How To Work With An Executive Assistant ft. Gina Cotner

Working with an executive assistant can be a game-changer for a business owner. Join me, Uriah Guilford, as I chat with the CEO of Athena Executive Services, Gina Cotner, about how to work with an EA.

In This Episode, You'll Learn:

  • How to know if you need an EA
  • How to optimize collaborating with an EA

Resources Mentioned In This Episode:

Athena Executive Services
The Productive Practice book

⬇️ Click for full episode transcript ⬇️

Uriah
Hello and welcome to the podcast. So glad you're listening today. I got a chance to talk to Gina Cotner, who is the CEO of Athena Executive Services, which is a firm dedicated to helping busy business owners, entrepreneurs, and executives achieve work-life balance. She has over 15 years of remote work experience, and she's mastered the art of living from her calendar and coaches others on time management. Gina and her team of remote, part-time executive assistants free up their clients' time to do what they do best. It was so fun talking to Gina, and I think this is the first time I've been able to interview another owner of a virtual assistant business. I hope you enjoy our conversation. Hi, Gina. Welcome to the podcast.

Gina
Thanks, Uriah. Thanks for having me.

Uriah
Absolutely. I think this is the first time that I've ever had the privilege of interviewing another virtual assistant company owner. I'm excited about that.

Gina
Yeah, this is going to be rich for sure.

Uriah
No doubt we have a lot in common and probably get excited about some of the same topics, I imagine, right?

Gina
Right. Absolutely.

Uriah
Yeah. I would love to hear a little bit about your story, if you're okay with sharing that, and about Athena Executive Services.

Gina
Sure. I founded it and opened it seven years ago. It is a funny story, I guess. I went through a rough patch in my own personal life, and I had been an entrepreneur, and I had tried this business and that business and this thing because I wanted to be an entrepreneur so I could have freedom, which is freedom ain't free, right? I was in the middle of a divorce. And at one point I just said, I can't be an entrepreneur anymore and deal with what I'm dealing with in my personal life. I just need a job. Just a job, just ajob. Please, dear God, just something simple. I want to go to work. I want to make a difference for somebody. I want to come home and I want some money to arrive in my bank account. And that's just really what I want. And somebody I knew was on Facebook and looking for an executive assistant. And I thought, all right, yeah, I'd probably do that. It's a pitfall, of course, how many people think they could be an EA, but that's a whole other podcast. So I said, all right, I could be this person's EA. And I was she was a CEO of a small recruiting firm. And I went to the office and managed her calendar and her inbox and people coming into the office and coordinating and just making things smooth. And then she either got out of the lease or sold or somehow we were no longer in an office, and we all worked from home. And this was way before the pandemic. So there we were all working from home, and I loved it. I was an EA. I'm working from home. And changing the laundry in between this and that, and taking out the dishes, and just doing stuff while I'm working throughout the day. And it was pretty great. And then her firm got smaller, smaller, smaller. She didn't need me anymore. And my father at the same time was passing. We knew he was going to pass away. I said, You know what? Let's call this job good for now. I'm going to go be with my father in the last six weeks of his life. And I was. I'm really glad that I did that. That was 2015. I came back to Seattle and just gave myself three or four months to do whatever I felt like, wandered around life. And then I was ready to find another CEO to support. I let all my friends know and associates and contacts and said, listen, I'm looking to be an EA for a CEO and work from home. Who do you know? And eventually one of my friends said, my CEO needs you. And I said, great. And we started working together. And I think she was the head of HR. She was something like that. And she came to me a few months later and she said, well, for your planning, I'm going to need you as well. So if you could please plan next quarter to support me as well. And I said, Well, I don't have any bandwidth.

Uriah
Right. I can't clone myself.

Gina
Yeah. She said, no problem. Just find me somebody.

Uriah
Like you. All right.

