JF1924: How Low Cost VA’s Can Help You Scale Your Business with Brad Stevens
Brad is the CEO of a company that helps entrepreneurs and real estate investors find and work with great virtual assistants. We’ll hear about where the VA’s are based, and why, what kind of roles they thrive in, and how to train them to work in your business best. If you enjoyed today’s episode remember to subscribe in iTunes and leave us a review!
Best Ever Tweet:
“Everything in business is about ROI, it’s all about how you value your time” – Brad Stevens
Brad Stevens Real Estate Background:
- Founder and CEO of Outsource Access
- They provide Entrepreneurs and Commercial Real Estate Agents with highly trained, low cost virtual assistants
- Based in Atlanta, GA
- Say hi to him at https://outsourceaccess.com/
- Best Ever Book: Fast Forward Mindset
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Theo Hicks: Hello, Best Ever listeners. Welcome back to the best real estate investing advice ever show. I am your host today, Theo Hicks, and today we are speaking with Brad Stevens. Brad, how are you doing today?
Brad Stevens: Fantastic, Theo. Thanks so much for the opportunity to be here.
Theo Hicks: Oh, absolutely. I appreciate you stopping by. I’m looking forward to our conversation. Before we get into that conversation though, a little bit about Brad – he is the founder and CEO of Outsource Access, which is a company that provides entrepreneurs and commercial real estate agents with highly-trained, low-cost virtual assistants. He is based in Atlanta, Georgia, and you can say hi to him at OutsourceAccess.com.
Brad, before we get started, can you tell us a little bit more about your background and what you’re focused on now?
Brad Stevens: Sure. I’m originally from Atlanta, which is kind of rare these days. We have quite the melting pot and huge growth in the city here. I grew up in an entrepreneurial family, and I kind of knew that was the path I was gonna take after college… So after graduating I actually went to work [unintelligible [00:02:27].04] I came back to Atlanta. The last 20 years all I’ve done is build and grow companies in different industries. Some product-based business, service-based businesses… And as anybody knows, as an entrepreneur it’s quite the journey up and down along the way, but you learn a ton. Along that path I actually learned about this whole world we’ll be talking about today.
Growing my last company I had some challenges, and I had to figure out how to get lean, make dollars stretch. Nowadays I heard about this whole world of outsourcing and VAs, and people that have read Tim Ferriss’ 4-Hour Workweek back ten years ago… I just was intrigued by it, and it just absolutely changed the game once I really took all my perceptions and really learned what that world is, and who these people are, and the incredible competency and what they’re able to get done; super-quality, super low-cost… It just completely changed my life and my business.
So I launched Outsource Access, which we’ll talk about — it’s a whole company based in the Philippines, and why we chose that as a country, which is really unique… And now I get the chance to do speaking as well, under Brad Stevens training brand; I get to speak all over the world now. I’ve got about 30 speak engagements throughout the year… Just bringing this information to small business owners, entrepreneurs; Best Ever listeners, a lot of them out there I’m sure are in the same boat, of “How do you get more done with less in today’s world?” So now I live and breathe it, and speak, educate on it, and have a whole platform where we provide some of these resources as well. I absolutely love it, and it’ll be what I do through the end of my career.
Theo Hicks: There you go. So you mentioned that the virtual assistants that your company provides – you said they’re in the Philippines, and you said that you have a reason behind choosing that country. Why is that?
Brad Stevens: When I first started — and a lot of listeners maybe have heard of platforms like UpWork, and Fiverr… There’s over 300+ platforms out there where you can find people all over the world to do things, where the American dollar has a strength from a currency standpoint… I work with a lot of different countries for different types of things. For India, for example, I do a lot of website development and graphic design and stuff… But I’ve found that particularly in my world I used all these tactical freelancers out there, but I felt I needed a rock-solid right-hand person that I could afford… And most small businesses – the entrepreneurs can’t afford a full-time executive assistant or an admin to help in everything, from managing email, and travel, and scheduling, and then to take on and manage other tasks…
So I learned about the Philippines, and basically, relative to the rest of South-East Asia, it’s very Americanized. The U.S. kind of controlled it up until 1946-1947, and English is actually their second language; they have an American education system and they’re highly talented, very skilled individuals. I visited there back in April, visited 20 facilities. You walk down the streets of Manila and you feel like you’re right in the U.S. They have Starbucks, and steakhouses, and so forth. So it’s a very Americanized culture they get, so it’s very easy to work with in terms of culture and language and so forth… But the minimum wage there is still $1 to $1,5 per hour. That’s why for years many companies have had their call centers over there.
