Help! My Business is Growing

Finding the right executive assistant, with Gina Cotner

May 24, 2024 Kathy Svetina Episode 77
Finding the right executive assistant, with Gina Cotner
Help! My Business is Growing
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Help! My Business is Growing
Finding the right executive assistant, with Gina Cotner
May 24, 2024 Episode 77
Kathy Svetina

When your business grows, expect to get busy. But what happens when there is just too much on your plate? You might need an Executive Assistant (EA).


It's a pivotal role within the organizational structure, providing crucial support to CEOs while helping steer the company toward success. 


So how do you go about hiring one?


What do they do?


Do you really need one?


How do you manage their responsibilities? 


And how do they help grow your business?


In this episode, Gina Cotner and I talk about the pivotal role Executive Assistants play in business growth, covering essential topics such as how to choose one, how to build trust, and, the art of delegation.


Gina Cotner is the CEO of Athena Executive Services, a firm that pairs virtual Executive Assistants around the United States with swamped and successful entrepreneurs and executives. Her team of high-caliber Executive Assistants work part-time, from home, taking many tasks and projects off the plate of successful people, leaving them free to spend their time where they are needed most.


We discuss: (timestamps)

02:16 Introduction to Executive Assistants 

04:30 When is it time to get an EA

06:27 What is a Chief of Staff?

09:32 What are the qualities of a Chief of Staff? 

13:41 Core Responsibilities of EAs 

16:34 How EAs can manage your inbox

20:37 What type of work do EAs generally excel in?

22:03 How much managing will EAs need?

25:54  Questions to ask to determine if an EA is the right fit

29:50 EA costs

35:13 The pros and cons of using an agency to hire an EA

36:40 Agency culture vs your business culture

38:13 Actionable step to take to figure out if you need an Executive Assistant



Resources:

Gina Cotner,  CEO,  Athena Executive Services
www.athenaexecutiveservices.com

LinkedIn -
https://www.linkedin.com/in/athenaea

Facebook
https://www.facebook.com/AthenaVirtualAssistants

Instagram
https://www.instagram.com/athena_executive_services

YouTube -
https://www.youtube.com/@athenaexecutiveservices5248

LinkedIn -
https://www.linkedin.com/company/athena-executive-services/

FREE RESOURCE: Schedule an initial call with Gina: https://athenaexecutiveservices.com/explore-hiring-a-va/



Kathy Svetina, Fractional CFO:
https://www.newcastlefinance.us/


Blog post | Finding the Right Executive Assistant
https://www.newcastlefinance.us/listen/finding-the-right-executive-assistant/

Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

When your business grows, expect to get busy. But what happens when there is just too much on your plate? You might need an Executive Assistant (EA).


It's a pivotal role within the organizational structure, providing crucial support to CEOs while helping steer the company toward success. 


So how do you go about hiring one?


What do they do?


Do you really need one?


How do you manage their responsibilities? 


And how do they help grow your business?


In this episode, Gina Cotner and I talk about the pivotal role Executive Assistants play in business growth, covering essential topics such as how to choose one, how to build trust, and, the art of delegation.


Gina Cotner is the CEO of Athena Executive Services, a firm that pairs virtual Executive Assistants around the United States with swamped and successful entrepreneurs and executives. Her team of high-caliber Executive Assistants work part-time, from home, taking many tasks and projects off the plate of successful people, leaving them free to spend their time where they are needed most.


We discuss: (timestamps)

02:16 Introduction to Executive Assistants 

04:30 When is it time to get an EA

06:27 What is a Chief of Staff?

09:32 What are the qualities of a Chief of Staff? 

13:41 Core Responsibilities of EAs 

16:34 How EAs can manage your inbox

20:37 What type of work do EAs generally excel in?

22:03 How much managing will EAs need?

25:54  Questions to ask to determine if an EA is the right fit

29:50 EA costs

35:13 The pros and cons of using an agency to hire an EA

36:40 Agency culture vs your business culture

38:13 Actionable step to take to figure out if you need an Executive Assistant



Resources:

Gina Cotner,  CEO,  Athena Executive Services
www.athenaexecutiveservices.com

LinkedIn -
https://www.linkedin.com/in/athenaea

Facebook
https://www.facebook.com/AthenaVirtualAssistants

Instagram
https://www.instagram.com/athena_executive_services

YouTube -
https://www.youtube.com/@athenaexecutiveservices5248

LinkedIn -
https://www.linkedin.com/company/athena-executive-services/

FREE RESOURCE: Schedule an initial call with Gina: https://athenaexecutiveservices.com/explore-hiring-a-va/



Kathy Svetina, Fractional CFO:
https://www.newcastlefinance.us/


Blog post | Finding the Right Executive Assistant
https://www.newcastlefinance.us/listen/finding-the-right-executive-assistant/

Kathy (host):  

