ever. I got them. And they were like, "Okay, if someone gives you a dollar, you get 90 cents, or if something costs 90 cents, I give you a dollar. How much do you give back?" That's the type of interview I've been through. So I've always worked family business, entrepreneur stuff. So I'm like, how do I hire people? When we hire people in our office, I've Googled how to hire someone, and your help has been, you gave me some guidelines on some questions that are good. Obviously I adjusted them for me.
Anne: Of course.
Paul: So yeah. I mean, it was great. A 10., I mean, it was great. I mean, it was very easy. I thought it would be kind of weird, like, "Oh, we're going to schedule a call and interview people." And I'm like, "Oh man. Okay, here we go. People in the Philippines." But it was almost like they were a couple blocks away. I mean, I'm in Los Angeles where there's, I mean, millions of people from all over. So, it was very natural. Yeah, it was great.
Anne: Fantastic. I love to hear that. What didn't go as well as you had hoped? What stumbling blocks did you find as either right after the process or just you fumbled through and that you thought was, okay, I probably could have implemented this better or done better?
Paul: I feel like a little bit of it was letting our VAs know ... I feel like they've always had a supervisor boss, someone to report to, something like that, and I wasn't fully ready for them to be ... They still send me emails like, "Thank you, boss. Thank you for that" ... And things like that. I try not to be like the boss. Everybody's team members in our office. I try to do the Disney way. Like, "Okay. We're all not cast members, but team members." So, we brought on our second VA, Cheryl, right when I had my last baby, so 11 months ago, I guess ish. And I remember sometimes it was letting her know my timeframes of, "Hey, this is when I'm available." She'd call me or email or things like that. I had to like set my rules for, okay, and it's become way more productive for them as well.
At the end of the day in your close of business report, send me what things you need from me. Obviously, if it's an emergency, give me a call and I understand that. So it was the, "Hey, I'm trying to take care of my two other kids, older kids, while my wife's taking care of the baby. You guys are taking all the calls. Thank you so much." So it was setting those. And then also our office staff, letting them know that they need to help our virtual assistants, help Umi and Cheryl. They're in our meetings.
Paul: They're here, they're real people. And it was like, "You need to help them as well in your tasks because they're answering the phones." And they tried to take care of everything. They'd answer the phone. They tried to answer the question for the owner. They'd call me and ask how to help on that versus that's actually Josie's job. So it was the setting the actual true roles and getting ready for the, "These people actually respond to me all the time," and, "Whoa, hold on a second." So those were the two things, is getting our office staff more, "Hey, you need to help out. Not just ... You need to help them as well." And then also making sure that our VAs didn't take care of everything so our office staff didn't have anything to do. They didn't know how to, like lease questions, things like that. You need to be specially licensed for. Don't answer questions on leases. Tell them that you'll have somebody in our office call.
Anne: That's great. So what I take away from that is if I was working with somebody new, one of the things that I could do to help them is, with the onboarding process and part of what I've actually just recently added to my document that I have for onboarding is an introduction of teams and roles. So everybody gets introduced and this is their role and this is their responsibility. This is this person's responsibility. This is your responsibility. So that everybody's on the same playbook. I think that that's a great takeaway that I probably have improved over the last year. So I'm glad you brought that up because I do think a lot of times what we do is so successful, especially if we've got buy-in from everybody, but obviously not everybody can be in an interview and be chosen, but having an onboarding process that involves everybody on the team, I do think lends itself to be more successful. Because think about it. You wouldn't hire somebody in the office and just stick them in an office and never really tell them the hierarchy of who's there. You have to do it.
So, thank you for that. What advice would you give to someone who's possibly on the fence considering should I do this?
Paul: Well, it's funny. I talk to a lot of people who are on the fence because everybody's nervous. Obviously there's other virtual assistant companies and they are shopping around, and all that. And it's really talk to you, I guess, is the biggest thing. And then schedule a call with you, see how they can help you because you let, I mean even more things. And then also it's if you're ready. It's not a huge commitment. We recently, because of the pandemic going on, we had an office person who had to step away. We're like, "Maybe we need to hire ... The virtual assistants helping me way more, because I'm being way more involved." I don't have anything fun to be able to do. And we're almost looking to hire another person. So it's really just, I mean, I'm like, "Just do it."
It's funny. I've talked to someone for like two years and they have like 150 units and him and his wife run the whole thing and he's on the phone all day and he's getting calls from angry tenants. You can turn that over to someone else and your peace of mind, everything is a lot better.
Anne: Also because your service is better.
I mean, that's the thing. When you're trying to do everything, you can't give the time, energy and effort to the people that are calling in, who are your customers, that you really need to serve. So yeah, totally get it.
Yeah. No, I mean something even, there's people who call just to call. They just want to have someone to talk to and they don't need to talk to the owner of the company. Yeah. We have so many, frequent flyers is what we call them. We have our own frequent flyer miles thing in our door, just so everybody actually knows people who like to call all the time. And they just want to have someone to talk to. They don't even want anything taken care of. They just want someone to talk to. I used to get those every day. If you have a virtual assistant, they'll just listen to them.
Anne: They'll just be calling them.
Paul: I mean, obviously sometimes you still want them to do things. You still want them to work, but yeah. Anyways, it's just great. I mean, I'm on the phones way less. I know that it's taken care of. Something as well is I asked Cheryl in my office, I was going to meet someone, "Hey, do you mind calling them?" Because I was doing a couple other things. "Do you mind calling them, making sure that they can just send me a note letting me know." And I was talking to my brother. I'm like, "Isn't it awesome? We know Cheryl actually called them first and asked them." And she sent me a little note, "Hey, they're waiting for ya. Within the next hour sounds great." So it's actually knowing that they take care of the customers because sometimes I feel like people don't.
So yeah, our customer service has gone way up because they actually pick up the phone. So I think so much texting and emailing and all that going on. The actual phones, I'm a big phone guy, even though I'm young, but the fact that they actually pick up the phone is the best part.
Anne: Well, Paul, it's been a pleasure to talk with you today. If you guys are looking for property management services in Pasadena or Thousand Oaks, I highly recommend that you get in touch with Paul White and his team. His information will be at the bottom of this video. So make sure that you connect with him. Paul, thank you again so much for your time. We appreciate having you as a client.
Paul: Hey, thank you very much.
In this episode of Company Spotlight, we’re so excited to introduce you to Melissa Prandi of Prandi Property Management as she talked about amazing business insights and strategies for scaling a Property Management business and how she was able to maximize our virtual employee service effectively for her business growth, especially during this crisis.
If you are looking to keep your business progressing despite the effect of the current outbreak, I’m always here to help! Feel free to book an appointment with me today so I can help you strategize all throughout the process!
Anne: Good evening, everybody. My name is Anne Lackey. I'm the co-founder of HireSmartVAs and I am so blessed to have Melissa Prandi, CEO of Prandi Property Management here with us today and she is an amazing person. If you've ever had an opportunity to learn a class or take a class from her, she is a leader in our industry. And so I wanted to spend some time with her today and share with you a little bit about how she's utilizing virtual staff in her business, especially in light of what's going on in today's world. She was one of my first clients. She was an early adopter. She's an innovator and she is an amazing, kind, caring person and I am thrilled not only to call her one of my favorite clients, but also a good friend. So Melissa, thanks for being here today. It looks like you are in a great place, right?
Melissa: You like my background?
Anne: I do.
Melissa: Well, Anne, first of all, and most importantly, I'm glad to hear that both you and Mark are doing well and you have been very careful and you're sheltered in place like we're supposed to be, so, we're both doing what we're supposed to be.
Melissa: What's been really interesting would be, and yes, I was an early adopter. I'm still old school. I print everything. I like to touch it and read it, but what's been really interesting is when I'd become a virtual President and CEO of my company, and I knew how to do that because I have virtual assistant.
Anne: Yeah. It's so funny because when I meet people at the trade shows and stuff and I say, "I can work anywhere in the world, it doesn't really matter as long as I've got internet and connection, I'm good," I think a lot of people, especially in property management, specifically, have been rooted in the fact that you have to be physically located and of course, so now with COVID-19, a lot of us are having to get on that virtual boat, right?
Melissa: You know, Anne, it's so true, but you know what else is really interesting? The other thing I found really interesting is I never encouraged my staff to work from home. I always want them in the office and they're missing each other, the team environment.
Anne: Yeah, absolutely.
Melissa: But it's amazing because now, there's 18 of us virtually working right now and I'm learning so much the one that doesn't have the tech skills, is now learning to do Zoom, is now learning to do more. In fact, first thing on Monday, we're going to be doing a Zoom with all of our VAs, just to see their smile, just to check in with them.
Anne: And I think that's so important. Let's talk a little bit about your culture and how you have embraced this because I know you told me a little story about your meeting last week and how you integrated your team. Tell everybody a little bit about what you did, which I thought was so fun.
Melissa: Well, we've got to keep the spirits up, right? I mean, right now, we're all going through changes and the changes are by the hour, by the day, sometimes by the minute. It's been a rough week. I've never been so happy to say TGIF.
Anne: Amen, sister.
Melissa: And looking forward to the weekend. We are close now on the weekends, which is unusual, but the things that we're trying to do is bring spirit and camaraderie in an office that already is a family environment. So in our office, in Marin County, just north of San Francisco, we actually have 15 of us and that's including myself, then we have three virtual assistants and we have had virtual assistants now for a long time, and we're adding a new one, but we'll talk about that later, but we'll talk about that in a minute.
Melissa: So, what we're doing is we've always had team meetings now. We're having weekly staff meetings where all of us are coming together. Last Tuesday, we needed spirit, we needed positivity, so we had the theme of an aloha staff meeting and everybody came together in a little hall where actually, I encouraged it. My son Matt, who's our VP and does a lot of our marketing and business development, he came in his board shorts carrying a surfboard and later put his dog on the surfboard, my grand dog. So, that was a really great spirit and I came in playing the Beach Boys music.
Anne: Of course, you did.
Melissa: I mean that's that fills my heart at a time that we're all going through so much, but the first thing I did was to tell my staff that I was not going to be furloughing anyone that even if it meant me taking a pay cut or no pay, that they came first and that they're important to me, and that we would be looking at all aspects, but we had support from each other and from their boss, me and also having Christine and Matt step up in this management role and helping. I'm so blessed to have Christine Gooden, who got Property Manager of the Year.
Melissa: And to have Matt, my son, who is jumping in and I never knew had talents that he's showing me through design. So, I think the spirit of the aloha theme, everybody write this down as you hear this because you should start a little fun in your meeting, we start with positive thoughts. So, we go around where every single person says one thing positive that they would like to share.
Anne: And I love that. I do the same thing. I always start off like, "Tell me something good," whether it be personal or professional, something that went right in your world, because the reality is, so often in company culture, I think you get stuck in, "Oh, we got to do this, we got to do this, and this is where we need to improve and go, go, go, go, go." And there is a time for that. I'm certainly not saying that there isn't, but it's so nice to take just that brief moment and say, "Tell me something good that's going on in your life." And that also elevates your staff a little bit more. It frameworks their mental state, so you actually have a better conversation, you have more ideas that flow. I think, I love that and we do that, too.
Anne: Tell me a little bit about, on a scale from zero, meaning it was super, super hard to go virtual from being in office to 10, it was the easiest thing in the world, it was almost seamless. Tell people where you would rate your company experience where this hall will be in place?
Melissa: I think that's an interesting question. Because for me, it was a 10 because I got out of the way, being not the tech savvy gal and not being that detailed, I'm lucky to have an operations VP, Christine who can put procedures in place, and Tony, who's our maintenance manager, he has two virtual assistants. And when Tony was hired, it was a brand new role. We didn't have the job as a maintenance manager, employee in management in our company. So I got to step out of the way and watch Tony shine and he embraced it. He was so grateful to have the support and he had to learn new things as we all did.
Melissa: So for me, I don't have anything but positive things to say. For me, it's a 10 because it's made my life easier and what it's done is train me. Okay, so let me give you an example why I say such a strong number because it needs to be backed up with facts and what I'll say to you is what I learned is every morning I only have one VA that reports to me directly and she is a rock star. She's my Christie and she's been with me since the beginning of time of virtual assistants and Christy checks in every single morning between the hours of 8:20 AM and 8:30 AM, my time, every morning and she has something nice to say, "Happy Friday Eve." I never heard of that before. On Thursday, she's, "Happy Friday morning," or whatever it is and I always respond back and every single day no matter where I am, we have that exchange. Now that's a 10 second, one-line, two-line thing.
Melissa: But what I learned and the one thing I wanted to share with you and anybody in our field is, it taught me how to jump in right now and what we're going through. The virtual assistants every day at the end of the day, give you what we call an EOD, end of day report. And guess what? Because I love those so much and I've gotten a format that I can read quickly and bullet points and my mind works at a mile and everybody has many things come out at a mile a minute. Well, because of that, I now have each one of my team members do an EOD working from home, sheltering in place. And I know exactly how I wanted to deliver it because we've been doing it already with our virtual assistants.
Anne: Were your staff open to that because I know a lot of people are afraid to ask their staff to do those types of reports, but now I think when we're not together every day, it's so important, so everybody knows what's going on or at least one person knows what everybody else is doing.
Melissa: So, that's a good question. EODs are just coming to Christine and I and each one of us. Sometimes I'm more on and quicker than Christine, but Christine and I respond to each and every one and not in length. Believe me, when 5:00 hits, my email is already coming in. I hear this ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding so I'm getting 17 of them, including one from Christine, but it allows us to see the need if there's support, they actually end with what their rating of the day is, a 1, 2, or 3.
Melissa: And like for example, my virtual assistant this week, Christie, the one I'm referring to, has given me a one, wo she wants more work. And my other one in the Maintenance Department said, "I'm happy to do some more projects if you like." And I said, "Oh, I love it. Are you kidding me? We've got some things for you to do."" We had to work on our landscaping and show us where we have landscapers on properties because our governor has decided we're not allowed to landscape anymore.
Melissa: That takes a long time to figure it all out, not every property has a landscaper paid by the management company or the owner. So, guess what? My virtual assistants took care of it for me and rapidly, so, it's amazing.
