“Nothing’s Sacred” Episode 9: Outsource Access CEO Brad Stevens (Part 2)
Outsourcing jobs overseas generally has a negative perception. But Brad Stevens sees it as a way to unlock the potential of employees in the U.S. who get bogged down in the minutiae.
Stevens is the founder & CEO of Outsource Access, a private company that connects small business owners and entrepreneurs to full-time virtual assistants (VAs) in the Philippines.
In Part 2 of our conversation, he dispels some myths relating to VAs, describes a typical engagement with a VA, and shares his long-term goals for Outsource Access.
Scroll below to listen to the podcast with Brad and to read the full transcript. Click here to listen to Part 1 of our conversation.
Nothing’s Sacred: Episode 9 Transcript
Nad Elias: I love what you said about turnover. I think part of that is how you’ve managed and built the culture because I, you know, I’ve had some less than agreeable experiences with outsourcing.
It’ll be in countries that we’ll leave unnamed. In recruiting, we’ll outsource certain types of recruiting and research and just some of the tasks that help support our recruiting team to be able to do more interviews and talk to more people. We had a outsource partner in a country that we won’t name. And we had his name. We’ll call it Bill. We had Bill for about six days, and the next day we had a whole different person who was also named Bill. Like we went through three Bill’s in about, I’d say a month. And they’d keep the same email, the same name, and they’d be just a different voice on the phone, and I’d be like, “Look, dude, I know it’s not you. It’s somebody else.”
He goes, “Nope, nope. This is Bill. This is Bill. How can I help you?”
Brad Stevens: It’s so funny how often I’ve heard that exact same, part of that is what drove my opinion on how to do this.
Nad Elias: In one guess, you’ll be able to tell what country I’m probably talking about, but we don’t need to get into it.
Brad Stevens: That’s challenging too. Because I mean, you’ve committed, you know, aside from them not being transparent about it, but just, you know, particularly when you talk about the difference between skill based stuff, which is one-off like, we talked about, like, if I just need a logo done or a website built, or what have you, I mean, that’s a one-off and we’re done, but if it’s somebody you’re going to bring into your business, it’s going to absorb, you know, and become a part of your organization and either support the owners, the managers in different departments, you know, you’re taking time to build institutional knowledge, you know?
Nad Elias: Totally.
Brad Stevens: And you know, once you’ve got them up to speed on how to do something. That’s why we’re fanatical. We use a tool called Screencast-O-Matic that that allows people to screen record their voice, you know, and their mouse. So they can capture things and create a playbook, you know, from day one.
So all the things they’re doing can kind of be captured, um, because you gotta have that, you know, redundancy and people gotta have confidence that person’s going to be there, you know, longer term.
Nick Schenck: Yup. Yeah. When COVID hit in March, did you see a noticeable uptick in people reaching out to Outsource Access? Or did it have the opposite effect?
Brad Stevens: You know, we saw, I mean, when we launched in kind of May/June of 2019, um, I mean, we were growing at a pretty substantial clip about, you know, 10, 15, 20 new staff kind of per month. Because everything was kind of moving in this direction.
Um, there just weren’t a lot of companies that were doing it the way that we were doing it. And when you do a good job in this experience, you know, word of mouth and referral, because I still have yet to put the gas on our marketing plan. I mean, because it’s all just, when you deliver, people refer like crazy. They want to see other entrepreneurs have the same experience, and when March hit – and we weren’t too concentrated in any specific industry -um, I kind of organically let us grow in different industries so we can be diversified. We did have quite a few in commercial real estate believe it or not, though.
And actually we didn’t see a huge impact. So I’d say March, April, there’s a little bit just of a pause of kind of our, you know, natural path of onboarding. Uh, just cause a lot of people were just pausing everything, regardless if they were good or bad, just kind of getting their feet underneath them. Um, and then kind of the back half of April, things started kind of picking back up, you know, pretty aggressively.
