Today, I am talking to Gwenn Aspen of Anequim, which offers remote assistant, Rent Manager call center, and Rent Manager software consulting services. Also, Gwenn and her husband, Jeremy, own the Wistar Group, a property management company.
[04:40] How helping a friend, helped property management companies hire employees.
[05:20] Currently, 150 employees in Mexico work remotely for property management companies in the United States and Canada.
[06:25] Connections and Relationships: Life is all about taking care of and looking out for those you know and love.
[06:50] Internal References and Cultural Differences: Holding each other accountable results in low turnover/high retention.
[08:20] Managers Managing Remotely: If you manage someone who works remotely, get to know them as a human being.
[10:51] Webcam: Teams founded on trust and transparency should be seen and heard.
[14:50] For better or worse, Anequim and Wistar Group are unique and original company names that could be patented to prevent being sued.
[16:45] Finding a Good Fit: Anequim helps potential clients identify things that they don’t like to do and give them to someone who does.
[20:51] Time vs. Energy: Avoid burnout by identifying what fills or drains your energy.
[22:20] Onboarding Training: Includes four ways to not die in property management.
[26:12] Vetting Team Members: Extensive process of selecting candidates for clients.
[29:47] Working in Mexico: No background checks possible or databases available.
[34:09] Progress, not Perfection: Help property managers move forward and feel confident in making a commitment.
[38:21] Anequim Structure: Assistants, solution agents, and others handle 1,200 units.
[42:36] Every business needs systems: Planning, process, documentation, and communication.
TweetablesPower of the Webcam with Virtual Teams: Just be there, and be seen. Click To Tweet Time and Attention: A manager’s most important resources; use them wisely. Click To Tweet Word to the Wise: Keep your clothes on when training employees. Click To Tweet Our job is to make sure people are happy with their candidates. Click To Tweet
Jason: Welcome, DoorGrow hackers to the DoorGrow Show. If you are a property management entrepreneur that wants to add doors, make a difference, increase revenue, help others, impact lives, and you are interested in growing your business and life, and you are open to doing things a bit differently, then you are a DoorGrow hacker.
DoorGrow hackers love the opportunities, daily variety, unique challenges, and freedom that property management brings. Many in real estate think you’re crazy for doing it, you think they’re crazy for not because you realize that property management is the ultimate high-trust gateway to real estate deals, relationships, and residual income.
At DoorGrow, we are on a mission to transform property management businesses and their owners. We want to transform the industry, eliminate the BS, build awareness, change perception, expand the market, and help the best property management entrepreneurs win. I’m your host, property management growth expert, Jason Hull, the founder and CEO of DoorGrow. Now, let’s get into the show.
Today’s guest, I’m hanging out with the fabulous Gwenn Aspen of Anequim. Gwenn, welcome to the show.
Gwenn: Oh my gosh, thank you so much for having me. I’m so excited to be here.
Jason: I’m excited to have you. It’s really fun hanging out with you in the green room and you were showing me your nerd glasses.
Gwenn: That I carry around with me everywhere I go because there’s always a need. They’re literally nerd glasses, you guys. They’re from Hobby Lobby, I got them for an event I had to go to because we were revenge of the nerds and I bring them everywhere because that’s how nerdy I really am. But we can have fun too, we can be fun nerds. Right, Jason?
Jason: Yes. Maybe. It’s probably possible. A lot of people think I wear all these weird, different glasses especially the orange ones. People notice I wear this orange glasses and they always come up to me and they think I’m trying to be so cool. Their like, “Why are you wearing this glasses? Are you trying to be Bono?” Which is funny because Bono wears them to block blue light, right? He’s not wearing them just to be cool but he is cool. Way cooler than me. Then I go into this diatribe of why I wear them and how they block blue light and how it helps set my biorhythm patterns, helps me get good sleep, and then they’re just sorry they asked.
Gwenn: Well, that’s what’s in your nerd shows Jason.
Jason: And then they realized they are nerd glasses, so they realize I’m a nerd.
Gwenn: Yes, because they bring out your inner nerd when you wear them and people ask about them.
Jason: Yeah. So, I got some less orange ones. This are my nerd glasses. This make me look a little bit smarter.
Gwenn: I think they look good. I like them a lot.
Jason: They’re a little yellow to them but I don’t have the tape. I have to get the tape and maybe add the tape at some point just to look more nerdy. Alright Gwenn, let’s get into this. Give us a little bit background, so you run this company doing remote assistance from Mexico and you said they’re not virtual assistance because they’re not robots, right?
Gwenn: Right. No. They’re not.
Jason: You manage Rent Manager, the property management back office. You manage Rent Manager’s call center, so you have a call center for Rent Manager people.
Gwenn: We do.
Jason: Then you also have Wistar Group which is a property management company in Omaha, Nebraska.
