From Corporate Jungle to Lifestyle Entrepreneur Using Virtual Teams with Paul Higgins
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In this episode, special guest and co-founder of TrackZEN, Paul Higgins, chats with us about his transition from the corporate world to running his own business and how, along the way, he has amassed a team of virtual specialists to help him achieve immense business success.
Paul, whose passion is helping business owners slash their work hours whilst exploding their profits, shares with us his strategies and tips for getting outsourcing right, the first time.
Some of the areas covered include:
- The importance of investing time into recruiting, training and building your systems and processes
- The common challenges faced by business owners when dealing with outsourcing countries
- Paul’s framework for success with virtual teams
- Tips on starting out with a VA
Let us know what your key takeout has been from this episode and join the continuing conversation over in the Virtual Success Facebook Group.
Resources mentioned in this show:
In this episode:
01:50 – About Paul Higgins and TrackZEN
06:03 – Tips and strategies for getting outsourcing right
08:19 – Challenges faced when dealing with outsourcing countries
08:56 – Using virtual staff at TrackZEN
10:06 – The 3 key elements to managing a virtual team
11:44 – It’s up to the business owner to get these elements right
13:28 – Managing a large virtual team
15:43 – The challenges of managing a large virtual team
17:14 – Framework for success
21:53 – Paul’s future vision
23:18 – Paul’s top 2 tips on starting out with a VA
24:00 – Wrapping things up
Barbara Turley: Hey everyone and welcome back to another episode of the Virtual Success Show. I’m joined today by my fantastic co-host, Matt Malouf. Hi Matt, how’s it going?
Matt Malouf: I’m well, Barbara. How are you?
Barbara Turley: I’m great, thanks. I’m great, thanks.
Matt Malouf: Excellent. It’s sweltering here in Sydney today.
Barbara Turley: It is. Well, they’re talking about … They’re actually talking about power outages because all the people are using air conditioning. It’s awful. You know, in the 15 years that I’ve lived here, I don’t think I remember a summer this hot. Ever.
Matt Malouf: Nah. It’s brilliant. We’ll all be down at the beach later today.
Barbara Turley: Yeah. All the international guests will be thinking, “Yeah, we really feel for you. It’s terrible.” Very good. So, listen. Today’s show, guys, we’re … we have yet another Virtual Angel Hub client and a good friend of mine and someone who’s just very experienced in this whole outsourcing and systems and managing teams type business. Paul Higgins is the founder of TrackZEN Club. Paul, welcome to the show.
Paul Higgins: Thanks, Barb. Good to be here and Matt.
Matt Malouf: Welcome, Paul.
Paul Higgins: Thank you.
Barbara Turley: So, listen, Paul, just to kick off … TrackZEN Club … Let’s talk about…I said before we started the show it would be better for me to let you explain a bit about what you actually do. What is TrackZEN Club? And why should we all know about it? Tell us a bit about it.
About Paul Higgins and TrackZEN
Paul Higgins: Sure, so, they say if you’ve got an itch, it’s best to scratch it yourself and really, the TrackZEN Club came about me not being able to find the solution. So, I was ex-corporate running my own business. I was lonely. I was missing the corporate team and environment and I was really struggling to sort of focus and be accountable. And I was looking for different groups and I just couldn’t find a group or a mastermind group that sort of suited my experience and exactly where I was. It was either a lot of people for young start-ups or really young business that hadn’t had a corporate career or there were sort of people that were running very bricks and mortar businesses that sort of didn’t suit me either.
So, in short, I created my own and it’s a mastermind where people like my journey, basically, been in corporate, they’re running a good business but they’re not quite where they promised their partner to be so they’re not probably working the hours they thought they were going to work, not getting the income they thought they were going to work, and what we do is, in the club, we basically have the accountability which is fantastic because it can get very lonely, and we also have a five-step methodology that people go through to ultimately get where they thought they were going to when they left corporate.
Barbara Turley: Yeah, I think that leaving corporate is a big challenge as you say because I know, when I was in my corporate career and I started my own business, one of the first things I said is like, “There’s no help desk.” Like when things go wrong, there’s no … In corporate, you used to just dial somebody and there was always somebody there to help or there’s team meetings, etc. So, it’s very interesting concept that you’ve developed there.
