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Virtual Assistants: How & Why Employers Are Hiring Them with guest Mandy Brown

In this episode, host Josh Nelson interviews Mandy Brown, Director  of Client Relations with Belay Solutions about the benefits virtual assistants provide to employers.

“Remote work is here”, says Mandy, “and Belay Solutions is proud to lead the charge in disrupting the status quo and dismantling the ‘way things have always been done.’ “

If you happen to be in need of a virtual helper the Belay team doesn’t hire out just any virtual assistant for their clients. They do their research to find a virtual assistant that, of course, has the needed skills but also fits in with the culture of the client.  The ultimate vision at Belay Solutions is to help clients achieve their vision.

Transcript

Hi, Everyone. Welcome to the Wiser Financial Advisor with Josh Nelson, where we get real, we get honest, and we get clear about the financial world and your money.        

       

This is Josh Nelson, Certified Financial Planner and founder and CEO of Keystone Financial Services. We love feedback and we’d love it if you would pass it on to me directly: josh@keystonefinancial.com . Also please stay plugged in with us, get updates on episodes and help us promote the podcast. You can subscribe to us at Apple Podcasts, Spotify or your favorite podcast service. 

Let the financial fun begin!

Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with Mandy Brown, director of client relations at Belay Solutions, one of the nation’s leading independent contractor services for virtual staffing. They have had a meteoric rise and Mandy has played a key role in that over the last few years. We talked about career, about life, and what it looks like to lead teams virtually. I think you’re going to find the conversation useful and entertaining.

But first, this episode is brought to you by Keystone Financial Services, a top wealth management firm based in the land of love, Loveland, Colorado. At Keystone Financial Services we are here to provide unbiased advice and guidance. Our goal is to replace uncertainty with confidence and clarity when it comes to planning for your family’s financial future. Take the guesswork out of your financial future today and schedule a free initial conversation with one of our Certified Financial Planners. Visit www.keystonefinancial.com . Enjoy this conversation and God bless.

Josh: All right, Mandy. Welcome to the Wiser Financial Advisor. Thanks for joining us today.

Mandy: Thank you for having me, I’m excited to be here.

Josh: You are the director of client relations at Belay Solutions. Full disclosure, Keystone has used Belay with several virtual employees we’ve worked with over the years, and it’s been a great experience; we’re a very happy customer. Thanks for agreeing to have the conversation and sharing with our folks.

Mandy: Yeah, absolutely, and we’re glad to hear that you are a happy client with us.

Josh: Using Belay started with a challenge for us. We were trying to hire for a couple of positions and really struggling, going the traditional route. I had this limiting belief that everybody has to be in the office with their butt in a chair where you can see them. And of course, that was before COVID. Then I listened to somebody’s podcast and they were talking about Belay and virtual employees. And a lot of our clients actually come from the high tech world, so they’re used to working with people all over the world at all times of day. So for a lot of those people this was not a new thing. But for a lot of folks, the last couple of years has been something new.

So before we get into where things are today, can you talk about how you got here and what is your story? And what is the mission of Belay? How does it work, not only in the current environment, but how did it come to be, considering that it was born before COVID.

Mandy: Well, I have that wonderful story where my college degree got me nowhere. I was a college athlete and chose my college based on my sport: softball. I got a pre-med degree and then graduated at the bottom of the recession and did nothing with the degree because no one was hiring a new college graduate at the time. It wasn’t an optimal time to go to med school. So from there I just started trying to figure out what transferable skills I had. In softball, I was a catcher, which is a great leadership lesson—you need good communication skills and you’re also a great filter because if your pitcher is freaking out, you have to stay calm. So how could I use those skills? Also I knew medical terminology and anatomy so where the heck was that going to take me?

I ended up doing admin work. I had like 5 jobs at one time. I was working as a barista at Starbucks; I was working at Home Depot; I was working at a hospital doing patient registration, all at the same time because no one was hiring full time. I was hustling to figure out where the job climate could take me. Eventually an opportunity opened up in the legal field as a paralegal for workers’ comp. They needed someone who knew medical terminology to look at all these medical records. I was ready to do it if it meant I could have only one job. So I got into that field. As a paralegal, you’re basically an account manager. I don’t know if people know that. You’re an account manager for your entire clientele, and I read medical records in the process.

