TBT 151 | Virtual Assistants

 

Managing a business can be lonely and overwhelming, especially if you don’t know how to delegate your work. This is why most managers and owners benefit from hiring virtual assistants, allowing them to focus on far more important business matters and letting these talented individuals monitor other time-consuming things. But without proper process documentation in place, you are at risk of outsourcing the wrong people, wasting a lot of money and time. Penny Zenker sits down with Robert Nickell of Rocket Station Careers to discuss the best way to conduct applicant screening and recruitment. Robert explains how this can impact the way you manage your business processes, teach you to appreciate individual team member skills, dispel the dangers of micromanaging, and discover the smoothest turnover process possible. 

Listen to the podcast here:

How You Can Benefit From Process Documentation And Virtual Assistants With Robert Nickell 

We are going to talk about how you can work smarter in the best way, which is to know how to delegate and work with virtual assistants. This is an area that is completely underutilized by so many business owners because we don’t want to lose control. The fact is we gain so much more control when we let go, especially let go of the things that aren’t on our highest priority and get other people who have the skillset to do those things so that we can do where our genius is. Robert Nickell is here to talk to us about that. He’s an accomplished real estate investor. He’s a realtor and serial entrepreneur in the business process outsourcing industry. That’s the industry we’re talking about and certainly, it’s come from his real estate side. He’s the CEO of the Dallas-based Rocket Station, which he founded in 2018. Without further ado, Robert, I’d like to introduce you and welcome to the show. 

Thank you, Penny, for having me. I love the show. I’m a big fan. I’m appreciative of you and all that you’re doing. I’m thankful to be here.  

You’re speaking our language. You solved the problem for yourself it sounds like, and then you decided to scale that so that other people could solve the same problem. Tell us about what your problem was and what drew you to outsourcing.  

I quit my Wjob two years out of college and jumped right into real estate, thinking that I was going to be some massive real estate mogul. I had all the Instagram and Facebook posts about what it takes to be an entrepreneur and grinding, and all of a sudden, you make your millions of dollars. That’s what I was hoping to do early out of the gates. I had to learn a lot of tough lessons. Unfortunately, I don’t learn very well from reading books, podcasts and audiobooks, even though I’d spent a ton of time doing that. Most of my learning comes from experience, getting kicked in the teeth, and then adjustingFor me, within real estate, I was a oneman show for a while. Real estate was great.  

Simply throwing bodies at a problem is not a very good way to run a business. Click To Tweet

How was that working for you? It’s the lone wolf syndrome.  

You can look at all the studies in real estate. What it shows is the people who make the most amount of money work the most amount of hours. The number of transactions that you could close is directly co-related to how many hours you work. At first, that was fine. I think it was good for my ego to be able to post about it, how hard I was working, and in the gym at 4:00 AM so I could fit it in and all those types of things. Like everyone else, I realized that real estate was the vehicle. It’s the tool. What I wanted was to be a better brother, a better spouse, and a better uncle to my nephews. What I wanted was the business to serve the life that I wanted. What happened for me is I was serving the business every single day. I was working 60, sometimes 80 to 90 hours a week, trying to get more done. hit a wall. I was ready to go back to my W2 job because it was a whole lot easier to wake up and work 8:00 to 5:00 for somebody else. Even if you got a great job with a lot of responsibility, you can still turn it off when you go home if you choose to 

Who is reading here that goes, “I’ve been there? You’ve been to that moment where you’re like, I think I’d earn more if I worked based on per hour, where you hit that wall. That’s something that many people have experienced or they’re in the process of trading that time for money. Their mind says work a few more hours and you work yourself out of it. You’ll finally get control over it. What would you say to those people?  

First, I totally understand that. You put so much into your business. As entrepreneurs, we all eat, sleep, and breathe our business. At some point, it becomes hard to separate yourself. What I had to realize and I was lucky to have some great mentors that showed me the way was if I wanted a hard ceiling above me, be limited in what I could accomplish, and get done then be the oneman show, be the lone wolf, and serve your ego. That can work out fine. Within limits, you can have a successful business depending on how you define success. For me, I was lucky to have people who were much more successful than I was around me. They were always showing me the way like, “You’re crazy. You’re totally doing this the wrong way.” When I started trying to do it initially was hire people. I started with friends from college, tried to hire some family, and make it happen that way.  

