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Real Life Planning Podcast Episode 4: Working With A Virtual Assistant With Michelle York

Business Coaching

 In Episode 4, I talk to Michelle York, founder of the virtual assistant agency, York Assists , that specializes in supporting financial professionals.  Michelle shares how virtual assistants can improve business productivity and growth while lowering staffing costs. She discusses how to find and select the right virtual assistant for your business. I leverage the work of York Assists at Real Life Planning, and Michelle York is our Podcast Ninja, and it has been a powerful addition to my business. 

“You don't have to take it all on. Delegate that to someone that has the know-how because it'll pay itself forward in years to come.” -Michelle York

This week on Real Life Planning Podcast, Cynthia and Michelle cover:

What a virtual assistant can do [00:04:56]

How to find a virtual assistant [00:06:04]

When it is the right time to invest in a virtual assistant [00:06:37]

How virtual assistants can support financial professionals [00:08:58]

Expectations a virtual assistant has of new clients [00:10:38]

Virtual assistant pricing [00:15:10]

Selecting to pay a virtual assistant either by the hour, by the project, or by retainer [00:16:24]

Other resources to use to find the right virtual assistant [00:17:03]

Takeaway Quotes: 

  • “When you're a new entrepreneur and there's just you and one or two people, you're in almost every seat. So a virtual assistant, I think, can help take some of those places for you. So you're not in every seat at the same time.”– Cynthia Meyer
  • “Don't ever compromise who you work with.” – Michelle York “ 
  • “So just like hiring a financial planner, there has to be a trust level there. You're going to be emailing them and talking to them on Slack or some other internal channel about what's going on in your business. So there has to be a high level of trust.” -Cynthia Meyer
  • “When you think about a virtual assistant, you should really think about what areas do you need help in? If you tell yourself, I don't have the skillset to really maintain my website or do social media, then you may need to look for a virtual assistant that specializes in that genre.” -  Michelle York


Connect with Michelle York:

Connect with Cynthia Meyer: 

  • Real Life Planning Website
  • Cynthia Meyer on LinkedIn
  • Cynthia Meyer on Facebook
  • Cynthia Meyer on Twitter
  • Email: cynthia@reallifeplanning.com  

About the Real Life Planning Podcast

Host Cynthia Meyer sits down with amazing people who share their real life stories of how they are realizing their financial potential.

The Real Life Planning Podcast aims to provide:

  • 1-3 practical, realistic takeaways of actions the listener can try
  • Encouragement to learn from different paths to creating results
  • Possibility and optimism 

If you like this video podcast, consider joining Real Life Planning’s Question of the Week where CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ and rental property business owner Cynthia Meyer answers the most common questions about real estate financial planning direct to your inbox each week.


Real Life Planning Podcast Episode 4:

Working With A Virtual Assistant with Michelle York

[00:00:10] Cynthia Meyer: Welcome to the Real Life Planning Podcast. I'm Cynthia Meyer with Real Life Planning and today our special guest is Michelle York. Michelle York is a friend and neighbor of mine who is the founder and principal of yorkassists.com. She's a digital virtual assistant. This is something that has changed my work life and helps bring you this very podcast. I'd like to invite you to listen to this conversation with Michelle about how to work with a virtual assistant. Good morning, Michelle, how are you today?

[00:00:42] Michelle York: I'm doing really well. Thanks. I've been doing other work for other clients since seven in the morning so that I can prepare myself for you.

[00:00:50] Cynthia Meyer: Ah, excellent. Excellent. Are you an early bird?

[00:00:53] Michelle York: Oh, I am. I'll be honest with you. I'm usually up at 5:30 in the morning, cause I am a mom. Usually around seven in the [00:01:00] morning, my son is up and he wants me to do his hair because as a 13 year old, now he actually wants to look good and impress. Apparently, Mommy's hands are the only hands that know how to master his hairdo. I try to get work done a little bit ahead of time before mommy life kicks in. Once he's in school, then I'm back to the grind.

[00:01:17] Cynthia Meyer: Yeah. That's great. You're not just a teenage hairstylist, you're also a sports mom, right?

