Nonfiction Authors Podcast host Carla King interviews Jen Lehner: You Can’t Do It Alone, Why Hiring a Virtual Assistant Makes Sense For Just About Anyone
Nonfiction Authors Podcast | June 8, 2022 10:00 am PT / 1:00 pm ET
Jennifer Lehner is a digital marketing strategist and systems strategist. She shows entrepreneurs how to build an audience and monetize their expertise online using social media and digital tools. She creates online courses and trainings and her favorite place to hang out is in her private mastermind, The Front Row VIP. She lives in Shaker Heights, Ohio with her husband and 3 kids. Find out more about Jen at jenlehner.com and frontrowceo.com.
Nonfiction Authors Podcast: Jen Lehner
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- Jen Lehner on YouTube
- Jen Lehner on Instagram
- Jen Lehner on Facebook
- Jen Lehner on Twitter
- Front Row CEO
In this episode…
- Why authors might be hesitant to hire a virtual assistant (VA).
- The benefits of hiring a virtual assistant.
- How to create training videos for your VA, even before you hire them.
- How to find the perfect match VA.
- What goes into hiring a virtual assistant.
- How to use a profit sharing and salary model to help you and your VA grow together.
Hello and welcome to the interview series for the Nonfiction Authors Association. Today’s session is with Jen Lehner and we will be talking about why hiring a virtual assistant makes sense for just about anyone. I’m Carla King, your host, and I’m happy to have you with us today. This interview will last only 30 minutes and you can find the replay on our Nonfiction Authors Association website and social media platforms including YouTube, and wherever you listen to podcasts.
And now I’d like to introduce our guest.
Jennifer Lehner is a digital marketing strategist and systems strategist. She shows entrepreneurs how to build an audience and monetize their expertise online using social media and digital tools. She creates online courses and trainings and her favorite place to hang out is in her private mastermind group, The Front Row VIP. She lives in Shaker Heights, Ohio with her husband and 3 kids. Find out more about Jen at jenlehner.com and frontrowceo.com. And on a personal note, I am in Jen’s mastermind group. I found her about a year or a year and a half ago, and thanks to her Front Row CEO program, I employ two virtual assistants who are based in the Philippines. One admin, and another who helps me edit and schedule blog posts, create lead magnets, update my books–which is why I am thrilled to share this with you today, because I know you want this. Welcome Jen.
Jen Lehner 2:28
Thank you, Carla. It’s so nice to be here.
Carla King 2:31
And let’s jump into these questions. So first of all, when I worked in a corporate environment, I had access to assistance. But in my little world as an author, it never even occurred to me that I could hire somebody to help me with all the things that they helped me with. What is it about the author mindset? Do you think that prevents us from thinking about ourselves as entrepreneurs, and outsourcing the help that we need, instead of trying to DIY ourselves to death?
Jen Lehner 3:03
I think it’s a couple of things. And I don’t think it’s unique to authors. I think it’s kind of unique to all small businesspeople and entrepreneurs. So first of all, it’s like–if you know how to do something, the obvious thought is, ‘Well, I might as well do this myself, I know how to do it. Why would I give that to someone else?’ So you know, whatever those small tasks are, you can do them relatively painlessly. You can do them probably very efficiently, and you don’t think twice about it. So why in the world would you hire someone?
It took me a couple of years to figure this out. But I think we don’t understand that all that time we spend on those tasks–that we aren’t actually getting paid for–that’s not what people are paying us for. It’s actually not why we decided to be authors and to be entrepreneurs. We’re not doing that stuff anymore, because we’re not writing if we’re invoicing or making social media graphics and all of that. So suddenly, like a light bulb hopefully comes on, where we say, ‘Oh, I get it. If I keep staying bogged down and all these small tasks, I’m really not going to level up.’ But it really is–for me anyway–it definitely was like, ‘I know how to do this. I should do this. Why would I hire someone to do what I can do perfectly well?’
Carla King 4:35
Exactly. And we all have our own way of doing things as well, so we kind of fear that we’re going to lose control of that, I believe. For me, it was a loss of control fear as well. But I really got tired of working in emergency mode. And I know a lot of entrepreneurs and authors do work in emergency mode. And I had no time to plan ahead. So you know how a VA changes that. What are the ways that you’ve seen that just changes your workday? How does it change your work day, your work week, your work month, your work year?