How was working with friends and family? Is that a good idea?  

It depends. I would say it’s great. My dad and my brother work for me. I had to learn some hard lessons. I was the guy for a while that was walking around after some failed hires, talking about how terrible managing people was, how hard it was to find good people, whining, and complaining. I had to look in the mirror at some point and realize the problem was not the people in my office. The problem was me. That became super clear. There wasn’t any structure, systems and processes in place. What I truly believe is that people want to do a good job. People want to come in and have success in the workplace. I feel like few people are in a working environment where there’s enough structure, accountability in place, systems and processes in order for people to truly be successful.  

TBT 151 | Virtual Assistants

Virtual Assistants: If you start with the end in mind, you develop scopes of work for how tasks are supposed to be done.

 

I don’t like to guess when I show up to work every day. I know that my employees don’t either. The big lesson I had to learn early on being totally candid, I wish I knew these things from the beginning, was because I could fly by the seat of my pants every day, doesn’t mean that my employees can do that it would be successful. That definitely wasn’t what I needed from them. That’s the way it was. I’d hire people and come in. I’d expect them to figure it out. I hated driving to work every day because I knew that my entire day was going to be spent telling people how to do their jobs. I felt like I could do it better myself if I did it than telling somebody what to do all day. That is a backwards way of thinking. If you start with the end in mind, you develop scopes of work for how tasks are supposed to be done, then all of a sudden hiring people become so much easier.  

Looking at our company, we have over 800 employees. We’re doing some amazing things with amazing clients here that are range from publicly traded companies. We started in real estate. We have a bunch of real estate clients. Now, we’re in almost every industry you can think of from SaaS to customer service companies. We work with some of the CRM companies and anything you can think of. That’s success. People always like to look at human capital. They like to look at the virtual assistants and the number of employees that we have and point to that as success. Our foundation for our success is built on systems and process documentation. We are workforce management experts. That’s what I had to figure out at the beginning. It’s how to document every single task for everything that was happening in the business. Penny, I had a roadmap. I’ve got swim lanes for people to operate in and know exactly how they should operate, what buttons to press when, how they should operate the CRM, and how to be successful in the day. That’s what changed things for us. People like to talk about the number of our team memberbut what we’re most proud of is the structure that we get to place in people’s businesses. I believe that’s the foundation to success.  

People aren’t sure how this works if they’ve never done outsourcing. Every company is different, the way they outsource. I’m curious. The way that you said it made it seem like when an organization hires one of your team, let’s say in CRM, they will get some process that you may already have some established processes that that company could take and modify so that they don’t have to start from scratch. Is that correct?  

We force everybody through a two-step process. It doesn’t matter if you’re publicly traded or you’re solo member LLC. We push everybody through the same process. The first step is an alignment discovery phase. We want to know the ins and outs of your business. Everybody operates a little bit different. Multiple SaaS companies producing similar types of products but they still operate differently. The first thing we want to do is understand you and your business. We do the documentation of your systems and processes. We create scope for everything that’s going on in the business. That’s what defines what we term a job description. Most people create job descriptions and it’s everything they could ever think of. That’s not something you can work off of nor can you hire that. That would be some random unicorn sitting out there that could do all these random paths in and out of your head.  

We work with some large companies and they’re terrible at having scopes, having systems and processes in place. It’s because they’ve got great management and great leadership teams. People hear those word systems all the time. We all get tired of hearing it. What that means for us is it’s a documented repeatable process. We create those systems for every one of our clients as step one. Step two is identifying. If you’re working with us, we identify 3, 4, 5, or as many candidates as you need to interview that are perfect fit for that role or multiple roles if they did wear multiple hats. Finding that people becomes a whole lot easier because we built that system and process structure at the beginning. Those are the two steps we push to everybody.  

