In this episode, Donna with Disciple Property Management near Savannah talks about her experience using a virtual employee and how it has impacted her business.
Just like Donna, you too can recreate the value of time while enjoying your business by hiring an excellent virtual employee with us today! Feel free to book an appointment with today so I can help you set up from start to a new start!
Anne: Welcome to HireSmart Virtual Assistant 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.
Welcome. My name is Anne Lackey, I'm the co-founder of HireSmart Virtual Assistants, and today I have the pleasure of introducing Donna Walden.
Anne: And she is with Disciple Property Management. And actually she's new to property management at least with Disciple. I don't know, did you work in property management before then, or is this totally new to you?
Donna: I did not, this is new to me. I've been in property management for about a year and a half.
Anne: So how exciting, I don't know that any of us necessarily grow up and go, I want to be a property manager. But you know what? You're here and that's amazing. And so, you shared with me a little bit about why you went into property management and I had to chuckle because you said you made a change to be less stressful and have more time with your family. So I don't even really... I mean, I think you were in children's ministry before this.
Donna: Yeah, yeah.
Anne: I mean, to even think that their property management has more and less stress makes me laugh. And so, one of the things that I personally like about Donna is she's just always upbeat and always responsive to me and my team, and that obviously is something that we love to have in our clients. People that are really our partners, because that's how we view this relationship, is that we are your staffing partner and help you through the process. So some other things you might want to know about Donna is of course she has been married for 26 years. So she's got me a couple of years and has three beautiful daughters, all pretty much on their way out of the nest. And even her dog is a girl. So her guy, he’s patient. So something else you brought up when we were getting prepared for this, and so I laugh is that she is part of the Rebel Legion of Star Wars. Now, you have to explain that, because I certainly-
Anne: I think it's pretty funny because I'm the geekiest person I know, but I think I might've found somebody that is as a comrade in arms here.
Donna: Oh, yeah. Listen, I can bring the geek. But yeah. The Rebel Legion is a costuming group and it's a worldwide organization and we have literally set quality costumes. You have to pass inspection.
Donna: Yeah, yeah so the Rebel Legion are the good guys, and the 501st are the bad guys, but they're all fantastic people and our buddies. But we do charity events, and parades, and raise money for our Make-A-Wish Foundation. And it's just fun. I mean, it's just stupid and fun and we have a blast.
Anne: Well, it's always interesting to me because I'm like, how do these things start? I'm not as much a Star Wars fan, as I'm a Star Trek fan.
Donna: Oh. I'm a Trekkie too.
Long and prosper.
Anne: That's me actually. I was Tasha Yar for Christmas a few years ago.
Donna: I could see that, I could see that. Yes.
Anne: My husband was, I think he was Data. I don't remember. We both had the little and it's so funny because if you ever heard us speak on stage or you've heard my husband Mark and I share a little bit about who we are and how we help people, part of what we refer to is the Star Trek's prime directive. Because a lot of people ask us, as a couple, "How do you guys work together 24/7 and not kill each other?" And it all comes back to the prime directive. What is it that we're trying to achieve in our business? And as long as we are operating in, this gets us closer to that prime directive, we don't have a... There's not a battle of wills. So it's funny that we can bring that love of Trek and Star Wars together.
Anne: Let's I guess, transition into business here a little bit. And so you've worked with Disciple Property Management for a year and a half. They've been in business for 19 years. And one of the things that you mentioned that you were proud of is 19 years in the business is a nice long time serving with integrity and respecting your homeowners, your tenants, vendors, and or your community. So you guys are a real community type property manage-
Donna: Yes. Very much so.
Anne: Share with us a little bit about what that's like in the industry and how you transition that core values out into the community.
Donna: Okay. Well, as you were saying, our mission is to operate with integrity and with quality. And that's where... We want that to be present for our homeowners, for our tenants, for our vendors, for everybody, because that's who we are, that's how we want to be known. And I think that is how we are known. Our town that we're located in is just outside Savannah. It's a small town that's gotten a lot bigger in the last 20 years-
Anne: As they all.
Donna: Yeah. But it still has that small-town feel to it in your reputation. How you operate locally really does have a large impact for our ability to attract tenants and to attract homeowners.
Anne: Yeah. That's great. And of course, Disciple has a connotation with Christian values, I would assume. Yes?
Donna: Yes, yes.
Anne: And has that impacted positively or negatively in this world where everything is politically correct? How has that been received?
Donna: I think positively because I mean, clearly we operate with everybody regardless of belief system and it's important to us. That's part of where that whole respect and integrity comes in. Because regardless of who we work with, or belief system, we want to represent well, because we do have the word disciple in our name. So that's almost even an extra reason to be upstanding.