Gwenn: Yes. That’s all true. My husband and I started Wistar Group back in 2006 so we’ve been doing this for a long time. In 2008, a friend of his called him from Mexico because he lived in Mexico before I knew him for five years doing something totally different, transportation and logistics. The friend called and she said, “You think the economy is bad in the United States? Well, you should come down to Mexico. Things are really bad down here and I lost my job. Is there any way I could work for you in some capacity from home?” Because it wasn’t only about the economy, but it was pretty dangerous at that time and my husband is the most loyal person you’ll ever meet, for better or worse. That’s right when VoIP phones came out so we sent one down to her, we figured how to make it work and she started answering the calls for Wistar Group—at that time, it was called Certified Property Management. She’s taking the calls and it works awesome. We love it. She loves it. It’s great.
Then we just started, as we grew, hiring all her friends for all the other jobs that we had. We just operated like that because it works for us for many years and then in 2016, our friends from Boutique Property Management in Denver, we were hanging out with them and they’re like, “Hey, this Mexico thing is working out great for you guys. Can you hook us up with people from Mexico?” I was like, “Sure.” Then I got them some employees from Mexico and they loved it. My husband and I were like, “Maybe we can help more property managers with this,” and so it grown like wildfire since then and now we have almost 150 employees in Mexico working for property management companies across the U.S. and Canada. It’s just a win-win for everyone and it’s just so exciting and I love my job so much.
Jason: Okay, great. This sounds very similar to [inaudible [00:05]: 37] who we had in the show except they do the thing in the Philippines. It sounds like a very similar sort of etymology or story behind how you got into this and it really was filling your own need and starting by helping a friend and it grew into helping all these different property managers. That’s the interesting thing I’ve heard from those that have Mexican staff is that they hire one and all of a sudden, all their family and friends start becoming team members too.
Jason: That must be a culturally different thing, I think with Mexico versus the Philippines. I think they are both very family-oriented, but I think there’s something about Mexico that they’re like, “Hey, hire my brother.” Or, “Hire this family member,” and they’re connecting people.
Gwenn: Oh my gosh. Yeah, the connections that they have, don’t we all love that? Isn’t that what life is all about? Is connections and taking care of the people that you love, that you know. It’s just yet another thing to love about all the people I know in Mexico, is just how much they care for one another and have each other’s back and then also hold each other accountable. That’s the other things are that we grow a lot through internal references from one employee to another. If someone has a problem and they were the one who referred them, man. They hear it from the other employee. I mean there are that many cultural differences, but that’s been a fun one. It really ends up keeping the turnover really low because they are happy, our employees work from home, and they love it, that’s a huge advantage. They have this great connection with each other and we have Christmas parties. We’re going to have a summer picnic with everybody. It’s added a lot of richness to my life, just getting to know the employees as well.
Jason: I was going to bring that up. A while back, I read a book called First, Break All the Rules. I believed it’s pulled up by the Gallup Organizations that does the pulling. They did a whole bunch of surveying companies trying to figure out what makes a really good team and what creates retention with the team. One of the number one indicators of retention whether somebody was going to stay in the company was whether they have a friend in the business or somebody they are connected to personally on the team. So, that makes a lot of sense. It increases retention, significantly.
Gwenn: I would say that’s our job. If we’re going to hire someone remotely, if we’re the managers of this person, it’s imperative that you get to know them as a human being to get that retention and to get that buy-in and to get them on your same mission going in the same direction. I feel like I know you much better right now just because we are in a Zoom Conference and that doing what with cam…
Jason: Now, we’re totally homies because we are in Zoom.
Gwenn: Yeah, now we’re homies and we have the nerd glasses together, I mean. Those little things add to the relationship so if you make a point, I only communicate with people from Mexico using webcam because we have this amazing connection then and we feel like we know each other better. If you use a webcam, I swear it makes all the difference and getting buy-in from a remote employee.
Jason: I absolutely agree. I’ve done a lot of remote hiring in the past and there’s a huge difference, but it got to a point where eventually, I have a policy in our company called the Webcam Policy and everyone is required to have a webcam to be on the team and to communicate and show up and turn on the camera when we do meetings because it ended up being, at one point I remember showing up having team meetings and there’s 5-10 people without their webcams on and there’s just me putting on the show.
Gwenn: I love that. I don’t have an official policy, but not that you said it, I’m adding it. But I also have another employee from a totally different industry, he did a lot in banking and he was told to never have his webcam on. It was such a cultural dissonance when he came on the team because we were like, “Put your camera on. I can’t see you. I don’t know what you’re doing. I need to see you.” It was hard for him. It’s good if you’re somebody who requires webcams and state it at the beginning because some people, it takes them a while to get used to it.
Jason: Yeah. It is a part of my onboarding process that they have to review the webcam policy and read it. Do you want me to tell you some of it here?
Gwenn: Yeah. I think it’s so important because whether you do remote employees from Mexico, whether you have someone in the Midwest, you know a lot of people hire people from rural Nebraska to work for their company because it’s a lot less expensive.
Jason: Alright. I’m going to share an internal secret here.