Jen Lehner 5:18
In every possible way, having someone there to support you, and help you, and take those tasks off your plate changes everything pretty much immediately–if you are very deliberate in transferring that time. So if you’re handing over time for someone to do these admin tasks for you, and then you take that time to do these other more important things in terms of–that are more aligned with you being the visionary, you being the author, you being the influencer, leader, entrepreneur, then the results are immediate.
For example, let’s suppose–so we write our books. And we all know very well that after the book, that’s when the work begins. Because then, we have to market this book. And it’s really never ending. We should never stop marketing our books. A VA is doing what I call perpetual revenue driving tasks. We give the VA a task that is going to drive revenue for your business, like getting you booked on the right podcast.
So you know–wouldn’t you agree, Carla, that getting in front of someone else’s humongous audience of the exact people who need to read your book, and who need to buy your products–that’s valuable. That’s very valuable, right? But you do not have time to do that. So now your VA is doing that. It’s getting you booked on podcasts, and taking care of the admin work. Meanwhile, while that’s happening, what are you going to talk about on these podcasts? What about getting speaking gigs? What’s your signature talk? Now’s the time you get to write that signature talk. Now’s the time you get to craft that amazing webinar that you’ve been wanting to do, or to write that little mini course that’s going to accompany your book. Now you can do that. But when you were bogged down in all the other stuff–it’s like having cinder blocks attached to your wings, and you get to just snip those off and fly.
Carla King 7:22
It’s true. And I just want to add to that–I know at one point, during our mastermind, you were having a family emergency. Right now, I’m having a family health crisis that is taking a lot of my time. And, a year ago, I would have been so stressed about my work, which would have prevented me from taking care of my family member. It would have been in the back of my mind. And I have to say that this is such an ideal situation– to have people taking care of this little stuff for me.
Jen Lehner 7:53
Right? I mean, first of all, I’m sorry to hear that you’re having a family emergency. But I am so happy that you have support because, I mean, that is ultimately where we all want to get. We want to have freedom and autonomy to do things that matter. To be able to step away from our businesses and focus on very important things like that. And so the key to getting to that point is to automate our business and have a self-running business as much as possible. And having support, and systems, is really how we’re going to get there.
Carla King 8:28
So is that the first thing you should ask a VA to start doing, to kind of get used to each other? The system. And what does that look like? Can you talk about the systems creation process you designed?
Jen Lehner 8:43
Okay, so a system, I always say, is just a checklist. So anything you do more than once really should be turned into a system. Even if it’s something you only do quarterly or annually. If it’s something that you repeat every year–I would say especially annual tasks, because by the time the next year rolls around, you’ve forgotten how to do it. But you–the entrepreneur–you don’t have time to do it. You’re not going to stop in the middle of what you’re doing and say, ‘I am going to turn this into a checklist and a system.’ It’s just not going to happen.
And so what I like to do–one of the first things that we do when we hire virtual assistants is we have very simple raw screen videos, or videos of work on the screen, or videos of ourselves. Or if we’re brick and mortar, we can use our phone and record ourselves. But basically not going out of our way to do something. You start to create a process just by hitting the record button while we’re doing the process.
I always recommend that–for maybe a week before you hire someone, or you start looking for someone, you just get in the habit of recording every single day while you’re at work. Okay, that’s the hardest part–is remembering to do it. You stick a sticky note right in the middle of your computer screen, and you just talk to yourself. “Now I’m opening up my email. Now I’m filing something this way. Now I’m creating an invoice. And this is how I do it. Now I’m onboarding a new client. This is what that looks like. This is where we file things in Google Drive.”
Even if your systems are very imperfect, even if your back end of your business is a complete catastrophe, you are not alone. I would say most of the people who start this process feel like their business is a complete catastrophe behind the scenes. That they’re not organized. So those are the very first things. By the time the person is hired, they watch these videos, and because you’re asking them to create a checklist and a system from these videos, they have to watch it very closely, right? They have to pay attention. They might have to watch it two or three times. So now, of course, not only are you gonna have a system that lives in your business for the end of time, but they’re also going to be learning those things.
So, broadly speaking, yes–systems are the first things. But more specifically, I would say, you just want to get off your plate that stuff you want to get off your plate first, okay. And usually the easiest things to do–or the things that you want to let go of first– are the things you know really well. That you could put in a video, not have to think twice about it. That’s easy for you. And then also you never ever, as long as you live, have to do that task again. And so it’s very freeing. That also gets you about a week ahead of that person. They’re doing all that and they’re getting to know your business. And then the real magic starts to happen.
