FINDING YOUR BUSINESS X-FACTOR WITH A VIRTUAL ASSISTANT

They’ve been around for a while now. They take care of all the work you don’t have time for, or maybe the work you don’t even like to do. They free up your time so you can focus on your business rather than on it.They are cost-effective, and they are super grateful for the opportunity to help you. What am I talking about? And no, it’s not a guardian angel, but it’s close. I’m talking about a virtual assistant. Now. I’ve had virtual assistant superstars in my business for over five years now, and let me tell you, they just might be the X factor you are looking for.

We’ve all been complaining, myself included: we’re stressed out, overworked, and burned out. We can’t find new people to join our team. Well, what if there was a really simple solution and you just hadn’t thought of it yet or weren’t brave enough to try it? Believe me, I get it. Engaging a virtual assistant in my business was terrifying. It was a relatively new thing when I got one. And of course, I was filled with the usual fears. Will they take up too much of my time? As it is, I am already stretched too thin. Can I afford it? Will it really make a difference to my business? And I’m here to tell you that those concerns are entirely justified. But thankfully, they were short-lived. In fact, I now have three VAs in my business, and they have been the X factor from the beginning.

For me, engaging a virtual assistant came out of a genuine desire to make life easier and less stressful. I’d had a string of assistants for my property managers who we’d poured time, love, and energy into but who would decide after six months that it wasn’t for them.and that’s okay. Property management isn’t for everyone. But as the business owner, that meant I was back on the recruitment rollercoaster, my overworked, burnt-out senior PMs were back to square one with onboarding and training, and yet another assistant.I was also losing management because my customer service just wasn’t up to par. My property managers were run off their feet, head down in all the paperwork and compliance, and they just didn’t have time to return emails or phone calls. I totally got it because I was one of them. I was in the trenches too.

Now, the thing you need to know about implementing a VA is that, at first, it does require a time commitment and will require patience, and you will have to embark on some change management with your team, as my guest calls it. I’m very excited to have the Queen of Boss Babes, Tiffany Bowtell, to chat with. Tiff is the CEO of Property Management Virtual Assistance, an outsourcing business based in the Philippines with a head office in Australia. Now, in my humble opinion, and it’s probably because I haven’t worked with any other outsourcing companies, they are the gold standard of outsourcing in real estate. As a former property manager, property trainer, and software trainer, Tiffany knows a thing or two about the industry. Her premium outsourcing solution helps real estate businesses streamline and grow with zero downtime, no staff turnover costs, benchmarked processes, and fast implementation. It sounds too good to be true. Well, it’s not.

 

HOW DID YOU GET STARTED IN PROPERTY MANAGEMENT?

“I started in property management, I guess in my twenties, from being a property manager and sort of sitting in all the different roles that a PM office has, and I actually got the opportunity to go overseas and work in London, and while it was originally just going to be a short trip overseas, my first one really in my twenties, I actually got the opportunity to go overseas and work in London, and

In my late twenties, I kind of met some other lady who was on a tour, like a Contiki tour. I got talking to her, and she said, “Oh, I’m actually going to be staying on after the trip, and I’ve got a job already in property management.” And that conversation continued, and I didn’t go home after that trip; I stayed in the UK and got a job with her in property management. I really enjoyed seeing that property management could be done on a global scale and seeing the differences in nuances from country to country. So, I’ve always had a sort of taste for property management systems and processes. And so, when I left the industry to go into being a property management trainer, I left the industry specifically to work at Console as their head trainer. And that was where I got to do more of the tech side of running the business and doing property management from a technical perspective using software and, you know, adding on all the lessons and things like that. From there, I then started my first business in 2010, which was a property management training and consulting business where I travelled to 8,000 offices in eight years. So, you can imagine that after spending that much time in people’s offices, you would have seen systems and processes and would be able to compare one office to the next.I really started to develop these “best practise blueprints” for processes where you combine your human resources, your people, with technology and legislation and put it all together in some kind of package that would make the job easier to do.In that business, clients started asking me about the outsourcing. So, I had been growing my business; I bootstrapped it from my own savings in my back bedroom and went, you know, “Let’s invent something here.” And to do that when you’re starting out, you need help. “The low-cost labour solution offshore seemed to be in my budget, and as a necessity I needed to get help.”

That’s what happened. Clients cottoned on to what I was doing and asked me if I would get them one. And lo and behold, the training business absorbed the outsourcing business. Now we’re seven years into property management with a virtual assistant. We’ve got nearly 200 staff in the Philippines. I own the Philippine entity, so we’re incorporated. I pay taxes in another country. It’s just been an incredible journey so far. This year we opened in the US, so now we’re doing property management in the US. And just like my experience in the UK, the job is the same no matter where you are on the planet. A renter is a renter, although we call it delinquency over there; the language is a little bit different. But the processes are the same. It’s humans helping humans find places to live and live the lives that they live; that’s what property management is all about. And on the other side of that, it’s about investors being able to create wealth for themselves through investing in real estate and property on a global basis. And that’s how I got into it.

