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 decided that I simply didn’t want to spend three hours every day commuting back and forth. I’ve always been a big believer in spending your time in ways that bring value to your life. A three-hour commute just wasn’t in sync with that. So, I took the plunge into self-employment and gave myself six months to see if I could make a go of it, transferring my skills into the private sector.
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 association leaders. 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?
Most of my clients lead small associations. They may work all alone or they may have a small staff, but they come to us because they are tapped out on resources and they know that they need extra hands if they want to take their operations to a higher level.
Before shifting to their current role, they typically worked within their industry or for larger organizations, so the transition to being a solo professional or supported by only a small team can be stressful. I think most leaders of small organizations start out really excited about their new adventure and they don’t mind having their hands on everything because they are in learning mode. However, it doesn’t take long for reality to sink in and they begin to realize that trying to be *everything* is extremely difficult. In fact, I don’t know of anyone who is good at everything and interested in everything, but yet small organization leaders expect that of themselves all the time.
Not *all* of my clients are associations, but certainly the majority.
3) How are you different from other “virtual assistants”?
Well, first of all, I don't think my business really is a traditional virtual assistance practice. The work that we do is really a blend of strategic business planning and operational support. Virtual operations manager would probably be more descriptive.
Most virtual assistant practices don't make it long-term, but we've been in business since 2005 and we're not going anywhere. Not only do we know what it takes to run a successful business for ourselves, but we also understand what it takes for YOU to run a successful business and that expertise really sets us apart.
Another significant differentiator is the fact that most virtual assistants need hand-holding in order to do work for you. This actually makes your job harder because you can't experience the 'aaaaahhhh' kind of relief from delegation if you have to spend a lot of time directing the person who is supposed to be helping you.
With our team, you get strategic thinking and business experience. We are totally capable of articulating the best path to get you to your goals. That is a rare quality to find among virtual assistants.
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 strategic planning and facilitation side. My clients don't need me personally to be the person maintaining files in their DropBox 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. They go 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) How does your support program actually work?
Our team is here specifically to make it easier for an association to operate. When you're a one-person shop, or even a two or three-person shop, you don't have a lot of time to waste on figuring out administrative tasks. You just want the work to happen. So that's our focus.
We have three levels so that there’s flexibility in how much support is provided:
The Copper Level is like a SWAT Team that swoops in, figures out what needs to happen, does the work and then moves on until you need us again. This is the approach that we take when an organization just needs one-time help to make something happen, like setting up a new website, transitioning to new invoicing software, launching a big event with online registration, etc.
Our Silver Level offers wrap-around support for a CEO or Executive Director who typically works alone. Many of our clients are solo professionals who are run their organization single-handedly. Partnering with our team provides an opportunity to be supported without having to take on the responsibility of an employee. They don't have to worry about where a new employee is going to sit, how they are going to be trained, how to supervise, etc. Instead, we provide the executive with access to an experienced administrative team that knows how to simply get things done.
For larger organizations, our Gold Package is a better fit. It's essentially the same administrative support, but we also build in extra tools and processes around team communication and coordination.
6) 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.
7) 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.
8) 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.
9) 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.
10) 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.
11) Do you accept credit cards?
Yes, this is not a problem. We can also send an invoice for payment by check.
12) 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.
13) 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.
14) I'm almost ready but I have a couple more questions.
Just schedule a no-cost, no-obligation consultation below and we'll chat.