Join us as we talk with Bess of McCreary Realty about how she navigates running a 4th generation property management company, handles being diagnosed with thyroid cancer all while maintaining her positive attitude.
Want to know how to hire your virtual staff member? Feel free to book an appointment with 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 Hire Smart VAs. And today I have a fabulous guests. I'm so excited to have Bess McCreary Wozniak, that's always hard for me to say. Did I say it right Beth?
Beth M. W.: You were very close. Wozniak.
Anne Lackey: Wozniak. All right, so one of the most interesting and exciting things to talk about with Beth today is she is a fourth generation property manager. She's worked in the family business for a long time. She started as an administrative assistant in 2010 and kind of worked her way up to her current position, which is Vice President and Associate Broker at McCreary Property Management, right?
Beth M. W.: McCreary Realty Management.
Anne Lackey: Realty Management, I wasn't sure about that. She is a Vice President at McCreary Realty Management. And Beth has kind of an interesting background. I'm going to let her speak a little bit to that. I don't want to take all of her thunder away, but she has more credentials than you can count. She is an amazing person as well as a property manager. So Beth welcome to the show. Thank you so much for being here.
Beth M. W.: Thank you for having me.
Anne Lackey: So tell me what is it like to work in a fourth-generation business in general? I can't work with my family, of course I work with my husband, but I don't know that I could work with my whole family for that long. Share with me a little bit about the pluses and minuses of what that's been like.
Beth M. W.: So right now actually it is just me and my dad, Michael who are related. Everybody else in our business is just like family. But prior when I first started working kind of on and off in between my acting gigs, because that was my former career. So in-between acting gigs, I'd come back to Atlanta and I just work as an assistant here at the office. My aunt was still working at the office, so I was working with her as well.
When my dad had joined the company, it was his grandfather, his four uncles, his mom, his dad, then his sister joined, and then later on his brother-in-law joined and it's just kind of been... and he's worked with cousins and stuff too. So I mean it's been an influx of family members. There for a while my sister worked with us as an administrative assistant when I moved into a property management role and and working with her was great.
It's definitely a different dynamic and you have to have a certain personality. I think as you and Mark C. working together, you balance each other out and I think you definitely have to understand when we're at work, this is the type of relationship we have and when we're outside of work, this is the type of relationship we have.
Now sometimes those lines do coincide, especially with me and my dad. I'll walk into his office and I'll say, "Okay, dad hat." Or I'll say, "President hat." I need to talk to you as my boss, I need to talk to you as my dad, whichever one it is. So we've definitely worked on balancing that as well.
Anne Lackey: So, okay, this is awesome. I love that. So everybody is still family-friendly though, right?
Beth M. W.: Yes, yes, absolutely.
Anne Lackey: Did you know for certain that was your legacy or that was what you were going to do or where you really thinking, I'm going to do this acting thing. I'm not going to be in the business? Share with me about your personal journey of making those decisions.
Beth M. W.: Yeah, so my dad was always great with us growing up. So I have an older brother and a younger sister and all three of us, he never pushed the family business on. And honestly, he never originally intended to be in it either. I don't know how many people really wake up and say, "I want to be a property manager when I grow up." You know? It's just not something that is glorified in any way as you're growing up when you're a kid, you want to be a policeman or a doctor or a firefighter or something... maybe just an astronaut, something that's going to get you notoriety in some way, shape or form. You don't realize that there are other careers that you can get notoriety in or be successful in, in a different way.
So with me, I fell in love with acting, actually really fell in love with music when I was very young. Thought that that's where my path was going to go, was with singing and music performance. Then fell into acting in high school, got cast in a specific show, decided that's what I wanted to major in in college. So I went to college and I got my degree in theater and still continued singing and doing musicals and whatnot. But once I graduated from college, I fell into children's theater, that's where I started getting cast a lot was working with children and doing some directing, doing some education and still performing at the same time. There was one company I worked with where we actually directed and performed with the children, so that was a lot of fun.