Gwenn: Understanding the power of a webcam is crucial for the relationship working in my opinion.
Jason: Alright. Here’s our webcam policy for those listening. We are a team founded on the values of trust and transparency. It is important in a virtual team to be able to see one another on our virtual meetings since we often can’t meet directly in person. As a team, we don’t care about your hair, makeup, clothes, etc.during internal meetings. Just be there. Not having a webcam during internal meetings can feel like talking with someone behind a reflective window. It causes humans to try to assume and guess too much because they lack nonverbal cues we have evolved to rely on. Why address this? And then in bullets: to promote an environment of trust and transparency, to improve the efficiency of company communications and shorten meetings by effectively communicating with the full spectrum of verbal facial expressions and nonverbal cues, to reduce multitasking, right? Because they […], they’re like, “Oh yeah. I’m listening.”
Gwenn: Right. Totally.
Jason: To reduce the anxiety of those speaking on camera, and then having the expectation. It is expected that all team members will join OpenPotion, that’s our corporation, virtual meetings on video in order to fully engage in team and one-on-one meetings, this promotes collaboration on multiple levels and it allows each individual to feel heard as they see and receive nonverbal cues from their peers. This also increases productivity and reduces anxiety as ideas are better understood when they’re coupled with facial expressions, gestures, and other forms of nonverbal communication. When meeting with clients, we appreciate you doing your best to make yourself and your background presentable, but that is not required. We just want you fully present and visible. Then I have a quote and it says, “The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said,” Peter Drucker.
Gwenn: Oh, I love it. I love it although I would push back on the not caring what you look like because I’ve had people show up, not very often, but I had a guy and he looked like he’d just been to the club, and just rolled out of bed, and I was like, “Man.” Also, you have to know your audience. We have a screenshot and keystroke that we record of everyone that’s working for us while they’re working not when they’re not. We had one guy who was at a webcam conference and he had his hat sideways and my assistant was like, “Is that okay?” If you live in California that might be okay, but if you’re with an older team in Omaha and you have your cap on sideways, it just might not work. I was like, “No. They’re in California. It’s totally fine.” She was like, “Oh, okay.” You have got to know your audience, better know your audience.
Jason: I think it all boils down to what the entrepreneur wants though too. Before the call, I’d ask you what your Myers-Briggs Type was and you’re an ENTJ, so you’ve got that J in the end.
Gwenn: So, I’m Judgy? That means I’m judgy, right?
Jason: Yeah. You’re judgy which means you’re a planner. You want things done a certain way. This details matter to you. I’m a P so I’m all over the place. I’m a bit more open-minded and I love taking you Js and cracking you open a little bit to expose you to some things you weren’t exposed to before.
Gwenn: I need people like you in my life too because I can’t be too in the box. It’s so nice to have that fresh […].
Jason: J from the box for sure. Ps have no box and Js look at us like we’re crazy. Some of the Ps that are perceiving, that’s what the P stands for, they will take in things from all different sources, all different ideas, and to most Js, that’s being so open-minded, their brain is falling out. It’s how Js kind of view us sometimes but we need each other. All these other different types. I definitely need Js on my team to run my email, handle my calendar, do all the planning stuff that is not fun for me. You do this virtual team thing, how does somebody start with you if they come to you and they’re like, “Hey, Anequim.” First, where did that name came from? What does this name mean?
Gwenn: I’m going to give you the real answer. We used to be a certified property management and then […] wanted to sue us because they were like, “We have a certified property manager distinction,” or whatever.
Gwenn: Designation. We were like, “Well, we wanted to rebrand anyway,” because we started from nothing and took any piece of garbage that had a roof on it and then as time went on we became more sophisticated, and wanted to take out nicer properties, but in the local market, we were the low end. We already were going to rebrand, but we didn’t want to get sued or threatened of a lawsuit again, so we were like, “We have to have something that’s totally unique.” Well, it’s very hard you guys. It’s so hard to find something completely unique. My husband’s a pilot for fun and so he loves this airplane called Anequim and it means mako shark in Portuguese, anyway that was like a word we could use that was unique. We got Anequim and then Wistar Group. Wistar is my middle name and they were unique enough that my best friend who is a patent attorney approved them. For better or worse we’re Anequim and Wistar Group.
Jason: There you go. Alright. Portuguese mako shark.
Gwenn: It’s also an airplane.
Jason: Which has nothing to do with Mexico whatsoever. They don’t even speak Spanish.
Gwenn: But I’m not going to get sued for it, so you know.
Jason: No, it’s perfect. It’s a unique and original name which is helpful in branding, right? Okay, cool. Now, how does somebody get started with you guys. Somebody comes to you and say, “Hey, I’ve got a problem.” How do you know that you can help them? Because I’m sure there are clients that you don’t take on and there are clients that aren’t a good fit.
