SARAH NOKED is the founder of Sarah Noked OBM, and online business management agency. Her team works with entrepreneurs and creatives in all stages of business to provide the structure and business management support they need. In this interview, we discuss how to streamline your virtual office and get the help you need to scale your business successfully.
Her tips for working remotely:
- Use project management and communication tools, such as Trello, Teamwork PM, Google Drive, Slack…
- Recognize that you’re not great at everything and hire the right teammates.
- Hire a virtual assistant (VA).
- Drop Skype, and adopt Zoom for team meetings.
- Take advantage of email marketing.
- Document your systems via video so when you hand tasks over to a VA they have access to a full library of resources.
When you’re looking for a VA, look at your own email list and network first.
Podcast production by Podcast Monster
Graphic design by Alfred Boland
Lisette: Great so and we are live. Welcome everybody to this remote interview my name is Lisette and I’m interviewing people and companies doing great things remotely. And today on the line I have Sarah Noked. You’re a Canadian living in Israel which is interesting in itself but you’re also the founder of Sara Noked OBM. which is an online business management agency and it says on your website that your team works with entrepreneurs and creatives in all stages of business to provide the structure and business management support that they need and that sounds pretty valuable for people building businesses so welcome.
Sarah Noked: Thank you so much for having me on.
Lisette: Let’s start with the question I always start with which is what does your virtual office look like? What do you need to get your work done?
Sarah Noked: You know my virtual office I have to say this is pretty buttoned up because this is actually what I do with a lot of my clients, is I come in, I set up their virtual office. So my virtual office consists of project management tool, I love Teamwork pm and I’m happy to tell you more about that, it’s a great product. A communication tool we actually used Tumblr chat but used Slack for ages and ages and ages, and of course Google Drive which is where online standard operating procedures live. I’m a big systems person I feel like that’s part of the key to why I can function as a mom of three, I have a two month old and I’m back to work.
Sarah Noked: By choice, because I am like, ‘I need my quiet time.’ So I come up to my office and I am like’ bye hubby.’ But yeah, so my virtual office is imperative that I have a down path because I have a virtual team and I want to make sure everybody is efficient as possible.
Lisette: Okay, So when you say business management support, what is that exactly?
Sarah Noked: Yeah that’s a great question so. So often times you our clients are entrepreneurs who are you know, they have successful businesses so I love to I love to call them the high end client because they have a really successful business model and they’re able to recreate what they’re doing a lot of the times they’re online coaches or they’re running an agency or they are you know I recently spoke with somebody in Australia who sells courses. She makes a great a great living her and her husband selling courses on fishing. So are our clients run the gamut from all sides of the world and they are out of place in their business where they usually have a small virtual team, but they’re still the project manager, they are still managing the day to day, they’re managing their launches and they’re managing their team and quite frankly they don’t like they don’t like it so they are clear that it’s not in their genius zone and they are sort of at a point where they’re ready to really delegate that heart and those parts and pieces to somebody else so that they can actually focus on you know what it is that they need to focus on to generate more revenue and make a bigger impact in the world. So then we come in there and we’re basically the buffer between the CEO client and their team and all the happenings of their business, so we really get in there and take the reins. So it’s a particular client at a certain base in their business, it’s definitely not a startup and it’s definitely not somebody who has a great idea for an online business. We’re working with people who are who are just want to streamline and automate and you know do all those wonderful things.
Lisette: So where do you see most people going wrong? So what kind of pain are they in when they come to you?
Sarah Noked: Yeah usually they’re overwhelmed I would say, they’re really overwhelmed and they feel like they have eight hundred balls in the air and they’re all falling at the same time. They also feel the pain of bleeding money almost because you know they know that their time is better spent you know either creating a course or going in having that speaking gig or making that joint venture connection but they’re like stuck in you know managing their email and managing their teams. So they’re usually quite overwhelmed and I wouldn’t say it’s like a hair on fire situation but it’s like, it’s like almost they come to us and it’s like this feeling of defeat you know like I’m not I’m not I, I didn’t sign on to this business to be in the situation that I am right now, and I also don’t see an out to what I’m doing you know they sort of feel stuck and lost.