Gina
And I said, Oh, okay. So she and I put our heads together. We thought of a mutual friend named Dorian. And I said, Now you've got to be really good. You've got to be a good client to work for, Tiffany. I'll coach her, but you've got to be good because we're plucking her out of the career she was already in. And Dorian said, Yeah, I'd love to work with you guys. And we did. And I was making this little coaching fee for every hour that Dorian worked for this company. I made a little spiff for coaching her. And we were happy. And then Tiffany comes to me the next month and says, the guys in sales spend way too much time on admin work. It's ridiculous. They really need some admin. And she said, you really need to open this as a business. And I said, Uh-uh, no, I don't want to. And she said, get over yourself. Go do it. That's I went and I found Allison and then the three of us were working for this one firm and I finally opened the corporation and then eventually worked myself out of a job.

Uriah
I love that story because there's a reason I like it when people are just busy solving a problem and then somebody else recognizes like, Oh, this is an opportunity. You should do this. That's fantastic. Obviously, you were super good at your job and then became good at recruiting and training other people to do similar work.

Gina
That's a natural- Yeah. It's really funny because that very first client, that very first CEO, his name was Darren. He went on to other companies and did other things. But of course, years passed and he came back around and he just hired us about six months ago. He said, I need an EA. I said to my managers, I now have managers that run my company, and I said, All right, you guys got to go find him someone, except his memory is of me. So have at it. Go find him somebody.

Uriah
Yeah. Isn't that a huge compliment, though, when somebody who's worked with you before, especially in that situation, the CEO, the first one, comes back around? That's great.

Gina
Yeah, it is. Our staff do, too. Sometimes our staff go... We have all part-time executive assistants, and they may end their contract with us, and then they go get a job, or they go do something else, then they too come back to the nest, which is always interesting.

Uriah
I love that. I do have to ask you this. It's just a curiosity question, but tell me about how you landed on the name Athena, the Executive of Services. So what does that mean?

Gina
Yeah, that's good. Now, so in the Greek goddess world, her animal is an owl. Every Christmas, every birthday. And I have so many owls now. It's like suddenly have an owl collection because of the name Athena, which is cool. They're popular. Let's see, my boyfriend and partner is John. And John has a business coaching business named Apollo Coaching and Consulting. And I was his EA for a time. And as I was getting ready to open this, I was a little nervous about being out on my own again. And I thought we were talking about maybe I'd be a division of his company and somehow under his umbrella. But then we smartly looked at each other as two grown adult business people in a relationship and said, That's probably not a good idea. You should probably have your own s corp. I'll have my own s corp, and that will make the household better. But it was in that thinking, and he one day said, You could be Athena. And I was like, Well, that sounds pretty sexy. All right. And so I looked her up and she's the goddess of wisdom and war. And her animal is an owl. And we've loved it. It's been really fun to play with. When we gave that to our original logo designer, I've loved our logo since day one. I don't know if we'll ever change it. It's taken us really far. We have a lot of fun with it.

Uriah
That's great. I really like business names that immediately lend themselves to imagery and story and all those things. This just makes everything so much easier.

Gina
That's right.

Uriah
That's fun. We're going to get into this. We're talking about how to get phenomenal results working with your executive assistant. It might be helpful to start with some definitions because I'll tell you one thing I see in my industry, which is mental health, private practice owners. Oftentimes people will post in a Facebook group or somewhere else and they'll just say, I need a virtual assistant. Does anybody know one? Then you probably know what I'm going to say next. People chime in and say, Well, what virtual assistant? What do you need help with? Because that's a very general term that not everybody even has an understanding of what that means. They might have some associations. In your experience, I'm curious, what's the difference between a virtual assistant and an executive assistant or any other terminology that might get tossed around?