Anne: That's interesting. So one of the things that came out today for us because again, this shelter in place is this weird thing is the New Cares Act and which owners are on Fannie and Freddie and which ones aren't, and so somebody gave us a great tool, two websites. If anybody wants these websites feel free to connect with me, I'll be happy to give them to you, but it allows you to check to see if there is a backed mortgage on the properties. So obviously, we asked the owners and said, "Hey, this is what's happening." But sometimes they don't know or "I don't want to myself in trouble by charging a late fee if I'm not supposed, too."
Anne: So, part of what we have our VA doing is going through every property and checking on these to make sure, so I've got what the owner says, I've got what the website says and then if I see that there's a disconnect, because some of the owners own some of them, some of them are free and clear, and some of them may do have a key lock or some other type of thing that they just forget about, they don't they don't think about it. So that's something we're having our VAs do right now, just to make sure we're covered. And then like I said, if we see that there's a difference, we'll reach out to the owner and say, "This is what we found. Can you explain or can you verify?" It shows that we're really proactive.
Melissa: Well, and the one thing I can tell you that Christie is also doing a really good job for us is keeping up with our owners' insurance.
Anne: It's huge.
Melissa: So if you're talking about owner partner, she gives me at the end of every day, EOD gives a report about how she's doing getting all the new policies in place and she lists them out and she's outstanding at her job. So, the exciting news I'll have to share with everybody is that during this time when most people are pulling back, we decided this was opportunity and we're looking at opportunity because we're going to all need opportunity when we come out of this on the other end. And so we, as you know, hired our fourth virtual assistant, and we're so excited.
Anne: She starts Monday.
Melissa: Yeah, she's a rock star. I can't wait. I like rock stars. I got a lot of work for them.
Anne: You attract a lot of rock stars because you are the ultimate rock star. You're amazing.
Melissa: Thank you. So, the new VA that we're hiring for the purposes of the listeners is the virtual assistant is going to be in our accounting department. Now, my bookkeeping or accounting department is two people Raiden, who's been with me for 15 years. She started working for me on February the 14th, and she is a love and a good blessing for sure. And then Shirley, who this month on April the 7th, has her seven-year anniversary with us.
Melissa: And Shirley's younger and more innovative. Not that that matters, but I mean, in the technology world and Raiden follows. She has spreadsheets upon spreadsheets and binders, and slowly we've been pulling her over. Well, at the beginning of this year, unbeknownst to what we'd be going through, our number one goal as the management team looked at things was to change the way bookkeeping was run and guess what? We are changing the way bookkeeping, not by choice.
Melissa: And this virtual assistant might not have been blessed so easily, except for guess what? We're all virtual assistants now. So, I allowed the management team both Raiden, our manager, and the associate bookkeeper, Shirley, to announce it to the team her name, a little bit about her, and you should have seen the smiles. And really, it's a great thing. I hope we're going to add another one, so give us a little time but we'll be adding another one maybe as you suggested in the marketing world.
Anne: I totally think this is a time for all of us as property managers to step back from our businesses and look at, "If I could design my perfect business or my perfect world. What would that look like? What would I change?" Kind of putting everything else on the backburner, that kind of thing. This is a chance to re-innovate and re-energize and I also encourage everybody to look at those key players, those players that you know like for you, Christine and Tony. Wait, no, all of your staff is amazing.
Anne: Sometimes, honestly, I've talked with hundreds of property managers, sometimes their staff isn't so amazing. And so, now is a great time to just say, "What can I do differently?" And then those rock stars that you have in your organization, what can you do to underpin them and support them, so that they feel appreciated? So that they feel like they're utilizing their skill set in the very, very best way? And I know for me, Mark and I went to our employee and we said, "What can we take off your plate that would be more enjoyable for you, so that you could do more," and she gave us the list of what we hired for. So, basically, we gave her a virtual assistant, so that she could double the amount of doors that she could do, so that I didn't have to work in the property management business as much and I could focus on HireSmart.
Melissa: I think that's great. So, we actually did that with our Accounting Department, so we had Shirley, the one that's more innovative and technique savvy, because she was trying to take on more. And so we said, we learned this in one of the NARPM conferences, and it's through Mark Cunningham, who's based out of Colorado, and Mark has this thing that says, "Stop, continue and start. What can you stop doing? What should you continue to do or what do you love and want to continue to do? So stop, continue and start. What could you start doing differently?" And I like that, that I always think to in my own world.
Melissa: And Susan Albern, who you also know, used to be a Property Manager and now she's I'm working on some tools for property manager. So, Susan Albern is a good friend of mine and she came to do a little business coach consulting, but also to hang out, because that's what we as property managers do. And Susan said the same thing to me. She said to me, "Melissa, what are you doing that if something happens to you tomorrow when you no longer were able to do it, who would be able to do your job, who would be able to do that role?"
Melissa: Well, my first reaction, I got Christine and I got Matt, so that's great, but I can't give them more work without taking work away, so being able to get a virtual assistant, the support underneath Christine and Matt is also really important. So being able to say, "Okay, well, you know what, Christine? That's really great. You're doing that. Let's have Christie prepare that management fee review and let's have that spreadsheet done by her and delivered to you and then we can talk about it." And now suddenly, she's not sitting there looking at spreadsheets. She's doing support for my teams, so just really take a hard look.
Anne: Yeah. And again, it's a great time to do that. Some of us have a little more time on our hands because we're a little bit slower paced, right, wrong or indifferent even though we are in essential business. I know people, different states look at essential businesses differently, we still have jobs to do, but there's a lot of jobs that we are pausing right now. There's a lot of things that we aren't doing that are emergency, so it does give us some time to look at how can I strategically take advantage of what we're doing? And one of the things that I've been preaching about to my clients here, one-on-one is the individual owners out there that are self-managing, which is honestly, our biggest opportunity, everybody's like-
Melissa: Really, right?
Anne: Exactly, it's not your it's not the other professional member, it is the people that are self-managing that don't have the tools and resources. They're not going to be able to easily navigate this type of a landscape and so we've been thinking about how can we help our clients come up with innovative marketing plans, techniques, and then have that virtual assistant again underpin and gird that, so that they can be well-positioned when this comes out.
Melissa: That's an area that we'll want to be focused on once we get through this month of April, onboard our newest Evangeline. Is that how he said it, Evangeline?
Anne: That's right. Yeah.
Melissa: So, when we onboard her, then we can actually turn and navigate in the month of May to look at where we can support new business and marketing, so as you develop that, we'd be very interested because that's on our next radar with all this growths and opportunity.
Melissa: Let me just tell you a quick little story, so we had a client meeting this morning. I've had two. One is a realtor who's been a very good friend of mine. His wife's in the Rotary with me and I love her to death, her name is Helen. And Helen and Ted had been managing their own property. Ted is a realtor and sells multi-unit buildings and he always peppers me with questions. Questions, questions, questions, and I'm like, "Okay," and I always answer him out of respect, but he also refers us a lot of business.
Melissa: So yesterday, I got the email, it said, "Hey, Melissa, what do you think about taking over all our properties that we've been self-managing?" I said, "We're going to see." "And we might just do it temporarily for three months." And he told me what he'd pay and I can't say that, but he told me what he would pay. It was a nice fee, but I said, "You know what? I'm not interested." I said, "What I'd be interested in as a minimum six months, because once it's gone from your hands in six months, you're never changing."
Anne: You're never going back. Right. No, you're smart with that.
Melissa: Oh, yeah.
Anne: One of the innovative things that we did, Mark and I did in our business, too, especially that I think is really effective right now is... well, let me back up. Mark and I are investors. That's how we got started in this business in 2001. We bought our own properties, we self-managed. We were one of those self-managed people, but we tend to do things by processes and procedures that we were-
Melissa: I do because you speak our language to help me with my virtual assistants. You speak the property management language.
Anne: Oh, absolutely. So, we started our brokerage in 2005, so I had four years there of really learning the ropes before I ever tried to manage somebody else's. I wanted to make sure we had that that background, but because of that, we have a lot of investor relationships and one of the things that we decided to do, actually a couple of years ago to help enhance our portfolio was to do, financials only. So, some of the people that have bigger complexes or whatever, they still want to be involved in it for a lot of reasons.
Anne: Some of them have pension plans and other income that they need that that real estate professional designation from the IRS, they need to maintain that. And you can't really self-manage or you can't hire it out to your property manager and get your hours and credentials for that. So, by doing a financials only, it allowed them to get a lot of the heavy lifting and the reporting and the chasing and the collections and all of that off their plate while they're still able to do the maintenance or the tenant move in, or whatever else that they liked to do.
Anne: So it's a way for, again, thinking differently, thinking outside of the box. What can you offer that value to a particular marketplace that makes sense? And so I think we're going to find that a lot of the independent landlords are going to need guidance and so one of the things I thought of, just off the top of my head as I've been going through that this week, too, is helping with the eviction process once it's able to be done. I mean, it's not a moneymaker, but again, it's a starting of the relationship. And a lot of times I think sometimes-
Melissa: You're putting out a hand to shake, a hand to help out.
Melissa: Helping them.
Anne: Oh, that's too much liability. It's not if you frame it correctly, right? I mean, you have to make sure you're taking care of yourself and it does have to make some financial sense, but I think as we go into this next phase of business and property management, the property managers that are going to win are those that serve, that are willing to get their hands a little dirty.
Melissa: Yeah. I think, it's focus. Absolutely. That came up a lot about the personal touch and making personal phone calls. So, two other points. One is the second call that I had with a client today was a client that was a managed client, it was a few years and he had a challenging tenant, but before all this happened, he decided to take back his and then managed it himself. Super nice guy, never was upset, everything's fine, just hung up on him. And we were going over a couple of things because his tenants have been known to be paying late and he doesn't like to do anything about it, so now he gets to deal with it. And so afterwards, Christine and I just were on a call with him going through a couple of things and he called back to Christine and he said, "Boy, did I pick the wrong time to self-manage. I might be coming back. Would you take me back?" And Christine said, "Absolutely." He goes, "Well, let me talk to my wife, and we'll get back to you next week."
Melissa: Okay, so that's going to be a very common thing, plus we do a lot of lease onlys. Some people called it replacement. All those people are getting our newsletter and what I'd recommend to the viewers and the property managers today is we did a two-minute clip video to our owners and I was trying to test it out what the best way to do it. We did it through Zoom, but we figured out another thing called QuickTime. We did it through QuickTime, second time and so we use Zoom.
Melissa: Christine helped me. I had the script on and I tried to wing it without a script. I can do this with you because we're friends and we're on the same world, but I've tried it and it didn't work. So Christine developed the script. I read the script, it's about two minutes and six seconds, probably a little bit. Two minutes for the first one is fine. The next one will be a little bit less than crisp and delivered message. And we put it into YouTube, put it in our YouTube channel and delivered it this week to our clients and we are getting such positive response from that video.
Melissa: I fought video. I've never ever sent my clients a video. Guess what? I'm going to be doing a lot more. But I'm already like, "Christine, give me a script. I want to do a video today. I got to get ready for Anne's call, so get me a script. I'm going to do a tenant video."
Anne: Yeah. No, I mean, it's great innovation, right? We have time we have the resources to learn a little bit, get new technology and those types of things. And I just think that the people that are going to come out the other side are those that get themselves out of what they're familiar with. There's an investor friend of ours. I'll just talk about this because it makes me laugh. He is always about creative ideas when it comes to real estate, creative structuring, finance all of that and so he has a T-shirt that he wears that says, "What box?" It's like, "There is no box." So, you're not even thinking outside the box because there is no box. What box are you talking about? And I love that because that's the mentality I think we need to be right now is what box? The world is our apple. That's figure it out.
Melissa: Don't count all the walls, right? Not counting all the walls?
Melissa: We got a new foundation. I'm actually so excited. As hard as difficult as this is for everyone and my heart just breaks and aches and watching a video clip today of the whole San Francisco area with not a human being around, it's tough. But on the other hand, I feel like it's a new lease on life. I think forever that what I'm seeing the change is that the commercial platform forever, the brick and mortar forever has changed. It will not go back to normal because I can have people all over the world and doing the same work that we're doing right now, this is going to forever change how we look at business.
Anne: Well, one of the biggest problems I've had, period, in selling my service is the fact that it can be done virtually, like literally, that's always been that, "What? No, that just can't be done." And I'm like, "It can, whether you're comfortable doing it or not." And so I'm thinking, this is going to really explode my business in a couple of months.
Melissa: I hope you're ready.
Anne: I actually am. I've had a couple of good sales calls in the last day or two. Innovative property managers that are willing to make an investment in their company and see this as an opportunity to restructure or change stuff around or elevate or plant the seeds. There's not a whole lot of selling necessarily going on right now because it's difficult, but you can plant those seeds. I don't think we'll ever be back to business as usual. I call it business as unusual because I think you're right. I think we're totally, completely changed.
Melissa: This is never normal.
Anne: Right. Exactly. We're in property management. No two days are over the same.
Melissa: One other thing that I was going to mention one is even NARPM National, so Gail and the team, the leadership team, they've all jumped in to look at how we're teaching, so the NARPM is forever changed and we're going to be offering more classes through the National Association of Residential Property Managers, which we both are very active with. I'm a past National President and I'm currently is instructor, as you mentioned, you took your first student class, getting your designation with me and you just took your last one. So, things are going to change the way we deliver education even faster and more rapidly than we ever, ever believed.
Anne: Yeah, that's it. It's funny that you say that. So, I submitted my form for my RPM, literally. Well, actually, I didn't. Mark did it because he's being so good to me. He knows I'm so busy, so he actually did it. And I'm waiting on the board approval at this point. So Mark then says to me, "Okay. Well, are you ready to get your MPM?" I'm like, "Well, I just-"
Melissa: Let me breathe. Well, just so people know. RPM is a designation in NARPM. It's a Residential Property Manager, but what's really important and some people go, "Well, the world doesn't know about the designations." I said, "Yeah? But the world of the 5,000 plus, plus, plus of property managers and colleagues and the world of all the vendors like yourself know about it." So I'm going to get a referral, I'm going to lead by example and then the first thing I do is look for someone with a designation. In order to give a referral out, I go down the list, I go to the area and either I pop up the list. If I don't know anybody, but I know a lot of the people in NARPM.
Anne: You do?