Lisette: Right so it’s like a feeling of overwhelm without the end in sight. Because you know we can have like busy projects for short periods of time and then we know it sure but if you are a business owner and it’s just like oh my God there’s…
Sarah Noked: Yeah and they also recognize it like you know I’ve I’m not a great team leader or a you know I don’t really want to lead my team, I know I need my team but I really I feel like my time is better used. So I feel like are there they’re clear about what they’re good at but they’re overwhelmed by all the parts and pieces they need to handle in order to like be that you know it is like they’re like doing everything.
Lisette: So then…
Sarah Noked: You would have a team.
Lisette: So you then come in and help them set up systems and processes and put things in place to streamline their businesses and you do it with remote teams?
Sarah Noked: Yes, yes.
Sarah Noked: So, I have so I have a team of online business managers myself. So I run an agency I’m also one of three sort of people in the world who can actually certify online business managers according to the International Association of OBM’s. So Athena Frost I don’t know if your audience is familiar with her but she trained me last year and you know my relationship with her goes back, I became certified in 2012. So I started an agency of online business managers where we basically go in, we get down and dirty with the client I like to say, we help streamline their virtual office that’s the first thing we do and I know that it was really cute when I saw that like that is the first question that you always ask and I was like because that’s the most important thing right like if your virtual office is a hot mess then you can’t go anywhere. So we’ll come in we’ll help streamline the virtual office meaning like it’s sort of like the core where everybody communicates on the team. And then we start to you know dig into the team members what are they doing? What can be streamlined and put into a process and then working to you know automate things, bring on team members to do like often times like well you know I know we really need to run Facebook ads but I just I haven’t had the bandwidth, so will go and will hire the teams and people for the client you know it’s there it’s going to become their team. So it’s not like I’m I do have a, I do have a remote team myself that helps me with my own business but my core services are OBM’s and we really work with the client to help them build their business. So I don’t like clients to feel like you know all their eggs are in my basket, I like to help equip them with the right virtual team and because I train OBM’s. It’s really great for me to be like, ‘oh you know I have somebody local for you or there’s somebody that lives close by not that I’m you know not that I’m at all an advocate for having you know physical team although I do like to meet my team members once in a while.’ So all of my OBM’s are all also all Anglos that are working in Israel, they’re working remotely from here so there are Americans the Canadians and we had somebody who is from the Netherlands. So we have we have people who just get there get in dirty with our clients basically.
Lisette: And are any of your clients opposed to having virtual teams is it a new concept, do they know they need it where are they at with that?
Sarah Noked: Yeah my, you know my clients I think because my they are all my clients generally speaking Have virtual teams are very much accustomed to the idea so most of them have a V.A. And in fact having an online business manager sort of like the core of what you need like if you don’t have a V.A. on the team then, we’re going to hire that person for you. Because there needs to be somebody who can you know help with the tech and especially because most of my clients are running online courses or they are you know they’re doing big things in the online world so they need to have that. Most of my most of my clients are you know they have virtual teams but the virtual team isn’t working you know as a as a unit, it’s more like a hot mess.
Lisette: Right, right.
Sarah Noked: Yeah.
Sarah Noked: Yeah they love virtual teams they’re all over that.
Lisette: Okay, so that’s great because there’s a lot of opposition in the world to virtual taints because you know it’s got a bad rap for a number of different things.
Sarah Noked: Yeah you know I don’t really quite get why it has a bad rap I’m so grateful for… so I mean aside from my core OBM’s, and we live all over the country I mean Israel’s a really small country but still we’re not it’s not like you know they’re in my office. We’re lucky if we get to meet up once a quarter king of thing for you know dinner and drinks. Shoot the shit but yeah I mean in terms of just working remotely I mean I’ve got contractors who help me with my own business. So I launch the certification every quarter to teach to bring in people into what it is to be in OBM you know a lot of V.A’s will go from being a V.A if they find the more of a big picture thinker they might look at becoming an online business manager because it is a little bit more of a partner with a client you have that respect you know I feel like when I am working with my clients I’m actually partnering with them. But then I also have I have two V.A’s in the Philippines and a developer in India and I’ve got a graphic designer I’ve got a Facebook ,my Facebook ads team is in Spain you know, so I am for my own business and making that happen I have a very diverse virtual team and then for my agency you know we have just a few of us here and then of course all of the OBM’s in the world which you know we are like worldwide so most of the time I will hook up with a client I will help set up a virtual office, will streamline your systems and then I will lovingly pass them on to an OBM that I, that I will match make for them because I’m just so that’s like my passion and I want you know I want you to train people and then almost make really good jobs for them so that they can be happy and provide for themselves and their families too.