Gina
Yeah, we should write a whole book just on that. We've got personal assistants, admin assistants, executive assistants. Then you have, I think, really the virtual version of all those, a virtual PA, EA, AA. Now we've got chief of staff floating around out there. And then we had to define for ourselves where we say somebody moves from being an EA to a chief of staff, and we charge differently. So and the definitions, they're not defined anywhere, first of all. So whatever I have to say will be my opinion, your opinion. And it really is the whole industry right now is the Wild Wild West, right? Anybody can say they're doing it and do what they're doing. And I think it also has to do with geography. Oftentimes people will say, Oh, yeah, I want a personal assistant. And I think of a personal assistant as they picked up your dry cleaning, they walked your dog, they made sure the house cleaners got let in, like physical, in-person stuff, which in some cities, that is what that means. In other cities, not necessarily. Your personal assistant and your executive assistant are pretty much that's a very interchangeable term. So I just thought I personally think of it in terms of if you were to go apply for a job, let's say you go to Amazon website and you look up all the assistants there are, there's quite a range, right? You got admin assistant one, admin assistant two, admin assistant three, executive assistant one, executive assistant two, executive assistant three. So if somebody says they're an executive assistant in my mind and in my company, that means they've got a higher level of business acumen. And why I found and what I found it was I wanted people to have the quality and the caliber of somebody that is sitting on the 40th floor of the downtown Highrise outside the office of the CEO, CTO, CIO, CMO, that caliber of person, but they don't need them, say, 40 hours a week. They just need that caliber 10 hours a week. Okay, good. So that's what we do. Now, I think there's a lot of people out there that call themselves VAs because it's a popular term. And they may very well be just as good as what I would call an executive assistant or a virtual executive assistant. So it is so interchangeable that I like your answer, I think, better than any, which is, Well, what do you want done? Then we're going to call it what you want to call it.

Uriah
It's pretty- I just want to say that it's unregulated and undefined, largely.

Gina
Totally.

Uriah
Which is not incredibly helpful. But I like what you're saying about how your vision and your idea was to have a team of part-time executive assistants that are the same level of quality as somebody that's outside of the CEO's office or some other high-level, high-ranking executive. That makes sense. I like that. I guess I think of virtual assistant being somebody who does any helping role for the business and does it from another location, whether that's coding or social media or any of those things. Then in my mind, executive assistant is definitely more like calendaring tasks, more those things. I don't know if that's true, but I'm sure executive assistant could probably do a lot of different things.

Gina
Yeah. Well, I'm going... I think I might steal some of what you just said. I think that that is true because you could have a virtual bookkeeper, a virtual social media manager, just like you said. Sometimes I'll just do a whole talk on just a 4.1.1 on the industry. And where do you get them? What's going on in the Philippines? How is that different than what's going on here? What are the pros and cons and all that?

Uriah
Probably there's a lot of people who hear virtual assistant and they think somebody in another country getting paid three dollars an hour or something like that.

Gina
Right.

Uriah
Which is often true for a lot of cases.

Gina
Yeah, that exists as well.

Uriah
For productive therapists, we only serve mental health business owners. We sometimes sub in the terminology virtual intake coordinator or virtual care coordinator because it's the main person who's responding to inquiries and getting new clients or patients signed up for services. That's a little bit more specific.

Gina
Yeah, and much more clear because of it.

Uriah
It is, yeah. I like clarity. It's always helpful with everything. The good thing in my mind for my industry, and I'm not sure about the folks that you serve, but just in the last couple of years, therapists have gotten excited about the idea and the possibility of having a virtual assistant because three, four, or five years ago, that was not even on the road, in the cards for therapy practice owners. I think that's exciting, but they still don't know exactly what can they do for me and how can I leverage that to grow my business? Or they certainly don't know, How can I work effectively with a remote assistant? They don't know how to do that because they haven't done it. That's why I'm excited to talk to you about that part. When you talk to folks, business owners, about how to work with an executive assistant, what are some of the mistakes you ask them, try to get them to avoid? Or the things you try to get them to think about? How do you frame that?