Anne: Yeah. Higher accountability, I would think. So you guys have gone through the HireSmart process, but before we talk about that, share with us a little bit about your structure. So how many people do you have on staff? How many doors do you manage? Share people about your team.
Donna: Okay. We have about 270 doors. We have a small office staff. Our total people are seven, including our VA now who is fabulous. You're welcome. We're arranged departmentally, so we have leasing department, maintenance department, accounting, and then some overlap. We have some independent vendors that we use for inspections, but we're basically departmentally organized.
Anne: You obviously hired a virtual assistant and so share with us and our clients a little bit about what are the tasks that she does for you guys.
Donna: Okay. Our virtual assistants name is Kelly, and she has become a really integral part of the Disciple team. One of the primary things that we hired her for was staying on top of our lease renewals so that we can reach out to the homeowners in a timely manner, ahead of time. Hey, your tenant's lease is coming up due, we want to make sure that you were okay with this and blah, blah, blah. Reaching out to the tenants in a timely manner. Making sure that that rents were stepped up appropriately, according to the leases, that kind of thing. We'd gotten all caught up, and we wanted to stay caught up, and have a system in place so that we didn't get behind on this. So that was a big pull of why We got her. But she's done so much more as we've grown in what we're asking her to do and really just in realizing what she's capable of doing.
Donna: She handles all of our management agreements as far as sending them out, making sure that they're done properly, notated, recorded. She does all of our marketing now, all of our online marketing. With our vacancy, she communicates with homeowners once a week with an update so they know what's going on. When we have a property re-keyed, she tracks that and helps us with the appropriate billing to the accounting department. All of this using our systems. And she's just a pleasure to work with.
Anne: That's probably one of the most common themes that I hear from clients once they make that initial, like, okay, I can do this. The thing is that their attitude is just so pleasant and their ability to service. The other comment I get is, "They can do a lot more than I originally thought." And you're just finding that as well. Right?
Anne: So share with me if you can remember back, gosh, I guess it's been about nine months at this point, when you were starting this process, what were your hesitations, and now, what advice would you give yourself now that you've done it for nine months? What would you tell yourself then, now that you know?
Donna: Okay. Our hesitation probably was just getting our documentation in order. Getting stuff out of our heads and onto paper, so to speak. Or into a process so that someone, thousands of miles away can step through this logically and have questions and ask us. But really just getting that organized was our hesitation because that's a lot of work, that's a lot of preliminary work. But on the backside, I have to say it's so worthwhile. And even in that process, it has helped us think through, okay, how can we better systematize things even that Kelly doesn't touch right now? How can we think through this better? It really has just given us a different perspective in how we're looking at the business process. And with anything that we do now, regardless of what area it's in, part of our assessment is what part of this can we carve off and potentially give to Kelly? Because she has proven her worth. So that's been very helpful.
Anne: So if I understand you correctly, you were nervous about the processes. It was worth doing, you still think it was a lot of work from the get go? Is that...
Yes. And part of that is just from where we were. Coming from having a lot of stuff in our heads and wanting to do better with that. But that's just where we were as a company.
Anne: So now looking back, so a lot of that has been documented and done. If you were to bring somebody else to take over some of what Kelly was doing and move her into a different role, do you think that would be easier than it was the first time?
Oh, my word, yes. Yes.
She essentially made you a better business, because now you have a process. It's not dependent on any particular person, although Kelly's amazing of course. The reality is part of what... And I totally agree with you. I guess the only difference is because I had some of the processes, having a VA tested those processes and made them better?
Mine, weren't all done. I didn't wait until it was perfection because otherwise I'd never get there. But to me it was worth it just to say, here's what I got, you make it better, you document it. Because what I found is, I'm not the best person to... Me personally, I'm not the best person to do it. I'm just not. But that's why I surround myself with people with different skillsets that are great.
Tell me a little bit about what was your aha moment when working with Kelly? Like, man, that was amazing. I never thought this would happen, or I never thought I could get this.
It was actually with a little side issue. Because we'd been very intentional, because she also does a lot of our application processing. We've been very intentional with these things, and we use AppFolio for our management system and AppFolio added a feature on the property page where you could list fixed assets. And we we're like, Hey, this is really helpful. This will be great when we're doing inspections, or with maintenance, blah, blah, blah. And man, wouldn't it be awesome if somebody could go through all of our online inspections and list all of the serial numbers from the appliances. And it was like, Oh my word, Holy cow, Kelly can do that. And she literally, in between other tasks, if she had any downtime, she would go into our inspection system and just appliance by appliance.