Gwenn: There are. In fact, there were two clients yesterday that called me and I was like, “You know what? I think you guys just need to wait for a minute.” And that is my thing. We don’t sell. We try to make a relationship because if I sell you and then it doesn’t work for you, then it creates a lot of heartache and drama for me because I want the person in Mexico to be happy and I want the person in the United States to be happy. What happened yesterday was, this one guy was buying another company, and they already had two employees there, but he hadn’t really worked with them yet. I was like, “Hmm.” He was going to be managing 400 properties. I felt like his people count was good enough for 400 properties, so I said, “Just take on these two new people. Measure processes and procedures together, make sure it works, and then when you get a handle on them then call me.” He was like, “Okay. That’s a better idea. That’s what I’m going to do.”
If you call me and it’s not going to work for you, I might tell you to do a few things first. Then the other guy called me and I thought again that his head count was already too high. I thought you could make more efficiencies in his software because a lot of people only use 5% of the software that they have purchased. If you have five really expensive employees and 400 units, I kind of think you should work on being more efficient first with your software and then call me.
Jason: Yeah, right.
Gwenn: Unless, you’re going to transition things—but these were obviously, longer conversations, I’m giving you the shortened versions—so if someone calls me and they’re like, “No. I need somebody. I’m working my butt off and I need some relief.” Then we’ll talk about a job description first because I need to find the right person for this role. I need to know what kind of tasks you want. For instance, if you want someone to be doing a lot of cold calling then that’s going to be a different person than someone’s who’s going to be helping you associate the right invoices with the right property and the right owner, right?
We have to make sure we have a good job description. Also, your training is going to be better, it’s going to be a smoother onboarding process if you are really clear about what your needs are. Now, a lot of people will call me and they are just overwhelmed and they’ll just be like, “I need a personal assistant.” A lot of the times I push back on the personal assistant and I say, “Why do you need a personal assistant?” And they’ll be like, “I just hate taking the phone calls. ” I say, “Okay. Well, let’s find someone to take your phone calls.” Really, if you want a personal assistant because you are overwhelmed, think about the things that you hate doing that don’t bring you joy, that don’t fill you up, and let’s give those to someone who’s a better fit for those roles, that loves doing those things.
Usually, it starts with a conversation about what the pain point is and what people really need, who they already have in their team, and what software they are using. We come up with a plan that would actually help them get what they want. That’s kind of my goal. It maybe me, it may not be me, but my goal because I come from the property management world is just to prevent burnout from whoever’s calling me. Whatever that looks like.
Jason: Yeah, so you’re helping them a little bit “KonMari” their time, right?
Jason: And you we’re talking about that before.
Gwenn: Oh my gosh. Well, I love that. Maybe I should use that, but you have so many things that you have to do. Some people are coaches and that’s really important to them, their property managers, and their families. Your time and attention are two of your most important resources and everyone on your team needs you to be using those wisely if you’re the one steering the boat.
Jason: Yeah. I’m a big fan or proponent of energy management over time management…
Jason: …and really identifying what energies you as an entrepreneur versus what drains you because we really afford doing the things that energizes us, we have an endless amount of energy. Like our life and our businesses fills us but if we are doing things that drain us, burnout sets in and it’s inevitable, it becomes really difficult. I think it’s really important for people to pay attention to their time and what really is giving them momentum. I tell property managers all the time, “Anything that’s been sitting on your to-do list for more than a few weeks, you’re probably not the person that should be doing it. Let’s be honest.”
Gwenn: Right. Absolutely. There are people like, you and I we are just talking about how our personalities are different. Find someone who you like working with. Who you enjoy spending time with because it isn’t actually an employee essentially just living far away that compliments you and can do the things that you struggle doing. Our role is to help people do that and we also train them on the first day so I have very high anxiety. I take care of things that make me anxious. I always go over the four ways people can die in property management on the first day, carbon monoxide poisoning, natural gas explosion, fire, and a technician being mistaken as an intruder and getting shot, and the importance of asking permission to enter.
Those are four things we go over, which is really funny because when we turn over the training to the client, my assistant will always be like, “So, what did you learn in training?” And they’re like, “How not to die in property management.” The clients are like, “What?” I mean, I told them that we were going to talk about that with the agents but people forget and they’re caught off guard.
Jason: Four ways to die.
Gwenn: Four ways to die, but those are really, really important and it really does happen. And our industry, there’s been a number of deaths that we’re all aware of, and so it’s really important whether you’re going to hire someone remotely or not to really discuss what bad things can happen, and how to make sure they don’t happen in on-boarding training.
The other thing we cover is Fair Housing and American Disabilities Act. That really should be trained every year if that’s not on people’s schedules for training. Domestically, I don’t do this with the remotes, but domestically at our property management company, the other one is sexual harassment prevention training. We have a 70-year-old sales guy and then we have a 21-year-old front office lady. When you have multi-generational employees especially what they think is appropriate is totally different. It’s important to discuss that because people aren’t trying to be jerks, and they’re not trying to be bad people, and they’re not trying to offend anyone, it’s just that what was totally appropriate in 1950 to talk about in the workplace is different. Also, on the 21-year-old side. I mean, 21-year-old sometimes think everyone’s their best friend and they’re hanging out at the bar and it’s not true. Having that conversation at the beginning of a relationship with any employee is important.