Well hello there and welcome back to another episode of "Help! My Business is Growing", a podcast where we explore how to grow and build a business that is healthy and sustainable. I'm your host Kathy Svetina, fractional CFO and a founder of NewCastle Finance, a company where we believe that everything that you do in your business is eventually going to end up in your finances, and to have healthy finances means that you have to have a healthy business. Well, the multimillion-dollar question here is how in the world do you get there? Well, this is where this podcast comes into play to help. As your business grows, the demands on your time and attention are going to increase exponentially. With all the new opportunities coming your way, there's a pressure to scale up and at this stage, effective management is crucial. But what happens when you as the owner and the CEO have no more time, or you're stretched really, really thin? Well, this is the opportunity to think about an executive assistant or an EA. An EA is a key figure in the organizational structure, one that supports you as a CEO and can help steer the company toward success. What we're going to be talking about is, what exactly is an executive assistant and what do they do? And of course, where do you find them? And once you do find them, how do you effectively manage their responsibilities? As a quick reminder, all the episodes on this podcast, including this one, come with timestamps for the topics that we discussed, and each one has its own blog post. You can find all the links and detailed topics in this episode's show notes. So if you also are pressed for time, and you just want to scan this episode and see what are some of the topics that we dove into before you commit to listening to this podcast, go ahead and use that, it's a resource for you. My guest today is Gina Cotner. She is the CEO of Athena Executive Services, a firm that pairs virtual executive assistants around the United States with swamped and successful entrepreneurs and executives. Her team of high-caliber executive assistants work part-time from home, taking many tasks and projects off of the plate of successful people, leaving them free to spend their time where they need it most. Join us.

Kathy (host):

Hello, Gina, and welcome to the podcast.

Gina (guest):

Thanks, Kathy. Thanks for having me.  

Kathy (host):

Yeah, it's great to have you here because we're going to be talking about assistants, executive assistants, regular assistants, and then Chiefs of Staff. So let's dive into this. What exactly is an executive assistant? And how do they differ from just a regular assistant?

Gina (guest):

Yeah, well, an executive assistant is a higher level assistant, let's just say, that's for sure. So if you went to a really big company, and you went to their website, say, like Amazon, and you looked up assistants, you'd find something like, admin assistant one, admin assistant two, admin assistant three. And then you go into executive assistants, right? Executive assistant one, executive assistant two, executive assistant three. So they're varying degrees of all of that. I think with an executive assistant, what you're really distinguishing them is their level of business acumen, their level of being able to be what I would call a shoulder-to-shoulder partner with a business owner and executive. They've graduated from being a task doer, and nothing wrong with task doers, because we need those in the world, too. So admins, virtual assistants tend to be more, "let me delegate a bunch of tasks that you need to oversee, make sure those tasks get done really well. Maybe you need to even explain the ten steps how to get the task done." An executive assistant is, I would expect an executive assistant to be much more proactive, much more independent, much more, "I know most of what you want done and what I don't know, I'm gonna go figure it out. And I'll get back to you if I have any questions." Right? They're way more self-managing, self-generative. I would consider them more polished. Executive assistants, I know, one of the reasons I opened my firm is so people could have the caliber of an executive assistant like somebody might have on the 40th floor of the downtown high rise. Somebody who will be your bodyguard of your calendar, sometimes body-guarding from you? And has got the level of polish that can represent you, you know that when they say "no, I'm sorry, Kathy is not available on Thursday, how's next Tuesday?" that person is taken seriously. So that's the beginning of what I think starts to distinguish an admin, quote-unquote, or virtual assistant from an executive assistant.

Kathy (host):

So if you're looking to level up right now, you have an assistant, and what are some of the pain points that you would have with this system right now, that will tell you "Well, I actually need an executive assistant"? And then, and once we address that, because I also want to put the Chief of Staff in there as well, because I think of this as almost three layers, like you have the Chief of Staff at the top, then you have the executive assistant, and then you have assistants, which are essentially admins. If we can talk about, first, what is it right now that you would have to experience with your assistant to tell you, "Hey, maybe I should be really thinking about an executive assistant?"

Gina (guest):  

Yeah, well, in an ideal world, they might grow into one, right? Because you got your relationship with that assistant, you have some level of trust, they have some level of knowledge about you, right? They know whether you like window or aisle on an airplane, they know which credit cards to put things on, they know a lot of basics about you. And in an ideal world, they would grow with you and they might grow into an executive assistant, but let's just say they didn't. And you, some people have come to us and said, "You know, I like my virtual assistant, I like my assistant, but they're not good at certain things." And that's when you realize, "You know what, this person can't quite project manage, for example, I can't maybe give them a whole project and not have to oversee them so much. But I'd like to have somebody like that." Okay, now you're starting to look at "I think I need an executive assistant. Somebody who can take things and run with them and do more critical thinking." Maybe you need a better level of writer also, do you need somebody who's going to write on your behalf in newsletters or blogs or to your clients? Does your assistant, you know, does your assistant get the tasks done? But you wouldn't really trust them to be communicating on your behalf? That's when then you want somebody with a higher level of business acumen and business experience. So that's part of where I think you start to realize "Okay, I need something else."

