How Matthew Barby, Global Head of Growth & SEO at HubSpot, Is Leveraging Specialist Virtual Teams To Drive Business Growth And Ultimately, Business Success
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In this episode, special guest Matthew Barby, an award winning blogger, industry speaker, and lecturer, shares his experiences in creating and working with specialist virtual teams and how when you commit to making it work, can lead to exponential growth and success for your business.
Many entrepreneurs fall into the trap of ‘trying to do it all’.
When used effectively, virtual teams can be very powerful; and Matthew knows this all too well. This episode is full of tips and insights from Matthew on how to approach the task of building specialist virtual teams to perform tasks within your business and how to leverage these teams to their greatest potential.
Some of the areas he covers are:
- Why having teams of specialists allows you to focus on things you love doing
- The importance of a having stringent screening process for team members
- Making sure you commit the time upfront to training team members so as to build rapport with them
- Understanding the value of Virtual Teams to your business
- His top three tips for anyone starting out with virtual teams
Let us know what your key takeout has been from this episode and join the continuing conversation over in the Virtual Success Facebook Group.
In this episode:
02:48 – Trying to do far too much?!
04:20 – The challenges
05:51 – Cheapest isn’t always best
07:58 – Commit to making it work
08:42 – Building teams of highly specialized people
11:28 – Prove the process can work for one small task
12:33 – Replicate the process
13:54 – Don’t rush through training up team members
15:45 – Complementary skill sets within the team
17:55 – Document your processes
19:58 – How can specialist team members add value?
24:09 – Growing the team
26:28 – Refining the process
28:46 – Spend the time to find the right people
29:31 – Project-based roles vs. Retainer-based roles
32:04 – Key selection criteria
32:27 – Nice-to-haves
33:19 – Absolute deal-breakers
34:03 – Trying to find your ‘silver bullet’
36:09 – Understanding the value of virtual teams
41:06 – Matthew’s three top tips when starting out
41:27 – One – Start off small
42:08 – Two – Strong selection criteria
42:49 – Three – “Treat people like people”
43:48 – Wrapping things up
Barbara: Hi everyone and welcome back to the Virtual Success Show podcast. The show where we give you the inside tips on outsourcing success for entrepreneurs by entrepreneurs. As always I’m joined by my fantastic co-host Matt Malouf. Matt, how are you?
Matt: I’m well, how are you?
Barbara: I’m really good. Long week, good week, as always.
Matt: Excellent. Oh, that’s good. That’s good. Hey, tell me something interesting that’s happened to you this week.
Barbara: This week. Big lesson this week for me was refining processes, and I know we talk about this a lot on the show, but I’ve discovered that, you know, even when you have a great process you can still refine it, evolve it as little problems happen along the way. So I’ve been doing a lot of that this week. Big thing for me. How about you? What’s been happening?
Matt: I’ve got a little bit of a left-field, quick story to share. I was at home this evening before we’re coming in to do this recording and my eight year old son says to me, “Daddy what are you doing tonight?” And I said, “I will be doing the podcast and recording.” He goes, “Daddy, is that the one where you teach people how to get other people to do work for you?” And I said, “Yes.” He said, “Can they do my homework?”
Barbara: Oh, he’s clever. (laughing) Tell him, “He doesn’t need homework, he’s clever.”
Matt: And he said to me, “I’ve got the money to pay them as well.” So I was just blown away.
Barbara: He’s clever and savvy.
Matt: Eight year old ready to leverage homework. I’m just like, “He’s an entrepreneur in the making, love it.”
Barbara: Yeah, that’s a fabulous story. That’s much better than my story. (laughing) Look, really excited about today’s show because we have a very special guest who’s going to talk to us about managing multiple types of virtual teams while also having a very high profile job with a massive global company.
Today we’re talking to Matthew Barby, who is the Global Head of Growth and SEO at HubSpot. He’s also an award winning blogger, an industry speaker, and a lecturer for the Digital Marketing Institute. So he knows a thing or two about this online world. Matthew, welcome to the show.
