Are you curious about how outsourcing works? Have you ever thought of hiring a virtual assistant (VA)?
Brad Stevens is the founder & CEO of Outsource Access, a private company that connects small business owners and entrepreneurs to full-time VAs in the Philippines.
In our conversation, he explains why the demand for VAs is so high, how he’s scaling his business, and what he’s doing to build a sustainable company and engaged workforce.
Part 2 of the podcast is available here.
Nothing’s Sacred: Episode 8 Transcript (Part 1)
Brad Stevens: [00:01:20] Yeah, a brief background on myself. I’m based in Atlanta, Georgia, and I’ve been a lifetime entrepreneur, kind of from an early age, I had a micro machine rental business in third grade and tutoring company in high school. And, um, so I knew that was going to be the path I’d head down with college, um, graduated and the company I was going to work for ended up going under two weeks before I was supposed to start.
So I was 21 years old and, uh, the company went under. I actually got three months severance pay and a signing bonus and never worked a day for the company. So it was like, make a career out of this, just go find the next failing company. Um, and I had the choice of either, you know, take another job offer, or, you know, go ahead and starting my entrepreneurial career. And I knew I was going to go down that path. So I chose that path. And, um, and that’s kind of been my journey the last, you know, 20 years. So I’ve built companies and grown businesses for the last 20 years in all kinds of different product based businesses, service-based companies, all of them in international in nature, um, in what I’ve navigated. So I’ve had a good chance to have a wide range of experience on, um, you know, when it comes to product based businesses, supply chain, and all of that in the, in the workforce and what it requires versus service-based businesses are a bit different.
And in growing my last company, we actually manufactured and distributed teeth whitening products, you know, all over the world. We were in about 18 countries. I’ve got around 10,000 accounts in the beauty industry, the dental industry, and made these teeth whitening products. And one of the products, um, the manufacturer changed one of the components on it. It was a teeth whitening pen.
You put teeth whitening gel on one side and lip gloss on the other, and they changed. After we’d done about 50,000 units of this product. Super successful. Um, one of the suppliers decided to change one of the bioadhesive glue that holds the brush on the end of the teeth whitening pin. And so when they would ship it, our manufacturer in California, they put the whitening gel, it’d take about 60 days until it would start reacting. And these teeth whitening pens were blowing up in purses and on shelves all over the world. And so that was my COVID moment of disaster back a number of years ago where cash got tight and lean, and I had to figure out how to do things differently at that point. And that’s when I really learned about this whole outsourcing world.
The virtual world, the gig economy and how to tap into it. Because I had to get things done fast and low cost. And, um, and so I was able to kind of save my company at that time by building a worldwide team of virtual workforce resources, um, managed by my local team. And so when I ended up exiting that business, I had this knowledge set, um, of how to do this whole gig economy outsourcing deal.
And I’m a member of Entrepreneurs Organization, which Nad and I are part of and, uh, got a chance to – it was actually my forum in that group that said, “Brad, you knew a lot about this. Why don’t you kind of push and share it with others?” So for a number of years, I did a lot of speaking and just consulting and helping companies figure out what their constraint points and their issues were when it came to outsourcing.
And, um, and then I decided that I felt I could maybe do it better than others. And, um, based on the constraint points and the weaknesses of a lot of companies out there, we launched Outsource Access and from pulling the trigger, we’ve grown to right at 210 employees now in about 18 months.
So we’ve been on a rapid growth path. And just a lot of elements that we use to kind of guide our guide our path, but that’s kind of what brought us here today. And I still love, you know, speaking and educating and bringing this world to people that don’t know it exists because it can be absolutely game changing for business owners, entrepreneurs to really learn how to grasp it.
Nick Schenck: [00:04:42] Yeah, I saw your website and definitely opened my eyes to the possibilities. But, but first, before we get more into that, I mean, you truly are probably the only person in the world who started a micro machine rental business, and that got into teeth whitening. I mean, that’s pretty, that’s pretty crazy. Uh, I collected micro machines. I had tons of baseball cards, micro machines, uh, that was probably half my closet as a kid. Um, Uh, tell me about that just briefly.