So a little bump and there were some industries that got decimated decimated. I mean, we lost maybe, you know, a dozen or so clients immediately that were in the entertainment industry or others that got really hit hard, but fortunately, even in industries like commercial real estate, they got hit pretty hard, we kept, you know, the majority of our clients because when they started going down their P and L like everybody did when COVID hit. And it’s like, what can I cut? You know, they were seeing the ROI from what we were delivering for them.
And we have some where we were the only remaining employee that they had. We had one guy that had, I mean, I don’t know, 50, 60 employees. And he was down to just him and his VA as he was having to rethink and reboot his business.
Nad Elias: And with remote work becoming more common as a result of COVID, in how the virtual assistants work with the executives, has anything changed there at all?
Brad Stevens: When I speak on this or people hear about it, there’s that certain percentage that just get it. And they’re like, “Yeah, I want it. And if you offer a full turnkey solution, like that’s what I want, you know,” because I share when I speak, I mean, I share all kinds of different paths people can go down, and some people want to go down Upwork or Fiver or what have you. And some people just want a full turnkey, particularly for the VA side of things. It’s gonna be a full-time staff. You get those that, that engage very quickly that are kind of at the tails of the bell curve.
And what happened when COVID kind of happened in all this push, all those people that were more slow adopters, you know, you kind of got that net standard deviation in of people that, um, that really started. It’s been sitting on their radar. They’ve been meaning to do it. They heard a friend that’s been having success and so forth.
Um, and this kind of is what kind of pushed them over the edge, knowing that they needed to go down this, you know, down this path. So, yeah, so it’s definitely been, you know, an accelerator. We were already kind of moving more in that, in that direction. And, you know, on the surface, a lot of people, when they think about outsourcing, you know, it kind of has a negative of like, Oh, you’re exporting jobs overseas, you know, you should be hiring, you know, local and so forth.
To be honest, the vast majority of what we do in companies is it’s not, “Let me go fire my marketing director and go hire VA.” It’s really about taking a look at their staff. And anybody that has an amazing employee, as you guys know, you want to hold onto that, like crazy, you know, to get somebody who’s engaged, committed, a right culture fit.
It’s about getting that person to their highest and best use of time. Um, so a lot of, I think what we’ve seen in terms of shift towards remote work is, you know, if you’re paying a marketing director, you know, $70,000 a year, you know, you want that person focusing on highest value activities. So if you flank them with a VA for $1,695 a month, now collectively that marketing director, plus that person is producing, you know, five X, what they were doing before, because they can move faster and quicker.
And then honestly, a lot of people that were wanting to try and launch a new business, explore a new idea, get into a new market.
They weren’t because of costs and barriers and time barriers. And this introduced a path for them to go down and launch something, try something, do something where they could do it cost-effectively and not have to bet the farm. So that’s the other area.
Nad Elias: Well, that’s, that’s the power of your business model and the efficiency of work. Right? I think this is one of the reasons that we started this podcast and we want to emphasize, um, uh, these types of conversations and different ways of doing business, because the way that our parents worked is different than the way we work, and it’s going to be different than the way our kids work going forward.
So you’re maximizing the efficiency of a workforce and of an executive, right. Tim Ferriss’s Four Hour Work Week. Right. And he just talks about, if you’re focused on work product and maximizing efficiency, you can work less hours, right?
It’s not about necessarily an eight-hour workday if you’re efficient in the time that you’re working. To me, that’s the big difference in how work has changed and you guys are a big part of making that a reality in the workplace. ,
Brad Stevens: We’re trying to help people explore that path. And, you know, I tell people one of the first exercises we do and I share this when I speak, I get people kind of a free template on it. I said, before you outsource or even think about doing any of this take, you know, a week or two and just audit, what are you doing that isn’t the best use of your time? And just track how many hours per month you’re spending on that activity.
