Although not a new invention entirely, a remote or virtual team has become so relevant and necessary for most businesses because of the pandemic. But doing the recruitment process without personal interaction may be pretty challenging. Mark Lackey and Anne Lackey understand this well, and so they went on to start HireSmart Virtual Employees to provide assistance in this regard. Joining Paul Higgins, the power couple talks about how they make the hiring process proceed as smoothly as possible, focusing more on the skillsets than mere emotions. They also discuss how they handle a remote group with an entirely different culture from the Philippines, keep their operations organized, and keep on motivating every virtual professional on their team despite the distance.
Building A Virtual Team With Mark Lackey And Anne Lackey
Build Live Give. Mentoring with Paul Higgins
If it’s your first time and you love what you read, please subscribe. If you’re a regular, I’d love to get your feedback. You can go to PaulHigginsMentoring.com/questions, and you can ask me any questions that I can forward on to the guest and I’ll also answer any of your questions as quick as I can. Who have we got on the show? We’ve got on a couple. It’s my first. They’re a couple within both business and life. Having them together in this interview is outstanding. They’ve got five best-selling books. They’ve got six business, but what they love doing is helping businesses find incredible virtual team members. They’ve got some great processes that they go through. It’s one of the best ran businesses that I come across. They’ve got a lot of experience in this industry. I’ll hand you over to Mark and Anne Lackey from HireSmart Virtual Employees.
Welcome, Mark and Anne from HireSmart Virtual Employees. It’s great to have you both here.
We’re glad to be here, Paul. Thank you so much.
It’s wonderful to be with you. Thank you.
It’s the first time that I’ve had a couple both in life and business on the show. I don’t normally do two people in an interview, so I’m excited. I love the fact that you’ve got the corporate colors on and that great background as well. It makes it special. We are lucky to have you, but why don’t we kick off? We’ll go to you first, Anne. When people say, “What do you do?” The name is a great suggestion but when people say, “What does that mean?” What do you say?
We are a complete HR hiring, training and certification program for our clients with a staffing component. We are that full service of helping people find amazing talent and then supporting them after the hire because we all know that when you hire somebody, that’s great but usually you don’t realize how much help you need after until you’re a little bit into that relationship. We are a full turnkey hiring solution.
Is there any prework that you do with a client as well before that kicks in?
Hiring an employee is that first initial step. It can be a little like, “I’m nervous. I’m tired of doing this or that. My staff is busy. I know I need to support them.” A lot of what I do in the prework is help them imagine what’s the best-case scenario for you or for your staff to get them the help that they needed. What does that look like? What kind of tasks are they doing? We’re dialing onto the company’s goals, objectives and needs. I do a lot of prework in helping them flesh that out because we only do full-time dedicated employees. It helps them understand that this isn’t something that is part-time or project-based work, which is a lot of what you see in the virtual assistant space. It’s that project for hire, which is not what we do.
Many times, we’ll find that business owners, whether they’re new or they’ve been around a while, they didn’t learn how to hire. They struggle with it and they have some failures, whether it’s local staff or remote. A lot of people will come to us and say, “I’ve not had success with staff, especially I haven’t had success with virtual staff. I don’t know where I went wrong.” That’s where Anne in the frontend helps that individual or business owner to better understand themselves and what they need so it makes it a bigger success and better opportunity for them to grow their business.
Mark, you said Anne is that the frontend. What about you? When people say to you, “What do you do?” What’s your role in the business?
I’m part of the sale cycle. We used to do a lot of onstage teaching and education. Now, we do it on Zoom. We will be in corporate meetings, we’ll be in association meetings, we’ll speak in state or national stages with associations. The two of us will speak and banter back and forth. As we break off, people many times say, “I want to talk to you,” or “I want to talk to Anne,” or “I want to talk to you about it.” I’m involved in that frontend. I cover the back part of the business too. We have six different businesses. I’m the frontend in some of those, then Anne is the backend in those.