[00:01:23] Michelle York: Yes. I was mandated once I was pregnant to become a hockey mom. My husband who was a huge hockey enthusiast. So yes. My son is a hockey goalie and we do travel hockey. Any given weekend, I'm driving five hours to a tournament. Which is one of the perks of being a virtual assistant, because I can do my job anywhere. So I could be in a hotel room. I'm not committed to one spot. As long as I have WiFi, I'm good to go.

[00:01:47] Cynthia Meyer: Yeah. I think we've had conversations, when you've been on the road for travel hockey and you've been working on something in a hotel room or in the hotel lobby and you've got internet security. You've got a cyber security [00:02:00] policy. Everything feels safe there. How did you get started in being a virtual assistant? Cause that's a really 21st century career.

[00:02:08] Michelle York: Oh wow. You really hit that on the nail. It's very true. It was out of necessity. In my early twenties, my first job after college, was being an executive assistant to three executives in a large hedge fund in New York city. They really enjoyed having me around, but I had this ache in my heart. This is not who I was meant to be. I always loved being in the medical field. I loved caring for others. So I became certified as an EMT and started working as a first responder for the Fire Department of New York. Did that for 18 years. When I met my husband, maybe 10 years later, he has his own business and he needed help managing his books. Doing his website. All the back end stuff. I helped do that, which kind of reintroduced me into digital marketing and being an [00:03:00] assistant again. Which was fine cause I actually do enjoy doing that. Unfortunately, I sustained a significant spinal injury on a call...

[00:03:08] Cynthia Meyer: When you were an EMT in New York?

[00:03:10] Michelle York: Yes, when I was at EMT. I really damaged my spine which required a seven hour surgery. I was forced to hang up my stethoscope after 18 years. I am not sedentary person. I am not knocking stay at home moms. They are freaking phenomenal people and they're worth their weight in gold. But for me, I needed something else than just keeping the house clean, doing the errands and raising my beautiful son. One of the things my husband said is that you missed your calling with digital marketing and doing social media.

It got me thinking. I'm like, can I actually do this? But I knew I still wanted to be at home. I still wanted to be part of my son's growth and catch every milestone in his development. I didn't want to be back in the office. So good old Google helped me out and I learned about virtual assistance.

It was serendipitous. I did my due diligence. I did not want to work for anyone anymore. I didn't want to ask permission to go away or have a sick day. So I decided to be my own boss and started my own virtual assistant business.

I love it. It's been over two years and I couldn't be happier with my life decision.

[00:04:20] Cynthia Meyer: You help lots of small companies and some larger companies, outsource parts of their communication that is very time-consuming to do yourself, as a small business owner, when you're wearing many hats and you're trying to service clients, deliver on a product or service.

You're also trying to keep up with social media or content production, like what goes on the blog or the website, or in our case, the video podcast. Tell me a little bit about how you work with clients and what that process is like for people who aren't quite sure what a virtual assistant does.

[00:04:56] Michelle York: A virtual assistant is really a blanketed title. [00:05:00] Essentially, virtual assistants work from home or work remotely is the keyword. They're not required to be at an office space that you are responsible to provide for them. Now, a virtual assistant can have a specialty in accounting, bookkeeping, digital design, graphic design. Maybe they're executive assistants. They handle mail management, phone correspondence...

[00:05:22] Cynthia Meyer: And calendars...

[00:05:24] Michelle York: When you think about a virtual assistant, you should really think about what area do I need help in? If you tell yourself, I don't have the skillset to really maintain my website or do social media, then you may need to look for a virtual assistant that's specializes in that genre.

Have you asked yourself what you really needed? What are the things that you don't like doing? What are the tasks that takes you away of being more productive and helping you grow your business? Because some people don't have five hours a day to do the backend stuff. To create blogs and social [00:06:00] media or even buffer all the inquiries that are coming in.

How do you get in touch with someone like me? There's so many different avenues. There's big websites like Upwork is a popular one. You can just go in there and you can type the specialty that you're looking for. There's also, a few different, how you say head hunter types, but they specialize just with virtual assistants.