Kathy (host):

And what where does the Chief of Staff come into this? And are they, and I hate to say this, but are they a glorified executive assistant? Like executive assistant plus? How does that work?  

Gina (guest):

Yeah, absolutely, I think they are. And, frankly, you could have. So one thing I will say to everybody who's listening is this is all gray. So if you're out there shopping for an admin or an EA or Chief of Staff, it is, you're going to read somebody's bio or something and go, "Well, that sounds like an admin." It's because it is very interchangeable right now. But I do think when your high-level EA is operating as a Chief of Staff, when I think of some of our EAs that are working with clients, and especially if they've been with that client for a couple years, I think they probably are to the point where if they went out on the market again, they could very well say "I've been operating as a Chief of Staff." So what's the Chief of Staff? When I first heard it, I think, I think for those of us who grew up in the United States, our first understanding of Chief of Staff was really only used in reference to the White House, you would always think of "Chief of Staff of the White House", or you'd watch movies or shows like The West Wing or Madam Secretary, and you get a sense of the Chief of Staff. And that's a good example. So that is somebody who now has the ear, and influence, and an adviser to the president. Or in our case, let's say the CEO or the business owner. So a Chief of Staff is way more strategic, and probably has or should have a lot of industry knowledge. Now maybe they gain that industry knowledge because they've been your EA for the last three years. Or maybe you say "no, I'm just gonna keep my EA and now I want a Chief of Staff." And Chief of Staff's play an advisory role to a high-level executive. So they've got to have industry knowledge that matches yours. And they also have clout and influence and stature. Meaning when they go and say, "Kathy says we're going left," everybody listens. If not "Well, I don't know, have Kathy call me", no, Kathy is now calling you. I'm saying, "I, as your Chief of Staff, I'm saying Kathy has decided we're going left, what would you like to do next?" So they really are a double of you. Why are you, not you? They are a double of you. And if you think about how it might go in the movies about the White House, right? The Chief of Staff is often saying, "You know, no, no, Mr. President, or Miss President, don't go, you know, don't go to China, you should go meet with the airline workers that are on strike in Dallas, and I'll have the Secretary of State over here." So Chief of Staff is also optimizing the rare resource that the CEO or the business owner is, how are we going to use this resource, and they're very protective of that resource. And they're, I know I've said it already, but they are strategic thinkers, but it's one of the biggest factors is their strategic thinking. And how much they are, how much leadership they provide, and how much influence they command, which you wouldn't necessarily expect from an EA, but a good EA over time will garner some of that. But that's different than a $ 200,000-a-year Chief of Staff.

Kathy (host):

You know, corporations. I mean, I basically grew up in my career in the corporations. And when you are dealing with a CEO, you're essentially dealing with their Chief of Staff unless you're really like in their very narrow leadership circle. So it is interesting to see that dynamic, because it's almost like you said, it's almost like they double themselves and all the people stuff, all the people managing, that does that, it's not direct. Direct people go through the Chief of Staff, and they really need to know that particular leader well, and they need to know the people that they're dealing with well. It's a very tricky role. I mean, I can't, I can't imagine like, I mean, what are some of the things that candidate would have to have to be successful? Do you have any ideas? Like, how would that look? I mean, you've said they have to be, they have to have a certain presence, obviously, they have to be strategic, but is there anything else that they will need to have to be in that role?

Gina (guest):

Yeah, they've got to be a master collaborator. You know, they've got to be able to work and bring together multiple leadership teams. I mean, if you look at a job description of Chief of Staff, these are people sometimes they have a master's degree. They usually have seven to ten years experience in that industry. And they can bring together, you know, the head of this department, the head of that department, the head of that department and get everybody on the same page. So that takes a strong muscle of leadership and people coordination and why you're doing it is so your CEO doesn't have to. Right. So you're freeing up your CEO, but as you were just saying, at a very high level.

Kathy (host):

Yeah, yeah. So let's go back into the executive assistants because I think this is very important for smaller businesses. Let's say that you have identified that you need an executive assistant. And you've either found one and you might have gone through a service like your service. So now that you have them, what do you do? Like you have to integrate them into your business? And if they're going to be an executive assistant, that is also a little bit of a mini Chief of Staff, like how do you integrate them into your business? Where do you even start?

