170: Build a VA-Run Company with Joe Rare

Joe Rare is the Owner and CEO of Level 9 Virtual, a first-in-class virtual assistants service provider on a mission to give business owners freedom of time and money through outsourcing. We discuss the future of work in an age of virtual assistants, the best places to find trained VAs, and how to build your own VA team. 

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Build a VA-Run Company with Joe Rare

Our Joe Rare, owner and CEO of Level9 Virtual, a business that gives business owners the freedom of time and money through outsourcing. Joe, welcome to the show.

Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.

I’m very excited to have you. You are offering a service and are an expert in a topic that I think is trending right now, which is outsourcing to virtual assistants overseas and how it allows people to scale their business in a much more lower risk and economical way. So I’m very, very curious about that. But before we plunge in, I’d like to hear your story. How did you fall into this business, how did you find this business, and how did you become kind of an VA outsourcing entrepreneur, if I may call you that?

I got into outsourcing through a lot of people, I think through Tim Ferriss’ book, Four-Hour Workweek. I evaluated that and read it cover to cover multiple times, sat down and actually I built a business from that model. And I actually went page by page and actually built an e-commerce business directly from that specific business model. And part of that was I used virtual assistants to do fulfillment, to run ads for us, and basically everything on the back end. And so that was kind of my first taste into, oh, you can run a business that is run by virtual assistants. So I had, at that time, I think I ended up with five VAs that were actually servicing the business. I didn’t have to work a whole lot. It didn’t grow to be a huge business by any means, but it was a fun e-commerce business. They gave me a lot of time in my mid-20s to run around and travel and see some things. And then ever since then, I’ve continued to keep virtual assistants working for me, with me, in each thing that I was doing. And then I got into marketing because we were pretty good at marketing with the e-com business. And so we continued from there and we continued on and had success with the marketing side and the VAs were great at fulfillment and servicing that. And one day, one of my ops managers, she came and she said, you should actually build a VA company. And I said, well, I don’t know if I wanna do that. And she said, we can run it. And so sure enough, I said, all right, let’s go ahead and do it. And then we started servicing, basically, most of our marketing clients. We just serviced them and provided VAs for them. And that was really successful. Then we took on a few clients here and there. And then when I relaunched one of my agencies after it failed, I realized that I had a really, really good model and I could grow the VA company. And so that exploded and grew. So that’s like the cliff’s nose version.

Okay, so this podcasts is all about frameworks, management blueprints. So what is the framework for establishing a VA run company? What does it look like? 

So for me, the way that I’ve been able to do it, and we’ve done this multiple times. So for me, I can say that this works. It’s not luck. We start off first things first with a utility player. We call it a get shit done VA. And this is the person that’s gonna take all of the monotonous tasks off your plate, checking your email, appointments, scheduling appointments, just admin work. Hey, we need to give access to somebody for this set of documents. We need this sent over to an attorney or whoever. Whatever those tedious tasks are that we all have, everybody has them if you’re running a business. They’re just stuff. Those can be done by a virtual assistant. 95% of it can always be done by a VA. So that’s the first thing that we get off our plate because it creates mental clarity. So that’s the first thing. The next thing is if you look at your business, you need business. You need clients, you need customers. So how do you do that? Well, you can run ads, you can do prospecting, you can do network, you can do cold outreach, all of that stuff. We chose prospecting. We chose cold outreach prospecting, and the goal was for the prospecting VA that we put in place to initiate a dialogue so that I could step in and take over that conversation.