Now, so talk to me a little bit about … obviously, we’re here to talk about outsourcing and virtual assistants and look … I know that you were at Coca-Cola for a very long time, had great career there; were they using outsourcing there? How did you sort of get into this knowledge about VA’s and using off-shoring for your business?
Paul Higgins: Yeah, look. I suppose Coca-Cola’s the biggest franchise in the world so that would bring in heading the small team within Coca-Cola but then I had really the bottlers, so the people who actually went and manufactured, distributed, and sold it. It was like their outsource team so, if you think of the heart of it, Coca-Cola is basically like many of us, which is they come up with the fantastic ideas and they get other people to actually help them get that to the consumers.
So, being in that system for 18 years, I was just always used to outsourcing in some form. And for me, within our business, we always had the best experts or the best suppliers in the world helping you solve problems so it was very natural for me to do that and being part of a global business. I always looked for talent around the world so, to be honest, it was something that I think was innate in me but, because of my experience at Coca-Cola, it just became second nature to look for that. And, as you said, when I left Coke, all of a sudden every hat was on myself so I was working 14 to 16 hour days. I was doing invoicing, just all this stuff that in a large corporate you never do and all of a sudden, I was doing it and I thought this is crazy. I’ve just bought myself a job, so how do I start to extract myself?!
And I basically did work for Bain which is one of the biggest consulting companies in the world and I just got their best outsourcing person for the day. So I said, “Don’t pay me for this particular part. I’ll just sit with this expert and get him to tell me everything about outsourcing and, in short, that’s when I came up to the Philippines and that’s when I came up with the first part which was to set up my own business in the Philippines.
Barbara Turley: That’s fantastic. So you have some amazing insights from how the corporates are getting this right so, because as you know and you’ve experienced this with clients and I knew as well, it’s actually not as easy as people think to get it right so it was great that you had that background.
The Bain consultant … What were the sort of biggest tips or strategies in getting it right that you learned from that particular day that you did?
Tips and strategies for getting outsourcing right
Paul Higgins: Certainly for a service based industry which is the one I was in, it was really going back to the basics. So the basics were English – so I was predominantly dealing in English. So you had to go where there’s really qualified English and I think it’s the second largest English speaking country in the world or in the top three or something in the Philippines so that was sort of like a simple one.
The second was around customer service, so he said go where there’s a brilliant customer service ethic and the Philippines have certainly got that. So, that was sort of the second tick.
And the third one was the education system. He described to me the way that the education system works and how that’s producing all these fantastic young people that have got great English and basically they’re very service oriented so they’re really willing to help and very loyal and also, they’ve got the education behind them. So, after looking at all different options, it just became quite evident that that’s the place to go to.
Because I used to buy businesses back at Coke and I used to go and do due diligence on companies so I was very good at picking which of the right suppliers. I suppose I found the right suppliers very quickly using my corporate experience and the person from Bain helped me find the right country to work with.
Barbara Turley: Wow, that’s so interesting. I want the listeners to sort of recap there on those three points you made. So you need to, I mean, if what you’re doing predominantly English speaking, you need to find, because obviously you didn’t go to Vietnam. There’re lots of places in Asia that you can go to get outsourced staff but if it is in a service-based business where you have somebody who will need good English, I mean the Philippines is a fabulous place to go. They are very loyal and the customer service, I mean it’s a huge BPO and call centre industry there so they’re very well trained in customer service actually. So those are great tips to share.
Matt, do you have anything on that because just that this corporate background, this experience of outsourcing, I wonder have you got any specific questions on that?
Matt Malouf: Well, not specific on that but I was going to ask Paul … So Paul, in your initial dealings then with the Philippines, what were some of the challenges you experienced?
Challenges faced when dealing with outsourcing countries
Paul Higgins: Look, I think there’s a lot of people out there that have a shop front that they do a great job in saying this is what we deliver but when you actually peel back and ask them some good questions, you realise that there’s just nothing behind the shop. It’s a shop front. So, I think that was the hard thing is trying to weed out the people that could actually deliver what they said they were going to deliver versus those guys that were just really good at selling – so that was probably the first challenge I had, Matt.
Matt Malouf: Okay. In which ways do you use virtual staff in your business now, Paul?