Jason: Okay. Fair Housing and Disabilities Act, sexual harassment training, and four ways to die in property management.
Gwenn: Yeah. If you’re going to be using webcam, here’s another thing. I did have a client who thought that it’s totally appropriate to train his new employee without any clothes on, so a word to the wise, keep your clothes on if you are going to be training somebody. People, sometimes just don’t know, they just don’t know. I’m sure it was hot, it was summer, maybe went out to the pool and came back. It was really not okay. It’s another thing to keep in mind.
Jason: Policies improve overtime. You know there’s something interesting if my webcam policies say, “Don’t be naked.” It doesn’t say that yet. We haven’t had that come up yet, but if it does happen, we’ll definitely have that in.
Gwenn: I mean, I had no idea that’s going to be an issue but…
Jason: Right. You never know until it happens. I think that’s how all of the property management contracts evolved over time. Like, “Oh, this one’s a weird new situation. Let’s avoid that in the future and write that into our contract.”
Jason: Okay. Somebody comes to you, you start them with some of these things, how are you vetting these Mexican employees, these team members? What are some of the things you go through to ensure that you’re getting a good match, you’re finding somebody who’s really a good fit for a position? Help those that are listening feel safer using Anequim to find them a team member.
Gwenn: Sure. The first thing is that they have to fill out an application and upload a video of themselves speaking in English about their hobbies. You find out a lot about people when they think it’s appropriate in a video to say about their hobbies and how good their English level is. It also demonstrates that they have some technological ability because they have to upload a video.
Gwenn: We get rid of a lot of applicants right there. If they make it through those two steps, then we have them take a personality test. We use the Culture Index, and the Culture Index indicates whether people have detail orientation or not. Generally speaking, unless I’m hiring for marketing position or outside sales or something, we are going to need detail orientation. We look for that. There are few personality types that we just don’t hire at all and we also have a logic-emotional continuum. Anyone who’s really low on logic also not pass to the next level.
After that if the make it there then they do an initial interview and it’s a pretty tough interview. Ensures they have the qualifications and the seriousness that we are looking for. Generally, the pool of candidates that we are looking for have worked previously for a large corporation. So, in the towns where we primarily source our candidates, they work for Nissan or GE or Hewlett-Packard or TATA Consulting, and there’s some really big names where they’ve already one through a lot of the training that you wouldn’t need to train a brand new person on. But they’ve already been through it so they know how to talk on the phone, they know how to deal with conflict in a professional manner, and they know how to write an email. We do benefit from all that corporate training many of our folks have already been through.
Gwenn: If they make it through the interview then we are going to start calling their references and just make sure those show up well. After that, our clients, if they’ve made it through all the interviews, we’ve decided this person is worth this amount of money. We have a paying scale based on education level, work experience and we know what kind of job they would fit into then we match them with our clients we have who are looking. The clients get to look at three different candidates, and see if this is a cultural fit for them and if this is someone that’s going to work on their team, and that they’re going to feel comfortable with on a day to day basis. We always do the interviews in threes. Hopefully, we do our job well enough on the first three know exactly who we want, but if you want to do another round, our job is to make sure people are happy with their candidates.
The one negative about working in Mexico—and this is going to be with a lot of the country that you would source from—background checks, it’s not the same, there’s no government database and even if there was it probably won’t be accurate in the way that you and I would expect, so there’s no background check policy or way to even do that if you wanted to. We rely a lot on internal references and those networks or people want to give us their best friend and then they internally hold them accountable as well.
Gwenn: We haven’t had any issues with it, but I would suggest with anyone working remotely, you manage your privileges and your software. Rent Manager allows me to obscure social security numbers, credit card numbers, and we have a policy that nobody working from home has access to those, and you have to be in the office if you are going to be taking credit cards or looking at social security numbers. If you have good tight privileges, you don’t really have much to worry about by hiring someone remote, and it’s just a good policy anyway.
Jason: Yeah. Alright. That is kind of the match making process.
Jason: Then once they pick a candidate, what’s the transition like this on the onboarding sort of process and how far does Anequim gets involved? Because I know some property managers are not probably used to having a virtual team member, they are probably going to make some mistakes, they might just say, “Hey, this virtual stuff doesn’t work. I don’t get it.” How do you ensure that the transition is going to be healthy?
Gwenn: First of all, we try to get a good plan on before we even get to that place. We have documents on ideal first two weeks of training and talk to them about what that process looks like, talk to them about technology, what kind of phones do you use. We recommend that you listen to calls if you’re going to have someone who’s the face of your company, and you’re not going to be able to overhear them when you walk in the office. Here’s a form on monitoring calls and here’s the portal so you can see their screenshot and their keystrokes. We try to do all of that before the commitment takes place.