We start off first things first with a utility player. We call it a get shit done VA. And this is the person that's gonna take all of the monotonous tasks off your plate, checking your email, appointments, scheduling appointments, just admin work. Click To Tweet

All I needed was the opportunity to have the conversation. If I could do that, I knew I could close business. So that helped us, okay, let’s get sales opportunities moving. Then if you sell something, now you have to fulfill it. And right now I’m primarily communicating about service based businesses but it’s the same across the board. You have distribution and so forth for product based companies so who’s going to do that? And so that’s when I built out the fulfillment team. And I had, and basically the way that I built it out is I went one on one with the team that was going to be doing it and I walked them through step by step exactly how to do what we were gonna be doing, fulfilled it, we recorded it, they went and did it. After that, they documented it, then they taught it to other people, and then that’s how we built our team. And so we went from the utility player to a prospecting person, I was doing sales at the time, and then we had fulfillment. So for that, we had the entire model of the business set. Now after that, when you get multiple players on a team, you can build in an HR division, and then they can manage all the people. But for now, that was all I needed to get going, and that allowed us to go from, when I relaunched and started my agency over, we went from zero to 109,000 a month in four months. And then we were able to do it again. And then with the VA company, we were able to go from you know, kind of 30,000 a month to about a million a month. And we did that in about five months. And yeah, and it was all run by VAs. So then I was able to actually step myself out of the sales, put a sales team in place. And then now I’m I call myself a strategic advisor and an investor. And that’s it.

That’s fantastic. So basically, the first step is to get this utility person who basically was all the admin stuff for you. Then you outsource prospecting. You call it cold outreach prospecting, especially appointment setting, maybe.

Yeah. Setters. If you don’t want to look at it that way. 

Appointment setter. And then all you have to do is you close the sales that they set you up with. And then you basically systemize the fulfillment, you document everything, or you have them document it and create, turn it into a repeatable process. And then at some point, you have all these people fulfilling stuff, then you have to manage those people. So that’s the HR piece, right? And then the last piece is the sales piece. Now, is the sales piece possible to outsource for overseas or that should be? 

It depends. I think it depends how you groom somebody and how you groom them in. Our sales team, it just happens to be in the US. We’ve gone overseas, we’ve gone to the Philippines, which is where 99% of our team is. They’re in the Philippines, we’ve gone to Latin America. It depends kind of which, how you want to groom somebody. I just found it’s a lot easier and faster to get closers in the US. That just worked. It’s allowed us to put somebody in place, it’s more of a natural, cultural norm in the US for the closing, right? Especially for the Philippines, which is where we spend all of our time, their personality profile is not closing, it’s not. And the difference between a setter and a closer is drastically different. They’re great at setting, they’re great at being calm and collected on the phone, or even via chat, and having really, really good conversations, but they’re not as aggressive when it comes to closing. And so we try not to rely on the Philippine culture because it’s just not in their, you know, kind of in their core cultural norm. So that’s why we chose the US for closers, but we still outsource that. So nobody’s sitting in my home office closing deals with me, right? They’re all working at home.

That’s awesome. So you’re suggesting if someone wants to start that, then they start with their, what you call a utility or get shit done kind of VA. So what is the personality profile of a utility VA? And then the next one up, the prospecting, is that the same kind of person or these are different personalities? 

No, it’s going to be a different type of person. The setter is going to be a different personality profile. That first admin VA, they’re very much like head down, and they just, they’re very task-oriented, and they’re gonna get a lot of things done very, very quickly. And they’re also gonna be a little more assertive and able to go manage on their own, and go do their own thing. See when there’s an opportunity to improve, see when there’s an opportunity to get more things accomplished, and they’ll just do it. You won’t have to ask them. Now, with prospecting, they’re very much a one-track mind. Their job is just to get that outreach and get units in and volume, as many touches as they can get, as many conversations they can get going, and then we of course have scripts and so forth so they can follow those, so they’re very good at following task orders. And so they’re gonna be a little less of the type who’s gonna be proactive and be able to go do their own thing, they’re going to be kind of a little more oriented towards instruction. If I would say it that way.

So if you already have maybe some kind of admin support, then would you start with a prospecting VA and then back into the admin or it’s still? 