Using virtual staff at TrackZEN
Paul Higgins: So I first started using VA’s, virtual assistants, and what it’s evolved to and I’m sure we’ll cover this is now I’ve got project managers and basically everything I do is offshore in some format. So whether the Philippines is the core – I use people around the world to deliver the product and the value to my clients. So there’s myself here in Melbourne. I’ve got my business partner, Scott, who’s also here but other than that, everyone else is virtual or somewhere else in the world. So I suppose the short answer is nearly everything I do, other than create the content and run the mastermind, is done through outsourcing.
Matt Malouf: Fantastic.
The 3 key elements to managing a virtual team
Barbara Turley: I’d love to jump in here because I know the big question is, obviously, how do you manage all the tasks, all the projects, all the people? And I know you and I are very aligned and Matt will be as well on the use of project management tools so talk to me about how crucial is it for you in managing your affairs to have a good project management tool and what do you use and how do you use it?
Paul Higgins: I think fundamentally there are sort of three things – there are people, process and then platform or systems. I think you’ve got to have a combination of those and we learned very quickly that running teams or, from my Coke experience, that software in a platform is critical to running when you’re not face to face. So we use a platform called Podio. It’s fantastic but we also have clients that use other platforms but I think that platform piece is really critical. Then the people, so picking, recruiting the right people and also training them so I think the people … some of our clients think that I’ll get a VA and it’ll be easy to just start and I know Barb, you probably come across it all the time, is that you actually need to learn yourself how to use outsourced teams, especially if you’ve never done it before.
I think that training and development is really key and then having the right processes. We have simple things like … we don’t have job descriptions. We just have task lists that actually sit in someone’s platform so, for us, it’s Podio. And they’re all the things that they have to do on a day to day basis and we’ve also got a list of all the repeating tasks. So if a task has to be repeated, it’s actually automatically put in there so that they can’t forget it. And we have automated work flows so it makes it absolutely dead easy for someone to get something right. So there’s a lot of time and effort that goes into that but I think, if you get that right and get those three elements right, that’s when you get success.
It’s up to the business owner to get these elements right
Barbara Turley: I just want to make a point here for the listeners listening to this because the problem, Paul, you know this and Matt you know this, one of the problems I see happening a lot with clients that join Virtual Angel Hub is that, as you say, they think I’ll get a VA and those things will just happen. But the three things you mentioned: recruiting, training, and building your processes and deciding on your platform and making it all work, none of those are a VA’s job.
Like you, as a business owner, have to squarely … You have to make sure that you’re the one that has to drivethat and yes, it does take time, but it’s the best investment that you’ll ever make. When I see some people thinking that if I get a VA, that all those things are just going to happen and I’ve had some clients say to me, “Oh, I wanted the VA to show more initiative in creating my processes.” And I think, well, that’s probably your job initially anyway until you have somebody working with you a long time who then you can mentor into that taking over that sort of a job for you. So, yeah, it’s very much your job as business owner to set those things up and Paul, you’re very good at doing that.
So I know you’ve moved to … How many sort of people would you have interacting on the platform now in terms of outsourced virtual not staff, but even contractors and various people working with you?
Paul Higgins: Oh look, I don’t know but as a rough number, probably 50?
Barbara Turley: Yeah. Now how do you manage that? How do you get from, you go from a couple of VA’s or one VA because a lot of people listening to this might just have one VA and they can’t even fathom how you would manage without using up all your own time. How do you manage that many people without spending all day every day putting out fires?
Managing a large virtual team
Paul Higgins: And you’re right. I’ll give you a brief synopsis and I’ll start it with my own VA that was great and sort of overdoing what we call the core four, which is email, calendar, task and sales support so that freed up roughly about two hours of my time. So that was great but then I was doing all the work with suppliers and I was trying to balance client work, sales, leadership, and projects and I’ve always, in my Coke days, I learned that if the person doing the project was also the person managing the project aspect of it, it just wasn’t successful. But when you actually decoupled those, that’s where you got real success.
And for example, I launched Coke Zero here in Australia and it was a huge success because we learnt that from a prior campaign. So basically, what I did was say, “why don’t I, with the career progression, I promote my VA to a project manager and what they can do is actually manage all the suppliers and all I’ll do is once a week have a WIP with them and we use a software that when they’re updating, I get updated as well so, instead of going into boring meetings all the time, we just basically get quick notifications to see what’s happening so I’m sort of keeping an eye over it but it kept me … it got me focused on clients, sales, leadership and idea creation and got me out of the actual managing of the projects. You know, are people on time? Do they really know what is happening? Are they aligned to why it’s happening? All of that stuff was actually then handled by a project manager and that made a massive difference to my business. I actually got programmes launched quicker which effectively meant more money in the bank which means I can create more concepts and build the team larger.