Melissa: But I don't know all of them. So, if I was going to Atlanta, I'd go to Atlanta and then I'd go down the list to see, who has designations and those are the top people that come to the cream rises to the top, those are the people I choose to give my referrals to and we all get a lot of referrals. That means they take it seriously and they've been through training like you and I have.
Anne: And I think it's so important that we continue to invest in our education and learn. Again, we've not had a total shift, right? We were prepared for that because we have virtual staff. We've been working virtually for years. Our in-house staff, it was a little bit more challenging, but again, we had the tools and foundation to make that easier. And so the same thing goes through, again, NARPM as an institution, like you said, they're always looking to be better.
Anne: I sit on the National Vendor Council and I love those meetings because it talks about how we as vendors support the organization and we bring ideas and I love the fact that we're heard versus some other organizations where we're literally off in a corner and they want our money and that's it, so we're big NARPM fans for sure.
Melissa: Well, and I think the leadership, so this past Tuesday morning, and Gail was with past President Andrea Caldwell out of San Jose, his idea was 3to bring all the past national presidents together and support Kelly, who's our current National President of Washington State and the president elect happened to be on the call. They were doing their call through Zoom. And all of a sudden, can you imagine Kelly's face? It was a surprise.
Melissa: Literally to have almost every single past national president present to support her and she was choked up. Well, I get choked up just thinking about it. That's camaraderie.
Anne: Well, that's hard for her.
Anne: I mean, this is unprecedented, right? We've had to cancel broker owner, all of that stuff.
Melissa: And I was the national president when 9/11 hit.
Anne: Oh, no. I did not know that. Wow.
Melissa: Yeah. So, it was the week before convention, the week before. I mean, I was supposed to get on a plane in a couple of days. So we were going to Kansas City and literally within minutes, after we all settled and caught our breath out, not a minute, so maybe a day and we were all stunned. But I pulled together as the President of NARPM, all the board. We had 14 Board of Directors at that time, only one wasn't able to get on the call, 13 of us got on the call, and only one of those 13 wanted to cancel it all together.
Melissa: We agreed to postpone. We moved the convention to end of November. It was a tough time, but we moved it to the end of November. We didn't have a clause in our contract at that time to let us out because of that and a lot of people didn't have it.
Melissa: So we were obligated, but we came together and during that time, from the time that we changed the meeting, to the time that we arrived, the emotions were high, but we lost our fourth National President Rocky Maxwell to cancer, so I got hit with two. We opened our conventions a little early with a memorial service and I had my head on the table in tears. I mean, he was like a mentor. He was one of the strongest mentors in my life in the property management associates in the world of property management.
Melissa: So, we had a lot of much, but we came together as a group, which we're doing right now. We're coming together as a group to share. I always tell you that I have some good EODs to share samples of, I have really good job descriptions as you do, and I always am looking for you to give me more information on what you're using VAs for. The virtual system can do so much, but I'm always willing to share with your clients and my colleagues and I do.
Anne: Yeah and I always appreciate that about you. You're so supportive. In closing, share with everybody a little bit about where you see the future going. This is the beginning of this, right? Well, I think we have a little bit longer to go unfortunately. I wish I could say it will be over tomorrow, but I think we've got a lot more time. Share with everybody a little bit about the future of property management as you see it today and what hope can you give people to hold the faith?
Melissa: Thank you. Well, if I had that little crystal ball.
Melissa: And I could predict I would say, this is probably one of the bigger opportunities I've ever seen in my career. I think that the world has changed, but I think the way we do business has changed. And I see it as I'm now going to be able to support my staff even more because they're going to be bought into virtual systems more than they've ever been before.
Melissa: Come on, my bookkeeping, if I had done this a year ago, even a month ago or let's say, because we already planned to do it as the first of the year, but if I had done this before we were in this state, they would have given me resistance and the smiles on their face. I wasn't quite sure how to do it from the accounting standpoint and now I'm sorry that I didn't do it sooner. So, I think that is one piece. I think the way that that I see business today has changed in the light of opportunity and thinking like, "How am I going to get through the storm? How much savings do I have? Can I do it?" And I'm a believer. And I think that attitude, that positivity will absolutely navigate for positive change moving forward.
Melissa: I think we're going to lose some clients, let's just say that. They're going to move back into the home, but I've already seen the flow in a short period of time of people coming to us. My son was getting four and five calls a day and he's like, "I can't come out to your house, but let's talk on the phone. Let's do a virtual call." And he's still getting inquiries for new business, so we've got to be ramped up and ready.
Anne: Yeah, I think so, too. And like I said, for me, I think it's going to be about business as unusual. What box? How can I serve? What are the needs of the people out there? What are they? They don't know about the eviction process. They don't know what they can and can't charge. They don't know what the 120 Federal ban is and what it means to them. And so I think those of us, you and I are both educators, we love to teach, we love to serve, and I think that that helps us because we're able to see needs in a marketplace where maybe some others aren't.
Anne: So for those of you that are listening, pay attention to what you're hearing. Listen to what the inquiries are in your business. Tenants are a little crazy right now, too, because they can't find places. How can you serve them to find person? So, one of the things we're doing and we've done this for years, but now it really comes to being super important is we do Matterport Chartres where literally they can walk through the whole house and it gives the floor plan and everything like that. And I innovated that when Mark and I were introduced to that, probably three years ago and I have my own Matterport channel, but I always pay a photographer to go because I don't have the staff and time to do it myself.
Melissa: Hire a professional photographer like I do.
Anne: I don't have a professional photographer.
Melissa: I have a professional photographer.
Anne: I'm not that good. We all know our strengths, but I can pay them to do it and then load it up in my system where I own the intellectual property, so I can use it year after year after year, so I can do it once and then as long as I manage the house, is still good. Yeah, the paint may be changed a little bit here or there, but the structure of the house, the floorplan, the size, all that's done. And so we're finding that that has really helped us in today's market. So, think about other things like that, that you can innovate and change what you're doing.
Melissa: And I want to end with three tips and a secret.
Anne: Do it, let's go.
Melissa: So, three tips and a secret. The first one is for everybody to write down their stop, start and continue.
Anne: Love that.
Melissa: Make a list of what they can stop doing and what the virtual assistant can help them with. The second one is, what I said earlier, which is to look at what would happen if you no longer could do the business as the president, CEO or the managing broker or any of your management. What would happen if that person or myself as a president and CEO could no longer do the business the way I could, something happen to my health, knock on wood, or maybe I don't want to. Okay, so that's two. The third one would be to look forward in the future positively on the way that you're going to grow your business and be ready for it as we come out through the other side. Be positive, think positive, come up with some new marketing ideas and gear it up right now to be ready when we turn this corner to take on clients and not turn them away, but you can serve them by being ready. Now the secret.
Anne: All right.
Melissa: The secret is, I love to travel, I speak and teach and I always support my staff. I check my email every day, I respond to my teams, so that I can be a NARPM instructor. My husband lives on the East Coast, I can go visit him, and I travel a lot for fun. And today I'm coming from you from Cuoco, the big island of Hawaii, where I'm sheltered in place and able to run my business through my virtual assistants and my awesome Prandi team just like I was sitting at my desk,
Anne: And you are amazing at what you do and for anybody-
Melissa: That's not far from real, by the way.
Anne: I know. It's great. If somebody wanted to reach out to you, Melissa, what would be the best fit for them to connect with you?
Melissa: So the start would be to email me and I like to talk to people personally on the phone. So email is best, it's Melissa, M-E-L-I-S-S-A @prandi, P-R-A-N-D-I, prop, P-R-O-P, email@example.com and just know that I love to share and I appreciate you, Anne and Mark and just making me change the way I look at how I can do business today. I really think, I'm excited to have some new things and Evangeline to start.
Anne: Well, we are very thankful to have you as an early adopter to our business and certainly like I said as a client and a friend and I encourage you guys to think about again what Melissa has shared with you today, think about how to do business differently. What box? There is no box, so think about that.
Anne: And certainly if I can help in any way, my name is Anne Lackey and I'm at hiresmartvas.com, so it's firstname.lastname@example.org. And you can always set an appointment by going /appointment and my online calendar is there and I encourage you to use it, even if you're not necessarily ready for VA.
Anne: If you just started having a business problem and you're thinking about staff, we solve those problems in a wide variety of ways and sometimes my solution is if we're not a good fit for you, I have one of those to speak to that they're just not ready for us right now, and I get it, but I hopefully left them a little bit better off than before they met me. That's one of our core values that we have at HireSmart is to always give a little bit extra. And so anyway, feel free to reach out to me as well. Thank you again, Melissa, for your time.
Melissa: You have these amazing books as tools, so don't forget your resources because that helped me understand some better things. It's a very quick, easy read, so don't forget that. That's something that you offer that a lot of people don't.
Anne: Well, thank you for that. Yes, if you want my streamline your property management business, I'm certainly happy to give those as well. You can again, email me and say, "Give me the book," and I'll be happy to do that.
Anne: We're actually working with on our fourth book, as you know. It was going to debut in Hawaii and unfortunately, because of some of the things that have happened, we're still in the process of putting that out, but we will have our newest book. I think we called it... I don't remember. It's a policy and procedures kind of manual to help businesses think about how to right size and how to innovate their processes. And so some of the things that have happened here recently have come into that, but you were kind enough to do the foreword for that and we are super excited to get that launched here in the next couple of weeks, so that will be something as well.
Anne: Again, everybody, thank you so much. Melissa, you are a treat and I do appreciate you very much for being here and helping our followers.
Melissa: Be well. Be healthy.
Join us as we talk with Kent Grothe of PMI Northeast as he shared about managing HOAs in Atlanta and how he transitioned from Corporate to Business Owner. We talk about how he used HireSmart Virtual Employees to expand his reach and gain more customers and how he also has improved customer service too!
Want to know how to start with your virtual staff member too? Feel free to book an appointment with today so I can definitely help you all throughout the process!
Anne Lackey: Welcome. My name is Anne Lackey. I'm so excited to be talking with you guys today. And I want to introduce you to Kent Grothe, he is an owner and broker of PMI Northeast Atlanta. So some of you guys might not know, but there isn't a couple of franchises in the U.S. for property management. And of course, that just helps you get to your systems quicker and things like that. So he came into the property management business in 2016 after he left Corporate America. We'll certainly get into that. I want to find out more about that. And I guess he was traveling a lot and wanted some more quality of time with his family.
And of course, after three years, the company has grown and his wife and he has decided just to kind of open up their own business and have grown here in Atlanta. They're actually in my backyard, which is kind of fun. I get to see him on a regular basis. He's going to talk a little bit about being a part of a franchise. We don't have too many spotlights yet on our franchisees. So I've kind of really interested to know a little bit more about that. And certainly excited to find out more because he does a lot with HOA. So Kent, welcome to the program. Thank you so much for being here.
Kent Grothe: Thanks for having me and I appreciate it.
Anne Lackey: Oh, it's my pleasure. So we've been doing this for a couple of years now, I think, right?
Kent Grothe: We have. Yeah.
Anne Lackey: That is always exciting to me when I get to talk with veterans about how... Everybody's kind of bright and shiny the first year, but this really becomes a game changer. Year two, three, four. And one of the questions we have a lot of times is, what's the turnover rate? And when I tell people the turnover rate is usually very, very low, people don't believe me. So kind of share with us a little bit about your... First of all, your corporate experience, why you went into property management? Why you selected to buy a franchise? And then we'll kind of get into using staff. So start us off with a little bit of history, please.
Kent Grothe: Okay. So we started this... Actually about 2015 is when I really started looking into it, 2016 is when we got rolling. I had a very successful corporate career. I was a Vice President of a Fortune 500 company. A great job by a lot of measures except that I traveled quite a bit. And with a family that gets to be a bit difficult. And as my kids were getting older, my son was about to go into middle school, that's when it just hit me. I don't want to do this anymore.
So I told my wife, "I want to try something else. I want to find something different." And I actually didn't start off looking for a business. I started looking for one of those kind of jobs I had that didn't involve travel. They're kind of like a unicorn, they don't exist. So I just happened to run into a guy along the way that helps broker deals for franchises.
And I looked at several of them and thought, "I've been making money for a lot of other people for a long time. Maybe I should do this for myself." And that's how we got into this. So property manager was a natural fit. I had an operations background, that's what I've done my whole career. My wife, who's in the business with me, also has an accounting background.
Anne Lackey: Okay.
Kent Grothe: So a great foot as well, right? So that's how we got into it. We picked a franchise because I didn't have a property management background, so I needed something to give me some legitimacy in the beginning. I needed a brand. I didn't have a brand, I was just a guy. And so PMI gave me a large national brand to go out and sell with. Now it's transitioned over the years and now I sell us, PMI Northeast Atlanta, versus PMI the franchise, a lot more heavily because we have something to sell. We've got experience. We've got a local brand. So that's kind of how we got into the whole thing. I just wanted to quit traveling.
Anne Lackey: I believe you. I talked to my stepson all the time who's kind of on that same track that you're on. Traveling and he just had his second child. And it does, it wears on you because his kids are young too, and six months.
Kent Grothe: Yeah.
Anne Lackey: So when you're gone three out of five days and trying to manage that, it can definitely wear on you. And I do think when your kids get older, they miss you more.
Kent Grothe: Yeah.
Anne Lackey: You miss part of their growth. So I love the fact that you dedicated this to your family. So now, unlike maybe some of the other property management companies that focus on single-family residential homes, you have a little bit different focus in your business primarily. Tell us a little bit about why you chose that and what it is.
Kent Grothe: Okay. So we have... I don't know that we chose it, I think it chose us. But we... PMI offers you the opportunity to get into four different types of a property manager, right? So residential, association or HOA, commercial and vacation. And so I started off looking at association and residential because there's so much of both around us. And I think my corporate background is probably what helps me in those HOA meetings with those boards. Because I have a business background and operations background, my wife's got an accounting background. We're bringing a lot of the things they're looking for. A lot of these folks on HOA boards are business people, right? And so they... Those conversations sort of resonate a little better.
So we just naturally ended up in that space far more heavily. We do residential but very, very small, 34 homes. So a tiny residential business and a growing good size HOA business. So that's kind of... It did its... We didn't really pick it on purpose. Nowadays we are actually because we found that to be our strength, we are focusing in that direction.