What we do – we’re able to pay and they’re able to make multiple, multiple times the minimum wage, and work from home, have flexibility. They’re very appreciative for work, they work super-fast, they learn super-quickly, and you don’t have the language barriers.
So we used that for our general VAs, to manage and do everything from scheduling and email and research and data scraping for leads, and social media management… I have one that lives in my LinkedIn account full-time, just kind of helping me grow and manage our LinkedIn account… But then they also manage all the other skilled stuff. You need a brochure done – you have your VA go and manage someone to go get a brochure done for you. Or you need a mobile app built – your VA will source and manage it, and manage the project. So they kind of become your quarterback project manager. We’ve found the Philippines is the best place for that particular role… And then we use other countries as well for other specialized skills.
Theo Hicks: That’s very interesting. I did not know how Americanized the Philippines was. I’ve definitely seen a lot of VAs out of that country, so that really makes sense to me now. So in my mind I’m kind of thinking through the process… So if I want to hire a VA, what are the steps I would go through. In my mind, the first step would be determining when would be the right time to hire a VA, and then actually find the VA, and then screen the VA. I kind of wanna walk through that process with you… So whether you’re talking to a client, or just from your perspective as a real estate investor, when do you think is the right time to bring on a VA? What point in their business should they be at, or what point in life should they be at, when it’s time for them and they go “Okay, I can actually hire a VA now”?
Brad Stevens: Well, everything in life is about ROI, both in business and your personal life… So I’ll speak to two points. One is “When is the right point for it?” It’s all about how much you value your time and what your time is worth, and what you’re able to do with your time, which is the highest and best use of your capability… And a lot of people struggle with finding clarity on that.
To give you one point of reference – with VAs, when we provide VAs, we charge $1,450/month. When you average — and we provide a whole bunch of back-end culture and support, and they have this thing in the Philippines called the 13th month, where they get a full additional pay in December, a whole other month’s worth, so you’ve gotta normalize that all out… But that’s kind of what the cost is for somebody working 40 hours a week for you, and doing a whole variety of things, everything from personal email management, follow-up, scheduling, research, and generating leads… Particularly from an investing standpoint, which we’re people in this field, it’s data scraping prospects; all the public records are out there, and if we’re doing wholesaling, VAs can go and aggregate all that information, and even do email outreach to hard money lenders, they can go into Facebook groups where all these different people live and exist, and go in and look for opportunities to engage… Managing your LinkedIn account and do a whole bunch of things there… There’s a whole laundry list of stuff, and I can share at the end kind of a short video training I got a chance to do actually for the Global Conference for Real Estate, SIOR Group…
But when you see all those different things and you look at $1,450/month for example is what our cost is, with commercial real estate — we work with a lot of commercial real estate agents… And if they close one additional deal, that can be worth $25,000-$30,000. So if I got back that amount on my time and I had a VA working for me 40 hours/week… And a lot of people think “Well, I don’t have 40 hours of work to begin with.” Well, you may not to start with, but you kind of grow into it very rapidly, is what we find with everybody. And if you got your time back so you could focus more on the relationship building, which for most people (in real estate investing or otherwise) it’s all about that personal connection, relationship building, and then just getting market intelligence.
If you could spend your time focusing on strategic direction relationship building, evaluating data versus actually doing a lot of that, what I call administrative operational clutter – I kind of call it death by paper cuts, which is not the best use… And we all know what it is when we wake up and do that stuff; we’re like “This is not worth my time…”
You get somebody that’s plugged in, that learns super-rapidly, and they take that off your plate. With commercial real estate, they close one additional deal. If you looked at a VA full-time for the entire year, that’s just under $18,000/year; if they close one additional deal, that more than double pays for a VA for the entire year.