Lisette: Yeah sounds amazing and when you’re setting up the tools for people, and you’re setting up their virtual office is it a wide variety of tools that you use depending on the client or do you have certain ones that you love. And I saw in one of your blog posts you have the term you said ‘Skype is insufferable,’ and I personally am a Skype for the business hater, I hate it I think it’s a terrible tool one of the worst on the market. So when I saw that I was like oh I have to ask you about I have to ask about the tech and tools that you use.
Sarah Noked: So I’m you know like we are speaking right now I’m big on zoom, all of my team members have zoom we all use zoom with our clients Calendly. So having a calendar currently is great and it syncs with my zoom and it allows me to book meetings with team members. So you know if we’re having a kickoff call with a client, you know we work as a team unit even though we’re a virtual team. We you know we bring a lot to the table in terms of the diversity of my own team when we are kind of working to streamline a client’s business. So making sure that we can all hop on a call at the same time and it is not going to be like ‘oh you are available at this time and I am available at that time,’ like you’re just a cut out the middleman of having organized that. So zoom Calendly, Teamwork pm. So when I oftentimes when I work with a client they either have no project management tool and I’m like how are you still with your head above water or they’re using Asana Teamwork or Trello or you know there’s a whole bunch on the market and I’m like ‘as long as you’re using a project management tool I’m happy to kind of come in and you know be inside of the tool that that they have already set,’ but my favorite by far is Teamwork pm. I’ve been using it for a 100 years or since and even since day one of my business. I use her… I’m all about time tracking as well Teamwork pm has an internal time tracking tool but I like to use Harvest because it’s also how I invoice my clients and, so I’m all about time tracking because when you have I think this is one of the issues with remote teams is like it’s hard to kind of keep track with what everybody is doing. My whole feeling is that you know when you have buttoned up virtual workspace and you have SOP’s and people really know what their responsibilities are and what the expectation of them is then you can actually have a very happy team you don’t have people ghosting you, like I get a lot of like I had this great VA then she ghosted me and then it’s like well it’s like you know you were like throwing stuff at her a mile a minute and she didn’t know if she was coming or going you know like it’s kind of like part of it and then I’m an Intro port user. So I’m big on email marketing and lease building and for my own business and so I also I use Intro port for my lead management and pretty much like. It’s like, I love it at first year I am I mean you know it’s like if you’re like Infusion soft you know like Infusions soft to me although I have a lot of clients that use Infusion soft and I’m quite I’m very nimble I mean I started off as a tech V.A, so I’m very like I love technology. But you know its great Infusion soft Intro port. I just find Intro port a little bit more user friendly than an infusion soft. So I’m am an Intro port kind of girl myself.
Lisette: Okay, and what are the biggest mistakes that your clients are making before they come to you?
Sarah Noked: I think that you know people just overlook, they have all their systems live in their head and I get that not documenting system isn’t for everybody but if there’s one thing that I could say to that future client, it’s you know just Loom like more technology tools Loom for screencast. Start to loom what you’re doing on a day to day that’s recurring. So the first thing I have my clients do and their team is you know keep a piece of paper next to your desk and just write down everything task you’re doing that’s recurring and when you think about you know because you have those moments of clarity you know have somewhere where you write down what you’re doing on a recurring basis. And then we start to sort of look at that and put it into a project management tool and in between that is loom and you know and just screencast when you’re when you’re posting that blog post, screencast to walk through the steps you know like talk to yourself, walk yourself so that when we do bring on that VA. or when we do bring on that person that’s going to help document that they have access to this library of loom videos and then we can really hit the ground running. So documenting systems does not have to be scary. It is by vitally important for the health of your business I think a lot of my clients are very creative and very talented and they sort of overlook the nuts and bolts of really what creates a solid foundation to grow from. So if you’re not streamlined and you’re not planning to scale your business and everybody wants to scale and they’re happy to be a solo entrepreneur but if you’re planning on scaling and you want to bring on a team and you recognize like me that you know, I’m not great at everything I was a tech V.A and I can do you a lot of things. A lot of the times that gets me into trouble you know I’ve deleted my website before you know I’ve done all those crazy things. So you know recognize that you’re not great at everything and bring on the right team members, you members you know the virtual team member members to help you do that.