Anne Lackey: Sure.
Kent Grothe: Yeah, and that's what our VA mostly does is our HOA business.
Anne Lackey: Okay. So let's transition it over to her. So she's been with you a little over two years now.
Kent Grothe: Yeah.
Anne Lackey: So what was that like? Kind of think back to two years ago when you were thinking about, "Gosh, what do I do? How do I grow?" What were some of your thought processes that you went through before you decided to hire virtually?
Kent Grothe: So the... You know as you grow, especially in HOA business, you have a lot more customers early on, right? Because every HOA you're picking up 50, 100, 200. The phone starts ringing and that gets to be... If you want to do well, you've got to provide good service. And that means you've got to answer that phone. You've got to return those phone calls. It got to be that time was just, it was a killer. We got big enough that there wasn't... There really weren't enough hours of the day to get everything done anymore.
And I was at... I remember, I don't know if you remember this one, but we met in Savannah at a conference, right? And sure enough, you told me, "Well, you're not going to do this right now. You're going to go home and you're not going to do it." You said. "Three months, six months down the road, you'll finally do it. And then after you get started, you're going to tell me, Anne, I should have done this a long time ago."
And you were right. That's exactly what I did. I didn't do it. I waited too long. I should have pulled the trigger way before I did and I definitely waited too long to do it. For us, it was a game changer. We'd hit the point where I could not grow anymore because I have to sleep at some point and the business was getting that busy. But it wasn't big enough that I could really justify a full boots on the ground fully loaded employee cost at Atlanta rates. It just wasn't there. This was the solution. And Carla has been with me a little over two years. She is awesome. I hope she's with me another 15.
Anne Lackey: She really loves working for you. I actually just talked to her not that long ago. So I love the fact when I can bring those matches together and provide a great career for the virtual professional as well as give relief to the business owner. It's so funny, you mentioned the story of our conversation. The conversation is the same conversation I had with myself when I look back five years ago. Gosh, it's hard to believe I've been doing this now for five years. I always say my biggest mistake was waiting too long to hire my first and my second biggest mistake was waiting too long to hire my second because... Out of fear.
And really when you break it down psychologically and financially you're like, well this is silly. Like it's so cost effective. I can actually have three VA's for the cost of one person and their productivity is so much higher than what I was getting. Now again, there may be better managers than me, I don't know. But I wasn't getting that type of productivity out of my in-house staff. And so it truly was a game changer for me. And so I loved the fact that my clients also feel that it really helped them in their journey and in their business.
So one of the questions that always comes up is, "Well that sounds great Anne, but realistically, what can they do?" So now that she's... Carla's been working for you for a couple of years, tell us what she does for you.
Kent Grothe: Anything you can do with a computer and a phone.
Anne Lackey: I say that too.
Kent Grothe: That's literally the answer. I mean it's anything you can teach them to do with a computer and a phone. So they're not physically here. So there's things they can't do. There are things you won't have them do in terms of maintain the separation of duties within your business. So they're not going to cut checks. Of course they're not here anyway, but even if they were. So there's things you're going to do that you wouldn't do in any normal business. But otherwise, the best and most important thing to do when you first bring on your VA is pick up that phone. That's the difference. Most property managers don't. If you've ever called another property manager, you figured out what they're mostly like. They don't answer the phone, they rarely ever call you back.
So that is, if you want a game-changer from service, first thing you do is you get a decent phone system that they can pick up for you. Answer live during the day. People don't expect it. They're blown away. Then you'd give them access to your system so they can get in and answer questions.
And so most of our HOA calls, I never hear about, I don't see them. She resolves that first call, done. So someone calls up, they don't expect an answer, they got one. They don't expect somebody to be nice. They got that. And they don't expect to be helped. And they got that. They get off the phone and they're just like, "What happened? I can't believe this."
And so she can get in, she enters bills, she helps coordinate maintenance. So if we need, "Hey, get this vendor in touch with this tenant or in touch with whatever. Give them this gate code info for an HOA. Give them the address." She can do all that. Coordinate with vendors for us.
And I'll typically provide some guidance on, "Okay, here's the three I want you to call for that particular account. Call in this order, the first one that can take it, gets it." That kind of thing. Or get me bids. She's just getting me quotes and provides me the information.
She helps me with a lot of data entry. So as we bring on a new association... Still when you bring on a residential, you've got a lot of setup work to do. So you've got to enter a whole bunch of information. In our case, it's all the homeowners and the vendors and all that. But similar to if you're entering a lease or entering a new property. She can do all that kind of data entry for us and help us set up a new association. So really anything, again, that you can do with a computer and a phone. I don't think people get it.
Anne Lackey: They don't.
Kent Grothe: So Carla has... She's a college-educated, professional that works for me. So anything you can teach somebody in the office, you can teach her to do. You have to put time in, you have to take the time to create some instructions, whether they're... And I do a combination of written and video. So I'll often video, just do a screen capture of training or how I'm doing something, often while I'm on the phone with her. So I'll just record while I'm talking to her. And so I'll keep that, so she's got to back up for later. And for the next VA and the next VA. I'm building a library.
And then we also provide some written instruction. You've got to take the time, but you would do that for a local employee. It's no different. So anyway, what can they do? Pretty much everything.
Anne Lackey: I love that. And it's funny, I tell people the same thing too. Like they're just like your employees.
Kent Grothe: Yes.
Anne Lackey: Except with a lower bill rate, no payroll tax. No 1099, none of that. And other than that, you're training them the way that you want them done. You're investing the time. They're following whatever holiday schedule you've got or paid time off that you have. All of that's kind of the same. And the more you treat everybody kind of like the same way, the better results you have. So have those regular one-on-one meetings with them and talk with them and build that relationship with them.
And I think after, again, five years of doing this, I have seen that the clients either fall in one or two categories. The people that really win like yourself, embrace them as employees. Really truly care for them, know about their families, talk to them on a regular basis and they become that valued person. Or they are in the other camp, which I don't think is as successful, where they're just giving them tasks and they're really not investing in their people.
And I think that the clients that do that are really missing out on the real benefit of what this process has to offer.
Anne Lackey: Their VA's are not as engaged with them because they're not engaged with the work, right? You've got to be able to kind of wrap your whole self in this process and the more you invest in them and their training and their professional development. I mean a lot of them... Like I've put my VA's through specific courses because I want them to learn more about a particular topic. And I pay for that for them and I pay for the time. But it benefits me and my business because that's an additional skill set. And they love it. They love the fact that they are growing, that they are expanding their horizons and they rise to the top. And I also think one of the biggest misconceptions that people have is that they aren't smart. And that has never been my case. Share with us kind of your feedback on that.
Kent Grothe: Oh yeah. So again, Carla can learn things so quickly. That's what's really great about her. I can show her once. And unless it's a particularly complex task, that's it. I don't ever... And she'll look up the instructions she has. And I think the thing people miss too is initiative. So they're not just smart. She looks for work to do. So if she gets to a point where it's slow, she'll be going through our to-do list, looking at, "Hey, there's this task, can I do that?"
"Yes, thank you. Please do." Maybe I have to teach her how, but now she's just told me. Here's another skill I can teach her.
Anne Lackey: Sure.
Kent Grothe: So I think beyond just the fact that these are educated, smart people, they've got the initiative to want to work. They don't want to sit around doing nothing. They want to be busy.
Anne Lackey: They do.
Kent Grothe: And that's a big deal. And the other thing that, with the engagement piece you were talking about, that really reminded me of some stuff. I've gotten notes like when people send in their payments and things. I think I may have sent you one.
Anne Lackey: You did.
Kent Grothe: Little handwritten things like, "Oh thanks, Carla. You're awesome." From an HOA owner paying their bill. Who does that?
Anne Lackey: Right.
Kent Grothe: I have people that come in the office and they're like, "Is Carla here today?"
"No, she's working remote today." You know?
Anne Lackey: Yeah.
Kent Grothe: But they come in looking for her because they know her, they call her and they talk to her. She's the voice of PMI. So that engagement piece, if they're going to be on your phone and they're going to be working with your customers and your clients, that's a big deal. They need to be excited and to be happy. They need to know what's going on in the business. So I tell her every time we bring on a new client, that's a big win for us, every HOA is a significant win. So she knows about that. So that engagement piece is important. I get what you're saying, that people that don't do that, they're missing out. Absolutely. Because they become part of your brand.
Anne Lackey: Right, exactly. And it... Probably one of the most interesting things for me too is, like you said, their initiative, like they really want to work. And sometimes when I ask their opinion on something, like, "Well, what do you think? How do you think we should handle this?" I am blown away by the commentary that they bring. Things that I wouldn't have necessarily thought about, but because most of our VA's have been working at big call centers for big companies and big corporations, they're exposed to things that are all about metrics and how to do things faster and processes.
And it's just been surprising to me that some of my best ideas aren't from me. They're from my staff as we talk about a particular issue or item. And so I love the fact that you also engage with Carla in that as well. Looking back, what was kind of the hardest thing? So we talked about all the good stuff. Let's talk about-
Kent Grothe: Right.
Anne Lackey: ... Maybe what was a little bit of a challenge or what was something that you could help somebody realize or help them overcome? And how did you overcome whatever that was?
Kent Grothe: So I think one thing you get... I talked to a lot of our franchisees who are... They're small, they're growing, they're kind of that point where I was, where they're getting overloaded. And they always struggle with the cost piece. Like, "Ah, but that's X dollars a month. X dollars. X dollars."
I go, "Okay." So I always rock them through a little different way. "X dollars. That's fine. But let's look at on a daily basis. So take their hourly rate depending on whether you take this plan or that plan. Take the hourly rate, figure it out on an eight hour day. Okay. How many dollars is that?"
It's not very many. I say, "Okay. What's your time worth? So how many hours or minutes of your time does it take to pay one day's pay for that virtual professional to work for you? In my case, it's about 40 minutes."
She does about 40 minutes of my work. Whether it takes me off the phone. I am already happy. So they get hung up on the cost and they get hung up on, "I don't have 40 hours worth of extra work." You don't need 40 hours' worth of extra work. You just need a few hours in your day. You'll come up with 40 hours, don't worry, you'll come up the work once you figure out what they can do." Because they think they're just a phone machine. They don't really quite get it yet.
So I have to coach a lot of folks through that initial hurdle of don't obsess over 40 hours worth of tasks to manage, don't obsess over the cost. When you break it down and really look at it, the value it brings to your business by freeing you up to work on your business instead of doing... Answering the phone or whatever you're doing. It's huge. I mean it's just a no brainer when you can take the emotion out and really logically walk through it, you're just like, "Oh my gosh, why have I not?" That's what happened to me when I really looked at it. Like, "Why have I not done this yet? That was dumb."
Anne Lackey: And like I said, me too. The first one... Because I was worried about the same thing. Like do I have 40 hours worth of work? And finally I decided it was so painful for me that even if they were only busy 20 hours, I didn't care.
Kent Grothe: Absolutely, yeah.
Anne Lackey: And it was double the price. So basically I'm only getting... It's going to be double the price. I honestly didn't care because those were things that I didn't want to do and it was taking up my headspace and it was keeping me from doing what I really needed and wanted to do. Like you said, working on the business. So I love that.
The other thing that people go, "Well you got a recruiting and certification fee." So we get that quite a bit because you got other people that have call centers and you can pay as you go. Totally get that. But if you look at what you get from-
Kent Grothe: Yeah.
Anne Lackey: I mean I'm a trained recruiter, like if I was getting paid normal corporate dollars for these VA's, it would be so much more money. But our process works. There's a reason we have a 97.2% success rate in my placements. And people don't realize that the costs of you putting out resumes and screening and then hoping you get a good person and you don't have access to the same testing that we do. You don't have an access... And you don't know what you don't know. I mean, all of this stuff just kind of really blows my mind.
But our process is such that when I engage with a client, I get to know their needs. And I've done it so often, I know exactly kind of what personality profile they need for which position.
Kent Grothe: Right.
Anne Lackey: And then we do the criminal background check. That's probably been the most... Not every country can you do that. And I don't think people realize that. They think, "Well, I'll just hire." Well we're dealing with people's personal data. For me personally as a broker, I wanted to make sure that I've done everything that I can to keep it safe. Like I mean, again, you can... Stuff happens, we all understand that. But to the best of my ability, I want to make sure my client's data is as safe and secure as possible. So the criminal background check alone is worth the price of admission.
And then when I work with each placement, and I do, I mean I have a team that helps, but I personally know every VA that goes through our training program. I look at their work, I personally test their communication. So everybody that comes through our process, I've had a hand in there to make sure that they're good. And I think that that's the next piece. Like you're not getting just a room full of VA's and "Oh here's the next one. And yeah, they've been working with me part-time doing stuff. But here, they'll work for you."
I mean it's kind of a custom shoe versus a buy off the shelf. Like I customize my placements for my clients. And to me, the value in that is worth the price of admission too. And of course since you did it two years ago, we've even gotten even exponentially better and I was pretty good back then. Now I've got data to actually support my theory. So back then I was dealing with kind of some contextual theories and testing some stuff out. And now we've gone to an empirical testing where we are doing... We're using a Fortune 500 level type testing software that I've adapted for the. So I spent the last year and a half really kind of digging into the data. Because I like things that are duplicatable, repeatable and processes that work. And so whenever there's a failure, I kind of unpack all of that.
So I love the fact that you're helping other business owners understand the value of all that. And not only that, just their time. Because again, there's so much head space that we waste thinking about something that's relatively simple that if we had somebody else handle, it would allow us just to do so much more in our business and grow. But I think a lot of times, and I'm guilty of this too, we like to be busy and not necessarily productive.
Kent Grothe: Right.
Anne Lackey: And so I have to kind of catch myself in my own world and go, "Okay, am I doing busy work? Or am I doing something that actually is helping move the business forward?" So you're smarter than most of us, myself included in that. So fast forward another year from now, what is your... What does your business look like? What do you... What's your staff look like? Kind of share with us a little bit about what your vision is as you progress in the next year for growth.