You have a step that a lot of other outsourcing companies don’t have. I can name a handful that I’m aware of. You’d say what the role is or what the task was you were looking for and they would find somebody to meet that. There’s very little in the discovery phase of them creating the process or the scope and then going and finding the person that meets that. There’s little in that initial interaction phase. That’s interesting to me 

Nobody likes to be micromanaged because it is usually a result of a lack of structure in an organization. Click To Tweet

From a couple of standpoints, one is we’re a partner with you. We’re invested in your success. It’s about long-term results and creating win-win. We’re not just trying to throw bodies at a problem. We don’t think that that’s a good way to run a business. We want to have data around your business on what’s happening. We do time studies on everything. We want your phone records. If you’re using Zendesk or whatever CRM you’re using, we want to export all your records, do a time study that says how many human hours it should take to complete all these tasks. That’s in alignment with what’s taking place. Many times, the businesses that come to us are not even sure how many people or what type of profile it would be to fit or solve these problems.  

We’re experts in that. We’re not going to have you guessing every day. We’re going to walk you through a strategic process that you’re driving. You’re in control, it’s your business but we’re supporting you in every way possible so that we can set you up for success. We stay with you for the life of the account. We never leave you. We support you for it. It doesn’t matter if you have one person. Some of our bigger clients have closer to 60 of our team members doing multiple things. We look at it truly as a partnership that we invest in your end results and your outcomes. As a result of that, we feel like that’s where the magic happens.  

One of the things that I see a lot in CEOs, leaders, organizations, as they think about putting these documents together and outsourcing is, “It seems like I could do it myself and it’s going to invest so much time. Sometimes it’s more work. “Am I going to get at the end the result that I’m looking for?” I’d like you to address the more work upfront. It is more work upfront to do that. I’d like you to talk about the type of results that you could expect to see over time so that people understand that it’s not a cost. It’s an investment.  

I was one of those people who didn’t have good documented processes. I’m great at sales, client interactions, outwardfacing things but when it came to backoffice support and running the day-to-day operations, I personally wasn’t great at that. All entrepreneurs and business people act like we’re great at everything. The truth is there are only a handful of things that were great at it. The rest of it, we forced through and make it happen.  

It’s at the cost of our satisfaction. It’s at a cost to the speed at which it could be done or the quality. 

There’s no way you can be great at it every day. If you are, then to me, that’s a problem because that means you don’t have the right people in place. You shouldn’t be. What happens as a result of documenting every single day, it’s a couple of things. The first thing is you get amazing clarity and alignment into what’s happening through your organization day in and day out. I like to laugh because when I pick up my nephew from school and I ask him what he did that day, he can hardly tell me. “It’s Tuesday. It’s music. Did you do music? “It was music,” and then he goes on. Employees and most business owners are the same way themselves. Whenever I ask them, “How was your day?” I get the same response, “Busy. Good.” “What’d you do?” They’re almost offended but they can’t tell you because they’re on meetings. Their calendar is backtoback. They’re putting out fires all day long.  

The first thing that documenting everything does is to identify what’s happening all day, every day. If that doesn’t create some awareness, I’m not sure what is. I like to think whatever my employees are leaving their houses every day. They’re making big promises to their family that the time spent away from home is going to be worth it. We want to have a lot of clarity and structure around what success is supposed to look like, what the outcomes are, and what’s happening all day. You get tons of clarity in that process. The second thing is you will get more efficient.  

I also start with almost everyone that I work with a time study. I think that awareness is like an aha for people. It’s like when you have to do a diet study to see everything that you’re eating, a food journal creates that heightened awareness to where you’re like, “I didn’t realize that I was wasting so much time in this area.” It opens your eyes up to you are spending it where it’s most important. I want to reemphasize that.  

TBT 151 | Virtual Assistants

Virtual Assistants: Only a few people are in a working environment where there’s enough structure and accountability in place for them to truly be successful.

 

That solves a lot of your management problems. Nobody likes to be micromanaged. Micromanaging is a result of lack of structure in the organization. Ithere are fires happening or there’s micromanaging, then that’s an opportunity to create downstream solutions where we make sure and solve problems before they happen. A fire is a great opportunity to put problem-solving methods in place to make sure that the fires don’t happen again unless you’re somebody who needs that significance and importance to feel like Superman all the time. It’s not a great way to do it. Management is the same way. Managing to task is a terrible way to lead your team but managing to outcomes, that’s leadership. When you view management as leadership where you’re empowering your teams to be successful, culture and everything else that people want to talk about seems to happen because you’ve got great management, leadership skills and abilities in place. It’s because you’ve got systems and processes. Your team can come in and know what success looks like. They can still depend on you as the leader for visionary things to ask questions, for review, and those types of things. Micromanaging no longer becomes a thing 

