How Nathan Chan Used Virtual Teams to Smash Foundr Magazine Out of the Park
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In this episode, special guest Nathan Chan, who has had the pleasure of speaking with some of the world’s leading and aspiring entrepreneurs, shares his experiences in building and using virtual teams to take Foundr Magazine to the next level.
This episode is full of insights and tips from Nathan on how he has built virtual teams to allow himself to focus on what he really enjoys doing in his business.
Some of the areas covered include:
- What to keep in mind when building a virtual team
- The importance of delegating effectively
- How to fine tune your processes and why this is so important
- Effective communication with your team
- The need for a team or project leader
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:
02:06 – How Foundr Magazine came to life
06:00 – What to keep in mind when building a virtual team
06:40 – How to delegate
07:28 – SOP – Standard Operating Procedure
08:03 – Tracking your time
09:08 – Be specific in your instructions
10:12 – Creating your list
11:54 – Creating videos for each task
16:35 – Building a virtual team
20:02 – Communication with your team
22:54 – There needs to be a leader of the project
24:22 – Wrapping things up
Barbara: Hey, everyone, and welcome back to another episode of Virtual Success. I’m your host, Barbara Turley today, and I’m not joined today by my co-host Matt Malouf who’s normally on the show with me, but given I’ve just had a baby and Matt has taken on a whole raft of new clients and businesses, and as business goes, schedules are very hard to line up, so I’m doing the show solo today. I’m quite excited because somebody that I have been following online for quite a long time is Nathan Chan, who is the founder of Foundr Magazine, an absolute, amazing magazine for entrepreneur, with a huge Instagram following, and actually where I found Nathan was on Instagram. I’m very excited today to have Nathan on the show to talk about how he’s using virtual teams in his business and has been using them to really scale a fantastic platform, both digitally and internally as well. Nathan, welcome to the show.
Nathan: Thank you so much for having me, Barbara. I also just realized, we have a mutual friend, Yaro Starak.
Barbara: Oh, Yaro. We’ll have to get Yaro on the show actually. Yes, Yaro and I are really good friends, yes. It’s a small world in digital land.
Nathan: Yeah, it is. He’s a great guy.
Barbara: He is, indeed. He is, indeed. Nathan, I found you probably, I think it was in the early days of when Foundr Magazine kind of first launched, and I did find you on Instagram because you had, you do have an amazing Instagram strategy and it’s something I know that you talk a lot about. Can you tell me a little bit first, just let’s start off with your sort of entrepreneurial journey, the quick two minutes on your background and how did Foundr Magazine come about?
Nathan: Yeah, sure thing. I started it March 2013 while I was working my day job just as a side hustle, passion project. I never thought it would be this big media start-up or any platform or anything of the sorts.
Barbara: Did you just, I love that, so you just started as a sort of a hobby sort of thing and had no plan for this big platform that it’s become.
Nathan: No, not at all.
Nathan: I launched it while I was working my day job. I was looking for a job in marketing. I even took the first issue of the magazine from my iPad to some job interviews, but no one would hire me.
Barbara: I see. That was a stroke of luck, in hindsight.
Nathan: Yeah. Long story short, I just, I started this magazine. I identified that there wasn’t really a publication in this space that spoke to aspiring and novice entrepreneurs and also young entrepreneurs. We didn’t go print. We went digital, so in the App Store and the Google Play Store, purely because I felt that print was a dying trade – still is to a certain extent, but we’re launching a big project that’s coming out soon. But that’s kind of how we got started. Now, three years down the track, we have at least a million plus people consuming our content every month, and I feel like we’re only really just scratching the surface.
Barbara: Yeah, well, 2013, and we’re in 2016 now, and that’s an incredible growth trajectory over that time. Oh, look, I could talk to you forever about so many aspects of what you’ve just said, but obviously to keep on topic, we’re here talking about virtual teams, so had you had an, I mean, were you one of those people who had read Tim Ferriss’s Four Hour Work Week book and thought, “Well, I’ll give this VA thing a whirl,” or how did it start with the virtual team thing for you or virtual assistants?
Nathan: Yeah, definitely it was reading Tim’s book that was a real game changer not around just virtual teams but also around the ability of the internet to change the game that you could get so much leverage, and that’s why I wanted to even start a business was actually because of Tim’s book. That’s how it came about for me. You’re familiar with this online space. That’s something that a lot of people talk about, getting VAs, using virtual teams, using a service like Upwork or your service. There’s other, like there’s a lot of talk about this new way of working.