So it’s about how you value your time and opportunity cost. When you say yes to something, you’re saying no to something else. So it’s looking at it through that lens, and how you value your time. And if you got X back, could you just get one more deal? Or how many deals do you need to close to pay for it? Everything should be in terms of ROI.
And on the personal… It blew my mind what VA’s could do on the business side, but then like in our house, we actually had a natural gas leak in our house, and we had to rip out all the drywall and repair all our gas lines… And it’s gonna take hours and hours of my time (or my wife’s) to go research vendors, and find people that could do drywall repair… So I literally just took a video of it. I went and took a video of it, and recorded “Hey, this is the problem.” I sent the video to my VA, she took it, and she went and posted on HomeAdvisor, Angie’s List and so forth, and went and found people, emailed back and forth to get quotes, and then teed up the candidates for me. It saved hours of my time.
My watch was broken. I took a picture of it, sent it to her, she took the picture, zoomed in, found a repair place online, went and filled out all the paperwork, went in my UPS account, created a shipping label using a tool called Dashlane, which we’ll talk about how you can share your password without ever giving your password away to a VA… And had it all in my inbox the next morning.
So how you value your time is kind of when the decision point is of getting things off your plate. Most entrepreneurs and people continue to wear more and more hats, because they can’t afford a typical resource or what it would cost; this makes it affordable, and they can actually get things delegated.
In terms of the process, it’s all about vetting. What we’ve found, and myself – I have been doing this for ten years now – just like in the U.S, it’s the same thing internationally; there’s good quality work and quality folks, and there’s poor quality. So it’s about setting a very high bar. So kind of what we do, with Outsource Access, and the way we’ve evolved, and just from learning about all the failure points, what I’ve seen people experience directly – I talk to thousands of businesses about this all the time – it’s about setting a really high bar, putting people through a rigorous assessment in terms of their intelligence, competence, emotional intelligence, grammar proficiency, their project management skills, giving them test tasks and seeing how well they do with vague instructions, and how well they ask questions, and can take vague instruction and finish a task… And then doing intensive interviews. We do like four intensive interviews with our team to make sure that they meet the criteria… And then we actually have them go through a whole bootcamp. So we make sure people are highly qualified and highly trained to be VAs. So I recommend whether it’s us or anybody you explore, make sure that they have a very good vetting process to really set a high bar.
I’ve found that having them a part of a company, versus just being an individual working, we’re able to provide culture and support and education and training that’s really important. And I’ve found in the past, going just purely through job awards and finding somebody that’s working with these countries from home, remotely, long-term there tends to be some challenges sometimes.
And then it’s critical that these people know how to work with these resources. A lot of people fail with working with VAs or other people like this, because they get frustrated because they can’t get stuff out of their brain over to them. So we talk about tools like Screencast-O-Matic, and we talk about ways that you can easily get things out of your brain and quickly get it communicated to a VA to understand.
We actually make clients we work with go through a short 30-minute training that teaches them best practices on how to work with these resources, so they can do it effectively.
Theo Hicks: Yeah, perfect answer. You actually answered one of the questions I was gonna ask, which is “Why is it better to work with a company who places VA’s, versus finding one on your own?”, and you definitely hit the nail on the head on that.
The last follow-up question I have before we get to the money question, which is – you mentioned the things that you do upfront to vet them. Are you also vetting them on an ongoing basis, to make sure that they are continuing to perform, or is it just the upfront assessments, and bootcamp trainings and interviews, and then from there you just assume that they’re top-notch?
Brad Stevens: Oh, no. I mean, it’s just like for anybody that’s built a business or hired employees every in their life. You’ve got to provide the ongoing support. That’s a big part of what we do, and that’s why people are drawn to come work for our business, because we have a whole business in the Philippines. It’s a company with a whole management team and so forth, providing ongoing training.
