A lot of people love being the most intelligent and the most needed person in the company. As long as you’re that, you will always be shackled. Aaron Scott Young’s guest today is Barbara Turley, the CEO of The Virtual Hub, the manifestation of her personal desire to help as many entrepreneurs as possible scale their business without the overwhelm. Barbara relates how she was able to manage her tasks by finding a virtual assistant, which eventually led her to create her business and help others.
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The Virtual Hub: Scale Your Business Without The Overwhelm With Barbara Turley
This is the program that helps give you the ideas, tips, skills and processes so that you can build a business that works harder for you than you have to work for it. Many entrepreneurs that I’ve met all through my life think that they worked for themselves or they think that they’ve got this business, but they don’t have a business. They have a glorified job, and it’s because they’ve never learned how to become unshackled. That’s our goal here with the show is to bring you case studies and specific information to help you rethink and transform a business so that you can scale and grow and do the things that you’d love to do. Our guest is going to be perfect for that conversation.
Our guest is Barbara Turley of The Virtual Hub. Her background has been in financial services, trading stocks and building a successful financial career. We’re going to learn more about this, but there was a transformational moment where she went, as far as I can tell, to go out and get some additional help in taking care of tasks in her life. She reached out, she found a virtual assistant that she liked and had such a good experience managing a virtual assistant that I’m assuming her friends and colleagues started asking her. Before she knew it, she was the expert and was growing a business helping others.
The cool thing about this is I’ve met a bunch of people who run virtual assistant connection businesses. All of them are wonderful people. I’ve never had one on the show. I’ll tell you why, because I didn’t love the story and I didn’t love the approach. When I was introduced to Barbara as a potential guest for the show, I went and did some studying about her. There’s a first mission, which is helping you grow your business, but there’s a secondary mission, which I’ll let her talk about that I thought that’s a cool thing. Part of the value in being unshackled people is being able to invest your time, energy, passion and wealth into things that transcend making money and to doing something that makes a difference in the world. That’s why Barbara got invited to this show. I’m super excited. Ladies and gentlemen, Barbara Turley. Welcome to the show, Barbara.
Thank you for having me. I’m excited. There’s so much I can unpack in what you said.
There’s much about what I learned about you and we’ve never met. Sometimes, I always give you full disclosure if this is somebody that I work with or I’m on a board with or that I’m somehow otherwise engaged with. Barbara and I are new friends that are getting to know each other. Barbara, I don’t know if you’ve ever read our show, but let me tell you how we do this. Normally, instead of doing the commercial that many business owners come on to podcasts to do, what I like to do is get to know who you are, how you came up and how you got into the position that you currently are. If it’s okay with you, can I ask you some questions and we’ll eventually get caught up to where we are?
That would be fabulous. I love these conversations because this is where the gold comes out. These are the podcasts people want to read to where we pow wow about the journey to get here.
You have an accent and I believe you’re Irish. Were you born and raised in Ireland?
Yes, I was born and raised in Ireland.
Where in Ireland? I don’t know Ireland that well.
Those who know Ireland, I’m about an hour from Dublin on the way to Cork. We can hang on a bite off that road and that’s where I was brought up in the horsey country.
I’ve never been to Ireland, but I’ve been to the Isle of Man.
My best friend who grew up in Ireland, she and I live here in Chamonix together. We’ve been friends since we were one year old. When she was twelve, her family moved to the Isle of Man. I’ve been to the Isle of Man a few times and she grew up there.
In my mind, based on images I’ve seen of Ireland and having visited the Isle of Man, I always assume they’re similar. A lot of stone fences and grassy.
The Irish would kill me for saying it’s similar, but yeah. It’s the same thing but totally different.
The topography. I’ve also kept Irish Dexter cows at our farm. If you guys have never seen an Irish Dexter, look them up. They’re super cool and great for small acreage.
I probably milked one when I was a kid on my cousin’s farm. I did knock a few calves in my time.
You grew up around horses. Did you have a little bit of an agrarian childhood? Did you live in town, but in a small town?
I lived in a small town but in the country. It’s outside the town by a forest. There were no horses in my family. My mother was in that position of saying, “You want to do horse riding? Am I going to go buy all the gear? You’re going to give it up after a year.” Anyway, she brought me. None of the rest of my family were into it and I loved it. I spent a lot of time in stables and out in the horsey country when I was a kid.
We always talk about being horse crazy. A lot of times they always say, “Girls are horse crazy,” but I think I was a horse-crazy too.
Even when I smell horses nowadays, it’s like my soul is singing. All of a sudden, it’s like I’ve hit my purpose.
Walking into a horse barn, there’s the smell of the hay, even the manure and the leather.
Everything. It brings back all the memories and it’s a visceral feeling. Only people in horse riding understand what you mean.
Standing invitation, if you get to the Western United States, you’re totally invited to come up, hang out and come to the barn. We’ll go horseback riding up in the mountains. We’ll have a fabulous time.
I’m getting my four-year-old into horse riding and she’s loving it.
You grew up like that. Did you follow a traditional route of education? Did you start off young as an entrepreneur or both? What was your situation?
I always say I was not the entrepreneur as a kid. I’ll put my hand up and say, I didn’t have the lemonade stand. I had no interest in selling anything. I was quite academic at school. I went to our local school. I did very well. I wanted to be a doctor and had not even one entrepreneurial bone in my body. Cutting a long story short, I slightly missed medicine in points. It was difficult to get into that in Ireland at the time. I felt I’d done as well as I was going to do. I was bored being at school. I decided to go and do an Arts degree and see what would happen.