Barbara: Yeah. In terms of, did you, your first VA, did you decide, “Okay, I’m going to do this,” or were you doing a lot of the work yourself in the beginning? At what point did you say, “I now need to get a VA.”
Nathan: Yeah. We’ve always used virtual teams and we’ve always just added people, virtual team members to the company as time has gone on. The first person that I worked with virtually was actually when I first started the magazine three and a half years ago. His name is James Currand. He actually is just based out of India and he’s our graphic designer. I’ve even been to his wedding.
Barbara: Oh, wow. I love that.
Nathan: We met online. Yeah, he’s been designing the magazine and been doing our brand identity ever since, still to this day. And then as time went on, I hired a few more people. These were people locally here in Melbourne. Then it was time also for us to hire a VA, and that person was from the Philippines. Now, we did have a part-time VA, and this person was recommended to me, and she, we just managed her through E-lance. What was cool about that is like it was just, she filled out her time sheet, and yeah, she just did all sort of administrative tasks for us.
What to keep in mind when building a virtual team
I think one of the biggest things that I’d love people to take away around building a virtual team and utilizing VAs is when you’re first starting out in your business or at any point in time, you have a list of things that you hate doing, and then you have a list of things that you shouldn’t be doing. That was actually some advice that a friend gave me, Chris Ducker, that was that you should write a list of the things that you should be doing, the things you shouldn’t be doing, and the things you hate doing. All those things that you don’t like doing or shouldn’t be doing; they’re the kind of things that you need to look to find leverage with.
How to delegate
What we started doing was every single one of those things that I shouldn’t be doing or didn’t enjoy doing, I started to delegate them. The way I would delegate them was just I’d use a tool like SweetProcess which is just a great little, I guess, little, I don’t even know what you call it, like a repository.
Barbara: I know, yeah, like a step, to create step-by-step processes for you, like a little …
Nathan: Yeah, yeah, yeah. It lets you create SOPs. I would just record. I would just record a video. I’d get that VA to actually, before she’d even do the actual task, I’d get her to watch the video, break it down, and create an SOP out of it in SweetProcess, and then from there, that’s, I went through my list, and then that’s how I started. Now we have two full-time VAs.
SOP – Standard Operating Procedure
Barbara: Yeah. I just want to focus a little bit on this SOP, standard operating procedure thing, because what we find is a lot of clients come in and they sort of, they want to hire a VA that can use their own initiative to come up with this stuff themselves, which, of course is setting yourself up for complete failure from day one. What you’re saying there is you used to, so you created a video. I mean, the first step though there is that you need to know what it is that you want done and how it’s to be done. Would that be fair to say, so that you can create the video that they can then create the operating process?
Tracking your time
Nathan: Yeah. I think the biggest thing is, is really challenging yourself to really look inside what you do every single day, so you should be tracking your time. There’s a tool you can use called RescueTime which is a great tool where you can track your time and see where your time is being spent. It’s just a little thing that you install on your computer and you can track your time.
Yeah, the first thing you need to do is reclaim and understand what it is you’re doing on a day-to-day basis, and this is what’s going to give you more leverage. Then from that list, and work out what you’re doing, there’ll be certain things that you do as an owner that you probably shouldn’t be doing or things that can be outsourced or handed over to someone else. Once you have that list, you just do it as if you would normally do it. Just record yourself and break it down, but you write it in the sense that I think there are a lot of people that are very naïve, that they think they get a virtual assistant or somebody virtually that they can just take all their problems away, just going to wave a magical wand.
Be specific in your instructions
But this is something that’s a really big takeaway I had in the early day is you have to be extremely specific. When you work with virtual teams, especially virtual assistants in the Philippines, you have to be so specific. You cannot expect anyone to, like any of those guys to work things out unless you showed them because it’s just, it’s a cultural thing too. It’s all about clear instructions. Don’t leave anything to chance.
Barbara: Well, I think I’ve seen a few people as well, because sometimes I look at, I look through task listswhen there’s problems and stuff, and I see things like assumptions they made, and clients would say things like, “Well, I assumed they would know I was talking about X.” And I would say, “Well, that might seem clear to you but to someone else, it may not be, because they’re not in your business or they’re not, until they’re working with you a long time, people don’t know your style, they don’t know how you think.” I think the mind-reading thing is a huge problem with people in this space.