Matthew: It’s great to be here. Thanks for having me guys.
Barbara: Just to kick off, I mean, one of the things I’m obviously really interested to know is, you know, you’ve got this full-time, full on job with a massive company like HubSpot, a very exciting place to work. But you’re also using, you know, effectively using virtual teams and virtual assistants, writers, etc. to help you manage multiple side projects, including your own website matthewbarby.com and some side businesses you’re involved with. Can you tell us a little bit about how effective is it having virtual teams to do all that?
Trying to do far too much?!
Matthew: Yeah, I mean, with myself I’m always kind of like, “I’ve got a lot of different plates spinning.” Having a lot of side projects on the go, managing, whether it’s my blog or a few other small businesses, I literally don’t think that it would be possible for me to do that alongside what I’m doing without having virtual teams. Now I think for over the past say four or five years that’s something that I very much learnt the hard way. Trying to do far too much. Trying to, in particular, manage large groups of very different skill sets of people to get tasks done. I think without having people within virtual teams, like if you try and do all of those skills by yourself you’re either one, going to just completely burn out; two, do an absolutely terrible job of everything.; or three, both of those. I think having those virtual teams in place is pretty much essential for me to be able to do anything outside of my current role anyway.
Barbara: Yeah, tell me about the beginnings of that. I mean, you started your website, matthewbarby.com, you’ve been doing this for quite a long time. Tell me about the early days where you had your first few virtual team members, be they virtual assistants or whatever, and what were the challenges to get started?
Matthew: Yeah, I think that the first thing that I started realizing really was, I used to do little bits of consulting, I was looking to grow traffic through to my own personal website and one of the big things that was probably taking up a lot of my time when I was just trying to scale up the growth of my own site was content creation. I would spend a hell of a lot of time on content creation. One of the big things with my site in particular was that I would give very, very detailed advice and information. I think the average size of a blog post on my site was around about five thousand words. So I would produce smaller numbers of very large pieces of content.
What was happening is, I was creating all of this content and spending so much of my time, I mean, I was literally not sleeping sometimes, just going through the night creating content in any free hour that I had. Then when it came to the actual promotion side of things, I spent all this time creating the content and just didn’t have any time for promoting it myself. So I was finding all these hours I was spending were really becoming wasted. Now, I knew exactly how to promote the content. It was something that I’ve been doing for years now and would do for clients and within a lot of my own side projects. The main challenge was just time, like it always is.
Cheapest isn’t always best
So, the first thing that I started doing is working with, or attempting to work with, some freelancers to just work on some outreach. Getting in touch with relevant blogs and other industry influencers at the time to promote my content, get it in front of other people, drive traffic through to my site. I had some interesting challenges when that first started out. A lot of people that I was working with, I wasn’t really vetting them very well and was just trying to work with people based on cheapest possible price which was another massive mistake. Then eventually when I started improving and refining the process for finding the right types of people and realizing that working with multiple people could also really help out what I was trying to do I started to slowly and surely build out more rigid processes for working with people and actually getting some results.
I mean, as a result of just where it started out with my personal site and scaling up a lot of the content on there, I started realizing, “Hey, this is actually a really really valuable framework to use to build into some of the consultant gigs that I was working on as well. Slowly and surely, prior to my role at HubSpot, I was the Head of Digital at a big marketing agency back in the UK and we started using these virtual teams to scale up our processes both internally and for clients. We were working with some big public companies at the time and we were scaling virtual teams to help out with our own individual projects at the same time as well. So there was so many different uses and a lot of lessons learned along the way that came with it as well.
Commit to making it work
Barbara: You know what I love about that story actually is that, you know, the fact that you do say, “There were a lot of lessons along the way.” What we typically see happening with some clients that come to Virtual Angel Hub would say to us, “Oh I’ve worked with VAs before, it’s been a disaster.” They sort of just give up and walk away. You made a commitment to making it work because you could see how this could work and then all of a sudden you got exponential growth and success from this, not just in your own blog but in a consulting firm like that you were working with and working with big brands. Can you tell me a little bit about maybe where you went from…was there a moment where you decided, “This isn’t really working but I’m going to make it work.” And what did you do? What was the pivotal thing that you changed?