I ended up taking economics. I loved it and found the whole world of macroeconomics and how money works. It was fascinating and I found myself gravitating towards the money industry and eventually, finding my way onto trading floors and into the equity markets. The story goes on from there but I spent the best part of about nearly fifteen years in corporate, in the investment banking world. A lot of it on the trading floors and then I moved into asset management sales after the last financial crisis, but that was where the seed was sown of my entrepreneurial dream.
People, I hope you’re picking up what she’s laying down here, which is she went to school, she got the education. She wanted to be a doctor. Who knows if maybe you would have loved being a doctor, maybe not? Like money, it’s also a practice. As much as we want to believe money is straight math, money markets are artistic. She didn’t quite make it. She didn’t stop and go, “I’ll go get some other job or go stay home and raise kids all the time.” Nothing’s wrong with either of those choices. She kept exploring. This is part of the deal.
My experience is as you get close to the thing you think you want and you’ve been striving for a long time, either you miss it by a couple of points as Barbara did or you get it and go, “This isn’t what I thought it was going to be.” The difference between people who succeed and people who don’t are the people who tend to succeed keep exploring and keep an open mind. They don’t try to live their life in a linear way. They keep looking around and seeing what else is going on because medicine and being a stock trader seemed far apart and yet your experiences led you. When you say you were on trading floors, were you that person calling us going, “I know you don’t know me, but I’ve got this great stock deal for you,” or were you on the floor doing the bid and the ask?
I was doing the bid and the ask. It’s interesting what you said about the medicine and the financial because what ended up happening, I didn’t know this when I was like, “Let’s open this door and see what’s in here.” When I found myself on a trading floor and I loved the energy of the whole thing. I realized that I always saw myself working in not the emergency department, but in a hospital, that’s fast-moving dynamic decisions every minute. I realized that they’re the same feeling in that everything’s changing. You have to make decisions all the time. Nothing is set and forget. I liked that energy and it would have been the same had I gone into some medical in a hospital, I saw myself in a busy hospital. It’s totally different, but the same feeling.
I like that comparison because I totally see it. There’s a lot at stake and it’s now. You can’t wait around for it. That’s interesting.
You’ve got ten seconds to make a decision sometimes and not all day. I found myself and it’s something I’ve learned over the years about myself. The smaller the window of time that I give myself to make a decision, I will typically make the right decision because I don’t have time to get my own way. I go, “Right decision,” and then we move on. That’s important. It has served me in my entrepreneurial career later. We can circle back to that point.
My life here doing these interviews and doing these monologues that I do and my normal life are the same. I like to think I’m the same in any setting and I’ve been happily married for many years and people ask me all the time, “How did you know?” I said, “I knew almost immediately that she was the right girl.” We go on our first date in September and got married in February. It was quick and people come to me and they are struggling in their relationships and they say, “We’ve been engaged for 4 or 5 years.”
I’m like, “What are you waiting for? Is there some other reason? Are you insecure?” Usually, the longer we dwell on and micro edit every little thing, the harder it is to make a decision. One of my favorite quotes of myself that I like to say is it’s more important to be certain than it is to be right. What I mean by that is if we sit around waiting to make the one right decision, we’ll often not make any progress at all, rather than saying, “Here’s what I’m going to do.” You said, “I’m going to go be a doctor,” and you went after it. You focused on it and then, it didn’t happen. You’re like, “New path. I’m going to go do something else.” If we sit and wonder constantly, instead of saying, “Off we go.”
There are many things I could share on that, but I remember when I first started on a trading floor. I got my big break and I was like, “I wasn’t in London. I was in Dublin.” They were significantly smaller trading floors, but they were still loud and all that stuff. I remember being frozen, I was like, “Trading was on.” They had given me some smaller stocks to take care of and I was frozen. I remember the head of trading coming over to me and he said to me, “What are you doing?” I was like, “I don’t know what to do.” He said, “It doesn’t matter. You make a decision.”
Once you make a decision, you make the next one and then you’re in the game. The problem is that when you’re sitting on the sidelines, you’re not playing. If you were trying to decide, everyone else is in the game and you’re missing out on all the opportunities that are happening. That was a pivotal moment for me that I realized that I had that in my nature anyway, but that was what the first step into it and realizing, once you’re in the game, you sink or swim. To be honest, the winners will swim. You’ve got to swim and that’s it.
This isn’t applied to school or marriage or trading floors, it applies to everything. Once you get off the bench, get off the sidelines and jump in, you learn a lot more about yourself. You learn a lot about the thing you’re doing. You also find out that even if it’s immediate and even if a decision has to be made, it’s not life and death. It’s a moment and a thing.
Many times, you’re going to be wrong and you have to accept it and go, “Tomorrow I’m going to get up and fight again.”
People, we’re going to be wronged a lot. Henry Ford had seven failed companies before the Ford Motor Company and yet, he became the ninth wealthiest person ever walked the planet. Sir Richard Branson has had over 200 businesses fail because he tried something with somebody and it didn’t work. It’s okay. It doesn’t mean they’re not trying to go to space. It doesn’t mean they don’t have airlines. It doesn’t mean they don’t have Necker Island and all of that. You have to be in the game.
You have to be sure about what you want as well. Making decisions is something I have been good at and thankfully it has served me well. I feel like you have to deeply know that a lot of people are disconnected from their own intuition about what they want, where you want to go with your life. It might be subconscious beliefs about what’s possible. What’s possible for you? What’s allowed and what’s not allowed and all of these things. If you can connect to what you want regardless of what’s possible, then you can go and make decisions about that.
