It's time for another Innovation Spotlight! We hope you're enjoying this series as much as we are. Learning about the latest property management trends, innovations, and from some of the most significant thought-leaders in our industry is fun and inspiring.
Do you feel like you have more to do than time to do it? Today's conversation is for you!
Take a read-through or watch our conversation with Gregg Birdy and Elsa Mueller from PMI Birdy Properties. Gregg Birdy is the VP of Operations, and Elsa is the Director of Maintenance and Make Ready Coordination. They are former teammates of one of our Senior Consultants, and he's excited to let them share about using Virtual Assistants in your property management business.
Geekly Media: When I use to work at Birdy, we made our first hires on the VA side, and since I have left, they have created a little army of VA’s and have even taken to the point where a few of the VA’s are now managers. In the property management world, VA’s have been around for 2-3 years. What do you think Gregg?
Geekly Media: There have been companies doing this, but now it is starting to snowball. A lot more people are starting to look at this as a viable option instead of hiring an actual employee in the office which can be sometimes costly. A VA can come in and fit that role and sometimes fit that role even better than an actual person you would hire here in the states, and they are significantly cheaper. What Birdy has done now has taken the traditional role of a VA who everyone thinks is someone that just does clerical work and plugs them into management roles, and they are actually running portions of their company. Which truly is taking a small product that people thought could help with small parts of their business. Now they have plugged them in to essentially run parts of their business.
My first question is for Gregg. When was it that you thought you could plug VA’s into management roles? What leads to that decision?
Gregg: Pretty much when we had to let some staff members go that were here in the office. We were trying to evaluate “what does that person need to be in order to fill that job duty that we need them to do. That position was someone who did not have to leave the office. They did not typically have to meet with anyone inside the office. It was mostly online communication and phone call with owners. We realized they could work from anywhere; we just needed someone that could do a great job like we needed them to do and have attention to detail but didn't necessarily need to be here in the office here in San Antonio.
So we were a little bit open to the idea because we had heard of a couple of other offices working with VA systems so we started to look at where we could fit VAs into our model. That was kind of the first position that became open that doesn't have to go to the homes and could be a remote position. We were also looking at reducing payroll costs and trying to get that down below 45% - 40% of our net revenue. We saw that a VA could help bring that cost down.
That is definitely one of the most attractive pieces of VA’s. They can help keep your cost down but when you find one who can really take over and do a great job which we did not know how this was going to work out until after we started working with the VA.
When we first started working with her the first couple of days we were like “I don't know” and then by day three we saw she was clearly smart enough to just understand the concept and roll with it while asking good questions that were legitimate questions to ask. In that position, there is no black in white like accounting. They're somewhat of grey areas and she had to learn how to work the balance between customer and clients and try to make both sides happy and do what is right while following the laws.
Geekly Media: One point I like to make in there is these are not individuals that are sitting in a call center. I remember going through the hiring process with Anilu and Alexa. They both have college degrees. They both are extremely literate. They can write an email better than I can. Their English is perfect. Working in south TX, it's not uncommon to work with someone with a Hispanic accent.
Elsa: They write beautiful English emails. We’ve had a lot of owners that don't even know that they are in Mexico. One of our biggest investors came in for a meeting, and we let them know that those two girls they had been working with live in Mexico and they were like “No! I would have never guessed they live in Mexico” “I could hear their accent, but never thought they were not in San Antonio. That is how good they are with their communication. When we first hired them, I was kind of upset with you. How is someone in Mexico going to help me? I think it was like one week in and I was like o my god this makes a huge difference. This girl is really truly helping.
They want the money, for them getting paid in dollars instead of pesos and it is a higher wage even though it is lower than what you would make if you lived here and getting to work from home is such a big incentive. They are super happy because they are working amazing jobs. So yeah we are very happy with our VA.
Geekly Media: Let's touch on that. You head the VA’s. You look over all of them both in your make-ready team and your maintenance team. What are your tips? I think there are a lot of people who will look at a VA that don't understand that a VA, we shouldn’t call them Virtual Assistants. They are actually people.
Elsa: Actually, Gregg came up with changing their name and now we call them International Team Members. They are actually team members who work to complete actual projects.
My tips are don't be afraid just because they are in another country. They can have really important roles in your company. They can handle a lot of things. For example in make ready’s they call owners and speak with them about renovations. They talk about flooring colors and anything else for the make-ready. The sky is the limit on what they can do; you just have to have the right people. The concept of VA’s in Mexico is kind of new. It's not like the Philippines where they are quick to find another job. We do treat them as if they are here. The other day, for example, it was Esters's birthday. We called her and wrote her a card, and we scanned it for her. We try to treat them as much as we can like they are here. But again, these girls and guys are self-motivated, the pay is really good, and you get to work from home.
Geekly Media: So would you both say then as Birdy continues to grow when you need to fill the next role, is a VA the first component you are going to look at? Can a VA or an International Team Member be the key point to filling that role? Or are you going to look at both ends of the spectrum first?
Elsa: We were just talking about this. Yes, there are a lot of roles here that if people ended up moving or changing career paths or whatever happens the answer is yes. For me and my team, I feel like I can replace or hire for a position and use a VA. There are a lot of other positions in the office that a VA can be used as well.
Geekly Media: Looking at all the property managers we work with. You can plug a VA into every component of the business. No certain roles, you are absolutely right, there is going to have to be a live person at the office at all times. But within that team, you can probably have a VA or two or in that component of the business. I think for any property manager That watches this that is on the fence “should I use a VA, how does a VA work” they should do their research on them. It could change the way you are operating and help reduce the cost of bringing in an employee, and you might start seeing that return even quicker. Again a lot of these VA’s are educated and very smart, and they may take this on faster than someone you hired Indeed or Monster.
Gregg and Elsa, thank you for sharing your insight about using Virtual Assistants! We appreciate your time today.
To see more of the interview, please watch the video. The interview does continue after this portion of the transcript ends.