How Brian Casel, Founder of Audience Ops, Has Built a Virtual Team of Specialists to Help Grow His Online Content Marketing Business
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In this episode, special guest and founder of Audience Ops, Brian Casel, shares with us his experience of building a virtual team of content marketing specialists and how you may not always get it right the first time.
Brian reveals that in order to grow a successful business in today’s constantly evolving marketplace, business owners must remain responsive and ensure their own businesses continue to evolve.
Some of the areas covered include:
- The initial challenges faced when building a virtual team of specialists
- Why systems and processes are so important in building your team up for success
- The need for effective communication tools within your virtual team
- Ensuring you have a sound onboarding and training process for new recruits
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:
02:28 – Who is Brian Casel?
05:57 – Initial challenges with building teams
09:55 – The importance of systems and processes
12:14 – Do you need a VA or someone else?
13:04 – Firing yourself from business processes
14:48 – Business processes are constantly evolving
16:50 – Brian’s business processes
22:30 – Challenges of bringing new people into your team
25:42 – Getting the onboarding process right
26:36 – How to deal with an underperforming team member
27:48 – Have your team suggest ways to improve processes
29:56 – Outsourcing a task that requires talent or expertise
33:18 – The need for good online content
35:37 – Brian’s #1 tool that has streamlined his business
40:20 – Wrapping things up
Barbara: Hey everyone and welcome to another episode of the Virtual Success Show, where today I’m flying solo without my co-host Matt Malouf. When we have guests on the show, which we do today, often we find it’s easier to get really good guests if we can split the shows up and not have our own schedules getting in the way, so on today’s show I’m really excited because I’m talking to Brian Casel, who is the founder of Audience Ops and also has a fantastic podcast called… it’s called the Productize Podcast, Brian is it?
Barbara: Oh fantastic, fantastic! So guys today we’re going to talk all about all things content and managing team’s when it comes to content and how to get content up on your site without it overwhelming you. I know one of the questions I get a lot Virtual Angel Hub is clients who have VA’s through us will say, “Well how do I get a consistent stream of content?”, particularly when the VA’s able to do quite a lot of work with that content but one of the challenges is trying to actually get consistency in this area. So Brian’s going to talk to us all about this today and his own journey with managing teams in this area. So Brian, welcome to the show.
Barbara: Me too because I think one of the key things to actually growing or scaling is getting this right, cause so many people can’t nail this and it will trip you up if you can’t figure out how to manage a team once you start to grow, as you and I’ve just been talking about off air Brian.
Brian: Yep, absolutely.
Barbara: The whole challenge of it. Okay so to kick off the show, give us first a quick Audience Ops, the Productize Podcast, all about you so give us the quick what are you doing these days with your businesses.
Who is Brian Casel?
Brian: Sure. Yeah I tend to like to work backwards in this story. So today I’m running my business – Audience Ops – and as you said that’s a content marketing, done for you service, or productize service, if you will. We’ve been at this two and a half years now, or so, and we’ve got a great team of writers and editors and project managers. They’re all based here in the US. We’re all remote and I’m here in Connecticut in the US, near New York City. The team is spread out around the US but then we have a small team of assistants in the Philippines and I work with a couple of software developers on some of our tools, they’re in Eastern Europe. So, we’re all in Slack everyday and we’ve got remote working collaboration tools all set up. So, that’s what takes up most of my time.
The other stuff that I do is … on my personal site, over on casjam.com, that’s where I have my email newsletter. I talk about entrepreneurship and running a business. I teach a course. I do some coaching around … that’s Productize and that’s all about building a productized service, similar to what I’ve been doing with Audience Ops.
Before Audience Ops, I ran a business called Restaurant Engine. I worked on that for about four years and then sold it in 2015 and that was a web design service, software in service for the restaurant industry. So, I bootstrapped that for about four years and then working backwards from there, I’m basically a designer, web designer by trade and I did that as a solo freelance person for a while and yeah. That kind of works your way down.
