The Modern CPA Success Show: Episode 108
Adam and Tom welcome Gina Cotner, Founder of Athena Executive Services, which provides executive assistant services. Gina explains the differences between virtual assistants and executive assistants, as well as the challenges and benefits of working with virtual assistants from different cultures. They discuss pricing models in the industry, and Gina advises on considering the compensation of assistants when choosing a service. They also delve into the onboarding process for new clients and the importance of clear communication expectations. Gina emphasizes the importance of delegating tasks that align with one's expertise and passion and shares tips for maximizing the effectiveness of executive assistants.
Intro (00:00:00) - Welcome to the Modern CPA Success Show, the podcast dedicated to helping accounting firms stay ahead of the curve. Our mission is to provide you with the latest and greatest insights on cutting edge tools, innovative marketing strategies, virtual CFO services and alternative billing methods. Join us as we change the way people think about accounting.
Tom (00:00:23) - Hey Adam. What are your thoughts about today's guest?
Adam (00:00:26) - Super excited to have Gina on the show. You know, I finally learned that I've got to get rid of my drop bounce on my pickleball serve. You know, I've got to make sure that it's just no bouncing. I look like a novice. No, seriously, she's amazing. She's, you know, talking about all the things that we need to know about executive assistance and really open my eyes up to a lot of opportunities in that space.
Tom (00:00:52) - Yeah, I agree completely. I've been in so many meetings where people talk about this delegate and elevate and sometimes some of the tasks aren't really things that you would usually think of delegating to a professional staff.
Tom (00:01:03) - They're more the administrative things. But as she talks about the things that I hate doing and recognize I'm not good at doing, and so she'll walk through that with people. But I just think it's a really good kind of framing for people to think through. And she has a good solution she can offer. And then also just kind of talks about the whole industry around assistance and delegation, those things.
Adam (00:01:21) - Yeah, no, it's she's really got some great ideas and good tips for anybody that's thinking about doing any kind of delegation or working with an executive assistant. Let's jump in and hear what she has to say.
Adam (00:01:34) - Sounds great.
Adam (00:01:35) - Welcome to this episode of the Modern CPA Success Show. I am Tom Waddelton. I am a virtual CFO with Summit Virtual CFO by Anders. I am joined by my usual co-host, Adam Hale. Adam Hale is also with same company. Adam, welcome.
Adam (00:01:51) - Hey, Tom.
Tom (00:01:53) - So we are joined today by Gina Cotner, and Gina is the founder and CEO of Athena Executive Services.
Tom (00:01:58) - Gina, welcome.
Gina (00:02:00) - Thanks.
Tom (00:02:01) - And so we're going to talk about what a lot of people think will have interested in around kind of people being busy and delegation and getting services to help that. So, Gina, can you tell us just a little bit of your background, the company and kind of how you fit into that topic area?
Gina (00:02:15) - Yeah, sure. I'll tell you a little bit about how I founded this company seven years ago. Um, I had been an entrepreneur in the past and it hadn't gone really well. A few small companies here and there and but, you know, I wanted that freedom, right? The freedom of owning my own business.
Tom (00:02:33) - It'll be so easy if I do it on my own, right?
Gina (00:02:36) - I'm not going to be bogged down by 9 to 5 and two weeks of vacation per year. So I tried a few different things and then went through a real rough patch in my life. And I just said, Boy, I just cannot keep generating what it takes to generate to work for myself and have whether or not the mortgage gets paid be dependent upon, you know, can I sign that next contract? So I just said, you know what? I need something easy to do.
Gina (00:03:02) - I just need a job. I want to show up somewhere. I want to make a difference with somebody. I want to go home and I want money to arrive in my bank. That's all I want.
Adam (00:03:14) - Perfect.
Gina (00:03:15) - So, you know, I ask around. I started networking a little and I saw something on Facebook. Somebody that I knew I had done a little something with in the past was looking for an executive assistant. And I thought, okay, I think I could do that. I've been a lot of things in my life. I could most certainly be an executive assistant, which is a pitfall thought not everybody should have that. But that's a little misnomer right there, by the way. But I did. I became this woman. She was a CEO of a small firm, and I became her executive assistant. And I went to the office and I manage the calendar in the inbox and a lot of basic executive assistant work. And I went home. A few months later. She sold the office space or got out of the lease in the office space, and suddenly everybody was working from home.