Gina
Well, first, we usually say, start making a list. To start making a list of what you don't want to do, you're not good at doing. It's not the highest and best use of your time. And it's repetitive. You've always got to prepare in the same way for this meeting. Or you've always pretty much going to respond to that email in pretty much that same way. Okay, what's repetitive that you've been doing? Like even in my own business, the things I turned over were the things that if I have to have that conversation one more time, I'm going to throw up. Okay, that's a good sign that I should take that exact conversation that I've had 50 times, 200 times and turn it over to somebody. It's now really a system. So it's a lot easier to turn over things that are a system versus your personal charm and personality. So that's one thing we start with, is to start with what is that going to look like? And then in terms of the how, in the beginning, lots, lots, lots, lots, lots of communication over communicate. Talk three times a week. I just can't say it any other way other than overcommunicate. And I would, especially because you're not in a tech field, I think unless you're a therapist who really you've got your system set up. You like managing all your projects in Asana or Trello or ClickUp or whatever. But if that's not your jam, okay, I would just say to your assistant, listen, I'm going to throw the house in the kitchen sink at you. And I need you to tell me how you're going to organize all that. And if you're the person that wants to be able to see all that they're working on, tell them that. Listen, hook me up. I don't know if you're going to use Asana, fine. Teach me how to use Asana so I can see what you're at work on. Or I don't really care. I'm going to text you every thought and everything I want to delegate, and then every Friday, I want you to tell me what you got done. There's a lot of different ways to manage it. But I think the biggest thing, and what's fun when you start out with an assistant is they don't know you. They don't know how good or bad of a boss you are. So you can start out being a way. And a way I would recommend you start out being is that you're constantly coaching and correcting. And that's uncomfortable for some people because they're like, Oh, everybody's trying to look good for everybody in the very beginning of any relationship. We're dating and we've got to make sure we like each other. You're not. You're making sure that that person knows how to do your invoicing exactly the way you want your invoicing done, not . That's where the coaching and the correcting comes in, which people can feel nervous about. But if I've got a ship headed off the Coast of Washington, say, leaving Seattle and it's going to Tokyo, and it's 10 degrees off, and I think, Well, it's not too bad. I'm not going to really say anything. They did a pretty good job. It wasn't quite what I wanted, but I think it's going to work. Pretty soon that ship is 10 degrees off, and now it's going to Singapore. Then three months later, you're like, Oh, they didn't pick this up at all. They said, No, you didn't course-correct. So it's a bit of a partnership, I would say, is how you skip the honeymoon phase.

Uriah
Right. That's so good. And so you recommend starting with a list of all the tasks and things that a business owner has to do that they want to hand off? Seems to me a lot of times that we, I'll say, put myself in there, but I don't know how much I actually do day to day because I'm doing a lot of things and juggling a lot of things. And so taking an inventory of that makes sense to then figure out which parts to hand off to somebody else and then moving into overcommunicating and not assuming that they can read your mind.

Gina
Yes, always good. And what you hate. You might even be good at it. I wasn't bad at doing social media posts, but I was like, If I have to find a graphic that I don't have to pay for and it's the right pixels and I've got the right whatever, whatever with it, I hated that. And my EA loves that. She eats that for breakfast. She's just like, Give me photos. Where are you? You're down visiting your mom. Great. What are you doing? Okay, good. I'm going to link that to an article that has to do with productivity and women's ownership and blah, blah. I'm like, Okay, just I swear to God, I can send her a picture of tulips and she'll turn it into something like fabulous. But I love that. You'll find out that your assistant has superpowers too. And when they like researching where to have mom's 75th birthday party, you're likely to keep feeding them because you realize what you hate to do, they like. Well, look you there.

Uriah
Well, you just gave me a really good idea. I need to get my assistant to help me more with planning and putting things together because I'm absolutely terrible at it.

Gina
Let them have at it.

Uriah
They'll probably have a ball. If I'm planning on vacation and yeah, that's a good idea. I have to step back real quick and ask you this question. You talked about the business owner who's very organized already has a task management system, has maybe standard operating procedures written out versus the person who just wants to throw the kitchen sink and text everything in their mind. Do you think one or the other is more successful working with an executive assistant? Or does it depend more on the quality of the assistant? Does that make sense?