Barbara: And here you are. So what I love about this story is that you started out in that freelance world, doing a bit of web design and all of a sudden today, you’re running different businesses. You’ve got two podcasts on the go. You’ve got a massive amount of content getting out there and you have a family. You’ve got young children at home and you’re able to have time to be on these podcasts all over the world with other people to promote them
Brian: I also didn’t mention, so right now, we’re all … we’re settled down in our home in Connecticut on the East Coast of the United States. But in 2015 into 2016, my family and I actually got into the car and we went coast to coast and lived in different places around the U.S. with our one year old daughter at the time and our dog. Spent about seven months out there on the road living in different Airbnb‘s, so that was-
Barbara: Oh wow.
Brian: And at the time I was actually launching Audience Ops throughout that whole period.
Brian: And travelling and working.
Barbara: There’s so much gold in this for the listeners, because we have people listening to this show that are struggling to even get one business with one VA going and to be successful. So you know, people find this delegation thing quite difficult and one of the goals of this show is to bring people like yourself on, that are actually running a lot of people and are still having a life, which is the big thing. So, how many have you got now in the total team?
Brian: It’s about 15 of us right now.
Barbara: Yeah so that’s great. That’s a massive team to run everything and to be communicating with people all day. So that’s like pair it right back. First of all, let’s talk about the beginning when you started with bringing team members on. Did you always find that you were successful at it, or what were the initial challenges when you started working with a lot of people to build various businesses that you’ve done?
Initial challenges with building teams
Brian: Yeah well certainly not successful from the beginning. It’s been a…
Barbara: It’s such a journey, isn’t it?
Brian: Yeah it’s a… I feel like hiring and managing people is one of those things that you do get better and better at it over time and I learned new things all the time, but it’s also very… it’s just very error prone.
Brian: I’m always learning that it’s super unpredictable. I guess just looking back to the early days, my very first experiences of hiring somebody would be back when I was a freelance designer. I would hire on other designers or developers or copywriters to basically contract out pieces of my projects. I did that quite a bit and actually grew my web design business to a point where… I wouldn’t necessarily call it an agency, but I was taking on multiple projects and working with five to eight different contractors at any given time.
Barbara: Which could be… that can be very stressful if you don’t know how to do it right, cause you’re the one managing all the projects. So, the client, deliverables and all that sort of thing.
Brian: Yep and definitely had some hard lessons learned there working with different contractors who didn’t deliver, they weren’t reliable, or I would have to redo their work and all that kind of stuff.
Barbara: Actually, I just want to pause there for second, just for the listeners, right? Cause an awful lot of people will say to us at Virtual Angel Hub “Oh you know, it’s the Philippines and you know, I won’t get the quality and you know I have all these issues.” How many of these people were sort of Western, or U.S. that you were working with at the time that you still had these same issues? Cause it’s people right?
Brian: Yeah. Well so I’ve worked on different businesses over these past few years, so there are different phases of all this. When I was doing web design stuff… I worked with… I’d say mostly U.S. based designers and developers. I think in that period, I learned that it just… I think I did experiment with outsourcing to developers overseas and at the time, I was pretty inexperienced with that. You know, there just didn’t deliver, unreliable. Again, I was pretty new at that and it was like… I’d say eight years ago or so. So, it’s not exactly the same market as it is today.
Brian: Back then, I learned that… I mean I was working on projects that had pretty high budgets too. So, I could afford to hire a developer in the United States for certain pieces. So that was kind of the consulting business, but then into Restaurant Engine, which was like a bootstrapped sass service type business with a much lower price point… going for a high quantity of customers. That’s where I really had to focus on keeping costs down and being super-efficient with everything. And that’s really where I started to get more experience with outsourcing to assistants in the Philippines. Our entire customer support team on that business was in the Philippines… and that enabled me to, not only build up that business, but… I was still balancing the consulting work. Like the design consulting work with building up that business early on. And so having that team in place helped to free me up to working on consulting projects to fund building that business and then eventually I phased out the consulting stuff.
Barbara: And what about… so talk to me about so that’s the customer service team for the restaurant business. Talk to me about the early stages of getting that together. I mean, I want to get into processes and systems here, cause one of the things that really trips people up, there’s a couple of things. Systems and processes, not having them, is the first thing that really trips people up. So did you know this before or did you learn this by being tripped by not having them fix your systems?
