Do you have any idea how much time a virtual assistant can actually save for you? Brian Jones, the founder of VA Platinum, used to work 70 hours a week, split between a corporate position and trying to build a business of his own. To say it’s backbreaking work is an understatement. When his son was born, Brian Jones knew this setup doesn’t bode well for his work-life balance. He started hiring VAs and created systems that allowed him to step out of his business and have more time for himself, his family and the things he is passionate about. He built his systems up such that he now works for only 30 minutes a month! Through VA Platinum, he now helps small businesses in Australia achieve their full potential by teaching them how to hire and train virtual assistants from the Philippines. Join in as he shares his story plus some actionable tips in this conversation with Paul Higgins.
From 70 Hours A Week To 30 Minutes A Month: The Power Of Virtual Assistance With Brian Jones Of VA Platinum
If you’re a first-time reader, welcome. If you enjoy it, please subscribe. If you’re a regular, thanks for your support. I’d love to get your feedback at [email protected]. It means the world to me when you do. Our guest is someone who started helping global brands with international tax at PWC. It wasn’t for him and he wanted to help more people. He went into the finance industry, still in a large company, that was acquired. The CEO had the foresight to have him work for two years while setting up his own business. This went well, but the birth of his son challenged his 70-hour a week work ethic.
Through using outsourcing, he reduced this to 30 minutes a month. He now helps small business owners to get their freedom back through virtual assistants. He gives an answer to should you build systems first and then hire or the other way around. It was a great explanation. How to onboard and get the most out of a VA, remembering they’re a real person. The last is the business model he uses to have more referrals than he can handle. They’ve given a free course at the end of the show. Over now to Brian Jones from VA Platinum.
Welcome, Brian Jones from VA Platinum to the show. It is great to have you on, Brian.
It is good to be here. Thanks for inviting me.
We caught up some time ago and I enjoyed those conversations. Like all things often in life, you drift apart. It’s brilliant to have you back and see how well you’ve done and shared those fantastic learnings on the show. Before we get into that, why don’t we start with something that your family or friends know about you that we may not.
The biggest thing is I’ve moved to a cute country town called Brighton, Victoria. A lot of new friends don’t have a clue that Caroline, my wife and I, are foster parents. We haven’t been fostering while we’ve been here. No one knows that we have been foster parents for most of our time together.
Everyone that fosters a child is doing a wonderful thing. For you and Caroline to do it is fantastic. That’s great. I know you had a great corporate background, PWC, OAMPS, big brands and then you jumped out probably 2009. It was two years before I took the leap. Take us through that little bit of a journey, what you did in those, and most importantly, why you decided to take the plunge as I say.
I had a great experience at PWC to start within my career and worked out. I didn’t want to be an international tax-saving big company. I wanted to help people instead. I moved into financial planning. I worked for OAMPS for several years. The same as most people, you climb the corporate ladder. I became the national manager, the director, responsible manager on our license and Wesfarmers came along and purchased OAMPS. That gave me the opportunity to work directly for Rob Scott, who’s now the CEO of Wesfarmers. When Wesfarmers purchases, I said, “Rob, thanks for the opportunity, but I want to go out and give it a go myself and my own business.” He was amazing in that.
He said, “Brian, why don’t you work with me for two years, help me make some transformation in the business that I want to make. At the end of two years, go off and be in your business, but I’ll make it even sweeter than that. You may start your business now while working for us so long as you know the director of the company that you start.” I was fortunate I had a business partner and doing this new business. He was the director, I wasn’t. It enabled me to transition over a two-year period into owning a new business because I wanted to grow my own experience, help other people in a different way than a corporate could help. That was it.
What a great guy. I’m trying to think who was before Rob?
A good friend of mine worked for Richard and Richard seemed like a fantastic person as well. I must admit, I went to the company I worked at and had a similar conversation, but I was proactive and unfortunately they weren’t. I said, “Let me start my business. I’ll work four days a week,” and they were back in the mind of, “No, if you’re not working 80, 90 hours, working six days a week, you can’t be a director. Are you telling me, Paul, that you’re not committed to this company?” Unfortunately, they took a different route, but I’m glad Rob had so much foresight to back a good person like you.
I’ve said it to you lots of times, Brian, if you do good in the world, people will do the same back to you. You’re a classic example where you do so much for others that I suppose it’s natural for them to return the favor as Rob did. You did that, you ran both businesses. What were some of the major hurdles when you first left Wesfarmers? For those that are reading around the world, Wesfarmers is one of Australia’s largest companies. It controls 20% of retail in Australia. There are two major supermarket brands in Australia and it runs one. To give a bit of context, it’s a big company, which shows the credibility of Brian to be at that level. What were some of the hurdles when you first started the financial planning and you left Wesfarmers?