This is called the Unshackled Owner show and the only course I’ve ever created, that was my stuff is this thing called the Unshackled Owner Intensive which is a course that teaches people my process, that I’ve used a couple of dozen times to build successful multimillion-dollar companies. The first thing and I got a lot of pushback on this because almost everybody that takes the class is successful already. They’ve run into a ceiling. They don’t know anymore what to do. Like, “I’ve run out of my own creative ideas here. What do I do with this thing?” Whether it’s a $750,000 company or a $200 million company, 5 or 2,000 employees, it doesn’t matter. They bump into their own ceiling.
The first class in Unshackled is all about vision, but the way I say it is getting explicitly clear on, “What does the finish line look like? Why are you doing this? Where are you going? Let’s get clear on the outcome. It’s stupidly clear. What color are the walls inside the house you live in now once you’ve achieved everything you’re dreaming? What does it look like? Smell like? Who’s with you? How much money do you make? Where do you go?” It should be clear almost like a great novel because the clearer you get on the outcome regardless of how of the path that will take to get there, which is what you said, which is why I wanted to double down on what you said. If we focus on the path, we’ll always limit ourselves. If we focus first on the outcome that we want, we can almost always reverse engineer a path to get to the big goal.
You’ll find yourself there by accident. If you can reverse engineer it. The story I’d like to share is when I first left corporate. I left and I did start a business that was a failure. To be honest, it was a mini failure in that I didn’t do it for long, but I launched a program online. I launched a wealth program for women and honestly, it was an almighty flop. I blew up a whole pile of money on it. I was depressed after it. I remember feeling down myself, embarrassed, ashamed and loads of things because I was like, “I’m this corporate chick that should’ve done well.” I suffered for a few months and I down tools and did nothing. I had a few private clients.
This is how The Virtual Hub started. It was born out of the seeds of disaster. I had a few private clients. I was helping them with a small business like a natural path and nothing major. I was like, “If you don’t hire staff, you’re never going to get out of it and unshackle yourself,” but they had no money to hire staff. I was like, “We’ll have to go to the Philippines.” I was recruiting VAs and long story short, I found myself getting phone calls from friends of theirs saying, “Can you get me one of those VAs?” I was like, “Go on Upwork and get one yourself.” I couldn’t figure out why people would pay me to do it, but I started doing it. Literally, within a month I had a business that I had no business plan for.
I had never been to the Philippines and I had fifteen staff. All on these subcontractor deals that were shady and a mess and that was the start of the business. It was the first problem I solved was that people were too scared to do it themselves. After that, lots of other problems raised its ugly head. I ended up coming to this path and who would’ve thought I was in going to end up in HR, recruiting and training business in Asia, in the Philippines. I’ve never even been there. At that point, I’d never been there. I still haven’t been there often. I have two children. I’ve been either pregnant or with newborns and it wasn’t possible for me to be there all the time. I have done something that people told me I would never be able to do. Anyone who’s built a business like this said, “Unless you’re in the Philippines, you won’t be able to build it.” I was like, “Watch me.”
When you said, “All of a sudden, people were asking me,” and you were saying, “You can go on and do it yourself.” The reason we use general contractors to build a house, you could hire all the subcontractors yourself. You could download a checklist from Google, you could figure it out and you could do it yourself, but you don’t know enough about how it works. You hire a general contractor and pay 11% to 15% more than if you did it yourself because you want the comfort of feeling like somebody has been down the road before you and they know the path.
People, as you’re reading, you can’t see Barbara, she’s relaxed, at ease with her own skin demeanor. She doesn’t all hyped up now, granted it’s going on 10:00 at night where she is. Maybe she’s a little sleepy. There’s this relaxed feeling that instills confidence. I’m listening to her and I’m going, “I don’t even know her, but I like her.” If people were having that experience and giving you endorsements, it makes perfect sense that they’re going, “It works for so and so, why wouldn’t it work for me?” Those things snowball. They pick up their own steam. All of a sudden, you ended up in this business.
First of all, what was the moment where you thought, “I need to professionalize this thing? I’m doing this as a sideline. I’m trying to be a consultant or coaching some people, but now all of a sudden, I’m recruiting VAs for them and I’m getting more attention from that than from this. I better legitimize this a little bit or make it real.” What was that moment? What did you do to start building something that was quite unfamiliar?
The first thing to note there was that I could feel that in my own energy that I realized there was a pivotal moment that happened quickly where I realized, “I don’t love doing the consulting, but I love doing this.”
It exploded in my brain something that I believe and you’re saying it. I want to set up what you’re going to say with this because thinking back to your financial thing for women, whatever the course was. I can’t stress this enough. The reason most businesses, small business startups fail is because the owner does something that they want to do. They spend money on it, tell all their friends and might buy ads for it. They get deeply invested in something without ever determining if anybody else gives a darn about what they’re doing. Probably nobody wants to buy your stupid thing, but you stick to it doggedly because you’re far down that road. You said you were embarrassed. Most people hang on to foolish, stupid, wasteful, ridiculous things and they’ll go into the poor house trying to force-feed the market something that nobody wants to eat. When you find something that people want, it will take right off.