Like I said, in between those acting gigs, I would come home to Atlanta and my dad always had at least half days that he could give me just some work that he could-
Anne Lackey: There's always work to do.
Beth M. W.: Yes, there's always work to do. When my husband and I, we met in theater, working in one of our theaters, one of the theater companies we worked with in Ohio. When my husband and I had decided we wanted to settle down, have a family, we really thought long and hard about what that reality would look like if we continued acting, if we continued in theater where it's a little bit less of a sure thing as far as where your job is, how much you're going to be getting and how long that contract is because the contracts can be, because I had one contract that was only six weeks long.
I had one contract that was nine months long. So it just depends on the company that you get with and what kind of work you're doing. Then we were at the time, long-distance too, he was in New York, I was in Atlanta. So we just kind of decided, I said, I actually like what I'm doing here at McCreary Realty and I think that I could be good at it. I think that my theater training and working with children can coincide with some of what we do here in property management.
Anne Lackey: Exactly.
Beth M. W.: Seeing new challenges and new things hit you in the face every day. So yeah, I mean, I talked to my dad about it. I said, "I want to give this a try." Just the more and more I worked in it and the more education I got within it, I got my license very shortly after he and I talked and then started getting started getting involved with NARPM and IREM and then also joined the Realtors Organization. So yeah, now I've gotten all my designations and it's been a lot of fun, actually, surprising.
Anne Lackey: I think improvisation is probably a skill most of us have that we just don't get paid for.
Beth M. W.: Yes, exactly. Exactly.
Anne Lackey: So I want to talk just a minute because your dad is an icon in the industry. I mean he's very well respected, been around a very long time. I mean truly he's a man that I admire and look up to even though I've been in the business 19 years myself. How is that, I won't say that you're under his shadow because I don't know, I think you truly have your own sunshine there. But I do think probably early in your career it was probably a little more challenging or difficult. Share with me a little bit about how that all worked and what he did to elevate you to be in the position that you are, because I do think that is part of it too. So it's you can see it alone but you have to have that support of somebody who's okay with letting you have some of that glory, right?
Beth M. W.: Absolutely. As you know, he's an educator in our industry and he is just a natural educator. That's originally what he was going to college for when he met my mom and was going for a degree in music education and didn't end up finishing that, but education has always been something he's been very about.
So having him here in the office has just been wonderful because you know he's a wealth of knowledge. I wish I could just download his information on property management right to my brain. But one thing that he has always been a proponent of, because he's an educator, is continuing for any of his staff really, but definitely me in the position that I was moving towards, continuing my education, getting involved in the local organizations and making a name for myself within those organizations. Because there for a long time it was, "Oh, you're Michael McCreary's daughter." It was never, "Oh you're Beth."
I didn't have my own identity there for three or four years maybe. That was okay. I'm very proud of my dad. It was hard in the day to day work here in our office because we'd have clients that would call and say, "Well no, I need to talk to your dad." And I'm like, "I'm not a child." You know?
Anne Lackey: It's hard though. I mean, interestingly enough, so most of you guys know I work with my husband Mark, and we're seen as the dynamic duo, like literally, if one of us shows up someplace without the other, they're like, where, where's... and I'm like, well, I'm here. I get that.
Beth M. W.: I still get that. I still, recently at the Southern States conference within two or three hours of us opening up registration, I had 15 questions of, "Where's your dad?"
Anne Lackey: But you do expect him to be at those kind of events. He’s iconic.
Beth M. W.: It's very common for him to be at them because usually, he's teaching, or he's leading a breakout session. But I would just say, "Well, I left him at home to run the business. Somebody's got to."
Anne Lackey: One of the things I love about both you and your dad is just your gentle spirit and you're always happy. I mean, I'm sure you're not always happy, but you certainly, you've had your challenges medically as well. I don't think that that's anything off-topic, hopefully not for you.
Beth M. W.: No, no.
Anne Lackey: So we watched you through some of that and I don't know if you want to talk about it or not, but I mean I think it's your positive attitude and both of you and your dad are just amazing to be around and that's why you all are infectious and I love it. So do you want to talk a little bit about that little bump in your road there and how you work that out?