And I can’t tell you how many people, they don’t realize it. They’re like, Oh, well I only spend maybe 30 minutes a week on this. By the time they really do a tracking of it, before you know it, they’re spending five or six hours on chasing down, you know, receivables from customers. I was like that’s five or six hours that can be reallocated.
So having them go through that exercise of just what is not the best use of your time for them and their key staff. And just go through that and say, if you never outsource a thing, this is going to create a conversation that you’re going to fix a lot of things, because there’s so many owners that have had an employee working with them for seven years. And they’re like, “John, you’re still doing TPS reports. I didn’t even know you were doing that.”
“Well, yeah, you asked me to do those five years ago and I’m still doing them.”
So I’ve seen so many companies tease out efficiencies and things that are bloated. And then that second bucket it’s like, all right, now, what are things that on the radar that you’ve been wanting to do, you haven’t gotten to due to time, money or knowledge constraints, you know, whatever it may be.
And they start brainstorming that and they come back with just two super substantial lists that translates into tons of dollars of value, either in efficiencies or opportunities lost.
Nick Schenck: You alluded to a little bit earlier that you really haven’t like put your foot on the gas in terms of marketing.
When you think in terms of growth for the business, is a huge percentage of your growth existing customers who just keep on adding more VAs? Or is it still net new customers or clients are the bulk of your growth?
Brad Stevens: It’s been a combination. I wasn’t expecting as much referral business as we have gotten, to be honest. I knew it would come and we haven’t even officially launched a major like referral program. As entrepreneurs, when we find something that’s helpful, we want to help share it with other entrepreneurs to try and make their life a bit easier.
Especially with this whole outsourcing thing that everybody hears is this great dream, but then they start going down the path and it ends up being a mess. We’ve been fortunate that our growth is, I actually just presented in my forum in E.O. We’re all doing our own flywheel, um, after going through “Good To Great” and also “Bezonomics,” which you guys haven’t checked out is, and also another – say what you will about Amazon, but it’s here and it’s going and just looking at the Bezonomics kind of strategy, but developing our own flywheel. And it’s like what causes your business to self perpetuate?
And it’s the shift of like the pure marketing funnel where it’s top down of build awareness. And then the customer is at the bottom of the process, but making the customer the center of everything that you do, which is what Amazon does, you know, so well in improving the customer experience. And so by just being hyper-focused on the quality of what we’re delivering, um, It’s translated into our customers, you know, sharing.
I mean, I got four referrals in my inbox, actually, right before I hopped on the phone here with you guys today, I mean, it’s usually three or four, you know, a day, you know, they kind of come through, and then yeah, some existing clients that are adding additional VAs. Um, once they see how this works and they realize for $1,695 a month, I’m getting this level of output and competency.
You know, you asked, I think one of the questions you’d shared with me is like, you know, our tagline: redefining how you scale. That’s exactly what this does is once somebody – just like it did for me back when I had my whitening business and things exploded, and I had to learn how to do this world. I’m like, I will never grow a business the same way ever again.
I know that in two weeks, for less than $500 bucks, I can have a website done things launched and out the door and validating a product or not. So for businesses, once they get a taste of this, um, you know, we had, we had one client that’s actually in the healthcare space. And he started with one VA to kind of support his operations person.
And then once they realized the quality of it, then he hired another VA to help their marketing people. Then he hired another one to help their customer service. And then he hired another one to do their finance. And he’s I think about to add a sixth one. So it just redefines how they grow. And so we’ve had same existing customers.
And we have one client that’s about to be north of 30 VA’s with us. And going to be doubling that inside the next 90 days, that’s in the financial services industry.
Nad Elias: That’s crazy. That’s why the COVID, question around just remote work and how it’s impacted your business, your answer is interesting because Nick, I would have thought that, if you have an executive admin in your office and suddenly nobody’s in the office, well, it’s much easier to comprehend a virtual system wherever they’re located, right. Philippines or Austin or Atlanta.