The importance of systems and processes
Brian: Yeah I think I learned that really early on in building Restaurant Engine and actually the thing I learned there was… at that period, I was really, really busy and every day was very hectic… and I felt that because I was so busy and hectic, that’s why I should… at the time I felt like I need to hire help, because I’m too busy. I have too many things to deal with. But at that time I wasn’t truly ready to hire, because I didn’t have the tasks nailed down as repeatable processes. I just knew that I had a lot of tasks that needed to be taken care of and so I do remember that the very first VA that I hired, the person was very talented, great communicator and everything, but …
I found that I would… yeah like I gave… it’s years ago now, I think it was a her. I gave her… a couple of projects and she did them and then I didn’t have anything new for her to do, but I was still very busy. I was like “Well I could give her this thing, but then I have to spend a day training her on that thing and then when she’s done, we’re back to square one.” So, I think I-
Barbara: You didn’t have a recurring… you didn’t have…
Barbara: Actually, it’s funny cause when clients come to us and they say, “Oh my god, I need a VA yesterday.” We actually will sort of say, “Yeah, you’re just going to create another job for yourself right now.” Because you almost need to learn to slow down right now, in order to speed up in the future. So, you sort of have to take a pause somewhere in the business if you’re not prepared, cause training and onboarding is a whole challenge in itself.
Brian: Yeah and I think it was also… at that time it was also the nature of my business and the business model. So… like the consulting business was very varied, every project was different. So there really wasn’t anything that was totally repeatable. It wasn’t until I started building Restaurant Engine, which was a systemized business and that’s where I started to finally identify, “Okay these things have to get done every week and even when we’re supporting customers, these are the most common problems that come up, because it’s a very focused product.” And so, that’s I started to identify, “Okay, if I hire a VA, I know that at the very least they can do these five things every week and then I can give them more stuff on top of that.” That’s what built that up and then from there-
Do you need a VA or someone else?
Barbara: And actually I want the listeners to pause here for a second, cause that’s a really key point. Cause often people think… particularly people in consulting businesses that, like what you said, don’t have… every project is so different. Because they are really hectic, they come in looking to get a VA. When maybe a VA, like I don’t mean an assistant in Philippines or offshore. Sometimes that may not be the right solution for them. So you’ve also got to think about, you know it may be better to just have a friend of a friend, or someone’s mom who’s free two days a week to come into your office and actually work with you. Rather than getting somebody offshore in that particular instance.
Barbara: Cause I think when you don’t have repeatable processes, or you don’t have a sense of what’s going on daily, weekly, monthly, it can be difficult to really delegate stuff to an offshore VA.
Firing yourself from business processes
Brian: Absolutely and then as time went on… in that previous business, it’s just building up a library of processes and just methodically and systematically taking myself out of each individual piece. Whether it’s sending our weekly newsletter, supporting customers, eventually I got myself out of the sales process, updating features, like all that stuff was eventually-
Barbara: And how long do you think, cause I love that whole process of the, the firing yourself from your business process.
Barbara: That you have to go through especially if you want to, as you know, to productize a business and kind of get something scalable. How long do you think that process for that business really took you, in order to nail it?
Brian: It was a long time, so in that business… I started it… from the time started it to when I exited in 2015. It was about four years. I would say it wasn’t until… like the end of the third year into the fourth year when that business would have been truly ready to hand off to a new owner.
Brian: Too many things would have depended on me. So it was like in the last year, yeah.
Barbara: What’s really interesting to me about that is again, I see clients where they get very tripped up sometimes who are newer to this, is that the hear that getting a VA or building a team is the way to fire yourself from a business, but they’re expecting it to happen in the first two to three months. When I would argue that depending on the business, I think that’s a 12 month project even when you know what you’re doing. Like if you … I reckon you could do it in six months if you really know what you’re doing and you’ve done it before, but 12 months really, that’s the kind of timeline.
Business processes are constantly evolving
Brian: Yeah and I found that the business changes naturally and you have to keep redoing this whole process.
Barbara: Yeah, the process has evolved.