Carla King 11:42
That is so true. I use Loom–which you had recommended–to start recording. I forgot all the time how I wanted my social media posts to look and what I wanted. I kept forgetting. But I remembered–finally–to say, ‘Okay, I’m opening Canva, I’m sharing this link via LastPass. Here is a sample card. Look at the branding here. Here are the three fonts that I use, here are the five colors that I use. Here are some social media cards.’ They call them social media cards–all of them that I talk to in the Philippines. And now she does it for me, and schedules everything for the month.
Right now, she’s scheduling things for the following month. I don’t even think about it anymore. I check them a week in advance, and I may make a couple of edits using Recurpost. I mean, there’s all kinds of tools that you recommended that I use now. And it’s so easy, and I just don’t think about it. And those social media cards are something that I spent a lot of time on, and I just freed up so much time just taking that off my plate.
And you know, when I was in emergency mode earlier, I would just get on Fiverr, or Upwork, or somewhere, and try to find somebody to take care of that emergency. That is tough, because you have to train them, right? So you want somebody long term. Can you just sketch out your process for finding and hiring the right VA–what you call your ‘perfect match VA?’ Because that’s a very interesting process.
Jen Lehner 13:36
Yeah, and I’ll just–if you don’t mind, I’ll share a quick overview of it. A graphic.
Carla King 13:42
Okay. So if you’re listening via audio, you’re going to have to come to the video to see this. But you can walk us through it.
Jen Lehner 13:49
And I’ll be descriptive as I’m talking about it. So maybe they won’t really need the visual, but I need permission from you to share.
But Upwork and Fiverr–while you’re doing that–I will say that there’s still a place for that, and I still use it. If you need your Kindle book formatted–fantastic if you need to just get someone really good at that. Or you just need someone to do some random WordPress coding on a WordPress sales page. I still will jump over there. But generally speaking, what I’m trying to spread to the world–the message I’m trying to get out there–is that you do want your perfect match virtual assistant, who’s going to grow with your business over the course of years. This isn’t a person of contract or fly by night who’s with you a couple of months. That’s what we’re going for.
Are you seeing this graphic? Alright, I’ll try to zoom in. But all of it is pretty much what you would expect. Nothing super mind blowing, right? You post the job posting that links to an application. You’ll see that we’ve got this semi-automated system that allows us to very, in mass, screen people out. So that’s what you need to know about this step where you see red. But there are two things I think are a bit unique that I want to point out to you.
So this one is–you’ll see it says test task. So after they’ve been screened through an automated preliminary few steps, the next thing we’re going to do is ask them to do a test task. And this has to be very short. And it has to be something they could do in 5 or 10 minutes, because you’re not paying them for this. But this is an opportunity for us to really assess not so much their skill as their attention to detail. And then, once that happens, you’ll see this–another little red little PDF there. That’s a spreadsheet that has conditional formatting. So again, based on how they perform on the test tasks, we can screen out lots of people at one time, then they’re sent to a Google Form interview. And I know this looks daunting, but if you can bake a cake and follow a recipe on the back of Duncan Hines, you could absolutely do this. It’s very, very recipe-like and formulaic.
Then you send them to a forum interview. So not a not a face to face, just to a piece of paper where you ask more questions. And then again, we’ve got the semi-automated vetting process that will screen people out.
Now we push through to this other blue circle there. And you’ll see it says one-week paid trial. This is very unique. And I love it so much. I kind of feel like–why don’t we do this with everything? Well, I skipped over the interview, there is a Zoom interview that you do as well. And most people tend to be really blown away with the applicants on the Zoom interview. Because by the time you’ve done all this screening, and the people who arrive at your interview show up, people just tend to be blown away. Because number one–and we are talking about the Philippines here. I mean, this process will work anywhere, but I’m speaking specifically to the Philippines. English is a first language in the Philippines. Most people there learn it from the age of kindergarten all the way through high school. So they’re fluent in English. They tend to almost all have Bachelors degrees, if not advanced degrees–very highly skilled. And it just so happens, just very lovely as well. So when you are having these conversations in Zoom, people just tend to be like, ‘Oh my gosh, I don’t know who I’m going to pick, like, there’s four people I love.’
What I recommend is–you know what, let’s get those four people, and put them in this paid trial week, okay? So you have four people going through a trial week–and I’m not going to get into details of how we do that. But I will tell you that it is very, also very recipe driven. There’s a template for how to do that. That is where the rubber meets the road, and where you can really feel good about–after that week–’Okay, this is my perfect match VA.’