Kent Grothe: So I would say in the next year... We're about to put the second boots on the ground job here. We've actually got a posting out. I anticipate if things go the rate they're going, we'll put one more on next year and probably a second virtual staff member sometime mid to late year, depends on how things go and how loaded Carla gets. And so I've talked to her regularly because I know she's going to hesitate to tell me. But I keep telling her, you got to let me know when you get too... Because you can't see them. So you can't see just how really busy they are. There's only so much oversight. So you've got to engage with them and make sure they understand, "It's okay. If you're too busy, you need to tell me. Because if you get loaded up too much then that affects the business. We can't grow." And so she gets it, she just is a people pleaser, that's her personality. So I keep in mind... Let me know.
Anne Lackey: One of the things we do to help that is, we are actually, every 90 days, reviewing that with every VA. So Daphne, who our client relationship manager-
Kent Grothe: Yeah, I know Daphne.
Anne Lackey: ... That I brought on board about 90 days ago, has really kind of embraced that role and has made it a point to have those regular scheduled meetings. Just to check in, make sure that there's nothing... Because they'll talk to her where they won't talk to me or you.
Kent Grothe: Right.
Anne Lackey: They're just... Not that they're afraid, but they just... They're not as open.
Kent Grothe: Yeah, we're the authority figures.
Anne Lackey: Right. But she can get the dirt. So I love that about her because she's very friendly and very nice and certainly I think that that's, again, another benefit that we help our clients. Because you don't really want people to be so busy that they burn out. That's-
Kent Grothe: Right.
Anne Lackey: And the VA's, from the scale of workability, tend to go more on that realm. Like they'll overwork themselves and then are lazy and don't work. Like you said, Carla likes to be busy, right?
Kent Grothe: She does.
Anne Lackey: So that's important. You know this... We're currently in the fall... Some of you may be watching this a little bit later. So in the fall as we go into the holidays, it's always, at least in my business, is a little bit lighter. And so one of the things that we're doing also is saying, "Now's a great time to catch up on those kind of projects that haven't been done." Insurance audits, making sure that vendors have all of the credentials that they need. All of those types of things that, again, we know we need to do but we just really haven't done yet because life kind of gets in the way. So are there any other types of projects like that that you have on your list for Carla to do that might be helpful to some of our listeners?
Kent Grothe: Sure. So the residential property managers are not going to love this, but we do leasing and management as part of our HOA business. So we provide some oversight for all the leased houses. And do we have a current lease? Do we know the current tenant contact info? Have they paid their leasing fee? Et cetera. And that is... That takes time. It's a bit tedious. But this is a good time of year to do it. Because the pools are all shut down, because in the summer we're dealing with pools, right?
Anne Lackey: Yes.
Kent Grothe: And it gets crazy busy for us with all that stuff. So now that's all behind us, and the landscaping, everything's settling down. We can get into those kinds of projects. On the residential side, of course, yeah it's the, let's make sure all that residential insurance, the renter's insurance is up to date. Check through all our vendors and make sure that the vendors aren't missing any COI's. Those kinds of things. So that's... It's a lot of that catch up stuff you can do in the off season. Same as you. Just different because it's a different from my business.
Anne Lackey: Sure, sure. Well and it goes through... This is always a chance for us to source out new vendors too. I want to have vendors on board and vetted before we get really busy in the spring. So we'll have... We'll try them on some jobs now, get them... Kind of test their waters so that when we get super busy in the spring, we know we've got a line of defense that is strong enough. So that's... Researching vendors is another big key for us. And very, very helpful as we, again, gear up for spring. Well Kent, what was one piece of advice or aha moment that you'd like to share with our listeners about using virtual staff?
Kent Grothe: Getting over that initial hump, that pay thing, people get hung up on that. They really need to stop and just think logically about what's your time worth? Because what you're buying in the beginning is you're buying your time back. Whether that's to grow your business, to spend time with your family, just to get some sleep. And all of us get to that point as you're growing a business, it's lonely at the top and you're where it all stops when you're the owner. And so you're going to get that busy and don't wait too long.
The other thing is having a fully trained staff member like Carla that when she's answering the phone, and can handle those questions for people, has really... I mean we have great online reviews. We have very happy customers or clients. And I just never really put that together in the beginning how big an impact. I was doing it to get my time back. But training her right has really made a huge impact on just how our business is perceived. And in HOA management, we're the bad guys. We're always the bad guys, but not everybody hates us. That's pretty good in the HOA world.
Anne Lackey: That is good. Because I don't know that we like you very much either as residential property managers.
Kent Grothe: Yeah, I know you don't. That's fine.
Anne Lackey: All those crazy things. So yeah, no, I get it.
Kent Grothe: Yeah. So I think that was the thing. Just the impact of having someone like that on the phone. And she is, I mean my VA, is a rock star. She is so great with customers. You just can't beat Carla. So I think I got your best one. So sorry everybody else.
Anne Lackey: I have all my clients feel that way. And a lot of them do so that... And they're perfect for them. That's what I say.
Kent Grothe: Yes, exactly.
Anne Lackey: Like your person is perfect for you. They wouldn't be necessarily well suited for somebody else. And I think, again, that comes down to my secret sauce of being able to find those right things. I think the good news about our processes, of course, I'll give you three. Anyone of those are talented enough to do the work. You can pick the one you like.
Kent Grothe: Exactly.
Anne Lackey: Does it get any simpler? Pick the one you like. And they're like, "Well, I don't know."
I'm like, "Well, they're all good. So pick the one you like." Well Kent, thank you so much. For those of you that are looking for HOA services in Atlanta, I encourage you to get in touch with Kent and his information is to follow right after this message. So thanks so much and have a great rest of your day.
Kent Grothe: Thanks Anne. I enjoyed it.
In this episode of Company Spotlight, we're so excited to feature Olimpia Gire of Noble Real Estate Services' as she talks about her strategy on scaling a Property Management business and how she was able to utilize our virtual employee service effectively for her business growth.
If you are looking to grow your business and want to avoid the chaos of a wrong hire, I'm always here to help! Feel free to book an appointment with me today so I can help you strategize all throughout the process!
Anne Lackey: Welcome to the show. My name is Anne Lackey, I'm the co-founder of HireSmartVAs and today I have a great treat for you. I have Olympia Guyer, she is the broker/owner of Noble Real Estate Services and she and her husband Jason have been together and doing real estate since 2008 in property management. Now they both have had tons of other real estate experience before that. They currently manage over 700 properties in the Chula Vista or South Bay area. And one of the things that I love about Olympia specifically is she is a first-generation U.S. citizen, so she brings a different perspective to property management. She was born at Mercy hospital and raised in Chula Vista. So she's a true native to that area and so she knows everything that there needs to know because she graduated from Buena Vista High School and went to Southwestern College. She earned her degree in Business Administration. So Olympia, welcome to the show, we're so happy to have you.
Olympia Guyer: Hi.
Anne Lackey: So I met you, I guess it's been about a year ago now at one of the property management conferences.
Olympia Guyer: Yes.
Anne Lackey: And I know you had 1000 questions, I remember you very well. I remember those first conversations because Olympia would come to talk to me for a little bit and then she would go away and then she'd think about something and she'd come back and she goes, "Okay, I have some more questions." And so that's kind of how you process information but eventually, you decided that this might be something for you that you could do. So share with our listeners a little bit about kind of your thought process and how you went from being very nervous and scared to pulling the trigger and hiring your first VA, which you've had probably about almost a full year now, I think with her. So tell everybody kind of how you got over that initial inertia of "Oh my gosh, this is scary."
Olympia Guyer: Yes, it was very scary but I had actually met your husband at a previous seminar.
Anne Lackey: Oh, okay.
Olympia Guyer: I think at the NARPM conference and two companies were next to each other. And so I would go to him and I'd go to the other one, "Well, why are you this way? Why are you this way?" And then Neil, right? Your husband he's...
Anne Lackey: Well Mark's my husband, Neil's my business partner.
Olympia Guyer: Oh, okay. So what's your husband's name?
Anne Lackey: Mark.
Olympia Guyer: Mark. Mark was very soft-spoken and I thought... so I didn't sign up, but it was like, "Okay, we didn't renew it." So then when I met you and I love the  that you are. And I said, "Okay, well I think this lady's for real." Because I talked to a lot of people. You were probably like the fourth company that I interviewed and I'm getting older and very weary and fearful, and I'm not as trusting as I used to be when I was younger. So when I met you, you're like a fireball to me and I thought, "Okay, well I think she's on the right path." And so I signed up. I signed up right there once I met you.
Anne Lackey: Wow. Well thank you, I appreciate the compliment. Yeah. I always tell people, people either really gravitate to Mark or they gravitate to me because we are very different in our approach. I mean I think we're both get-driven kind of people, but he is much like you said, softer about that or like, "You just need to do it. There's no better way to do it."
Olympia Guyer: One of the things that you said that made me jump is that I told you I'm very scared and you said, "I was very scared and we did it with no one behind us, I'm going to hold your hand." And I was like, "Oh you are? Is that okay?" Then I felt like I could trust you.
Anne Lackey: Did I fulfill that promise for you?
Olympia Guyer: Yes.
Anne Lackey: Okay.
Olympia Guyer: Well, you actually held my hand a little bit more than I wanted to. I appreciate that though because you're very precise.
Anne Lackey: Yeah. So I always want to make sure I deliver on the promises that...
Olympia Guyer: You totally delivered on the promises. Yes, I appreciate that.
Anne Lackey: Because that's something that I think you hit on right away is that certainly there are lots of different opportunities and things that can go great or not great when you're dealing with staff. Because again, we're dealing with human capital, right? And I don't care whether your human capital is a tenant who you've screened really well and they move into a home and they have a car accident and now can't pay, right? I mean it's kind of that same kind of thing where you have a staff member that gets ill, it's kind of the same thing. I really have a lot of parallels between what I do in staffing and what we do in property management because again, we're dealing with human capital, but it's always been really important for me to be able, just whether it be in my property management company or whether it be in HireSmart to be able to say without a doubt that says, "Look, we're not perfect, but I will make it right." I will do everything I can to make sure that our clients are super happy. And I will give you as much information as you want. Like you said, probably a little bit more, but that just, information is power for me and I think the more information you have, whether you use it or not, does it really matter? You at least then can make those decisions. So I'm really very happy that you're a year in at this point and feeling great about the success of what I've done for you, so thank you for that. Kind of share with us a little bit, because this is a question that comes up all the time. What does your virtual assistant do for you? Because that's probably the number one question I get is like well it sounds good but really can they do everything? Are you telling me they can do stuff that they can't do? So tell us a little bit about some of the tasks that you have done with your virtual professional.
Olympia Guyer: We work with ShowMojo and we have another virtual company that's our leasing line that I'm trying to wean out because I did sign up with both of you at the same time and they were more of leasing and you were more the back office. But I'm more comfortable with the way that you work and what we're using now, our virtual lady in the Philippines, she does all of our follow-ups and she does all of our ads.
Olympia Guyer: And I time her and it was very difficult to have those ads done here at the office. And we have three people on staff and everyone, I had a schedule for each one of them, they were supposed to do an hour. I don't know how I could not get a full hour from all three in an eight-hour day. That was 24 hours, not one hour. So now I have the virtual assistant that by the way, I think I did tell you I want to get a new one, another one.
Anne Lackey: No, but I'm happy to help with that.
Olympia Guyer: Yes. Not a new one, but another one. And I'm very happy with the way she follows up because the other company doesn't do a follow-up. So we get a list of people and she calls everybody and pre-qualifies them. She knows our scripts and does the ads.
Anne Lackey: So that's great. So she's actually probably reduced your vacancy then if she's able to do that type of follow-up. Would you say that that was part of the success?
Olympia Guyer: Yes. It's very rare that we have things in standing inventory. We work on three-day turnover, so we're quick. And if something happens, yeah, my husband's on Skype with her and "We're going to do this." So she's very attentive to that and I think she's caught on with our philosophy of getting things occupied quickly. I've seen other companies that wait like 30 days, 45 days for a vacancy. Like if we have five days vacant, it's too much. So she's really helped us in that, yes.
Anne Lackey: Well that's great. I wish I could say I was a five-day occupant, it kind of depends on the time of year. Right now some of mine are lingering a little bit longer than I like. Even though we do the same thing. Like Bonnie gets a viewing, she calls the next day, "Did you see it? Did you ..." Because we do total self showing without ShowMojo or any of the other tools. And so she'll ask, "Are you going to apply? Blah blah blah blah blah." And that really does shorten that time period because they think, "Oh if you're this attentive with showing, aren't you also going to be attentive with my maintenance and are you going to care about all the other things that go on?" Because I think tenants are still a little nervous about that. Is this company going to take care of my requests in a timely manner? How are they going to treat me? Am I a person or am I number? So I know for me it was a huge game-changer. Well, that's awesome. So she does a lot of the pre-listing type stuff and all the follow-up. And I think something else that you said that was very kind of interesting and telltale is that she gets stuff done that you couldn't get anybody in your office to do.
Olympia Guyer: Nobody. I mean it was like pulling hair. It was like, I said so many times, "Okay if you guys don't do the ads, I don't need you." It was just like that's our lifeline. And now it's taken off the stress. We do have a lot of work to do and they still are very busy. We have that time to give the ads and now our virtual assistant works the morning as soon as she clocks in at 8:30 and before lunch and then goes to lunch and then puts ads up again.
Anne Lackey: Yeah. So you've got a nice routine for her as well of time blocking, which is always helpful. I don't care what role you are in a company, if you don't time block and have certain things at certain times you'll be pulled in a thousand different directions, so that's really smart. How has that impacted your company? I mean again, we talked a little bit about shortening the vacancies a little bit more and taking that load off, but what other kinds of surprises have come from hiring virtually versus hiring someone locally?
Olympia Guyer: Well, we did have a fourth person in the office and sometimes my staff says, "We need a fourth person." And I said, "Yeah, she's in the Philippines." So I really like it. I mean payroll has gone down, taxes have gone down. I don't have to worry that she's going to call in sick. Actually, our lady has never called in sick.
Anne Lackey: It's rare, It depends. Sometimes in the high typhoon season, it happens, but to me, it's a lot rarer than it was locally.
Olympia Guyer: But locally, I mean the state makes you give them three days off to be out sick. And so it's an expected part of the game. But she hasn't and it's really nice that she is here when we are out. So like for the holidays, we had her work during our holiday time because we do still have a lot of showings during the holidays. So she kept on going and I always think of the business as a train. So the train didn't slow down, it kept ongoing. And that was a big plus because we couldn't have had that with someone here in the office.