Brian: I mean in my current business, Audience Ops, you know this is kind of like my second time around with a business so, it started off much more systematic with processes and I was more experienced by the time I started Audience Ops… but now we’re two and a half years into it and I’m like a systems freak and still it’s…
Barbara: That’s like me though, yeah, I agree.
Brian: Like we’re still redoing things now, you know? It’s still…
Barbara: It never ends though, yeah.
Brian: As the team grows… processes are different when you have five people versus 15 people. When you have five clients versus 25 clients, you know it’s a different… new systems need to be introduced or the product or the service might change. You have need to update things, so…
Barbara: So, what would you say to people? I mean obviously you’re a bit, it sounds that we’ve talked about this before. You become a systems and process junkie a bit, because you kind of have to if you want to build something that is scalable. So often people will say to me as well “Oh I just don’t have time to build systems and processes.” What would you say to somebody like that? Who’s also hectic?
Brian: Yeah and I get it. I know how tedious and boring that kind of stuff could be and it bogs me down too, but at the same time I just know how valuable it is, because I feel like… my thing is, I don’t ever really want to work on something and know that I’m going to have to work on this thing again.
Barbara: I’m like that yeah.
Brian: You know, if I’m working on something, I’ll spend an extra hour or an extra day just to make sure that I work and build a system so that it can run without me after this. So, that’s the thing and I think the payoff is having that freedom. Being able to go on vacation, go travelling, or spend my time doing more valuable things; building new products, or marketing whatever and not getting bogged down in the service and day to day stuff.
Brian’s business processes
Barbara: So let’s talk about Audience Ops a bit more, because I’m really interested in this area, because it’s… your managing writers. You’ve got lots of people… the main core thing is writers though so…
Barbara: When you… talk to me about the whole process there. So somebody comes to audienceops.com, they sign up for the service there and how does the flow go from there?
Brian: Yeah well I-
Barbara: How do you manage that whole process?
Brian: Well I will say that… so, yeah audienceops.com, you could just come to the home page and sign up, but nobody just signs up. It… the price point is high enough that they’re going to want to speak to somebody before they sign up.
Barbara: Yeah of course, yeah.
Brian: Typically. So, usually what happens is they fill out our consultation form on the home page. That will, then I have a pretty good process now. It’s gone through many iterations, but basically they fill out that form and then immediately they’re taken to my calendar to book a consultation with me or one of our sales people and then immediately after they book the consultation, they’re directed to a demo video. They watch, it’s about 10 minutes long, it’s just everything about how Audience Ops works, our pricing packages, different options, everything you kind of need to know.
And then from there, we’ll have our call probably in the next day or two and by the time I get on the call with somebody, they’ve already seen the video, they’ve seen our pricing. You know, we’re also sending them emails in the background so…
Barbara: I love that you’ve… I can imagine you-
Brian: The sales calls become much easier.
Barbara: Shorter, easier and shorter yeah so this is a great little system that you’ve built in order to indoctrinate people before they even gone through that call, cause I’ve gone through this little process with you, I’ve seen that and thought that’s gold, because on a sales call and for anyone listening that has to do sales calls, often you’ve got to get through a lot of information on a sales call and people only want to hear what they want to hear, so it can cause problems on the onboarding down the track, because they forgot what you said on the call.
Brian: Yeah exactly and I use to do that, that little demo presentation, I used to do that live, like one-on-one with every sales call and… not only did it kill my voice, you know I’d have like the script, you know-
Barbara: People don’t listen then, cause you’re so bland by the time you get to the-
Brian: Yeah exactly and some days I’d just be too tired and it wouldn’t go so well you know… it was not very good. Having that-
Barbara: Well I’ll give you a tip listeners, I’m stealing this idea for Virtual Angel Hub, because I reckon this is a gold one and this is nothing to do with outsourcing. This is actually thinking about efficiency of process and the-
Barbara: Utilising your people resources in the best possible way. So, shortening the sales call, getting more effective … not causing problems down the track for you team when they’re trying to onboard later.
Barbara: Things like that.