I think it depends what you got going on, what I notice is that if you free up an entrepreneur’s time, they will fall back into monotonous work, right? They’ll do busy work because they have all this free time. And so all of a sudden, they shuffle papers or virtual papers, right, and they start, they get very busy in the stuff. I fall back in it too. All of a sudden I notice I’m like, all this free time, and then it’s cool. What imaginary fire can I put out? What imaginary issue can I go resolve? Because we just, we constantly want to create and do and improve, and so we will find stuff to do. And so that’s a challenge, so I say, okay, get all the stuff out of your way by knowing, hey, somebody else is handling it. I don’t have to handle it. Get that out of the way. Now, great, somebody’s prospecting, now we have sales. So as an entrepreneur, and especially if you’re just starting out or you’re in growth mode, your number one thing that you should be able to do is close deals. You need to generate revenue, period. That has to happen. And if it’s not you doing it, then you have a sales person or team that should be executing that, and that’s highest priority number one, if you’re trying to grow. Then from there, what does fulfillment look like, and that’s when the fulfillment team takes over.

Yeah. Love it. So let’s talk a little bit about this idea of the HR VA. So maybe, you know, in some systems like EOS, they call it integrators. They’re a person who essentially manages your team for you.

So how do you look at them a little different? Yeah, I wouldn’t look at an integrator as the HR person. I would look at the integrator as more of an ops manager or ops director. And internally we have somebody who is our integrator and she is just an absolute stud at processes and systems. And she can track anything that you can imagine to make sure that we’re actually moving in the direction we’re going. So I get to be the visionary, I get to be the strategic guy, and then she gets to be the integrator, she’s the operator. And so what she’s doing is she’s making sure that every division of the company from, whether it be this admin side over here, whether it be the sales and marketing division, whether it’s fulfillment division, HR division, no matter what it is, she’s making sure all of those work together to align and execute the vision that I put forward. So that to me is more of what an integrator is. They’re the ones who actually make the ship sail. I say we’re going on a voyage. She goes, great, here’s how I bring all the teams together and this is how we go on the trip. And she makes sure that it sails. The HR person is a division manager who’s gonna oversee people. And her job of overseeing people is making sure that they show up, making sure that they’re doing all of their stuff is in alignment, making sure that they have support for themselves, if they need something, they have somewhere to go. We have time tracking, we have payroll and all that stuff, and we have an entire finance division. But that’s how I look at the HR person. They’re very much in charge of making sure the people that operate the ship are happy and healthy and doing well and have everything that they need. 

HR person are charge of making sure the people that operate the ship are happy and healthy and doing well and have everything that they need. Click To Tweet

So the HR person comes into play primarily if you have a line of people in fulfillment, right? 

If you have people, yeah. If you start to get to the point where you have people who need things, then we bring in an HR team.

Okay. So maybe that comes when you’re over 20 employees or 15, 20 employees. Up to that point, you probably don’t need that, right?

Probably not. If your operator probably could do it, yeah, I mean, maybe that 15 mark is a good character kind of point, but…

So let’s say, so you have your utility person, you have your prospecting, you’re just closing business, the business is growing, then you are systemizing the fulfillment. So you have a few people who are delivering for you and then you don’t want to be the executioner at all. So you want to replace yourself with an integrator. How would you go about that? Is it possible to outsource that to the Philippines as well? 

Well, that’s where mine’s outsourced. And it’s always been outsourced. And for me, what I’ve found is that the biggest thing to understand is finding the profile, the personality profile of somebody who’s going to be able to do what you’re looking for, number one, so skill set. But then the second side of it is that they really have to be that personality that they flat out execute things. If you say, hey, I need something done, you don’t have to ask twice. It’s just flat out done. And I think in today’s world, that’s getting more difficult to locate and find is that people who are that dedicated to their role, it’s difficult, but they’re out there, and when you find them, they’re fantastic, and they can change your business. Because if you’re an entrepreneur who’s the visionary like me, I’m not an integrator. The moment my vision is translated, I don’t want to be a part of it, and I want the team to execute. Because I’ve figured out that if I step in the middle of it all, I typically bottleneck it. And because I can find all kinds of ways to switch direction and pivot a little bit, add this little thing and all, I can take a vision and then I can put 50 visions inside of it and make it almost impossible to implement. And so what I’d rather do is say, hey, here’s what the vision is, execute, go, right? And then we have a team that can go execute and fulfill my kind of dream, my vision of how the company should go.