Brad Stevens: [00:05:14] Yeah. So like I, uh, you know, so my dad, you know, was an entrepreneur and so he would drive me to school every morning and, you know, and I was always just asking him questions and so forth.
And I just had these tons of these micro machines. So it was like, you know, third, third, fourth grade, um, and I went to this little Christian school, right. And my parents, you know, enjoyed Crown Royal and for some reason, that’s where I kept all of my micro machines. So I had these like large Crown Royal bags full of micro machines.
So I’d go marching into my little Christian school there in third grade with my Crown Royal bags of micro machines. And my mom actually found the folder. Like I had a full folder. I had a VP of Marketing, a VP of Sales. I had a newsletter that went to my customers. It was like a handwritten typewriter, like a little newsletter.
It’s crazy. I mean, I’ve honestly forgotten a lot about it. My mom showed me the whole little booklet, but, um, but yeah, we’d rent from a penny a night to two pennies a night. If you remember micro machines, you could also buy like the little, uh, um, like a little mall. You can buy like the auto garage.
And so those were like a nickel, a dime, you know, per night to rent. Um, but yeah, it was a little micro machine rental business, until finally it created a little too much distraction in the classroom and I got shut down.
Nick Schenck: [00:06:17] Okay. Most kids have like lemonade stands. Um, a micro machine rental business is pretty innovative.
Nad Elias: [00:06:23] Oh yeah. At a penny a day, it’s a highly transactional business model. All about scale, high volume, high volume.
Nick Schenck: [00:06:32] I remember as a kid getting that Beckett’s baseball magazine. That’s how I learned about like stocks and stock market is just like understanding the fluctuation of my baseball card collection, the value. And so little things like that are good precursors, I think, to what kids can pursue later on in professional life.
Um, but yeah, so I spent some time checking out Outsource Access leading up to this interview and what struck me is, you know, you have a lot of great video content explaining the concept. But it’s not a situation where a business owner goes to Outsource Access and they have a virtual assistant that they’re sharing with like multiple other businesses.
You find a virtual assistant that’s custom for the business that approaches you or the business owner, and all of your virtual assistants are based in the Philippines, correct me if I’m wrong there. Why did you choose the Philippines and why did you choose this model of like one virtual assistant per business? Because it seems like there’d be efficiencies to having one virtual assistant cover multiple businesses, right?
Brad Stevens: [00:07:37] Sure. Yeah. And it was a very intentional strategy to go that direction. Um, to answer your first question about why the Philippines, you know, as I mentioned at my last company, I learned how to do all this, you know, what I call kind of skills-based or project-based outsourcing, you know, whether it’s, you know, getting a data scrape done of leads from a group out of India or getting, you know, someone, um, out of Pakistan that we found that would do automated LinkedIn automation for all of our sales teams to an outbound call group in another country, or having somebody to do a website or graphic design, you know, and using different platforms, you know, back then it was Elance and oDesk before they merged to become Upwork. And now you got Fiver. So there’s a lot of like, one-off type projects.
And at the time, I had kind of my marketing director sort of managing all these resources. Um, and I was to a certain extent as well. I was like, you know what, what if I could just get somebody to kind of work side-by-side, more like a full-time staff, because there’s a bunch of other layers of stuff that I could really have them embrace that’s not one-off. And when I started exploring that path, everybody kept talking about the Philippines and how it’s so different in Southeast Asia, because, you know, people don’t realize that the U.S. controlled the Philippines up until like 1947.
So, you know, completely Americanized culture, you know, English is their second language. All the street signs are in English, you know, I mean, they have our education structure and college system. Um, so you don’t have nearly the culture gap. But you just have a very bright, driven, quick-learning population, uh, that’s sharp.
Um, and so that’s why, you know, a lot of your large Fortune 100, Fortune 1000 companies have done a lot of their call centers there because it’s a really good clean, you know, accent. And also just a very kind demeanor.
So I was like, well, that’s where I’ll start if I’m gonna have a virtual staff to kind of plug in.
And so I posted on a job board and found this young woman named Jaycel. Um, at the time she was 23 years old and I could tell she’s a quick learner. She didn’t have a lot of experience in a lot of specific software I was using, but I was looking for somebody that could just learn quickly, be a good communicator with me, and learn what I needed in my business.