Gina (guest):

Yeah, well, if they're good, if they are strong, they should be able to interview you and go, "Okay, Kathy, I need to know A and B, and C and D. And next week, I need to learn D, E, and F." Right? So that's one sign that you'll know you're really operating with a high level EA, is that they are going to extract from you what they need. Now, you want to foster, garner, create their presence in your leadership team, so you want to talk them up, especially if they're new. Right? "Listen, I'm bringing in Allison. Allison, you guys, listen, is going to be really great. And here's how I want you to interact with her. When she says this, I want you to listen to her in such a way, if you have any concerns about this, go here." So the more you foster and talk up your EA, the more your EA will be able to do. Now, that requires that us, as business owners or CEOs, you've got to resist the urge to jump in the middle of their work. Right? So that EA is now maybe working with your head of marketing or your head of operations. And they're working through something, don't you now go dive in there and make it easier for them. Let that EA work that out and build that relationship with the heads of different departments around you. And it will, it leaves the EA feeling trusted, supported, respected, like "I know my CEO trusts me to get this project done with this person, and I'm going to go do that. They're not going to swoop in here and intervene." At the same time, you want to be super available to your EA and say, "Listen, Allison, if you run into any issues with any of these people, come to me, right? I'm gonna help you. But I leave it to you to come to me, I'm not going to intervene in your work, you come to me if you run into a hiccup with somebody, and you need support in getting over a hurdle with somebody." But the more I send people to my EA, the more my EA feels strong, and the more people know "I trust my EA", and when people know I trust my EA, then they start trusting my EA.

Kathy (host):

Yeah, yeah, you have to model that in front of your employees, in front of the company. Because if you don't, then it's just, it's just the thinking that it's just another admin and to really get to you, they actually have to get to you versus through your administrative assistant, through your EA. But what I'm thinking of this in terms of how do you decide what the responsibilities are going to be? Because if you have, you know, you have this growing business, you have a laundry list of things that you need to be doing and you cannot be in all places at once. Like what are some of the responsibilities examples that you have seen EAs do? And is it specific per leader and for the business? Or is it like almost like a paintbrush type of responsibility that that particular job does, because I am interested in this because I have seen business owners that I've worked with really struggle with, you know, "I have to obviously, I have to book my travel, then I have to, I have all these emails. And I have to make sure that I have all these meetings with all these people in my business", like they're all these things that they need to do. But what are some of the core responsibilities that an EA should really be doing? And what are, for example, what are some of the extra things that you can give them to help you out?

Gina (guest):

Yeah, I'd say you know, 75% of whatever an EA is going to do is going to manage your travel, manage your calendar, manage your inbox, probably oversee things having to do with social media, if you're a smaller company, if that's not housed under a bigger marketing department, project manage all kinds of odd projects. That's really, that's the other 25% of it, right? So you've got what I've called "garden variety" EA work: calendar, inbox, CRM updates, all that admin work, but they, when they're a high performing EA, they manage that in half their time, their other half their time is probably specific to your industry. And that's something you want to work out with them, you know, what do you need? When you're the hire, when you're the boss, you want to say, "Listen, Mr./Miss EA, here's the other categories of work I'm going to look to be done. These are the kinds of projects I'm going to want to delegate, is that in your zone of genius?" Because the other 50% of what a high level EA does, man, it could be everything from planning all the holiday gifting, and all the corporate retreats, they could be a huge event person, they could be a great person that loves all things creative and marketing. It all depends, the more you know about what you want, the better. And honestly, any business owner, any CEO, I would start a list of what you hate doing and what you're not good at. Those would be the things that are on the top of the list, "Listen, I should do this, I would be the best person to do it. And I ain't doing it. So Allison, is that something you can take off my plate?"

Kathy (host):

Yeah, that's really good. And, you know, I like to go really deep into specific topics in this podcast and listeners know this. So I am going to latch on to this managing inbox as a task for your EA. How in the world do you do that? If you could give us some tips?

Gina (guest):

So, and I think if we interviewed all the EAs on my team, they'll tell you something a little bit different. But that would be an excellent interview question. When you interview an EA, say, "Listen, what the heck you got, when I let you into my inbox? What do you think you're gonna do?" Right? Because there's a lot of different ways to solve that. But here's the bottom line. Here's the point, though, is that you, at any level in a company, if somebody's managing your inbox, how you know it's getting done well is you wake up, you go into your inbox, or the folder that says "Kathy", or the folder that says "Gina", and what actually needs you is there. So the EA's job is to figure out how to get all that other stuff that doesn't need you out of there. And that's what they do. Now, they can do that sometimes through automation, there's a lot of automation that can help them with that. Maybe they're forwarding it off to who needs to get it forwarded to, but you know, your inbox becomes a time suck, that can be as bad as Facebook, because a lot of people just get in there and you start at the top. But what's at the top doesn't mean that's what needs you the most, it's maybe this email that's been sitting there since Tuesday, that's what really needs you. So your EA's gotta have a filing system or an automation system that they've set up and that they've taught you or told you, "Here's where you're gonna go, Kathy, every morning, you're gonna go here." In my world, I like It, where everything is parsed out, and all I'm looking at in my inbox, are those three emails that actually need my brain.