Friends of mine and other people in the industry, whatever we’re saying, you need to launch again. I was like, “No, there’s something in my gut telling me nobody wants to buy this.” Friends of mine were saying, “Everyone said it was a great idea.” This is a great tip for anyone reading. Years later, I realized, everybody thought it was great. All the women I spoke to, I did surveys and all that, they all loved it, except the problem was they saw it in their future. They didn’t want to buy it now. What they told me and a lot of them were business owners. They were like, “I want to work on my wealth. Now, I need to build this business because I can’t get out of the weeds.”
What ended up coming to me was me saying, “They want to buy that, but it’s not an immediate pain they have now. It’s something that is in the future. It’s like retirement. It’s difficult. The pain that I ended up solving now was acute.” Nobody ever said to me, “What’s your website?” They were like, “How do I get one of those VAs?” They didn’t care that we had no website. We had no brand, that we were nothing. They didn’t care that there was no contract. After about the first couple of months, I was like, “This is taking off. We need to get a website. We got a landing page.” It rumbled on.
Interestingly though, there was a moment about seven months after I started the business where I almost decided to close it. We joked about my email address. I was getting flooded because what happens when you solve one problem and you will know this. You solve for one problem well, and then you forget that when you solve that problem, you’re going to unearth the ugly face of the next problem. For me, that was the clients we were taking on. Yes, they needed help. Yes. They wanted the cheap VA in the Philippines, but they didn’t know how to delegate. I was like, “Now, we have to get rid of them or train them.”
Similarly, the VAs in the Philippines say they know stuff, but they know a mishmash of stuff. We need to train them. I nearly imploded because people were contacting me on every channel complaining about VAs, VAs complaining about clients. I was like, “That’s it. I’m done.” I thought, “I need to fire 70% of the staff.” They were contractors, “Fire half the clients. Start again.” It was at that moment that I thought, “I know I’m onto something. I need to gather my strength and I need to solve for the next problem that has come up.” That was the start, the genesis of what we have, which we’ve our own training platforms and do massive amounts of training and we’re becoming a training company.
I want to get in and talk about the company a little bit, but I can’t overstate the fact. Two things. One is the market has to want your thing. If you try to get people to meet you where you are, it’s a heavy lift versus if you go meet them where they are and solve a problem that they’re feeling, it’s the old thing about, let’s say you’ve got a headache. People can tell you, “If you were taking more B12 and ginseng and this combination of herbs every day and a tea, it would do all these things to your body.” That can all be true and maybe that would keep you from ever having a headache again in the rest of your life but now, “I need an aspirin.”
That’s what happened to me. I call it my accidental business. I didn’t mean to start it. I had no business plan. People were flooding in to buy.
You did the second thing, which is you started without an end goal. People were coming at you. There was a way to make money, but there was no clear path. People, this happens all the time. Remember this for you too, you have to stop and then as Stephen Covey says, “Begin with the end in mind and start to do things where you say, ‘This is what I’m going to do and this is what I’m not going to do. I’m going to provide these things and not be everything to everybody.’” I’m dying to hear the next part, but as Barbara intimated, even now as they grow and become more successful the nature of the business is somewhat changing from being basically a broker or a talent agent or a dating service between the VAs and the business owners. Now, you said it’s becoming more of a training platform. Can you tell us a little bit about your business and a little bit about what you mean by all that?
The first stage of legitimizing it and making it a real business was at that moment. That went quite well for the following twelve months. I realized that they were subcontractors of a contractor in the Philippines. We had about 65 staff of people and I was like, “They’re all working from home. It was starting to implode again.” Can I imagine having 1,000 people working from home on this thing, I was fortuitous. I met a woman who’s been a bit of a mentor of mine. She’s in the Philippines. She’d been in this game for a long time. One day, she goes, “You’re going to have to legitimize it. You need to come here. You need to get a Philippine company and you need to make them all employees.” Bear in mind, this was exactly at the time that Zirtual in the US failed because they made everyone an employee. They had 500 contractors in the US and you can Google this about this company. They decided to make everyone an employee and the benefits collapsed the entire company.
Undercapitalization is a death knell to a company. You have to have money to go through growth. You think you’re excited about growth, but growth is incredibly expensive. You have to have enough capital resources so you can survive the growth when you think you’re killing it, but you’re going upside down month after month while you catch up to the growth. She’s covering another incredibly important point. I hope you guys are taking notes because undercapitalization, besides the stupid idea and poor processes, the lack of capital is the other thing that kills companies. She’s covered all of these.
I learned this by accident. You’ve got expertise here. I had it natural. I suppose I came out of the investment world. I accidentally discovered that I had some talents that were useful. I’m going to tell you something in a bit, that’s going to circle back to a point we started with that you’re going to love. I decided, “We need to do the numbers and all of this and essentially, we were going to blow up everything we had made in terms of our run rates and all of that. All the profit that we were currently making was going to be burnt by legitimizing it.” We did a few more sales. I was like, “We need some more sales. We’re going to do it.”
We went and did it. I did go escape too close to the wind. I knew I was going to, but we had the numbers done. We went wild after sales to get a few more to try and fund it. Weirdly, when we made everyone an employee and gave them all these benefits and top-level private health cover and everything, twenty people resigned. We were like, “What?” because now they had to pay tax. Now, they were going to be watched. They were going to be part of a system they didn’t want to be in. That was a major rumble for me.
The business went backward. It was a scary time because I didn’t anticipate that. I was told if you give them private health cover and you give Filipinos this, that and the other that they would love me forever. No, they didn’t. They wanted to be freelancers. This is another tip I’ve learned along the way. As your company grows, there are going to be people who are not going to like the bigger version of you. They want the small one where everyone was cool to each other and high fiving at the water cooler. Now, your company is becoming more legit, more corporate and systems. We brought in a head of ops, we brought in a head of HR and we also moved to the city. I decided to move out of Manila and moved downstairs to a city called Cebu.
