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ALP 12: Getting help from assistants, VA’s, and other resources

For the first episode of the Agency Leadership Podcast for 2019, Chip Griffin and Gini Dietrich discuss how to use a virtual assistant, in-house help, or other solutions to relieve the burden of repetitive tasks.

Agency owners and executives need to maximize the impact of their own time, which means prioritizing which tasks they need to do themselves versus those that can be delegated or outsourced.

Unfortunately, bad help is sometimes worse than no help at all. So understanding what to farm out — and how to manage those resources — represents an important skill to hone.

Chip and Gini share some of their own experiences and the lessons they have learned along the way.

Automated Transcript

The following is a computer-generated transcript. Please listen to the audio to verify accuracy.

CHIP 0:02
Hello and welcome to another episode of the agency leadership podcast. I’m Chip Griffin

GINI 0:06
and I am Gini Dietrich

CHIP 0:09
and we’re coming to you with the first show of our podcast for 2019. So Happy New Year everybody.

GINI 0:16
Happy New Year

CHIP 0:16
So did you have a good New Year’s Eve? Not too much to drink or anything like that

GINI 0:25
during our five year old, you know?

CHIP 0:27
Yeah, that’s true. That’s true. Ladies and gentlemen. We’re completely faking this. We are recording this actually before Christmas. Christmas.

Unknown 0:35
So we have but I

GINI 0:35
tell you, it will not be that exciting.

CHIP 0:39
Yes, I I can tell you that that we are having friends over but I will probably still go to bed before midnight. Because Well, that’s what I do. I am cool and that much fun

GINI 0:51
getting all this fun.

CHIP 0:53
But it’s it is but it’s better than the alternative. Right? So that’s

GINI 0:57
a really good point. Yes.

CHIP 0:58
No matter how many pains I have in my ankles, my knees and everywhere else. And and this time of year. I have plenty of those because it’s basketball officiating seasons out there blowing the whistle running up and down the court. Yeah. Getting getting very important missives from the state head of officials today. Got one in my inbox that reminded us all that the official score needs to wear a black and white striped shirt while sitting at the table. The church should not be folded in merely placed in front of them. These are these are the important things that we deal with as officials in the state of New Hampshire.

GINI 1:30
Does that mean that you kept it folded in front of you and didn’t wear it?

CHIP 1:35
No, I did not know this was a statewide missive so you know, so I’m one of the on I’m on the floor. But this is the official score sits at the table and keeps the score book and they’re supposed to by rule wear a black and white striped jersey now it turns out that most people who sit at the table just don’t want to do that there. Yeah, I can understand that. You know, because basically, they don’t own one themselves. So this is a shared one that the school provides. Some of them do like these like Final smocks that you tie them. I mean, sort of like they’re really just hideous. But you know, I’m sure they never get washed or anything like that. So. So needless to say, a lot of folks just stick them in front of themselves at the table. But but we’ve been lectured. We’ve been told so apparently somebody somewhere complain some old fart, you know, said these guys aren’t enforcing the rules properly. And clearly, it impacted the outcome of the game. So I

GINI 2:31
can’t can’t keep score if you don’t have the jersey on.

CHIP 2:34
No. But in any case, I’m sure folks did not tune in to listen to my rants about the officiating process in the state of New Hampshire. But instead we’ll we’ll talk about important things, things that will help people get off to a good start of the new year, because I’m sure that is people took time off over the holidays, they spent a bunch of time thinking about how they could make even better, right,

GINI 2:55
yes, I’m sure. Well, I certainly will be doing that. So yes, I’m sure that’s the case.