Kathy (host):

Yeah. So it's essentially what they're doing is they're triaging your inbox, making sure that what really needs to be done is at the top. And then they're asking really, do you need to do this? Or can I even do that? And let's see, would they be responding to emails on your behalf? And if they are, how would that look? Would that be then, for example, if I have an EA that is responding on emails to emails on my behalf, would it still be sent by Kathy or would it be sent by "Allison, EA to Kathy", because we want to be ethical when we're sending out emails and we want to be transparent that it really didn't come from me, it came from an EA.  

Gina (guest):

So that is up for you to design and that's a very good question. Right? Some EAs you might start off with no, they're not ghostwriting as you, that would be a very high level, right? I go and I write on your behalf and nobody knows that I'm writing on your behalf. Okay, that would be after we have a lot of trust. I trust your writing. I trust your timing. I trust your tone. You are a double of me, but you're a double of me in writing, not just in the way you think you can write like me, you sound like me. Now a step before that might be "Hi Joe, this is Allison writing on behalf of Kathy", and how we'd like to, and here's our response to your email, Joe, thank you so much. They're out loud about being you. Now, they could be in your inbox saying that, right. So my email is coming from Kathy. But at the beginning of the email, it says, "Hi Gina, this is Allison writing, I'm writing, responding to you for Kathy." A degree below that might be Allison is writing from Allison's own inbox. And they're cc'ing you. So Allison has jumped into the conversation and said, "Joe", and Joe can see that Kathy is cc'd. So Joe knows you have your eyes on this. He's not like "why is this person talking to me? I've never met Allison." But they can see you're involved. You're on the thread. And Allison from her own inbox is now saying, "Joe, I discussed this with Kathy this morning. And here's her response." Yes, you've got varying levels of trust, that you build up over time, or you don't. Maybe you say, "no, they're never going to be sending from Kathy's account." Maybe you're never going to go to that. And you're fine. When people realize that Allison is the go-to person, that person who's going to be the most responsive and get them what they need, they're gonna be happy. You know, three months later, they are going to be happy to hear from Allison.

Kathy (host):

Have you seen anything that works particularly well with the EAs that you have sourced when they're doing that type of work on behalf of their clients? And is there anything that works particularly well, when, especially when they're managing their inbox? And have you seen things go a little bit awry? And what did they do to correct that? I'm always interested in, you know, these types of stories, because they become a really good teaching moment for us, to "hey, do not do that, that did not go so well."

Gina (guest):

Yeah, well, obviously, people thinking that they know too much and are too eager to jump in there and look good and be the super eager executive assistant and don't have the whole picture. Right, they don't have the whole story. A good intermediate step there is to, because I just thought about this in regards to what we were just talking about, you could have a folder where the drafts are. So your EA has drafted five responses. And every day by, you know, close of business, you go in there, you look at them and go, "yep, that's what I want to say to Joe, send. Yep, that's what I want to say to so-and-so, hit send", they have drafted for you all your responses, they are not sent until you go and you hit send on them. Or you add that extra sentence, "Hey, I'll see you at the golf game on Sunday. Hello to your wife", that you add the little things that maybe your EA doesn't know, you're golfing on Sunday. Okay. You know, but they've done 90% of the work. But yeah, writing on behalf of people, obviously comes with risk.  

Kathy (host):

And this is what makes me nervous, because my assistant, she writes sometimes for me. However, like it's very clear that that's her, but I still want to make sure that what she's saying is actually in the tone that I want. And, you know, so I'm always like, I think I'm always balancing this fine line between micromanaging and actually managing to make sure that it's done the right way. So, and I, you know, for someone who I definitely do not want to be a micromanager, obviously, it's, I think it's a waste of time and effort. And it just takes you into so many like bad directions. But that's the fine line between like, how much should you really manage someone, and maybe there's a certain period of onboarding for the first year, you are a little bit more careful. And then you let them go. I mean, what are your thoughts on that?

Gina (guest):

