In this episode special guest Elle Kealy, founder of Rebelle – an online women’s fitness and nutrition coaching business – shares with listeners her experience of taking the plunge into the world of Virtual Assistants and how the experience of taking on a VA has been a liberating one.
Elle takes us back to where it all began and how her decision to take her business online resulted in her engaging with a Virtual Assistant, which has resulted in her building a highly successful global business.
Some of the areas covered include:
- Don’t wait till you are drowning before seeking help
- The importance of finding a VA that is well trained
- The value of having sound internal processes
- Why addressing issues with your VA as they arise is vital to business success
- How having a VA has allowed Elle to concentrate on the drivers of her business
- The need for an effective project management tool
Let us know in the comments below what your key take out has been from this episode or why not join the continuing conversation over in the Virtual Success Facebook Group.
Resources mentioned in this show:
VSS Episode 17: How to Expand Your Business, Rather than Contract it, when Important Life Events or Business Goals Result in You Having to Take a Back Seat in the Day-to-Day Operation of Your Business
In this episode:
01:42 – About Elle
03:10 – Taking the plunge into the VA world
05:18 – Challenges in the early days
09:37 – Challenges faced on-boarding a new VA
11:10 – Speak up when things aren’t going well
12:06 – All processes are evolutionary
14:07 – More time to work on your business vision
15:44 – The importance of sound internal processes
18:40 – Communication is key
21:40 – The importance of using project management tools
24:38 – Wrapping things up
Barbara: Hey everyone and welcome back to another episode of the Virtual Success Show. Today I am flying completely solo again, my co-host Matt Malouf is not going to be on this show today. He has been doing some epic work with some clients, and I am just doing a couple of shows by myself.
So it’s Barbara Turley here and I’m delighted with the guest that we have on today because she is one of the longest standing members actually of Virtual Angel Hub, the company that I run where we recruit, train and manage VAs.
Elle Kealy, she is the founder of Rebelle, which is an amazing online health and fitness coaching business for women. A beautiful platform that is just about to launch an on-demand video streaming platform, I guess, where we can find beautiful fitness and health strategies and tips online for ourselves as women.
So Elle, welcome to the show.
Elle: Hi Barbara! Welcome, thank you so much for having me.
Barbara: Yeah, and look, you know you’re probably going to explain this a lot better than me, but I’m really keen first of all to kick off and, just tell us a little bit about the business and … You were raised up in Hong Kong, so tell us about …
Barbara: …. tell us about, you know, your journey there and how this business started and where you’re at now.
Elle: Sure. So I’m actually originally from the UK if you can’t guess from my accent.
Elle: Found myself living in Asia about 10 years ago, so, I’ve been here a while. But my business is actually a global business. I made the decision to go online because I am global, because I travel a lot, and now I run Rebelle, which is an online fitness and nutrition coaching business, exclusively for women, which I think you just mentioned.
Elle: And you know the grand vision really for this business is to be able to support women from all over the globe, which is why we made the decision to launch an online business. In revolutionising, you know, their approach to health and fitness, and to make being in great shape easy. And so this is something I’ve been working on for quite a while now actually. I’ve been in the industry, in one form or another for nearly twenty years, but it’s only been in the last couple of years that we decided to make it more of an online focus.
Elle: And actually that’s when I found you guys at Virtual Angel Hub as well. So yeah, no it’s really exciting and we’ve got clients from all over the world as well, so.
Barbara: Yeah. Amazing. The online thing is just fantastic once you can crack the code on it.
Barbara: Now obviously, so, you know, when you came and found us, I mean, it sounds to me like you sort of went the VA route pretty early on. So can you just tell me quickly and just for the listeners, like how did you … first of all how did you find about the VA thing, getting a virtual assistant, and what was the thing that made you decide that you were going take the plunge into this.