So what’s the time to bring in an integrator VA? Is it, do you have to be at a certain size for it to make sense? Or you can start by hiring an integrator VA and let them build out the team?

I think it depends on your, your post capacity. Right? Because this is going to be somebody you’re going to have to pay. It can’t be somebody that, that you’re trying to go get somebody off of Fiverr, you’re getting somebody off of Upwork. You’re gonna have to pay this person pretty well. They’re gonna be, you’re gonna have to view them as a partner. But not like you have to give them equity in the company, but they need to be viewed on the same level, like, look, you’re partnering with me, and you and I are in this together, and there’s gotta be a ton of communication. So, when? Anytime. I think earlier is better, however, if it’s just sit down, grind, and sale, when you’re just trying to sell and trying to get people into the books, sometimes the integrator might be sitting around not really having as much impact. So that’s, you look at your cost capacity and it’s can you afford to have somebody be, maybe they could be building for the future, but the future’s pretty hard if you’re just in grind mode and sale mode and that’s all you’re doing is just trying to make revenue so that you can even get your feet wet and get going. Earlier is better in my opinion, but definitely once you get some clients moving and you actually have the vision on where you wanna go. You can still be doing sales while the integrator’s helping you build, but I think that if you don’t have a clear vision of where the company’s gonna go in what period of time, then the integrator’s not gonna be as effective in supporting you. So I’m really big in having them as early as possible, but I can say that because we have the resources now to do that. And so that’s the, I guess the catch, right? When do you have the resources to be able to afford somebody who’s going to be looked at as a partner? That’s, for a lot of companies, that gets challenging, especially when you’re outsourcing.

And I guess they also want to come into a company that they have things to do with, they are sitting on their hands, that doesn’t help them either.

It doesn’t help them and it definitely goes against their personality, right? So now you’re gonna probably not burn somebody out, but you’re gonna bore them out. Right, they’ve gotta have stuff to do because that’s what they do, they are doers. And so if you don’t have stuff for them, it’s gonna be very difficult for them to stay motivated.

Okay, so let’s talk about Philippine employees. Most of these virtual assistants are in the Philippines. So what are the pros and cons of Philippine employees? How are they better than US employees? And are they maybe, I mean, we already talked about the sales part, they’re not aggressive. Any other areas that maybe they are lagging US employees where you would opt for US employees? 

I just think it comes down to your understanding of how to delegate. So again, one of the challenges is that we have a mindset that is very, very difficult to break that a US employer or a local employee to you, whether you’re in the UK or whatever, is a better fit for the business. A lot of times that just comes down to communication. And so even in the Philippines, there’s a little bit of a language barrier, right? It’s not as bad as many other countries, but there is a language barrier. They speak Tagalog, we have English. Well, the nice thing with the Philippines is that English is their second language. Street signs are in English, universities teach in English. They watch our movies, they wear our clothes, and they understand our culture, as far as the US goes. So the Philippines were a really, really good choice for that specific reason.

Because they really understood, we have team members and we’ll get on Zoom calls and we’ll see them wearing like New York Yankees hats. And I’m like, you’re not a Yankees fan because you’re not from, excuse me, you’re not from New York, but it’s the culture, right? And you’ll see like a 49er flag in the background and I’m like, how the heck did you become a San Francisco fan? So it’s, you know, it’s interesting to kind of see that. So that’s been beneficial. You’ve got to get past the mindset, number one, you have to be able to understand how to delegate effectively and communicate in writing. So again, you take somebody who is English being their second language, verbally, they may not communicate as effectively as you might. You say, oh, well it’s easier because somebody can speak better from the U.S., right, and I can communicate with them better. But if you put it into writing, a lot of times they effectively communicate in writing just as good as somebody from the US. So you have to understand kind of where they align.