Talk about what that looks like, so that when the commitment like, “Yes. I want to move forward,” happens they’ve seen in their minds, “I kind of have an idea what this looks like.” We don’t want for either the client or the agent to get to a place where it’s the first day and they just look at each other in webcam and go, “Okay, what do I do now?” We try to avoid that situation as much as possible, which is why we’re not trying to hard sell anyone. We want someone to be committed to the process and feel somewhat confident.
Obviously, you’re going to be a little bit nervous if you’ve never done this before, but that’s why we are here to hold your hand, and give you that documentation and talk you through it so that you feel more confident before it actually happens. But then, on the handover meeting you’re going to get all of them setup on their computers. You’re going to get them to know everybody on your office, taking the laptop around and you’re going to say, “Tell us something that people don’t know about you.” Or, “What are you grateful for today?” You know, a little icebreaker and then you’ll get into the tasks.
The great thing about working with Mexico is that they’re on your time zone. Do you have to be perfect? Do you have to have the perfect documentation? No. Because like any other employee that you hire, you can just say, “Okay. I’m going to show you how to do this.” They know it should be written down but it’s not, “But you’re going to help me write it down because I never had time to do this before. Here’s the software where were writing it down. Here’s how you’re going to get a screenshot using Snagit. I’m going to video record myself going through this process and then make it a pretty process for me and then when it’s done and it’s all pretty, then you’re going to do it.” That’s possible. Some people are further along in their processes and procedures than others, but by no means you have to have things perfect to move forward to the remote assistance.
Jason: Yeah. The Myers-Briggs people with Js a lot of times get really caught up to being perfect before they move forward. They’re like, ” I have to have every process documented before I could grow my business.”
Gwenn: No, that’s not the real world. I would say progress not perfection, right? I mean, you have to move forward. I’m reading this great book called the Billionaire Coach or the Trillionaire Coach, I think is what’s it called. It’s really good. It’s on my audible right now. But the guy is like, “Okay. Once you have things down, you have to go, and you have to go fast.” I think that sometimes the people who are really into perfection lose sight of go, go fast, so it’s always that balancing act. If you’re not good at processes and procedures then hire someone to help you do that and just show them on in a video and say, ” Okay, for the next three hours you’re going to write this down. Okay? Then I’ll check in on you in three hours and see how you’re doing.”
Gwenn: That’s totally okay.
Jason: I like that. Progress over perfection, so what I teach clients is, “Done is better than perfect.” It’s very similar.
Gwenn: It is.
Jason: Done is better than perfect. Get it done, you can always redo it later. You can make it better the second time around but having something is better than not having it. The other thing that I’ll throw out there, sometimes is that perfect businesses are out of business. So, don’t try to make everything so perfect before you move forward. It’s the businesses that fail, that make mistakes, that rapidly prototype, that try stuff out and see what doesn’t work, they’re the ones that move forward faster.
Gwenn: And when you have that hard day where things really did fall apart then just go back to the values. Like, “Okay, it fell apart, but I’m suring it up as a value, as a person with values. So, what does that look like?” If you have your values strong and you’re connected to them then when you mess up, if you just go back to that, you’ll be fine.
Gwenn: That’s how I look at it at least.
Jason: That’s the foundation.
Jason: A really strong why and set of values for the business. That’s what creates culture in a company. Well, cool. What are some of the questions that property managers ask you that I haven’t asked yet? Some of the frequently asked questions, concerns, considerations.
Gwenn: The main thing is the role. People are just like, “Okay, everyone’s doing VA and I know I should be doing it because I’m just supposed to be more profitable than I am right now, but where the heck do I get started?” Usually, when people ask that, I just tell them because we’ve been doing this since 2008, how our company is organized because I do feel like we do remote labor as high of a level as you could. You might structure it slightly differently but just to give people an idea because the thing is in people’s minds and eyes, they remember virtual assistance. They think, “I need my processes to be perfect. This is someone who can only do route activities, can’t think outside the box.” All of that is not true. These people from Mexico, can be, if we hire for it, highly educated. We even have some professors on the team. We have some attorneys on the team. Highly-educated people who most certainly are capable of thinking outside the box. Guadalajara, where we source a lot of the people, it’s the tech capital of Mexico. When I go to the Christmas Party in Guadalajara, people are speaking Spanish, English, French, Portuguese. It’s like an international gathering, like any European city that you’ll be at or anything like that.
Here’s how we’re structured. We have 1200 units that we manage. We have three customer service people residing in Mexico who take all the front line calls. We actually call them Solutions Agent instead of Customer Service Agents because they’re job is to provide solutions. They don’t just read from a script, but they can also talk to tenants about their statement and what it means, what’s this maintenance service issue, maintenance charge is for, and help people break a lease, give them information about breaking a lease, changing roommates, tell them if they could have a puppy or not. Actually solve problems that give solutions. They also take all the maintenances services issue and troubleshoot.