I’ll go back one step. Before I left Wesfarmers and I started this financial planning business, I was still working for Rob with his blessing. The hardest thing was getting new clients. We decided to do something different. We decided to acquire clients. We’d go out to people that were retiring and we’d buy their businesses. We did a succession of those over the first two years while still working for Rob Scott. We did five businesses. The hardest thing for me at that time was to find those businesses, buy them, merge them in, and put systems and processes in place that staff could then follow. That was the hardest journey. I’d finish work with Rob, at 5:30 I’d go home and have dinner with my partner and to be back in my own office at 6:30 and work until midnight most nights, time, processes, systems, and finding clients.
On reflection, acquiring revenue the way that you did, is that the right thing to do? Would you do it again if you’re in that position?
If I had my time again, I wouldn’t change anything. Given my experience when I was running my own business, I moved the dial a little bit and tried to go out and grow organically instead of through acquisition. We found it extremely hard in the particular space of financial planning and life insurance. Life insurance is almost impossible to grow organically, in my opinion. I’ve got some close friends that do it successfully, but they’re in the top 0.1%. Financial planning, you can grow organically with the right LinkedIn message, with the right posting on LinkedIn, and the right videos. You can certainly grow organically but not easily.
Rob was a great supporter. Who else has been your key mentors along this journey?
There’s a guy called Paul Rigopoulos who has now passed away. When I first started, Paul took me into his office and he sat me down as though I knew nothing. Here I am, a bloke who has been working for Rob Scott or been a national director or being the runner of the license for an ASX-listed company. He brought me in and taught me how to run a small business. He showed me how to scan a file into a computer and how to file that information away in a systematic approach. He taught me how to service clients. Paul Rigopoulos did this for no gain whatsoever for himself. He said, “One day, Brian, you’ll be able to help many other people if I teach you this.” We caught up on a once every two-month basis and he was a legend in how he helped everyone.
Do you think that you’ve always been a giving person that Paul’s action stimulated more of that in you?
I was a giving person for most of my life up until I turned 21 and I went into the corporate world of PWC and transfer pricing. For that three-year gap, I didn’t feel like I was giving anything to anyone. That was the catalyst for me to move out of PWC into OAMPS so I can become a financial planner and help other people. When I met Paul some eight years later, he was the major driver for me in helping others. That then helped me meet my wife who was at foster care at the time and she helped people as well. The hockey stick accelerated.
You work incredibly hard and from what I understand, you were probably working 70-plus hours. How did you turn that around? Working that many hours, how did you get it down to a reasonable number of hours? What was your secret?
Firstly, you have to have enough of an impact to change. My son was born and working 70 hours a week and him being born was the impact that made me go out and read books. I read Tim Ferriss’s The 4-Hour Workweek or read Michael Gerber’s E-Myth. I decided to hire virtual staff in my business in the Philippines to supplement my Australian staff. Tim Ferriss was all about systems and processes. Michael Gerber was exactly the same. It was build systems and processes. A staff member and I, we built over 200 systems and processes in our business. We documented them, trained the virtual staff, and within one year, I was out to go from 70 hours a week to 30 minutes a month.
The other two books that I read as well as I went to leave Coca-Cola. A short story on Michael. I reached out to I think his wife. It was a little bit before my kidney transplant. I was a bit foggy mind back then, but she commented on one of my posts. I did the usual and started building a relationship with her. I looked at her surname and I put two and two together. I was like, “This is Michael Gerber’s wife.” To her credit, she was a beautiful soul. She was a lovely lady and never told me at any point where she had to let me off that she was Michael Gerber’s wife. That’s brilliant. You build up this team, the IP, the systems which are fantastic. At what point do you decide to start providing a service like this to others?You have to have enough of an impact to change. Click To Tweet
I retired. Working 30 minutes a month, that’s retirement. I had spent three years investing in Angel investments. I joined Melbourne Angels and was working with them to invest into startups and wasn’t fulfilling. A friend of mine who I used to share an office with, a financial planner in BlackRock, a local business. He asked if I can help him hire a virtual staff and develop systems and processes. That was the catalyst I went, “Sure. I’ll help you.” I told my accountant that I was helping this mate of mine. He said, “I’ve got two businesses that need your help.” He then referred me to these other two businesses and that’s how it started through people reaching out. Those three businesses started referring more businesses and it became a snowball.