[00:06:21] Cynthia Meyer: Right, like Belay for example.

[00:06:22] Michelle York: Its the big one. Or word of mouth. Maybe you know someone who already has one.

[00:06:28] Cynthia Meyer: In our case, a hockey mom connection. You never know!

[00:06:31] Michelle York: So exactly.

[00:06:32] Cynthia Meyer: How does somebody know that it's the right time to hire a virtual assistant? When should you hire?

[00:06:37] Michelle York: One of the big indicators is that you started to feel overwhelmed by your current workload. Maybe you're starting to notice that there's a lot of paperwork, whether digital or not, just building up on your desk. You're finding that you are not doing things in a timely fashion that you're typically known for. If you have this desire to be more productive with your time, because you don't want to be consumed by dealing [00:07:00] with your website updates, your blog writing, anything that's taking you away from what you do best in your industry.

Here's a common one, especially with COVID, if you feel like you can't hire another full time member. It's just not cost-effective anymore. A VA can be either a permanent replacement because you're not committed to providing 40 hours a week. Or maybe just a bridge to when you can hire a full-time member.

If you are too stressed, if you're getting those tension headaches. I think that's a good time to start evaluating what can I take off my plate and have a VA do for me?

I feel that a lot of people, they wear too many hats. Maybe you're not the best website designer. Maybe you're not the best at social media. Understand it and embrace it. You don't have to take it all on. Delegate that to someone that has the know-how cause it'll pay forward in years to come.

[00:07:52] Cynthia Meyer: Yeah. I think that's wonderful. I'm sure many of the listeners are familiar with the book, Traction, where we talk about doing an organizational chart and seeing who's in which role or who's in the right seat.

When you're a new entrepreneur and there's just you and one or two people, you're in almost every seat. So a virtual assistant, I think, can help take some of those places for you. So you're not in every seat at the same time.

[00:08:16] Michelle York: And you shouldn't be. Yeah, I agree.

[00:08:19] Cynthia Meyer: In my business, we are heavily regulated industry, right? There are a lot of rules and guidelines around what you can and cannot do when your social media, for example. One of the things I really appreciate is how you've been able to jump right in, learn those very quickly and we have a process that works for my compliance as well as that works for clients who are looking to find out educational information about the topics that I speak of online.

Tell me a little bit about how you would work with a financial planner, specifically. For those people in my network that are thinking, "Oh gosh, I want to do a little video podcasts like Cynthia."

How does that work?

[00:08:58] Michelle York: What I've learned with working [00:09:00] with people that are specifically in the financial industry, there's a lot of confidential data out there and there's a lot of steps that I would have to go through to be vetted, to be allowed to help people in this industry. That includes getting fingerprinted, having background checks .

I definitely understand and respect all of the confidentiality issues that goes along in this type of industry. I'm willing to do what it takes to make sure that your client data is safe and I can still be a great support to you and the projects that you have.

[00:09:35] Cynthia Meyer: Okay. So through all those processes and workflows and behind the scenes work that goes along with being a financial planner or a financial advisor you can support clients in that way, too. It sounds like you were working on client administrative related tasks as opposed to digital marketing.

[00:09:51] Michelle York: Yes, I do both. I deal with Redtail. I'm very familiar with RedTail, now. I have a couple of clients that like me to do the email correspondences or update data based on the client. I'm still working on WealthBox right now.

And that's something as well, cause you have to think about the learning curve. The onboarding. Do you have the time to properly onboard your VA who doesn't have that background?

[00:10:15] Cynthia Meyer: That's right. Talking a little bit about the onboarding process. When we first started working together, my business was smaller. Your business was smaller. It was a little easier to figure it out as we go. But now you're a busy person. What do you want from a new client in terms of helping you get completely up to speed so that you can take some weight off their shoulders?

[00:10:37] Michelle York: We have to be honest with one another. I have the privilege now that I can be a little bit persnickety on who I work with. I have learned already through trial and error that if I have someone that doesn't have an open line of communication with me, that does not follow through in what they say, it creates more chaos and tension for me.