Building teams of highly specialized people
Matthew: Yeah. I remember it vividly. What the problem that I was making was that I really wasn’t tapping into the major benefit of having and working with virtual teams. One of the big assets of working with a virtual team is the fact that you can build out teams of multiple people that have very very specialized skill sets and use them on, kind of, small chunks of your projects to build out a very varied skill set of people that you can work with. Instead of taking that approach, I was thinking more about a traditional model. I was like, “Okay, right, I need to get someone who can promote the blog to industry influencers, I need someone who’s going to do relationship building with some press contacts I have. I need someone who’s going to be managing the social media, maybe some little design work.” I was going after just one person that I was expecting to be a jack-of-all-trades. Whilst sometimes those people exist and you can find them, the more things that one person is doing the more one-to-one management they need.
So, what you’ll end up finding that you’re doing is, instead of delegating out a wide variety of smaller level tasks to a wide variety of people, which a lot of people think, “Well, more people means more management.” You’re actually, kind of, having to do a lot more quality control. One of the things that I’ve found to work much better was, “Okay, let’s stop putting all my eggs in one basket. Let’s take someone who’s highly specialized in one area, and in particular, this was around building press contacts was the first thing that I did because that takes a hell of a lot of time and you need someone that has experience in doing that kind of relationship building, whether it’s directly with press or not, that’s a different matter. Then I can dedicate more of my time to just training them around this one specific skill.
Then when they become proficient in there I can bring in a couple more people and that person can manage the other people. You’re starting the kind of delegation process where you have virtual teams that are not only kind of being overseen by you but that are being managed by other virtual members. That’s where it’s almost kind of like ‘teach a man to fish’ situation of spending a lot of time one-on-one creating almost like a manager level person within your virtual teams that then can delegate smaller tasks within there.
Prove the process can work for one small task
Matthew: What I found worked really well for me to turn things around in the early days was just go, “Right, okay, right now I just need to take one small task. I need to dedicate some time up front to it. I need to make the expectations of what I want from the person who’s going to be focused on this task very clear. They need to have written documentation of all of the processes.” Which took me a little bit of time but that kind of thing only needs to be done once. “Then I need to have regular check-ins with this person. A lot at the start of the project and then that can peter out to less regular check-ins as we move forward.” What I wanted to get to was, “Prove that this process works for one small task.” When I found that that started working and I started to get a ton of results I realized, “Actually now, now this is kind of running on semi-autopilot, I can start dedicating my time to doing the exact same thing for something else.”
Replicate the process
Matthew: Which at the time was managing social media engagement and just publishing my content across all of my different social media sites, making sure that people were engaging with the content. I started again but using the exact same framework that I was using before. In places I was able to reuse some of my training material and all of these kind of similar themes. Eventually getting to the point where I had a larger but more varied skilled team that all had someone within the team that they could go to to actually ask for advice and ask for training. And to be honest, when it came from a budget point of view, they were still probably working in the same kind of hours split among three people for example, as I would have had a jack-of-all-trades person that was working all themselves. Maybe like I spent a small extra amount on bringing a few extra people in but it was way, way worth it because I was able to diagnose problems and fix them way quicker.
Matt: Matthew, how long from that initial training to being able to move on to the next piece, generally?
Don’t rush through training up team members
Matthew: Yeah, I think this question is a question that I actually get asked quite a lot when it comes to speaking with, in particular, marketing agencies who seem to be using virtual teams more and more. The reality is this varies depending on the actual skill sets and the tasks that they’re working on. Instead of thinking about this in a timeframe I tend to think about this on a more, I suppose like an understanding level. Before I move on to the next task I want to have spent, realistically, you’ll want to have spent at least a month of solid, intensive time with your virtual team to build out a solid understanding of expectations. Like what you would do if you were bringing in an employee into your business and you’re taking them through all of their induction training, all of their expectation management training, going through everything that they need to be doing as part of their daily job. Until they get to the point where they feel proficient in delivering what you want to do but may still need some check-ins and guidance here and there.