Taking the plunge into the VA world
Elle: Yeah. So I was essentially a solopreneur, I think my philosophy for when you’re starting out, and I was doing everything myself. I think we’ve all been there, you know when you’re trying to build a business and you want things done to, you know, your way or the highway. And I was, I got to the point where I realised I literally had no time to build this vision that I had created, because I was stuck in minutiae and I was getting really stressed and I was doing, you know, small tasks every single day. I hadn’t learned at that point the art of delegation at all, and so I just really, I wasn’t moving forwards. And so I actually learned about, I didn’t know what a VA was until I read The Four Hour Work Week.
Barbara: So many people start there, it’s like the holy grail.
Elle: That was exactly where I started, like, this is amazing, I need this in my life. And, you know I can work four hours a week and everything’s going to be grand…it’s not like that. And so, that was when I decided that I needed to actually get some help with the repetitive tasks that I didn’t need to be doing, because I think I sat down and figured out that, you know what the value of my time was and how much time I was spending on things that would actually cost me less to outsource so I could work on other more…
…financially lucrative parts of the business. And so my first foray into having a VA was with another company actually, it wasn’t with you guys. And I didn’t have any clue what I was doing, and that was a couple of years ago. And it was, I think after that, that had some issues, shall we say, it wasn’t quite as easy as they make out in The Four Hour Work Week.
Barbara: No, it’s not. And that’s I think, you know, one of the reasons we have this show, is you know, is because we want to try and expose some of those challenges and really help people to get through that. Because it isn’t as easy as people think at all, but very lucrative when you do when you get it right. So …
Elle: Yeah exactly. It’s definitely helped me, it definitely helped me achieve what I wanted to achieve in the long run, now that I’ve gone through that process and come out the other side.
Challenges in the early days
Barbara: So talk to me about, so that first foray into it, talk to me about some of those early challenges that you had, like what was the biggest sort of challenge that you faced.
Elle: So I think at the beginning I had absolutely no idea how to hire a VA.
Elle: I didn’t really know what I wanted them to do. Or how I was going structure them to do this work. So I guess the thing I was most concerned about at the beginning was “This is going to take me loads of time, you know I’m going to spend … it’s just quicker…” I had that classic “It’s just quicker for me to do it myself”.
Barbara: Yeah and you know initially it always is. It is quicker for you to do it yourself.
Barbara: But I always say to people, like, the challenge with that one is, and it could be quicker to do it yourself for the following few months, but in twelve month’s time you’ll still be doing it yourself and your business won’t have moved forward. So that’s the…
Barbara: …So many people get stuck in that mindset. So I’m keen to, how did you, because this could’ve tripped you up if you had all these challenges in the beginning and it didn’t go that well, you could very easily run back to going ‘Oh that just doesn’t work for me, the outsourcing thing’.
Elle: Yeah. I think what happened was … there’re lots of different ways of hiring your VA obviously, whether you do it individually or if you go through an agency and there’re lots of different companies out there. And I went with somebody that didn’t really, you know, it was mass market, there was no specialisation with my VA being matched to the skills that I needed for my business.
So I was just assigned somebody who was…very junior and probably would’ve taken me a lot more time to train in the basic skills that I needed them to be across. And so things like … I’m not a details-oriented person, in fact to be honest, I’m an ideas person. Details are not my thing.
Barbara: Most entrepreneurs would be the same, though.
Elle: I know.
Barbara: That’s, that’s the classic sort of thing with entrepreneurship.
Elle: Yeah. So I needed somebody who was really all over the details and the processes and the admin, and I found that that wasn’t what I was getting with the original service that I’d signed up for. So there was just, it was just very generic, there was no systems, it was very difficult to manage for me and as someone who’d never had a VA before, I think that really tripped me up. Maybe if I’d had a bit more managerial experience in this area, I may have not made those mistakes back in the beginning.
Elle: But I think that was something that I really quickly realised this wasn’t going to work.