Gina (00:04:00) - Now, this is probably. Oh, 15 years ago. You know, this is long before we all were forced to work from home, let's put it that way. And I loved it. I got up and, you know, I work from home and did a load of laundry in between things and handled the dishes and just kept working. And I love that. And her firm started to shrink and shrink and shrink and was going to potentially just didn't need an EA anymore. And she said, you know, can you would you take a sabbatical and could you come back? And I said, no, My father was due to pass away. And we knew that in advance. And I said, you know, I'm just going to be with my father in California for the last six weeks of his life. And we'll connect if we do. And so I went and got to have that sacred time with my dad, which was great. And I went home and mourned and grieved. And then I woke up 3 or 4 months later and decided, all right, I'm ready for another CEO.
Gina (00:04:56) - I'll just go find another CEO. I'll be somebody else's EA I started rustling the bushes of friends and family and saying, Who do you know? Who do you know? And my friend Tiffany came to me and said, My CEO needs you. So I became her CEO's executive assistant and I was happy. And I went to the office once a week and opened this guy's mail and sorted stuff and then work from home four days a week. And then she came to me and she said, you know, next quarter, I'm going to need you. So if you could just make arrangements for that. And I said, I don't have any more bandwidth. I'm not looking for anybody else to support. And she said, no problem, Just find me somebody like you. Oh, I said, Oh, Tiffany. And we were friends and we have mutual friends. And I said, I just so you know, I do not want to open another business. And she said, You are, you really should.
Gina (00:05:49) - And I said, Well, I'm not going to. So we put our heads together and we found a mutual friend and her name was Dorian, and Dorian was young. She was 25. She'd only had one a job her entire adult life. She was working for the YMCA down in LA. And I said, Tiffany, if we pluck Dorian out of her one job she's ever had, you've got to be a great person to work for. Like all train her to be an EA you got to be a really good client. And she said, okay, and we'll pay you a little bit to coach her. So for every hour that Dorian worked, I got this little spiff on my pay to Coach Dorian to be a great EA. And so there we were in the three of us were having fun. And Tiffany comes to me three months later and says, Listen, the guys in sales, they really need an admin. They're spending way too much time doing low level work. We really need to get them some support and you really should open this business.
Gina (00:06:37) - And I said, I really don't want to. And she said, Get over yourself. Go open the business. So we found Allison, and then Allison joined me and Dorian and the three of us were working for one firm. And then that's when I got I opened the business and I took $5,000 and put it in my local bank a mile up the road seven years ago. And. Then worked myself out of a job as an EA and move from being EA self-employed to being an actual business owner. And now we have a staff of about 20 and they're scattered all over the country, supporting probably 20 or so clients all over the country. So that's how we got here.
Tom (00:07:21) - That's a great story.
Adam (00:07:21) - Yeah. Yeah. No, that's and that's a hard transition. I mean, I know you're a business owner and everything, but going from that solopreneur to leveraging other people, you know, of course you felt like you knew the job, but we'll dig into the training and expectations. Guess in a little bit.
Adam (00:07:38) - What I didn't hear, though, and I was a little disappointed, like whenever I was reading over your bio is I wanted to hear about this like avid pickleball player. And so I just I just started getting into it. I've been playing with the whole family, so I just really have one question. Bounce, serve or no bounce serve.
Gina (00:08:00) - Started out Bouncer.
Adam (00:08:02) - Oh, she's a pro. See? Tom that's. That's what I figured. Okay, so that's what thought. That's the evolution, right? So I'm trying to. I just started a couple weeks ago now I'm like, switching over because it makes me look like a rookie. So now I know from the pro bad though.
Gina (00:08:17) - It's not bad. It's. It's whatever works. But yeah, I switched over. I'm in a big tournament tomorrow, so I'm having alarm and I'm drinking water every half hour because it's going to be hot. Nice. We'll have a pickleball podcast another day. A happy to talk about pickleball.
Tom (00:08:32) - Okay. All right.
Tom (00:08:33) - So growing sport.
Adam (00:08:33) - It is so glad we got that out of the way. Just wanted to hear a little bit about that at least. So. But if you could mean, you know, for us, I think we hear a lot about virtual assistants. So whenever I hear the term executive assistant, maybe think something a little bit different, you know, working in a small business, not in a big, huge corporation where you've had a dedicated person that their entire job is dedicated to serving you virtual assistants. I mean, there's just such a wide variety out there and not not only in skill set, but expectations and price as well. Do you mind just kind of giving us a lay of the land from your experience, like, you know, kind of what the differences are or or what all to expect out there?
Gina (00:09:20) - Yeah. So it is kind of just the wild, wild West right now. It's unregulated. Anybody can call themselves a VA, but even before virtual assistants got popular, you had executive assistants, you had admin assistants, you had personal assistants.