 

THE BENEFITS OF HIRING A VIRTUAL ASSISTANT

I think initially, you know, you’ve got different types of outsourcing that are available and all different kinds of models now, but the fundamental idea of outsourcing is to free up time so that the person who needs that assistant can free up some time in order to be able to keep progressing themselves forward and using that free time to be able to do more, if that makes sense. So, whether that’s managing more properties or managing more team members as they grow, whatever that might be, So, the benefits of outsourcing will always be to create freedom for yourself and then use that freedom in a way that allows you to gain some kind of personal benefit. I think that with outsourcing, once you’ve worked out that the main benefit is a freeing up of time, you should look at how you are using the outsourcing model and explore the options for modelling that would work for you. Because of outsourcing, I like to think of it as a mathematical equation. When you look at the process, either you pay very little but have to input more, or you pay a little bit more and have to input more, input less. We have different packages with different pricing depending on how much commitment clients want or how much they want to do or not do. So, you’ve got different VAs doing different things under different packages. Again, depending on how much input you want to put in and how much you want to get out, I think that’s probably the benefit; you can pick the right model depending on your costs and input to create the right solution for yourself. It’s just a matter of exploring those model types and going, “Which one suits me best? What’s most cost-effective? And what will free up the most of my time in the long run?”

 

THE DIFFERENT MODELS FOR VIRTUAL ASSISTANTS

We’ve got either the DIY model, which we call do it yourself, or the done-for-you model. And then, for your model, depending on how much Australian help you want, you can pick between a higher package or a medium package depending on how much extra help you want from the Australian team. So, basically, we have two models: DIY and Done for you.We’re a training consulting business first. So, we’re a property management training and consulting firm with years of industry experience.So, when we opened the outsourcing business, it didn’t make sense to offer a DIY model, as if there’s no point in differentiating.Plus, I’d only be doing our clients a disservice by not offering to have it done for you, because the reason they want it done for you is because they’re busy, and they really want to work with someone who understands, knows, and can just get on with it. Being that client’s trainer, I knew the client’s systems and processes, and it was easy for me to train the Philippines’ employees to be able to do it the way the client wanted it because I knew how the client wanted it to be done, if that makes sense.

“In our done-for-you model, you know, there are two elements to this. There are models out there now that we compete with that do offer a probably a good value add in terms of onboarding, and onboarding is essential to get your systems, processes, and task selection correct to have the best impact in your office.And when we say “done for you,” that basically means that, you know, you just sort of tell us that you’d like lease renewals plus new tenants plus applications plus maintenance follow-up done in. We have a task selection of about 200 things that you can outsource with our model. And then, once a client completes the task selection, we create a strategy. Sometimes people want a VA per portfolio; some want one VA between two portfolios; and some want a VA to work in a pod system. So again, we’re not fussed in terms of how you want to use the VA, but the strategy is really important. Because if you choose the wrong strategy, you are unlikely to achieve the desired outcome.So, there is a consultative part to the onboarding process that I think is really essential. And then, you know, once you’ve got your first VA on board, you’ve also got to think about long-term growth and strategy for when you might put your second and third VA into the mix as you grow your rent roll. I think that’s all part of the process too—having a bit of a plan of action just like you would with your local team. You’d have a plan of action too.

But then the other part of the unique service that we offer in “Done for You” is that we don’t just drop out because implementation’s over; we remain consistently plugged into your business through a series of assessments and reviews of your best practise blueprints and processes. We offer additional task services should you decide you want to outsource a few more things to your VA beyond implementation. And then we monitor everything that your VA does, and we benchmark your VA against other VAs in other offices. So, we are now at the point where we have two results coaches on our floor.

And the results, Coaches are responsible for the overall productivity and performance of each virtual assistant in comparison to each other. So, what that means is we have standard benchmarks now across the floor where we can say, you know, on average, the application processing using this combination of software takes, say, 15 to 18 minutes, and then that virtual assistant can be compared against others. That allows for the best productivity, it gives the virtual assistant consistency, and it tells them these are the expectations for how long the turnaround time of each task might be. The performance coaches are simply there to ensure that the virtual assistants are happy, that the process is correct in terms of timing, and that they are not faltering. And then we coach them, give them more training, and provide them with more information so that they can deliver those benchmarks and ensure that the client is getting exactly what they need at any stage of the process. And all of that was done entirely with internal Philippine resources. So we have approximately 40 internal team members, and then we have our Australian team, which is more consultative and works with client communication.