Gina
It does make sense. You would shop for an assistant, I think, based on what you know about you. Now you're a therapist, so you know a lot about you. You know what makes you tick and what annoys you and what you're great at, and what times of the day you're great and what your superpowers are, and you're trying to get rid of off your plate everything that's not. So you would go shop for a VA that's great with that. So you'd say, listen, I got no systems, and I don't even want to learn any. I want to just throw everything at you and you organize it. How does that sound to you? Does that sound like a nightmare? Okay, I don't really want to be your nightmare. Other people might say, no, I've got it all. And in fact, I want you to do exactly what I say. How does that sound to you? Does that sound like a nightmare? Because some EAs will say, oh, I got my systems. My systems are awesome. You just give me all your stuff. I'll put it into my system. Again, communication, it'll all sort out in communication. But you'll know, if you make a list of everything you think you want to delegate and how you want to work, that's going to help you shop. That's a great answer. You'll be a smarter shopper.

Uriah
That is such a great answer. I like that a lot. We work with a lot of therapists, like I said, and a lot of them tend to not be the hyper organized, super techy person. They do need somebody to come in and help them get everything arranged, get their ducks in a row, so to speak. That's helpful.

Gina
That's how I feel. I don't want to do that work. I want to free up my headspace for a better and higher use. I just want to say to my EA, research flights to Palm Springs so I can go see my mom. Thank you. Back to work. Oh, can you send her some flowers for her birthday? Back to work. Get it out of my head. Now, I'm also clear that what I'm at work on is not world peace or brain science. So I also am a little like, I want you to do the organizing and the critical thinking. And I'm a great organizer, but I'd rather you do the critical thinking. I want my critical thinking to go toward higher uses, then should I use points for that airline trip or should I buy it? Well, what if I left on Tuesday and not on Wednesday? Lose my mind.

Uriah
Yeah. Like you said before, even if you're good at those things and even if you enjoy them, is that really what you need to be doing?

Gina
Right.

Uriah
Probably not. Yeah. That's great. I love it. I had to laugh thinking about this. I don't think I've talked about this on the podcast at all, but a number of months back, I decided to do a little experiment and get a virtual assistant from another company and I won't say any names. It was overall a good experience, actually. Then the person that they paired me with, the first person, not so great, but we moved on to the second person pretty quickly. It was a really great working relationship. She was impressive. One of the things that she said to me, which just made me so happy and also perplexed was she said, You're the most organized business owner I've ever worked with. At one point she was like, I don't know what else to do for you. I was like, Oh, no, that's good and not good. You know what I mean? Yeah. That's funny. That's good. I probably need to figure out how to let go. That leads me to the next question, to be honest, because human beings, entrepreneurs, and maybe therapists tend to be a little bit involved. I'm not going to say... Well, what's a better word than controlling?

Gina
You can say it. Controlling? Yeah. We think we'd be controlling, especially when it's related to our business and the things that we love. So how does a business owner truly, actually empower their assistant to take things on and own those projects or tasks? Yeah. Good. Well, I'm going to answer that question, I think, second. So if I don't answer it, bring it back to me. How do you empower them to really own a project? I think the first hurdle that people have to deal with is why should I even bother? Because I can do it better and I can do it faster and cheaper because I'm not paying anybody. And that is all accurate. So now the question is, what do you want to do with your life? Because people say, well, what do you do about that? I don't want to take the time to train somebody to do something. And even after I've taken my time and I have to pay them. So I have to spend my time and my money, and they're probably going to be as good as me. And if they are, it's going to be like six months from now.