The great thing is that you don’t have a PhoneTree when you call into our office. You just get a person which is a really good customer service. Most property management that I call have a PhoneTree and then you still can’t get a hold of everybody. Thinking about what the experiences of an owner calling your main line, and what that feels like, maybe important in many of the markets that people are in.
Once someone takes their phone call, any elevated issues will go to the assistant property manager. Let’s just take a simple thing, it’s not even elevated but like a service issue. We’ll go from customer service agent, we’ll take everything from the service issue then it goes to what we call the virgin list, the assistant property manager review that—and we have three of those, by the way, one for each property manager has an assistant who’s a true assistant—and they look at all the service issues that come in and decide whether our internal maintenance team can handle it or if it needs to go into a vendor.
If it needs to go to a vendor then they’re in charge of putting a budget on it, and based on the contract, whatever the owner wants, and then signing it to a vendor and then following up on that. If it goes to our internal team, then another woman in Mexico who’s the Maintenance Dispatcher decide whose list it goes on out of the 15 maintenance people that we have. Her job is to manage those guys’ schedules and make sure they’re busy. Make sure they have work and make sure that they’re going to a place that makes sense.
Then other people that we have is accounting. We have two people in accounting and collections. They don’t just do accounting but they’re also are like, “Why is this maintenance guy going to store three times in a day?” He’s like actually analyzing the invoices and saying, “This price doesn’t make any sense.” We have two people there. We have Applications Underwriter who does the applications in Mexico as well and a marketing person in Mexico. I feel like I’m forgetting somebody. I think that’s it.
Jason: Anything on the sales BDM side?
Gwenn: No. My market, we get a lot of business just coming in the door so we don’t have a BDM. We have some sales people that are on a commission basis but we don’t have an official BDM role. We actually decided not to get one this year which is weird because sales always pay for itself, but when we look at the numbers in our market, it didn’t make sense to get someone at that price point. Instead we’re buying a company in another market and growing that way, but that deal’s not totally done yet.
Gwenn: Those are the people that we have in Mexico. Internally, we have a front office lady, a leasing agent, operations manager, a maintenance manager, and right now, we only have two property managers. And then my husband runs the company and puts his finger in everything. That’s pretty lean for 1200 units, it’s pretty a lean shop.
Jason: Yeah, that’s really lean. Then you have a pretty decent process documentation, I would imagine as well.
Gwenn: We use SweetProcess, where we house our processes and procedures and we’re kind of obsessed with it. We use EOS so we’re using the traction book. We’ve been doing that for 2 ½ years now and love it. That’s how we stay organized and set our goals and priorities and make sure that we don’t get lost in the day to day task and know where we’re going on a daily basis.
Jason: Yeah. I think every business, eventually, as they evolve, they need a planning system which you had mentioned EOS. Every business also needs a process system, some system for documenting process and leveraging these processes. We use Process Tree internally, which works out really well.
Gwenn: And I like Process Tree, but it’s more expensive than SweetProcess. It depends on what your needs are, but I would recommend looking at both and determining what’s better for your organization. But yeah, I like both those systems a lot.
Jason: Every business needs some sort of communication system in the business as well. As a team, we use Basecamp as our communication platform to communicate internally, and then you need a client supporting communication system. A lot of people are using Help Scout or Intercom, or one of these knowledge based support systems. There’s probably other systems. I’m forgetting off the top of my head, but business really need all these different systems in place. Once you have these systems in place, it facilitates and enables your team to really do well and communicate and understand where the company is headed and get in alignment with your vision and your goals. It’s a big deal.
Gwenn: Yes. There’s a lot to take on, but again, people don’t have to be perfect.
Gwenn: Because when you say that it’s like, “Oh my god, that’s so overwhelming.” But it doesn’t have to.
Jason: One thing at a time. Yeah.
Gwenn: One thing at a time, Yeah.
Jason: Cool. Cool.
Gwenn: That’s why I like EOS though because it takes that overwhelming. The, “Oh my god we have 10 million things we have to do this year,” and it forces you to say, “Okay. How much energy do we really have and what are the priorities out of my list of million things that I’m going to do in these three months?” It actually helps you get more of that done than you would if you just look at the long list.
Jason: Yeah. It has an etymology that’s very similar to a lot of business planning systems and most every business planning system has annual objectives, quarterly objectives, monthly, and these things break down and the idea is, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”
Jason: It’s like these elephants, you break them down in a 90 day, 30 days, and then even weekly commitments as a team. But a lot of business don’t have any sort of planning system in place, so they’re hitting zero objectives because they really don’t really have any, and there’s no clarity around it. They’re just winging it and the entrepreneur’s, they’re crazy. Entrepreneurs come into the room and says changes every week, “Hey, guys. I got this great idea.” And they lob a grenade in the middle of the room, pull the pin and lob this grenade and walk out. They’re excited and pumped out and the team are like, “What are we going to do with this thing?” Having those systems in place can be really helpful especially if you have virtual team members because then it makes a lot of difference for everybody to be on the same page.