Another thing to having great systems and processes does is it provides a safety net for your organization. Turnover is one of the most painful, expensive things that happen in any company. None of us can avoid it. I’m super proud of our tenure of our employees. We had over 99% attendance rate in 2020 and little turnover, almost none. That wasn‘t what we call forced turnover, where we replaced some people from voluntary reasons. If you don’t have documented systems and processes and there’s not a lot of structure in your organization, then turnover is terrible. There is nothing more painful than that. If you’ve got a lot of structure in place whenever you turn somebody over and you put a new person in place, getting them on board and up to speed, I won’t say it’s a snap and super easy. That would be a lie but it is so much easier. It almost is that easy to do it because now you’ve got clarity. You have structure in place. Someone can take up where someone else left off instead of starting over from scratch again. Those are a few reasons why having the systems and processes is so important. We could spend an entire episode talking about the benefits that you get from having documented task management from every single thing that’s happening.  

I also love the fact that you’ll do the discovery and that you’ll do it. A lot of the people are like, “I don’t have the skills. I hate doing that. We’re not good at that. The fact that you’re focusing on delivering something that you are good at means that you can create it quicker and you can collect the information that you need to get that into place 

It will be usable. Many times people come to us thinking it’s completed systems or processes are completed scouts. You hand that to someone else. They can execute those tasks. They fall down within the first couple of steps because it’s not truly documented well in that. It sounds silly. To give somebody a username and password, there are many steps that go into that, identifying the website they’re logging into, where to get into the portal. Oftentimes, it’s a multi-step process, and then entering username and password. I never ever want to see the conversations in any of our chat threads about asking for user access or things like that. It’s one of those things where the number of details that have to be in place in order for those documents to be usable by your team is where most people fail. They get the general big picture stuff together, but they make too many assumptions along the way to hand that off to somebody to execute those tasks.  

Turnover is one of the most painful and expensive things that happens in any company, and none of us can avoid it. Click To Tweet

If they want to plan for this and say, I can see the value and have somebody come in and help me to document some of our processes for our employees or to hire somebody?” what’s the step one?  

We call it 2 to 3-week timeframe to get somebody up and running. The first step is having your systems and processes documented, which takes about a week. If you’re working in multiple departments and multiple different tasks, that can take us a couple of weeks to map everything out. We’re also coming back to you consistently to get feedback to make sure that you like everything we’re putting together. It comes in a couple of forms. You’re getting PDF documents that have stepbystep with all the screenshots, arrows, and everything that you’ve seen before. We also help record videos and do actual training as well so that teams can watch that without asking questions. 1 to weeks to get that set up and 3 to business days to identify the right team member interview and then get them running. Within 30 days, you can have everything documented and process within your organization, have a team member up and running, and be having some success.  

That’s a reasonable timeframe. It’s not debilitating. I think people have a different scale of what that could take.  

Sometimes it’s a little faster. We can get people up the road because we’ve got a huge infrastructure around recruiting and training. We’re screening 4,000 applicants a month. We’re hiring less than 2% of those people. The skillsets that people are looking for are common. The baseline is English proficiency communication skills and then be able to perform those tasks. We’re taking care of all that. They’re our employees. They get full benefits. They get healthcare, all the things that any employee would be to bsuccessful. We want them to show up distractionfree and crush it every single day in their job. The way we have found to do that is to take care of our employees. I meant it when I said we’re a partner with our clients. That’s because in a huge way, we’re eliminating all the HR liability and headaches that come with hiring and managing team members.  

The process can be a couple of weeks if it’s something that’s simple for us where it’s something we’re replicating. It can take a few weeks longer if it’s something that is a little more specialized or takes a little more additional training. The team members have been on our platform for almost two months before they even go into the interview pool. We’re training, profiling, segmenting those teams, and putting them within management leadership groups. By the time you’re interviewing somebody, you can be confident that they would be a rock star for that role. We want it to be a personality fit because they’re going to be dedicated to you. We want you to like who you’re working with every day and be excited about coming into the office. Personality plays a big role in that. We’ll match skillsets. We’ll make sure that person has everything that they need to be successful. It’s you to pick the person that you’re excited about to join your team.  