Beth M. W.: Sure. Yeah, so it's actually been a long series of bumps because there for a while my husband and I were trying to get pregnant and struggled with that and had fertility issues that were all on my end as far as hormones. I'm not shy when it comes to talking about this stuff just because I think it needs to be talked about more. I think a lot of people's struggles and challenges don't get talked about enough and that's how we are able to relate to each other. That's how we're able to see each other all as human. So we struggled with that. We had a miscarriage with our first pregnancy and then I had to have a surgery in order for me to be able to carry a child at all.
So had that surgery and now we have my son Declan. Yes, little spitfire and yes. But shortly after he was born, I noticed a very swollen lymph node on the side of my neck. I was like, "Well that's not right. Something's wrong there. I need to go to the doctor." You feel your lymph nodes and you can feel when they get a little swollen, but I saw this one, that's how swollen it was. So it took a lot of biopsies, there was a preliminary surgery that had a removal of some of the lymph nodes that were biopsied. Overall it took a year and eight months for them to diagnose and they finally found that it was thyroid cancer and that was February of 2018. So we're just a little over a year past now. I had to have surgery to remove my entire thyroid and they removed a total of 110 lymph nodes from the front and sides of my neck.
Anne Lackey: Wow.
Beth M. W.: I still have a bunch of lymph nodes. You have so many lymph nodes in your body, you have no idea.
Anne Lackey: That was a lot!
Beth M. W.: In the meantime I had been volunteering with both NARPM National and the local board here in Atlanta and working on Southern States Conference with Megan as the chair that year. I was doing marketing and I had to step back from my National Committee that I was on just because it was too much at that point. I had to be out of the office for two weeks for recovery from my surgery and then I had some periodic times where I had to be isolated for my radioactive iodine treatment. So that only three days each time I had to be isolated, but multiple doctor's appointments and whatnot and honestly... oh and I've had a scan and I am cancer free as of now.
Anne Lackey: Wow! So glad to hear that.
Beth M. W.: Yes. So I still have my doctor's appointments every three months and I will for the next four to five years. Then it'll be like every six months for a little while and then hopefully only yearly after that. But I've gone through a lot in my life prior that four to five year period of fertility and losing a child and surgery and then having a child and then cancer and all of that that went with that.
I dealt with a lot personally when I was young. I think if I hadn't gone through what I went through when I was young, I think I would have struggled a little bit more in these last four to five years. But having a support system in my dad, I mean he's an amazing support system. My husband, my other immediate family that I have, my staff here, like I said, they're like family.
Our bookkeeper, she's known me since I was six months old. Yeah, so I mean she is like another... she's like an aunt to me. Then we have other staff that have been here 12 years. So I've known them the whole time I've been working here as well. It was just like an extension of family to me. Then I've got a group of friends that are really close and it just all was very, very supportive.
When I went to NARPM and said, "Hey guys, this is going on with me, I'm going to do my best to keep my word that I said I would be volunteering for these positions, but there will be times that I will not be able to do things." I also didn't know what this cancer story would look like for me either. I didn't know how the treatments would affect me.
It's very different than chemo, which most cancer patients have to deal with this particular type of cancer. There wasn't a chemo treatment, it was this isolation and radioactive iodine. So I was radioactive for awhile. It actually didn't affect me too bad, I was pleasantly surprised and my doctors were very positive about everything too. So that really helped.
I think just having the positive support system really, really helped me. I'm also just of the personality that's like life goes on and it doesn't stop because I had this thing happen to me, so I got to figure out how to pull up my bootstraps and keep going.
Anne Lackey: So you talked a lot about your staff and so I want to transition a little bit into this because you've been a client of mine for a little bit at this point and of course we've known each other for, I don't know, I don't even know when I first met you, I'm sure-
Beth M. W.: I know, yeah.