I didn’t even go. I sent a few scouters from my team. I flew them down there. They scouted out. I flew by the seat of my pants a bit. We scouted out an office, we put out flyers and hired a few people there. That office has gone boom down there. Where was I going? I set up the company, did skate to close to the wind and had to hustle hard over the next year. Essentially, it was like starting a new company all over again. It was a painful transition. Sadly, we were coming out of that and we were ready for scale this year and COVID hit. We were like, “Here we go again.” We’ve come through COVID. It’s been chaos, but having gone to an office-based operation, we got offices and everything. We then had to send everyone home again.
We had to buy computers and blow up a load of money again trying to fund the whole thing. What I’ve learned over the years is to trust that it’s that vision thing that you spoke about. The whole way through COVID I’ve had some dark days, but I’ve said to myself, “I know where this is going. I know the model works.” We have loads of demand even through this time, but recruiting is hard. Retaining staff is hard. There are lots of problems, but it’s that belief that we’re doing the right thing. The feedback we’re getting from our employees is strong. Our clients love what we’re doing. More clients are coming through the door. We’ve got to do it. We got to forge ahead and get bigger. It’s either get bigger or go home. It’s get bigger or close up.
The truth is there are tasks that need to be done right there where you’re sitting. There are tasks that can be outsourced from around the world across the other side of the planet. One thing that COVID has clearly shown us is that we can stay open even if we can’t be at the office. We can work from home. I’ve had people come on the program already during COVID and say things like, “You can go work at home. You can do all this and we’re going to go to this whole work at home thing.” I say, “A lot of people, especially people that aren’t getting paid a whole lot of money. They’re not high-end and a virtual assistant typically is not one of your top-paid employees.” At least, if you’re a bigger company. If it’s your only employee, they’re highly-paid.
The point is that, especially in expensive countries, like the United States is an expensive place to live. Go to London, go to Paris, you need these big capitals of the Western world. They’re expensive. San Francisco and New York are incredibly expensive places to live in. When you say, “We can have all of our people domestically working from home.” That’s a little bit of ivory tower thinking because a lot of them have children at home that make noise. They don’t have a spare bedroom. They don’t have a real dining room where they could go sit somewhere outside of their kitchen, TV space. This idea that we can outsource everything domestically and send our employees home is a fallacy.
Lots of people don’t want to work from home. We’ve had a lot of depression. We’ve had people with depression. They don’t want to be at home. They’re like, “I miss the office and miss my friends.” A lot of our people are in their twenties. They’re not loving it at all.
There’s no social interaction. If you’re locked in the little box of your apartment or your house, you work there, sleep there, romance there, exercise there and you eat there, at some point you go, “I’m sick of this place.” It does not become a productive place to be. Flip that around. There are people who live in countries that don’t have the economic strength of some of the countries that I’ve named, Philippines is one of them and because English is prevalent in the Philippines so it’s easy. Even if there’s even if pronunciation and so on may be hard for some people, it doesn’t sound like English. It doesn’t mean they’re not speaking English.
It doesn’t mean that they’re not understanding your English and because you may not want to put that person on important customer service or sales call, doesn’t mean they can’t be an easy person to deal with and you’re not dealing with a big language barrier. You’re having to listen to a little bit more intently. There are people who are wildly and well-educated people that are available for a comparatively low price compared to that same education in Silicon Valley. You can get somebody with a Bachelor’s or Master’s or doctoral degree in the Philippines to do stuff for you at still 15% or 25%.
I would say our guys speak fully fluent English and they sound great.
I’ve talked to the VAs that were more helping me with my calendar stuff. It was tough sometimes to understand them but they knocked out the work.
We don’t hire those. I wanted to touch on something. I wanted to circle back to what I was talking about being a doctor in a hospital and the energy of that and then the energy of a trading floor. I was asked on a podcast once, “What did I think made me successful in doing this?” A couple of things I want to explain beforehand. I realized early on in doing this business that it was a broken model. I was looking at the industry going, “Everyone’s turning VAs and clients and it’s a recruiting thing.” They’re saying, “We do HR management payroll,” but all they’re doing is glorified recruiting and a bit of office space. That’s it. The turn rate was high.
Lots of resignations, attrition of employees, clients turning and burning, clients poaching staff, direct staff, poaching clients, cutting you out, all that stuff was going on. I thought to myself, “This industry is ripe for disruption. Somebody has got to come in and do this right.” I thought to myself, “The model of charging people,” a subscription model, which is what we have. We charge a subscription-free every month. It is recurring based. We charge one fee. There are no breakdowns, but in order to do that, you need to be more of a partner to the client. I thought to myself, “If you’re trying to go across loads of industries, it’s hard to do that. How about we niche down the whole inch-wide, mile-deep niche?”
I love digital marketing. I had learned digital marketing in the wealth thing that I had started. Even though I had no marketing background in my career, I had learned a massive amount through that experience of the failed business. I knew how much help I needed with platforms like Infusionsoft and HubSpot and WordPress platforms. If we say that we are digital marketing VAs, implementation, we’ll handle all the training, we’ll develop all the SOPs and all the task lists, everything. A client can come to us and we are like a one-stop-shop where the client will say, “I don’t want to train them.” That’s usually what they say. I was like, “Don’t worry about it. We’ll train them.”