What’s so funny is oftentimes it is not the most dazzling person in the interview, nor the person who had the best resume, or the best portfolio. It comes down to this trial week. Because you can see–are they going to pepper you with questions all week long and slow you down? Are they going to be resourceful? Are they going to not communicate with you at all? You see it all in the test week. So that’s just the hiring process. Once you hire the person the fun really begins.
Carla King 19:03
It is a great process. And I thought I could do it myself. You’ve got all the details in there. It was super easy to follow. And it’s such a safety net, really. Because I did want to hire a bunch of them, and it really came down to just the one. I want to address–why the Philippines? There is an exchange rate, there is a quality of life. Some people are like, “Why are you paying so little money? You know, that’s really not fair.”
Jen Lehner 19:35
Let’s talk about it. Because it drives me insane. People try to make it controversial. It is really not controversial. Number one, this is not about going and trying to find the cheapest person on the planet. At all.
The reason this works is that yes, we are able to leverage exchange rates, okay. And the fact is–the dollar goes a lot farther in the Philippines. And I will show you a quick graphic of that in just a second. But first, what I want to say is that–the model that I have set up. I mean, people do do that. People do say, ‘Let me find the cheapest person.’ And you will find people who will say, ‘$2 an hour. Yeah, I’ll do that for $2 an hour.’ We don’t do that.
The model that I show is so that both people can grow together. So you do start at a very low hourly rate, okay. But it is temporary. Because you, as an authorpreneur, or small entrepreneur, just starting out your business–to hire someone for 40 hours a week, at $50 an hour is just cost prohibitive. Most people cannot do that, right?
But you kind of need 20-40 hours a week from someone on a weekly basis to see any real difference. To see that momentum that we’re talking about. So what happens is, you bring them in at this low introductory rate, and then your business will grow quickly. As it grows, you start to give raises. My VA’s now are pretty much at a US rate, okay? They’ve been with me for years and years. It took me a while to get there, right? But we got there. And so you’re giving raises as you grow.
And then I talk about doing other things, like surprising and delighting with sending flowers and cakes and balloons. And I have all sorts of links to help you do that. So we’re doing that. The third thing is, you can introduce some sort of profit-sharing model. It’s way less complicated than it sounds. It’s just as simple as saying, ‘Hey, we’ve got a book launch coming up. If we sell X copies–this is our stretch goal–boy, everybody’s gonna get a big fat gift bonus then!’
This is our good, better, best sort of scenario. And you can structure it that way. You can give 5%, you could give an extra couple hundred dollars. But you’re doing that all along. And then at the end of the year–in the Philippines, they have a thing called the 13th month. You can Google it, I won’t go into it now. But basically, it’s like a Christmas bonus. So we’ve got all those things in.
And then finally, and I feel like this is really what makes it so special. So first of all, with those bonuses, and with the profit-sharing model, you quickly get someone who’s going to buy into your business. They feel a part of your business, because they literally have ownership at some level in your business, right? If only for that particular launch, starting out, they feel invested in it. Because they’re going to stand a gain from that–from your success is their success.
Then lastly is the salary model. This is a relief for you too, because you don’t have to micromanage every hour that someone spends in your business and worrying about their timecards. It doesn’t happen overnight. But, you know, after maybe a month to even as late as a year, when you understand that this is a person that you don’t want to ever leave you, and they are your perfect match VA. As soon as you know that, you say to them, ‘Hey, I love you.’ You don’t have to say I love you. But, ‘Hey, this is working out really well. And what I would like to present to you is–I would like to say I’m going to pay you for 40 hours a week, every single week. Some weeks you might work 30, but I’m still going to pay you for 40. Some weeks, you might work 45. I’m still going to pay you for 40. And built into that as well, you’re going to have some sick days, and some vacation days.’ And it’s just amazing.
The true magic starts to happen at that point, because this person–this virtual assistant–they don’t have to look for gigs anymore. They don’t have to hustle anymore. They get to be completely focused on your business. It is such a comfort to them to know that they’re going to get the same amount every single week. And 9 times out of 10–and I’m sure you can attest to this, Carla–what happens is–I have to tell my team to take vacation days, okay? They’re very, very loyal. And I don’t have to really worry about sick days. And more often than not, it’s never that they’re not working enough–I can tell you that. That is really never an issue. But again, this doesn’t happen overnight. But once you know, this is something that I recommend.