He allows me to do what I do best, and without his support, I wouldn’t be able to do what I do. He gives me a ton of that additional support, not only mentally, but he’s a great problem solver, great business partner. We love to do it together. Without his support, I couldn’t serve as many people as I do. He’s a big key component of that.Skillset must always come first in hiring instead of emotions. Click To Tweet
Mark, you talked about those struggles. If you had to pick three of the big ones, what are those that people struggle with hiring?
The biggest thing that people struggle with is the fear. The fear of, “I’m getting to a point that I need to have some help, but I can’t release and I can’t let go.” They don’t know how to delegate and divide the work up because they want it to be perfect. We have to teach them that done is better than perfect. That fear of letting go, that fear of it not being done perfectly correct. The next thing that we have is business owners will come to us and say, “I don’t have training. I don’t have processes. I don’t have a procedures manual in place,” even if they already have employees. They already have employees, but they don’t have an onboarding process. When they said, “We don’t have an onboarding process,” we show them how to do that. We have a process that we teach them to make it easy. It’s called one and done.
That’s another fear that they have is they’re not quite ready. The last fear is they might not have enough work for this individual to do. They say, “I need some help, but it’s not a full-time job yet.” Anne is good about helping that business owner examine the things in their business that they’re not doing, it costs them money because they’re not doing them or that they’re losing opportunities. If we can free up a business owner 1 or 2 hours every day, think about the additional calls that they could make to bring in new business. Based on their close ratio, she can usually show them that you’re going to have enough hours to make enough sales calls to pay for this individual in about 3 weeks, 4 weeks because they have so many more opportunities when they’re not bogged down with the administrative tasks.” Those are the toughest things that they overcome. Anne helps them to see through the clutter, help overcome the fear and does a good job in that area.
Those online resources that you support people with, how does that work?
Usually, it’s part of the consulting piece that I do after an engagement. These are proprietary things that I walk through them as far as the consulting piece. A lot of business owners have it in their head. The idea of having somebody virtual and having it in their heads scares them. Part of my job is to help pull it out of them. We have some methodologies for that. A mistake that a lot of people make when hiring is they hire emotionally and not analytically. That’s the other piece to this puzzle that we bring because they don’t have the opportunity to hire “emotionally” because I’ve already done all the background screening and all of the analytics for them. Anybody that we put in front of them can do the work. That’s what allows us to have such a high success rate. We went through the numbers. We have a 98.7% success rate in our placements. That’s strong when you look at statistically where most people’s failure rate is in the 50s for their hiring.
They hired their cousin because she needed a job, not because she was the right person. She needed the job.
They liked the person and was like, “You’d be amazing.” They don’t back it up with the skillset. We take that part of it out of the equation for them.
What are some of the ways that you test for that skillset?
We have a US-based testing platform that we use is called Criteria Corp., but because we source all of our hires from the Philippines, we have spent the last several years tweaking that particular software and taking out the cultural bias. We have done in 2020 about 25,000 assessments that I’ve reviewed, looked at, profiled our top performers, look for those correlations. This is part of what we coined as the Anne-alytics process of the hiring. It all comes down to data. That is one of the reasons we’re so successful. The first part of it is having the right selection process. The second piece of that is our certification process, which is done after our clients select. We’re evaluating their work. It’s a one-week long working interview that has been tested hundreds and hundreds of times for different markers. Those two things combined together is what gives us our success rate.
What’s important is when we’re talking with individuals, we tell them, “We’re going to give you the same tools that the Fortune 500 companies use for their hiring.” Don’t you believe that they know what they’re doing? Yes. They know what they’re doing. The only difference is we’ve changed the algorithm to work for Filipino culture versus American culture. Nobody else has that. When we put that together, we know we’re putting the right person in the position. We can feel comfortable and the business owner can too. It’s not just like, “I like you, Paul. I’m going to hire you today.”
They do like them too.