Creating your list
How long did it take you, do you think, to create your list? Because I think one of the issues is that people come to me and they say, “I need a VA yesterday. I’m desperate. I need a VA yesterday.” And I think, “Well, that’s probably not going to solve the problem because you’re now taking on a new task of a person when you haven’t created all this other stuff that you need in order to get success.” So how long do you think it took you to decipher your list, forgetting the videos yet?
Nathan: Yeah, yeah. The list of things that I get that VA to do probably took me about a couple of days, no more than a couple of days. I think if you’re feeling overwhelmed right now, I think it’s always good to throw your hat over the fence in a situation like this where that would be, use a recruitment service or use a service like yours, Barbara, and be like, “Okay, well, I know I’m overwhelmed. I know I can get more help. I know utilizing a virtual system would cost me anywhere between let’s say $500 to $2,000 a month. I can afford that. Let’s just use a service like Barbara’s. I don’t even know what I need yet or don’t.” Just the fact that you’re throwing your head over the fence, committing, putting some money down, using that recruitment service, or whatever, and then that’s going to force you to create that list pretty quickly.
Barbara: Yeah. We actually give people a list because we’ve found that it’s so difficult for them to create it, that we have created one for them, but I do love that idea of RescueTime. I think that’s very effective to also spot the other things that might be specific to your business that we may not pick up or whatever, because every business has its own different nuances.
Creating videos for each task
Then, with the video, so, you know, I love that you spent this time doing this, so you create your list and then you created a video for each task on that list of how you like things to be done, so it means you maintain control then over how things are done in your business.
Nathan: Yeah, and I think with VAs, it always has to be that way. You’ll find that VAs tend to, I guess, they just do this, they work really, really well with processes and they feel more comfortable …
Barbara: Yeah, they do, yeah.
Nathan: … from a cultural standpoint as well. They feel more comfortable if they can see, they have proper training to do what needs to be done. I think that’s really, really key and important.
Fine tuning your processes
Barbara: What about, so obviously the next step then, I mean, for me, would be, you create processes, and then you sort of have to test-drive that process, because often, I mean, I wonder, did you find this, when you give a process to someone and a mistake happens, there can be holes in your process that you didn’t realize. How do you… have your processes evolved as you’ve worked with your virtual teams?
Nathan: Of course, of course. I was lucky enough, though, that at my job, before I went full-time on Foundr, I was tasked with doing a lot of processes.
Barbara: Yeah, I think you obviously had a background in this, because a lot of people find it very difficult. You found it easy, and actually, so do I, but I have noticed the majority of people out there find this quite challenging. It sounds easy, but it’s quite challenging to do it.
Nathan: Yeah. I think the most challenging thing for me is I don’t enjoy it, so it’s not fun. It just has to get done. I had a boss that just, like just absolutely hammered it into me, that the processes have to be so clear, so like to the point that there’s no room for interpretation, that literally, do X, screenshot, with an arrow pointing to it, writing, and do Y, and do Z, and put in a video as well so people can watch the whole video as well of a screen share of you doing it and talking that person through it.
Barbara: Oh, I just, yeah, love that.
Nathan: Yeah. Because it’s marginally, there’s no room for error, and if there is, it’s generally the process’s fault, yeah.
Barbara: Oh, I love that you said that. What I want to ask is, your old boss, were there any offshore staff in that business, or was it local staff?
Nathan: I’ve only ever had two full-time jobs in corporate. The first one that really drove it into me, there was no offshore staff, but the second job that I had, the last job I had where I left to go full-time on Foundr, there was offshore staff. Yes, there was heaps.
Barbara: Okay, because the point I would like to highlight for the listeners here is that, yes, we’re talking about virtual assistants, virtual teams, but this applies to, it doesn’t actually matter, because some people think that we just have to be this diligent because people are in the Philippines or in India or whatever, but my view is that if you’re running a business, you need to be that descriptive anyway with your internal processes so that you can literally promote people and plug a new person in straight away pretty simply to your business.
Nathan: Yeah, a hundred percent. This is how you scale, Barbara.
Barbara: Yeah. This is how you scale, yeah.
Nathan: Yeah, yeah. This is how you scale. If you don’t do this stuff, you will struggle. I want to make, I want to be very clear, we are no, our business, because we move quite fast, we are growing at a reasonably good rate, sometimes it is difficult to keep on top of this and our, like Foundr, within the business, it’s not perfect. Our business is definitely not a business packaged up in a box that could be sold tomorrow, but there is, seventy-five percent of the work is there and it’s done.
