If there is one trait I notice in almost all successful real estate investors, it’s that they’re not afraid to invest in themselves. They’ll attend a seminar even if it destabilizes their bank accounts. When they find resources that will help them grow, they dive in.
I love the way Ryan Holiday signs off his reading newsletter: “I promised myself a long time ago that if I saw a book that interested me I’d never let time or money or anything else prevent me from having it.” Ryan is only 27 but has achieved great success, including a bestselling book (published at age 25). He has succeeded largely because he constantly invests in his education.
There is always a fear that goes along with self investment. You might not see the immediate ROI. What if you don’t gain anything useful from the seminar, training course, or book? Then the investment is a total flop.
Let me ask you this: do you hit on all of your real estate investments? As we like to say, we’re in this with both feet at all times. We’re not going to hit a home run with every investment. It’s the same with personal investment. You can’t let fear steer you away.
Hiring help is investing in yourself
When you’re starting out, you might do everything yourself. I’ve seen it a thousand times and will see it a thousand times more. Some people have that inherent drive, where they can go out and chase down leads, close deals, handle all the paperwork, and still find time to generate new ideas.
That can’t last forever. Eventually you’ll get stuck, and getting stuck leads to burnout. One person can do only so much. Great investors think not only like investors but also like businesspeople. And businesspeople know that they need a staff to support them.
Think about it this way. How much would you pay someone to handle your paperwork? That’s essentially how much you’re paying yourself to perform those tasks. Isn’t your time better spent chasing down those leads, so you can generate more business? Isn’t it more valuable to come up with new ideas and work on growing your business?
Of course it is. That’s why you have to hire people to handle lower level tasks. Those tasks are important, even urgent. But your time is better spent on important, non-urgent tasks. Those are the ones that help you take the big steps.
You have the same 24 hours a day as everyone else. If you spend 30 minutes on paperwork, that’s 30 minutes you’ll never get back. If you hire an employee to handle your paperwork, you’re investing in yourself. You’re paying someone else to handle certain tasks so that you can better spend your time on what will really grow your business.
Dipping in your toes
Hiring staff is not as easy as it sounds. You can’t just put an ad in the paper, or online, and magically expect the right candidates to find you. For starters, you have to know exactly what kind of candidate you want. What tasks do you need them to perform? What kind of experience do you think is ideal? For someone inexperienced in hiring, these questions can be impossible to answer.
Many real estate investors I know have grappled with the hiring conundrum. They know they need support staff, but are reluctant to hire. Part of it is that they don’t want to surrender any control. Part of it is that they don’t know how to hire. As you probably know by now, sitting on your hands is the worst thing you can do.
How do you handle this situation? Many real estate professionals, agents and investors alike, have started staffing by hiring virtual assistants. I first came across the idea in the same place I learned about the low-information diet: Timothy Ferriss’s The Four-Hour Workweek. They sound like an ideal solution for anyone who needs a staff, but has reservations about hiring locally.
The market for virtual assistants has only grown since 2007, when Ferriss published his bestseller. With the growing market has come many improvements. Virtual assistants can do so much more than they did seven years ago. That expanded capability is what makes them ideal for real estate investors looking for some support.
Virtual assistants and custom support
Like most people, you probably get too much email. How much of it is actually useful? Very little. You can spend hours separating the wheat from the chaff. Even if the task is worth your time — it might be the way you find leads — you can delegate the task to someone else. As Ferriss described, virtual assistants are great for filtering email.
We’ve already discussed paperwork processing and other administrative tasks. These are necessary for any business to function. Yet you can get bogged down in these tasks to the point where other aspects of your business are suffering. Delegating administrative tasks, such as invoicing, bookkeeping, and contracts, can free up your time for the more impactful tasks.
Again, the scope of a virtual assistant’s role has changed in the last half decade. They still handle administrative tasks, but you can delegate even more work to them. For instance, you probably do some marketing on the internet. That has become an essential part of any investor’s marketing strategy. But how much time do you spend on your website? Are you adding content, optimizing it for search engines, finding paid ad placements, and a host of other internet marketing tasks? Do you even have the time?
