Mesa Properties - HireSmart Virtual Employees

Anne Lackey

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, 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!

 

TRANSCRIPT:

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, longterm.

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.

Yeah, please.

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.

Thanks, Anne.

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