Then one day someone told me about Belay. It was the account management role and I said, “Man, is this it? Am I finally here after hustling for so long?” I was hired as an account manager at Belay and I’ve been there eight years. I’ve gone from account manager to client relations manager and now director of client relations. It has been a very fun ride.

Josh: My understanding is it’s not easy to get into Belay, so kudos to you that you made it through the pretty extensive filtration process.

Mandy: I’m sure we’ll touch on this later today, but they hire based on a cultural fit, and I wasn’t feeling qualified at the time because I was still so young and had just hustled with all these random jobs. But it was the cultural fit that they looked for. They know they can train the rest. So, I was very grateful for the opportunity.

Josh: That fit is so important. We look for the same thing when we’re hiring people, because if it’s not a

cultural fit, then nothing else really matters. It doesn’t matter how good you are, how smart you are.

If it’s not going to fit, then it’s just going to lead to a lot of friction.

Mandy: Oh yeah, it’s true. When people think on paper they need specific things, I tell them, “No, just find the right fit and you can train everything else.”

Josh: That’s why I tell our kids, “You just gotta try stuff. Try it and if it’s not working, if you’re not liking it, then try something different. Because eventually you will land in your right spot.

Mandy: I think about the best athletes in the world that aren’t coachable. On paper, they look like they could be great. They run the fastest 40 or whatever it is, but they’re not coachable and therefore not a great team player. They end up being divas and it’s not a fit.

Josh: Yeah. So talk about Belay a little bit and how it came into being. Again, it was before COVID. I think it would be easy to think that the company started because of the pandemic, but it’s older than that and it’s a really interesting story and a fun culture too.

Mandy: Belay started in 2010. The founders at the time thought that the way we’re working just doesn’t work all the time. The virtual workspace was still rare, but they knew that they could make a difference. And it has definitely grown. Who knew it was something that could survive a pandemic as well? It’s great. We have grown so big. When I first started eight years ago, I think there were only like 30 people at the company, and now we’re well over 100 just on the corporate staff, not including our contractors.

Our vision is to help clients achieve their vision. We believe they can do that by delegating more. So, we source virtual services through virtual assistants, bookkeepers, web specialists and social media managers, in the hopes that we help clients be more successful in their businesses by giving them opportunities to delegate. We also think you don’t have to hire a full-time employee every time you need a position filled. It’s a way to bring on someone with some flexibility as well. Maybe you do want to eventually have someone full-time, but you can train someone and help them grow and see what their potential is. Maybe you create a position for them.

We do the virtual sourcing part, but we really are passionate about making sure that leaders are equipped to be good leaders by delegating their work and not spending time on things they shouldn’t be spending their time on.

Josh: As a business owner, I can tell you that when I get overwhelmed, it’s usually because I’m not delegating enough. I’m usually trying to do too much stuff myself.

Mandy: Personally, I’m a control freak and so I’m always thinking I need to do everything to make sure it’s done a certain way and done perfectly. It’s hard to let go of that sometimes, but we’re not successful if we’re in the weeds.

Josh: What would you say makes a great virtual assistant?

Mandy: It really depends on the client. We have a very diverse group of virtual assistants within their soft skills. Some clients want them to be a bulldog and a go-getter. One client said to me, “I’d rather tame a stallion than push a donkey.” For those types of clients, you want a go-getter, someone assertive who isn’t afraid to make suggestions and be a partner with the client.

The flip side is a client who says, “I’m awful at details and I need someone that is detailed and process-driven to tie everything up in a pretty bow and make it perfect because I am so bad at that.”

So there tend to be those two different personalities in virtual assistants that clients look for.

Josh: Do you get a lot of folks that have already been in the corporate world for a lot of years and they’re kind of over that and want something different?

Mandy: Yeah, our virtual assistants are typically career people that have decided driving to an office and sitting in traffic and having to choose between work and home isn’t a great option for them. We provide a third option. The virtual assistants, bookkeepers, web specialists, and social media managers don’t have to choose between their life and their work; they can do both. So there’s a lot more happiness with that and more flexibility. It’s freeing for any parent to say, “I can go to my kids’ school for lunch one day and then come home and no one ask me where I am. I’m still getting my job done.”