A couple Saturdays ago all of our VA’s that work with clients of ours – I paid and had a high-end quality speaker that’s very sought out to come in and do a whole half-day workshop with all of our VA’s, just to take their training to the next level. We have tons of training that we do ongoing… And part of it with it is something that we do differently – instead of having a VA, or everybody has had an assistant that was kind of twiddling their thumbs about “What do I do next?”, we’re there to constantly be an execution ninja for you and bring ideas to the table and things that we can do to help you based on what you’re trying to do in your specific business.
So it’s all about the culture, the training, the back-end support… Because that’s what I’ve found – you get people engaged [unintelligible [00:13:26].12] And people are concerned about safety, and privacy, and all of that, and that’s all kind of addressed in terms of how you work with these people in a secure environment. You use tools like Dashlane and LastPass to share access without ever giving your password away, and making sure they’re feeling engaged… It’s just like culture, just like in the U.S. We actually have a whole Virtual Assistant Gives Back program, where — our VA’s are making good money, so we actually fund and pay for shoes and educational supplies for children in these lower-end villages there, and our VA’s volunteer their time to go deliver those supplies that we purchase.
So it’s just like in the U.S, we’re trying to build culture. Every big leadership book talks about culture, culture, culture; it will kill everything else if you focus on that first, so we’re big on that on the back-end also.
Theo Hicks: Alright, Brad, what is your best real estate investing advice ever?
Brad Stevens: Obviously, as far as from my angle specifically, on what we do and in working with people in a space, everything from people that are in residential, or in wholesale, or commercial, it’s just protect your time, and value your time. Think about everything in terms of opportunity cost, because that’s where a lot of people get caught in this constant “paddle, paddle, paddle”, keeping their head above water, and aren’t able to scale and do things on a larger level. It impacts ultimately their family relationships, their firm relationships, their health, because they’re working non-stop, trying to keep their head above water, and aren’t able to ever make it to the gym…
So it’s just really people sitting back and valuing their time, and thinking about everything in terms of opportunity cost. What am I giving up when I don’t make my kid’s next baseball game? What am I giving up when I’m sitting here until 2 AM, trying to copy and paste from a Google Sheet for the next set of prospect opportunities… And value what you could get when you get that time back and do it on “What is the highest and best use?” I call it kind of “highest return on time” for what you are most suited for… And just thinking of everything through that lens, and then seek out opportunities to capture that back as quickly as possible.
Theo Hicks: Alright. Are you ready for the Best Ever Lightning Round?
Brad Stevens: Let’s do it!
Theo Hicks: Alright. First, a quick word from our sponsor.
Theo Hicks: Alright, Brad, what is the best ever book you’ve recently read?
Brad Stevens: I’m actually just wrapping up one called Fast-Forward Mindset. It’s by a guy named David Schnurman, that was the president for Entrepreneurs Organization for New York; it’s an organization I’m actually a part of… Fantastic book; audio it’s three hours, it’s not like nine hours, like some of these are. It’s high-impact, great experience in growing and building this business. It’s been a good one.
Theo Hicks: If your business were to collapse today, what would you do next?
Brad Stevens: As far as that question – being in a different industry?
Theo Hicks: You can take it any way you want.
Brad Stevens: That’s the cool thing that I always share about having this mental inventory about what I know and how you can leverage these resources, and how quick and fast, and high-quality, and low-cost… I can literally launch a business in two weeks, with less than $500, in pretty much many, many different industries. But if I were to shift gears from an industry standpoint, probably in education. My wife is a third-grade teacher for 13 years, and I just see a huge need. I have an almost three-year-old myself now, there’s a lot that needs to be fixed and addressed in education… So probably something in that arena, and leverage some of our resources to help there.
Theo Hicks: Yeah, I have a four-and-a-half month old, and it definitely changes your perspective on things, that’s for sure, once you have kids. What is the worst deal you’ve done? This could be a real estate deal, or it could be a business you started.
Brad Stevens: In terms of just a crisis experience I had – I kind of shared a part of what kind of got me to learning how to do all this stuff; as I was referencing, in my last business we were in the teeth whitening space, and we had sold I think close to 50k units of one of these teeth whitening products that we were selling all over the U.S, that you could brush on your teeth to whiten your teeth. We sold it to dental offices, and spas, and medical spas… And our next order of units, one of the manufacturers changed one of the components in it, and it caused it to react with the teeth whitening gel in these teeth whitening pens.