Lisette: So you’re documenting your systems via video and not necessarily via writing and I find that really interesting because most people when you talk about the SOP’s it’s like some sort of document.
Sarah Noked: Well I do, so I do have I do put them into a document but just for the on, just for my clients because they’re not going to put them in a document more or less. I had them do loom videos as a preliminary thing to the system but yeah. I’ve got templates, I actually have I call it my systems vault and it’s actually like a product that I give my clients and I’ve just put together. I’ve got all my SOP.’s, I’ve got SOP’s I have created for clients and I have got a vault that’s like ‘oh you needn’t a client care SOP here you go, oh you need one per managing team communication, here you go you know you need one per putting a blog on WordPress,’ like I have just it’s kind of gotten a little bit crazy, I mean only if my husband actually knew what I was doing it with my life and with my career he would be a little bit freaked out, like oh my God she is there and she goes again with SOP’s you know.
Lisette: Yeah but on the other hand if, you know if for instance there’s a lot of people that entrepreneurs that have to for some reason leave their business and there is nothing documenting what they have done.
Sarah Noked: Exactly or you know, you know my goodness you know you take a vacation per week without your laptop you know. So were working with a client who launches all the time and I was talking with her OBM and her OBM was telling me you know it was the first time my client actually took a weekend off and went on holiday during a launch, you know what I mean like that’s crazy that’s for a lot of people that’s pretty huge but I mean like system might not be sexy I get but taking a holiday or taking a day when you have a sick kid and not feeling like the world is crashing down. So I like I have the school system where I put the task in Teamwork pm and then I link it to a Google Drive of the SOP. So if I have a sick team member it literally takes me five seconds to filter in my Teamwork pm, what task they have that day and then I can just. Assign him to somebody else, I mean SOP is like right there in the tasks so there’s no confusion and you know I just feel like I’ve got it together you know, it’s like it’s nice to be organized you know .
Lisette: For sure yeah you want to… you know like ‘okay here’s all my balls and they’re not in the air they’re totally organized in the-‘
Sarah Noked: Yeah they are organized and buttoned up and then I can actually focus on my goals and you know and have some time, where you know I think when you have things like a solid foundation you can actually have those dreams and you can go after those bright shiny objects, because you’re like well I got everything else organized. So I can actually you know experiment or take that mastermind or you know work with that person because you’re not like overwhelmed with everything else.
Lisette: Yeah you’ve got room to breathe.
Sarah Noked: Yeah.
Lisette: And think also, like instead of like rushing I’m relating to a lot of things you’re saying. So like instead of rushing through the task list it’s like you need time to think, I just have to think sometimes about presentations that I’m giving and you know like okay, what do I want to say really and that one didn’t really work but why? why didn’t it work you know oftentimes I am coming up with ideas on my runs, on a like a long run you know stuff just kind of rambles in your head but I’m noticing that definitely room to breathe and time to think is super critical, and when you’re bogged down and overwhelmed you don’t have that.
Sarah Noked: You just do not yeah.
Lisette: I want to ask you before we are starting to near time and I want to ask you about the hiring process and what you look for with virtual teammates? Because it’s got to be a different skill set then I’m assuming than in person teammates.