Gina (00:09:35) - Now you have this whole world of chief of staff. It's all. Somewhat has to do with who you're talking about and where you are because it is not cleanly defined. In certain cities, people say, Oh, so your people, their personal assistants. And I'm like. Well, I guess so. You know, so there is some real clarity across the board. But at a high level, uh, I think the world of virtual assistants kind of blew up when, uh, Tim Ferriss wrote the four hour workweek. And then everybody was like, Oh, okay, I can have multiple companies and they can be run by people halfway around the world. Uh, virtual assistants. The industry right now has got quite a range. So, um, tons of virtual assistants in the Philippines right now. So if you're shopping for one and you look, you know, you want to really look under the hood and see what you're getting. And a virtual assistant in the Philippines for, say, $6 an hour might really work for certain things that you need for certain tasks.
Gina (00:10:40) - And that's going to come with a whole set of benefits and challenges. From time zones to the kind of work that they might do, language barriers. And then there's some cultural happens all around the world, including here in the United States. But cultural norms about. Like saving face, not ever looking bad. Want to make sure you don't know I made that mistake yesterday, so I might not talk to you for a few days while I'm hurrying to get that cleaned up. Because culturally, it would not be. Good to be seen as having done anything wrong. Now everybody has that concern as a human being, but in some cultures, I've just heard many stories of, well, wish they would have just called me and told me there was a problem, but calling and saying there's a problem is a major problem, right, in certain cultures. So there's all kinds of stuff to deal with, working with anybody from other cultures. So there's that world virtual assistance, this thing called executive assistance I just made up seven years ago, I'm going to call my people virtual executive assistants.
Gina (00:11:50) - So I think of executive assistants as a higher caliber assistant, akin to somebody who would be sitting outside the door of somebody on the 40th floor of the downtown high rise, like you said, somebody for whom it might have been their career. And they're sitting outside the door of the CEO, CIO, CTO, CMO. And they are managing. They are the bodyguard for that schedule and who's getting in and who's getting out. But that can now be why I created. What I created was I assert that a lot of small business owners want that level of business acumen. That level of partnership, but they only need it ten hours a week. They don't need a 40 hour a week resource, but they need something more than a task doer. They need something more like a business partner, which is what I think of when I think of an executive assistant. Now also in the industry, you could go to Upwork or you could go to Fiverr. You could get projects, right? You could delegate projects that way.
Gina (00:12:56) - That's another great way to get things off, off your plate. Then you have US based agencies like mine. So we do the vetting, the screening, right? The onboarding of the people. We I and my firm. We make sure that we're accountable for their performance, not you. You just delegate, delegate, delegate, delegate. And they take it like a sponge and soak it up and soak it up and go to work and go to work. If they have issues in my firm, they have a performance coach that they work with or if they need to learn a piece of software or something like that, they've got a whole team behind them to support them and think other US based agencies have similar, you know, they will do the vetting and the screening and the quality control in terms of the level of partnership that you're getting with them. So obviously you're going to pay top dollar for that. And then there's something in the middle that I call the unicorn. It's the right person. They're not going to charge you.
Gina (00:13:56) - They're working for themselves. They're not going to charge you as much as a US based agency. They've got to go find their own clients, but you also have to go find them. They're probably really. Great. You know, it could be like a woman in her late 30s who's had a few kids and she's now ready to, like, be back in the work world, but not full time. But she previously had tons of really great experience and she'd love she'd be a great match and you got to find her. And she's right now working at her dining room table in Kansas City.
Adam (00:14:31) - Yeah, Yeah. The only problem with the unicorns, though, I mean, kind of your point before is like, you know, if they do need the training, if you do need the redundancy or even just a level of escalation, I guess the only thing that's concerning a lot of times, yeah, Upwork is great for project based work. You still have to manage that resource a little bit tighter than you necessarily would some kind of evergreen relationship.
Adam (00:14:55) - But think, you know, there's that comfort. Also whether you're going offshore or onshore of just knowing that there's again, a little bit of redundancy behind that person, but also a point of escalation. And then hopefully you assume also a little bit of training and support, too. So I guess that's the that would be my only concern guess about the unicorn, unless it was like a friend or somebody that you knew. But what does that look like from a price range perspective? I know you mentioned like $6 an hour, which on the surface sounds super appealing from like the Philippines folks. Like what are you what are you usually seeing out there in terms of pricing or or packaging? Is it their fixed fee? Is it all hourly? How does that work?
Gina (00:15:41) - There is everything. So some firms will say, you know, you can buy these three packages and with these three packages, they're usually monthly packages. You know, this is the $1,500 a month package. This is the $2,000 a month package, and this is the $3,000 a month package.