And then once she did that, we were like, you know what? This is great. Can you go through the owner statements for the last seven years and see when the property had been repainted? Or when new flooring had been put in? So we have that documented. So when we have a move out now, we literally can go to the property page and go, "Oh, it was painted on this day and carpet on this day." And that was a ton of work. It just looks like magic now.
Wow. I'm not good with that detail.
Yeah. Oh my gosh. Yeah. And so that really got us to, okay, what else could... Looking at any process, let's look at it through the eyes of Kelly. What could we give to her? What could be helpful?
Oh, that's great.
Yes. That was huge.
So if you had to give advice to someone who's on the fence of using a virtual assistant to either... either pro or con, what would you tell them?
Pro, if you are... For us, as we were looking to make better use of the time of our existing staff, trying to figure out what are things that we have to do here, that we need to be able to locally have boots on the ground, versus what somebody else could do? A VA, for us, bringing on a VA versus bringing in another body into the office was super helpful. Honestly, part of it is financial. But also, as we've already discussed, just in helping us as a business and organizing our processes. That was an unexpected benefit.
Cons would be... And again, as you said, I'm a very positive person. My glass is half full. Cons would be, it was a lot of work before we brought her on to get ourselves organized. And even in the transition process of figuring out how to best communicate this with her, and how to ask her questions in a way that she can feel comfortable saying, "Yeah, that doesn't make any sense," which I guess that's just part of building the relationship. They're not really cons as it is just things to be aware of.
And so how would you shorten somebody's learning curve for that? What would you tell them to make it easier for them?
Honestly, I don't want to sound like a suck up, but the information the two guys provided was really, really helpful. And the stuff that we embraced well was very, very helpful. And there's parts of that, that I wish we had embraced better. Because the guidance that we were getting from people who had already been there and done that, if we had implemented it a little bit more, I think would have made the transition more smooth.
Interesting. I appreciate it. It's funny because I also am constantly trying to improve our service, and make it better, and give people more value. And so I'm the kind of person that if I have a problem with a client, I'm going to fix it. The reality is I fix it through training, or I fixed it through assets, or I fix it through conversations. And part of the reason we're doing the spotlight is to help other business owners understand that this is a viable option. A lot of people that go, "Well, I couldn't do that in my business." And I'm like, "What makes you say that?" And they're like, "Well, they're not smart enough." Well, that's certainly not true. It's interesting. So again, I'm a very processed person. I have a hiring process, I've got a 10 point hiring process that I go through.
And part of that is testing them on basic math and basic verbal skills. You have to have a score in order to even be considered. If you get below that... And my score honestly is higher than what the average US property manager, so people that are here in the States, property manager score. So I don't even use the bottom score of that. I go up a step above. So when I have somebody that goes, "Well, they're just not smart." I'm going, okay well, I don't know what you're on because all of my candidates... I mean, there's lots of people that don't pass my test and a lot of people don't pass my certification, but it's interesting to me when people have that preconceived notion. And usually it's because a different country. The other thing is, well, I'm not sure about their English. So have you ever had anybody complain about not being able to understand Kelly or anybody in your staff?
We have not. No. Kelly does not do phone stuff for us because we don't have a VoIP system set up for her because I love the system too. So Kelly is completely written as far as her communications with our tenants and homeowners, but we Skype regularly. But no, she communicates very well and very clearly.
See, I love that. How was the HireSmart process for you as a client? Did you feel like it was super simple? Did you feel like it was comprehensive? Did you feel like you wish you would have had something different? Share with me your thoughts about that. The hiring process specifically and interviewing process.
Once we as a company decided to pull the trigger, because really the hesitation had been with us, but once we got there, it was very smooth. Everything was, "Hey, we're going to email you this and I need this back from you," and if I had a question I can ask it and nothing was awkward. The interviews themselves, I thought was very helpful because even in between the Skype interviews and you were talking to me and Beau, our broker, and you were like, "I think what you're asking for is this, and if you phrase it this way..." And it was like, "Oh, thank you." Because I knew what I was trying to get, but I didn't know how to get that in my head and into words. So I thought that the process was very smooth.
So let's compare it with a local hire, because I think that is something that is interesting too. So if you needed a similar role locally, approximately how long do you think it would take you from the time you made the decision to hire to the time you actually had a qualified candidate come through your door and start working?