We had about 10k units that we shipped all over the country, that started exploding in people’s purses, and on shelves… And we had just had great success and sent it to all the major editors of all the major publications, and this teeth whitening pen started exploding and oozing out. So I had a disaster on my hands nationwide and globally actually, and that’s what forced me to get lean. You never know what life is gonna give you on these crises, but it’s what taught me how to learn how to do all this stuff, so that it’s my life’s work now.
Theo Hicks: And then lastly, what is the best ever place to reach you? I guess you can plug the course you were talking about earlier here if you want as well.
Brad Stevens: Two things. For anybody out there that has conferences – I love speaking at conferences and events, and so forth. For that you can go to bradsteventraining.com, and that shows my speaker background and so on. I love sharing this message, and case study-driven for audiences…
And if anybody is looking for learning more about this whole outsourcing and virtual assistant world, outsourceaccess.com is our website. If you wanna just send an email, you can put “Best Ever” in the subject line to an email that we created: firstname.lastname@example.org. You don’t have to write anything in it, just send the email and put “Best Ever” in the subject line. We’ll get it, and I’ve got some VAs as you can imagine to manage that, and I will send you a link to the exact presentation that I did for the SIOR Conference, the top commercial real estate conference in DC, back in April this year, where I walk through and show step-by-step examples and case studies of a lot of things that I alluded to here… And I’ll give you a whole link of all kinds of other books and resources that we recommend around it. So it’s email@example.com, shoot us an email and we’ll send that link to you.
Theo Hicks: Yeah, thank you for offering that to the listeners. I really enjoyed the conversation. I learned a lot about the process for – essentially the ultimate blueprint when it comes to VAs. Just to summarize what we’ve talked about so far – we’ve talked about why the Philippines is one of the best countries for VAs, and it’s because it was basically America; it was very Americanized, English is the second language, they’re very easy to work with as a result, and the American dollar goes really far in the Philippines.
Then we went through the actual process of hiring the VA, so in order to determine when is the best time to bring on a VA, it comes down to ROI and how you value your time… And you gave a really specific example, which is “Alright, so it’s gonna cost you about $1,400/month to hire a VA… How much money will you be able to make by focusing your time elsewhere?” So if you’re a broker, if you close on one extra deal per year, then the cost of the VA essentially pays for itself, just because you can spend more time on the important aspects of the business, which are relationship building, strategy, and then evaluating data, as opposed to pulling data.
And then it can also help you with things in your personal life as well, so it’s not just the business, the return on time, but also the personal return on time, and you gave the example of the natural gas leak; you sent the picture to your VA, and they took care of everything for you and saved you hours and hours of time.
When you’re ready to hire a VA, how you find them – it’s all about vetting. Your company sets very high expectations and a high bar for people that you hire. You mentioned that your interview process is — you do emotional intelligence, grammar tests, you put them through an intensive interview process (four interviews), and then from there you put them through a bootcamp training to make sure you’re setting them up for success.
Then you also mentioned that the people that are hiring VA’s need to know how to work with VA’s, and how to get all the information in their head to a VA’s head, so that they understand what you need them to do. Then you also mentioned that it doesn’t stop there; you also do ongoing support, so you offer ongoing trainings and workshops and just bring them ideas on how to help them stay busy.
Then we also mentioned why does it make sense for an investor to use a company who places VA’s, as opposed to finding one themselves, and it has to do with all the things you put them through before you hire them… So people that are hiring a VA through your company or a similar company knows the vetting process they’ve gone through. Again, opportunity cost – do you wanna spend your time hiring a VA, or would you rather have someone that hires them for you? Then we also talked about the importance of culture.
And then lastly, the best ever advice comes down to thinking about everything in terms of opportunity costs, and that’s essentially why you wanna hire a VA in the first place. So again, I really enjoyed the conversation, Brad. Very informative.
Best Ever listeners, thanks for stopping by, and make sure you take advantage of the offer Brad mentioned. His email will be in the show notes of this episode. Again, thanks for listening. Have a Best Ever day, and we’ll talk to you tomorrow.