You were bought out of retirement.
It’s when you and I caught up for the first time. I probably only had 5 or 6 clients at the time.
I remember when we met, what grabbed me and the reason I knew you were going to be successful when I spoke to you is the value model. A lot of people talk about putting clients first, but your model was truly a brilliant model, which made the difference between your 170 people in your team. That growth has been driven by that model. Talk a little bit about that original model because I’m assuming it’s still the same, but if it’s not, tell me about the original one that I knew.
It’s exactly the same. You learn from a lot of people like Jeff Walker from Product Launch Formula. I follow Pat Flynn, Lewis Howes. A lot of what they talk about is transparency. In the outsourcing virtual staff world, there isn’t enough transparency. When we talk to new clients, we talk about, “Here are all of our costs,” and we open up our books and show them, “This is where your money goes.” We tell them exactly what a staff member earns, the benefits they get, the fully-cooked breakfast, the half-priced gym membership. They’re blown away by that honesty and transparency. Before you even meet with them, make sure that we send them an email and they can see what the office looks like, the data security. We have three videos of the staff so they can hear what the staff sound and how they act. You break down all of the barriers up front. You’re open and transparent. It’s almost like they have to become a client then. They know that we’re in it for the right reason to help them because we’re being transparent. From off the back of that, we’ve never had to do any outreach. It’s always been right by client referral.
I think it’s true. I used to run an outsourcing company. That’s how we met and spoke. I worked with a large outsourcing company that was run by a friend of mine. They had about 500 seats. I remember the first time I flew to Manila, I met with about twenty companies trying to set up my little back office because I still had that corporate thinking. I was still looking at them as a corporate business as well. I was amazed at the shenanigans that went on, especially around COVID times now, even before at LinkedIn, people call it rubbish. You’re back. I’m in Melbourne, Australia. We’re back to effectively no material items stuck in your home, that’s it. You get to appreciate relationships more than ever. Has there ever been a time where there’s been a downside to this model of being transparent?
There has been. We’ve started to franchise the business now where clients have started to approach us to say, “I love this. Can we become a franchisee and run our own virtual staffing business but under you?” By being transparent about why we do what we do, two of them took a bit of advantage and wanted to be in it for the profit game rather than for the value game. When you start thinking about numbers and bringing on clients and stuff, it doesn’t work. You always have to be in the middle of the marketplace, providing value to clients and providing value to staff. As soon as one of them becomes a number, it’s not the right model. By being transparent, you show people the numbers, they can get fixated on that rather than the value.
With the name VA Platinum, you provide virtual assistance to people. Who are the ideal clients for you? Who do you love to provide them to?
It’s almost back to the PWC days. I don’t like providing business to the big corporates because I’m not impacting their lives. I’ve got this bit of a mantra that I either want to save people time, create more money, or to give them freedom. It’s hard to give a corporate those three things, but a small business owner that might have no employees, or they might have up to 30 employees, that’s my sweet spot because I can help them. I can give them more time, more money and create freedom in their life. That’s what I love doing.
This amazing journey of 70 hours to 30 minutes, what are some of the things you’ve learned through that, that someone reading is thinking, “I’ve always heard about virtual assistants. I should get one,” but for whatever reasons, there’s a barrier there. What are some of the learnings you can share to help people better explore that as an option?
Virtual assistants are not the silver bullet. If you go out and hire a VA and expect things will be better in your life, it’s not the case. It all comes back to a business owner adopting a system thinking approach. Building systems by teaching a VA via video call, how to do a task, share your screen. How do you do the task? Get that VA to turn that video call into a system, a how-to guide, and then replicate that fit every single task in your business. That is the only way that a business owner can be successful with any staff that’ll end up as a virtual assistant. We have to train many of our clients on how to work with VAs and how to systemize their businesses.
There are two main schools of thought. One is you get it ready then hire. The other one is you bring people in to help you do it. Am I missing an option? What are your thoughts around those two options?
A firm believer here, Paul, we tell clients, do not get it ready before your VA starts. The best way of building a system is to train someone in a live video, sharing your screen form so they can ask questions. If you try and build systems with your own knowledge, you’re going to miss about ten steps in a process because you know it inherently.