Sarah Noked: Yes so number one communication, you know they have to, so okay so as part of our hiring SOP. I am very big on making sure that, I hire for personality because I feel like in today’s day and age you know a lot of a lot of skills can be taught, you know I can teach somebody how to be an OBM if they have you know the right qualities and the right personality for it. So I’m you know there’s I am not always hiring for personally but when I’m hiring my OBM’s I am. Of course there are lots of different skills and such but when push comes to shove I want to make sure that I can communicate with them and they are you know and I recognize that in our email conversations and in our interview you know how are they and I like to ask questions like ‘what do you like to do on the weekend,’ which totally throws people off that like ‘ah, aha, aha,’ and then they’re like ‘oh well you know actually a lot I’m a runner and I love to go for runs,’ and it’s like then we’re like oh and like okay this person has really great interpersonal skills and she’s you know solid and that kind of thing. So that’s my personality and communication is number one, because when you’re working virtually you know you really it leads to like awkward situations if the person is not a good communicator or you know the way they write is comes off putting. So, that’s my number one but then I’m also making sure that they’re detail-oriented because in my line of work and when I hire on OBM and when I train OBM I need to make sure that they’re those detail people. They are big picture people but they’re also very much you know they’re not there checking their email for mistakes before they are sending it to me. I don’t…just things like that. So part of our hiring process is a test project and a test project you know from the get-go actually sorry, from the get-go of our interview process not even before that before the test project, I have a very specific email subject line that I use to make sure that they’ve actually read a whole you know jobs scope, and what I’m looking for and at the very bottom I’m like okay submit your application on a Google Drive because I got to make sure they know how to use Google Drive because I am all about that, with this specific subject line to me in the email. So if they don’t put it in a Google Drive or they don’t use that particular subject I am like you know I’m like immediately I don’t even take it a step further because I’m like you know you’re just not you didn’t read it in full, you’re not that detail oriented person that I’m looking for. And then I give them a test project totally I mean depending on what it is that I’m hiring for I’ll give them a pretty custom test project you know I have like a core one that I use but I might throw in different things like I love to give a, if I’m hiring OBM for my team I will have them do like a SWOT Analysis of my Business. Like strength, weaknesses, opportunities, threats and then I’m going to get an idea of if they actually you know care, not caring that sounds mean but you know…
Lisette: Did they take the time.
Sarah Noked: Yeah did they take the time, do they do their due diligence, do they actually like think do they think about what I do in my business because it is I mean OBM’s online business managers it is a relatively. You know it’s been around for maybe ten or fifteen years but it is kind of like a new career opportunity for a lot of people.
Lisette: Right and are you finding that it’s taking off more and more I mean are more entrepreneurs I can imagine.
Sarah Noked: It is exploding in the last three years, so I mean I’ve been doing this for the last seven years but I go to… every year I fly to San Diego. I pick one conference and that’s why I was asking you when we were doing a preliminary to this conference is because I love flying to conferences escaping my house and, you know it’s like the real getting out of the house because like even though I work remotely I’m like in my house all the time mostly. But I fly to trafficking conversions in San Diego almost every year and even the last three years you know when I’m talking to people about what I do I’m finding that a lot of people are actually like ‘oh you’re an online business manager, oh that’s really cool.’ They’re not they’re not like ‘oh you’re an online business manager what does that mean,’ you know so it’s changed even when I speak with other entrepreneurs about what it is that they’re looking for, you know they’re kind of more familiar with it. As like a different type of virtual assistant support provider, you know sometimes I always tell people you know think of V.A as an industry rather than a rule and when you start think of it as an industry, there’s a project manager it’s all over the under there online business managers, tech V.A’s, even like personal assistants like it starts to all kind of become a little bit you know more of an industry rather than like a specific type of person.
Lisette: Oh yeah it seems like especially now more than ever with the proliferation of online work sites. So how do you find your people if you’re hiring, how do you find PA.’s? Where do you go?
Sarah Noked: Yeah, so I you know when it comes to my own OBM’s I will actually go into like local Facebook groups that have you know that are sometimes not even related to V.A.’s you know so I will look for somebody who is you know for lack of a better word escaping corporate, you know they want to they want to get out of corporate. So I’m looking for that person who has transferable skills because as you know in the OBM world you know if you’re a mom you know you’re a great project manager, if you’ve been in corporate you’re probably a great team manager, you’re good with your…you’re pretty disciplined you know there’s just so many transferable skills that come across. So I’m looking for that because it is such a new and new phenomena, but if I’m looking for a V.A I have a great agency that I work with called the Virtual Hub. [Inaudible 25:53] they are in the Philippines, so I’ve had obviously worked with my fair share of V.A’s all over the world and I just feel like when I work with an agency when it comes to hiring V.A’s, if they get sick or say you know something happens or you know for example one of mine you know she’s been on my team for two years she just she’s going on to do you her own thing so she’s leaving the agency but I know now I’m in good hands to find like they’ll bring me on another one. So I like to when it comes to V.A’s. I do like to work with agencies and I’ve also got I’ve heard of a lot of virtual assistant groups like the Virtual Savvy and the Virtual Tri. Like there’s tons of these groups and I’ll just go in there and post and actually for I don’t know your listeners have their own lists but I find that if you’re looking for somebody, you can e-mail your own list. Put a post on your Facebook page, I found like that I get great traction like that as well and because I’m hiring for my team my clients and I bring on their own making their teams, I’m just like this is sort of my real house but yeah I kind of like you know well first will start with their list, is there a V.A on their list who’s accustomed to the you know their whole business model and what we do. Because that’s ideal you know like if I’m working with a nutritionist and there’s a V.A. on her list that has an interest in nutrition like our star player. But if I’m you know working with somebody who doesn’t have a list yet and maybe their business is still a little bit in its infancy, we might take a V.A from an agency because we have that support network. And the nice thing that virtual have is they have is that they really take the time to train like they have an office in Cebu where they’re where they all are and they you know my V.A. She’s an engineer you know what I mean, she’s an engineer and I’ve worked with other V.A. from there that are you know computer science people, there’s just they’re really like top notch. You just [inaudible 28:00] people in the virtual world you know it’s kind of crazy I mean when you know where to look it’s really overwhelming, there’s no shortage of good people out there.