Um, and you know, in the Philippines, minimum wage is $1 U.S., right? So you pay four or five times that, and these people are making more money they’ve ever made before. And it’s an affordable resource, you know, for us. So it’s kind of a win-win. Um, so yeah, that’s so that’s how I chose the Philippines.
Um, and I started working with this woman and I just realized how quickly she learned things with the hunger for education, like InfusionSoft is a marketing automation platform, which is kind of complicated. I mean, she went and watched all the FAQ videos on there, got herself up to speed, even got herself certified and sent me a picture of it the next day and said, “Hey Brad, this is what I did over the weekend.”
Like a proactive drive and commitment that I hadn’t seen before. Um, and then she got certified in project management. She was head of her Toastmasters International group in her little town there. Um, and then she ended up getting certified in Six Sigma. She’s actually working on her green belt. Um, there’s a lot more in the journey, but that woman who was going to start as my virtual assistant, who I thought was going to maybe do a little bit of light email management and manage my CRM and so forth is now my chief operating officer of over 210 employees, um, and crushing it. And so my experience with Jaycel is what led me to realize, and I added another one and added another one and I realized if you set a high bar and you really kind of treat people well, which is a critical part of our model. Um, you can find incredible talent and it’s a win-win again, it’s very affordable, they’re making good money, and the same on the other side.
That was kind of the journey to the Philippines kind to answer your first question. And then, um, in terms of the model, when I decided to launch this company, I’d been outsourcing for a number of years. And as I mentioned, I did a lot of speaking and consulting and I would help people figure out what to outsource and I would just refer them to other companies and kind of be sort of a broker and then realized, you know, there’s a lot of failure points I was experiencing. And one of those was that a lot of these companies do the fractional approach, um, where it’s like, sure, you know, you want 10 hours a week and somebody else wants 10 hours a week and someone else wants 10 hours a week. There’s two issues.
One is, you have a virtual assistant that – especially if they’re gonna embrace and do a lot in your business – they’re having to have their brain split among three or four different businesses. And ultimately, it’s too much and it can be overwhelming. Um, so it’s a lot for them to kind of be up to speed on.
The other issue is, is a lot of people will start with 10 hours a week. And when I very first started this company, I agreed to do that. I would, I would at least split. I wouldn’t do any more than split, but I’d say alright, you can have 20 hours a week and somebody else can. But we’d get, you know, 45 days in and they’re like, “Wow, this is fantastic. Could I actually get 30 hours a week?”
Now you’ve got to go detach that person from another person to make more room and go find that other person a new VA. And it just was too much of a challenge. So we decided to do full-time only. Um, we usually typically find that they get them absorbed very quickly in 40 hour a week, um, work without too much effort.
Nad Elias: [00:12:04] Brad, there’s a variety of services that I saw on your site and different skills that the virtual assistants provide. Two questions, two questions, which is the most popular? But also, uh, which is the most random, like what’s the one that somebody came to you and says, “Hey, can you find me a virtual assistant that does this?”
Brad Stevens: [00:12:25] Sure. And this is another thing that I’ll say as far as kind of the approach I took in our business model was is that, you know, being a passionate entrepreneur and growing up in small to medium business, you know, most small businesses don’t just have one specific type of thing. Um, and in fact, like, you know, that kind of list that you sort of shared when we were exchanging emails: email management, project management, social media, managing other freelancers, personal research, travel planning. It ends up being where that VA cause our, our model is we focus on finding people that are fast learners. They’re great communicators that can take feedback, because ultimately, as a lot of you guys know, most small to medium businesses, you know, the owner themselves is wearing a bunch of hats, and they want to pass those hats on to someone else. They can focus on their highest and best use of time. So to be honest, most of our VA’s are doing a combination of things um, you know, within the business.
They may start more in kind of helping with marketing and operations, and then once the person, our clients see the quality of the experience, then it kind of unfolds and that’s how we have clients that add two, three, four, five VAs. It truly redefines how they think about, you know, scaling and, you know, and growing the business.
I’d say there’s a lot in the marketing and sales support function, you know, kind of plugging in and supporting, you know, a sales team, you know, managing all their LinkedIn accounts, doing lead qualification, doing CRM management and list hygiene and so forth.