CHIP 3:00
And one of the things that you do when you do that is to say, How can I be more efficient? And so I got a question from someone recently about how to use assistance, virtual assistants in house assistance, other administrative help, effectively, how can they actually make a difference in your productivity in your efficiency. So I thought that would make a great topic to start out the new year with what do you

GINI 3:24
agree, um, I read virtual freedom two or three years ago. And in it, it suggests that you write three lists. One list is things that you’re really good at doing that only you can do and that you enjoy doing. One is the things that

you maybe don’t enjoy so much. But you should be doing maybe you can delegate it but you know, not on your super super duper I have, I’m the only one who can do this, these are my strengths list. So in that middle, and then the last list is things that you absolutely should not be doing and maybe that’s social media scheduling and you know, posting things in PR Newswire and looking at brand mentions, and, you know, all media monitoring and all that it’s stuff like that, that maybe you shouldn’t be doing that somebody does need to do that. And everything that’s on that list of is is doing but shouldn’t be doing is the stuff that you can delegate, and typically it it’s not one person, right, so a lot of us go, Oh, well, I’ll just hire a virtual assistant. And the virtual assistant can do this, and this and this, and this. And it’s not something that all those things are not in that person’s skill set. So you want to take that list and then bucket it, maybe it’s content and social and truly admin stuff. So you have the, the truly admin stuff, yes, can be a VA, and maybe it’s, you know, 10 or 15 hours a week instead of 40 hours a week. So I really, I use that as an example. And if you haven’t read the book, it’s really easy read. Plus, you can go through and just flip to the three list section and figure out what it is that you’re supposed to be writing down. But it really does help you think through what it is that you should be delegating and to what kind of person what their skill set is because a VA doesn’t typically or an in house, an admin or somebody like that doesn’t typically have all of those skill sets that you would need to delegate?

CHIP 5:17
Well, I think that I’ve not read that particular book. But I’ve received similar advice in the past and given some more advice. And, and, you know, periodically try to do a similar exercise where I, you know, sort of chart those things out I’m not tribe done the buckets and exactly that fashion. But roughly, and I think it is a very useful way of thinking of it. But you’re absolutely right, that it’s it is rarely that you can find one person to dump all of that stuff onto that you should not be doing. And so trying to figure out how to do that efficiently and effectively. You know, that’s where the rub is, right? That’s where the that’s where the real challenges and I fall into this trap numerous times myself over the years I was

years ago, I used to call myself the Murphy Brown of assistance, because I would I would go through one every six months or so. And I just kept saying to myself, Oh, my gosh, you know, I just I keep hiring the wrong one. If I just find the right one, I’ll be all set. And, and what I eventually realized was that I was trying to dump all of my stuff off on one person. And there is no one person who could do all of it. Like I was hiring a junior me and, and honestly, Junior me didn’t want to be an assistant. Right, right. So but but, you know, fast forward a number of years, I was working in an agency and I had a real deal, high level executive assistant that I shared with a colleague, and this was someone who actually, I mean, she was an EA, she was not an admin assistant, she was not somebody just. And so she, she basically managed my professional life. And at that made a world of difference that also came with a very high price tag that most listeners, you know, are not going to be coming comfortable with. And frankly, at the time, I was doing 20 meetings a day traveling around a lot, trying to coordinate with a lot of colleagues in a large global agency, you know, it made a lot more sense. And today, I don’t have that. So today, I, you know, I try to parcel out little bits and pieces as needed. But, you know, I’ve moved away from the central single system model in recent years.

GINI 7:22
Well, two things to that. And I agree, number one, you can typically find an EA for a lot less than you used to be able to, because they can take on two or three people like us because we’re not meeting having 20 hours or 20 meetings a day and traveling all over the globe late so they can you so you can almost split it with you know, two other agency owners and have that that same level of experience but also you know that today we have software I mean there’s schedule once there’s woven, there’s calland Lee, their stuff that you know, helps you manage all of that from a, from a software perspective, instead of having a person do it. So what you really want your assistant to do, may not be managing your professional life like it was for you. And, I mean, at Fleischmann I hadn’t, they hired us all of executive assistants, which was amazing,

but you know, maybe it’s editing or its report gathering or it’s, you know, pulling together weekly reports for clients, it’s, you know, that it’s that kind of stuff versus travel and meetings and, you know, making sure your time is protected and all that