Anne Lackey: ... but we've known each other for at least a few years. So in the beginning, as it is with most of my clients, this virtual thing is very scary. Like I'm not sure that this is right for me. But you guys had a situation where it made sense at that point to at least experiment.
Beth M. W.: Yes, yeah.
Anne Lackey: Tell me a little bit about why you finally made the decision to try virtual staff and how has it been for you since you brought on board your virtual professionals?
Beth M. W.: So there were multiple different factors involved as you know. We were in a position where we lost yet another maintenance coordinator for multiple different reasons, we've gone through maintenance coordinators. It seems like we can't seem to hold onto one for more than two, maybe three years. So as a property manager, the maintenance is the bane of our existence and it's a tough position to fill.
It's not a position that needs to be licensed within our company and the way we're structured and it's more administrative duties than it is, like I said, having to be licensed or any managerial type position. So I went to my dad and I said, "Hey, we, we need to come up with something fast. We're in our busy season, we need something and I don't have time to be both for an extended period of time. I just can't do that anymore with the way our office has been structured." I said, "We've got to figure something out." I said, "What would you think about using Hire Smart Virtual Assistants and having a virtual assistant, because that is something where it's not a team."
We've used virtual assistants with another company in the past where it's a team of people that work overnight to do some administrative tasks. I said, "But this is one where we'll have somebody our hours and he or she will be designated to our team and to our office. They'll be a McCreary Realty management staff member at that point." I said, "So I think it's worth a try."
We went with you and we hired Cathy after your vetting stuff, which was great. I mean, having just the three to interview and all three of them were great options and in the end we thought Cathy might be the best fit and so far everything has been working great with her.
She's, gosh, she's like a go-getter. She's so eager to learn and always thankful, always thankful whenever we teach her a new thing because as you know, maintenance is a learning curve here in the States, let alone for somebody that doesn't live in the States and doesn't know how our houses even really look necessarily, let alone how they're built. So she actually sent a picture at one point through our chat system saying, "Is this a light bulb?"
It was a picture of a light fixture. So she was like, "I've never seen one that looks like this." We said, we explained, "Oh no, that's the light fixture that goes around the bulb." We found some pictures that showed her how it looks and she was like, "Oh, that makes so much more sense. I've never seen anything like that."
So it's stuff that we take for granted a little bit, but it's nice too because now I'm learning a little bit along with her too. I'm getting a little bit more in depth about how things work, how systems work within a home and then of course each home being very different as well. But yeah, it's been a really great thing for our office.
I think one of the hardest things for us to adapt with it is that we do live answer our phones here. So not having that additional body here in our office has been a little bit different. But we have her phone set up so we're able to transfer phone calls to her for anybody that calls in for her as well. So that's really helpful. We're considering what we want to do when our front desk assistant, she's gotten her license and we're going to be moving her into a property management position. We're considering what we want to do with our office structure since Cathy has worked out so well, do we want to do another virtual assistant-
Anne Lackey: Yes!
Beth M. W.: Or... Yeah, right?
Anne Lackey: No, I'm just kidding.
Beth M. W.: Or do we want to do a virtual assistant and still have somebody in the office, that kind of thing. So we're going to actually be talking about that here in the next couple of months.
Anne Lackey: Well it's so interesting because you started on the maintenance side. I started on the leasing side for my business, and I can tell you I love the fact that our phone never rings. Bonnie takes them all. I don't have to worry about it, I don't hear it, it doesn't matter to me.
Anyway, again, that's the one thing I love about virtual staff, you can craft it any way you want, whatever your personal pain point is or whatever your business problem is, you can fix that as long as it can be done with a computer and a phone.
I know we need to wrap up here in a few minutes, but what was your biggest aha moment? You're like, "Wow, I didn't realize this when using virtual staff?" What was kind of your, "Whoa, wow, that's awesome?"