Um, and then a lot of the operation stuff, I call it, you know, administrative and operational clutter that’s in every single, you know, business that is just not the best use of time of, of kind of the owner, some of the key managers that can take on. And that could be, you know, going into CRM and running reports to coordinating logistics with customers.
And then the second bucket is things for a lot of people that’s on the radar. What are things that they are not able to do and they have not done for years due to time constraints, money constraints, or knowledge constraints. And usually that’s what we step into next is that we cost-effectively make it capable of actually doing some of those things, like getting video testimonials done they’ve been meaning to do it for years and put on their website or, you know, getting LinkedIn built out or what have you. So those are the kind of two main buckets we operate from.
Nad Elias: [00:14:31] What’s the most random?
Brad Stevens: [00:14:33] Honestly, they all fall into similar types of buckets. But there was there’s one. It’s a guy, that’s a liquidation company. So basically if a company ends up going out of business and they have a huge warehouse of like thousands of Skus of stuff, and basically he’s the guy that goes and gets a chance to bid on liquidating all that stuff.
So basically inside of two weeks, he needs to take every single Sku item that’s in that warehouse, go cross price match it across Amazon and everything else out there to figure out what he thinks he can sell it for, and come back to a bid of what he’s willing to buy that batch of goods for to make a margin.
And so he needed VA’s at scale to deploy and whenever he would get these projects to take this whole list and to divide and conquer, to go find out all the pricing online so that he could price it appropriately to make margin .
Nick Schenck: [00:15:18] Is that like a custom project for you? Cause I noticed on the pricing, there’s like a, a one-time fee then it’s like, I think around $1,700 a month for a virtual assistant. For situation like that, are you just putting together a custom package?
Brad Stevens: [00:15:32] Yeah. So in that situation, $495 is what we charge up front to do kind of our whole assessment process, because we put a lot of time and effort into helping figure out what their needs are. We do a deep dive discovery session. They have a call with our director of service delivery in the Philippines to really dig deep and understand, because again, that’s another failure point that I’ve found with a lot of companies is they don’t do a good job of helping them understand what their needs are.
And to be honest, that also kind of helps us keep out people that aren’t serious. I mean, we’ve got more demand than we know what to do with. And so it helps us have people that are committed. I mean, it’s a fully refundable initial fee that we fully refund, even if we don’t, you know, if we’re not able to find a fit, we’re happy to do it.
Rarely happens. Um, and yeah, $1,695 a month is what we charge for a full-time 40 hour a week resource. Um, and so as a project like that, you know, when people have a lump project that they want to absorb, we can absolutely help with that. Um, but let’s see if there are other things and elements in the business that maybe you haven’t thought of that we could support.
Because a lot of times they’ll come to the conversation like, “No, no, no, I only need him to do this.” I’ll send him a link to watch one of my webinars that I’ve done and I’m like, “Hey, look, just go watch this webinar. I go through about 30 case studies of things that most business owners never thought they could outsource.”
And they come back with three pages of notes and they’re like, “Oh, you’re right. Yeah. I need them to do this. And then these are all kinds of other things.” So we’ll typically find other things that absorb them pretty quickly.
Nick Schenck: [00:16:43] Got it. Um, one thing that I was struck by when I was looking at some of the videos on your site is how much you sort of emphasize the company culture and the engagement that you have with your employees in the Philippines . Why have you put such an emphasis on that?
Brad Stevens: [00:17:01] You know culture is one of those words that gets kind of thrown around, you know, a lot in companies and it’s like, yeah, we have good culture and we have bean bags and, you know, pool tables and so forth, but culture comes down, I think to just that people feel appreciated.
Um, you know, regardless you can give them all the benefits and perks and everything else in the world, but they just want to feel recognized, valued, and appreciated. Um, and that’s kind of been inherent about the way, I mean, it was instilled in me and just by my family and my parents and how I’ve kind of maintained my approach to all my employees in my companies.
Um, but it certainly has played out significantly in building a company on the other side of the world, especially when I can’t go there in the middle of COVID. Um, so it started off, you know, with, with Jaycel, when I started working with her, um, I just, you know, was very much in tune of understanding what her needs were and how can I maximize the experience for her.