Barbara Turley: Just on that, so, obviously I would imagine there were some challenges initially with that so again, some people listening will think, “Oh great, I’ll just make my VA the project manager and empower them, tell them it’s time to step up”, because we hear this a lot. It’s time to step up and take it on. But I would imagine in the beginning of doing this, there would have been some teething issues, there would have been mistakes, there would have been miscommunications as somebody steps into a new role like that, and it’s quite a full on role being a project manager. Talk to me about some of the challenges in the early days and how are you refining this to make sure it works for you so that you just have that one person reporting to you?
The challenges of managing a large virtual team
Paul Higgins: Yeah, great question. So the first thing we did is, we trialed it. So we basically said, “Here’s three months and I always talk … I did some coaching when I left so I’m a qualified coach and we would always talk ‘above the line’ and ‘below the line’. So, ‘above the line’ is the things that the organisation or, for me, the owner of the business control and then ‘below the line’ is what the project manager could control. And what I wanted to do is set them up for success and we were sort of … yes, look, they can just do project managementlike I used to do project management.
I sort of nearly treated it as like I just had another high paid executive working for me doing project management so I quickly defaulted to that position and then I realised that that’s completely the wrong way to look at it. I hadn’t set them up for success so when they were missing deadlines or they weren’t clear on what the priority projects were, you know, the easy thing was to go back and say, “Well, it’s the individual” but what I realised that I actually hadn’t set them up and I hadn’t given them the right framework so would it help if I just quickly highlight that framework?
Matt Malouf: That’d be great.
Barbara Turley: Oh, definitely because I’m thinking … Matt, I know you’re probably just salivating at this point because we did a whole show on this where, you know, and I know Matt you talk to clients a lot about this mindset thing and the natural tendency is to just blame the VA or blame the person because they’re not getting it right but you have to set somebody up for success so I would love to know your framework for how you do that with your team?
Framework for success
Paul Higgins: So, I sort of touched on it briefly before but I think in most jobs there’s 70 percent which is task-based and then there’s the 30 percent which is project-based. So, having a project manager increases that mix but let’s, for simple say, the 70/30, the 70 percent that we actually listed all the key tasks that needed to be done and made sure that that was put in that platform, which was Podio. So therefore, all the project manager had to do each day was actually go to one button and it had all of their tasks there so they didn’t have to try to check their email or multiple different communication platforms. They just went to one place and that was very easy for them.
The second is that we had automated work flows, so when they did a blog, we listed in the format itself every step that needed to be done, so where it needed to be posted etc, and we automated tasks so when you went from draft to publish, it automatically tasked the project person to then go and publish that or then go and talk to the editor. It was all automated so, once again, someone didn’t have to think, “Oh, what do I do next?” And that reduced a whole lot of missteps so that made it so much easier for them to do it so that was on the task side of it.
In the project side, we just came up with a really good template for projects and the key things in there is the ‘why’ because often we just say go and do that and then, especially if someone’s come from a VA, they’re normally very good at doing quick tasks but what we wanted to do was elevate this and say, “Why is this so important for the business?” So they were actually engaged into why the project was important and that led to success and that came through a really good template. And also measuring what success was.
And then lastly, we had deliverables that sat under the project and what we made sure is there is only five key deliverables at any one time. So we’d have WIP every week and if, you know, sometimes it’d sneak up to 11 and I would say “No, look, here’s the five”, and it was a card system in Podio where you can just simply prioritise and I’d say “These are the top five priorities of deliverables as I see them”. So they were very clear on what success was for that week and then they’d go away and work. And we’d just have a simple To Do, Do, and Doing, so we sort of put the noise away because often, there’s just so much that a project manager is trying to do that they get confused, so that was what we’ve done. We’ve actually created a short online training course showing people exactly how to use that and we found that that brought enormous success and it took a bit of time to set it up but it actually has delivered some great results.