Barbara: Yeah, that’s a great point. I think that’s one of the key things I want people to understand, because we see people blaming the VA all the time. Now, obviously, you can get, you’ve got to get a quality person on your team, but if the person is a good person and they’re trying their best and whatever, usually, the process is where the problem lies, or in the iterations of the process, in understanding that process.
Moving on from there, so your first VA, so have you still got virtual, you’ve gone from having a virtual assistant to having two, and I believe now you’ve sort of built a virtual team as opposed to just VAs. Talk to me about the growth from there.
Building a virtual team
Nathan: Yeah. Pretty much, as time has gone on, we’ve always used a lot of contractors ever since I started Foundr. Now some of those contractors and also other contractors, we actually have these full-time team members, but they work remotely. We have someone in Canada. We have someone in the States. We have, we’re always pooling resources, so we have a very remote kind of team. We have the core team, the HQ here in Melbourne, but, yeah, we’re using all sorts of people from all around the world to do all sorts of different things.
Now, there’s a few different ways that I look at it. The first way is we pool talent and resources for certain key projects. I mentioned to you before that one of our biggest folks is at the, that we’re bringing a lot of attention towards as a whole team and a company is this Kickstarter book that we’re launching, so it’s like the past three and a half years of interviews, like Richard Branson and Arianna Huffington, Seth Goddn, you name it, all compiled, thousands and thousands of content, into this physical coffee table that we’re going to crowdfund over Kickstarter.
Nathan: We’ve pooled resources and contractors and some people in the internal team here to this project, and we manage that all through Trello.
Barbara: Yeah, yeah.
Nathan: That project can be specific to certain people that might be virtual, that might be contractors. We’ve got a landing person who does the landing pages. We’ve got the video team. We’ve got a project manager that’s a contractor that is in Sydney. We’ve got all these different people. That’s how we manage that piece.
Then the other side of our business is business as usual, where I can call it business as usual stuff, where the weekly podcast, the weekly blogs, the monthly magazine issue. That’s our core team deliverables. These are the promises that we make as a brand to our customers and anyone that’s in our community. We have processes and systems in place to make sure that that’s a well-oiled machine, continually run. I don’t have to be there. It’s just happening. We already know it’s happening. The tools that we use there are either Trello or GetFlow, which is a great tool. We use Slack for communication or Skype. Then we use SOPs, SweetProcessfor SOPs. Then, pretty much, that’s about it, Barbara.
Barbara: Yeah, well, that’s the thing. When you don’t need a lot of different tools, you need a couple of key things, so Trello, a big project management tool that works well. We use Asana, but there’s multiple different ones out there. Trello is great for this sort of thing. Slack, obviously, for communication. Most of the people we’ve had on this show are using Slack for good team communication. What I love about the, you used the term “well-oiled machine” for the business as usual stuff, so then you can use your time to be going off and running, being involved in these bigger projects of the book you’re about to release which sounds fantastic, the Kickstarter campaign. I mean, that’s going to require a lot of your time, I would imagine, and that’s the stuff that you want to be doing. You know that the magazine runs well, with your team, and you can go and do these things.
Communication with your team
Now, just a quick, I want to touch on before we wrap up, the communication, because obviously there’s having your processes, systems, team, delegation, leadership, all that stuff, but what about communication in between? Are you running daily huddles, weekly? How do you and your team, in two areas, the business as usual stuff and the project stuff, how do you all communicate together and keep it tight?
Nathan: I love this question. It’s something that’s never been asked and I wish …
Barbara: It’s so key.
Nathan: Yeah, it’s so key. No one talks about this stuff.
Barbara: No. Well, I know because, I mean, just from my own perspective. We’ve worked with a lot of clients on their processes and getting all the other stuff we’ve just talked about right, and then we noticed that some clients were still failing. It’s communication. I just can’t even stress it enough, how important this is.
Nathan: Yeah. I agree, a hundred percent. I had to just pretty much ask people flat-out myself to find out these answers. We have a few things going on. We do a Monday, and this is with the core team only. We do a Monday. This is a long kind of daily huddle, and it goes for about thirty minutes, and everyone dials in. That’s really important because it gives everyone in the team just an understanding of what’s going on, what’s planned for the week, what we’re working towards, what’s happening in the business, and that’s a way for us to alleviate, everyone to go around to each person and say, “What are you working on and is there anything holding you back?” That’s where we alleviate any problems that anyone has, and that usually goes for about thirty minutes, between seven to eight people.