Right. And so, uh, that’s where I would’ve thought that you all would have scaled, uh, during that time. And maybe it’s still coming. Maybe it’s part of the gradual growth. But to me it makes total sense if my admin’s not right next to me anymore, well, I can just have an admin anywhere. It doesn’t matter.
Brad Stevens: Yeah, when people are looking at, you know, just that pure support function, it can be virtual anywhere. .Just listening to owner stories. No matter if they’ve got an insurance agency or a Hollywood video production firm or manufacturing or construction or financial services, they’ve all got that unique administrative operational marketing constraint, but it’s just different for each one.
Nick Schenck: What are the one to two things that keep you up at night about your business?
Brad Stevens: For us, it’s just, how fast to grow. I’ve got a national PR firm, actually a PR firm I was talking to, then he ended up being a client with us and we hadn’t even hired him yet as a PR firm – that’s just sitting there just waiting that we could just, I could pull so many additional levers and knobs to, to double our inbound, you know, customers, but I don’t want to outstrip the quality of what we’re doing.
Um, and also, you know, the talent level that we are bringing on in the Philippines, and the bar that we’ve set, um, in terms of the talent. So it’s just this constant balance of, I mean, I love the sales and marketing, which is really about education. And that’s the biggest thing. I think that all the marketing and sales is today is just education, education.
That’s why I do all these speaking events all over for different organizations. It’s just, it’s just educating about this whole world. Um, so I love doing that side, but it’s constantly like, well, how much do I press the gas for what we can do on that side? So what’s keeping us up at night is just building our infrastructure.
You know, we’re, we’re actually trying to even look at bringing on additional layers of management architecture so that we can continue to maintain the quality, the experience, and not outstrip that. So we’re, we’re trying to double this year, our targets to get, you know, to 500 employees. Um, our five-year kind of BHAG is to get to about 2,500, which I think is very achievable and also still maintain our quality. So that’s the biggest thing that I think about.
Nick Schenck: That’s interesting. In terms of personally running an ad agency and a production house, I saw the video of the wedding videographers on your site, and I immediately thought of my own company.
And do you ever have companies that just come to you and like, “Hey, tell me about other clients you have that fit our profile, all the ways you’re helping them.” And then you basically are like, “Okay, here’s all the problems we can solve for you,” or is it typically the other way around where people have specific problems they come to you to solve that they already know about?
Brad Stevens: First of all, props on all the videos you consumed on our website .Thorough thorough due diligence.
Nad Elias: We do our homework.
Brad Stevens: I appreciate it, I mean, you know, we, that’s something I invested heavily in, um, you know, in everything that we do with our company that demonstrates our culture and what we’re about, because you know, this is a different type of thing.
And a lot of people have what I call DFCs – doubts, fears and concerns. So that main video that you saw on our site, when it clicks on get a virtual assistant, it’s me, you know, it starts off with raw footage in the Philippines and then it’s me showing everything step-by-step, and I can’t tell you how much great feedback I get on that because people watch that and they’re like, “Brad, you were inside my head answering all the questions I had about this.”
So our call ends up being about 10 minutes, just answering specific questions about their business. It’s amazing how powerful that video has been on our website for our sales process to remove friction and to just get people to address their challenges. And we actually just launched a set of another nine testimonial video stories as well, that are in all kinds of different industries, everything from a professional speaker to a financial services business to another video production group to a manufacturing company, where they share their experience with us and how it’s made an impact in their business and sharing those specific things.
So, you know, as much as we can help people see themselves through the lens of those stories, it brings them that much closer to want to kind of engage with us. Most people, regardless of what industry they’re in, they can relate to that administrative and operational clutter.
And even though it may not be exactly what their issue is, they can connect with it. That’s why the speaking engagements I do, I share these 30 case studies across multiple industries because most everybody can connect with it. So in some cases they see those videos and they already connect and it’s like, I get it, um, let’s move ahead, others, it’s like, “Hey, you know, here’s my collection of things.” And that’s why we do that discovery session with people. Um, cause we want people to brain dump and tell us what all the constraint points that you’re dealing with.