We have them already trained before we even show them to you. The point I want to make here is my background helped me to analyze the market and go, “What’s the market telling me?” There was a lot of anger online around VAs and offshoring and it doesn’t work for my business and all that stuff. I knew that somebody had to solve this problem. I was going to do it in one industry. The second thing that made it successful was deeply listening to the client and also to the VAs and going, “How do we listen to both sides deeply, iterate, slowly tweak and change constantly so that we give the market what they want?” People often say to me, “Have you heard about this group or that group?”
They’re all competitors, technically. I don’t even know who they are because one of the things I learned in my previous career when I was in asset management sales with Deutsche Bank and I remember the CEO is saying to me, “Don’t worry about the competitors. Listen to the client and get the solution that the client needs. If you listen to them, you’ll outsell the competition anyway.” That served me well and we have a very high customer satisfaction rate. Our success rate is through the roof compared to the industry.
The third thing I want to touch on that I said on this podcast and I realized after this guy asked me this question was that every day that the main role operationally that I do, I build the company. I’m not involved with clients. I don’t talk to clients. I’m not involved in any of it. I do lead all the teams. I’m like a COO type, but I do the matching. Every day we have a daily huddle where the head of recruiting, head of training, head of sales. They’re all on the call with me and they’re reporting all their numbers to me. I’m saying, “Remember we operate 24 hours. We’ve got three levels of VA. Night shift, day shift, three levels of VA part-time, full-time.” I’m trading people. It’s matching supply and demand. It’s like being on a trading floor and saying, “Put her there, introduce him to him. Maybe she’d fit there.”
Usually, we get a home run on the first meetup because the fish is correct. I’m able to take all of the reporting and all the data and remember who’s done what training, who excelled in what area? I can match people quickly in twenty minutes every day. That’s the role I play. That is the hardest role to delegate. Some of my team are stepping up into it now, but it was from my trading floor days that I’m doing the same thing. All I’m doing is listening to the market. I’m not telling the market what I want it to do. I’m letting the market tell me what’s happening and then I moving and iterating and then matching supply and demand so that we get the highest matching rate. That’s what you do on a trading floor.
One thing was there are some things that are difficult to delegate. It doesn’t mean they’re impossible to delegate. My guess is that if Barbara made a choice where she had to be gone for an extended period of time or you sold the company or you dropped down dead, it’s possible that it could keep going because there’s a good team and there’s a good process. The deal about being unshackled isn’t about being retired unless that’s what you want. It’s about building something around you and building with the team and listen to all the names. She training in HR. You have a team of people that comes together once a week to do this matching.
Every day they do a huddle and she steps into her role, but everybody else is then who knows how much other works come into that meeting? Where all of a sudden, Barbara’s superpower of being able to do these matches can shine, but if she was bogged down in, “What are my accounts payable now? What are the receivables? Can we shorten up our receivable dates? We’ve got a problem with the phone system or the copy machine’s out of toner.” If that’s what you were focused on like many entrepreneurs are, you wouldn’t be able to be clear-minded to come in every day and do these successful matches.
Unshackled means, “I’m not burdened down with the chains of all this other crap that’s keeping me from doing what I’m great at and what I love to do that we stopped progressing.” You cannot learn more work more hours. You have to begin to build a team. Maybe the way you start that is by calling The Virtual Hub and getting some help with your social media and getting more clients and building your reputation online and becoming cooler where people want to work with you, but you start chunking it out to people that are better at that than you are. What happens is you become elevated as the big star. You notice we’re not interviewing any of Barbara’s employees. We’re interviewing her.
You’re not going to be able to be on podcasts, honestly. You’re not going to be able to be a speaker, be on podcasts, write a book, do any of these things that you want to do. If I could unpack what I typically say to people, it doesn’t matter if you are a billion-dollar company or you’re a mom selling stuff on Etsy from your kitchen table. Every business, no matter how big or how small has departments. Even if you’re doing it all, you still have marketing, sales, inventory, product delivery and all of that stuff. It doesn’t matter. People always say to me, “I don’t know where to start.” I’m like, “All you do is start with what are the daily, weekly, monthly recurring, small process-driven things in each of those departments that need to be done in order to keep the engine of the business moving forward?”
If you’re doing those things yourself, then you’re never going to focus on the stuff that’s going to move the business forward because you’re in the churn of what needs to keep the business alive that is now. That’s the easiest stuff to delegate. You create a process for each little thing because people don’t want to create processes. They don’t want to learn how to delegate. They don’t believe that delegation is the gateway to scalable business. A startup is different because, in a startup, you’re trying to find a product to market fit. You can’t delegate that. You’ve got to go out and hustle and find the thing that people are going to hold themselves to buy from you. When you find the thing that people are going to buy, I know I’m singing from the same hymn sheet as you, but when you find that thing that you know is hot, you know is going to sell, now you’ve got a business.
The next step is to learn to delegate fast because otherwise, you’re going to implode. If you learn to delegate effectively, all the other skills will come accidentally by mistakes, but delegation is not a topic that’s talked about enough in the entrepreneurial community because it’s what the COOs do. It’s the head of this and the head of that. They learn to build systems, build processes and delegate stuff down to the lowest cost, most efficient route. That’s where an offshore team is going to work like dynamite for your bottom line because it’s going to pay the largest dividends if you do this properly. When people get their heads around, “It doesn’t matter if I’m the mom at the kitchen table.” The concepts are the same as a billion-dollar company. It’s business 101 or company building 101. It doesn’t change.