And, um, and about, I don’t know, probably two or three months into working together, she sent me a picture, and it was a picture of these kids in a village with shoes, kind of in a big circle around. And she said, “Brad, I just want you to know because of the money I’m able to make working with you, I was able to go buy shoes for all these children in this low-income village and go, you know, go out and travel and deliver it to them.”
And it just struck me that it was just really cool to see that was so in alignment with kind of what I wanted to do. I said, “Jaycel, if we end up launching a company around this, um, you know, we’re going to start a whole program.” And so we did called VA’s Give Back.
And so now we buy shoes, educational supplies, um, as a company, we invest in that, and then our VA’s actually volunteer their time to go deliver. There’s a big earthquake that hit in the southern part of the Philippines and a part of our team drove eight hours south, and we bought supplies and so forth for the victims for it.
From a culture standpoint, it’s showing our employees that we care, we care about them. And we also care about the communities that they live in as well. And so it makes a huge impact. And when it comes to looking at again, failure points I saw of other companies, is that other people have tried this whole outsourcing thing and explored it.
Then all of a sudden they have high turnover, you know, by the time they’ve invested in and gotten a good traction with somebody, you know, all of a sudden six days in, they disappear. It’s because a lot of these companies out there don’t pay people well. They don’t treat them well, and they just churn and burn, it’s high turnover.
We hire them as full-time employees of ours in the Philippines. I have a whole Filipino corporation. We have, I mean, 30 managers. So we hire them as full-time employees, we pay their health insurance, we pay benefits and so forth. So we show that we care and want to invest in them.
So showing that commitment personally has made a huge difference in attracting the quality of talent, retaining talent so that we can deliver a consistent experience for our clients as well. You know, so it’s a win-win, and probably the most exciting things that I do that I love. And it’s kind of contrary to what most people think you know, is, you know, when you’re CEO and the founder, you need to be spending all your time up in the clouds and all these, you know, purely visionary, strategic things.
One of the most valuable things I do is I write personal welcome messages and check-in messages with every single of our frontline VA’s. I block off three to four hours every single week to do it. Um, and so, you know, Frank Blake, a lot of people may recall, when he turned around Home Depot, I remember reading this article a while back ago.
And one of the most impactful things he said he did in the turnaround on that company was writing a hundred handwritten letters to frontline employees every single week. And so I remember reading that and I had already kind of started doing this. And, and it is, I mean, I just, it’s amazing. I, I write a personal welcome message. Tell them we’re so excited to have them be a part of the company, we’re committed to their personal development, you know, we’ll exchange a little banter kind of back and forth. Um, and then randomly, you know, throughout the year, I’ll drop back in on them at a frontline level. And particularly in the Philippines, where it’s very much a, uh, a downward kind of approach, um, that they never get that kind of engagement, certainly from their managers and much less the CEO.
It’s the right thing to do, it’s the right way to treat people. But it also translates into the health and strength of our, you know, business. It’s a big part of what we do. And it’s a, it’s a, it’s a strategic advantage for us as well.
Nad Elias: [00:20:54] Yeah, and it shows how cause-driven you are. And that’s what creates, you know, the power of organizations these days and, and, and the ones that care and care about, you know, the world that we’re a part of.
It’s amazing how often we get asked the, the, the question and we asked our clients and our customers, uh, about culture and their answer is the full bar and the bean bags and, you know, they start talking about all their perks, and that’s not what culture is about. And, and Brad you’ve nailed it. It’s important to be cause-driven and, and, you know, get everybody aligned to that vision. Love what you guys are doing out there.
Nick Schenck: [00:21:30] Who you hire, who you fire and who you promote, nothing defines culture more than those three things.
Nad Elias: [00:21:35] Yeah. Look at your team, look who you have. That’s your culture, right? I always tell, uh, uh, you know, we’ve got a story here in Texas about Enron, which everybody’s heard the Enron story. Um, one of their core values was integrity.
Brad Stevens: [00:21:53] I actually had an interview with Enron. That was actually one of my interviews in college.
Nad Elias: [00:21:56] Oh, did you? And you hear Andy Fastow talk. He was the former CFO at Enron, you hear him talk now and he starts by saying, these are the core values and they didn’t align to any one of them, and neither did his entire finance team. Didn’t align to any of the core values, especially integrity .