Barbara: Do you think … I mean I think what a lot of people do, particularly when they do read The Four Hour Work Week, which you know, was a fantastic book and all that, but a lot of people sort of just think “Oh my god, that’s the answer, I need to get a VA”, when actually there’s a lot of work to do before you get a VA to make that actually work. So, you know, the VA is kind of the, is a piece of the puzzle but there’s a lot to do in terms of your own set up so that you can get success with a VA, which is a totally different thing.
Elle: Yeah, and I think that was what I was missing. And so then I heard about you, because I was working with Jane Copeland, and even though I’m based in Hong Kong, she did an event down in Sydney and I flew into Australia and you were speaking at the event.
Barbara: Ah that’s right, yes.
Elle: Yeah, and so I heard you talk about your approach to hiring VAs. And because of the experience that I’d had previously, I just thought that’s what I was missing. This is the part that I was missing, you know, all of that preparation, all of that actual thought about what it goes into, what you need to do to your business, what you need to prepare on your end and your systems, and the communication to make this a relationship that actually works. And so that’s when I decided to reach out to you as well. So…
Barbara: Great, yeah. I mean that’s interesting, you know, to sort of delve into that because I think … You know my own experience, I mean, as you know I started out, I was business coaching for a long time when I saw a lot of people fail with VAs actually. So that was why I realised that actually the real problem out there is not necessarily getting a VA, it’s how to structure, people don’t know how to do this properly. And I guess that’s something that we, that I, you know, built successfully Virtual Angel Hub for clients like you, and that’s why we have clients for so long, I guess.
So now let’s talk about though the sort of elephant in the room is when you first joined, it was probably in the very early days of Virtual Angel Hub. We had sort of, we were only I think a few months in really, at the point when you joined the company, and your first, you’ve had a couple of VAs through us, so it took a while to actually…
Barbara: Even with the extensive work that we do, it took a while to get this right. So talk to me about the first challenges that you had with the first VA.
Challenges faced onboarding a new VA
Elle: So…we had, I mean, one of the things I think is really useful for me is the onboarding process for clients that you have.
Elle: And anyone who’s worked with you would know as well you go through significant training at the beginning to kind of help you get your end of stuff in order. And so even having done all of that, when I first started working with my first VA, who I had chosen, so I’d interviewed several, and really liked this woman actually. She just, I thought she was going to be a good fit for me. And at first things were fine, but I think what I found was that when I’m trying to think back actually to what issues…
Elle: I think there were processes that weren’t being followed, and guidelines and things that just weren’t, stuff just wasn’t happening in the way that it should’ve been happening.
Elle: And so that was frustrating, and so that didn’t work out. And actually you guys were great because, when she left, what was really good was that I didn’t have no-one. You guys actually supported me and gave me access to one of your VAs…
Elle: …to help my business kind of tick through while I was interviewing other people as well. So that’s something that I think wouldn’t have happened, you know, had I done it alone, so to speak.
Barbara: Yeah. That’s crucial for us that we kind of make sure that there’s no blip in the client’s business as much as we can possibly manage, and we usually put in somebody very experienced to go in and sort of just take the reins for a little while.
Speak up when things aren’t going well
Elle: … when things aren’t going well I think it’s really tempting to think ‘oh you know it’s going to be really difficult for me to change this, it’s going to be really difficult for me to fix this, so I’ll put up with it for a bit’. Or you know, just make it work because it’s too much hassle.
Elle: And I think that’s not the right mindset to have. I think if there is an issue, it really helps to be able to fix it, fast.
Barbara: Yeah. Fix it fast. And realise that you know, in my experience anyway, when someone starts to act up or there’re failures happening, and you know, holes happening all over the place, you can sort of fix it if it only happens a couple times but typically if it’s going on, once a failure always a failure in my opinion, and sometimes you just have to move on. So we’re pretty quick at getting in there and saying ‘look’. We’ve had some clients where we’ve said, they say ‘Oh maybe I can do this and make it work”, we’ve gone ‘No, let’s just move on”. We know because we’ve had experience with this.