Anne Lackey: Good. Good, good, good. So what advice would you give to someone that's considering hiring a virtual professional? Let's say they were where you are a year ago, what would you tell them?
Olympia Guyer: I would say give them a little bit of work. If you are a skeptic as I am, give them a little bit of work and then see what they will produce and it's scary because you see the people in the office and you see them Facebook, the telephone, a million things. And what would I do is I have my staff upfront, so they kind of babysit each other. They're on Skype when she's on Skype and if there are any questions, they're communicating and all three of my staff are on Skype with her. And so that helps her to come into the office and feel more part of the whole team. But I think giving her small things, at first what I wanted to do was to give her my tech reconciliations because that's what I do. And it was just like, "Oh my God, if I could give this away." But I haven't done that yet, I am still very skeptical of that. You hear so many stories, I tell my husband, Donny and Marie worked since they were three and they're still working because somebody took all their money or Elton John like you'd think that he'd have all this security and his manager took all his money so I hang onto those thoughts so I just give a little bit, a little bit, a little bit. But I've been very happy with the process with our young lady. Sometimes I think things happen because we're human. Like we can't get rid of that and we get into a rut. So sometimes I jump on, "Hey, how are you? What's happening?" And she'll perk up and ... I do a lot of those surprises, maybe not as often, but I think it's really ... one other thing that I saw another property manager, very well-known and he was saying about virtual assistant and he said that his employees in the office said, "Why do you have them?" Like maybe they were feeling a little bit like they were going to have their job taken away and the man said: "They don't call in sick, I don't have to deal with vacations, and whenever I ask anything they say yes right away." And so that made me think too like, "Yeah that's really, that's what happens.' And I don't know if it's part of your training or the part of that we got lucky with our virtual assistant but I think it has a lot with you because of the other companies that I interviewed, they were a little bit laid back and I'm not too much of a laid back person, actually, there's nothing laid back about me. So probably in your interviewing and selecting this person it really worked out for us.
Anne Lackey: Well that is probably the biggest difference. I don't have a room full of VA's that I say, "Here's three, pick which one you like." I mean I actually go in the source, in hand, handpick, interview, do all of that. Do the background check because you talked about security and one of the things that I think is super important is that we do an FBI level background check on all of our staff. And you can't do that in every country. It's very transparent, that's just not doable but that was important to me. And the other thing that I realized when I was going through this myself is that there are over a million workers in the Philippines working for U.S. companies. Well that's huge, right? I mean the Chase, the financials of the world pick the Philippines to have their call center, they're probably pretty smart. Why feel right? Those were all some of the factors that we went through when we were trying to figure out what country to use, because there's several, and some are actually cheaper than the Philippines, but the Philippines had the nicest blend of English-speaking, cultural fit, price point. I mean there's certainly not, again not the cheapest, but their labor rate is very cost-effective. And we could have a huge social impact. Last year we gifted all of our VA's healthcare for them after the five months of service. So that reflects itself in the retention for our clients, right? Because it's a need. It's very expensive for them to get on their own, we actually just got a nice thank you letter literally over the weekend that said, "This has been such a blessing for my family. I wouldn't be able to have had this happen. It was a medical condition that was fixed over the weekend had we not had these resources. So thank you for taking care of us." And again that kind of goes to our core values of always wanting to deliver what we promise, which is we want to pay our people very well, we want them to be engaged and really kind of connect with our clients in a way. So they are really considered employees without the employee implication.
Olympia Guyer: Yeah.
Anne Lackey: Instead of all the other stuff. So what other last piece of advice would you give someone or would you want to tell the world about it and then we'll kind of close out the interview?
Olympia Guyer:Well, one thing that we're working towards is to send her one of our phones and have her work on our database. And we've had a lot of growing pains in the office, I haven't had time for that. But I think if I do that, it will be huge because we do have maintenance and it's interesting that people complain about maintenance and it's a moneymaker for us. So I want people to get maintenance, it's not that I don't want. And interestingly enough, people complain because they don't get maintenance, but it's a moneymaker for us, we're contractors as well. So that's my next step. But I have been truly very happy and right now the holidays and it's been crazy, but I make time because I'm really appreciative of you, of the way you are. And even though you seem like, but you're very sweet. I appreciate that. I really feel comfortable with you, that my stuff is being taken care of and that you're responsible for it.
Anne Lackey: Well, thank you Olimpia. Well listen, if you guys want to have a great property manager in the South Bay area, I certainly would recommend that you reach out to Olympia and her team and her details are going to be at the bottom of this screen as well as on this next slide. So thank you so much for being a part of our family and we do appreciate it.
Olympia Guyer: Thank you, yes.
Another exciting episode! Justin Dean founder of Dean Dewitt Shares Insights on How To Grow a Property Management Business. Since 2005, Justin has navigated volatile real estate markets to come out on top. He will share his journey and experience as well as some best practices.
Just like Justin, you too can enjoy the benefits of improving some areas in your business by hiring a virtual employee! Book an appointment with me today and I’ll be happy to set things up for you!
Anne Lackey: Hi there, I'm Anne Lackey, co-founder of Hire Smart VAs. And today I have a wonderful guest. We have the president of Dean DeWitt, Justin Dean. And what I love about Justin is, first of all, he works in a great location. He's in St. Petersburg, Florida, which is actually one of my favorite places to go. He's been in professional property management. I think he has about a thousand units under management. Is that still right?
Justin Dean: Yeah, that's correct.
Anne Lackey: Okay. And he's been in the business as long as I have, in 2005. So I guess 2005 was a great year to start property management businesses because that's when I did too. He is the president or was the president of NARPM, the National Association of Residential Property Managers in the Tampa Bay chapter from 2017 and 18. And he sits on the council for leasing and property management for the Pinellas Realtor Organization. So what I love about Justin is he loves to embrace things fairly quickly, and when he does, he goes all in.
So that's what I've known after working with him for several years now. So Justin, welcome to the program, we're glad to have you here.
Justin Dean: Thank you.
Anne Lackey: All right. So tell us a little bit about, so you've obviously been in property management for a long time here. You've seen a lot of changes. We both made it through the boom and bust and boom again. So it's always been a lot of fun, at least in my world. And I know in Florida it's even a little bit crazier. But tell us a little bit about your specialty and how you got started in property management.
Justin Dean: Sure. So I think with like a lot of us, maybe we started out in sales. I had my small commercial brokerage. And within that brokerage I was doing a lot of smaller multifamily buildings. And when the market tanks, people weren't buying properties, people definitely weren't buying commercial properties. And I had to figure out what I was going to do. So I had a realtor suggest to me that I manage a house for him. And I said, I don't think I'm interested. And he said, I promise you won't regret it. And so I started out with one home. And I managed it, and I didn't know what I was doing. And I learned a whole lot with that one home, but I had a very patient owner that was a broker out in California that had been a part of management in the past.
And so he helped me along. And so from there, since I wasn't selling anything anymore, I decided to seek out and offer my services to other owners in the area. So again, in 2000, well in 2005 the market was still okay. So we were working with investors some. I guess the market didn't crash until around 2007, 2008 was when it got real bad. But I met with every owner, met with every owner, told them about my services. Back then I was one guy and I told them it was personal care, customized attention, et cetera. And as we grew my pitch grew, my pitch grew to, hey there is power in volume, I can leverage the amount of business I do with our local vendors, et cetera. And so my pitch changed, but I always met with my owners. And one by one we've grown our portfolio to a thousand units.
The way I manage properties is I'm a department style management, so I have different departments that handle different aspects of what needs to be done on every property we manage, I don't have one person assigned to one property, which is somewhat common portfolio management. So I knew I always wanted to do that. My goal growing this big, quite frankly, it's not about money. I could probably make as much money or more with half these properties. Me, the motivation was time. I'm married, I have three daughters and they grow up fast, and so I wanted to have a staff. I wanted to be able to have the option to not show up. Now I work hard and I do show up every day, but if I have something that needs to be done, if I have one of my daughter's school event or something that I do have the option to be there for them. And so that was one of the main motivations to growing that the company to where I'm at today.
Anne Lackey: So what would you say was one of your aha moments or things that you went, wow, this was something I didn't realize that happened or that you learned to along the way in your journey? What was something that you could say that you could give to another property manager about their journey?
Justin Dean: Sure. Well first off I wasted a good, I don't know how long I've been a member of NARPM, but I wasted three to five years of time in not being a member of NARPM. And just, quite frankly, when I first started I had a management fee. That was it. I didn't even know there was a lease fee. I didn't know what I was doing. And so I was trying to figure it out all on my own and I realized that there's thousands of people, friendly people, that are willing to share how they do things successfully. And that if I didn't join NARPM I wouldn't be in business today. I would be working my tail off for a fraction of the money and getting myself in trouble at every turn. So I mean, you probably hear it a lot. I think that most NARPM members sing the praises of NARPM, but there's a reason why, it is hands down the number one thing that I've done to change my business.
Anne Lackey: Sure. Well and I appreciate you saying that because of course a lot of our clients are NARPM members as well. We're an affinity partner and I'm a professional member, an affiliate member, and an affinity member. So I definitely am all on NARPM all the time as well. And I think that that's important. You know, one of the things I find interesting about NARPM versus other organizations that I'm in, is that we will without a doubt help a competitor, like you said, with either their experience or language or fee structure. It doesn't really matter. Even though they're competitors, the reality is we all tend to, most of us anyway, have a tendency to say, there's plenty of business out there. And what resonates with me and my philosophy is not the same as you. And that's okay, we're still good.
Justin Dean: 100%. I am probably talking to a, quote unquote, "competitor" on a weekly basis and we're helping each other out. I couldn't agree with what you said more. That is how it works. And I had been a part of the sales side of real estate, it is not like that at all. It's very secretive. You ask anyone for help and they kind of laugh at you. And I thought that would be my experience with any professional organization based off of my experience with the Florida Association of Realtors and my local realtor association. But it could have been further from the truth with NARPM, so it's been a great experience.
Anne Lackey: Well I appreciate that. So lets transition a little bit about how we got started with each other. Gosh, I want to say it's been two and a half years ago. I think maybe even longer than that. I'm not sure. So what made you decide to hire virtually? Tell us a little bit about that journey.
Justin Dean: Sure. So as we grew I was looking for ways to grow efficiently. And originally I was looking for a solution for a lot of the routine, mundane tasks that were having to be done at the office, scanning paperwork, entering numbers into our system for bills, things like that. And so I met you at one of our conferences, and there was, I would say somewhat of just maybe the start of a buzz as far as virtual assistants. I don't think it was really mainstream with us property managers at the time. And so I wanted to look into it. Obviously we had conversations. I'll tell you, my initial approach was, I just want someone that can, again, take the bills or whatever that come in and just enter them into our system. They don't need to talk to anyone, it's going to be very straight forward. There shouldn't be any questions. And they'll free us up to do some other things that we need to be here. You know, boots on the ground, taking care of things. So that's why I started considering the VA. And it kind of went from there.
Anne Lackey: And so now fast forward, what is that? So to somebody that never talks to a client, how did that evolve?
Justin Dean: Yeah. So the first person in that you helped me hire, and to be clear, I know you did offer different services. I think you still do. But I used Hire Smart VAs to not only help me identify the correct virtual assistant to hire, but also to train them. And I think that's money well spent. They kind of hit the ground running. So the interview process, you brought me multiple candidates. And I got to say, it's never a easy choice. Usually one will stand out a little more. But I always sit there thinking, any one of these people could do the job.
Anne Lackey: That's what I strive for every time.
Justin Dean: And it's, who do I think is going to do the best? Or something like that. And so anyway, with the first VA, Russ, we hired Russ and you trained Russ and he came onboard. And we started giving him those routine tasks. And I will tell you, my memory isn't that great. I don't know exactly from when he was hired, but it wasn't too soon after he was hired that I started asking him to do more and more. And I realized that what you brought to my team was someone that was intelligent, that was hardworking, great ethics, a good communicator, and that I didn't need to limit them. Russ now today, absolutely on a daily basis speaks with owners, speaks with tenants, obviously speaks with staff inside the office. As far as the outside world goes, Russ is another member of my team. He's an employee of mine. He has his own extension, he has his own email. And he operates like anyone else that's working in this building.
Anne Lackey: Yeah, well and that is always what we hope. I mean honestly that is the goal. I actually just took the time to look up. He started in June, 2017. So definitely been there over the two year. And that's probably one of the questions I get a lot is, well what's your turnover rate? I'm like, we don't really have a whole lot of turnover.
Justin Dean: So we're now at one, two, three, six-
Anne Lackey: Seven.
Justin Dean: Seven VAs? One, two, three, four, five, six, seven VAs at this time. And everyone that has started here, day one of employment. Now there's a couple, Anne, again, you do a great job. I think there's one, maybe two that you called me and said, hey, you know what, they're not getting through the training. Glad you made that call. And then we had to go back to interviewing. But obviously you saw that in the beginning and we didn't have a challenge when they were handed over to us. But everyone that started with us is still here today. Again, they're a great team.
Every morning, I treat them like an employee, I can't stress that enough. And I don't know how other people that use virtual assistants, how they utilize them and how they interact with them, but they're absolutely a member of the team. I think they value that. We definitely value that. Every morning there's a quick chat, every morning there's a good morning today, one of our VAs had a birthday. We wish them a happy birthday. Have a little bit of fun and then we all go to work.
And every one of the VAs, they take a lot of pride and ownership in their position. You know, if it's five o'clock and their job's not done, they're going to put in the time to get that job done. So they all work hard. They all appreciate the job. And I'm guessing here, based off of some of the resumes we saw, I think that maybe they were just another cog in the machine. And here they are an individual that has absolute responsibilities and, again, they're treated like everyone else that works directly with my company.
Anne Lackey: So one of the things that we do, just because it's important to me that we have good relationships with our clients, but we also have good relationships with our VAs. We survey the VAs. And I have to tell you, Justin, your VAs absolutely love working for you. And I think the reason that they do is exactly what you said. You treat them like the valued team members that they are, they feel that. They, again, want to take that ownership. And I say this to people all the time, and again, everybody runs their business differently so I don't get a chance to necessarily connect with them like you and I have as far as this. Really, you get the better results when you do that. And like I said, every time I talk to one of your people, they are just thankful that they are with you.