For example, our integrator, our ops manager. Verbally, she’s less effective communicating as I would prefer. However, when it comes to written, she’s better than almost everybody that I’ve ever had in the US. And her execution levels are incredible. And so I go, “Okay, can I have a little less of a perfect verbal conversation if I can get what I need on the back end?” Sure, absolutely. So understanding that, there is a communication barrier, and you have to decide at what role in the company does somebody need to be verbally on point, or can they just be written? So when it comes to communicating all of your projects, being able to communicate in written form is very, very important. And being able to get your point across. So that’s a little bit of a barrier that you’re gonna run into, local versus overseas. I don’t know. Now, there’s cost leverage, so that’s a positive, right? It’s less expensive to hire overseas. That’s why most people do it, right? The biggest companies in the world are doing it for cost leverage. You can find somebody who has a super high level of education for way less cost than you can in the United States.

Now, this is what I’m really interested in because I read somewhere that most of these virtual assistants, they actually are college graduates in the Philippines. Is this true? And what is the percentage of the VAs that would have been college graduates? 

What percentage, I don’t know if there’s necessarily a percentage. We do look for people with some level of education because what it does show is that if they’ve gone to university and they’ve received a degree, we know that they can go from start to finish on something that’s very challenging. So just the ability to succeed in that environment is valuable. Now, does the college degree make them more qualified or make them better than somebody else? Sometimes not. So what we’re looking for is we’re looking for the ability to execute less than the actual education. We know that if somebody got a degree, they went from something from start and they got their degree, they finished. That’s really, really important. However, if somebody’s just flat out skilled, and they’re just good, and they don’t have an education, I don’t care. I’m a dropout, so I don’t care. On the flip side of that, though, like we have people on our team with master’s degrees. We have people who are professors. We have, so it’s all across the board. You can get highly educated people if the education piece is important to you, you can get them at will, they’re everywhere. And so that opportunity is there, and again, I like to reiterate that point that when you know that somebody can start something and finish it, that levels them up ahead of people who have never really fulfilled anything. And so that’s something. 

That’s a great segue because one of the things that struck me reading your website was that you have a team of subject matter experts who actually are in the background. They are helping out these VAs if they want any problem that they can cause all they can get on a call with these experts. So how does that work? How much really the access that these people have and how often do they use your team?

So the cool thing is, is that the subject matter experts are our internal company team. Like it’s the people who run my companies. And what we do is we give them blocks where they are on call as a subject matter expert. Everything’s done through our Slack community. And any VA that works for any of our clients anywhere can jump in and ask for help. Hey, I’m trying to work on something and I can’t figure it out. It’s not working, I’m running into a problem, something’s breaking, there’s a code issue, there’s something. Somebody will be able to support them and actually help them fix whatever challenge that they’re running into. And it’s really cool because they’re live. So while everybody else is working, they just happen to be, “Hey, I’m going to be working on my stuff but I’m available in our Slack. If you need me, my priority is to support you.” And so we have a whole team of these people who, they’ve been doing their skill with our company for years. And so they are literally experts at what they’re supporting. And so even if somebody gets a VA and we, they, you know, it’s like, well, they keep running into a challenge, they have support, it doesn’t matter. Our team’s always here for them.

That’s awesome. As an example, let’s say I want to have a prospecting VA and I want them to build out some kind of funnel so that they can actually generate the leads for me. Is this possible? I get a lot of offers through LinkedIn. People say that, “Oh, I get you customers and clients.” I assume that they do this through outsourcing for the most part because they have to generate so many, work with so many clients and make it cost efficient, there’s gotta be some outsourcing involved. So is this real that VAs can build funnels?  

They can. Yeah, so you’re talking about two different people though. You’re talking about somebody who prospects, which is the outreach, the communication. And you’re talking about somebody who builds funnels, which would be somebody who, well, there’s gonna be two people in that, there’s gonna be a designer who designs the funnel that’s effectively designed, then you’re gonna have a developer who’s gonna build it. So sometimes you get somebody who knows both, and that’s fine, but for us, we’re very, very strategic in going for specificity, I want specialists in one line. So that’s why we have our pod service, which is projects on demand. And you can say, “Hey listen, I need a funnel designed.” Okay, great, you would submit that to the project manager of your pod system. You would give that to the project manager and they would say, great, you need the design and you need the development. So they would assign that to a graphic designer who has experience designing funnels. He finishes that, you approve the design, it goes to a developer, the developer builds it. Then you say, great, now my prospector has a place to send my traffic. And now you have your prospecting VA, which would be somebody dedicated who sits in a chair and they dial for dollars, they’re doing their cold outreach, whether it be DMs, whether it be email outreach, whatever that might be. That sounds, yeah.