Gina (00:15:56) - And that comes with a certain amount of hours. Some firms also divide it up a little bit by the kind of work you want done. I don't get that. Don't disagree with it. I just have I don't operate like that. Our executive assistants. My feeling is if you have a really great executive assistant, it doesn't matter what industry you're in or. What expertise you guys particularly have because you're the experts in your industry and then should be experts in being NEA Sure. Like that. And then so there are packages and then there's just flat out hourly rate like my firm. I'll just be really transparent. My firm starts at $50 an hour. Everybody just starts at $50 an hour. You get billed for the amount of hours somebody works for you. That's it. And we have independent contractors and we also have employees. So some firms have all independent contractors. Some people have all employees and some have part and part. And so all of our independent contractors have, for example, their own business license and their own professional liability insurance so that you're okay dealing with that.
Gina (00:17:13) - And then our firm, of course, as all of our own insurance as well. So there's a quite a range out there I think I haven't done. We're due to do a little more industry shopping here coming up to just see. But I think I think $50 an hour's probably on the top end. I think you could find an agency that might get you an executive assistant or a virtual assistant for less. Um, and then something to consider is how much might they be paying the person who's working for you? You may or may not care, but it depends upon the kind of work you want done. So if you want an executive assistant who might be communicating with your clients or drafting an email to your clients, I'd be leery if they were getting paid $13 an hour. If they were that kind of resource, that would scare me a little bit. So something else to consider.
Tom (00:18:58) - Do you find when people come in, what's your experience when you start onboarding new clients for you? Do you feel like they have a great idea what they want to do and how to delegate those things? Or do you feel like you're also teaching them? What you should be doing for them.
Gina (00:19:14) - It's definitely a little bit of both. So sometimes people come to us and they're just in pain, right? They got so much and they're so overwhelmed and oh, my gosh, what can you take? Just take anything so can breathe. Um, some people come to us because they have a business coach or a coaching program who has said, you know, you really should offload all your low level work.
Gina (00:19:38) - And then they call and they say, Somebody told me I should offload my low level work. What should I offload? Do you? Sure. We go, okay, well, we could take this, we could take this, we could take this, we could take this. And they go, Oh, okay. I mean, for most people, it a lot of people there's the issue called, Well, when can I afford it? But if I had it today, is the chicken in the egg? If I had an executive assistant today that I was offering offloading, say, ten hours of work to every week, would I go spend those ten hours? Or even if that only bought me five hours back in my world, would I then go make double the amount of money I'm spending? To buy those five hours.
Tom (00:20:23) - Sure.
Adam (00:20:24) - Because it's also. It's also quality of life, too. Right. There's some stuff you just don't want to have to do. And other people are skilled at it.
Adam (00:20:31) - Enjoy it. You know, for them, it's a job. So, so, so talk to me a little bit about that because we are talking about like what things that people like what you should expect from, you know, I think we talked about, again, the difference between like Philippines and and stateside to a degree. But what kind of things should I expect because I've tried working a little bit with guess would probably do more of a virtual assistant than maybe an executive assistant. But whenever I had them running interference on my emails, what I found was like I didn't have visibility into. You know, like even if I wasn't great about returning the emails same minute, same day, at least like had inventory of who had actually emailed me and those kind of things. I felt like I lost a little bit of visibility there. And then even in some of the urgency stuff like it was urgent, but they didn't really recognize it was urgent, you know, So there's a little bit of friction points there.
Adam (00:21:33) - And then I definitely didn't feel super comfortable, to your point, having them reply back directly to the client. Now, if it was just like a scheduling thing, of course, like go ahead and handle the calendar. But we actually use Calendly, you know, and so all that back and forth, time spent like trying to figure out, you know, what time can it's just like, hey, here's a calendar, Oh, you want to meet with Tom and I, Here's a shared calendar. Here you go. So talk to us a little bit about some of those places that it could save me or Tom or, you know, other accounting firm owners or practice leaders. How could that you know, how could we leverage again, not necessarily. Let's not talk about like the VA's and in the Philippines, because I think that those are just usually low level tasks. Let's talk about the let's live in the executive assistant arena. How could we leverage, you know, those talents to be able to make our day go a lot better?
Gina (00:22:31) - Yeah.
Gina (00:22:32) - Good. Well, I would start by making a list of what are the things that you do that are repetitive. You don't like them? You are not good at them. They don't because
Adam (00:22:47) - the big list you're getting, you're getting a lot. You're getting real big. Now.
Gina (00:22:52) - At the end of the day, I think we're all willing to have worked a hard day. But when you've done it. Doing what is the highest and best use of you? Why you became a CPA in the first place or why you're a virtual CFO in the first place. Then you go home at the end of the day. Satisfied. Fulfilled. You're a nice person to be with. In the evening. Right. You weren't on hold with, I don't know, the cable company all day. You weren't sitting there trying to find the right photo to get attached to the social media post. You weren't doing this stuff that is not the highest and best use of you. What you were trained to do and why you trained yourself to become who you've become.
