How Much Can You Really Remove Yourself as the Bottleneck of Growth? (Myth of the Super VA)
Ever since the book The 4-Hour Workweek came out in April of 2007, lifestyle designers and entrepreneurs have been chasing the holy grail that author Tim Ferriss promised:
Own and run a successful (read: profitable, big profits profitable) business, while investing less than four hours a week of your own time and work
Though intrigued by the concept, I have never been a 4HWW groupie.
This was mostly due to the conversations I had with devout fans when it first came out, who ardently proclaimed to me that by following the blueprint, anyone can make enough money to maintain the lifestyle they design. Especially with the advent of online business and commerce.
Yet, having a natural disposition that tends towards skepticism at best, I immediately noticed the suspicious overnight success narrative of the story.
Sure, Ferriss was able to work himself out of most of his day-to-day tasks in his business. But that was only after he had worked so hard to create a business (BrainQUICKEN LLC) that made him $40K a month that he had a nervous breakdown during a month-long European vacation.
“I land in London and intend to continue on to Spain for four weeks of recharging my batteries before returning to the salt mines. I start my relaxation by promptly having a nervous breakdown the first morning.” – The 4-Hour Workweek
Sounds appealing, right?
In hindsight, he realizes that working 8-10 hours a day on his business, seven days a week, made him pretty frickin’ miserable. Instead, he figures out a way to stop working that hard, but still make that much (and more) money.
Which left me to wonder…would he have been able to craft his 4-Hour Workweek without first having a business that made $40K a month? Further, would he have been able to make $40K a month if he didn’t first work 8-10 hours a day on his business, seven days a week?
You’re Working Too Hard
It’s no secret that most of the work we do for our jobs, and even the work we do in our businesses and careers, is nothing more than busy-work.
Tasks that keep us pushing papers and clicking buttons, to convince people that they need to pay us money to do all the things we do. Except any trained howler monkey with a laptop and an understanding of process docs could probably do at least 80% of it.
In fact, the 80/20 Rule (or Pareto Principle) mathematically qualifies that you get the highest returns from a much smaller percent of your output. In 19th century Italy, Pareto proved this not only with real estate (80% of the land was owned by 20% of the population) but also agriculture (20% of the peapod plants in his garden produced 80% of the edible peas).
In business, this is commonly understood to be that 80% of your revenue will come from 20% of your client or customer base. In Ferriss’ case, 80% of his BrainQUICKEN LLC sales came from two very important customers.
So if we only make money off 20% of the work we do, why the hell are we doing the other 80%?!
Enter the All-Powerful Super VA
Ferriss’ blog post lauding the glory and wonder that is all things virtual assistants, titled Mail Your Child to Sri Lanka or Hire Indian Pimps: Extreme Personal Outsourcing summarizes pretty well how much of his life he was interested in having other people do.
In other words, all of it.
And why wouldn’t you? Virtual assistants are brilliant additions to your team and business, and will absolutely help you offload some of the 80% of busy work that you are currently wasting your time and resources on.
Spending four hours on customer service emails, that essentially equate you you clicking on canned responses again and again since they all ask the same thing?
Going back and forth five times, trying to schedule a Skype call with a vendor?
Designing banner ads and opt-in boxes in your free cloud graphic software?
Overseeing the logistics of shipping and analytics, which basically means checking boxes and confirming spreadsheets?
Do you really think these tasks are the best use of your time?
While I don’t agree with Ferriss’ foundational hypothesis that anyone can run a profitable and successful business in just four hours a week, at least to start, I do heartily agree with his realization that he was probably working too hard doing all the things, instead of focusing on the things that needed him the most.
Just because he worked himself into the ground building BrainQUICKEN LLC, that doesn’t mean that everyone should have to follow the same painful steps that we are being fed in business classes and traditional job roles.
If you really want to grow your business, you’re going to have to replace yourself.
Does a Super VA or Other Team Member Really Make That Much of a Difference?
Hiring a team, and recently a producer/assistant managing editor/right-hand lady, was easily the best call I’ve made for my agency since opening 18 months ago.
But I’m still figuring it all out, and stumbling along the way.
See, I’ve spent a fair amount of time in the 4HWW temple, by virtue of my clients and peer group. I keep in touch with my friends back home mostly so that I still have a touchpoint in the reality that exists outside online business.
Having spent all this time drinking the koolaid, in previous iterations of this position I have flailed hopelessly into missed assignments, hurt feelings, and agitated clients. Three things I actively try to avoid at all costs.
What was the #1 mistake I was making, that so many other growing businesses make as well?
When a Super VA Isn’t So Super
I somehow believed I could quickly and easily remove myself from the operations of my company, by putting massive amounts of responsibility and workload on someone who was not prepared and/or equipped to handle them.
There are some definite red flags that seem to pop up for just about everyone, whether it was me and my little <5 person team or a huge organization of 20+.
You Get What You Pay For
Part of the promise of the mythical Super VA is that you will get someone extremely qualified for extremely cheap rates.
That may have been true in 2007 when Ferriss was outsourcing his customer support and online dating communications to virtual assistants. Heck, it was probably still true in 2013 or so.