CHIP 8:31
when and when you talk about software I mean, you make a great point with that, you know, you can offload a lot of these tasks on to technology now so instead of thinking about your your, your virtual assistant as a person, your virtual assistant might actually be the technology and you know, I’d love to give a completely uncompensated plug for calland Lee, because that has changed my life that that has saved me so much time, so much back and forth, it allowed me to have more meetings to get more easily schedule podcasts, all of those things, because it’s just a link, I send somebody and people can choose from my available slots. And I can tailor it. So you know, different time the links, different cushions, it’s really fantastic. It’s amazing. Yeah, it’s amazing. So, you know, trying to find ways so that you’re not doing it. But it’s not necessarily another human, you know, that’s also a solution. So, you know, as you as you look at this list of tasks of things that you shouldn’t be doing, you know, try to think of creative ways to solve those problems, too. It’s not all about just replacing your hours with somebody else’s.

GINI 9:37
And if you are traveling, I don’t remember the tool. But Jay Baer was interviewed in the New York Times earlier this year, about a tool that he uses for his travel. And like Jay Baer I mean, he travels every week, and he’s using software for his own travel and, and then it automatically read books you have things are cancelled, and, you know, alert you or put you on a different flight, if it’s delayed or later, you know, it does all of that from an API perspective. So I think there is a huge opportunity today, to be able to use robots and software to do some of the things that a human would have had to do even just two or three years ago.

CHIP 10:15
Absolutely. And, you know, and scheduling travel these days is so much easier than it used to be, particularly if you’re doing it pretty regularly. So, you know, because I, I do travel a fair bit for business, I, you know, I have become, you know, almost my own travel agent. And so, I, one of the challenges I had in the past was offloading that someone else because it’s hard to get someone to understand all of your preferences for every mutation. Yeah, and particularly with last minute changes, you know, I mean, I got pretty good at, you know, you know, you’re at the airport, you kind of just, you have almost a second sense about when, you know, flights about to be delayed or something like that. And so, you kind of just, if you do it enough, you learn how to, to seize those, so that you’re not playing, you know, when, when they do the musical chairs, there at the end, you’re not the one left without a seat or without a hotel room, or whatever it is. So, you know, but the technology makes it so easy. I mean, you know, when I go to New York, I rarely book a hotel, before I’m sitting on the Amtrak train on the way down, I just pull out my phone, and, you know, book, whatever the best rate is that I can find at that moment, because a lot of times, you can get a better rate on the Mariana app at the very last second, you know,

but it depends it you know, those are things you just learn as you go and, and you have to be realistic, if you’re going to farm out tasks to an assistant unless you’re going to micromanage them, they’re going to make mistakes, they’re going to do things that you don’t necessarily want. So you need to be thinking of things that you can offload that don’t require a whole lot of independent judgment, right? Because the independent judgment tends to be where you fall down when you outsource.

Unknown 11:54
Yes, well, or in

CHIP 11:56
source. And I have, you know, this is sort of the intersection of travel and, and assistance, but I had an assistant years ago, and when I would travel for speaking engagements of those sorts of things to cities that I didn’t go to regularly, she would typically book me a car service from the airport to the hotel, because, you know, 1520 years ago, you never quite sure what you’re going to get, you know, taxis and all that kind of stuff. And, you know, you didn’t know what they’re caught. So anyway, so it was it was a general practice. And so I was out in San Diego. And so I flew in and there was a, you know, guy holding up the sign Griffin and, okay, so I follow the guy, and, and I’m going to the Sheraton San Diego Marina or something like that. And so we we walk out and I, I look across the parking lot, I see a giant shared and sign. And so I decided I’m going to be a funny guy. And as I say to the driver, I say, Oh, that must be the Sheraton we’re driving to. And he says, Yes, sir, it is.

I said, Hold on hold. I said. So just so I’m clear. You’re going to drive me across the parking lot? Yes, sir. I am.

So just so I’m clear. Now. I’m going to be $100 for the privilege of going across the parking lot that I could have just walked. No. He said, No. Yep. He said, it happens more often than you think.

GINI 13:21
No, no.