Gina (00:23:35) - So I talk about it a lot, like being a surgeon. Everybody wants to be the surgeon. I think you drive your fancy dancy car to the hospital and you walk in and you scrub in. Let's say if it's like it is in the movies and you stand there and somebody preps you and you walk into a room that is fully prepped. Everything's clean. Everything's ready to go. It's ready for you. You perform what you’re best at performing and is the highest and best use of you and pays you the most amount of money. You walk out of there, somebody takes all this stuff off of you. You wash your hands, you go talk to the family, and then you go, do what?
Tom (00:24:19) - Leave a relax. Right. You're done.
Gina (00:24:22) - You go golf, you go play pickleball. You go watch your kid's soccer game. You. I don't know. You go do something. So you guys have the same thing of being a surgeon. Now the question is what is not? What is not the highest and best use of you? That's the list that there is to make.
Gina (00:24:38) - And that's where an is then. Sets you up to go be the surgeon. So the surgeon being the sales meeting or the next meeting that you're in, do you have everything that you need for that? Are you ready? Do you have time to get there? Do you have time to prepare? Do you have time to do thinking not just the appointments on Thursday, but everything that it takes to be a rock star in that appointment on Thursday? Okay. And is that lather, rinse, repeat in your firm? Is it? Yeah, I always need that for that meeting. And then I always need one of those and then I need two of those. And then I need a follow up on this. Okay. Well, there's a process and a Goodyear will build a workflow and you will say, Hey, I'm having meeting number two, be with Brian. Or every second quarter we have these kind of meetings or, you know, every December we want to reach out to every client about blah, blah, blah.
Gina (00:25:28) - Whatever is repetitive is a great thing to give away. And even if you don't have a good system, have your EA go build it.
Tom (00:25:38) - Okay. You're starting to talk about some higher level kinds of things, right? Which I assume that you're going to say you could delegate maybe more thinking kinds of things than what we probably traditionally think of, like Adam’s examples of email and calendar and some of the kind of traditional kind of things. Would you agree with that, that you've got good executive assistants or coming in and saying, Hey, there's a whole process that can run for you, not just respond to simple tasks?
Gina (00:26:03) - Exactly. And I would say, especially if you're going to get a high caliber EA, you want to get your money's worth. I would ask for more than you think they can handle. This is like a big delegation tip is not just will you find the holiday cards we're going to send out? Will you come up with a system? This is what I want. Coreen is my EA. So Corina and I start to confront holiday end of year, whether it's going to be cards or gifts or what it's going to be.
Gina (00:26:33) - We start to confront that by early October. And I just give her a high level. Here's my thinking this year. I want these kind of people to get this. I want this and I want some of this with these people. And I'm thinking this for this. Think it over. Come back to me with a proposal because I'm delegating, thinking. I'd rather do. I can delegate tasks all day long, but I'd rather she do a lot of the thinking, come back to me with a plan, and it's so much easier to go, Oh, I like that part. I don't like that part. Oh, I love that part. Ooh, I don't like that part. Then you and you say okay, go back. And then she comes back with better thinking, especially projects like. Updating your CRM. Oh, gosh, we don't. We don't like our CRM. We'd like another one. Then there's all the research that goes into that. I didn't like my payroll system, so I said to my ops manager, Could you just go to work on finding us another payroll system? Because once they go do the research, they go do the thinking, they go to do the learning and they bring it back to me.
Gina (00:27:35) - I don't have to waste all that time doing that. They give me now I've got better, more educated questions. Now I've got better things to delegate to them because they got me educated. But I didn't waste all the time going out there and doing all the research. So research is another just a great thing. And there may be things in your personal life too. Sorry to cut you off there, but, you know, planning the spring break trip for a family of five takes a lot of time.
Adam (00:28:01) - Okay, well.
Gina (00:28:02) - Say Adam.
Adam (00:28:03) - Well, I was just going to say, I think that's I think you hit on maybe the difference for me between the virtual assistant and the executive assistant was that you're delegating, thinking and guess when when you originally started saying like, think about the repetitive things that you don't like. I was still thinking, okay, that's a lot of times what I think of whenever it's like the VA, you know what I mean? If it's stuff that I have a system for, I have a process and it's repeat and rinse.