Uriah
The hurdle. Yeah, and that's legit. And I often say, Well, you get what you keep. So do you want that next week? And do you want that next week? And do you want that next week? So in the beginning, when you take on an assistant, it is not immediate relief. And you might get lucky, and maybe it is. But for the most part, I would bank on it's going to be immediate relief. But you are now starting to invest in who you're going to get to be three months from now and six months from now and all those initial questions that he or she asked you about aisle or window, first class or blah, blah, blah. Can I have your United airline number and your American airline number and your Alaska airline number and all that stuff? They're never going to ask you again. So there is definitely an initial investment. And especially if you want to turn over heavy lifting like a whole process, you want to turn over invoicing, that's going to be an investment. But four or five months from now, you're not going to be the one doing it. That's what an investment is.

Gina
Yeah. And I didn't have an EA. I'm running a VA firm. I didn't have one for the first three years for that very reason. I was like, We can't afford to do that. And then I said, okay, let's just start. And I was sending my own invoices. And then one time I was on a trip with my friends in Maui and they were snorkeling. And I was on the deck of the lovely Lanai because I was free to work from anywhere, which occurs like freedom in the beginning until you're looking at the Pacific Ocean and you have a beautiful view and you're sending invoices.

Uriah
Oh, my goodness.

Gina
And I was like, I'm never sending invoices from Maui ever again. This is it. That was the end of that. Now, that was an upstat from maybe being trapped in a cubicle in an office. But the next step was, No, I'm not going to go on and send invoices. You're investing in who you're going to get to be in the future, basically. Now back to your question, how do you empower them, your assistant, to own a project? I give people more, a longer leash than they deserve or that they have earned. Some people might say, Oh, well, you're just a very trusting person. I don't know that I'm such a trusting person, but I believe in people. I believe that whoever's in our industry, this assistant industry, they want to be of service and they want to do great and they want a chance to do really great. If they were pretty solid, you wouldn't have brought them on board in the first place. So now I say, I want you to take on this project. I had my EA research for my 50th birthday. I wanted to charter a yacht for a week. I've never done such a thing. That's crazy. And I said, Corrine, this is your baby. I don't know anything about this. And I know you probably don't know anything about this. Okay, so we're starting from the ground together, but this is your baby. Now I work for you. What do you need to know from me? And she goes, well, I'm going to go do some research. So she goes, She has some research. Now we can have an educated conversation. But I'm the customer now. But I'm also a very key and important team member. But she's the team lead on the team member. And I keep telling her that. I'll say, okay, what else do you need to go? Well, I need to know. Okay, how many people are you bringing with you? I'm bringing this other couple. Oh, okay. Do you need to da da da? And I'll say, okay. She'll say, all right, I'll go talk to you again next week. But she's the lead. And you may have to, depending upon your personality, mock it up in a way and be like, Well, sit back and go, Well, what do you need? They will tell you. Now they're invested because now they're the critical thinker, not you having done the critical thinking, doling out little tasks to do.

Uriah
That's a really good point. Is that because business leaders are used to being leaders? It's harder for us to say, you're point person on this, and I'm just here to give you the information you need so you can accomplish the mission. I wonder.

Gina
I think so. I think any great leader works for their people. So my job is to make sure my people win. If my people didn't win, it's not because they're the bad people, it's because they didn't get. Now, once in the blue moon, maybe they're the bad person. But the bad apple. But that is not my default. My default is you didn't get what you needed. I didn't get you what you needed. Or you're working in some system or culture that isn't getting you what you need. Something's having you fail. But I am theI am that you want to do great. So that's just my starting premise. Now, if I find out after a couple of months, you don't, I'm not going to waste my time. I'm not afraid to fire people. I don't just work with people because I'm going to give them their 10th try. No, I don't have time for a 10th try. But the same thing goes with we turned over payroll and from how we were doing it, and we started using Gusto.

Uriah
Oh, good. Me too.

Gina
Now, I said to my ops manager, this is your baby. You got to get us from point A. You got to go figure out where we should move to. We knew we needed to move. I said, Go research this project, collaborate with me. I'm going to be your key collaborator, but you've got to get us from point A to point B. And she did. But then they get the win, right? So then in the end, you're like, good job. Awesome. This was your project. Thank you so much. They get the win, and then they're ready for the next. They're bolstered. I think part of it is too, I don't need more wins. I want the people around me to be leaders. I want them to do critical thinking. I want them to feel the win. I'm cooked. I don't need more of that.