CHIP 13:23
Like, this is just so needless to say that I got in at night. And so the next morning I was on the phone to my assistant saying in the future, can you please find out how far the ride is?

Unknown 13:36
Because booking me to go 500

CHIP 13:38
yards and paying $100 it just it really, I mean, frankly, paying anything. There’s there’s I mean, there was a free shuttle. I could walk there were any number of of options for me to get to that hotel.

GINI 13:52
So did he really drive you eat it? Oh,

CHIP 13:56
wow. I mean, at that point, I’m like, I paid for it. So I

Unknown 14:00
can you take me around town. It was it

CHIP 14:02
was it was a big and you honestly, it I mean, I guess in fairness to my assistant, at the time, it was it was called the marina was in the name of the hotel. I forget the exact name of it. But you know, you would not naturally think of Marina and airport hotel being one of the same right there. And if there’s that same, the airport hotel and, and she had booked me the ride? Okay, well, then that would have been much more egregious. But, but my point is, you know,

those are, those are the kinds of things that will happen. I mean, over the years, I have done a lot of technology work, and I’ve outsourced to programmers overseas and all that. And it’s not quite the same as assistant. But the same principle, you often end up doing as much work to instruct them as it would be to just do it yourself. And so you need to empower them, whatever you’re using your outsourced help for, whether it’s a VA or otherwise, that that you really are receiving that benefit. Because if you spend more time going back and forth on explaining the task and and checking on it,

what have you accomplished? I

GINI 15:06
still laughing at the parking lot. I can’t

CHIP 15:10
I can’t top that one. I mean, it is it is one of the the the oddest experiences that I’ve had in, you know, all my travels, you know, it’s, it’s not the kind of thing that would happen today, right? Because now everybody takes Uber Lyft or something. And, and right. But still, but yeah, I mean, that was that was special. Now, I mean, it you know, I also I blame the car service company as well, because they should have said, but

GINI 15:34
yeah, why wouldn’t they say, you know, this is across the street.

CHIP 15:38
I mean, it was a, it was a national car service from so that, so whoever’s doing the reservation may not even know No, no. So, you know, because, because I just had an account with one of the national, our company, so, whatever,

GINI 15:54
but it’s a your point. Exactly, we, you, you have to find the right fit,

CHIP 15:59
right. And, and, and, and really, you know, the other thing I really want to harp on, and I mentioned, if humans go is the judgment piece, right. So if you can give someone a checklist, or, or which we’ve talked about before, or, or very clear set of instructions, and that is sufficient, right? There’s nothing in there that says, well, but, you know, if you sense this, or that, then take a different path, that’s where you’re going to fall down, right? I mean, it you know, that that’s really need somebody who really is with you, for a while, gets to know, you, it’s trained, you know, and that is a different animal. So, you know, the, the sad reality is, for a lot of us, if we’re running a smaller business, we may end up doing things on that list, that third list that we don’t want to be doing that we shouldn’t be doing. But there isn’t really a good alternative. And because a lot of it goes back to, I think something else you sort of alluded to earlier volume, right? You know, you need to have enough volume of these things that it’s worthwhile parceling it out. And it’s volume, the same kind of task. Because just because I spend 30% of my day, doing garbage

doesn’t mean that I can find that one person. So by the time I split it up, if it’s, you know, 2% of someone’s time, I may not be able to find somebody who’s interested in that piece of work, or who can do it cost effectively format. So, it’s a it’s tough, and that’s why as, as groups, as companies scale as agency scale, they, they find it easier to offload these kinds of activities from senior executives, because you have enough of it that you can have a dedicated ops person or a dedicated assistant or a creative department or, you know, whatever it is that that will make your life easier.