When you get to the point where it’s like, okay, we’re past the just knowledge absorbing stage and we’re getting to the point where we’re having check-ins that are more focused around ‘What are the results? What’s going right? What’s going wrong? Do we need to pivot? Do we need to change something? Do you need a bit of one-to-one time on something else that can help you perform in your role better?’, that’s when I feel like I’m comfortable to say, “Okay, this person has a good ground knowledge and understands what I expect, now we can start moving to spending a larger amount of my time building out the next stage in the process.
Complementary skill sets within the team
A bonus that can come in with this is if the next task that you’re doing and building out another team complements the prior task, so in the example of reaching out to the press and building relationships with influencers within the media, the next person you bring in is all focused around building out your social media presence, building your brand. They tie hand-in-hand. What starts happening is, the individual people that are responsible for managing these tasks then need to have regular check-ins with each other. How can they help each other? How can they learn from each other? Slowly and surely you start to see this domino effect of all of the things that you’re teaching one person being passed on by proxy to another member of your virtual team. Then people can start getting past the stage of just learning and actually start suggesting ways that things can be improved.
Barbara: You know, what I love about that Matthew is that although you said that, “You actually spend time recruiting people who were perhaps more specialist in a specific thing.” Yet you’ve invested so much time, of your own time, training them anyway in your process because you’ve actually designed the process the way you want things run. Although you delegate control, you actually maintain control because of that.
Matthew: Yeah, because I think, at the end of the day, you’re bringing someone in, into a virtual team, and this holds for whether it’s a virtual team or you’re bringing someone in as a physical located member of staff in your office, people have different skill sets. People may be really proficient in one area but, at the end of the day, you want them to do something that you’re asking them. If you haven’t outlined specifically what you’re asking of them and how they can do that efficiently and also what your expectations are when they’re finished carrying out that task then they’re not going to be well equipped to do any kind of job for you.
Document your processes
So putting together and spending some time really outlining exactly what you would do for this task into some kind of document and then spending some one-on-one time helps you one, be able to actually arm your staff with what they need to do. And two, the other good thing that I’ve found is, I spend a large proportion of my time with virtual teams actually documenting the things that I need them to do. I’ll create full training documents, full process documents, and then spend one-to-one time once they’ve walked through these documents. The good thing about that is if this happens with any kind of person that you end up working with, people move on or you need to work with someone else, the relationship didn’t quite work out, the good thing that you have is you have all of these process documents. You have all of the training material so that all you need to do now is spend some one-on-one time helping that person understand those things.
You get some economies of scale here where the more that you’ve put in upfront the easier it becomes as you move forward and scale the team or scale up the relationships with people that you’re working with.
Barbara: Yep, that’s of course making a commitment to that as well, to going this route and making it work, like I said before. I’m interested to talk to you about, you know, content creation obviously is an area so many people are trying to do. We’re all doing it quite badly really, you know? A lot of people are pumping out content in blogs, etc. and as you say, “If you’re not promoting it properly it’s sort of a bit of a waste of time.” I’m interested to talk to you about using, I know you’ve got a lot of bloggers, writers, etc. that do various work for you. How do you manage all of those? Or do you have like a core project manager virtual person who manages all of them for you, bringing in all the content and the process around that?
How can specialist team members add value?
Matthew: Yeah, the content side of things is actually the area where I find that having a virtual team is of most value to me. I would say it’s the area where I most frequently use virtual teams. As you said quite rightly, “There is a lot of content out there and a lot of people aren’t doing it very well.” I mean, I saw a statistic the other day that there’s roughly 2.5 million blog posts published online every single day. I’m pretty sure that the large majority of those blog posts are terrible.