At least several weeks because we would have to... Well, you got to put together a job description anyway so I guess that would be part of it regardless. We've got to advertise it in the appropriate places. We have to receive the emails. We've got to receive the resumes. We have to vet the resumes and figure out our criteria, and then figure out how we're scheduling bringing them in. Yeah. I don't love hiring. It's not my favorite. So yeah, the fact that there were already vetted candidates and here's... Because you had three and actually Kelly was a fourth add on. And honestly, I think any of the four could have worked for us, but I think she ended up being the best fit for us. But the fact that we didn't have to go find those four was huge, especially because we're hiring somebody because we need help. We don't have time for this.
A lot of people say, well, you have a placement fee. Because it's no surprise that I need to get paid for my work because we do a lot of testing, and we do spend a lot of time with the candidate before they ever reach the thing and so in property management, once I've put it into the terms that they understand. So I tell them as a homeowner you can put a for rent sign out. You can take the applications, you can figure it out. But here's the thing, you don't have all the tools that a professional property manager has. You don't know what to look for under the hood. When you're screening, you know how to read when I see this, this is usually a problem. Because you've done it hundreds, and hundreds, and hundreds of times. So you just have some innate skill in that.
But you have costs associated with finding a good quality tenant. Right? And so you want to be compensated for that. And so I tell people I'm the same way. Yeah, you could go find a global person yourself, but you don't know what you don't know and you may have a very bad result and then you've wasted a ton of time doing that. And then after my clients make their selection, I spend 40 hours beating them up. Are they going to be amazing? And a lot of that is of course, can they pick up skills? Can they look up tasks, all of that, and have a broad overview.
But part of it is testing their communication skills. Part of it is just making sure that when I ask a question during a working hour, are they going to respond to me, and how quickly? And if they don't, and I give them the correction and I test them later in the week, will they have learned from that? To me, they're not going to all be out of the gate, amazing. Part of my job is to forge them to amazing and to reinforce that. And so anyway, I love doing what you don't like to do. I love hiring people. I love placing people. I love finding that perfect fit. And I'm so glad and honored to be able to serve you in that way. What other last thoughts would you want to share with someone about the process? HireSmart, virtual assistants in general? Give us a wrap up of what you feel like somebody would need to know.
Overall, we could not be more pleased with our virtual assistant. Truly. We could not be more pleased with how the process went. I could see us potentially picking up another assistant in the future as we figure things out and continue to grow. Because we are actually positioned to grow now, because we're not bogged down, because we've determined the things that we have to do locally versus the things that can be delegated. That's opened up new avenues for us. As far as HireSmart, I'm a fan. Anytime you see me on Facebook, whenever anyone is asking questions and I'm like, "Listen, she's the real deal." Sorry, I'm not fantastic with words at the moment.
You're amazing. Thank you so much.
Well thank you, but we're sold.
Well, again, my goal is always... We all have our own personal things. So my personal mission in life is to leave people better off than before they met me. Whether they do business with me or not, it doesn't matter. I want to help them with education, or I want to help them accomplish whatever it is. And I'm very proud to say most of the time that that happens. Again, whether they use me or not. The clients that use me and stay in contact with me, and come to our monthly office hours, and have just much better results. Because again, you're just plugged into something that's bigger than your organization because I touch hundreds.
Yes. And with the monthly office hours, I log in every month. If it's nothing to do with how we use Kelly right now, I still log in because I want to hear it. I want to know other possibilities. There was something you mentioned. I think it was funny because this last one or the one before, you mentioned some software that you use for flow chart, I'm using it now. It has nothing to do with VA's.
Lucidchart, Yeah. Lucidchart.
I mean, that's a great example where you can learn something new. You may not do it the same way, but yeah, that was this last one that was creating a process. And I like to do it using Lucidchart because it helps me map out the flow. I also have a big old whiteboard over here that I use. I use both of them. Sometimes I'll start on my whiteboard and then I'll transition it over. So, that's great. And again, it's a lot of collaboration and tools. Well, Donna, thank you so much for spending your time with me today. I truly appreciate you as a person, as a client. I'm just thankful to have you part of the HireSmart family, and we do believe it is a family. Our clients are our friends and that's the way I want it.
That's the beautiful thing about being the co-founder and owner of the company. I can choose who I can do business with. And certainly, I am glad that you chose us and that I can continue to build that relationship with you. And certainly look for many, many, many years with Kelly and her growing with you guys as a company. And if and when you decide you're ready for that next hire, certainly we will be here and available to you. So for those of you that want to get to know more about Disciple Property Management, the contact information is going to be down at the bottom as well as following this particular video. So certainly, if you are looking for a property management company in the Savannah area, I hope you would reach out to them because they are amazing. Thank you so much for being here and have a great rest of your day.