Yeah, definitely start out tight, really close with them in the very beginning, particularly in that first 30 to 90 days, you're really close and you're correcting everything. So you've got to set it with them in the beginning. "Listen, in the next 30 to 90 days, I'm going to correct everything. It's not personal. I am not, quote-unquote, calling you out. I am not throwing you under the bus. I am not doing any of that. I'm making you as close to a double of me as possible." And you as the boss will find things along the way that you'll realize "you know what? I'd actually like you to end every email like this. I'd actually like you to start every email by saying 'thank you so much for your note'." You will discover for yourself the things you do that sound like you. They're hard to see at first because you're just you. You've just been writing as you for so long. And then you realize "you know what, Allison? Would you please always say 'good morning, good afternoon'. I don't know, whatever your tone", right? But course-correct early and often. Because if they get in a habit in the first 30 days, that's a little off, that habit is going to get ingrained. But if you create the context with them in the beginning about why you're going to be correcting them so much and coaching them, and I would even do it in the hiring process, we really make sure in the hiring process, "you've got to want to be coached. If that ruffles your feathers, if that offends you, we're not a good match for you." Because a really good EA is like, "Oh, tell me, tell me any mistake I made? How can I make it better?" They're hungry for that. And you don't want to be shy. Now, part of it is, as executives, we want them to like us just as much as they want us to like them, right? We don't want them to go home and complain to their husband or wife or partner, "Kathy was so critical of me today." So you have to create that context with them about the context of our relationship so that that's really clear. And then correct, correct, correct, correct. And the more time you invest in the details in those first 90 days, the more they're going to be just like you six months from now. And that micromanagement, then you back off, back off, back off, back off. Now also say, where you can give people more room to run than they deserve, do it. Where you're not at risk, your business isn't going to burn to the ground, but you give somebody more room to run, a longer leash than they deserve. You'll find out how much they really know. And they will, it gets them out on the skinny branches. And it gets them a little nervous, a little like, "I can't believe she's leaving all this to me." And you're really trusting them, going "well, Allison, how's that going? Is that gonna be done next week?" "Yeah, good. All right, great. I'm really excited to see it." And Allison's thinking, "I can't believe you gave me this gigantic project." But then you find out, "wow, okay, you learn a lot." You go, "wow, she knows more than I thought she did. Or you know, she's really good at this. But boy, she does actually miss the mark over here." Yeah, so sometimes give them more than you think they deserve, so you can find out where their strengths and weaknesses are.

Kathy (host):

You're stretching their skills. And I think what I've also seen is when you do that, people appreciate it, because you do trust them with it. They might have some issues. But then you can also see how they react when they are not in their comfort zone. Do they learn to ask for feedback? Are they eager to learn more? How do they react when things don't go well? I mean, these are all the things that you really need to know as a business owner. Because as the business grows, there are going to be more and more situations like that. And you're going to need to have people in the business that feel uncomfortable when things grow, but they're able to manage it in these small steps. And you said something about, you know, during the onboarding process, you ask certain questions, to figure out whether this is a good fit for you or not. Are there any particularly good questions that you can ask when you're interviewing someone to see if there's a good fit?

Gina (guest):

Yeah, I will say aside from questions, because I think people can find a lot of great questions online, I think one of the most unique things we do that people are resistant to do is have them do work, like an audition, give them a project to do, maybe it's a project that your EA does all the time, or they did last week. So we know we're a virtual firm. So we also want to see how people work three time zones away from us. So we give them projects to do that will take about two or three days. So we can actually watch how they do that. We give them incomplete instructions intentionally because we want to see if they go, "Okay, I'm gonna suffer over here and try to get this project done" or with that incomplete information, or are they? How are they going to come back to me and say, "Oh Gina, I'm so sorry, I forgot to ask this question" or "I'd like a little more detail on this." And how do they do that? Do I like how they did it? If they, and I want to see how they send me a question in text and how do they send me a question in the email, I want to give them kind of troubles, little troubles, but enough troubles that I get to see how are they going to interact with me? Are they going to be too formal? Are they going to be too informal? Are there going to be a bunch of emojis? What? And it's interesting because I work with a lot of business owners also in mastermind groups and stuff. And they are resistant to, you know, they don't want to do that, I think because they're kind of in a hurry to hire, or they want to make sure this person really likes them. But no, make them do some test-run projects. For example, we give them a travel itinerary to build. And it was a real itinerary that I really did as an EA eight years ago. And we say, "Here it is." And it's funny, also, sometimes you'll be blown away when you give people that other bandwidth to run, sometimes you'll be really surprised, you'll be like, "Wow, I actually never thought about that project getting done that way. That's pretty awesome. Thank you", you'll be surprised. So same thing, when you have your applicants do exercises, we call them exercises or audition-type things. Sometimes you'll be surprised to be like, "Wow, I never thought about somebody texting me a grid, of the flight options between this date and that date with the number of stops, the total duration time, the price, the differences, like we just got this grid recently, last week, because I had to have a flight change." And I thought, "That's awesome. I wouldn't ever even ask, I wouldn't even known to ask for it, they made that up but that would be useful. Now that I've had that, I forever want that." Yeah. So that's a big thing is to just have people, make them do some work versus talk about the work they've done, because who, in an interview, mostly people are just there to make you love them and think that they're brilliant at all things. But you want to see how they work and see if that, their line of thinking lines up with you. Now, it doesn't mean that you wouldn't hire them, you might go, "but at least if you hire them, you know, I'm gonna have to work with them on that thing", you've already discovered their strengths, some of their strengths and weaknesses versus them talking about their strengths and weaknesses.