So, one of the things that people end up doing, and often make a mistake with, in my opinion, with content, is they say, “Right. Okay. I’ve got some ideas about some content that we create but my goal is I want to drive,” say, for example, the most common one, “drive traffic to those piece of content from the search engine. I’m just going to go do a ton of keyword research, I’m going to find a load of keywords that people are searching for. Then I’m just going to get some writer to produce this content for me.” Let’s say they’re in the fashion industry, for example, or the health industry. They just go to a one fits all copywriter that’s going to pretty much just take their idea, create a piece of content, and then the relationship finishes.
One of the areas that I’ve used virtual teams the most in the past is, instead of just doing this, is try and think about one, how you can work with writers that can add a lot more value than just creating words for you. Two, how you can actually work with people when you’re in the content creation process that can actually give an insight into what your audience wants, have background experience in the industry before, can really do a lot more than just pretty much follow your orders from a content point of view. Coming back to the first point where I was talking about writers that can do more than just create words for you, the big value that I find with working with industry specialist bloggers and writers, and I’m coming to that process in a bit, is not only can they create content for you but they have existing networks where they can work on the promotion side of things as well.
I’ll give you a scenario. In a project of mine that I run we work with a lot of fashion writers to produce content for our fashion e-commerce store. One of the first ports of calls that I focused on is not just, “Oh, how good a writer is this person?” The first thing I’ll be looking at is “Right, I’m going to go to every publication online where I want our brand to appear. I’m going to find all the top blogs where I would love to have our brand mentioned online and then I go and find who’s writing for these publications and these blogs.”
I’ll get a big long list of all these individual writers and then I’ll go right, “How big are their networks?” I’ll find their Twitter accounts. I’ll find their Pinterest accounts, their Instagram and any other social network that’s relevant. I’ll start drilling down on the number of followers they have, how engaged their following is. Then I’ll look at maybe if they published the email subscribers of their blog. So I can get a really well-rounded view of their overall network and then I’ll be saying, “Okay, right, this person, day-by-day, one of the big focuses for them is writing fashion content. The kind of content that I want to be creating on my site. Number two, this person has a huge network that if they did create content for us, they could go through and start pushing it through to their social following, we could tap in and do some co-promotions on their blog with their email subscribers because we’ll have an existing relationship with them. And they can actually give me really good advice from experience they’ve had on what actually works for the type of audience that we’re targeting.
Growing the team
So once I started trailing out this kind of approach the first time a number of years ago I started building out large teams of writers. I was getting great results. I had this ongoing growth engine for promoting the content as well as creating it. The processes became really lean and everything was working really well. Then I started to realize the more I scaled things up the more my email inbox was getting absolutely insane. It was like, “Right, we need to try and use better project management tools to manage this. We used things like Trello, Basecamp, Asana, all of these different tools. We’re like, “Well still a lot of my time is spent taking in invoices from these writers, managing what day they’re going to publish stuff, just taking that content and uploading it into the CMS. There’s like, “Okay I have all these great writers at my disposal but it’s taking me like ten hours a week of my time, which I don’t really have, to just do all the admin that comes in with it.”
That’s where I would be like, “Right, okay, I need someone to be bolted in to this virtual team that’s like a writer liaison.” So, we have someone who we would send through the editorial calendar, they would manage any suggestions coming in from the writers, what each writer was working on, how much they were charging us, making sure we stuck within budget, because when you’re in a rush and you’re just signing off tons and tons of invoices very quickly you realize you’ve spent three times your monthly budget and now you’ve got no budget for the next two months. Which is not the best position to be in when you’re trying to run a business.
All of those sort of things we would plant someone within the middle of those teams to just scale up this process. Yeah, it takes a bit of time and investment. If you think that you’re just going to bring someone in, not tell them how to do anything, and they’re just going to manage everything then you’re in for a very big surprise. But once this gets going you’ve pretty much built out a whole virtual team that’s not just a few freelance writers. You’ve got a content marketing team.