All processes are evolutionary
Barbara : So, but one thing I want the listeners to kind of get from this little part of the conversation is that, even us as a company at Virtual Angel Hub, like we learned, we had a couple of these situations happen like what happened to you Elle with that first VA, where we had gone through an extensive recruiting process, we had built this massive recruiting funnel that is quite hard to get through. We had a massive training programme that all VAs have to go through, but we had, even though we were doing this, we still, this particular VA, the work ethic was a bit low. To be honest, and the focus and all that was a bit low. So we realised then that even with all that work, and this is for anyone trying to hire direct as well. Sometimes a VA can come on, say all the right things, have the right experience, the right resume, the right everything, and still make a mess of things. Because you’ve got to have a way of teasing out what kind of person are they. So there’s a … we had to refine our process even more after those particular situations so that we could weed out the kind of personality profiles that we don’t really think work.
Barbara: So that was a whole extensive piece of work that we had to do, you know after we had these initial problems that came up. So we evolved our process to manage for that. And the other thing I’d like to add there for anyone listening is that you know, evolving your process is a great thing, so when mistakes or real mess-ups happen, often people will just run away and not do the thing anymore. Whereas my view is, well look at the process and go ‘how do I now fix this process to make sure that doesn’t happen again’, with my next person or with the same person, whatever. So you know all processes are an evolutionary thing.
So then let’s talk about, so then we finally got success. We got you a fantastic VA who you’re flying high with right now because I see the feedback…
Elle: Yes. She’s amazing.
Barbara: Yeah. We loved her in training. You know, I know your VA quite well, and her brother actually works for us as well. So they’re a fantastic family.
Now talk to me then about, you get a great VA, it’s all humming. So how has that changed your ability to bring your vision more to life in your business.
More time to work on your business vision
Elle: Right yeah, so. I mean, Sheeka is incredible and I have to thank you because actually, you guys made me hire her. I think there was, in the end, I gave up interviewing people and Barbara said ‘You have to hire Sheeka she’s amazing” and she is. And I think what’s really happened to me, and how this has transformed my business and even my day to day, is that I have more time to concentrate on the drivers of my business…
Elle: …instead of getting bogged down with implementing these routine tasks. So, essentially I’ve been able to move a lot faster, launch, you know, projects quicker, and the bottom line is that it’s actually made more money because I’ve been able to get these, you know, programmes that I’ve launched … in the previous year I’ve had a lot of different programmes out there. Sheeka put all of those together.
I’m less stressed and I’ve actually been able to, I travel a lot as you know, I’m international so I have family all over the world and I travel a lot for work as well. And so one of the things that’s been super helpful for me is enabling me to do that and still have my business run in the background. So previously, everything would stop if I was, you know, not at my computer doing whatever it is I needed to be doing. Whereas now, that my VA has taken on all of those processes, and I can be on the other side of the world teaching a workshop or whatever it is, and she’s still making things tick over as if I’m still there. So, that is hugely hugely liberating.
Barbara: Absolutely yeah. I mean, I know that … I mean I experience that every day in my own business. I mean I’ve just had a baby and my business kept growing, without me. It actually grew more while I wasn’t there than it ever did when I was there, so, which was an interesting experience.
The importance of sound internal processes
I want to talk here a little bit about, you know, yes you’ve got a great person, and yes she came through our training so she had a quite a lot of, a good backbone in online marketing implementation sort of strategies from us before she went to you. But you also put a lot of work into your own internal processes, how things work. So how important has that been in your success even when you got a good VA.
Elle: I would say it’s vital, and actually for me, in honesty, it’s still a work in progress.
Barbara: It always is. It always is. Mine are still evolving as well, it never stops, I’ll be honest with you.