I also need to work with someone that's open-minded. Open to suggestions.[00:11:00] So when it comes to onboarding, it's important that there's a chemistry. It's like almost friends talking to each other. Some financial professionals were so kind enough that they already had a guidebook.

I also have another client that makes sure that no matter what I do, it has to go through her. Before I email anything out, she needs to see it and approve it. If I write down the wrong figures that can throw everything off. I appreciate that it's more of a collaboration and that she's just as invested in me as I am in performing well for her.

So when it comes to onboarding, it's an ongoing thing. Because once you develop that trust and you become more streamlined that you don't have to look over my shoulder, you're going to feel more comfortable to do more because your time is so valuable. You want to be more productive.

If you see that having a VA can help alleviate that tension and stress and allow you to accumulate new clients, it's just a no brainer. But yes, you have to be willing to train and you have to be patient. A lot of VAs are not in the financial field. I wasn't, I was in the medical field.

I know nothing. I learned a lot from you. I didn't know what an AUM meant. Now I do. It's phenomenal.

[00:12:11] Cynthia Meyer: Tell me a little bit, Michelle. It's been a really challenging time during COVID for everybody. We've all changed the way that we work. Our kids were at home for a while. What's a big problem that you faced during the pandemic and how did it change you, in terms of your work?

[00:12:27] Michelle York: The majority of the workforce had a very negative experience. It actually brought my vocation to the forefront. So it helped me because now there was a real need. So I didn't struggle the way that other people did and I think that was just luck.

[00:12:43] Cynthia Meyer: You were able to slip right in and help clients who were adapting to the digital work world for the first time. Maybe they had an in-person business and now they were a hundred percent virtual and so you can help them. That's really interesting.

[00:12:55] Michelle York: That is true. I have a very big client who had a whole floor [00:13:00] in New York city. They were forced to downsize. They didn't have the revenue to keep the full-time staff. They reached out to me. Now I am someone that they rely on periodically to work on different events and tasks for them. This is a company that has over 30,000 employees in the country.

It doesn't matter if you're a small business or a conglomerate. The need is there and we're not going anywhere. I think remote working is here to stay. If anything, there's more competition now for the work, because everyone's on that bandwagon.

[00:13:30] Cynthia Meyer: So you think there's more competition in the VA space right now?

[00:13:34] Michelle York: Absolutely, because there's a huge demand for remote workers. They're more cost-effective.

For someone on the other side of the fence, like an employer: " Wow! I don't have to worry about workman's comp. I don't have to worry about fringe benefits. I can let this person go whenever I'm done. I don't have to commit hours."

[00:13:50] Cynthia Meyer: It's project-based or it can be limited to a certain set of activities or a certain number of hours.

[00:13:58] Michelle York: Exactly. There's so much more flexibility with that.

[00:14:01] Cynthia Meyer: So what's a mistake that you made that you learned from? In your business startup or kind of anywhere in your working or career life?

[00:14:08] Michelle York: A big mistake I did is to just say yes to anyone that offered me work. Working with the wrong type of people. Because not everyone's a good fit. But when you're hungry and you just want to get in and get some credibility, I risked also creating a bad review with someone.

I think a second thing that I did wrong off of Jump St, and I just brain farted. It happens. I'm 45. Oh, now I remember, how you price yourself.

[00:14:36] Cynthia Meyer: Yeah. That's a really common issue in a new and growing business. It's an issue for all business owners. It's an issue in my field. It's an issue for somebody that sells a product. Getting the pricing is a challenge and it's an iteration process, right? You're going to try and test and try and test and then find the sweet spot that is a good deal for you and a good deal for your clients and profitable for you. I would think as a VA, one of the other important things is there is some price pressure, right? Because it has to cost less for them to delegate it than it would be to do it.

[00:15:09] Michelle York: So I ask people, how valuable is your time? What would you pay someone to give you back your hours so that you can be productive?

[00:15:18] Cynthia Meyer: Be productive or so you can go to your kid's baseball game or you can work on a new strategic initiative in your business that you currently get don't have a lot of focus time.