They love your job, they love being there, they love that teamwork. So kudos to you for really creating that environment. I think that is one of the best key to successes that you can do. Because in property management it doesn't matter whether it's turnover in your inventory or your staff or your virtual staff, it's expensive. I mean, even at the rates that we're paying, which are very low, it's still very, very expensive time-wise for your staff to retrain them and to do all that. Whereas, if you can just invest just a little bit into your people, the VAs will stay forever.
Justin Dean: They will. And again, I never worked with a VA from the Philippines before. I get the sense now that I have seven VAs, that their culture there, they want to do a good job, and these are smart people and so on. And quite frankly, geez, if I could fly them over here and have them working in the office-
Anne Lackey: But change them.
Justin Dean: Yeah, yeah, yeah. But they're fantastic. And the only limitation is literally that they're not here. But for the jobs at hand, I have my VAs handling maintenance issues. I have my VAs handling renewals. I have my VAs handling delinquencies. They use Google street view, they look at the photos we have and the ads we have on the property so that they understand, to a certain extent, what the property looks like and all. But I mean, that is the only limitations that they can't drive over to a property. But quite frankly, I got a thousand rentals, I can't tell you the last time I actually got in a car and drove over to one of my properties either. And I've got staff here that does it, but as long as you're set up right, it's not a requirement.
Anne Lackey: Yeah, no, I totally, again, run my property management the same way. A much smaller scale, fortunately for me. So tell me a little bit about, how did your staff embrace, or share with me a little bit about that. You know, when you bring on the first one, I think that's probably the hardest thing, because again, you don't know what you don't know. Is this going to work? How did your staff react to the decision to bring in a virtual worker? And how, again, fast forward then two years from now, how do they feel about it now?
Justin Dean: Well, so again, so the people in the office have come and go, right? Some of my VAs already had been here longer than some of my staff in my office. So for a lot of my employees, this is just how it's been. And so my first VA I think it was more like, hey, they were going to help me on some projects. And it was all like, I'm doing this and it wasn't, I'm changing everything that's happening and the way we run our business. But once I say, and not because I'm the owner of the company, but once I'm like, wow, again Russ was our first hire. Russ, I can't believe how much you can get done and he's hard working, et cetera. I think the rest of my staff is like, why can't I have one?
And so as it is today, they don't all report to me. Most of them report to someone else in the company, but I still check in with them on a daily basis. But there's a team leader, they're a part of the team, it's usually two VAs and a lead property manager that work together. And so they couldn't do their jobs without them. I mean, it would be impossible. The way my company's set up, I've got three property managers for a thousand units. The only way that's possible is with these virtual assistants.
Anne Lackey: Yeah. I'm glad you talked it because I say it all the time, I mean, I have one property manager for 200 doors and then everything else is done. And I can have another capacity if I wanted to, which I don't. I could easily add another 75 doors with little hiccups in my processes in my business. But a lot of people are like, well, I just don't think that that's doable. And I'm like, it is when you've got the right people and the right processes and you've got good documentation.
Justin Dean: You're absolutely right. And Anne, hiring the first VA, obviously there's a bigger learning curve for us and the VA. But ever since after that one, every hire since him is easier and easier because, quite frankly, I talk to them and talk to them about the big picture about my company, Dean & DeWitt Property Management, our core values, our mission, how we do things, how we go about things. And then I turn them over to another VA who's been doing this for a while and say, teach them what you know. And they do a great job doing it. So it gets easier and easier to bring on VAs.
Anne Lackey: Sure. So that actually is an interesting thing. So I've had mixed bags with that. I've had mixed bags with VAs training other Vas.
Justin Dean: Right.
Anne Lackey: And I've had, again, it's probably been about so my general guideline is kind of what you said. You start with them, you spend the time and then you have the other person fill in behind you. But you still drive that training.
Justin Dean: Let me be clear. I maybe said it like it's too simplistic. Like oh, I spend a couple hours with them and then they're off. No, there's absolutely oversight. But that you had talked about turnover and how costly it is and how I was talking to you about how important my time is. To be able to lean on the veteran VAs when I bring on a new VA, it really, really is helpful. They are not responsible for training that new VA, but they are definitely a part of training that new virtual assistant, and I think that really helps us out a whole lot.
Anne Lackey: Absolutely. I've got another client up in the DC area that works on a pod structure. And so they've got a VA that's actually the team lead of a rentals division, and they've got a homeowners association division. So they have two team leads, one for each department. And that's worked out very well too. So again, the department heads, who are obviously the clients, do the initial, just like what you were saying. But then they have these team leads that can anchor them and that way they have a little bit of the safe place to go and ask questions and get that development. So that is another scenario that has worked out really well as I've seen it.
And it's been interesting to me, it's almost been five years since I did this in my property management business. It's so hard. It is like, time just keeps flying on. And it really was one of the absolute best decisions I ever made.
Justin Dean: Oh, sorry.
Anne Lackey: That's okay. In my business, because what it allowed me to do is, I only work two hours a week in my property management business. I mean that's it. And that does include an hour meeting. People are like, really? Like, yeah, really. Because I love Hire Smart, that's where I really love and that's where my attention is in helping people like you find those great raw talent. And you're absolutely right. And I think one of the things that I made the decision early on when I started Hire Smart four and a half years ago, that certification piece, that one week of really working elbow to elbow is the reason that we've had such success.
Because they're soft skills, right? You can't always test that. I mean I have a great testing model and great interviews, but until you actually work with somebody for more than an hour, or two hours, five hours a day, you don't really see how their work ethic is. And while in general, the Filipino work culture is great, you still have some people over there that aren't necessarily as motivated. Right? So interestingly enough, now we have a little bit more competition in what we do. And I do think that is probably the one thing that I do that nobody else does, is really spend that time. And then what we've gotten from the testing scores and stuff has really helped too.
Justin Dean: Anne, I am certain that if you didn't offer that training side of it, that I wouldn't have all the VAs I have today, because I wouldn't have been able to prepare them properly. Because I'm running a company and I'm trying to find time to also get them prepared. It would've been a completely different experience for them and for me. So yeah. And I know you offer both services, but-
Anne Lackey: Actually, no, at this point we do certification only. That's it.
Justin Dean: Good for you, because-
Anne Lackey: Only full service. Because the reality for me is, I can't protect the quality of the people without spending that time with them. I just can't. So we actually stopped doing that probably about the time that you started. That's all that we offer. It's a full service.
Justin Dean: Yeah. Well I never even questioned it after I learned the program. And I mean, I wouldn't have done if I thought it was, again, seven times and I've gone through the program with you each time. It wasn't like, oh, I'm going to learn what Anne does and I'm going to do it myself. Absolutely not. Every single time it's the same process. So there's great value to that.
Anne Lackey: Well thank you. I appreciate that. And I definitely, I've run my numbers and feel very strongly that is the thing that makes us unique and the thing that really helps us with our success rate. And we have a 97.2% success rate after certification. So I think that's pretty strong in and of itself of the way that we work. What advice would you share with someone who's maybe on the fence of, should I do this, should I not? Because believe it or not, while it is much more commonly accepted, there's still a ton of people that are nervous and scared and don't want to move forward. So what would you say?
Justin Dean: Yeah. I mean I guess some of my... First off I thought there was going to be a cultural and language barrier. These VAs, they watch the same TV shows we watch. They know the same lingo, the same slang. There's a slight accent, but it wouldn't be any different from someone that could be working inside my building anyway.
Anne Lackey: Right.
Justin Dean: So by all appearances, or for my tenants to my owners, they don't know the difference. And so that was one thing. It was one reason why I was like, ah, I don't know, how am I going to explain how this person I've hired, this overseas person that no one even knows. And oftentimes people walk in my office and in the last, while I'm here to see one of the... Sometime I'm like, oh, you know what, they work remotely, let me get you in touch with them by phone or via phone or whatever.
So all my staff is trained. And it's just, quite frankly, they work remotely. It's not that they work in the Philippines or overseas or that, they work remotely. That's it. But yeah, so everyone from the outside, everyone thinks they're part of the team. So that was one concern was just, what would people think? Was it going to be obvious? It's not obvious. These RVAs get along great with us, and they can communicate very well. And then I think the other thing was just, what could I trust them to do? And again, we've been talking about this work ethic. And they're intelligent people. And they will figure it out. I mean, they have a solution oriented mentality. Now, like you said, I'm sure not every Filipino has that work ethic and just like every other country.
But you are definitely identifying and bringing to me people that are problem solvers. That they, to a certain extent, may feel bad asking me for help. I'm like, don't worry about it. You know? Feel free to ask for help. They will take the time to try to figure it out on their own and they'd come to me with just, my gosh, I wish every person in my company had that same attitude. And so, yeah, I think that a lot of the not knowing, I've never dealt with this before. Like those were some concerns I had and none of that came true.
Anne Lackey: It's interesting that you say that. So culturally the Filipinos I think overall are very prideful. Like you said, they like to figure stuff out. So part of the training, it goes back to the certification. I have had to rework and rewire them a little bit to say, don't spend more than X number of time trying to figure it out on your own. Like don't go down a rabbit hole five hours from now and still be stuck. Raise yourself up and ask the question. We would much rather you do that, right? Notate the answer and then move on.
But don't make mistake again. That's what's I always tell them, you can ask me any question, there's no question that's off the table. Ask me whatever questions you want. Write down a good note. When you asked me the same question again I'm going to tell you what my response is, which is, we've had this discussion, what did I say? And if I have to ask you the third time, the thing is, you know the answer, go research your notes. And if you asked me a fourth, you're done. We're done. I won't allow that.
Justin Dean: Yeah, they definitely will come and be like, oh I'm sorry boss, I should have known. But it doesn't happen much. And I don't give them a hard time, because again, they do what you said, they research it themselves and then come to me.
Anne Lackey: Yeah. Well Justin, Justin Dean, always kind of get that. Justin, tell everybody a little bit about your specialty in the St. Petersburg area so that in case they are looking for services, they know who to come to.
Justin Dean: Oh sure. So our niche, we have, again, a thousand rentals. We're kind of split with single family homes and condos, but we also manage small apartment buildings that need offsite management. Meaning, it wouldn't make no financial sense to have an onsite manager at these apartment buildings. So we're heavy into our investors, we love our investors. We understand the financials behind investments, what their goals are. And they change depending on each investor. So I think what really separates us is two things is that we understand the investment side of real estate, we understand the numbers. And then the second thing is that we have a robust maintenance department. If you're an investor, I think every owner is very sensitive to repairs and expenses. We had a little conversation about that before we started this interview. And so I have 10 to 15 full-time maintenance technicians at any given time.
We save our owners lots of money by having in-house maintenance, and they love it. We're not having to go to a outside contractor for everything. We still do with a lot of business with outside vendors, but all those little things or make readies or minor repairs we can take care of. We don't have to worry about scheduling with an outside vendor, we handle it all. If there's an issue, and sometimes there is, I can send my guy back out there without arguing with an outside vendor. So I think those are the two big things is that we're very investor friendly and that we do handle a lot of maintenance in-house.
Anne Lackey: Oh, that's great. So Justin's information is going to be at the end of this video, and certainly if you're looking for property management services in the St. Pete area, I would encourage you to use Justin and his team. They're fabulous, including my seven VAs. And you never know which one you're talking to you on the phone. So thank you so much for being here with us, Justin, and have a great rest of your day.
Justin Dean: Thanks Anne.
A very exciting episode! Peter Cook with Annapolis Property Services shares his experience and how he was nervous to get started with virtual staff. We discussed how he overcame that fear and now has embraced all the benefits that using virtual staff offers.
Want to know more about the great benefits of having a Virtual Employee? Book an appointment with me today and I’ll be happy to set things up for you!
ANNE: Hi, my name is Anne Lackey. I'm the co-founder of HireSmart Virtual Employees, and I have the pleasure of introducing and speaking with you, Peter Cook. Peter is the president of Annapolis Property Services. He is originally from Wales, so if you're like me, you've loved to hear him talk because he's got that wonderful accent. He moved to Annapolis in '99, was the general manager of Sunsail Vacations. In 2003, he realized that there was a need for long-term residential property management, and so he founded Annapolis Property Services. Of course, he is a licensed real estate agent. He has a NARPM member, and he is a graduate of Southampton University, and of course, he likes to sail. So welcome to the show, Peter. Thanks so much for being here.
PETER: And thank you so much for having me. It's a pleasure to be with you.
ANNE: Well, I appreciate it. So you and I met about a year ago at a conference, and I remember very distinctly some of our conversations. We had several conversations over those couple of days, and I think you got super excited and nervous, and like, "I'm not sure if this'll work", took you a little bit to move it forward, to get your team on board. What was your initial thought when you got introduced to the concept of virtual assistance for your property management business?
PETER: So I loved the idea, but in full disclosure, I was super nervous. I was nervous that someone was working on the other side of the world. I was nervous about time zones. I was nervous about managing them. I was nervous about errors that may not get caught at the time and can come back, as we all know, can come back to bite you in six months, 12 months. So I was worried about control, probably is the biggest thing, and how you would manage someone on the other side of the world.
ANNE: So how did you get past that to make the leap to say, "Okay, I'll give it a try".
PETER: Truly, it's just the glowing reviews from anyone that you speak to that has a VA that you've hired was, they just said you had to do it. So Joe Haney, he's up in Baltimore. He had one. Everyone I spoke to just said, "You won't regret it". So that was the deciding factor, and obviously having talked with you and thought about it, it seemed to make sense to at least try it.
ANNE: So you just decided, "Okay, I'm going to go for it." How was the process when you first hired? Because again, you knew nothing. You've never done this before. And here we are, we're giving you basically an employee, but not. How was the process from order to hire to delivery? Share with our people, what were some of the bumps in the roads and what are some of the things that went smoother than you thought.