She’ll deliver three candidates. Anne works with the people in the frontend. They fill out a survey, they find out what the needs are, they spend a little time there. The next time they do something, they’re meeting three candidates. Any of the three can do the job. They’re looking for what is the cultural fit in their business that they’re comfortable with. It does get down to who they like and all, but they know that they’re going to be able to do the job.
Statistically, it works.
That looked similar to the way that the Coca-Cola company approached it. I worked with a lot of companies post doing consulting for other companies, but Coca-Cola had a fantastic system. I had my own sourcing company do similar things, so that’s smart. Back to you, Mark. Around your ideal clients, are there any particular sectors? Who do you love hiring virtual employees for?
We’ve set up avatars. An avatar is our ideal client in different areas. What we’ve found that is a company that has a lot of transactions, whether they’re verbal, phone calls coming in, their emails coming in, maybe it’s a work order type system for a software, payments coming in and out. Our clients typically have a lot of interaction with their customers, whether it’s verbally, written, different ways. What we looked at is service industries that have that. Our clients typically, already have employees. They have 2 to 4, so they’re used to the stress of paying that payroll tax and paying for those healthcare benefits once a month and going online and seeing that money flow out of their bank account. That’s important because if they’ve never had an employee before, they don’t understand that pain. They typically have that.
What we found with the service business is very intense. They have the questions come in. They have the transactions come in. We have a real estate background so we started off with our clients who were around the real estate industry, property management, community management, but we’ve got other companies that you wouldn’t think of that are highly transactional. We’ve brought on a brewery, an HVAC company that has people calling in, “My heating and air is broken.” They set up an appointment, then our individual calls that person the day of their appointments. Bill, our company is going to be there. He’s going to have his shirt on with a logo and his ID. He’ll be there between 2:00 and 3:00, and then they can do the follow-up calls of, “Bill was there. Is everything fixed to your satisfaction? I want to make sure that everything was done well.” Those are our typical clients. We started out around the property management area, but we’ve had janitorial services. We’ve had personal chefs because they got to get an order in to make sure all the veggies and the fruits and the meats are all there. They don’t have time to do that, so the assistant does that and make sure all the deliveries are made to where they’re going to cook.
For you, American culture, Filipino culture, what differences or similarities do you see? What are some of the misconceptions of working with Filipinos?
The culture is much closely aligned to the US culture. There are 1.5 million Filipino workers working for US clients already. They work all night and some during the day, it depends. It’s amazing to me how closely aligned the culture is. Probably the biggest difference is that they tend to be a little bit more shy and less direct. That’s part of the mentoring that I do with them to share with them when to raise their hand and when to ask questions. Nobody’s ever taken the time to talk to them in that way and share with them what it takes to be effective working for the US clients. They love to serve. They have a great work ethic. Probably the biggest misconception is that they don’t speak English well, because we’ve all called a call center, we’ve always had a bad experience, but those are typically not the Filipino call centers that you’re calling. If I had one big flag to plant in the sand, you’ve been probably talking to Filipino people probably for years and not even known about it because it is very transparent.
Have you seen more people looking at outsourcing now that COVID’s hit or is it the same?
We grew 33% in 2020. COVID was pretty good to us.
We hate to say that, but it has been. People usually came to us or we would meet with them and they say, “Somebody can’t work not in my office. They got to be there so I can walk down the hall, look over their shoulder and see what they’re doing.” They now know that you don’t have to have that.
Right before this, I had a sales call with a new potential client and he said, “Had COVID not happened and had I not been exposed to that, I don’t know that I would be as receptive. Now I know working remotely does work, and now I can reduce my payroll outlay, invest more in my people, there’s bonuses and things like that. I can shift the dollars around and have a bigger impact.” That’s exactly what we love to see. A lot of times it’s about taking your staff and elevating them so they’re doing more of the work that they like to do themselves. They’re more productive. They’re happier. We have one client, after working with us for two years. He said, “At 5:30, I walk in my office and it’s crickets.” This was pre-COVID, “Everything is quiet because I’ve been able to give my people more work-life balance.” He goes, “What a blessing it’s been to be able to give my workers their lives back so they can invest more in their families.” That’s the impact we like to have.