If someone wants to look for a prospecting VA from your company level nine, which you actually provide the trained VA who knows how to prospect.

Yep. And we train all of our prospecting VAs on the system that we used to actually build our company and that we still use today. So over the past 90 days, we’ve launched two new companies which required prospecting. And so we have VAs that sit and all they do is set appointments. And then our sales team can go and they can execute. And now we have companies that have revenue and they’re brand new. And they’re just following the same model that we’ve been working through and improving and editing and all of that as time changes and as things are successful and then they show up to be not as great and then we change it and we learn and we steal somebody else’s ideas and all that.

Okay, so I love it. So I love the framework. So basically, you’re a business owner, you’re running yourself into the ground by being so busy, doing a lot of administrative stuff and essentially doing everything for your business. First thing is to get a utility VA so that you can make the noise go away. And then you can start to build out your business and essentially transition it to outsource safety, you start with the prospecting, you’re closing the sales, then you build the fulfillment, then when you have people, you’ve got an HR, VA, and then when you basically want to get out even of the management of the business, then you find an operations VA, a CEO type person. And then maybe you outsource your sales even maybe in the US for cultural reasons, and then you have essentially your company in a box kind of thing. And you can provide most of the building blocks to that, right? Level 9.

First thing is to get a utility VA. And then start to build out your business and essentially transition it to outsource safety, you start with the prospecting, then you build the fulfillment, then you find an operations VA, a CEO type person. Click To Tweet

Correct. Yeah, all of it.

So if someone would like, even the US salespeople, can you even find those? 

Oh yeah, we can definitely find people in the US to do sales for sure.

Okay, fantastic. So if someone would like to explore this and to find out about Level 9 and how you do things, where should they go? What should they do?

Yeah, so level9virtual.com. So, let’s see here, level9virtual.com. In the top right corner, it’s big and yellow, book a call, you’ll speak to our sales manager, Dakota. He will help make sure that we understand what you’re looking for, how you’re trying to execute it, who’s gonna be the right person to fulfill that role, or multiple teams, or whether it’s the pod. One of the things that’s most fascinating is I’ve listened to some of his calls and his ability to advise rather than sell has probably made us most successful because we’ll get somebody, and the obvious thing if you’re a salesperson is commission. You wanna make money. So for us, the greatest thing would be, hey, why don’t you get a dedicated virtual assistant? It’s our highest price point. He gets the most commission on that. But his advice has been unparalleled. It’s, hey, what’s gonna give you the most value today? What’s gonna help you in your current situation? And his ability to support and guide somebody and advise them based on their current, where they are today, their current standing in their company, where their goals are trying to take them, and then he can advise on the service that’s best. And sometimes that service is only 400 bucks, right? And we don’t, there’s not a lot of income off of it, but we know that’s gonna give them the most benefit, so then later down the road, we can be even more supportive and they’ll take on greater services. But yeah, that’s been really, really successful for us. Talk to Dakota, he’s very, very helpful in making sure that you get exactly what you need.

Fantastic, well actually, when we hang up, I’m gonna call Dakota myself. Okay. I think it’s very exciting. So thank you, Joe, for coming to the show and sharing this very simple but very illuminating framework on how to outsource. I think that’s the future. It’s kind of exciting that we have 350 million people in the US, but we have, you know, a big part of the world, the other part of the world working for us, right? Yes. Now it’s not just manufacturing that is done in China, but now we have people who are working in our time zone to support our businesses, to grow our businesses. That’s super exciting. So thank you for coming on the call and sharing your framework. And those of you listening, do check out Level9 because it’s an exciting opportunity for you to grow your business. Thanks for coming.

Thank you so much. I appreciate it.


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