GINI 17:40
Yeah, and they can make your life a lot lot lot lot easier. But, you know, like my, I have an executive assistant but I would even say she’s become more I mean, if we had an office she would be more an office manager than an EA you know, she had before she joined us she had facilities management experience along with the experience so we we’ve been able to sort of mold her into a different role than I think most assistants have so you know, look for those kinds of things to and it doesn’t have to be somebody full time there’s lots of organizations like just Ostroff business, don’t panic management out of I think they’re on the East Coast, but they have VA is across the country, they’re great, you know, and, and most of her vas work for several clients. So they’re able to do things in bulk and, you know, maybe even get you discounts on things and stuff like that, because they have, you know, they’re working with five or six instead of just one. So there, there are some opportunities for you to work some of that as well.

CHIP 18:38
Absolutely. And, and it’s and when their experience when they’re working with a bunch of people, you know, they know the shortcuts they can take, they know the resources to go to, so they can often be more efficient than you can. So if you if you get the right one, and it’s the right fit for you. And, and they’ve got the knowledge, it really can make a huge difference in your productivity. But I think it’s more difficult than most people imagine, to find that right fit. And it the role really has evolved over the last 20 years. I mean, I you know, when I first started out in business, you know, it was very important to have someone who would answer the phone well, right is right in a completely inconsequential roll out for the most part, right? I mean, yes, you know, I was, I was cleaning out a box in my office the other day, and it had a stack of those old pink while you were out message slips from one of my Dad, I’m sure, you know, I used to have the little, the little poker thing on the middle of my desk, you know, where you sit on your desk. And as soon as you return the call, you smack it down on, you know, and yeah, it felt really satisfying to do that

Unknown 19:45
you should leave those free.

CHIP 19:47
Well, you know, I tell you, I was I was in a hotel couple years ago with my kids who are, they’re both teenagers. Now, at the time, I think the younger one was maybe 11 or so. And we were, it was the first time we had gotten to hotel rooms that were not a joining. So my, my boys around Rome, and, and my wife and I were down the hall, they just did that hotel didn’t have adjoining rooms, we decided they were old enough that, you know, we’re going to live with that, because, you know, we just needed more space, because there’s two teenage boys. So that’s Yeah, yeah, of course, of course, any like, so. But we said, okay, you know, make sure that you know, how to call our room in case you need something. And, you know, for whatever reason, your cell phone is melted down. I don’t know, whatever. I mean, they never put the things down. So I can’t imagine would have been an issue. But sometimes they forget to charge them. So anyway, so So, you know, show them how to make the phone call calls down to my wife. Great. And phone calls over and he’s holding the phone. And he says, What do I do with this now? Okay, because he had never seen a corded phone.

Unknown 20:48

CHIP 20:49
it’s like, Where do I put this? I’m like, back in the cradle. Like, just just Yes, I mean, it was. And this is the, this is the, I have two sons, this is the one who actually has common sense, the, his older brother doesn’t,

but we happen to get a new TV remote earlier today. And, and to watch the 17 year old trying to put the battery cover back on was really

Unknown 21:16

CHIP 21:18
Yeah, yeah. Like, you realize you’re going off to college, and about a year and a half, you’re gonna have to figure out how to do be

GINI 21:27
gained some common sense. Yeah, probably not

CHIP 21:29
going to happen. But yeah, but but so. So the, as these roles evolve, as folks are, you don’t have to call a travel agent, they’re not sitting on the phone all day, they’re not sending faxes, or making photocopies, you know, the role of assistance has changed substantially. And, and some of that for the better. And some of it is, it just means that it’s harder to find that critical mass around that role, right. Because it’s, you know, you don’t have I mean, my dad had a law firm when I was growing up, and he had someone who would do all this typing for him, Well, we all type for ourselves. So, you know,

it’s more difficult to find someone you know who has enough of it, that they can make a full time go of it. So you you really need to think creatively about how you outsource those those tasks on list number three, in order to be effective. And, and I think if you if you’re thinking about humans, in house, virtual plus a combination technology, plus, you know, frankly, looking at that list and saying, What doesn’t need to be done at all right, I mean, I right, I think I think a lot of us are doing things that just simply do not need to be done. Or if they theoretically need to be done, they’re not returning the value. So maybe we just say, okay, you know, we’re not going to do that anymore. And so, so look at that third list and, and really try to figure out how to do less of it. But the way you do less of it may not be the way you first think when you go into it,