I have all these highly educated business school people including Harvard Business School. The people come back and say they never taught us any of this at Harvard because they were busy learning other things that are also important and also useful. We’re getting down to the wire here. Let me ask you a couple of things. First of all, you said it, but I’d like to give you a chance to say it straight out. What is an ideal match for your company? In other words, if I think I might want to hire a virtual team, what specifically would I come to Virtual Hub for when you are talking about marketing?
We’re not for everyone. We’re specific about who we can help. I’d love to help everyone, but at the moment, we’re quite specific. We typically deal with small, sometimes medium-sized businesses all over the world. It doesn’t matter what industry they’re in. We’ve got everything from a fisherman in Australia to a Facebook Ad agency in Boston and everything in between. The thing that ties them all together is that they either have a digital strategist or they have a good digital strategy and they’re running things, they’re doing podcasts, they’ve got a YouTube channel, they’re doing funnels, they’re putting on webinars, they’re in this digital space. Typically, there’s so much to doing and tasks that need to be done in order to keep a podcast moving and to keep a YouTube channel alive, all of the above. Even blog content on your website and all of that stuff, that’s where we play.
We play in that space. We do general admin typically, but we don’t do a lot of is. The reason being is because I can’t control the training. General admin relies on the business owner and how good they are at building their own systems. In the digital space, we’ve got systems for link-building for SEO. We’ve got all the SOPs already and people can either use them or not use them. We’ve got success coaches that help the VAs and help the client to get success with this. We’ve built a whole model around the back of this. Any business that is doing digital these days, everyone is, but that’s the thing that ties them together. That’s where we help the most. We’re not going to do prospecting calls, for example, for a real estate agent.
You’re not doing a lot of AR AP accounting things?
We’re not doing any accounting. The other thing is the virtual assistants. You’ve got to remember the word unfortunately has been destroyed because the word virtual assistant now means anyone with a heartbeat who could type right through to anybody who can code an app, which is incorrect. If you think about the word assistant, what does it mean? They’re assisting you, they’re not a strategist. Some people come to us and they go, “I want them to hit the ground running and come up with ideas for me and run the business.”
I’m like, “You need a strategist.” If you’ve got a deep process and you want someone to do the doing, we call it separating the heads from the hands. You need some hands and you need to separate yourself from all the admin and the grunt work so that you can free up your time and your team’s time onshore, be them salespeople. We spoke to someone that needs people to do client onboarding because of the onboarding process of getting all the documents and it’s a financial-backed company. Getting all these documents in place is tying up their sales team and stopping them from doing more sales. That’s an obvious thing that should be given to an offshore team member that you can integrate.
I want to end with two things. I’m going to ask you to put this in the back of your mind, you can pull it out quickly. I’m going to ask you one thing and then I want you to end with if you have a quote, a book, or something that you want to pass along to people. First, one of the things I loved and the thing that besides the horse connection, the thing that got me was that you didn’t talk about how much cheaper and how much easier we could do it using foreign people. You also talked about what this means to the people that you’re hiring. Do you want to give us about your philosophy around how hiring a virtual assistant is not a blessing to the business owner?
There are a few things I want to say about this. A lot of people, especially at the moment in the environment that we’re in where there are unemployment and people losing jobs, they’re worried about, “Am I taking jobs from my own country?” First of all, in the global economy, we all need to grow. It’s how it is. If a business is thinking this way, I’m like, “This is a strategy you need to put in.” Every single business need this now because profit matters and it doesn’t matter for you, it matters for your country. It matters for the GDP. It matters that you go in and pay tax revenue in your country so that you can then go on, hire salespeople, lawyers and accountants and all of these things in your own country.
Maybe the way to do that is to embrace the offshore strategy piece. In doing it as well, we have dynamic careers. We’re building careers for people in countries like the Philippines. Traditionally, they’ve all ended up in call centers or they’re working in Jollibee, which is the equivalent of McDonald’s over there or lower-end or lower paperwork. Here’s an opportunity for the smartest ones of them to build a dynamic career that they want and enjoy. This is great work for them. You’re helping that whole economy as well. That’s my philosophy on this whole thing. On the employment thing and this works in the Philippines, America, whatever you’re doing. It’s important to remember as a company that you need an employee brand as well as an external brand.
We have an entirely separate brand in the Philippines that is inbound lead generation for employees. We’re putting out content all the time about how to build a great career, about where the marketing industry is going, stuff that we’re not doing for clients, but it’s a completely separate thing over there to attract. We have our core values, purpose, and we talk all about that on our social media channels. It’s important to remember that you have two clients in whatever business you’re in. You’ve got your employees and the people you want to recruit to work for you and you also have the clients that you’re servicing. Many businesses treat the employee side like they’re doing the work. No, they deserve as much respect, love and acknowledgment. That’s something that I’ve spent a long time building in the Philippines and that’s what lights me up. One day I want to sell the company and make a load of money, whatever, but that’s the bit that keeps me going every day. It’s watching people transform on both sides, the client and employee side.
It’s such a good thing that you acknowledge it because I talk a lot about what do you stand for? What do you stand against? One of the things I stand against is treating employees what I observe the vast majority of employers do and most of these are small companies. Owners tend to treat their employees either like family or slaves. “We’re in it together. Let’s have dinner. Let’s be friends,” and then there’s this fear and it’s always leading with the stick. I stand against both of those. I stand for treating your people like the best human resources that you could afford to bring into your operation. The best, most qualified people that need to be acknowledged and respected for what they know how to do that you don’t have time or competency to do.