Matt Malouf: I just …
Barbara Turley: Wow, so, go on Matt, yeah…
Matt Malouf: I just want to reiterate that last point that Paul just made which I think is the most important, is that it took a little bit of time to set it up but it made all the difference. And we talk about you’ve got to slow down in order to speed up all the time and Barb, you’ve backed me up on this with many of the guests that we’ve had on the show, have all shouted the same point that Paul just spoke of and I think that’s a really big take home for everybody on this show is that, in order to move with speed, you have to invest the time into the right processes in order to set your people up to succeed. And what Paul just described, you know, that takes time. It takes diligence. It takes focus. But once it’s set up and you train the people how to do that, you can move with immense speed.
Barbara Turley: Well, I think actually on that as well, and something you and I talk about a lot on this show is that’s the difference between abdicating responsibility which is saying, “Hey this is now your job. You go do it” and actually taking on the responsibility of doing this and getting success and helping your team to get success is actually on you. Now obviously, that means you have to have good people with good work ethic and decent skill sets but once you have that it squarely comes back to you to make sure that you’re taking on that responsibility yourself as a business owner. I mean, it is your business after all. So, Paul, where are we at and I should put in the show notes, by the way, a link to Paul where people can access that little training programme that you’ve just talked about, we’ll have all the links in the show notes, guys, for things we’ve mentioned in the show. So where are you today and what’s the future vision for the business? Where are you taking it from today?
Paul’s future vision
Paul Higgins: Yeah, so the future vision of the business is to be a number one community for people that leave corporate running their own business. And what we’ve created is a community on Facebook. It’s a closed group making sure that we’ve got the right people in it but it’s called Build, Live, Give. And it’s really about that. You want to build a fantastic business. You want to live a lifestyle and the reason you probably left corporate is to live the lifestyle you really want and working ridiculous hours and doing everything yourself and not paying yourself is not helping that. So we want to help you live and then finally is the give component, so I’ve got a particular inherited condition so I want to make sure that I’m generating income for research to help with that condition. But I know a lot of other people out there have left corporate because they actually want to leave a bigger legacy on the world and give more so we’re giving the opportunities to do that. So we want to be that number one community and to be honest, we’ve just started that journey but, if any listeners out there sort of fit and resonate with some of the things I’ve talked about, we’d love to have you come in and join that community.
Barbara Turley: Yeah, I’m a member and it’s fantastic and it’s got some good stuff going on in that community. And, Matt, any final questions for Paul?
Matt Malouf: Paul, my only final question would just be if you had to give two pieces of advice to somebody starting out with a VA today, what would those two pieces of advice be?
Paul’s top 2 tips on starting out with a VA
Paul Higgins: I think, one, learn from the people that’ve already gone through the hard yards, so whether it’s, you know, both of you, Barb, or other people, don’t try to reinvent the wheel. Don’t try to learn it all yourself. It took me six years to get to where I am now but in a half an hour, you can watch a particular video and get most of that six years in a very condensed time. So I think that’s one.
And the other is really be careful in which partners you pick. There’s a lot of companies out there like I said, are very good with the sales aspect but they’re not good at the operations and they don’t do the people development and they don’t have the processes, so really make sure you do your due diligence and pick the right people.
Matt Malouf: Fantastic.
Wrapping things up
Barbara Turley: Great. Great advice. Great advice. Paul, thanks so much for coming on the show and those insights have been fabulous and again, Matt and I are hearing time and time again, we’re getting people like yourself who’ve been very successful with this but the story is always slightly different but the messaging and the processes and the steps to getting success are always actually the same, so I’m hoping the listeners are really picking this up, that we’re echoing the same types of success notes each time and for all the listeners out there as well, other shows that Matt and I do when we don’t have guests on, we often do little workshops on all the things we’re talking about.
So, for example, we have a whole show on how to set a project up for success with your VA, especially if it’s just you and one VA or you and a team of VAs. So be sure to go back through the shows and we do link to them transcriptions as well so you can always have access to those.
So thank you everyone, for another great week of Virtual Success. We’d love you guys to subscribe to the show on iTunes and give us a rating and a review and any questions that you have or anything that you want us to cover, please let us know because we’re always looking for great content for the show. So, until next time, thanks, Paul. Thanks Matt.
Matt Malouf: Thanks, Paul.
Paul Higgins: Thanks, Matt.
Barbara Turley: And see you all again.
Matt Malouf: See you all soon.
Barbara Turley is the Founder & CEO of The Virtual Hub, a company that specializes in recruiting, training and managing superstar ‘Virtual Assistants’ in the social media, digital marketing and systems automation space.
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