Um, we can’t tackle them all tomorrow, but give us a full picture of what your issues are. And then let’s narrow, because our goal, you know, we want to pay for ourselves within the first 60 days. We want to add enough value in a company to pay for ourselves in 60 days or less. So we take that whole brain dump and then I’d say, “Nick, alright, let’s drill this down. What are the top five to 10 things of all the stuff we just talked about that could add the most value to your business, either in cost reduction efficiency or revenue generation?” And we hammer the heck out of those for the first 30 to 45 days. Get them documented implement so we can add value. And then we start addressing the other things on the list.
So that’s the second scenario you introduced is sort of, you know, they bring me, bring you all their collection of clutter and things and we help evaluate it, sift through it, and help them prioritize what to focus on.
Nick Schenck: Yup. Before we wrap up, I just had one other question, so, you know, you want to grow to 500 employees, then your five-year plan is 2,500 employees.
That’s a lot of virtual assistants. Do you have like another country in mind after the Philippines? If you feel like the Philippines is tapped out and you’re having trouble finding the qualified, really hungry people that you need?
Brad Stevens: You know, in terms of a volume, I mean there, yeah. I think the latest stat I saw was they’re graduating, you know, 500 to 700,000 four-year college graduates a year, um, in the Philippines.
So, you know, for, for us to have a successful, thriving business, you know, I only need 0.00001% of the customer population. And we look in the U.S. and you got what, 30-40 million small to medium businesses. And that’s just the U.S., I mean, and we’ve got countries, we’ve got customers in Africa, Australia, Canada, um, the majority are kind of in the U.S. And in the Philippines, you know, we work with a lot of kind of younger, um, college degree kind of VA’s. When we first started, I originally was, you know, let’s focus on hiring more seasoned and super experienced VAs. And when we did what we found is a lot of people that just had bad habits and were doing things differently.
And we’ve created such a streamlined training and onboarding process that if we bring somebody on with the right kind of capabilities, fast-learner, great communicator, and can take feedback. We can make them super valuable for a client very quickly with our approach, and culture index is another element that I’m really excited about adding.
So between new graduates and pulling people from other companies that aren’t delivering a good experience for their VA’s, I feel we’re in pretty good shape. I do have some exploration in EO and Outsource Access West and kind of looking at Latin America, South America actually just had a call with a guy in Argentina to explore that path.
But I don’t wanna get too distracted. We have a lot of opportunities still in the Philippines.
Nad Elias: I’m glad Nick asked, but the competition for talent in the Philippines right now, I would imagine there’s just so many, and you mentioned the big shops, right? The Googles and the Facebooks of the world, but there’s so much competition in the outsourcing world alone, right?
Brad Stevens: We’re based in kind of the southern part, you know, of the Philippines. So we’re not in Manila. When I went and visited there, I mean, I visited 20 facilities, different parts of the country, a lot in Manila and Makati and Clark in the northern part. And I chose it’s just naturally where Jaycel was, was from originally down in the southern part of the Philippines, where it’s not as dense, there’s not as much extreme competition. It’s definitely there, for sure. But it’s such a tendency over there to not, you know, make a general statement – there’s a lot people that treat their people well, but there’s just still a lot that, that aren’t having as good of an experience. And aren’t as focused and committed to their personal development.
I mean, we have financial advisors come in. I mean, we want to help them with their personal relationships. I mean, we have this thing called, ISOF. ISOF, that we do every single month. That our HR director has called: In Search Of, and it’s nothing but personal professional development programming for our VA’s. Um, you know, if they end up wanting to start their own thing at some point, or, you know, whatever, whatever separate small business of some kind in their local town, you know, that’s the path they take.
If we can help them get to the 2.0 version of themselves, that’s actually one of our missions. We wanna help our staff get to the 2.0 version of themselves, you know, then it’s been a win for both sides.