Brian: But yeah. You asked about how does it work from there so, a person signs up, either with me over the call, or they come back to the site and they sign up there. As soon as their account is opened … this is where it becomes more manual on our team. So … I’ll get a notification and then I take the new client’s information and then I send it onto my team and basically I … we’ll take a couple hours to figure out “Alright, who’s going to be the manager? Who’s going to be the writer? Who will be the editor and the assistant?” And we assign those people as dedicated people to that account. So I send an email to that group. Say “Hey we’ve got a new client, here’s all their information. Here are my notes about that new client.”
And then the manager sends them an email, usually within a day or two days and they’ll schedule the kick off call and then from there like I’m basically completely hands off. So the manager has taken over, the writer gets on the call with the client and the manager and they are yeah-
Barbara: Do you have a… with your a team, so do you have pods of people that work together all the time? Or is there a project manager working with a different set of people for each project?
Brian: That’s a good question. We kind of tried to go the pods route a while back. That would be theoretically easier, but the problem we run into is… I assign writers to clients based on… like matching them up… yeah their strengths, like we assign our more technical writers to technical clients, lifestyle writers to lifestyle clients, that sort of stuff. So there’s that and then also writers availability, so some writers just get full and I can’t assign them anymore and so for that reason, we kind of have to mix and match. So… yeah.
Barbara: And just as a question, I know I interject a lot in these things just to try and bring out the key learnings I guess. How do you… I mean obviously when you tried the pod thing, how did you discover that this wasn’t working? Was it feedback from the team? Was it complaints? Was it…
Brian: Well we didn’t get very far with it. We discussed moving to that, to like a pod structure and then as soon as we started to look at the list of people and clients we’re like “Wait this is not going to work.”
Barbara: Yeah so that’s working with your team though and taking feedback from them around what’s going to work and what’s not really.
Brian: Yeah I have… one of our… we have a team manager who, she used to be a project manager, now she’s kind of an internal team manager and she helps out with that sort of stuff. Like basically supporting everyone on the team, but also helping to improve our systems and yeah-
Barbara: And supply and demand is the whole big thing to manage, yeah. In businesses like mine and yours, this supply demand is what you’re always trying to balance.
Brian: Yeah. Yep.
Challenges of bringing new people into your team
Barbara: So, okay then we talked before the show, on the air I really want to delve into this, when you’ve got… so you’ve got great system and processes going… you’ve got good communications between the teams, you’re using systems, you mentioned Slack, which is a great communication channel. We talk about that channel, that tool all the time on this show. What about when you bring somebody new into the team, because the biggest challenge I see people having is sort of the second challenge. The first one is when you don’t have system and processes and the second one is, when you do have a lot of system and processes and you’ve built your whole task list and then you just bring someone in and you fire it at them and say, “Goodbye, off you go and just do the job.” Talk to me about where the pitfalls are in doing that.
Brian: Well yeah, you know, we are highly systemized at this point. We have a ton of processes and I think actually a problem that I’m trying to somehow improve is, new people coming into the team tend to get really overwhelmed and like there’s too much for them to take in.
Brian: So, I try to improve that in a few ways, but… one thing that I just recently did, so just last week I hired two new project managers. So we have two, now we’ve added a third and a fourth and a couple of weeks ago I created a like an internal training course for new project managers to go through. Cause that role in particular is really difficult to get up to speed on. Writers it’s easier for them to come onto the team. VA’s it’s kind of easier for them to come in, but project manager’s not only need to just follow the processes, but they need to be able to… they need learn our best practices and how-
Barbara: They need to think like you guys do. Yeah and deal with things the way your company voice does or your company’s sort of brand and I know that’s a real challenge.
Barbara: And you could end up just firing people. I mean a lot of people go, “Oh they’re useless,” and just fire them. Where as that’s just not looking at it properly.
Brian: Right, so I put together this training course and like this week, they’re going through it and basically it’s just a series of videos and slides. And I point off to some of our key processes that they need to be aware of, but some of the videos are just like, “Here are kind of our best practices and guidelines that are like our goals of this role.” And just trying to give my mind share on that. So, I recorded it so I don’t have to do it live every time.
Barbara: Which is a lot of work in itself. You know, but again you’ve taken on that role of making sure that you … you have to do that work basically or else you got to do it live every time which is just a total waste of your time.