GINI 23:00
love that. And also check out places like up work up works my favorite because you can find people for the kinds of tasks that we do editing content, you know, WordPress, all that kind of stuff, you can find really talented people who are typically freelancing on the side of their full time jobs, so you can get them inexpensively and delegate some of that. And for certain repetitive tasks. Fiber can actually be pretty good as well. You know, I’ve

CHIP 23:27
sort of some mixed results there. But, you know, if you if you do have a truly repeatable task, you know, that’s a place to look. I mean, they, they can do things even, like, you know, the podcast editing, right, you know, so somebody can, they can do the splicing of files together, I happen to be able to do it pretty quickly. So I’m not sure that that I would necessarily get the value out of that particular function. But there’s a lot of folks out there who are thinking maybe I would like to do a podcast by, you know, I don’t really know what to do. Well, I mean, look on fiber, there are people who, for 15 or 20 bucks, an episode will splice together your intro intro and your recorded Skype call

done, right. So, you know, think about how you can leverage all those different services out there. And if you’re not sure, the particular one that will solve your particular challenge as someone else, you know, most of us have gone through it. Yeah, you know, so, whether that’s in the spin sucks community or on Twitter, or Facebook, or wherever it is that you hang out with other professionals, even if they’re not in the agency field, just say, how do you solve this problem? And I bet you’ll get some great suggestions on how you can be more effective and efficient.

GINI 24:31
Yes, and if you do it in the spin sucks community we can all learn because I’m sure there’s selfie when you and I don’t know, you know,

CHIP 24:38
I honest I, you know, I honestly, I learned something new every day. I i and i think that it’s, it’s, it’s useful, even if I think I know the answer. Or even if I do know the answer, it’s useful to see what what answers other people are given. So that I have a sense as to what other options are out there. Or frankly, what bad advice being given that, you know, I can try to find a way to

Unknown 25:03
counteract nicely say, Yeah,

CHIP 25:06
well, because, I mean, let’s, let’s face it, I mean,

I hate to say this, but you and I probably give bad advice. Sometimes it’s rare.

GINI 25:14
It’s rare, probably. Yeah. I mean, we don’t. Yeah, I mean, free advice is free advice, right? We don’t have we don’t have the insider knowledge that’s probably needed to make those kinds of crushed

CHIP 25:24
and frankly, even paid advice. I’ve been a consultant for a long time Have I ever regretted advice I gave to a client? You betcha. Because sometimes it turns out that, you know, it didn’t work out the way I thought it would, none of us have a crystal ball. You know, we, we all give the best advice. And, you know, I came from the world of politics where, you know, you you can make certain suggestions and, you know, but the, the way that that it plays out, you know, may not be the way you expect it and and today even less so, because there are no rules and politics anymore. At least when I was in politics, we have rules and you sort of

felt pretty calm if a happens then be will happen now, if they happens then see happens and be maybe never does. Who knows. So in any case, but hopefully that’s been some some useful advice for those of you who are hoping to go into 2019 and be a little bit more efficient with your time trying to figure out how to get that extra little bit of help in order to maximize the value of what you’re contributing to your own business yourself. And if we’ve given you a food for thought, Well, I’m happy about that

GINI 26:33
as a mine.

CHIP 26:34
So with that will come to the end of the first episode of the agency leadership podcast for 2019 again, Happy New Year everybody. I am Chip Griffin

GINI 26:42
and I am Gini Dietrich. Happy New Year

CHIP 26:44
and it depends

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The Hosts

Chip Griffin is the founder of the Small Agency Growth Alliance (SAGA) where he helps PR & marketing agency owners build the businesses that they want to own. He brings more than two decades of experience as an agency executive and entrepreneur to share the wisdom of his success and lessons of his failures. Follow him on Twitter at @ChipGriffin.


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, the lead blogger at Spin Sucks, and the host of Spin Sucks the podcast. She also is co-author of Marketing in the Round and co-host of Inside PR. Follow her on Twitter at @GiniDietrich.

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