When I was in the industry, and I still mentor people in the industry, it’s hard to know something unless you’ve experienced. It’s like being a parent. Until you’ve done it, you don’t know what it’s like. I always say to people, “Try it because your experience is probably similar to mine. Not many people give virtual teams back.” It’s a matter of when you start. Not if you’re ever going to do, it’s when you do it. COVID has been a great snowboarder to do that for, because when I started in 2012, it was much around they’re not physically here. That is COVID and the way that things moved had definitely proven that.
I could ask you a million more questions on this section, but I do know that my readers like a packed-full interview, plus looking at some other areas of your business as well. Before we go into the next section, I’d like to talk about you and for the readers, whether you’ve got the sales machine to meet your ambitions. If you want to know, and if you can answer that question, I’m going to help you. You can go to our assessment, it’s at PaulHigginsMentoring.com/Assessment. There are fourteen questions. You answer them in three minutes. The most important thing is you understand what the result is, but then I’ll have a call with you to work through the specific plan. The next section is the Live section. I’ll go to you first, Mark, what are some of the daily habits that help you be successful?
Being organized in what I need to do and the top two things every day. When I approach, I know those top two things have to be done. They’re not always pleasant things either, but if I can get those done, that seems like everything else falls into place.
As an example, what were those top two?A great virtual team means humanizing every virtual assistant and professional who's a part of it. Click To Tweet
For an investment that we were taking care of for somebody, I had to handle a difficult situation with some insurance and some accounting. I was on the phone with a couple of vendors taking care of those matters. They weren’t pleasant. I wasn’t looking forward to it and they didn’t turn out as great as I had hoped, but they’re not as bad as they could have been. Once I got that finished, I was able to move forward with some of the other things that I was dealing with that have to get done, but I wasn’t pulling around that bag of rocks behind me thinking, “I’ve got to do something with these.”
The Brian Tracy’s Eat That Frog. Anne, what are some of the daily habits that help you be successful?
For me, it’s having a good breakfast. We always have breakfast together. Mark makes my breakfast. That’s time for us to sit down, connect, talk about what’s the top-level things that we need to get done. The next big habit I have is the way I end my day. I look back through the day and I go, “Was everything completed? If not, I’ll work until that’s done.” Assuming everything is completed, it’s setting it up for the next day. I live by time blocking. I live in my calendar. I’m focused and segmented in that. Those are my habits.
The next section is the Give section. What charity or community that you both are passionate about and why?
We got involved in a program around the States called DECA. It doesn’t stand for what the business is, but it’s high schoolers learning marketing. High schoolers got to learn marketing. We’ve been in schools, teaching. We’ve been in classrooms and teaching about marketing efforts and marketing processes. We’ve judged county, state, national and international competition, entrepreneurial. Small business startup idea that somebody will have. They’ve put a written plan together. We evaluate the written plan. They’re trying to raise money.
It was free Shark Tank.
All these young kids, they’re in their suits. They’re all dressed up and they’re doing these presentations. We love it because we can help those kids and push them in the right direction for what works, what is marketing, how it’s effective. In Atlanta, they had an international competition with 22,000 teenagers in town a few years ago in few hotels. You didn’t hear of mischief, you only heard of the great things that were being done. Each one of these kids is a winner. We’ve been involved with DECA for so long.
Talking about marketing, I still remember the first time I went to Orlando and sat in a Woodruff’s chair in the Coca-Cola building. I worked for Coca-Cola. It was a wonderful experience. The last section is the Rapid-Fire section where I’ll ask you some questions, you give me some rapid-fire responses. Let’s say we’ve worked out which strengths apply to which question. The first one is to you, Anne. What are your top three personal effectiveness tips?