Uriah
I'm definitely hearing that loud and clear that you... It's a mindset that you have that you want the people around you, specifically your EA, to succeed and to feel the win and to feel like they accomplished something. They took something across the finish line. You're not trying to hog all the success and the wins and the celebrations to yourself. Yeah.

Gina
If you ever create an operations manager, that's what that is. I have two managers, and that's eventually how you get to a company that my company is now run by two managers, and I work 10 hours a week. But that's because my job is to make sure they win. That's all I do. I just talk to them and make sure they win. My job is to handle problems. That's my sole job mostly, is to handle problems they can't handle. That's a spicy 10 hours a week, but the 90% of the company, they can run without me.

Uriah
Yeah. I think there's no one listening to this right now that doesn't want exactly what you just mentioned. A self-sustaining, self-managing company that is largely run by really smart, driven people that are not me.

Gina
Yeah. That really requires that you believe in them and you work for them. I have a.

Uriah
Question for you. That's really good. I have a question for you, though, because most of the people that we are helping and talking to are licensed therapists who, once upon a time, were the only provider of services. Then they transitioned, a lot of them, a lot of folks have transitioned to, well, there's various different options, but a lot of folks hire other people to provide those services. They go from being the technician to use terminology from the E-Myth, the technician. What's the other thing? Do you remember that?

Gina
It's been a long time.

Uriah
I know I can't remember that.

Gina
I read.

Uriah
That one. In any case, you started out providing the services as a virtual executive assistant, and then you transitioned out of that. How did you make that jump? Or did you? I'm assuming you did.

Gina
I did. Yeah, I did. I'm trying to remember what exactly happened, but I think I realized that I could find clients and I could find more EAs. I wanted to get out of being in delivery, essentially. I took somebody on our team who I thought was qualified, and I had to convince this client, Listen, I'm really sorry. I'm going to now go run the business. He understood. Ultimately, he wanted that for me, too. I said, Listen, Darren, you're forever going to be client number one. He's like, Okay, I love it. I said, I'm going to give you Allison. He said, Okay. Then I did my very best to train Allison and how I served Darren so that she could come in as seamlessly as possible. And then I came out. And now I'm just building the business. But I was doing all the ops. I sent the invoices and trained the team and vetted, screened everybody who came in, both clients and contractors. But it was little, right? We had a team of three, and then we had a team of six, and we had a team of seven. So it grew fairly but it wasn't insane, and I didn't want it to be insane. And then it did get to the point where it was like, okay, well, now we have 15 staff members, and this is getting a little tough for me to both be able to vet and screen and onboard new people, and then make sure the 15 that are working are excellent, because that's the biggest, another whole big other podcast is, as a business owner, I've got to keep their performance at top notch. It's not like, Oh, they got top notch. Okay, I guess they'll stay there forever. No, people's performance waxes and wanes as things happen in their life. I had to build a whole system for what keeps them excellent.

Uriah
So it was gradual over time as you grew. That makes sense. I think that's probably most people's story. That's certainly my story with my therapy practice, that is.

Gina
Yeah.

Uriah
That's great. I've got at least just one more question, then we can probably wrap up. But there's so many things that we could talk about. I think you shared this, but I just love to use that word again, empowering business owners to get help and to grow their business and step away so they can enjoy their life. In fact, a productive therapist, our tagline is we help therapists get more done so they can have more fun. So being in Maui but not doing invoicing.

Gina
Exactly.

Uriah
That's what it's about. I just wanted to ask you this one last question and we can toss it back and forth. When starting with a virtual assistant of any kind, delegating to someone, how do you recommend setting expectations? Because that is where things either take off in a positive way or they just start and then they downgrade because either it's not clear or there's unspoken expectations, etc, all the problems. How do you recommend getting that as close to right as possible?

