image for post - FT 122: How to Find a Great Assistant with Tim Francis

FT 122: How to Find a Great Assistant with Tim Francis

If you’re a solo freelancer, it’s so easy to think that hiring an assistant is just plain out of reach and expensive. But that’s just not true. Hiring an assistant is one of the biggest wins that you can create for yourself. When an assistant does the low value work of billing, invoicing, emails, scheduling, etc., then your time is freed up to do the high value client work or getting new business or levelling up your skills.

But it is important to find the right person, the kind of person that will take work off your plate instead of creating more of it.

Tim Francis of Profit Factory and GreatAssistant.com has spent a lot of time working with entrepreneurs to match them to great assistant. Tim shares what makes a great assistant and his process for finding that one amazing one.

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Tim shares with us:

Tim runs a done-for-you service helping freelancers and entrepreneurs find a great assistant, with the very descriptive title, GreatAssistant.com.

“You ask us to go get you an assistant, we go bring you one, and we actually help with some of the training, on boarding, so that you can really hit the ground running with your new assistant.”

And he is clearly doing something right since the “stick-rate” is 88%, compared to the 50% industry average.

Back in about 2007, Tim read “Four-hour Work Week” and realized that he needed an assistant from India. In 3 months, he had lost $10,000 and it was a complete fail.

“The problem couldn't possibly be me or whatnot, it must be India. I heard about this other opportunity to get an assistant from the Philippines.”

And... train wreck, again.

So he thought he would be better off just doing it himself, until...

He lost $100,000 in real estate when the market crashed in 2008-2009. (In his double life as a travelling rock-star, a drummer no less, he used his down time between gigs and radio interviews to study real-estate investment.) Around the same time, his band made it to this huge music award, Western Canada Music Award... but broke up 20 minutes before showtime.

So Tim was scrambling to fine a way to make money. He ended up promoting a speaker, a guy who tells people how to become rich by being a pseudo-business owner, aka a 12 million dollar ponzi scheme. That guy is now convicted, btw.

“Then, there was this day that I had to chose between sitting on a flipped over laundry hamper in the shower or stay in bed so my mom can sponge bathe me, at age 28.”

Tim got really sick. He lost the ability to walk for 3 months, so he couldn't run his business, he couldn't even type. It was literally the stress and the fatigue that got him.

“I got to give up this whole Johne Wayne attitude of 'I can do it myself, I can just work longer hours, I can get up earlier, stay up later, I can basically do it all myself.' Because clearly there is a downside to burnout and I'm paying the price big time, right now.”

The solution, humility.

“I realized if I'm never rich, I'm never famous, if all I get to do on a daily basis is just get a little better at entrepreneurship with every day that goes by, that would be a life well lived.”

Tim realized that the stuff on the front end, the stuff he was selling, wasn't the most important part of the business. Even the SEO, facebook ads, and marketing stuff wasn't that important. What is important is how your run your business in the backstage. This mind shift helped Tim go from charging $40/hour to $1,000/hour or $35,000 for a sales funnel.

He climbed the 80/20 curve, with the help of an assistant who took away the $20/hour tasks (billing, scheduling, etc.) so Tim could focus on building skills, selling, networking, etc. He was free to have the time and energy to build his business and his profitability.

Why not India or the Philippines?

The Indian assistant actually disappeared for a whole week because the internet in her area had been disconnected due to political instability and political fighting between neighbouring politicians.

There Philippines was even cheaper, but cam with a price. There was a constant threat of tropical storms to wipe away the infrastructure and communication was extremely difficult with the mediocre English and background car sounds.

With all the differences in culture, language, timezones, infrastructure, predictability of politics and weather, Tim found that he was constantly the one who had to step in and fix mistakes and misunderstandings, costing him more time than it would have if he had done it himself. Working with the “cheapest” VAs was actually the most expensive option.

Get an assistant where you are, and at least 50% of your headaches will be solved.

If things go badly, it is a wonderful peace of mind to know how the legal system works, the culture, the language.

Also, it isn't worth the marginal dollar or two savings if they make a mistake on booking you flight or with answering an email that will cost you an important sale or networking opportunity.

The ideal situation is that you climb the 80/20 curve, start billing based on the value of the project rather than hourly so you don't have to worry about penny-pinching and can find the right assistant for you that will help your business in the long run.