Beth M. W.: I think one of the biggest things for us is that we're getting more productivity than we had from a staff member, from any staff member in that position here in our office previously. As far as the followup with our vendors, so specifically obviously on the maintenance side. So I think that's one of the biggest things and now it's a little bit of a learning curve for our vendors. They're having to adapt to the way they've been working for some of our vendors 20 years because we've been working... we work with third party vendors and some of them we've been working with for 20 to 25 years. Some of them not quite as long, but still a long period of time. So they get used to one way of doing things and it can be hard to teach an old dog new tricks sometimes.
So we're having to adapt. We also recently adopted a new maintenance coordination automation system. We did that before bringing on Cathy. So since she is virtual and they can't just come into our office and talk to a maintenance coordinator anymore, they are learning that they're having to go through that automation system, which we had been wanting them to do in the first place anyways, which is why we adopted it.
So if anything, the aha moment has been, "Oh my gosh, we can actually do all this and have record of it now because it has to be that way because they don't have another choice." Then on top of it, the productivity, we're seeing faster turnaround times on all of our maintenance because Cathy's bugging the heck out of our vendors.
Anne Lackey: It's interesting, a lot of people say, well my virtual staff is so much more productive than anybody I've had and they don't realize that they're working in the middle of the night, there's no distraction. There is no water cooler, there is no excuse for stuff not getting done because they might as well work and move it along because it just makes their night go faster, their day or whatever.
Kind of to wrap up, share with us if you had to give some words of wisdom to some people that are considering our services, because I think, my job also as an educator to share that this is an available platform for people. But a lot of people are nervous or scared and I remember what that's like. Honestly, I think back to five plus years ago, I think, man, how far I've come, but I can still remember that angst. What would you share to a colleague that is thinking about or considering it just to know? What would you tell them?
Beth M. W.: Yeah, there does have to be a little bit of prep involved as far as your systems and the way you do things. Just making sure that you know what you want them to do initially. For us with Cathy in particular, it's been, well with us, not really Cathy, it's totally us, but it's been, we do one thing and then we get her proficient on that and then we train her on another aspect of her job. So she's been getting eased into her position, which is I think nice for her too because there is so much education involved in the maintenance side.
But gosh to a colleague that's nervous about it, I just say, just do it because good Lord, I was very nervous about it. Mostly what I was nervous about is not feeling prepared. I wasn't feeling prepared enough to train her properly.
What if we were failing her and I didn't want to fail her, which she also felt I didn't want to fail McCreary. So I think we have found this symbiotic relationship where we can go back and forth and she asks the question and I'm like, "Ah, good training moment. Let's read on this." Or if something pops up that she problem solved, I jump in and I say, "Great problem-solving. This is a new thing that you've never done before and I think you handled it really well." Then I might, depending on what it is, obviously, I might offer guidance for something else, might offer guidance for something else to do in the future. But just do it because it's definitely been eye-opening as far as what we can accomplish in our business. Then it's also forced us to look at our systems and processes and find better ways.
Anne Lackey: I do think a virtual assistant for me specifically has made me a better business. I know what kind of job, I have a system, the system may need to be tweaked and whatever and other things that again, constantly evolving in our property management.
But for me, having a virtual assistant allowed me to walk away.
Beth M. W.: Yeah.
Anne Lackey: I don't have to worry about my... and I tell people I only work two hours a week in the business as a broker. They go, "Huh?" It's because we built our business around these things and the systems weren't always perfect. That's the other thing that I tried to tell people. It's like, "Getting things done is better than perfect. Start someplace and let your VA come alongside you to help you with it. Because they'll tell you where you're weak."
I mean, very, very easily they'll say, well, I don't understand, or I need help or they'll make a mistake.
Beth M. W.: Yeah.
Anne Lackey: so you just know, again training moment, I've got to fix that process.
Beth M. W.: Yep.
Anne Lackey: Well Beth thank you so much for being on with us today. I so just appreciate you as a person and as a colleague and certainly as a client, and I'm just appreciative of the time that you spent with us today.
So if you guys want to get in touch with Beth, her contact information is at the end of this video and I look forward to you connecting with her. She's an amazing person, so thank you for your time today and have a great rest of your day.
Beth M. W.: Thank you.