So I want to show you, real quickly, when we talk about the exchange rate. I want to show you a graphic. This is very recent. And my team did this. Because I said to them, ‘Hey, you’re the only ones that can come up with this, and I want it to be accurate.’ And we’ve done this twice now. So this is the most updated version. So again, at a very, very introductory rate–So when they first start, we’ve got $5.50 an hour, okay? At 40 hours a week that amounts to 44,000 pesos [$830.00] for the month.
So this is what that covers–their rent, their electricity, their water bill, food, a 25 kilogram sack of rice, toiletries and other grocery items, an internet subscription, health benefits and retirement, school fees–and that’s a private high school, because we have a VA who has a student in a private high school–and then income tax. With 3350 pesos leftover, which is not a lot of pesos.
And so again, we start at this. We want them to grow with us just as fast as we can. So if you have a VA who’s in the Philippines, and someone gives you the side eye–which it happens. It happens to me all the time because they see me promoting this. It’s like ‘Oh gosh, wait a minute. Let me just inform you that this is not that–this is the opposite of that.’
And then also, Carla, there’s one other thing that people get a little rumpled about. And they’re like, “Well, shouldn’t we employ locally?” But my personal belief is sort of like– people are people, but whatever, wherever they are in the world. But the other thing is, this does help your local economy. Because guess what, if you don’t get support, and you don’t grow, how long are you going to be in business, number one? And number two, as you grow and you become more successful, you now have more money to spend on local vendors if you want to.
So now, locally, if I want to hire the best videographer that I can, I can now employ all sorts of local vendors. Because my business is successful, because I have support. So it really is a win all the way around, I can’t see anything bad about it.
Carla King 27:07
I love that you said that. And I’m going to tell you what the turning point for me was–is when Niccaa, your assistant, told me about her previous job. Do you want to talk about that? I’ll just review what my impression was. When she got on with us, she was driving, she was making less money. She had to be there at a certain time and date. And she didn’t have much vacation. And when she started working as a VA, she had all this freedom, she made more money, she didn’t have to spend money for gas, and car, and all of that. So it was just such a win for her. And that put it into perspective for me as well.
Jen Lehner 28:03
Yeah, I mean, they are doing what we’re doing, too. Working for themselves. They want the freedom that we want, for all the reasons that we want it. They want to have the option to work from home–to be near their kids, to help take care of aging parents, whatever it is. They want that, too. You know what I mean? They want the same thing that we do, and we’re able to offer them that. Because, yeah, so now Nicca doesn’t have to drive to an office through hellish traffic every day, you know?
Carla King 28:36
Right. Well, I wish we could talk so much longer, but we’re out of time. So I’d love for you just to tell us where we can find you online. About your programs, and social media–where we can reach out to you.
Jen Lehner 28:51
I wish I could say it’s Jen Lehner across all social media channels, but I couldn’t get that across all social media channels. So the easiest thing is just to go to JenLehner.com. And I also have tons of free resources on my YouTube channel. And in fact–and I know you could put this in your show notes or whatever, Carla–but it’s JenLehner.com/varesources. So I just have tons and tons of blog posts, and videos, and everything, so you can explore more there. And then my program is called Front Row CEO. And you can learn about that at frontrowceo.com.
Carla King 29:29
And that only comes around every once in a while because it’s a group thing. So yeah, get on the list for that. Thank you so much for being our guest today, Jen.
Jen Lehner 29:38
I really enjoyed it. Thank you.
Carla King 29:40
And thank you to our listeners for joining us today and every week. For a list of guests and topics just check our schedule on the site, use your favorite search engine, or better yet, sign up for our mailing list at NonfictionAuthorsAssociation.com.
Quotes from our guest
‘Now’s the time you get to write that signature talk. Now’s the time you get to craft that amazing webinar that you’ve been wanting to do, or to write that little mini course that’s going to accompany your book. Now you can do that. But when you were bogged down in all the other stuff–it’s like having cinder blocks attached to your wings, and you get to just snip those off and fly.’
But generally speaking, what I’m trying to spread to the world–the message I’m trying to get out there–is that you do want your perfect match virtual assistant, who’s going to grow with your business over the course of years.
‘In every possible way, having someone there to support you, and help you, and take those tasks off your plate changes everything pretty much immediately–if you are very deliberate in transferring that time. So if you’re handing over time for someone to do these admin tasks for you, and then you take that time to do these other more important things in terms of–that are more aligned with you being the visionary, you being the author, you being the influencer, leader, entrepreneur, then the results are immediate.’
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