Kathy (host):

You can see them in action already. It's almost like a, like a little bit of a trial period, a very short trial period. And I've done that with the people that I have hired, as well. I give them like a couple of tasks, like I have about five tasks that I give to my assistant before I hired her, obviously. I am very adamant that that work is actually paid. So I do pay them for like the day's work, especially if it's a little bit more involved because I do want to make sure that, you know, they get compensated. And a lot of times what I would do if, for example, I have like three candidates and maybe four candidates, I really liked them. But then I have to decide which one I like better, I would do those trial periods, because that gives me an indication of, you know, how they're really going to be out in the wild when they're working for me. And it's interesting how much you can see from someone's work just by doing these trial periods. And it's so easy to see, "oh, this person, we're not going to be a good fit because of this, these particular things that they're doing." And maybe sometimes they don't even ask for feedback. I don't like that either. And I've had a candidate, for example, who was really strong and starting to feel resentful that I gave her feedback. So I'm like, "that's not going to work." I mean, it's, yeah, but it does take time. And I can see why the business owners don't like that is because it takes time. However, it saves you time and money on the back end because now you have a person that's a good fit for you versus having someone in a hurry, hurry, hurry, and then you're like, "three months later, I'm like, this was a terrible, terrible fit."

Gina (guest):

Exactly, exactly. So you're either going to pay now or pay later, right? You're going to invest time on the front end or the back end.

Kathy (host):

Yeah, exactly. And usually it's cheaper, cheaper to do it in the front end versus in the back end when now you, you have to go through the entire process yet again and they have somehow been embedded into your business already. And they have changed the culture. I mean, there's so many things that can go wrong with it.

Gina (guest):

Yeah, and you might get away, you might even give away parts of it to your team, and then you don't have to do as much and be, they get to interact with different people. We have vetting processes like eight steps long and different people on our team take different steps, partly so that the applicant is interacting with different people on our team. They sound different, they look different, they're from different parts of the country, they have a totally different vibe, all these people that people interact with, but you could also give that away and just see "well, how," you could stand back and even watch how does this applicant interact with these exercises with somebody else on my team?

Kathy (host):

So do you not want, obviously because I'm in finance, and that's one of the things that I'm always going to ask is, if someone is thinking of hiring an EA, what is the budget that they should be budgeting for it? Obviously, it's going to change and there's going to be a range between where you are, where you're hiring them. But what is the realistic budget that they should be putting in their financials if they want an EA? Any guidance on that?

Gina (guest):

Yeah, well, I'll be super transparent, I'll tell you exactly what you pay in my firm. And then we can kind of expand from there. So my firm is part-time, virtual, high level, minimum of 10 hours a week. And we would charge $55 an hour. Okay, so you're looking at a budget of $2,200 a month, something like that, a little over $2,000 a month. Now, that's a 10-hour-a-week, virtual EA. And we're probably on the higher end in terms of United States agencies. So if you're looking for something that's virtual and an EA, that's going to be the higher end in the United States. You want a full-time EA to come sit next to your desk in your office, that is a big range. So that's going to depend upon where, and you know, are you in Columbus, Ohio? Are you in LA?  

Kathy (host):  

New York even?

Gina (guest):

Right, so that could be $80,000 a year. It also could be $150,000 a year. You know, and again, back to our Chief of Staff, EA, if you're talking to a pretty high level EA, that is what I almost call a "handler", you know, they're orchestrating you in your life. And especially if you're in LA or New York, you know, that's more like $180,000 to $200,000 a year. So, hopefully, and now, you know, go ahead.  

Kathy (host):

Yeah, and that is definitely an investment in the business. I mean, they're not a task handler, they are there to make strategic impact on your business. $200,000 if you need that type of stuff, it is going to be an investment. And it can, it can really benefit the business, but it needs to be the right fit. Great. Yeah, thank you for that, you know, as I always say, I like to put the numbers in so that people have a directional idea of how much it actually costs. And whether they, they're, you know, they can afford it, they can afford it, whatever they want to do with that. And, but they can see, you know, you can be from $55 an hour all the way to $200,000, $250,000, yeah, if you go into our Chief of Staff.

Gina (guest):

A big difference between whether they're going to be your employee, whether you're going to hire a firm like us, now we're just a vendor, right? So you want a vendor? Do you want them to be under your wing? Maybe you want them to come from a vendor, like me and agency, and then you have the option to hire them away later. That's a whole other opportunity. So then you would just pay, in our firm, you'd pay a conversion fee based on how long that EA had been with you. So that EA had been with you only six months, you're gonna pay like $15,000. If that EA had been with you for say, two years, I think you'd pay us like $8,000 or something like that. So the longer they've been with you, the lower the conversion fee to take them away from that agency and make them your own employee.  

Kathy (host):

And before we end, I do want to ask you, what is the benefit or the pros and cons if we could talk a little bit about hiring someone yourself or going through the agency?