I’ve had many people said, “I’ll get back to you once I get it right.” I’m like, “That day will never come.” Think of other parts of your business and life where you’ve said, “I’ll get back to it.” That’s code for that’s in the too hard basket. You’ll continue to avoid it. Life will go on. I’m like you, I’m a firm believer of get them to help you build it. There are some wonderful platforms out there now. David Jenyns has got something called SYSTEMology that you can use. There’s Process Street. Like we do, we can put our systems. We had them all in a project management software called Asana. What about for you? For your experience, you transfer that video into let’s call it an SOP or a checklist. What have been some of the best examples you’ve seen of that?
If you imagine a staff member has a set load of tasks that they are going to do for their boss every month, the best system I’ve ever seen is to put all those tasks into a spreadsheet, for lack of a better tool. Get the staff member to evaluate themselves on how well they’ve performed a task against that SOP. They have to give work examples of why they rated themselves either meet expectations, needs improvement or exceeds expectations.
Everything is measured against an actual system. How well they’re performing is measured against what was documented and how they were supposed to do that task. If a staff member is self-evaluating themselves, it’s much easier for the boss to then come in and only have a 20 or 30-minute meeting with that staff member and agree or disagree with how they’ve rated themselves against their performance against the system.
That self-awareness, I know when I used to train VAs when I ran the business, it was the I, We, You training model. It was that self-awareness that I would do it then we’d do it together and then they would do it. I love how it links back to being practical, that it’s not something you can think in your head and think that you’ll do it once and then it will never change. As we know, processes change all the time and COVID is a wonderful reminder of that. Do you have any other tips around onboarding a VA?
We’ve got a course that we allow clients to access for free. Other people outside normally pay for it. We go through and we teach them the basics of working with the VA, making sure that they understand that the VA is like them and that they like each other. They treat them in a very humanistic way, not as a task doer, but get their mindset right. If that’s meditator or they have to write down their biggest fears. We use fears worksheet where we give fears worksheet as a template to all clients. Write down your biggest fears before you start with the VA and work out if they’re rational or irrational fears. Everyone’s got fears like, “Will they run off with my work? Will they leave one day and not come back?” Getting all his fears on the table before you start with your VA is a powerful tool.
The other main thing is making sure that they set up a few things first before the VA comes in. I’m talking about a few things. Finding out a password software that will enable them to share their passwords to staff before the staff member starts. The staff never see passwords. Making sure that they have some idea around what staff member they want to even work with. Is it a married person? Is it someone with children, no children? Someone that likes to travel. Someone who is going to fit their demographics. They are three top things that I would think about talking with a client before they have a VA start.
I’m always amused. I suppose that’s the word I’d use when I see someone’s CV from the Philippines. I saw one lately, we’re looking at hiring a business development person. They still list their height and their weight. Here in Australia, it’s straight to jail for that one, do not pass, go. Everyone’s got their nuances, but I know your teams in the Philippines. I’ve had a wonderful experience with the Philippines. A big shout out if anyone is reading from the Philippines, you’ve got a beautiful country and beautiful people.
Before we go into the Live section, I’d like to talk about our quiz to help you work out if you’re running a profit machine or a sweat box. Go to PaulHigginsMentoring.com/quiz and answer the questions in less than five minutes. You’ll be placed in 1 of 4 percentage ranges with custom actions for each. One option is the opportunity to have a 45-minute strategy call where you walk away with a clear plan based on the results from the quiz. Another is a chance to be like Brian, which is a wonderful guest on the show. If you want to find out more about Brian, you can go to VAPlatinum.com. The next is the Live section, Brian. What are some of the daily habits that help you be successful?
I have joined The 5AM Club, which means I set my alarm at 5:00 every morning and I get up and I do all of the things that I feel are important in my day that I would often not get to if I let my day run away. I exercise, I meditate. I’ve got a personal values document that I read through for myself. I also start the planning of my day, often can jump into doing work too quickly. I spend twenty minutes planning my day and planning my activities, which means I start delegating far more because I’m more thoughtful about the activities that I should be doing versus the ones I shouldn’t be doing.
How many times do you wake up before the alarm versus the alarm waking you?Start your day by planning to make sure you don’t do things you shouldn’t do. Click To Tweet
One time, I woke up 4:30. It comes down to whether my wife, Caroline, wants to watch Netflix in bed and whether I succumb to her demands to do so.
Speaking of Caroline, she’s reading this. What would you like to say to her about the support she’s given you through this journey?
Caroline is almost the chairperson, not only of our family, but of the business. Every decision that is a major decision to be made in our family and in the business she makes. I go to her and she is the yes-no person. Thanks for listening to every crazy idea I have, Caroline, and thanks for saying no to most of them.