Elle: Yeah. The more you can create a process for everything you do, and document everything you do and refine those processes, the easier your life becomes in the long run. I know that’s something that you actually teach…
Elle: …but I would say you cannot underestimate how important that is. And even if you don’t have a VA now, one of the things I would say to myself if I could go back a year would be, you know, “Even if you’re doing things yourself, document the process“. Because when you do bring someone else on board, whether it’s a VA or another member of your team or whatever it is, having those processes and that documentation in place just speeds up the entire process, it makes it a lot smoother.
Barbara: And look if anyone’s interested in knowing, it is a bit of a process to do that. But, Matt and I did a show a little while ago, and it’s up on the virtualsuccessshow.com website and up on iTunes, where Matt actually interviewed me about the process of how I fired myself from my own business because I was about to have a baby. So I went through a sort of a five-step plan around how I actually did it. And even though I had been very good at delegating and I had, you know, I bang on about processes all the time, what I actually realised was when I went to do this big job, this project, I was still quite involved in every process in the business, even still. There was a little, I had my fingers in everything and this sort of … I guess the holy grail is how do you eventually take your fingers out of everything, but yet keep control of your entire business.
So that’s where you can really go with this, and that’s why that evolution of process and as you go more global with your business, you’re going to find that’s going to start happening for you as well, where you’re going to have to start looking at that.
Elle: Yeah that’s definitely something that I’m focusing on looking at, and actually, my VA herself has been great at being able to document stuff that she does regularly. I think going back and reviewing those processes certainly I would love to be able to take myself out of certain tasks. And I think a lot of that is in your head as well, and letting go of that control. So initially before I hired a VA, we all have that kind of, you know, “This business is my baby and things have to be done my way” …
Barbara: Of course, yeah.
Elle: That also is a process. Really think about, I would say really think about what you absolutely need to do and then what you would quite like to have a finger on the pie in…
Elle: …and then really what you don’t need to be doing. And be really honest about that as well.
Communication is key
Barbara: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Now I want to talk a little bit quickly about communication, because one of the biggest challenges that we see even after like, you know, recruiting, training, processes, systems, all that sort of stuff, communication between anyone on a team, and this is not just for virtual teams, this is really in marriage or anything, but, communication can make or break anything.
So how do you and Sheeka make sure, how do you communicate – do you communicate every day, do you talk on Skype, do you have project management systems, how do you keep the communication flow going without bogging down your day.
Elle: Yeah so I think I’m quite hands off with my VA, and I prefer to work that way. So we have a weekly meeting on Skype where I’ll just call her and we’ll check in together and I’ll ask her if she has any questions on anything that she knows she’s working on or has been working on in the past week so we can clarify it. We use project management software, so we use Asana, which is just a lifesaver.
Barbara: Were you using it before you had the training with us?
Elle: No, you introduced me to this and it has revolutionised my world.
Barbara: I’m so glad to hear you say that because for me if I didn’t have Asana, I mean … high five to Asana. They’re just an unbelievable, Asana.com, business. I mean I run, my entire business runs off that, between that and Ontraport. My whole business runs, so it does change your life.
Elle: So, I put everything into Asana, I have the app on my phones, even if I’m not in the office, if I suddenly think of something that I’ve forgotten to do or that I needed to do, I can just quickly create a task on the go and she’ll pick that up. So we communicate through Asana and if she has anything that’s pressing, like if she has to ask me a question and it’s urgent, normally I’m on Skype so she can just drop me a quick Skype call or leave me a message on Skype and I get back to her as soon as possible.
And I think one of the reasons I am quite hands off is because what I do, I’m often with clients or I’m teaching a class or I’m filming. You know I’m not available on the phone 24-7, I’m not sitting in an office at the end of a computer able to talk all the time. And I think for me an ideal situation with my VA is where they don’t need to talk to me all the time, but we have those communication channels in case there is issues, and we have those open … you know, open ability to ask questions and clarify things when needed.