Let me ask you a couple of the questions that I ask everybody who comes on the show. I like to know the variety of different answers and string them together. If you were to define productivity, how would you define that and why 

Productivity is all about efficiently getting to your outcomes. Everybody’s got a little bit different definition of success depending on what their business looks for us. For us, we’re getting clients up to speed as quickly as possible. Productivity is all the steps in the day that it takes to get our clients from the onboarding phase to implementation. Systems and processes are important but the actual implementation is what it’s all about. Productivity for us is getting people to the productivity phase which is implementing the systems and process that we’re helping them create. Success is efficiently getting to productivity in our minds.  

You’ve gone through this journey to create your own level of productivity. In the way that you do things outside of the outsourcing, delegating, and having someone else do that, what’s your shortcut? What makes you most productive?  

There are a couple of things. One is I’ve always surrounded myself with people who were more successful and better at life than me in every way, better spouses, better uncles, brothers, nephews, and cousins. I want to be around people who are rock star human beings. I’m always surrounding myself with people that have it together, both personally and professionally. I know a lot of people who do well professionally and don’t have a great personal life. I know people who have a great personal life that don’t do as well professionally as I think they should. The five people you surround yourself the most is what you become. I fully believe that. I think that coaching is the only real shortcut in life. As an adult, how I get most of my coaching is through being around amazing people.  

The second thing is define success as how little I’m involved in my day to day. Productivity, to me, is about nobody depending on me throughout the day for anything to do their jobs. I was out of the office and everything ran smooth. come into the office and people are almost asking me why I’m there. To me, that is success. I want to drive the vision. The org chart is important to me, who’s in which position. The numbers matter to me but the daily task, if I’m involved in that, then that’s my definition of lack of efficiency and productivity.  

Is there a tool that you say is your go-to tool? For whatever reason, even though it’s not about the tools, they love their tools. What do you have that you love?  

As a company, we started outsourcing in 2013 in the industry of BPO, Business Process Outsourcing. When we first started, we were a mess of systems and tools. We had Google Drive with Google Sheets and lots of spreadsheets. We had Slack as chat, RingCentral as a voice, and had some video through RingCentral as well. Mostly, Skype is what we use for video. We had five tools that we were using day in, day out. I am thrilled to death that we encompass every single one of those into Zoom. Zoom is our voiceover IP. It’s our chat tool. It‘s also our video tool. We take three, cut it down to one. I’m so thankful for all the investments Zoom had to make because of the pandemic. It’s got so much better quickly. The pressure has been a great thing for them. Having chat, video, and our phone system all into one tool as Zoom has been amazing for us.  

Maybe there’s a function in Zoom I’m not aware of. When you’re not online together, is there a chat function through Zoom?  

Every department has their own individual group chats and then we have company-wide chats for both internal leadership. We’ve got it for the entire company. That is one of the big things about managing and leading virtual teams is the over-communication aspects. When you’re in an office, communication seems to flow. Try to keep a secret in a traditional office and it’s walltowall before lunchtime. I want to replicate that type of environment. We do that through our chat feature in Zoom because everybody’s in groups. For example, when you log in each day, everybody says good morning, hello, and share some pleasantries. That’s nice but it’s also an accountability structure where you know exactly when everybody is logging in. We do the same thing at the end of day. Everybody checks out at the end of the day and says goodbye. We’re replicating that feeling of knowing exactly when people leave the office.

Everybody is aware in a normal office when people are working and when they’re not. We have a lot of transparency. We also celebrate wins that would normally feel small or in the minutia. The reason for that is each department, each team member by celebrating all day long, not just wins but also roadblocks as well, they’re sharing exactly what’s happening. We’ve got amazing alignment throughout the teams. Everybody knows exactly where everyone else is, what they’re working on, where they’re having success, and where they’re not. It replicates that communicationfeel of being in an office. That over-communication piece and using a tool like Zoom, the chat rooms, and having people update constantly in there is a huge reason that we have such great culture. Everybody is so clear on what everybody else is doing all the time. 

TBT 151 | Virtual Assistants

Virtual Assistants: Systems and processes are important, but the actual implementation is what it’s all about.