Gina (guest): 

Yeah. So you're paying, if you pay an agency, you're paying them to give you a known quantity. So they do the vetting, the screening, the applicant process. They should be, in my opinion, that's how we operate. We're accountable for that person's performance. We, in my agency, they have a performance coach. So whatever you throw at them, your job is just "delegate, delegate, delegate, delegate, delegate", they've got a coach to go run to that says, "what's that software the Kathy's using? Oh yeah, okay, we got three people on the team that have used that, do you want to talk to one of them?" So with an agency you, you've got somebody who is on a team that will support them, which makes a difference, but they also belong to the agency. They don't belong to you. So in some cases, that's a real relief like "Oh thank God, I want somebody else to deal with whether or not they're feeling sick and whether or not they're happy or sad or what sort of mood they're in. I want to just delegate, delegate, delegate" because that's, that's on us, but that's also why you're paying, you know, top dollar for that. Yeah. Now, if you want to do just like any DIY project at home, right, you want to do the vetting and the screening and the interviewing and the performance coaching, then you do that, right. And there's going to be pros and cons to either. Some people will be like, "I love that, I'm great at that." Other people will think "I hate that, I would just be awful at that." So it has a lot to do with your own personal preferences and strengths.

Kathy (host):

Yeah, it's interesting, like, I have tried the agency route. And I have tried, and I, and I have realized that I personally, even though some people love the agency because you don't have to deal with like performance reviews, you don't have to, like they actually have someone to go to, as you've said, but I did not like that because they absorb the culture of the agency versus my company's culture. And there's a way of how I want my employees to be treated. And it was completely different. And I did not like that. So that's why I decided to bring them in-house. That was a huge thing for me. And, you know, it's, there's definitely pros and cons. If you want to be hands-off, the agency is a great way to go that way. But I am not a hands-off. Like I want it to be a certain, exactly.

Gina (guest):

Yeah. I love what you said, I'm gonna steal what you said about culture because, yeah, you wouldn't want to work with an agency that doesn't have a culture fit with you. And that's a great, I haven't thought about that before, but that's a great question. If you are going to talk to an agency, you know, "what are they about?" And because they all do, they are all very different, you know? I mean, for us, we're crazy about people's wellness. Well, how would you ever know that? You know, we're just all about, we want people to really be thriving mentally, emotionally, physically. And we're not, we won't let people work themselves to the bone in the name of the client. No, the client wants a healthy, happy, productive person. So you should take the next two days off. You know, so that who's then working in that inbox on Monday is not somebody who's haggard because they just spent two weeks getting over the flu, you know, they're well. So anyway, the really great point about culture fit, that's great.

Kathy (host): 

So Gina, we have spent 40 minutes talking about the EAs and Chief of Staff and assistants. If someone is looking at hiring an executive assistant, obviously, they can go to you and you can do that for them. But what is the next step that they can do to figure out whether they're ready for an executive assistant? What do they actually need one? What would you say to them?

Gina (guest):

Yeah, I would say start, if you don't have one today, start writing a log, just right now you can just, you know, open up your notes app or something and just start making a log of the things you might give away, things that are repeatable, you don't like to do them, you're not great about doing them. You start writing all that down. And then you can, it's just, it really is a numbers, it's a return on investment. How many? How much of that are you willing to give away? And if you start to envision giving away, say, 10 or 20 hours a week worth of work, what would you then be doing? Because that's the million-dollar question. I mean, you'll go find an EA, you'll delegate work. Well, what are you going to do with that time? And then you'll know when it's right, "called, oh yeah, I should be writing that book. Oh yeah, I should be moving on to these other areas of my business that I said I was going to do. This is ridiculous. Why am I the person that's managing my inbox?" So you want to be able to see both sides, what would I give away? And then what would I do? And you'll know when it's the day, I mean, I'd tell everybody today, "stop doing that stuff, that's not the highest and best use of you today." But you'll know, you'll know when that's right.

Kathy (host):

And also, you don't have to do something in the business. You can just spend more time doing other things that you love, we're spending time with your family, we're just doing nothing. There is a lot of value in doing nothing.

Gina (guest):

Yes, yes. Because then who goes back to work tomorrow is awesome? They are a great company leader. They're a great person to work for. Yeah, this is, yeah. This is why I now work 10 hours a week. And the 10 hours a week I work is really great. But that's because I've delegated everything else.  

Kathy (host):

Yep, exactly. All right, do that. It's been a pleasure to have you on here, such great tips. And we are going to have all of that also in our show notes. So, Gina, please tell us at the end, where can people find you?

Gina (guest):  

Yeah, people can find us at Athena Executive Services.com. And you can click on all kinds of buttons on that website to learn more. And you'll get connected to an awesome woman named Jennifer Tracy and she can answer questions or even just brainstorm with you about what, when and where, all things the virtual assistant world.

Kathy (host):

Awesome. Again, we're gonna have all of these links in the show notes. So if you want to see them, go take a look. Thank you, Gina.

Gina (guest):

Thank you.

Introduction to Executive Assistants
When is it time to get an EA
What is a Chief of Staff?
What are the qualities of a Chief of Staff?
Core Responsibilities of EAs
How EAs can manage your inbox
What type of work do EAs generally excel in?
How much managing will EAs need?
Questions to ask to determine if an EA is the right fit
EA costs
The pros and cons of using an agency to hire an EA
Agency culture vs your business culture
Actionable step to take to figure out if you need an Executive Assistant