We have seen all kinds of backgrounds and it’s interesting the things that transfer to be a virtual assistant, to support a leader doing something they’re passionate about.

Josh: Lots of interesting stories, I’m sure.

Mandy: One of my favorites is a client who was a dairy farmer. Who would expect that? Through our process we do a lot of our vetting based on soft skills. Everyone is vetted for the hard skills too. Through that process we found a virtual assistant who grew up on a dairy farm.

Josh: Are most of these people 40-hour a week people or do they want more flexibility? Might they be working for a couple of different companies?

Mandy: They always have to be available for 65 hours a month, which is about 15 hours a week. Most of them want a little more, 20 to 25 hours a week, so depending on how many clients they have or how much growth in one client, they will sometimes have two, up to three, depending on what their bandwidth is and what clients come in needing that match.

Josh: OK, great. How about the leadership side of things? Because that’s a different skill set as well, especially for business owners that are used to having everybody in the office where you can see them? I think the last couple of years has taught us that it’s more about results, right? As a lot of people worked remotely, organizations focused on results as opposed to somebody’s butt in the chair for a certain number of hours a day. So, what are the skills or attributes needed for somebody who would be successfully handling maybe one or more virtual employees?

Mandy: The biggest skill needed to go from in-office to virtual is intentional and effective communication. A lot of people learned when they were forced to go virtual, about the gaps they were missing in their communication. Intentional and effective communication is key to being a good leader of a virtual employer contractor. Here at Belay we practice this a lot and it’s part of our process when clients come on as well.

We let people know you have to have a weekly one-on-one and it needs to be verbal, preferably video.

Make sure there’s an agenda for your one-on-one. You’re not meeting and just saying,” How’s it going?” Clearly define expectations and the “why” or the vision of things before you delegate the “what.” You’re empowering someone who might have a better idea than you—which is very humbling as a leader to accept. But you’re empowering someone else to run with an idea and maybe take it and be better than what you envisioned it to be.

I have someone in HR that had this idea for virtual leaders to create an “all about me.” So as I get new team members, I have this, which tells people all about me. For example, I am an enneagram number 8 with a 9 wing. Sometimes those qualities throw people off. “You’re very assertive and aggressive, but also reasonable!” I’m not a big cheerleader, and when I say, “Good job,” that is the equivalent of me throwing confetti in your face and doing a toe touch. Sometimes when I’m excited I yell. It might feel like I’m yelling at you, but I’m just passionate and vocal. So as a leader, the more we can communicate virtually to our virtual team, the more confident they are that they’re meeting expectations. When I say, “Oh my gosh, good job,” they know I’m sincere. So they can run with things and feel more confident in what they’re doing.

Josh: Do you have any funny stories about things that worked awesome when you thought they might not, or stories of what you thought would work out really well and they didn’t?

Mandy: I have this one. I had a client who was like most visionary clients, very scattered and knew he needed help. So when you first start at Belay, as you know there’s a one hour discovery call with your account manager where they get to understand you. Through that conversation, I adored him. He was such a great leader, but you could tell he had a hard time focusing on what needed to be done. I sent him a focus planner and said, “Sit down and think about what your next step is, because you’re two years ahead and your virtual assistant is going to need you to know what you need today to get there.”

I met this virtual assistant who was sweet and soft-spoken. I felt like her ideas would complement his personality really well, but I said, “I don’t know. You’re very soft-spoken, and he is really excited and passionate. You’re gonna have to wrangle him in.” (By the way, these are conversations we have about clients sometimes.) “And you’re so sweet but I’m not sure.” I had to pause on it for a couple days to think about it. I operate with my gut a lot.

I called the client and asked how he would react to someone sweet and soft-spoken. He had no idea. Long story short, it ended up being an amazing fit. The client and the contractor meshed well together. They understood each other. The trust was instant, but it was one of those that I was not confident in initially. On paper it should not have worked out. But it’s amazing what soft skills will do with a match.

