Q&A with Joy Duling
1) Joy, how long have you been doing what you do?
I launched a25hourday.com in mid-2005. My husband had taken a new job and our family had moved about an hour and a half away from where I worked. I couldn't imagine a lifestyle where three hours of every day would be sucked up by a commute. So, when my employer offered a pension buy-out, I took it as a sign from the universe that I was destined to do something else. I took the cash and launched my business.
Like most new business owners, I initially worked with anyone who would hire me, so I experienced a fabulous blend of small business, governmental and nonprofit clients, but I found that the work that resonated most for me seemed to be the support that I would give to membership programs. I am naturally drawn to those who feel called to achieve a higher purpose and who want to be a beacon for their industry or cause. These sorts of leaders are growth-motivated, entrepreneurial and want to see results fast. To me, that makes the work feel inspiring and meaningful.
2) Who are your clients exactly?
My clients run membership programs. Most often, they are the person who originally founded the organization and typically, they have just reached the point where they know that they can't possibly continue doing it all on their own.
They may be nervous about the commitment associated with hiring an employee. They may not have the physical space for someone to work with them. They may be concerned about whether hiring a single person is going to actually satisfy everything that they think they need help with.
3) How are you different from other “virtual assistants”?
The work that we do for clients is a blend of productivity strategy and operational support.
If you need an executive assistant to serve as your gatekeeper, manage your inbox or schedule your meetings, we can do that... but we also do our best to make your organization run better. We handle all sorts of techy stuff, shore up your marketing and provide advice around processes that aren't working quite the way you'd like. There is no hand-holding required when you work with our team.
Unlike many virtual assistants that struggle to gain enough clients to survive, we've been in business since 2005 and are here for the long-haul.
4) You mention a team. Who is that? Does that mean that your clients aren’t working directly with you?
Everyone has their own personal area of brilliance and mine happens to be on the strategy and planning side of the work. My clients don't need me personally to be the person tweaking their database or sending out renewal invoices to their customers this month. So, I have staff who work with me who are awesome at that kind of work.
I generally hire staff who live right here in Central Illinois, although there are a couple of exceptions for specialized functions. Every team member goes through an intensive training period where they shadow an existing staffer for a period of time, then are directly observed for another extended period before they ever are allowed to handle a client's projects independently. My hiring standards are high. A staffer only makes the cut if they're a strong writer and verbal communicator, naturally organized, able to multi-task without getting stressed out, pay attention to detail and - quite frankly - they have to be able to handle working with high-energy, frenetic leaders who are going to throw a million ideas at them and expect them to make sense of it all. I hire people who love that sort of energy and thrive in an ever-changing environment.
Even though we are team-based in our support, one person always serves as a client's primary lead. I think that it's important to have that reliable point person. As a team, though, we all serve as back-up for each other. We have systems set up so that multiple members of the team have visibility into client requests, so we know if something has been handled or if another member of the team needs to jump in to help. It’s a pretty cool support model and works very well.
5) What results can I expect from working with you and your team?
I always say that clients can experience relief from working with us at any level, but the results certainly magnify over time and with support intensity.
Ultimately, the feedback that we hear from clients is that they feel like their operations are more functional, they are able to be more responsive to customers and they no longer worry that details are falling between the cracks.
Personally, I see more of them able to step away from work more easily. This year, we had leaders at two different organizations take maternity leave while we filled in. Both were able to disconnect from the day-to-day demands of their jobs to enjoy the time with their new babies. If something critical arose, my team knew how to reach both of them, but I was pleasantly surprised how rarely that happened. That experience, to me, solidified the value of what we’re bringing to an executive. To be able to disconnect for three months and not return to a mess has to feel very good.
6) Can I contact some of your former clients to see what it’s like to work with you?
I’m happy to provide references. Just ask.
7) If I'm really feeling stressed, how quickly can I expect results?
I think it depends on exactly what we’re going to do to support you, but I believe most people can feel a difference within the first 30 days. In fact, we offer a Risk-Free Guarantee, so if you’re *not* feeling some relief within 30 days, you can request a refund and we’ll give you back every penny.
We do this for 2 reasons – 1) we’ve worked with enough organizations in this manner that we’re experienced and capable... and 2) if someone’s not experiencing a good fit, we prefer to know that right away and be able to connect them with a resource that’s going to work better for them.
8) Will I recover my investment?
I believe a good administrative team can pay for themselves, but this also depends on how you leverage your "found time". Let’s say, for example, we save you 10 hours a week, how would you spend that time? Would you spend it in revenue-generating activities… or spending more time with your family… or perhaps catching up on industry education? These are all valuable ways to spend your time, but monetarily, you'd see different impact. Ultimately, it's important to determine what you want to get out of your engagement with us and then we design your support plan to make those personal goals easier for you to accomplish.
9) How long is your program?
We do tend to work in long-term relationships with clients. There’s no contractual obligation to do so, of course. It’s just that what we do works. Our clients feel supported, the work gets done and the relationship simply continues.
I think one of the most beautiful things about these longer term relationships is that my team really gets to know the nuances of the organization, their key concerns and their goals for the future. There's a syncronicity that developes over time.
10) Do you accept credit cards?
Yes, this is not a problem. We can also send an invoice for payment by check. For all new engagements, a service agreement (contract) is required and a deposit must be submitted prior to work beginning.
11) I’m intrigued. How can I find out if this would work for me?
A Get Acquainted Call is always the best way to talk specifically about your support needs.
12) I’m almost ready but I'm a little nervous about working virtually. How will you know what I need done?
First of all, we'll have conversations up-front about how you handle everything currently and we'll work within your comfort level. However, I don't think it's all that unusual nowadays to work with people virtually.
When you work from home, how do you communicate with others? ... phone, email, chat, project software, shared online file folders, etc. We use similar tools, based on what works best within your workflow.
Many of our clients find it easiest to just send a quick email when they need something. We have that email address automatically route into our team's dashboard where it gets attention from the person who needs to do the work. We can also have form notifications, shopping cart invoices, etc. go into that same dashboard. It gives us remarkable ability to stay on top of many moving parts and for a client to get the benefit of a team approach.
13) I'm almost ready but I have a couple more questions.
Just schedule a call and we'll chat.