Brad Stevens: [00:22:13] That’s gotta be a part of your daily dialogue. One of the things that’s been helpful in our success is I’m all about systems and processes.
So we use a combination of kind of four disciplines of execution and EOS, which I’m sure you guys are familiar with, it’s big in E.O. as well. So we, we actually had an amazing EO Philippines member do our implementation for EOS, um, which I did that full implementation. And she actually had us all -because everybody’s, you know, heard Jim Collins’ Good To Great. Right. You know, it came out a number of years ago, but she actually had us reread that together as a team. And I’d say rereading that book now at the helm of a company, the size that we’re in, and also in this leadership role with president of E.O. Atlanta, which is another major leadership role, I’m kind of doing in parallel.
I just absorbed that book in a whole, whole different way. And it has now become, you know, and even some of the companies he referenced in there, some older companies that, you know, the tenets of that are just, you know, profound. And the people and how you treat them and how you manage them. And so out of that, honestly, our values became, spell the word, GREAT, you know, being: gratitude, relationship-driven, an everlong commitment to learning, you know, attention to detail, and thoughtful communication.
And when we communicate as a management team throughout the week, whenever we have issues or what have you, you always have to kind of bring up a core value and how you’re kind of connected to it. So that it doesn’t just become this stuff that’s on paper or painted on the wall, but you actually live it in your actions.
Nad Elias: [00:23:34] Another good one is, uh, The Culture Code, Daniel Coyle, have you read that?
Brad Stevens: [00:23:39] No, I haven’t yet.
Nad Elias: [00:23:40] That’s a great one. He ingrained himself in the cultures of Google, Facebook, all these companies that just massively scaled and how they did what they did early on, and then how they pivoted when they needed to and all those different things.
He wrote a book, The Culture Code, which details, uh, just the differences in culture. Like the things that Google could do that GM can’t do. Right. Because GM’s GM and Google’s Google. They’re both totally different cultures. But if GM, with their employee base, tried to do the things that Google was doing with their employee base, it wouldn’t work.
And he wrote a book on that. It’s a great book. That’s one I’d definitely recommend.
Brad Stevens: [00:24:16] I don’t if you guys have heard of Culture Index, but it’s a whole nother kind of framework. We’re actually in the middle of going through it right now with a guy named Samit, who is one of our advisors on it.
Nad Elias: [00:24:23] That’s a great assessment tool.
Brad Stevens: [00:24:24] Yeah. I’m really, really excited. .
Nick Schenck: [00:24:26] For those of you listening to EO stands for the Entrepreneurship Organization, right?
Nad Elias: [00:24:30] Yeah. Entrepreneur Organization, uh, EOS is the entrepreneurial operating system. It’s a, uh, there’s a book called Traction, which again, any, this is my personal feeling. Any, any business, any scaling business needs some type of operating system. And I always tell people, it doesn’t matter what you use. Just pick one.
Brad Stevens: [00:24:49] Exactly.
Nad Elias: [00:24:49] There’s so many out there, right. There’s Scaling Up, Rockefeller Habits, Traction. Um, Traction is the one that, you know, we use it in our organization as well, but it’s for, uh, scaling small to medium-sized businesses.
Nick Schenck: [00:25:01] Okay.
Nad Elias: [00:25:01] And, it just creates a meeting cadence, right? Not just a meeting cadence, an operating cadence for your business. Right?
Brad Stevens: [00:25:08] It’s a goal development and execution framework. Whatever you choose, choose something.
Nad Elias: [00:25:14] You know it, I don’t know that it matters as long as you just have one. I think your business is going to be better if you just have one, and you just stick to it.
Nick Schenck: [00:25:21] Sure. Right.
Brad Stevens: [00:25:22] It creates a cadence of meetings, connections, goal development, and, and having those level 10 meetings with EOS is that, you know, it’s just like in any relationship, right? Anybody that’s in a marriage or otherwise knows that things fester and unless they get brought up, then they explode, you know, and what I love about EOS and the level 10s is the framework of it is it keeps things on the table and transparency. So things don’t get a chance to fester.
So you can constantly have a release valve for issues in the business and get them addressed.