By Verne Harnish
Barbara Turley started her business, The Virtual Hub, by accident. “Honestly, I didn’t mean to start it,” she recalls. “There was no business plan.”
Turley, who had worked in investment banking during 15 years in corporate life, had become a business coach and saw that many of her clients had the same problem in their startups and small businesses: “They were doing everything themselves,” says Turley. “If they didn’t hire staff, they were never going to grow.”
Turley, who had hired a fantastic virtual assistant (VA) based in the Philippines to assist her at her own business, helped a few entrepreneurial friends find VAs there, as well. “Before I knew it, I was getting more demand for that than business coaching,” she says.
After she created a webinar showing how she could supply companies with their own VAs, demand increased even more. Many entrepreneurs needed help but didn’t have the bandwidth to find and train people or put them on payroll. “We’re like a plug-in to your business,” she says. “We’re a partner to a business that wants to scale.”
That was how The Virtual Hub got its start in 2015. Today, Turley’s Philippines-based company—which she runs virtually—has 200 VAs on payroll, after hiring 65 in the last year. The company is on track for $1.8 million in annual revenue, serving clients in the U.S., the U.K., Canada and parts of Asia. Turley has pulled this off while working part time and raising her two young children.
Reading Scaling Up: Mastering the Rockefeller Habits 2.0 three years ago and taking a Scaling Up “Crisis Edition” course during the pandemic helped Hurley scale The Virtual Hub. Here is how she applied the platform to her business.
In the VA business, having the best talent is critical. Three years ago, Turley decided put all of the VAs she hired on payroll and offer them benefits, including healthcare, so she had an edge in hiring and retention. Many of her team members want a steady job and prefer that over freelancing. “Their employment does not depend on the clients’ ebb and flow,” she says.
To attract great people, Turley’s recruiter relied on a methodology she developed for recruiting and interviewing that has similarities to Topgrading, the system recommended in Scaling Up. “We had to develop a recruitment process that was bulletproof,” Turley says.
Turley doesn’t care what employment background applicants have—some of her best hires have been nurses—as long as they have “grit,” she says. “We’re looking for a type of person, a type of enthusiasm, a zest for life,” she says.
To identify these gems, The Virtual Hub relies on a multi-step process that starts with a phone interview and includes testing of applicants. A prospective employee may, for instance, be asked to watch a video on how to create an infographic and then create one.
Once Turley hires team members, she invests heavily in training them in skills relevant to the work they do, which is heavily concentrated in digital marketing. “We’ve tried to gamify the learning experience, even our cybercrime training,” she says. “We’ll throw out a question and people get prizes if they answer correctly.”
The gamified learning modules are part of an overall culture designed to take fun seriously. “I always fundamentally believe if you’re not actually having any fun at work there’s really no point,” says Turley.
With team members working from home, creating such a culture takes creativity. The company brings people together through Facebook Lives with contests where the first 10 people to comment in the chat box get coffee sent to their houses by the company or virtual town halls that include live music. “Everything we do, including meetings, needs to have an energetic difference, a vibe,” Turley says.
Getting clear on strategy
Turley developed Core Values for The Virtual Hub after reading Scaling Up, but as the company grew, she felt these values needed a refresh. “They were wishy washy—that’s the truth,” she says. After doing a Mission to Mars exercise with her team, a new set of values emerged: We collaborate for shared success; We support because people matter; We take fun seriously; We find solutions until solutions find us, Energy & enthusiasm is in our DNA, and We do the right thing.
The company also came up with a Brand Promise: “We will eradicate overwhelm.” It’s not just overwhelm for the clients, she adds. “It’s for the VAs, too,” she says.
Making the system work for both clients and team members
To make sure both clients and VAs are happy, Turley sets clear hours for the VAs—they may, for instance, be available to a client 20 hours a week in the mornings—and is very strict about limiting clients to their designated hours. Her team works with clients to ensure they plan ahead for how they will use their VAs, so they get the results they seek. “We encourage clients to use Asana and Trello,” she says.
To ensure strong execution, a “results coach” serves as an intermediary between clients and VAs, taking a proactive approach to keeping the relationship strong and communication clear. “They ascertain a client’s true goals,” she says. “What does success look like? What does failure look like? What is their communication style? Their meeting rhythm?”
Setting an ambitious goal for Cash
Turley is fortunate that The Virtual Hub has always been cash-flow positive, thanks to an early decision to bill clients in advance for her subscription service. Because of her investment banking background, Turley is well versed in finance but she recently brought on a fractional CFO so she could stay focused leading the company as founder and CEO. She is working with her CFO to stow six months of operating cash in the bank, after spending the past few years reinvesting in the business.
It’s all part of an ongoing commitment to using the Scaling Up system to grow her company. “Scaling Up is not a three-year program,” she says. “You’ve got to do it every year and tackle a new piece of the puzzle.”