We want to respect them because they come to work to make money so they can fund everything that they want to do in their life. Work is something that they do because they have to do it to fund their own interests. If we can make work both financially rewarding, but more importantly, as you discovered, when you went on salaries, people will work harder for something they believe in or something they love than they will ever work for money.
The money piece has to be reasonable, but the culture, the respect, the acknowledgment, listening to their ideas, acting on, if not, there is at least their coworker’s ideas. They see, “The owners are listening to us, the ones in the trenches.” When we do that, then we get more than their hands, but you also get their heart. One of the things we do at my company is we pay for college classes for people, as long as they’re working. If it’s anything related to what we do, we’ll pay for college.
I know that I’m educating that employee right into leaving me and going off on their own adventure but during that time, they are the most dedicated people to what we’re doing. They go, “My employer appreciates me as a human being and wants me to be successful even if it may end up not benefiting them forever.” People, when you treat your employees with respect, it will change the nature of your business, but also of your life because you will become much more successful. They won’t just do the work, they’ll give you their ideas. They’ll feel confident to take a risk and say, “I think we should change this. I think we should start doing this.”
Some people think as well that you’ve got to not make the mistake of thinking that doesn’t mean you can’t have boundaries. Like with clients, you can have boundaries around what’s acceptable behavior or not, who’s a fit and who’s not and then you start to recruit for this and you go, “Is this person of going to fit in here? Are we going to be a fit for them?” Sometimes, someone with the best experience in the world and you think, “They are not a cultural fit. We can’t help them.”
We were doing a lot of work trying to redevelop our purpose because I used to always say it had to work for both the employee side and the client-side. Our purpose is with a jewel approach. It was always eradicating overwhelm, which is not on our website at the moment, but we came up with a new one when we started peeling the layers of that back. We were like, “What happens when we eradicate over overwhelm for our clients, for our employees, for our staff and for our team?” When you eradicate overwhelm, you unlock the business owner to go and build the business that they dreamt of building that they ended up going down a path of not building.
For an employee, you unlock their energy to then go and pursue the passions that they have, to enjoy the work that they’re doing. We’ve redeveloped our purpose and we’re about to come out on our website with this where are our purpose is now that we are passionate about unlocking dreams. We do this for our clients, for our team and for our employees. Every decision we now make in our company, I’ve asked our leadership team. They have to ask themselves, “If we’re recruiting someone, have we the ability to unlock a dream for this person? Are they going to help us to unlock our dream of the company that we want to build and unlock the client’s dream of the business they want to build?” If we can’t say yes to those questions, we’re not going to hire them because they’re not a fit for us. It doesn’t matter about their skills.
Is there any guiding principle, quote, anything? I like poetry. I use poetry. What’s yours?
A good friend of mine when I was having a dark day said this to me. It’s an Arabic proverb, “The dogs may be barking, but the caravan still passes.” It was the idea that clients might be at you complaining and the market might be bad. The employees are pissed off and you’re having a bad time, but the caravan still passes. The caravan is the company, the business and you got to listen, but you’ve got to try to keep focused on the vision and where you’re going and all of that. I always bring it up because, on bad days, I go, “The caravan is still passing and we are moving ahead.”
You’re going to have terrible crummy days. Part of becoming unshackled is doing the work that’s going to change the nature, not only of the business but also of you. You’re going to have to become a slightly different person than you are now in order to grow your business and delegate the work. I could pontificate on this. Here’s the deal, what you’ve heard and we went a little longer than we normally do, but I think that what we learned has been freaking fantastic. I want to thank Barbara for coming on and sharing her journey with us, sharing so much gold. People, if you want to grow your business in the marketing, social media and digital world, go check out The Virtual Hub, see if it’s a good fit.
We already know. We heard it. Maybe here first before it makes the website. The goal is to unlock the dream. If they can’t do it, they’re not going to say yes to you, anyway. Go to The Virtual Hub, check them out, see if they can help you, but no matter what you do, learn that beautiful art, the challenging thing, especially for an entrepreneur who gets a lot of strokes by people standing outside their door with saying, “Can I get five minutes?”
A lot of people love being the most intelligent needed person in the company. As long as you’re that, you will always be shackled. Go out there. Contact Barbara Turley’s company, The Virtual Hub. It’s easy to find online, go out there and change the nature of your social media game. Learn the skills. Tell your friends about this. Subscribe to the show if you haven’t, tell people because this freaking gold is what we bring you. We’ll be back with you again with another great guest. Until then, Barbara, thanks for being here. Go out and make it a great day. We’ll see you next time on the show.
About Barbara Turley
Barbara Turley is an investor and entrepreneur with a keen interest in scalable business models, systems, processes and automation, content marketing and the power of inspired and empowered teams.
Before launching The Virtual Hub Barbara enjoyed a financial markets career that spanned 15 years and included being a trader for some of the world’s largest investment banks, successfully trading her own money, managing relationships with some of Australia’s largest wealth management businesses and becoming an early stage investor in a number of very successful, disruptive financial services companies.
Today, Barbara is the Founder & CEO of The Virtual Hub – a business she started by accident that exploded in the space of 12 months to become one of the leading companies that recruits, trains and manages virtual assistants in the digital marketing and social media space for businesses who need to free up time and energy so they can go to the next level.
She is also mum to her daughter Ruby, wife to her best friend and soul mate Eti and an adventure lover with a passion for horses, skiing, tennis and time out in nature
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