First of all, plan your day the day before. Come up with a top three. The second thing would be taking care of your body, move. We do yoga, that’s our thing. Move, keep limber. The third one is, keep sharp, read. I have a book right now that I’m reading about rehumanizing your business. I try to pick a book a month and get into it and figure out what can I do to expand my horizons.
What’s a piece of technology that’s essential for running your business?
Zoom. Before that, it was Skype. Those are the two platforms I use all the time. Email, but Skype for instant messaging, keeping up with my team group chats. Zoom for these types of meetings and for being able to podcast and to meet people all over the world.
It is the window to the world. The next one is for you, Mark. What’s your best source of new ideas? I know that Anne said that reading is hers.
I read a lot and I talk to a lot of people. We were in The Bahamas and somebody mentioned VAs. I started researching and I started thinking. I introduced myself to this person that said, “You should think about VA.” A few years ago, we met with him, spent a weekend together, and out of that was born this business. I’ve got an inquisitive mind about things and can see trends when not everybody else can see those. That’s been helpful for us in all of our business. Anne now says we’re not starting any new businesses, so I have to turn down those trends and send them to somebody else.
You’ve got 5 books and 6 businesses. A book you’ve got to do next. I had a similar conversation in 2011. It was when I’d left corporate and someone said something, within a week I was on a plane to the Philippines and then this journey went there. Podcasting is my thing. Book is both of yours, but also hearing that idea and seeing it in the future is brilliant. The last question is the big question. I leave it to last for that reason. Mark, I suppose you’re speaking on behalf of both of you, but what impact do you want to both leave on the world?
We make our clients’ lives better in the United States. We save them money. We increase their level of service to their clients, but on the other side of the world, in the Philippines, we’re changing lives there. We have thousands of people within the families that we impact. We provide healthcare to our staff members there. Nobody else in our industry provides the type of HMO coverage we give for them and for their dependents. At Christmas, we had a party. It was a Zoom party with hundreds of people, and we have magicians. We gave away gifts and we gave away a scooter and people were so appreciative of that. People in the United States take advantage of a VA in regard to thinking of them as a tool. When we humanize it and make it to where they learn how to work better with our client or staff does, it makes life better for them. We pay them a high rate for those members that work for us. We’re impacting thousands of lives on both sides of the world. We’re proud that we’re able to do that. We’re pleased.
It’s been wonderful meeting both of you. I can see the harmony between the way you do business, but also the way that you impact others. It’s an absolute joy hearing it. The two things that you can do to find out more, you can go to HireSmartVirtualEmployees.com. That’s the website. You can also go to HireSmartVirtualEmployees.com/podcast to get a free book. The other thing is if you want to find out more and maybe explore this for yourself, if I’m ever going to do it, it’s about a win. If you’d like to fast-track that win, go to MeetWithAnne.com. It’s a joy having both of you on. I appreciate it.
Thank you, Paul. We had a great time.
It’s been wonderful to be with you. Thank you.
I loved that interview with both Mark and Anne. I hope you did as well. I loved the way that they use both accommodations of emotional and analytical factors. To have a 98.7% success rate is quite amazing in the industry. They know their stuff and they’re building a great business and want to help you build team members to help you build your own business. If you’ve got any questions, we’ll also get to you. There’s a free book that Anne is giving away. If you go to HireSmartVirtualEmployees.com/podcast, you can get the book there. Remember, Anne kindly offered to also have a personal call with you. Go to meet with MeetWithAnn.com or MeetWithAnne.com. Please take action to build, live and give.
- HireSmart Virtual Employees
- Eat That Frog
About Mark and Anne Lackey
Anne Lackey loves starting and running businesses. Mark Lackey has always been fascinated with making things work better and run smoother.
Together they have co-founded and run multiple businesses simultaneously for 2 decades. They have generated over 15.7 million dollars in revenue for their service-based businesses in the past 4 years alone.
By coaching and consulting with hundreds of CEOs and Executives, they have found 3 common core business problems: Owner Overwhelm, Staff Turnover & Failures & Poor Customer Service/Follow Up.