Barbara: A machine. Yeah, a machine.
Refining the process
Matthew: Absolutely. The thing that I’ve found is, I started doing this for a few smaller projects, especially when we’re working on the consultative level and we’re bringing in a lot of clients within the tech industry at the time. This was about three or four years ago I would say. I built out one of my first teams like this and we had some really solid tech writers and we were opening up a lot of relationships with publications who would share our content as well. The audiences of all of these writers combined way, way outperformed our brand following. What I then realized is, “Okay, well, why don’t we go after some more clients within this industry and we can just pretty much plant this exact same content team that we know is proven to work for delivering results for businesses similar to this and scale up campaigns around it.”
We started doing this and the results we were getting were incredible. The amount of time we were spending at the start of the campaign setting these things up was reduced to almost like a few hours. It was just taking this model and planting it onto another project. Slowly and surely what I started to realize is that it added a lot of value to just take and build these freelance, kind of like, content teams with a manager in the middle of them for as many industries as I was going to be working in as possible and growing out this list of people so that whenever I was working with new businesses and new projects I’d be able to just go, “Okay, right, this team is going to be the best suited for this particular project.” Then just plant them into the middle of it. Then if there were any other areas around there that I needed to boost things out I could go and build out some more people but I had my core, kind of, engine working in the middle of it all.
Barbara: That’s absolutely super. I’ve been thinking about this content area as well and how to use virtual teams for this and, you know, even how to bring virtual assistants into it to manage some of the writers and some of the processes around that. Fantastic insight there into how you can really get exponential growth there.
Spend the time to find the right people
Matthew: Yeah, I think it’s one of those where, at the start when you’re building out, it can sometimes be a bit of a painful process but it’s well worth spending that time to get the right people in. Spending some time training and working with them, managing their expectations because not only are they going to do a better job for you but you’re actually going to build longer lasting relationships with these people and you’re not just treating them on like a transactional level. They’ll be coming to you with ideas, you can say, “Okay, look, we’ve got this other project.” They’ll be like, “Absolutely, I loved working with you before, let’s carry on and keep working on this.” You’re probably going to end up getting better rates from people like that and so on and so on.
Project-based roles vs. Retainer-based roles
Matt: Matthew, another question, around what’s the criteria for yourself in choosing whether this is going to be a project-based role on a project-to-project basis versus someone that you bring in a specific role that you may have on a retainer or like a staff member? What’s the criteria for you deciding between the two?
Matthew: Typically I would say the people that I would have that would be more on a retained level would be people that are managing and ensuring the quality of the processes are maintained. A typical passing example that I’ve given just previously would be the person who’s managing like the content creator liaison. That’s like a retainer level person that cannot just do this for one project. If I’ve got multiple projects on the go this person can be managing multiple ones of those. The more different people that they’re working with, the better they’re getting at their job anyway. So they’re the kind of people that I’m like, “I need these people to really be sticking with me because they are absolutely critical to ensuring that I’m getting the most out of the writers that I’m working with.”
On the more project-based things, I would say, the typical differentiator in skill set would be that they have some sector or audience specific knowledge that’s really hyper-relevant to the project that I’m working with. In the example of the fashion writers, they have a deep ingrained knowledge of the fashion industry, they understand what audiences like, they understand what content works within the industry. They’re the types of people where I say, “I need you on my project team and here’s an intro to the person that’s going to be actually managing all of the process in here who’s like on a retainer level.” They can even be managing the training aspect after a period of time as well, obviously with your guidance and touching in at points. That would be my main differentiator. I would say the project side of things, they offer very specific tangible value within the environment of the project that you’re working on but when taken out of that project maybe their value decreases. Whereas the more retained level person, the more projects that you bring them into and out of, probably their value increases.
Key selection criteria
Matt: Excellent. Great distinction, I like that. You mentioned earlier too about focusing on selecting the right people. Can you run us through some of the key selection processes or criteria that are essential for you choosing people to join your team?