But the world is changing.
I went through two Super VA’s in the first few months of business, winter of 2014, when I attempted to hire the “highly-skilled, less than $10/hr, general virtual assistant.”
Shockingly, though they were great at selling themselves as everything I wanted in an assistant, when it came to the execution of work and management of projects, they were woefully ill-equipped.
I was checking in with them daily to confirm they had done the work they stated they were going to do, reviewing everything for massive errors, and consistently having to have the “hard conversations” about quality and work product.
What else did I expect for $6/hr from someone who was likely balancing myself and three other clients?
More people I talk to are beginning to move back to the West for these hires, that are going to be charged with the day-to-day management of your operations. Whether that is hiring apprentices to work on their location independent teams (as we do here at Empire Flippers) or full-out hiring full-time employees or team members from sites like HireMyMom and Craigslist, the trend is becoming if you have a business that is more than a few adsense sites or ecommerce store, you are going to have to pay for the work to be done right.
You Don’t Know How to Ask for What You Need
Having never worked with an assistant to my entire business, I was all giddy with glee to be able to hand off all the tasks that exhausted me creatively, or that I frankly wasn’t all that great at.
So I did what everyone recommends, creating a list of all the things I needed done, and sent it to them.
I’d email a few times throughout the week, attempting to “light a fire” on the work to be done, but the conversations eventually ended up in the angry and frustrated place, where I had to start making demands and offering up threats on about what would happen if the work was not done.
The Super VA (I’ve had three outsourced and two internal to my team) would get nervous and stressed, running around attempting to read my mind.
Since then, with our current assistant managing editor, she got the pleasure of having daily calls with me for the first month in her position. Eventually, it weaned back to calls three times a week and regular daily communication on Slack, with a channel specifically devoted to my task assignments for her.
She knows exactly what she is supposed to be working on, and has regular opportunities to ask for clarification and guidance.
You Have Terrible Systems
Dovetailing off from not knowing what you are asking for, is not knowing how to show someone how to do what you do.
My brain works at approximately eight-zillion miles an hour, in approximately nine-thousand different directions, at any one moment (conservative estimate). For me to do what I do, you really need to be up in that grey-matter, getting a piece of the action.
To try to take all that information and process out of my brain cells and give it to someone else is about as fun as the Spanish Inquisition.
There’s a reason that manual and training writers get paid a ton of money…that shit is BORING.
But if you don’t have those SOP’s and other systems in place to show a Super VA how to do exactly what you do, how can you even expect to replace yourself with them?
You Will Never Get Someone to Care as Much as You
Look, I’ve worked extremely close to some fantastic entrepreneurs as their Managing Editor. Like, I would get more upset and invested about issues within the business than the owners at times. We’re talking ugly crying, angry spews of obscenities, and more than one elated and very inebriated success celebration.
But at the end of the day, they were a client. An invoice that I sent someone monthly in trade for my time and expertise.
Your Super VA could live and die for your business, and they will still never care about it as much as you do.
If stuff goes down, they’ll be able to move on. They’ll be able to bounce back, find another opportunity, and talk about that loser they used to work for whose business failed (of course through no fault of their own).
You’re left being the loser whose business failed because you left it 100% in the hands of someone who wouldn’t care for it the same way that you would.
Working ON Your Business Rather Than IN Your Business
There are few phrases that actually have elicit a “nails on chalkboard” reaction from me.
Among them are “Have you seen the new Kardashians episode?”, “I’m only telling you this because I’m a vegan and/or paleo fiend, and you should know why you are wrong”, and “You need to work ON your business rather than IN your business.”
Like the 4HWW, the concept behind working ON your business rather than IN your business is admirable and useful.
As a business owner, there will eventually come a time when your time is better spent on things that will grow or sustain the company. Things like marketing, speaking gigs, team management, networking with other peers, writing a book or launching a podcast…whatever your particular zone of genius may be.
Or maybe you just want to have a business that will get you to a hammock on the beach, where you barely have to log in more than three times a week ever again.
Regardless, as we know from the 80/20 rule, there is a good 80% of your role that you should be delegating yourself out of on a regular basis.
If you want to focus on other things on the business, you need to not be IN the middle of everything. If you want to be sipping fruity coconut drinks from your coconut cowboy saddle, you need to not be IN the middle of everything.
Truth is, the more you keep yourself in the middle of everything, the harder it is for everyone else to do their job.
You become a huge pain-in-the-ass bottleneck to the process you worked so hard to create so you didn’t have to be in the dredges of the bottle in the first place.
Yet there will always be things that will require your attention when your name is on the letterhead (and the paychecks and the offshore corporation filings).
Which is why, you’ll never be able to completely remove yourself from your business.
But you can remove yourself as the bottleneck to your own growth.
Hire a good, well-paid, experienced Super VA (or employee or team member), train them with the proper systems, give them the channels necessary to seek you input, and still pop in every now and again to make sure things aren’t going to hell in a handbasket.
Even though it is still going to be a fair bit of hard work, no one needs to be having nervous breakdowns to be an entrepreneur.