What about customer relations management? How often, and how many times, do you follow up with your leads? Chances are you don’t follow up enough. One of the most mind-blowing statistics I’ve ever heard: 80 percent of sales are made between the fifth and 12th contact. Most investors I know don’t even follow up three times, let alone 12. There’s always a fresh prospect who seems more promising. Having a virtual assistant means delegating those tedious follow up calls. But you know what? Close a few deals on the sixth or seventh contact, and the virtual assistant pays for him or herself.
Not every virtual assistant can perform tasks of this level, of course. If you hire someone in the way Ferriss did, chances are you won’t get much CRM support. You certainly won’t get any internet marketing. A company like Worldwide 101 virtual assistants provide a high level of support, such as email marketing, creating sales pages, and even help with your web design. Searching out a company like this, and paying the premium price (still far less than full-time in-office assistant), will give you the support you need.
Advantages over in-house employees
We’ve already been over the hiring issue and its complexities. If you still think that hiring locally is better, well, you might be right. Everyone has different needs. But consider a few points about local hires.
First of all, you’re considering a very small pool of people. In the past this was unavoidable. Without the internet everyone had to work on-site, so you dealt with the local candidate selection because you had no alternative. But with broadband internet connections you don’t need to hire in-house. You can go outside and look for a contractor.
(Which, by the way you can look on a service like Craigslist for a virtual assistant. You might find it a bit tougher, but if you advertise for someone you just might find a good match. But I would recommend working with a firm, since there is a greater level of accountability.)
When you hire someone, you have many additional business considerations. You have to set up a payroll service so you can properly deduct payroll taxes. That means withholding their taxes, paying the government, and forking over half of their Social Security tax obligation. You don’t have to provide them with benefits, as long as your company employs fewer than 50 people, but to get the best candidates you will probably have to provide healthcare at the minimum.
Working from home mostly? Chances are you don’t want an employee in your house for eight to 10 hours a day. You’ll have to get an office. And what if that employee up and quits one day? Worse, what if he or she steals valuable information? It’s not common, but it does happen. A virtual assistant might up and quit, but if you go with a firm there is accountability. They will find someone else for you, if they’re any good.
Then there’s the big one: training. Can you find a properly trained employee within your local area? Chances are they’ll need some level of training. One great advantage of virtual assistants is that they come trained in many areas. They might not know your business specifically, but they have many underlying skills. They can handle a spreadsheet and most accounting software, at a bare minimum.
An employee without the hassle
The right virtual assistant will be like an employee, even though they are technically employed by the firm you hired them from. To get the most out of virtual assistants, you have to treat them like employees. This means:
Setting expectations. No employee can succeed unless she knows what you expect of her. The same goes for virtual assistants. Let them know exactly what you expect, so you’re both on the same page.
Allowing a learning curve. Even a trained assistant will take time to get used to you and your business. Allow them time to grow into a role. They won’t be fully up to speed the first month, and probably not the second month. But if you work with them like you would an employee, they can take off before long.
Create clear policies. If you work by yourself, chances are you don’t have an office manual. It’s time to create one of those. If you’re working with your first virtual assistant, you can work together to create it. Lay out some ideas, and let the assistant put it together. That’s the beauty of having an assistant, after all!
Communicate clearly. We save the most important for last. If you don’t communicate consistently with your assistant, you can’t expect to get the most out of the relationship. Being clear with your needs and expectations will make an assistant’s job easier. Just as it would for an in-house employee.
As I said, working with a virtual assistant isn’t for everyone. Some investors just aren’t comfortable with the idea, especially if the assistant has to handle sensitive financial information and transactions. Failure to hire an assistant won’t doom your business. Failing to act when action is necessary will. If you’re at the stage where you absolutely need to hire in order to grow, you might consider a virtual assistant.