Matthew: Yeah, I think, so I’d break this up into two parts. The first part will be the project-specific skills. Do they have existing skills to be able to perform the tasks that I need them to perform? Do they have a clear understanding of what I want them to do or are they able to learn at a relatively quick pace what I need them to do? I would say that’s more just kind of the, if someone’s going to be doing press liaison have they got good written English skills? Do they use email quite a lot? Have they done any previous experience with like blogger outreach in the past? Have they done anything on a PR level? Those are the kind of things that I would say are the nice-to-haves.
Now on the other side, what I would class like the absolute deal-breakers. I don’t care how good someone is at doing something, if they have bad communication they just cannot be in my team. I would say of anything the communication skills and being actually motivated are the most important things. I’ve worked with some really great people, in particular some of the fantastic writers I’ve worked with, but if I have a piece of editorial that needs to go out in ten days and they don’t get in touch with me for three weeks, they’re absolutely useless to me. That is just so important.
Trying to find your ‘silver bullet’
The other bit of advice that I would probably give when it comes to the skill sets you’re looking for, “Don’t try and find kind of like, a silver bullet. If someone isn’t the complete, finished, polished person that you want them to be that’s going to just, you say, ‘Go tomorrow.’ And they just start going at things. Don’t worry. It’s going to be very difficult to find that, let alone in a virtual team anyway. What you need to be thinking about is, ‘Is this person actually interested in what you’re going to be asking them to do? Do they have the basic core competencies? If you spent an allocation of time with them to train them around this do you genuinely believe that they will one, take the training seriously? And two, come back to you and dedicate their own time to actually learning what you need them to learn?’ I think if you can go with someone that’s willing to learn, has good communication, and has some basic core competencies, no matter what you’ll be able to get them to where you need them to be.” I don’t think I’ve ever worked with anyone on a virtual team that I’ve built out that has actually been the finished product before I’ve even started briefing them in on the things I need them to develop their skill set in more.
Barbara: You know, Matthew, I’m really glad you said that because, in my experience of placing and hiring VAs at Virtual Angel Hub now, one of the things I’ve noticed as well is we’ve often had some amazing VAs come in for interview with amazing skills etc. and they don’t always turn out to be the best hires actually for us. We have found that some of the best hires that we’ve had and the most successful VAs are actually those that maybe didn’t have all the skills but they had the smarts, the enthusiasm, the willingness to learn, and the interest in what we were doing. And those are the ones that work out the best for us as well because they’re very coachable.
Understanding the value of virtual teams
Matthew: Definitely and that’s something that’s so undervalued. I think a lot of time people have a bad perception around virtual teams because they don’t really understand the value of them. A lot of people, I think you mentioned this previously Barbara where you said, “A lot of people say, ‘I worked with a VA before and it just didn’t work out.’” Nine times out of ten it’s you that’s the problem and not the VA. The problem is that people come in and they try to work with virtual teams in a way that is more as if they’ve just hired a digital agency or consultancy to go and implement a task to them as opposed to they’re bringing in a new employee into their business. Like if you hired someone, on the first day of them coming into your business you wouldn’t be saying to them, “Right, where are we at? What targets have you hit? How are you going to do this by the next week that we’ve already started working. I’ve started paying you so I want to see results.” If you do do that then I think managing a virtual team is the least of your worries.
The thing that you need to be thinking about here is to always treat people as employees. People don’t just get told something once and then that’s ingrained into their memory, they learn it, and then all of a sudden they’re superstars at whatever you just told them. You need to train people. These are human beings. If someone’s motivated and they actually want to listen to what you say and they’ll come back to you, they’ll learn, they’ll ask questions. Even questions that are deemed to be stupid questions, if people are coming back to me and asking me that, that’s like the most comforting thing ever.