Barbara: I think your weekly meeting is vital as well. I mean … I’ll be honest, there are VAs that I work with that I don’t have weekly meetings with. I mean we just, we talk every day but it’s through Asana. So it’s task-based, it’s stuff, it’s strategy based, and sometimes we might not have a meeting for three weeks. But we’ve actually had quite a lot of dialogue on various things going on, so it’s all on Asana. And I’m the same with you, I do it on my phone. It’s a lot…
Barbara: …based on my phone. So I think it’s really important though, for the listeners to realise that you can be really hands-off, but you still need to have project management tools. And you need a way of kind of … your processes need to be … the VA need to be able to run them by themselves but you still need to communicating a little bit and getting reporting back.
So…does Sheeka, does she report back to you on stuff when it’s done, deadlines that are looming, all that sort of thing, how do you keep things moving in that way.
The importance of using project management tools
Elle: Yeah, exactly. So what I really love about Asana is the ability to actually follow projects as you go. So we like you, where we’ll communicate in Asana about every single task that’s going on, and at the end of the day she sends me a report on what she’s been working on so I can see what she’s covered, and I review at the end of my day, which is after she’s finished. I will review what she’s done and go through anything that she’s been working on that I need to look at and I can follow up and just comment really quickly in that software if anything needs to be changed or not.
So, we have a review process which is daily. I might not get around to actually reviewing everything daily but I certainly do it every couple of days depending on my workload.
Barbara: Yeah. But I love the fact that you said we have a review process, because you know there’s the processes for how everything’s done in your business, and this is something I want the listeners to really pick up here, there’re the processes for how everything’s done but I think where a lot of stuff starts to fall over with some outsourcing and virtual sort of teams, is when there is no reporting back or review process. So as a business owner, I mean, you can fire yourself from all the processes, but you still need to have some level of oversight, which doesn’t take a lot of your time, but you still have to have that oversight process with your team. And for them to have, to feel like you’re still either, you know, guiding or mentoring or whatever way the review process goes. But they have to report back to you on results, otherwise it can become a bit mundane for everyone. And then holes start to appear. That’s good that you’ve got that.
Elle: Yeah absolutely.
Barbara: So talk to me about the future for Rebelle. Dot Club. ‘rebelle.club’ is the website. So talk to me about the upcoming year that you’ve got going on.
Elle: Yes. Yeah, so this year we’re going to be launching our new video on demand subscription service. So Rebelle is currently a 10-week makeover, so lifestyle, fitness, nutrition makeover for busy women. And we’ve been running that online for some time, but I’m so excited to be launching this video on demand, subscription service because it’s just going to be able to take what we do to the next level and reach more people and make it easier to access really high-quality workouts.
So I’m going to be working not just with me this year but with other experts in health and fitness and women’s health and fitness, all over the world. And I can’t wait to actually share this with everyone.
Elle: This is going to be launching in a few months.
Barbara: Yeah so where do people go if they want to find out more about your work and they want to get onto this, is there a waiting list for your video streaming? Maybe you should…
Elle: There is a waiting list. Yeah, so they can sign up actually. We’re having a free trial for those people who are on the waiting list. So if they go to rebelle.club, so R E B E L L E, dot club, then there is a link there which they can sign up to add themselves to the waiting list and they’ll get notification to trial it for free as soon as it’s released.
Wrapping things up
Barbara: Fantastic. And look, listeners, we’ll have all this stuff in the, all the links and the show notes of the show … so I’ve referred to a couple of podcasts and a couple of tools, and obviously Elle’s amazing new platform. So we’ll have all the links in the show notes.
Listen Elle thank you so much for coming on the show. The insights you’ve shared today, it’s really good for us to get these real world case studies and experiences of people who are really getting massive success with VAs, but also talking about … it is challenging, and there has been challenges to get where you are, but you’re killing it now. So that’s the goal, and you know, we’ve helped you get your business to that level, so we’re very excited to be showcasing you today on the show.
Elle: Fantastic, thank you so much for having me.
Barbara: Yeah. Thanks listeners and we’ll be back, Matt and I, next week with some more virtual success. Thanks very much.