Gina
Yeah. Again, you got to overcommunicate more than you think you need to because you're starting from ground zero. This isn't somebody you've been married to for 10 years, which is cool because you get a real fresh start. So you can be more clear, more concise. I'm going to say more demanding. I'm not saying go be a jerk. I don't think anybody's out to go be a jerk, but be more clear than you think you need to be. And you are probably not used to delegating and then asking for when will that be done? Okay, so, Joe, you're going to go do that for me. Great. When is that going to be done? Then training people to come back to you with, Yep, that's done. Okay, great. Thank you so much. I've been at work on that. That's done now. You always know when things are done, that is going to handle a lot of the... What are they working on? Did they work on this? When is that thing? I know they got 20 things on their plate, but is the thing that is going to get done tomorrow? Is that on track to get done tomorrow? So communication- Say everything.

Uriah
Say more than you think you need to.

Gina
Yeah, say more than you think you need to. But I think some good habits are you've got to say when you need that and what does done look like? You may not know, but to the degree you do know, Listen, I don't know what done on the right yacht looks like for my 50th birthday. I just know I'm looking for A, B, and C. Now, as we get more educated, now I'm looking for D, E, and F. But I like the guys at Asian Efficiency, and I listen to some podcast, so there's years ago, and they had this thing called Definition of Done. What is the definition of done? This project is done when. When will it be done? Or when can you get back to me about when it will be done? Well, let me go do some research, and on Monday, I'll let you know when I can get that complete. I think those are a little bit because the expectations often come, the missed expectations come from, I didn't know what they were working on, or I didn't know, or the EA saying, I didn't know that that's what they meant. I think the other thing you can do in terms of overcommunicating is ask your assistant, What questions do you have? Specifically, the word what? Do you have any questions?

Uriah
Right.

Gina
Because a human being is like, No, I'm good. Or you're wrapping up a conversation, you're talking about the project, and you go, Okay, so anything else? And they're going to go, No, good.

Uriah
What questions do you have for me?

Gina
As opposed to, What? What else would you like to know about this? What else do you need from me? What else would you like? What else did you learn? What until they go, Nothing else.

Uriah
Yes. If you have not done so, I think you should write a blog post called The Five Most Important Questions to ask your executive assistant. That would be great. Okay, good. Maybe you already have.

Gina
No, I've written blog posts for seven years, but I don't think I've quite written that one. That's good. My managers are insistant that we write a book. So something will come out at some point. That'll have.

Uriah
To be in there. We should talk about that at some point. I just wrote my first book and got it on Amazon a couple of months ago. Great. It was a lot of work. Yeah, it was fantastic, though.

Gina
Good.

Uriah
Yeah. Well, that's really helpful. Thank you for all your wisdom that you shared on this podcast so far. Maybe we will have to do a round two to get into more things. Because these are important things that are ingredients to, I think, success for business people who have big goals and missions that they want to accomplish, but they can't do it if they're doing their invoicing in Maui or any version of that. That's right. It's important. I feel passionate about it, and I can tell that you do, too.

Gina
That's right.

Uriah
Yeah, that's fantastic. Well, anybody listening to this, where can they go to find out more about you and Athena and everything that you have to offer?

Gina
Yeah. Well, we have a website, and it's entitled athenaexecutiveservices. Com. So you can just go there. You can learn all about it. If you do want to learn more, it'll say, do you want to explore more about having a VA? And you click on this button. And who it's going to take you to is a woman named Jennifer Tracy, and she's our client care specialist. She's awesome. She'll even just brainstorm with you. She'll have a quick conversation with you and say, What are you dealing with? And she might say, Great, we should talk more, or, Nope, you should go do this for the next six months and we should talk in six months, or, Who knows what? But that's how you can learn that. If you want to reach out to me, I'm pretty responsive on LinkedIn. So if you send me a direct message on LinkedIn, I'll get back to you.

Uriah
That's wonderful. Thanks so much, Gina.

Gina
Thank you.

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