Sarah Noked: It is about having the right virtual office so that everyone knows what they’re doing and they’re not getting frustrated an irritated with you know the business owner.
Lisette: I love it, so if for listeners out there if you are feeling overwhelmed and like you’re bleeding money and do not have a proper project management tool in place I think you now know where to go. One of the last questions is advice for people who are just starting out like clearly they call you. You know maybe they need to prep a little bit before they call, what would you give advice for people who are just starting out in terms of like they are about to scale?
Sarah Noked: Yeah I would say if you’re about to scale and you…so you have like a profitable…not a profitable business or you have a business model that is making money and that you’re able to recreate selling that course or selling your coaching or what have you. I would say leverage the loom piece and start to actually pick screencast of what you do on a day to day because that’s going to help that future team member and it’s going to make your life easier because it’s very overwhelming to get to the point where you are like ‘okay I know I need team now and I have like 800 processes that I need to somehow start to document.’
Lisette: Yeah, yeah and also the idea of documentation, it could kind of just make your eyes flip too.
Sarah Noked: Yeah that way just you know I have this nice little like I use Google. You know. So I have when I like on my applications for you actually have a loom icon. I can’t member it’s like a Google App.
Lisette: Or a plug in a chrome plug in?
Sarah Noked: Yeah plugin, yeah chrome plugin that’s what it is it is a chrome plugin for loom. So I just tap on it when I can easily just you know five seconds and I’m like blah, blah and then it saves it into a nice URL, saves it in your account so there’s no it’s and then if you’re really you know Bonus points if you take it that URL and put it in a project management tool for that eventually team member to create an SOP and I’ve got tons of SOP templates there’s no shortage of those in my world.
Lisette: Sounds like a dream.
Sarah Noked: I give away, I give away a lot of stuff and I actually have something juicy for your audience. Over at sarahnoked.com /collaboration superpowers that page I’ve actually got my onboarding SOP. So I find a lot of the times you know when we’re service day professionals, you either if you are a coach or whatever you’re always onboarding and off-boarding clients. So that is one of the juicy things I’ve put there and first more about more about me and what I do is over at sarahnoked.com/collaboration superpowers.
Lisette: Awesome and I will definitely make sure to put that in the show notes. So in a way we circumvented the last question which is if people want to find out more about you I’m assuming they go to sarahnoked.com.
Sarah Noked: Yes totally sarahnoked.com yep.
Lisette: And everything’s there.
Sarah Noked: Everything is there.
Lisette: Systems person, a good business manager would do.
Sarah Noked: Oh yeah.
Lisette: And indeed your website is quite impressive, it definitely gives you what is going on and all you have right there. And it’s obvious yeah so and so for all you virtual entrepreneurs out there you don’t have to feel overwhelmed anymore get your systems and processes in place and scale your business wisely. Sarah thank you so much for taking the time today.
Sarah Noked: It’s been such a pleasure speaking with you I love talking to people who speak my language, so I feel like such a connection with you already.
Lisette: Awesome it’s totally fun, totally fun and this is a right up my alley and hopefully right up the alley of the audience that’s listening. Until next time everybody be powerful.
Sarah Noked: Thank you