Brian: Right yeah, I mean I spent about a week just creating that training. So, they’re doing that now and then next week, those new project managers will begin to shadow our other project managers and then probably the week after they’ll start to actually take on clients for them to manage.
Barbara: And what about so, these project managers are they based in the U.S.?
Brian: Yes, actually one is in Canada now, but all of our writers and managers are U.S. and one guy in Canada now.
Getting the onboarding process right
Barbara: So what I love about that though is that, it doesn’t matter whether we’re talking about … obviously the challenges with places like the Philippines or India or whatever, or Eastern Europe can be different of course, with different cultural locks and all these sorts of things. But when it comes to training and onboarding, I just think that if you’ve got, you’ve got to be realistic about your processes around that. And that people, no matter where they are and how experienced they are need to be trained properly and onboarded with your particular business. The way your business functions, the way your business voices and they can take time, regardless of how experienced they are. Would you agree?
Brian: Yeah, definitely. I think it gets easier when you hire multiple people.
Brian: Hiring the very first writer is a lot of work and then the second and third it gets easier.
How to deal with an underperforming team member
Barbara: So what advice would you give to somebody… Let’s say somebody has just hired that first person and they’re really struggling. The person is good, they’ve got a good resource there, but it’s just not working. What do you think… what would you do in that situation? How do you sort of manage that, or without getting rid of the person?
Brian: Yeah, I think it’s kind of gut feel… either one of two things are happening. One, the person is just, they’re not picking things up, they’re… for a lack of better word, it’s their fault, they’re coming in late, they’re not showing. Those are real problems and maybe they’re just not going to work out and I’ve run into that from time to time. But more often than not, if they made it through the hiring process and they come onboard, they are a really good communicator, they are really talented and smart, so, it’s usually a process issue especially early on. So, I think … the tip that I would have, is just to really be open about the fact that other people won’t come to a task, or come to a project in the same way that I will.
Have your team suggest ways to improve processes
Brian: So, I have to try to put myself into their shoes, and I’m a very visual thinker, but not everybody thinks that way. So, you have to account for how people tend to learn and tend to pick things up. The other thing is, especially as you start to really remove yourself from the process, it’s better to start relying on your team to suggest ways to improve the process, or have them just come up with a process themselves, because they’re on the ground. They’re doing it every day. They know all the tips and tricks and shortcuts and everything. And so, rather than dictate how something should be done, just you let me know. I’ll coach them on it a bit, but that helps as well.
Barbara: Yeah I think it’s good as well to… because it becomes more of a collaboration thing, rather than I’m the boss, you’re the thing and here’s how I do it and if it’s not working. Cause sometimes it can be, as you say, some people are more visual, others like audio, others like to actually have steps written down. And what I see is people who are very visual, actually can sometimes find it very difficult to write steps in a… that’s not stream of consciousness writing. So, I’ve often been asked to review tasks where one of our VA’s might be really struggling and we’ve seen that it’s a great person, but the task is not happening and sometimes I’ll look at the task and go “Oh my god, even I don’t know what….” Cause I’m a reading person, I’m a word person and I’ll look at it and think “Oh my god, even I don’t know what the client wants” cause it’ll just be like one big long sentence, or like a huge paragraph. With no punctuation or anything-
Brian: Right, right
Barbara: It’s like the person just literally did a brain dump, but it was probably good in their head, but it’s just complete gobbledygook on paper.
Barbara: And we’ll have to go back to the client… I mean how do you say, “look, we actually don’t know what you want.” So, I always encourage clients to write in bullet points. If it’s a writing thing, you’ve got to try to, or potentially work with the person that you’re working with and together collaborate on how you create the process better. Cause their experience of your process is an interesting one to look at.
Brian: Yeah and I think obviously it depends on what type of project it is-
Outsourcing a task that requires talent or expertise
Brian: That you’re working on, but the thing I get asked a lot is “How do you outsource something that requires talent or expertise”, or I talk to a lot of people who are like “I’m this analyst, or I’m this really strong designer, but how can other people design like I can? Or how can I get clients to trust my company if it’s not me doing the design work?”
Barbara: Yeah that’s a great question. Yeah how do you answer that one?