 

Do you find that people are finding it a bit overwhelming? You’ve been working remotely with everybody anyway for some context. I’ve seen people explain that they felt this overwhelm from having to check in so often. You can hear something at the office if you want to but you can also stay out of it. If you’re being required to filter through the chat, it can be time-consuming, like being in social media, it can suck away half your time.  

That’s where clear structure and processes come into place. Zoom fatigue is a real thing. We all get tired of being on camera all the time. We’ve got a system for the way we communicate. Chat is the majority of it. We do video anytime there are team meetings or one-on-one things happeninbut we’re not videoing all day long. We don’t require our clients to use video. We prefer it but we don’t require it. For us, email communication is simply external. Anytime we’re dealing with external accounts, third-party contractors or clients, we obviously use email because that’s the traditional method. Internally, we do a lot of chat. The chat is mostly within teams and groups. Those teams and groups have some rules about the start of day, end of day, and when they post updates.  

For the most part, it’s an organic structure. Each team takes on their own culture and their own group. I like to think it was a locker room within each department. It’s the same way in an office. Different people that have different structure. If you look at our IT threads, those guys talk so much less than the inside sales groups, the threads are ridiculous. I don’t know how they keep up because there’s so much happening in there every day. They take on a life of their own. Whoever’s leading and managing those teams is in charge of making sure overseeing that. From my end, I see all the numbers and the reports. I’m in most of the chats but I’d be lying to you if I ever said I read anything that was happening in there.  

Thank you so much for all that you’ve shared. Is there anything else that you didn’t get a chance to share that you wanted to make sure you shared before we close out?  

The five people you surround yourself with the most is what you become. Click To Tweet  

I appreciate it. I’m an open book so anything you want to ask, shoot me an email and let me know. Anybody who’s interested in this, I’m happy to spend time with them whether they hire us or not, we are workforce management experts. Spend a little bit of time with us. We’re here for anybody. We’re here to help and either one of those processes, whether it’s finding people or system and process documentation, I’m happy to answer questions. There’s some great information on the website. I appreciate your time, Penny.  

The website is RocketStation.com. There are some good interviews on there. We have a couple of sharks from Shark Tank that has been doing some cool stuff with us. I’m so excited about that. You can check that out. There’s also a scheduled time now button. If anybody gets on there and talks to our sales team, make sure to say you kneus here on this show so that we can treat you special. We want to track that. Make sure you mentioned Penny’s show if you do reach out to us.  

Thank you so much, Robert. I love the way that you do it. I’m excited to check out more of your resources and to refer my clients to that process. I know that that’s an area that a lot of companies can improve on. It’s getting their documentation together.  

I’m looking forward to talking to you more about it. I appreciate you having me on.  

Thank you all for being here. I know you’re scratching your head and you’re going, “Not sure that I want to invest the time or that I can give up control and all of those things that we go through.” I promise you that you’re going to get a new level of freedom. Start small. Start with one position. Maybe you’ve got a new opening. Why not look at it outsourcing and getting your documentation together for that position and then see where it goes from there? I can tell you that I’ve seen those who were able to let go and use a virtual assistant or work with outsourcing companies for myself and those that I’ve seen. They have been able to scale and expand that much quicker. The leaders like yourself, it enables you to focus on where your genius is. It allows you to be more of that vision. Push that vision forward and work more strategically so you don’t get stuck in your business that you’re managing overall. Leading your business and getting the right structure in place so that everybody can thrive. That’s the name of the game. That’s how you work smarter.  

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About Robert Nickell

TBT 151 | Virtual AssistantsRobert Nickell is an accomplished real estate investor, Realtor and serial entrepreneur in the business process outsourcing industry. He is CEO of Dallas-based Rocket Station, which he founded in 2018. Rocket Station recruits and trains college-educated Filipino professionals to fulfill a variety of remote roles at small to midsized American companies. Under Nickell’s leadership, Rocket Station has become a multimillion-dollar company with 10% month-over-month growth since early 2020 and more than 700 Filipino contract workers.
Rocket Station is the second BPO company Nickell has founded. For four years, he co-owned Dallas-based Investor Virtual Assistant Services, which provided outsourcing services specifically to the real estate vertical. Previously, he owned Dallas realty investment firm, GreenRo Homes.
Nickell earned his BA in business and communications from Austin College in 2009.

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