Josh: A lot of it comes back to cultural fit, right? Sometimes people click and sometimes they don’t.

Mandy: Oh, yeah.

Josh: When you think about a young college student or recent graduate, somebody just entering the work world for the first time, what advice would you give yourself if you were to go back to when you were just getting started; what would you tell somebody else?

Mandy: We interview a lot of recent college graduates for the corporate team. One thing I always ask them is, “What are you doing for your professional development right now? Because your degree will only get you so far but your drive to develop yourself will take you somewhere else. So, are you trying to professionally develop yourself, and if so, in what direction?” Because then I can start looking for careers and roles in that lane. If you don’t know where to start, start with something in leadership and clear communication. That’s going to make you stand out wherever you go.

Josh: Yeah. And not to diminish traditional education, but I read recently that they’re now saying things are moving so quickly in medicine that by the time somebody gets out of medical school, a huge part of their knowledge base is already irrelevant because that’s how fast things are moving.

Mandy: Yeah, and you can stay relevant by continuing to develop yourself. No one has to spoon feed you your growth. You can go find it.

Josh: It’s never been more available, but on the other hand, we’re kind of drowning in information, so it’s important to choose wisely.

Mandy: Yeah, choose wisely. Get a mentor that can tell you where you should go.

Josh: You talked about having five jobs at once, and I’m sure there are a lot of people out there in that position. Either they’re not sure what they want to do, not sure what their direction is, or even in some cases they may have ended up in medicine or engineering or something like that, and figured out, “This is not for me.” So, when you look back on your own story, how has a failure or an apparent failure at the time, set you up for later success? Do you have a favorite failure of yours?

Mandy: It felt like a big failure to me when I was finally the first college graduate in my family. It felt so important to have made it. Finally, we’re here, but I can’t find a job. That was a pretty big failure, and it was one of those situations where you can either wait for things to happen or you can go make things happen. I learned from that. I could have sat back and probably lived with Mom and Dad and been totally fine. But I wanted to make something happen and I knew just sitting there wasn’t going to be it. I was very tired. I felt pulled in a lot of different directions, but I knew I had to do something. It definitely taught me perseverance. I learned to keep trying, even if it’s not happening today. Every day is the next step in the right direction to the next step. It’s kind of like parenting. You have kids?

Josh: I have five.

Mandy: OK, so as parents, everything we do is not for today. We parent for tomorrow. With everything I do, I try to remember that what I’m doing isn’t for today. It’s for tomorrow. It’s for the long term. Whatever habits I’m building now, I might not see the fruit of that right away, but I will see it in the future. That’s really what it has taught me; while I don’t have the reward yet (and in this gratification society we live in, we need something today) I need to keep pushing, keep making things happen. It’s gonna land on your plate.

Josh: Yeah, I think for a lot of people success is just not giving up. Sometimes it’s being so stubborn they don’t give up.

Mandy: Yeah, and it’s great because look where it ended up getting me. I don’t think I have a funny failure, but I remember learning that being young in the workforce and saying “no” was a powerful but rare thing. I was working for an attorney who was very sketchy. One time he asked me to notarize something. I said no. He was very upset with me. It wasn’t a failure, but it was a very important lesson to find out I could say no to this attorney. That was a pivotal moment in my career of realizing I could do big things no matter my age since I was so young at the time. It was empowering.

Josh: Yeah, absolutely, you were able to stand on your own integrity. Hey, thank you for spending so much time. And how do we find Belay? We want to make sure anybody, whether business owners that need somebody to help them or folks who could be a good fit as virtual workers, can find the right people on your end.

Mandy: For both sides going to our website, www.belaysolutions.com is a great place to start. There’s a side for contractors to apply to be a virtual assistant. And for clients, we also have a podcast that goes into some business and professional development and leadership called the One Next Step, with great resources if you’re having trouble figuring out what you should delegate. I encourage people to check those out. And thank you again for having me.

This episode has been prepared for informational purposes only and is not intended to provide and should not be relied upon for, tax, legal or accounting advice. You should consult your own tax, legal and accounting advisors. Investment advisory services offered through Keystone Financial Services an SEC registered investment advisor.