Brian: Well I mean, if you think … like Audience Ops, I’m not writing the articles for our clients in Audience Ops. We have a team of really talented writers, who are much better writers than I am.
Brian: So, what we do is … first of all, I obviously hire very talented writers or whatever your company does, hire highly talented people who have that particular skillset and that particular experience, but then you can build a system and a process around the creative process. So, every article that we write is completely original, completely unique. It’s the writers’ work, they’re coming up with the idea, they’re doing the research, but at the end of the day; it’s created, it’s planned, it’s produced, it’s delivered in the same systematic way on the same schedule and …
Barbara: What I love about that is I’m always saying to people, you can have flexibility within a structure. If you have total… creativity is fantastic, but when you’re trying to run a business, something that’s scalable, or you want to build processes into something that’s more of a creative thing, you can place structure… there still can be structure without killing creativity, but no structure at all kind of just causes chaos in lots of ways.
Barbara: Depending on the business that you’re running, but it can cause chaos for you.
Brian: Yeah, it’s chaos internally at the company, it doesn’t set any expectation with the client, or they’re left wondering what’s happening and you know…
Barbara: Cause we find that-
Brian: When you have that structure, yeah.
Barbara: I find that sometimes clients will come in and say, “I just want to get a VA.” I mean this is obviously me talking about VA’s, “but I just want to get a VA and I just want to get rid of all my live chat email. I just want them to do it and I just want to show initiative and come up with ideas.” And I think yeah, this sounds a bit loose to me. You know, like that can happen if you could get a total rock star that just gets you completely and gets your business completely, but it’s unlikely that you’re going to have that outcome. If you don’t want to have any involvement in it. So some people just want to get rid of it, as opposed to delegate it, which is a different thing.
Barbara: Getting rid of it, you probably should just hire an agency that’s going to just take it over for you. But really with business, you have to kind of have oversight over the things that are going on, with your brand.
Brian: Yeah absolutely. Especially when you’re working remotely.
Barbara: Yeah. So just to wrap up, I want to talk a bit about the content piece. So talk to me about how effective, you know there’s also structure with content. So, for clients that are coming to you to get you guys to manage… I know people usually come to you and you take over the entire content management piece for them, from creating the content, getting it up on their site, so that they literally can, this is getting rid of it actually in lots of ways to you guys.
The need for good online content
Barbara: First of all, why do people really need content these days and why does it need to be consistently produced and distributed and leveraged in order to get success?
Brian: Yeah, so a lot of companies, I mean all across the board, but we work with a lot of online businesses, software businesses, some online services, some eCommerce businesses and so, they know that when they’re publishing content on a consistent basis and it’s high quality, insightful, original, educational, that tends to bring in organic traffic, number one – so that’s the first benefit they’re going for. The consistency of publishing content over a long period of time, that helps you steadily grow your organic traffic. What we see a lot with clients is, they go from having very spiky traffic – they’ll have a launch or they’ll have a PR hit or something and that gives them a good spike – but then it goes back down.
Whereas, once they start to really build up their archive of quality content, that gives them more places on their site that can be found in search engines, social media and so on. I mean that’s one, but I think even more important than that, is being able to nurture leads who come to your site and they’re not necessarily ready to buy today, but they’re interested, or they’re interested at least in the topic or the space that you operate in. So, they’re willing to give their email address to get an educational resource or something actual that they can use and then they’re on your email list and then you have content assets in place to follow up with them, come back to their inbox every week. And when they do get into a mode of getting ready to hire or buy a solution to that particular problem, your name comes to mind, because you’ve been following up with them.
I mean if you think about, let’s say you’re running ad campaigns to sell a product. What…like 5% or 10% conversion rate is really good, right? If you can get five or 10% of people to buy it immediately that’s great, but the other 90% what’s happening to them? They need to be followed up with and nurtured over time and that’s where content comes in.
Brian’s #1 tool that has streamlined his business
Barbara: And what about… what would you say… what is the tool that you use in your business… And let’s sort of talk about the internal workings and the structure of systems and managing teams. What’s the sort of number one tool that has kind of nailed this whole streamlining of your business, that you couldn’t do with now?