You are a perfect couple. It’s good you know who’s got the powers. I know of Linda in my household. The next is the Give section and we’ve talked about you being a foster parent, which is fantastic. What are some other community or charities that you are passionate about and why?
The fostering has been our major focus for a lot of time, but Caroline’s parents both passed away in the last couple of years from cancer. Supporting cancer charities is our second top pick these days. Also, because as you’re saying, Paul, the Filipinos are such wonderful people, but it still is a developing nation. My business partner and I have now aligned our goals with the UN goals. The UN has got these seventeen goals and we’ve discovered that we can now look at nine of those goals and adopt them as being our own. Some of those are around making sure everyone has food. There’s no poverty.
Every part of our business now is non-plastic and is all renewable. We give a fully-cooked breakfast to all our staff in the morning. We make sure that every single container is washed and reused over and over again. We decided that we had to go a little bit bigger than fostering and cancer support and look at what the UN’s goals were because those are global goals. Through the help of the staff, we can focus on these amazing initiatives in the Philippines. That means we can help people that don’t have food, don’t have a home, and aren’t educated. We put aside a portion of our profits every month now and they go towards each of those goals.
A wonderful, brilliant structure and well summed up. Speaking of charities, I have a charity that I support all my book proceeds and a portion of my revenue goes to it. It’s called the Purple House. Go to PurpleHouse.org.au to find out more. The last section is the rapid-fire section. I’ll give you questions and you give me quick responses. The first one is what are your top three personal effectiveness tips?
Number one, use Loom to review every possible document. Number two, do the twenty-minute planning at the start of your day to make sure you don’t do things you shouldn’t do. Number three, get enough sleep every night, otherwise, you won’t be effective.
What is a piece of technology other than Loom or use Loom that’s essential for running your business?
The first technology that we use is email. I know it might sound strange but using email effectively can be a massive wind for your time. I only spend twenty minutes a day in email by using a virtual assistant who has a systems approach to how she handles my emails. As a business owner, you can almost get rid of it in your life. The second one we use is any video technology. We’re using Teams, Skype, and Zoom. Being able to communicate face-to-face with people in a COVID world is important and impactful. That’s it, my two tops.
What is your best source of new ideas?
Podcasts, Paul. It’s rare for me to listen to a podcast and not come away with at least 5 to 10 new things to implement.
What speed do you listen to?
That’s up there. That’s good. That’s a lot harder than most of the population. The last question is the big one. Everyone reading this has got a sense of what an incredible person you are and how you are leaving an impact, but in your own words, what is the impact you want to leave on the world?
If I could not make it a VA, I want to leave people the view that every single family, whether you’re a single parent, a couple without kids, you can help foster children. If I can leave anyone around the world with one major impact, you could foster children on a part-time basis. You can have them every weekend. You could provide rest once a month, you could have emergency care, or you could have long-term care where a child or young person is with you for five years. There are many options to help the disadvantaged in the world. If I could have one superpower, I would get as many people to be foster parents.
It always starts with one. Everyone reading, I always thought, I’m sure you get this all the time, fostering a child meant that it was full-time, but there are other options, which means that you can do it. You can do it formally, but you can also do it informally. We live in an area where it’s quite affluent, but there is also some, in Australia, we call them commission homes where the government funds their housing. You’ve sparked me in a little idea of how I can help some of those people in this community. It’s brilliant to catch up again.
Brian, you’ve shared so much value. I’m writing things down thinking, “Tick, tick.” That’s exactly what I would’ve said. There’s great alignment. You have an amazing impact. That course on how you can get the most out of a virtual assistant. If you go to Virtual-Staff.Teachable.com, enter the voucher code BLG and you’ll get free access to that brilliant resource. It’s always a pleasure, but in particular, now, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the value you’ve given all of us.
Thanks, Paul. It’s been lots of fun.
I thoroughly enjoyed that interview with Brian. He’s such a caring, giving person, and perfectly aligned with the brand Build Live Give. I’d love to know what is your biggest takeaway from what Brian said. Please share on your socials. We’d love it if you could take a photo of you reading the blog or even a screengrab of the blog and mentioning what you’ve learned. That would be fantastic. If you believe someone you know would benefit from the show, please share it with them. They will love you for it. Find out if you’re running a profit machine or a sweat box, go to PaulHigginsMentoring.com/quiz. Please take action to build a profitable and sustainable business. Stay well.
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About Brian Jones
Brian Jones is an entrepreneur and work-life balance devotee.
He is the founder and CEO of VA Platinum, which exists to help business owners achieve more time, more money and freedom using virtual assistants.
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