PETER: So smoother than you thought to start with, just the process. You obviously, you drilled us pretty hard on what we wanted from the VA, which was key. We didn't really want someone who answers the phone. We wanted a strong admin that had real good attention to detail and would just do all of our utility bills and all the stuff that no one liked to do here. Like lease renewals, move out letters, move in letters, chasing paperwork. So strong admin focused. And when you drilled this pretty hard, and we sort of left you to it, and the next thing you know, you'd scheduled a 90 minute window with three potential candidates to interview. So probably the easiest bit was, normally when we've interviewed, it's, you know you do the resumes, you do a D, you cycle through it all, and you do the first round of a phone interview, and then you narrow it down, and then you invite people in, and they don't show up or they go to the firm and change it. And so, hiring is a brutal process.
PETER: So when we first got on, we just schedule the 90 minutes with you. And you said you've got three people that are qualified. I'm like, no way. No way. I was excited and nervous because I'd never hired anyone basically using a webcam. I'd always met face to face, and it was weird. But you set it up perfectly. So basically, we interviewed three candidates, two of which were ideal. One, I think all three could have done the job, which was amazing. And we had the process now with what? Less than two hours. I think it was 90 minutes from start to finish, the whole process. So I mean anyone that can hire anyone faster than that, I just don't know how it's possible.
ANNE: So how much time do you think it saved you? Because you mentioned a lot of the things that people look at our placement fee, and they go, "Gosh, you know, that's a lot". And I'm like, for what I do, it's really not. But okay. Think about... So how much time would you normally spend with that process versus the 90 minutes?
PETER: Oh, I mean if you add it all up from writing the ad, because I'm just doing mental math here and stuff. You write the job description, which we already had. So you have to do that. Then, create the ad, list it, field all the resumes, do the phone interviews, set it up. I mean it, it's going to be 20 hours, has to be 20 hours, give or take. And it's a distraction from what we should be doing. That's the biggest thing. So probably 20 hours of senior people's time.
ANNE: And one of the things that I, especially a lot of our clients are property management companies, because I'm a broker owner myself and run my own PM firm. I liken what we do to the application process for tenants, right? So an individual owner could rent his property out, but probably shouldn't because they don't have the access to the assessments. They don't have access to the data that we, as professional property managers and me as a professional recruiter, have, right? I've got systems for that. Property managers have systems for that. And so, I think it's funny to me that we defend our placement fee of our tenants because we put so much time, energy, and effort, and sometimes people say, "Well, I don't want to pay a placement fee for a hire." So it's kind of funny, that dichotomy. How do you respond to people who might say that?
PETER: On the tenant placement fee? But just going back to the placement fee for a VA, it's, I don't want to quote your prices, but I think it's under 2000 bucks.
ANNE: Yeah, 24 95 is our stated price.
PETER: Right, money, it's incredibly well spent. And just money in general, I equate anything that we do through you as half the price of what it would cost to do here. And that would be, so the cost to recruit someone here is probably four grand, it's two; cost to have a full time employee here is 40 K, with you, it's less. It's about half price. So if anyone thinking about it, just think of, it's about half the price of what you would do to hire someone.
ANNE: So now you've gone through the hiring process. We've given you the person. Are they as good as you thought they were going to be?
PETER: They are incredible. So it's two. They're way better than we first, than I anticipated. And in full disclosure, they are about doubly efficient. So they are handling about double what someone would handle here. Probably because they are more efficient. They're not distracted. There's no distractions. They don't get caught up in the drama, which is a huge effect. And that they're not, they're just, just phenomenal, and it has it's costs up to, so they just, yeah, they crank through all the things that none of us here wanted to do.
ANNE: And are they happy working for you? Because that's the other question I get. Like, "I don't know that they would really want to work in the middle of the night" and "I don't know that they'd be happy". But what's your experience working with your people?
PETER: Yeah, I was super nervous. I'm like, "Am I going to ask someone to work through the night?" I was very much of the mindset that I'd like them to work their hours. I don't mind if they work over our nights because it's admin tasks, but you are very adamant they should work our hours, which now is phenomenal. I've become very comfortable with it. And AJ and Carl like it, all their friends do the same thing. They have a different lifestyle, but as, you know you are very adamant on the start, And you said to us, "Don't worry about what time it is there. Don't think about, they're working through the night. Just ignore that fact. That's just how they do it." And that's how it is. They're always happy. They seem happy. They haven't quit on us yet. They're great. We try and treat them well. We've made them part of the team.
PETER: They join our team meeting weekly on the webcam. They are buyers on our site. They've got their own email address. They're as much a team member as anyone sitting here. Got their own direct phone number. So we really try to incorporate them, which I think really makes a difference to them.
ANNE: It does.
PETER: They're not just a cog in this machine. They are, if you look at our about us, then their profiles are a part of the team page. So we put their picture up there, and we include them as part of the team. It's irrelevant that they're on the other side.
ANNE: And I love that, and I do try to tell people as much as you can integrate them. And I love the fact that they're in the team meetings. You know, I actually, the first day that a VA starts working for me, I literally take my iPad and walk them through the office so they can see what it looks like and introduce them to my one employee. Because I only have one. But you know, we had our property management meeting this morning as a matter of fact. And Bonnie, who is my pretended occupied VA remote team member. She's in that meeting. She takes detailed notes, so I don't have to. Who's responsible for what. What are the things that I need to be responsible for. So totally love that you guys are doing that too.
ANNE: What piece of advice would you give someone that is on the fence? Because I get a lot of people that says, "It sounds great, but I'm not going to move forward." So how would you, what would you share with them about your experience as to what they either need to be concerned about that they can think about in advance or alleviate their fears to move forward?
PETER: Yeah, so if this is the one that was my fear, but it is great is you have to be comfortable creating and sticking with the system. If you are just one of those people who don't like systems, who won't create and follow a system, the VA won't work. It's just, I say it wouldn't work; I think it'd be really challenging. It works really well when you have a system, which, in full disclosure, we didn't have five years ago. Now we've got systems for everything, and the stress levels, less mess ups and everything.
PETER: So I think everyone should have systems. But if you just one of those people that loves the chaos and likes to do it your own way and not write it down and just do things on the fly, how you just learnt it in your head. If you don't want to write down how you do things, you will struggle to get good value out of the VA because the VA is really good at following a process incredibly well, and they can even have the processes to do this. If A happens, good. You got a B and C, but you have to have a process for them to be really successful, will be my bit of advice.
ANNE: Okay. And I would agree with that. What I would say is, I have a lot of clients that don't have processes started, because again, they kind of all work on the fly, and I was honestly, I was that way myself. When I started five years ago, I had what I thought were systems. What I found out was not exactly the way I wanted to, and that's one of the things that I think is a benefit is that my VA made me a better business because it tested what I thought was a system that really wasn't a system. It was maybe a roadmap a little bit.
PETER: So that's exactly it, Anne. And so what it's done, by having a VA, forced us to tweak our systems and use our systems, and we moved every... We were half in the cloud and half on a server, and it forced us to get everything onto Google drive and really document. I use Google docs instead of half writing it down, half using Google docs. It forced us to follow a system, which has made us way more efficient and less stressed. So, to back up a VA, you just have to be willing to, if you don't have a system, you have to be willing to put one in place because that's how you get the most out of the VA.
ANNE: Totally agree with that. And one of the things I did too is I have my VAs responsible for maintaining it. And responsible for doing it or updating it or creating it. So like I said, when I got started, I had this kind of roadmap. My VA then put the structure underneath it to actually make it a system. So for those of you that maybe don't have a system yet, but you do have how it's done, even if it's in your head, you do have how it's done. Your VA can come up underneath you and create that additional support to make it a system. Because I totally agree. I think especially in property management because we're so litigious anyway, that anytime you go outside of the parameters, we've seen that happen a couple of times with you. Whether it's our screening process or our phone process, that's when we get into trouble.
ANNE: And I see that on the Facebook groups. I see that in the listservs. Like well, they said such and such and so and so. Or I knew I shouldn't do this, but I did because we went out of process. That's again, that's where trouble kind of ends up living in our world. So as much as you can, let your VA help you highlight what needs to be revamped or redone, and then give them, task them for changes. Like I know for me, our lists, our property MLS, changes their software all the time. You know, input fields, all kinds of stuff. It's not major things, but literally they'll get rid of one type of description and add a new one. I make Bonnie redo the screenshots, re-update that so that literally we're real time with any of the changes that happen in that software or happen in that business, so that I don't have to worry about it.
ANNE: Again, if I make a change in policy, let's say we have, we do have an issue with maybe a tenant fallout, meaning that they screened and they passed, but we had an issue. Well, I unpack and unravel that, and sometimes I will make a change to our system or our whatever. They're in charge of making sure that that new piece of information is notated on the website, is in the process. So I think that's great. What would you say was the biggest benefit, other than costs saving? Because we all know that that's it. That's obviously the number one reason to do that. But other than costs saving, what other benefits have you had by hiring your virtual staff?
PETER: So there's a number. I think the biggest thing that we noticed was we went through our peak season, the same as, we're on the East coast, so our busiest times are May, June, July, August. We do half the work of the year in three months of the year, same as everyone else. But historically, during that time, the admin and the processes like lease renewals, the non-times urgent stuff, gets dropped. And so we always used to get to the end of August and then have to pick up where we stopped doing what we're doing in June. Typically, you know, lease renewals and just getting ahead of maintenance and walkthroughs. So all the things that aren't immediately time sensitive always used to get dropped. And we'd spend all of September regrouping and picking up the pieces. And getting back into the process.
PETER: So the biggest thing was that with Carl and AJ, that they keep the machine running, so they don't get caught up in the drama. They don't get caught up in the move-ins, the move-outs, the this talent hasn't moved that. We're doing four... In our peak season, you know we're doing 40 turns in a month. So there's a lot of drama going on. They don't get caught up in it. They keep doing the lease renewals. They keep sending the move out letters. They keep following up with tenants who just moved in. They always got dropped. So they, seven days off, tenant moves in, they send them that how's it going list, which we've never done in August before because it got dropped, and they keep lease renewals. So we kept lease renewals rolling. So by the time we got to the end of August, we were already working on October, November lease renewals. So we're already half done. Just because they kept the machine running. They didn't care. No, not they didn't care, but they didn't know-
ANNE: They weren't impacted.
PETER: -not impacted. They just had a few more... They just, that was on Tuesday, they do lease renewals for the next time, and they send out move out letters, and they send out... So it just happened. So the machine kept running, and it really made everyone, it reduced the stress and really reduced the errors.
ANNE: So I would also imagine that your customer service was increased by that too because you're giving them, your clients, whether it be owners or residents, the attention that they deserve. They're not having to ask you for stuff. You're being proactive. Would you say that that was another benefit?
PETER: Yeah, absolutely. It just, we do what we, we kept doing what we aim to do all year, but it always felt, we always fell off as we got through. There was only so many hours in the day that people could do stuff. So something used to get dropped. Really this year, nothing got dropped. Probably the best example is the, we follow up the tenants once they'd been there seven days just to check it, and it's the correct thing to do, and they love it. We've never done it because it gets dropped because you don't have to do it.
ANNE: Right. It's the important but not urgent category.
PETER: That's it.
ANNE: It always gets in the Stephen Covey model. So totally get that. What else would you want to share with someone that, again, is thinking about it, or what else, what other words or nuggets would you share, things that you've learned or anything else that you think would be valuable?
PETER: If you all just do it, as long as you're prepared to put a little... Write the job description well, really think what you want to do, and what they can do, to make sure that they have access to be able to do what you want them to do. If you're going to use them for any phone calls, make sure you've got a voice over IP phone system. Make sure you can set them up with an email. Make sure they can have access to everything that you want them to do. So if your documents are on a server, and they're not plant-based, and you want them to access them, think about that.
PETER: It was really good for us to have a deadline, like we knew we had to have everything in Google drive by January 1, so in December 1, we just moved everything. We spent the month trying to find documents, starting to move. But we had it all figured out. So it was really good for us to move it. So think about the things that you'll want them to do, and when you really put your mind to it, you could get them to do a lot of stuff that you just didn't think they could do. So we started out with utility bills, and we go, well, they could do that, they could do some letters maybe, and now they can do, AJ's started to do some maintenance requests. He's doing some account payables, account receivable, use property mail. And there's no reason that he can't do that. So there's, you really get into it. There's a lot more and more things they can do.
ANNE: Yeah, I think people are just nervous so they pick what they feel comfortable with. So how do you envision the change in your staff? So five years from now, what is your company look like as far as staffing, and how is that going to change do you think? Share with me your vision for growth and what do you look like in a few years from now?
PETER: Yeah. So we're in the lovely position that we're at 540 homes now. We're aiming to get to around 750, at about 10% growth. So every year, we've had double digit growth since we started, and we aim to keep doing that. We started down a little bit intentionally, just because of the demographics and the properties in the area we want to service. We're not growing the territory. We're just focusing on our... We're really just a specialist in the Annapolis area, so we're aiming at 10% growth, and we're really, we're looking to get to 750, which is effectively a 50% growth, with really not adding in any, maybe some extra people in maintenance, actual doers in maintenance as opposed to coordinating. But really, as we grow now, we just going to, we just outsource more, so we're not going to change our head count in the US.
PETER: As we keep doing more, we need more support. We just going to add in more backup support really, because the VAs do all the things that property managers don't like to do. So it's not even, it's hard to find someone that efficiently does snap utility bills, like literally, when we get, our water bills come in quarterly, and we get, we just had them last week, we had 215 water bills come in, like it was a stack. And they're mailed, they're not emailed, so you have to open each one.
PETER: So just our front desk, it just over... Everyone will groan because they all get dumped on different people's desks, and they get forgotten about, and then they became urgent because they're time sensitive, and they were late, and so everyone would always groan, and you'd always end up seeing people stay late, just to get it done. Now we just open them, scan 215, and then we can go. AJ does it all. They're gone. Like they come in, they get scanned, and they get put in the shredder. It's beautiful. It's the happiest day. It used to just be the black day, and then, and I'm sure anyone that does it, you come back, and you see these stack. It's just the dullest routine admin that you have to do, and if you don't do it, water gets shut off, and there's late fees. So it just took that problem away.
ANNE: Well, that's awesome. Well, Peter, thank you so much for being a part of our show today and sharing your knowledge. If you want to get in touch with Peter because you need property management services in Annapolis, his contact information will be on the next page, and we do appreciate your time, and hope you have a great rest of your day.
PETER: Thank you, Anne. It's a pleasure.