Brian: Yeah, I’d say today it’s probably Trello… we use that pretty heavily internally – that would be one. But this year we’ve also rolled out our own content calendar software called Ops Calendar and that’s… it’s basically a planning and editorial content calendar, but it also weaves in social media scheduling and analytics performance tracking. So, you can see your content traffic to each individual piece of content on your calendar, which is a bit difficult to pull out of Google Analytics. So, we’ve been building that tool. It’s still kind of young, but that’s coming along.
Brian: So, if you’re not familiar with Help Scout, it’s like a help desk software, where to the customer’s they only see our email address, firstname.lastname@example.org, so they interact with that. But we receive that in Help Scout, where we can assign it to the correct manager, we can have tickets, we can have internal notes, private not… yeah so-
Barbara: Is it kind of like Zendesk sort of thing? I haven’t really, I’ve heard of Help Scout, but haven’t investigated this one yet.
Brian: It’s like the same sort of tool as Zendesk. Except it’s a little bit better in my experience, because it’s like totally… yeah it’s totally invisible to the clients. They don’t have to log into anything, they just send an email and to them it’s just a normal email. But to us, we have our organisation and systems and it’s also a way for us to … now we have four project managers and they’re each managing different clients, but we don’t want to have to have emails siloed in email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org and you know what I mean? So we only have one-
Barbara: So if somebody leaves, then I mean this is the whole challenge, if that person leaves then you got all those emails on a private email address.
Barbara: Which you don’t have to have. And I would say we don’t do this in our business either. We try to centralise, you got to try to centralise your email flow somehow so that you don’t lose things.
Brian: Yeah. And within Help Scout we have that email address for service. I’ve got a separate one just for sales and then … the other nice thing about it is, we’re constantly collaborating or communicating internally about conversations we’re having with clients. So, one of my project managers can send me a message on Slack and say “Here’s my conversation with that client about this thing. Here’s the link to it.” And I can just click it, now I’m viewing that email in Help Scout.
Barbara: Yes. This is such great stuff, because every person that we’ve had on this show, not one person that we’ve ever interviewed does not use a project management tool. So, it might be Trello, could be Podio, Asana, you know Basecamp, any of them really and then a communication, some form of communication tool. Like some people just use Asana for that, there’s Slack, there’s you know, but this ties the team together and makes everything… it connects everybody. Which is really important if you want to get the team to work effectively together.
Brian: Totally. I’m constantly telling the team, whenever you’re bringing something up to me, escalating whatever, always be sure to include the Help Scout conversation link, the Trello card link, the Google Doc and Google Doc is there other ones that we use that pretty heavily too. Yeah and like on that note, I also… in Trello, so every article that we’re producing gets a card in Trello. I always want there to be a history of everything that happened on that article in the comment feed on that card. So we can see, this was the date that the writer started the draft, then they finished it on this date. Then it went to the editor and there was a comment on it, then the client gave us some feedback and then this thing happened with it. So, I could just go into any article and see like the last four weeks what happened.
Barbara: And there’s a process right there, that a lot people wouldn’t think of. So you’ve created a process around how to use Trello as well. So this is getting even deeper into kind of processes and systems, in order to make your team effective.
Wrapping things up
Listen that’s been so insightful, I could go on all day about this, but I think the key things I’ve taken from this is you know, systems and processes are key, but you have to keep evolving them. Bringing your team together, making sure you’ve got effective communication, not just chatting with each other in order to keep things running smoothly and onboarding and training, is the other one you’ve really got to get right.
And Brian, thank you so much for sharing all of that. So, if people want to get in touch with you, they head over to Brian … what is casjam.com?
Barbara: And then audienceops.com if you guys want to outsource your content, content creation and getting your content on your site really moving in a consistent way.
Brian thank so much for sharing. Guys if you loved this show, then jump over to iTunes and give us a review and a rating. We’d love to get this show out to more people. And also, if there’s something you’d like us to talk about, you can join the conversation on our Facebook group, which is Virtual Success on Facebook and just let us know what topic you’d like us to cover, or someone you’d like us to interview on this topic. Until next time, see you then.
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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