Barbara: Yeah, so it’s quick, it’s round the grounds, quick three points, yeah, yeah.
Nathan: A hundred percent. Then we were doing daily, after that, but we just took it back because I thought it was too much. We only do daily stand-ups for the core business as usual team three times a week, Monday, Tuesday, and Friday.
Barbara: Yeah, those are good days. Yeah, Friday is to wrap up the week, yeah.
Nathan: Then for projects, like this Kickstarter book, for example, we have one weekly catch-up, and that’s anyone involved in the project, and we work through the Trello board and we do sprints. That’s called the Scrum Agile method.
Barbara: Yeah, I love that, yeah.
Nathan: Yup, so that’s how we manage, and we have many projects going on at one time, and there’s always going to be a team leader of that project, and that’s kind of like the owner. So for this Kickstarter book project, we have an actual dedicated project manager who’s a contractor that’s the owner of this project, so she is responsible, and then the rest of us are just getting stuff done.
There needs to be a leader of the project
Barbara: You need to have, I mean, the key point there I want listeners to understand is that you do need one, there needs to be a leader of the project. Now, if you were a small business and there’s just you and your VA, this still applies because then you are the leader of the project, or you could potentially get your VA to be the leader, but then you’ve got to empower them to be that way, but there always has to be a leader of the project who drives the others and reporting structures for the communication channels back. Would that be fair to say, Nathan?
Nathan: A hundred percent. You can get Scrum masters on like an Upwork, and you can get them for like ten hours a week. It’s really cost-affordable. You can get Scrum masters.
Nathan: That’s not a problem.
Barbara: Scrum master. I’m going to look into that. Scrum masters. Yeah.
Nathan: Yeah, yeah. Something to think about. Yeah, that’s kind of our communication channels, plus we have Slack. We have Slack and we do Skype, and if we need anything, we’re all, we’re a team, we’ll help each other out. For the most part, that’s how we manage everything.
Barbara: Yeah. That’s great. That’s fantastic. I mean, just good insights. We’re hearing the same thing from, pretty much the same stuff from everybody, every guest that we have on the show. For the listeners, you’re hearing this over and over again. This is the formula for success. Anyone who’s, if you’re struggling with your virtual team or your VA, just even one VA, it’s likely that there are holes in some of these areas for you.
Wrapping things up
Nathan, just to wrap up, give us the quick few minutes on your upcoming book and the Kickstarter campaign, and how can we, how can the listeners get involved?
Nathan: Yeah, sure thing. As you mentioned, Barbara, we’ve been around for about three and a half years, and we’ve been lucky enough to interview and feature and pick the brains of some of the greatest entrepreneurs of our generation. I mentioned a few. There are so many more. Gary V, Richard Branson, Barbara Corcoran, Aaron Hopkin, so many more. We’ve never done a print project. This is a really fun project, so we’re creating this coffee table, hybrid coffee table book, kind of magazine. It’s going to be a die cut front cover, beautifully designed, and just full of actionable stuff. No fluff.
Barbara: Oh, good, so there’s steps in there, yeah.
Nathan: A little bit of story, a little bit of background, but mainly actionable stuff, and we’ve broken it down into sections, like team building, hiring, marketing, social media, idea validation, you name it. It’s for any kind of entrepreneur, seasoned, aspiring, novice, you name it. We’re going to crowdfund it and pre-sell it through Kickstarter. If you want to find out more, you can go to FoundrMag, F-O-U-N-D-R-M-A-G, dot, com, forward-slash book, and the campaign goes live November 15th and it finishes December 15th.
Barbara: Great. We’ve got it. We’ll pull the link in the show notes here. Nathan, thank you so much for your time and your insights, and just the amazing story of Foundr. I’ve actually realized I’ve been a follower of you since way back, it must be from the very beginning, because I’ve probably found you on Instagram back then. Great to see, I could talk to you forever about so many different topics, but we’ll wrap up this particular show today.
So everyone, get involved in Nathan’s new book and the Kickstarter campaign, and remember to come back next week for more Virtual Success. Give us a rating if you enjoyed this show. Make sure you subscribe on iTunes, and give us a rating. Tell us what you think of the show and anything that you’d like us to cover. We’re all open to ideas. Thanks, Nathan.
Nathan: Thank you so much, Barbara. Absolute pleasure.
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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