[00:15:28] Michelle York: I'll say, would you pay $40 an hour for someone to give you that time so you can do that? A lot of people say yes. It's until you need it and you're in that pinch and you are overwhelmed. So when you're interviewing me or when you're at my website looking at my prices, think about when you were in that position where you are really tense, you're stressed, then you say, would you pay $40 now?

If you're hiring someone that's charging a lot less, that's okay. Maybe they're starting out. They're just trying to get their feet wet. You have to be that much more hypervigilant [00:16:00] in the onboarding and the quality that they deliver. Especially if you were going to do a contract with them. Because some of the contracts will say that you're committed to me for six months.

I don't do that. I do it month per month. Life happens. Maybe I just realized I can't do your work anymore. I need an out as much as you do. I like to do it by the month and when we can always renegotiate the terms.

There's different ways that you can hire a VA. It could be by retainer. It could be by project. It could be by the hour. If you have steady work for someone, like 40 hours a month, you gonna have consistent work, I always say, go by retainer. You will save money versus by the hour. These are things you have to negotiate. If you're interviewing with the VA personally and not through a company like Belay Solutions, you're going to have more wiggle room to find a sweet spot when it comes to fees.

[00:16:52] Cynthia Meyer: For those of you who are interested in exploring what it's like to work with a virtual assistant, what resources would you [00:17:00] suggest in general to learn more about it?

[00:17:02] Michelle York: Wow. Being that I have never been on the other side of the fence, that is a really good question.

I would say that if you are part of a have a Facebook group or of a networking group who do use VAs, I would definitely use their experience and ask them what was the best way that you found your VA? What were things that you did that you wish you did before? Learn from other people's experiences.

People in the finance industry really depend on VAs. I'm sure they can find someone who has used a VA in the past. Or go to some kind of panel or group to get a referral. Maybe their VA who's phenomenal that's a perfect fit for what you need, maybe they're still open and you can talk to them. You decide whether it's a good fit or not. It's a chemistry thing. It's such an interpersonal thing. Especially with the zoom sessions, if you don't feel it, move on.

[00:17:53] Cynthia Meyer: So just like hiring a financial planner, there has to be a trust level there. And you have to talk to somebody because you're going to be talking to them a lot. You're going to be emailing them and talking to them on Slack or some other internal channel about what's going on in your business. So there has to be a high level of trust.

[00:18:09] Michelle York: I knew that one of the gripes so one of my clients had with a previous VA was that she was too sensitive to constructive criticism. She was a great worker, but the moment my client gave some kind of feedback, she was immediately offended. So once again, it goes back to, like you said, you have to be comfortable to work with them. You have to have a certain chemistry. Cause, if not, then you're going to constantly butt heads unnecessarily. There's just way too many people out there for you to feel that you have to restrict yourself or compromise. Don't ever compromise who you work with.

[00:18:44] Cynthia Meyer: Michelle, it sounds like you're really busy right now. Is your client roster completely full? If somebody wants to work with you, what should they do?

[00:18:51] Michelle York: Yes, at this moment it is full, but it's always changing. We can say at the time of this recording that I am. But if you have a short-term project, I'm always available. Maybe by the time you see us and you would like to contact me, I may have some openings. Don't let it discourage you from contacting me. You can contact me through my website on yorkassists.com. You can also find me on LinkedIn and PM me there. I'm very responsive through LinkedIn. There's a phone number you can use 908 340-0123. If you would like to speak to me directly. I look forward to speaking to anyone. Even if it's more about questions about how to hire and you need some clarification. I'll be happy to assist with that.

[00:19:34] Cynthia Meyer: Thank you very much, Michelle, for coming on the video podcast today. And I always enjoy working with you and the really cool experiences that we've been able to create for people in this video podcast. It's so great to have you on, I hope to have you back on again to get into the nitty-gritty about different projects that people can do with a VA.

[00:19:56] Michelle York: Oh, definitely. I would love to. I'm happy to be part of [00:20:00] it. Thanks for having me.

[00:20:01] Cynthia Meyer: All right. Cheers.

[00:20:02] Michelle York: Cheers.

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