The worst situations for me is when I’ve spent loads of time on all of this training, I’ve started coaching someone through it and I get to the end of a session and I say, “Right, what questions do you have for me?” And they’re like, “No, that was all pretty clear.” For me, that’s them just either, one, being too afraid to ask a stupid question which is just going to cost both of us time and money. Two, it’s actually that they’re not engaged here. They’re not listening. They’re not that passionate about what they’re doing. So being able to suss that out in the early stages of when you’re speaking to someone, whether they’re actually passionate, they’re listening to what you’re saying, and above all else they’re asking questions. That’s the most valuable thing that you can ever do.
Matt: Barbara, I don’t know about you but I am jumping up and down with excitement with what Matthew just said.
Barbara: Yes, absolutely. It’s like I wish I had that at the beginning of the show. I’m going to make sure that everybody listens to the whole show just to get to that bit, because it’s so important, that advice you’ve just given everyone.
Matt: Absolutely. Just to reiterate, you know, when dealing with people regardless of where they are geographically, regardless of whether they’re sitting in the same room as you or on the other side of the world talking through a computer, they’re people. We’re dealing with people. Everything that Matthew said is just spectacular. I’m lost for words, I really am.
Barbara: Matt knows this and Matthew I’ll just share this little story with you but we actually do get the odd client, it doesn’t happen as much anymore because we’re training clients a lot better these days in all of this stuff, but we actually have had clients send in complaints on day two of working with a VA. You know, and the most ridiculous complaints ever. Like that whole thing of almost like they have hired a digital agency and that’s what they’re expecting from a VA, you know? Even though, as you know, we do extensive training programs and everything at Virtual Angel Hub but still people struggle in this area a lot. This advice is absolutely brilliant. Your content virtual team strategy earlier I was taking furious notes there. I was thinking, “I could use that one a million times over.” Fantastic advice. I could talk to you all day about this whole topic. Matt, do you have any more questions?
Matthew’s three top tips when starting out
Matt: Yeah, I’ve got one last question. Matthew, knowing what you now know, having worked with virtual teams for quite some time, if you were starting out from scratch, what would be the three key pieces of information you’d give to anybody starting out with a virtual team for the first time?
One – Start off small
Matthew: Yeah, I think the first thing I would say is to start off small. Get one thing done really well as opposed to trying to solve all of your problems immediately. If you had a problem before you started working on a virtual team that problem’s still going to be there in kind of the next few weeks time if you try and overload someone with things to do or just get them to focus on one thing at a time anyway. Start small, prove a process to work out, and then work your way up.
Two – Strong selection criteria
The second thing and this ties in really into the selection criteria, make sure that you’re working and sourcing people based on if they’re a right fit for you as much as the task. Do they understand your expectations from a communication point of view? Do they understand why you expect certain things of you? Are they going to be actually passionate about what they’re doing because if someone’s doing something and they’re not at least a little bit passionate about it they’re not going to be motivated to go above and beyond.
Three – “Treat people like people”
The third thing which kind of encapsulates the root cause of why most virtual teams go wrong is like what we were just saying before, “Treat people like people.” You wouldn’t bring someone in for a performance review on their second day of work. That would probably result in a lawsuit, never mind you actually having to get rid of that member of staff. So, when you’re working with virtual teams, be realistic. These people are starting a task from fresh. They’re working with you when they’ve never worked with you before. This is a new employee and a part of your business. Treat them with respect, actually keep them motivated, and be realistic. If you couldn’t solve the problem in a day then why should you expect your virtual team to be able to solve that in a day? I think that’s kind of my three points that I would say are the most important parts.
Wrapping things up
Matt: Absolute words of wisdom. Thank you Matthew.
Barbara: Thank you so much Matthew for your time. Lots of tips and great advice in there. I’ve even been taking a few myself. Look, as always everyone, share the show. Make sure that you give us some comments below. Tell us what you think of the show. Also remember to join us on our Facebook group. We’ve got the Virtual Success Facebook Group where you can continue the conversation and where we share tips and quotes from people that we have on the show. You can get all the tips there as well. Until next week, thanks everyone, thanks Matt for joining me again.
Matt: Thank you, Barbara, and thanks Matthew.
Barbara: We’ll see you 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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