Adam (00:28:30) - That's the low hanging fruit that I would even think of like for a low level VA, but of an executive assistant. Then I was like, okay, so where's the next level? And think you kind of called that out pretty good with, you know, hey, you can just tell them big picture, this is what I'm thinking and let them go research and guess. I've never really thought to leverage somebody in that manner that wasn't technical or wasn't already a part of the team. You know, those are conversations that I have with team members, you know, that are technical, not necessarily, you know, this executive assistant role. So that's just kind of an interesting way of thinking about that. And what do you think what does that capacity look like for I know you said give them more so they can kind of come up with the process and stuff. But are these executive assistants? Are they typically working with like five clients at a time or 10 or 1? Like what's what does that typically look like? What is a yellow or a red flag for you? If you hear they're working with so many clients? I guess.
Gina (00:29:39) - Yeah.
Gina (00:29:39) - That's a really great question. And anybody who's shopping, I think should ask that question. What we discovered. So all of my staff work part time and that's what they want. If they wanted a full time job, they'd have a full time job, but they don't. So and people are working part time for a reason. They're doing something else, right? They either got a bunch of other gigs, kids. Maybe a health issue of some kind that they're mitigating around. They can only work so many hours a day. So it's usually something else over there. So that's another thing. Just a tip is go find out what else is over there, because we have to do that because they got lives outside of Athena, outside of our firm. So we find out what is your bandwidth, How much bandwidth do you have? We discovered over the years that. Three clients is too much. Mm. Now, another agency may say something different because maybe their people are working full time.
Gina (00:30:41) - They're working 40 hours a week or 50 hours a week for them, and maybe they can hold three. You know, most of my crew is working 20, 30, maybe 40 hours a week on client work for us. And what we found when the difference between 2 and 3, especially when they're not in the same industry, is then your brain is in a financial advisor world, then the naturopathy doctor and then the plastic surgeon. And it became too mentally. It's just. It just we just didn't like it. People didn't even the EA's themselves, even when they're hungry, right? They want more hours and they want more clients. They themselves said, okay, this is a little too crazy. I'd rather have two clients and if I want more work, I'll try to build the work with those clients. So in our team, an average to an average executive assistant has got two clients and they're working somewhere between 10 to 20 hours a week for each client.
Adam (00:31:42) - Okay. So roughly right around 25,000 to $50,000 a year is kind of what your investment should be.
Adam (00:31:50) - But in return, you're getting pretty much just like their undivided attention other than maybe one other customer. So they're thinking about you a lot of times, which gives you the ability to just not say, Hey, this isn't a task job solely. Obviously there's a portion of that, but I need you to really be thinking about me and thinking for me and some of this stuff.
Gina (00:32:10) - Yeah, The one thing I'd say counter to that is if you're like in our firm, so you say, okay, I want ten hours a week. They're going to think about you ten hours a week. In other words, they are not going to do two minutes and then five minutes and then ten minutes and then you know what I'm saying? So it's not they will do concentrated work for you. And then probably on the other times they'll say, yep, I got I'll probably text you back and be like, yep, good, I'll work on that tomorrow. Thanks. I'll add it to the list. But they're not necessarily going to stop right in the middle of the park with their kids and go to work on your request.
Gina (00:32:48) - So a part time resource is a part time resource. Yeah. And are they thinking about the meeting tomorrow? Probably because I do. Right. I just. I'm already thinking about what I got to be prepared for, for tomorrow. And that's a whole thing to sort out with whoever you work with. Ah, What are the communication expectations? How frequently are we going to talk live? How quickly should I expect a response from you if I text you? Oh, you don't want me to text you. Oh, okay. That's good for me to know, right? Are we going to email? Are we going to slack? Are we going to how are we going to be in communication? What project management software might we want to use? Where I can see the status of everything you're working on? If you're the kind of person who wants to see the status, I don't want the staff. My team keeps going. Gina, go look in Asana. I'm like, I don't want to look at Asana, write me a text and say, That thing got done.
Gina (00:33:39) - And then I'm happy. Now I'm old fashioned about that.
Tom (00:33:43) - But how often do you find it? Maybe it's not consistent. The actual live interaction between the client and the EA because virtual think often gives the impression that it's really sort of background everything's online. What do you recommend for people?
Gina (00:34:00) - Yeah. If so, when I say in person, I mean in person like you and me are. I don't mean you and I are sitting in a coffee shop talking.
Tom (00:34:08) - But an actual interaction, not an automatic workflow that you'd be recommending. People say, No, this is a relationship that you're having with a person.
Gina (00:34:16) - In the early days. A lot have more than you think. You need to have a have a phone call Monday, Wednesday, Friday at 9 a.m., something like that. Even if it's just 15 minutes that they know they don't have to find you, hunt you down, wait for that answer that they've got some dedicated time with you. It doesn't need to be a lot.