What an assistant can do for you:

First, you need to get the bottom 80% of tasks off your plate. You can immediately start saving time by following Tim's list of the first 100 tasks to delegate to an assistant. It's stuff like billing, invoicing, uploading blog posts, embedding tracking codes, sending emails, and general internet marketing, both for his personal marketing and for the marketing work he did for clients. Delegating these things freed up his time.

What are the top 20% of tasks that will help you generate more revenue? For Tim, it came down to selling more services to existing clients.

The assistant gives you more time. You take that time and turn it into selling or learning more skills so you can charge higher rates.

Tim altered his business from one that makes some ads for the customer for $40/hour to one that builds a $35,000 sales funnel that brings in many times that for the client. Using the extra money earned, Tim then reinvests in himself to go to high-end networking events that cost $7,500 admission or mastmind groups that cost $20,000/year to be part of.

The other people who are at these events pay to be at the events and can afford to pay higher rates for higher quality work. Tim actually landed a $10,000/month consulting client at one of these “expensive” weekend events.

Imagine going away on vacation, turning off your phone, not checking your email, and coming home to zero fires, no welcome home avalanche of 500 emails that ruin a perfectly good vacation. Imagine never worrying about email.

It comes down to delegating the bottom 80% of tasks and doubling down on the top 20%. Then doing it again and again.

The Magic Matrix

Pick a task, tool, or project. Now do the 80-20 analysis.

What is the strategy or high level skill? Hold on to that. Everything else (setup, coordination, maintenance, reporting, tech, customer support, and common tasks) hand off to an assistant.

The faster you get rid of the bottom 80, the faster you can focus on the upper 20 and the faster you can grow.

How to find a good assistant

In the last year, Tim has helped 70 entrepreneurs get great assistants, and 88% have stuck. Tim has a formula to figure out how to repeatedly get a good match between assistants and entrepreneurs.

There are three areas where hiring an assistant can go south.

  1. Hiring the wrong person.
  2. Bad on-boarding and training
  3. Bad delegating

Hire the right person:

The right person is at the centre of three circles: skills, affect, and Kolbe index.

As the entrepreneur, you should take a Kolbe test to find out your Kolbe score. Your assistant should properly complement your Kolbe score.

Then the assistant should also have the skills needed take over your marketing or coding stuff. That way, they can take over the recurring tasks.

The third circle is about personality, goals, and motivation.

There is no one-size fits all. The reality is, each business is different so each assistant has to be different.

If you want to try it on your own, step one would be learning how to make a job post. The job post will have the normal stuff like who you are, what the job is, contact information, and then a filter. The job post will say to write an email and include some specific elements like:

  • Reason #1 why you think this job is a fit for you. (black font, Courier, 3 sentences)
  • Reason #2 why you think this job is a fit for you (blue font, Verdana, 3 sentences)
  • Reason #3 why you think this job is a fit for you (red font, Courier, 3 sentences)

Only motivated people will actually go through the effort to jump through these weird hoops to get your attention. Anyone who doesn't do it, toss out the email – they aren't motivated or can't pay attention to detail and follow instruction. If their English or grammar sucks, toss it.

Also, have all the emails go to a custom email so it doesn't distract you from your daily work and client communications. You can also set up an auto responder with something like, “If you don't hear from me in three days, consider yourself out of the running.”

Then put this up on sites that cater to North American assistants like Hiremymom.com or Flexjobs.com, instead of something like upwork which will give you a huge mix.

Then, you can finally read only the ones that might be a good fit. You can now invest in interviews and tests. Tim makes them do a work test – make a Facebook event and write up a procedure for what you did. Then, for the three finalists, Tim will us the Kolbe test.

The Kolbe test shows how someone instinctively works. Are they a high fact finder and researcher? More of a follow through person? More quick-start person? More of an implementer who use tools to get to a solution? You need someone who is able to go out into the jungle as an entrepreneur and someone who is more of an optimizer who can do the daily work. Different ways of working are great strengths in different situations. That way, the assistant has a complementary working style to you.

If everything is going well, do a 30-90 day trial, then make a firmer decision after that.

A good hiring process will help figure out ahead of time if the person is even right for the type of job you need done.

When to hire an assistant:

Around the $100,000 in sales mark and working 70 hours a week.

You need the relationship with your assistant to feel like a profit centre, not an expense. If you can make more than $15/hour that you pay your assistant during the time that the assistant has saved you, then you are good.

Resources mentioned:

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