Gwenn: People, historically, have thought like, “Oh, were going to do all these planning and then we’ll tell them later what we planned.” But I recommend having the virtual team members in on all of those meetings.
Gwenn: Here’s one tip that has really helped us. We have the three customer service agents. Every morning at 10 o’clock they meet with the Operations Manager and just say, “Oh, this person is out of the office today. They have a dentist appointment at [2:00] PM and it’s whoever’s birthday. Our swing thought for the day is people can hear you smile. In the call monitoring, I’ve noticed that there’s not been so much smiling on there, so let’s keep that in mind for today. Today’s contest for online reviews, we’re still giving $50 certificates to anyone who gets an online review.” Whatever you have going on and just touching base for 10 minutes a day makes all the difference for someone whose remote. When you have your weekly EOS meeting, include them and what you’re talking about. If they feel included in the process and in your mission, people don’t leave. We’ve had the same employees at Wistar Group for six, eight, I think, is it nine years. I think we have two employees who’ve been with us for nine years.
Gwenn: That’s the key to getting the virtual or the remote members totally immersed in your culture.
Jason: Yeah. They need to be a part of it, ironically, right?
Jason: Yeah. I’m a big proponent of making sure that your team members are involved in outcomes instead of being micromanaged. Give them outcomes and let them innovate and you’ll be surprised with what they can come up with. It might not be the way you would do it, it might be better. A lot of times, as entrepreneurs, we think we have it all figured out. We need to tell our team members, “Here are the steps. Do this exactly this way.”
When it comes to goal setting, goals are outcomes. Assign an outcome to somebody, let them own it, and I think you’ll be surprised at the results they can create. Getting your team all involved in it, some of those meetings have been really eye opening for me because I had my set of ideas. I thought this is how the whole world looks and then I went around and asked my team members, “Here’s this outcome. What ideas you guys have that can do it?” My graphic designer has a totally different idea than I would have. My head of fulfillment has totally different ideas than I would have. They bring this perspective and all these ideas were really good. I’m like, “Yes. We should do that, maybe not that, that one’s great.” I think you don’t want to be the emperor with no clothes running a company. That’s how you do that, is by allowing your team members to have a voice and be involved in the process.
Gwenn: I love that. Actually, we teach a version of that on the first day of training. Its form this article that you can get on the internet called Who’s Got the Monkey.
Gwen: It’s the number one reprinted article from the Harvard Business Review of all time. I only came across it out of massive failure years ago. Where I took my team members out to lunch and I thought they would tell me how much they love their job and they were like, “No! We don’t love it. You guys never listen to us.” I was like, “What?” They’re like, “Yeah. We don’t even bring up ideas to you anymore because you are never going to listen to them anyway.” I was like, “Oh my god. This is terrible.”
I found the article on the internet and we came and have a change management process. We asked our team members to own their ideas. The first steps are people come to meeting and say, “Hey, not all ideas are good ideas, but here’s my idea.” That allows people to save face and be vulnerable and say what they’re afraid to say in the meeting. Then they have to bring everything to the meeting—the subsequent meetings—to move the idea forward…
Gwenn: …so that the decision maker can just say yay or nay. Sometimes, there’s a little homework on the decision maker’s part, but we try to make it as minimal as possible. I take it from sale, in sales people are always eternally optimistic and they think everything’s going to close. My way of determining if it’s going to actually close or not is, “Is your name on the prospect’s calendar for another meeting? If it’s not, then your deal is dead.” Just black and white.
Gwenn: If it’s not there, you can revive it, but you better get a meeting out there. Same thing with ideas, “If your name in this meeting is not on anyone else’s calendar, your idea’s dead.” Just know that because when people feel badly about their job, when they get vulnerable, they say it and their manager is like, “Oh, that’s a great idea,” and then they wait three months and nothing happens to it, that really hurts morale. Giving them the honest, “Hey, it’s not moving forward if there’s not a meeting”
Gwenn: And having them own that helps give them agency over their idea.
Jason: Yeah, I love it. Cool. Let’s wrap this up, Gwenn. I think this has been really helpful. I think we talked about some really cool ideas. I think, hopefully, some listeners are a little bit more open to having some team members that are not sitting in their physical office. How can people get in touch with you if they are interested in learning more?
Gwenn: Well, I’m on Facebook. If you want to send me a message at Gwenn W. Aspen, I’d love to meet you there. Additionally, we have a website anequim.net and you can fill out a form, we’ll get right back to you there, or you can email me at email@example.com. But we love to help people, and like I said, if you just want to bounce ideas off whether this is a good idea or not, we can talk about your specific situation.
Jason: Awesome. Gwenn, thank you so much for coming into this show.
Gwenn: Thank you, Jason. It’s been so fun. I really appreciate you having me.
Jason: Alright. We’ll let you go now. Alright. Bye, Gwenn.
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