Gina (00:34:36) - I'd say then you could get down to once or twice a week. But they've got to have a place that they know they can hold and you want them to hold stuff that's not important and not bother you and hold it till Thursday at ten, because every Thursday at ten, that's when you talk. Now, if something's more important, they could reach out to you. But a good EA is just going to hold that. That's just going to go on my agenda. Keep adding things throughout the week to the time agenda. And then if they're really good when you get on the phone, they will just go right down the list. All right, Tom, here's what I got. Group, group, group, group, group, group, group. Yep. And in ten minutes, you can have made 20 decisions.
Adam (00:35:18) - Yeah. So he was going to say, Tom, you bring up an interesting point, though. Like, do you have anybody ever meet in person? Like, like so for instance, we're completely remote.
Adam (00:35:28) - Our team is completely remote, but we make time once or twice a year to do a team retreat and get everybody involved. So is it pretty common that, you know, once a year something they invite the person to come to the office or, you know, to a retreat if they are virtual office, that kind of thing?
Gina (00:35:47) - Yeah, we're always very honored if that happens. If somebody goes, listen, it's our summer thing, can we and they'll ask permission, you know, can we fly so-and-so to such and such? And I'm always like, Oh, my heart just gets so happy that, like, they love that person to that degree that they're willing to do that. But yeah, and I if two people are within proximity, though, I do make sure that they know like to not have it start to go that way. No, do not drive to their neighborhood once a week. Right. Don't set that precedent. But it's always a treat and it's always fun because if an EA happens to be traveling for other reasons, they'll be like, I'm going to go visit my client next week while I'm visiting my grandmother or something, you know, And it's like this special treat to go have coffee, live in person.
Adam (00:36:32) - Yeah, we're the same way. We always tell the same exact thing. It's like, Oh, but this client's actually just right across the way. I'm like, Yeah, but your whole team won't be. It'll be super inefficient. Like if you want to go grab lunch with them, cool. You want to go work with them? Not cool. Like keep that two totally separate deals. And so yeah, we're same page there. You know, in terms of the remote work remotes remote, keep it that way.
Tom (00:36:59) - Gina would guess you would find that most people probably grow into the amount of work that they have done right? That I would imagine some of the conversation could be. I don't think I need very much an hour or two a week. And if you can get a hold of this and then you find over time that really grows as the EA saying, I can do more. And they're hopefully finding, Hey, this is really good. Can I give more and more? Is that a usual kind of experience?
Gina (00:37:21) - Yeah.. Two kinds of growths happen. So for example, our minimum is ten hours a week. So you'd hire somebody for ten hours a week and you find even when people say, well, they go through our our discovery process with our ops, one of our ops managers, Jennifer, and they will often say, Well, what do you think I need? Jennifer? And Jennifer almost always say start at ten hours a week. We aren't going to try to tell somebody to start at more hours because what happens with that ten hours a week is what you get out of that is going to grow, should grow if it doesn't grow. So this is a different kind of growth than you ask about, but we'll get to that too. So what you get out of Alison ten hours a week in the first week is very different than in the third month. So you will have more and more opportunity to delegate more and more because she's not asking you those questions about your airline frequent flyer number. And do you like aisle or window and do you want to fly in the morning or evening? She knows all your preferences now because she's worked with you for three months.
Gina (00:38:27) - So she you're going to get more bang for your buck, so to say. Three months down the line, although it's still just ten hours a week. Then you find kind of where that levels off. And now to your point, can you get more? Sure. I mean, everybody wouldn't say everybody, but we would tell you up front, listen, this person's bandwidth is only ten hours a week. It could never grow. If you think you want to grow, we're going to find you somebody else. But we love it when clients want more. That means we're doing a good job. And the EA's love it because they're just, you know, it's more for them. Sure.
Adam (00:38:59) - Do you use the same software to, like, memorialize all those preferences? Or is that kind of on the executive assistant? You know, like what you just said was like, Hey, I've been working with one executive assistant. You know, I'm going to an agency now. It's been a year they've decided to move on or maybe they don't have the capacity and it's time to me to move on to number two.
Adam (00:39:24) - Is that kind of stuff memorialized somewhere that it can easily be shifted to the next EA, you know, to the next person. So.
Gina (00:39:34) - That's a good question. That's rare. And we do everything we can to make sure you're never going to have to get a different EA because we don't ever want you to have to go through those initial phases again, even if we had everything beautifully on documented. Getting a new relationship off the ground takes energy from you and from them and going through that whole honeymoon phase and all of that until the trust gets built and getting back there. So we before we will bring somebody on our team, we ask them if they will make a two year commitment.