Nad Elias: What advice – and I’m going to ask you this question as we wrap up – and I know again, part of the Entrepreneurs Organization’s sort of code is you’re not allowed to give advice. You’re allowed to share experiences. So you’re not trying to sound like a know-it-all and talking about yourself. But what advice would you give to a small-to-medium sized scaling business executive that is, uh, looking at ways to become more efficient looking at outsourcing? Is it as simple as you know, maybe again, you can give a plug here – it’s cool, Brad, but, you know, go in and setting up that, , 10-minute discovery call? What should they look at if they’re considering something like this?
Brad Stevens: Well, it goes back as I shared earlier about that process. Before people outsource a thing, you know, and I know it’s cliche, but they’ve got to have the right mindset, you know, around it. They’ve got to be in a place to really want to elevate to the next tier. ,Even going back to the old school book, E-Myth, you know, and a lot of people have mentioned it, but it’s like, are you going to be the person living and breathing in the business all day long? Are you really going to work on it and work on the business and grow and remove yourself from the detail? You got to have that mental commitment to you want to move in that direction. Secondly, going through that exercise I shared, having the discipline to just pause and figure out what are those things that I’m doing. If you have a small team or employees, send the questions to them, what are you doing that’s not a good use of your time? And how many hours per month are you spending on it? I can’t tell you how many hundreds of times I’ve done this exercise and how impactful it’s been. Take the time to do it.
Say, “Hey, we’re going to meet in two weeks, and we’re gonna have a three-hour meeting. Come with your list.” So that bucket, and then secondly, make another list of what’s on the radar that you think that could add value in the company. And I’ll tell you a lot of small businesses, you know, if you have to have one or two staff. Those staff have a lot of insight and knowledge that they never get asked to share. And when you ask them, “Hey, where do you think we could add the most value to the business – if time, money, and knowledge weren’t an issue – what would you want to do? And make a punch list there. So before you do any of that, I would start with both of those questions and get all that stuff on the table to really see what you’re working with to figure out, okay, where is this going to impact the business and what should we prioritize?
Because you can randomly start doing things more efficient here and there. But create kind of a plan around what you want to do, make a list and then prioritize, just like I shared what we do with our clients – what’s your list of stuff, brain dump everything, and then say, okay, these are the five things that we want to tackle first that we think can add the most value to the business.
I mean, if it’s a one-off project, if you realize that, you know, hey, everybody keeps telling us that our logo is God-awful. And that’s a problem that keeps us from getting business. Great. Go to Fiver and get somebody to do a logo for you for 10 or 15 bucks, or go to, you know, 48hourlogo.com. If you see a collection of things that are in the business that could add a lot more value if you could get them off your plate, then you know, maybe a VA is kind of the path, a virtual staff to plug in and become a part of the team.
Um, and there’s a whole webinar. If anybody’s interested on how to connect, I’m happy to share, um, kind of recording of that. It’s about a 90 minute webinar that I do where I just kind of go through visuals, just tons of case studies and examples and tons of people that hear that, you know, so even people that have been outsourcing for years, they come to me afterwards and they’re like, “Brad, I got four pages of notes that like, I’d never even thought about approaching it this way or that way.”
And then also how to integrate some of the cool tech tools into the process that streamline it, so happy to share it.
Nad Elias: Cool.
Nick Schenck: Brad, this has been a wealth of information and there’s a good chance you’ll be hearing from me soon. I’m like thinking of all the ways I could use a VA. Well, we really appreciate you joining and we’ll have to have you on in another year and see if you hit that 500 goal.
Nad Elias: Yeah, and then another three years to see if you hit that three-year goal. Love to watch your success, Brad. Appreciate the time.
Brad Stevens: Wow, this can be my accountability podcast every year.
Nad Elias: There you go. That’s what we’ll call it. I’m gonna change the name now. The recruitAbility accountability podcast. Thanks Brad.
All right guys, take care.
Brad Stevens: My pleasure.