In addition to that, if your VA has a day off, is sick, or any of those human resource problems that every office experiences when you have staff, the way we combat that is by offering a backup VA. So, every new client and virtual assistant allocation has what we call a first responder backup or a second responder backup. Every client knows, and typically we’ll know who their first and second people are; they’ll be part of your weekly or monthly team meetings, and they’re there at the ready to jump in and continue the process so that if that person is unwell, they can get treated. We have a full-time nurse, a clinic, and a private hospital right next door to our office. So, we kind of manage and monitor home visits, healthcare, and all those things in the Philippines. So, when we say “done for you,” it really is clearly “done for you.”

 

FULLY TRAINED AND COMPLIANT VIRTUAL ASSISTANTS

‘Everything connected. Because the best practise blueprint combines the processes both for the property manager and the virtual assistant. So, it’s a full process for the office. It includes the legislation, the technology combination, and everything in between. So, we’ve found our clients like to use it more as a recruitment tool on the Australian side of the business. When they’re interviewing potential property managers to join their team, they can use these documents to say, “You know, coming into this office, we have systems and processes; this is what they look like; this is the support we offer.” You can work in an environment that’s quite organized, and I think a lot of property managers would rather work in environments these days that are super organised than this ad hoc, crazy, stressed-out role that we can play as property managers. The work’s hard enough without assistance from processes also being clunky or different from one portfolio to another within the same office.

 

WHAT TASKS CAN A VIRTUAL ASSISTANT DO FOR YOU?

“We’ve got what we call six lines of business.” That usually begins with your virtual assistant’s leasing tasks. So that includes everything from new management and filling out your Form 6 to getting a new business up and running or doing rental appraisals, CMAs, and other similar tasks. Once you list the property or you re-let a property, the advertising component begins. So, putting up the ads online and on various websites, responding to viewing requests, loading up your inspections, and helping out the PM in terms of scheduling, when to do opens, and responding to those inquiries that are coming through from potential tenants. Then into the application process and processing as much of the application as possible, presenting it to the PM in a really quick, easy summary so that they can just make the call to the owner to get the approval. That then moves into what we call our PM line of business, which is the tenancy component. From there, you can choose tasks ranging from lease renewal maintenance, routine inspection, scheduling, and transcribing routine reports, sending those off to the owners entry condition reports, reminding the PM to go get the keys cut, and so on. Then we move into what we call compliance. So, we’ve got a fair bit of compliance work that we do with our clients, from chasing up trades and insurance renewals to smoke alarm auditing and all that sort of stuff that people would love to do but don’t ever really get time to do.

Then we move into our lead generation, so that lead generation moves into PM and the sales department, which is your marketing. We do market lists; we market monitor, you know, what properties are coming on and off for rentals or sales in the marketplace, and we give you a bit of a list and let you know when that 60-day period might come up when those authorities might expire. Or perhaps it’s time to look for the owner’s contact information.We do the social media posting, not the creative. That is probably not an area where the virtual assistant excels in terms of creative writing or anything else.I still think that’s probably the case with content creation, which is still done locally, but in terms of scheduling and creating imagery that goes with the content created, that part’s quite easy for us to do. And then you’ve got your listing appraisal sales administration right through to then your marketing auctioning, and everything to do with the sale of a property right through to anniversary cards, five years down the track, and everything in between.’

 

THE HURDLES TO OVERCOME WHEN HIRING A VIRTUAL ASSISTANT

“I think the key thing to putting on a virtual assistant is that it’s exactly the same process as when you put on new local staff in your own office.” And the same thing happens again when you change software programs. So, if you’re swapping from one software to another, all of it is change management. It’s all about managing the change within the office. So, hiring a virtual assistant or plugging in outsourcing is going to be the same as any other change management strategy in your business. You’ve got to get your team involved, and, in this case, you’ve got to get them to let go because that is one of the hurdles. They go, “Yep, we’re going to do the outsourcing, we’re going to get on the calls, we’re going to systemize our processes, and well, clients don’t have to do that because we do that for them.” We just, you know, facilitate and let them customise what they need. But, you know, you can be three or four weeks down the road and the property managers are still refusing to let go.So that’s one of the most difficult obstacles: you have this resource here, you know, this staff member arrives with a smile on their face, ready to do the work, fully trained to do it, and then people just won’t let the task go.Again, that requires teamwork and change management. It really needs to be driven from the local end, so to speak. So, when we’re working with clients, we’re really looking for the kind of office that has good leadership skills and where the team is really on board with the change. Typically, I say to people, if you’re thinking about it, explore the model, explore the options, and know what kind of supply you’re looking for and the type of product or service you’re looking for. And then, once you know that, you’ve got to involve the team first to be able to overcome that hurdle and make sure the team is involved in the process. Just like if you were changing your trust account software program, you’ve got to get your team retrained on how to do maintenance from property tree to property me, or whatever that might be.

Listen to The Property Management Podcast here or wherever you listen to podcasts to learn more about whether a virtual assistant is right for you and your business. 

 

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