Adam (00:40:15) - Oh okay,
Gina (00:40:17) - Because I can't and I also have to watch out for people who want a part time job, but really they want a full time job. So we do a lot of like poking to figure out because if I give you to Tom and Adam and you tell me six months from now, you're leaving.
Gina (00:40:32) - I my reputation is in trouble, right? We pretty much chew off our right arm to make sure that we don't have to do that now. It has happened. Sometimes there's something has happened and big circumstances happened and we've had to replace an EA. So if you guys are say, have any and you guys could share an e.r. That's another thing. You guys might decide one resource could serve both of you. So to say two people in a firm. If we had to replace an EA, we would, in our case, pay for a fair amount of turnover. So you're going to have to have similar conversations. I mean, yes, the hopefully we haven't left burned so many bridges that the old EA can't teach the new things, which that sometimes will happen. Right. The old EA will do a turn over to the new EA. But let's say the old just left the country. In both cases, we pay for that turnover because we don't want you to have to pay for something you essentially paid for six months ago, which was having conversations you had to have six months ago.
Adam (00:41:41) - Yeah. Another reason to go with a firm. I mean, again, whenever we're talking about that redundancy and resourcing and, you know, being able to transfer that knowledge is really important. So.
Gina (00:41:54) - For sure. For sure. For sure.
Tom (00:41:57) - So, Gina, how would people what's the best way for people to get in touch with you? And I'd like to hear a little bit about you talked about the discovery process. So if someone says this is of interest, I'll give a call. What would they expect that to look like?
Gina (00:42:10) - Yeah. So you can go to our website is a great place to start. It's just athenaexecutiveservices.com and on there you'll see buttons that say you know explore having a VA and it will tell you who to email it'll have you emailed Jennifer Tracy and Jennifer Tracy is our business development manager and if you get when you get on the phone with her, she'll send you, you know, greet a call with her and then the initial call with her will just be a lot like, tell me what you're dealing with.
Gina (00:42:39) - What do you think about. What are you thinking of? Because some people have done lots of shopping. They've had three VAs already. They're very knowledgeable. Other people are like, I don't know. My sister told me, I need something like this. What do you do? And then she'll just educate you and she'll give you the 411 that I just gave people today and things like that. So that's like a 15 minute conversation. And then she'll likely recommend that you use our questionnaire and we will send you a questionnaire and it takes about 15 minutes to fill out and it helps people sift through some of the questions that I think they're processing. Do I need one? How much of one do I need? What would I delegate? Is it worth it at this time? How overwhelmed am I? Am I overwhelmed enough? So it's got a series of questions to help you process that. And then Jennifer will offer you a complimentary consultation session, basically, and go over your answers with you and then just kind of looked with you.
Gina (00:43:32) - And she's not afraid to say, you know what, I think you could use us, but not yet. Or you got to go, Come up. You should go. Come up with more to delegate and meanwhile, try this or this. Or she might say, I don't know. She'll just give you a straight up advice because we want a good client that's a good fit for us. So if we think somebody's not a good fit, we're not going to try to convince you to be a good fit. But that's a pretty valuable process to just help people sift through the decision making process.
Tom (00:44:00) - Yeah, I like the consultative approach of that too, that someone's getting some value from that initial discussion of Here's what I'm hearing you say and this is where things could fit.
Gina (00:44:09) - For sure.
Tom (00:44:10) - You sound excited about this. Does Tiffany walk around saying, I dragged her kicking and screaming into this business that she loved? What's that relationship like?
Gina (00:44:19) - I just saw her recently. I hadn't seen her in a while.
Gina (00:44:22) - I just saw her recently, you know, at a restaurant with a bunch of friends a couple months ago. And I said, Tiffany, you know, I always tell the story about how Tina started, and I always say, And she goes, Yeah, I know. I told you, get over yourself. And she goes, I take. She goes, That's one of my accolades. She goes, That's one part of my legacy. Said, Good.
Tom (00:44:43) - She sounds like a good friend. Sound like she saw some real potential. What she gave to you? Yeah, for sure. This sounds great. I know for me personally, and we do use a virtual assistant. You've made me think of some things I could do better working with them that think I could get more value. And so that's been helpful for anyone who doesn't have that would think this would be really prompting them to wonder why if there are certain things that they really have trouble getting on top of to help with that process.
Gina (00:45:09) - Yep. Good. Good.
Tom (00:45:11) - Yeah. Well, thank you very much for yourtime today. Yeah. Thanks, Gina.
Gina (00:45:15) - You're welcome. You're welcome. Thanks for having me.
Outro (00:45:19) - Enjoy this podcast. Visit our website SummitCPA.Net to get more tips and strategy for achieving modern CPA firm success. We are here to be a resource in this ever changing industry.