About Denise Cagan: Denise Cagan is the Founder of DCA Virtual Business Support. Her company offers VASuperheros, social media management, graphic design, and website support for growing businesses. Denise Cagan started her first company while still working as a QA Manager at Coca-Cola. After a year of doing both, she moved on to become a full-time business owner at DiCi Services. She grew DiCi for 10 years, selling it in 2011. At that time, Denise established a second and third company. Only one of these remains today which is her current business. She attributes her success in navigating the business world to her strong operational and management style and being an incredible business advisor. Denise graduated from James Madison University with a BS in Quality Systems Development. Check out the latest episode of our Conversational Selling podcast to learn more about Denise.
In this episode, Nancy and Denise discuss the following:
- Denise’s definition of a VA superhero.
- Recognizing the undervalued role of virtual assistants in sales.
- Overcoming entrepreneurial fear: transitioning from offline to remote business.
- Exploring accountability methods for successful remote work.
- The rewards of having a remote staff.
- Reviewing potential pitfalls associated with remote work.
- The advantages to the business owner of having a remote staff.
- In the world of Executive Assistant, KPIs are a little bit hard to come up with.
- When you’re doing it by yourself, it’s so much simpler, but when you have a team, it becomes less simple.
- We have mental health benefits because, without that, I’m sure you know that if people aren’t doing well outside of work, they’re going to carry that into work.
- When people come to us for services, when they try to negotiate less than our six-month minimum, they’re not fit, and I try to very politely tell them that they’re not.
- Keep asking questions.
“ VA has a few names that people recognize: virtual assistant, executive assistant, virtual executive assistant, virtual office assistant. A VA superhero is somebody who comes in and basically takes things off the plate of a business owner, a CEO, the president of the company, or someone in the C-suite. So, you’re busy, you’ve got day-to-day things going on, and as you are a small business and you start growing, those to-do things become more. And that’s exactly what these people do for you. Take those off your plate.” – DENISE
“We have had to guide team members on how to maximize their time. We have a very flexible schedule first off, okay, so, and we use a system for them to clock their time, so we know their time down to the second. So, one of the things is that they sometimes feel like they need to be on all the time. We explain to them, no, that’s the purpose of having a flexible schedule. We don’t expect you to respond in three minutes to an email because part of the prep we do is explaining to people what the response time would be. So, prepping them, and that seems like such a small thing, but that really, really goes to how they just manage their day. And if they’re starting to feel burnt out because they feel like they’re having to be on for all day, they’re only paid for the hours they work, that’s, you’re going to have a lot of turnover.” – DENISE
“The thing is that you have to be a good communicator and a good listener. It goes with anything. You have to be willing to have even the tough conversations, the ones that are not easy. Because sometimes you need to dig in and find out what they’re not telling you. I know you can relate to that. And I know that because you do Conversational Selling and it’s the “Who, What, Why” digging in and finding out the pain points. It’s the same thing for your team members.” – DENISE
Connect with Denise Cagan:
- LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/denisecagan/
- DCA Virtual Business Support: https://dcavirtual.com/
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Voiceover: You’re listening to The Conversational Selling Podcast with Nancy Calabrese.
Nancy Calabrese: Hi everyone, it’s Nancy Calabrese and it’s time again for Conversational Selling, the podcast where sales leaders and business experts share what’s going on in sales and marketing today and it always starts with the human conversation. Today we’re speaking with Denise Kagan, the Founder of DCA Virtual Business Support. Denise was running a virtual workforce at DCA before COVID forced most companies to do so. Her company offers VA superheroes, social media management, graphic design and website support for growing businesses. Denise is also the host of Nurture Small Business, where she shares small business growth ideas, survival strategies and stories of how women entrepreneurs creatively nurture your businesses for success. Welcome to the show, Denise. Let’s get started. [1:09]
Denise Cagan: Absolutely, I’m excited to be here, Nancy.
Nancy Calabrese: Yeah, and what I was saying before we start, Denise and I live in the same world. My business is remote. Denise is the expert on remote. So, I’m going to really pick her brain in this conversation. But let’s, for starters, what’s your definition of a VA superhero?
Denise Cagan: Ah, okay. So, VA has a few names that people recognize: Virtual assistant, executive assistant, virtual executive assistant, virtual office assistant. So just with that said, a VA superhero is somebody who comes in and basically takes things off the plate of a business owner, a CEO, the president of the company, or someone in the C-suite. So, you’re busy, you’ve got day-to-day things going on, and as you are a small business and you start growing, those to-do things become more. And that’s exactly what these people do for you. Take those off your plate. [2:13]
Nancy Calabrese: Well, superheroes.
Denise Cagan: Superheroes.
Nancy Calabrese: We probably don’t give them as much credit as we should, don’t you think?
Denise Cagan: I think that’s possibly true. Yes, I think it is. We’ve got something and this goes to, you know, the remote team and motivating them. We do something called shout outs and friays where we’re constantly looking for where our team members have gone above and beyond. And we do, it’s a public forum where we shout them out in front of the whole company.
Nancy Calabrese: Yep, I totally agree with that approach. And the world of remote has been my world, as I said, for many years. And yet I was reluctant to take the leap, as I think many are. Why is that?
Denise Cagan: Uncertainty causes anxiety, simply put. The fear of the unknown, How is this going to work? At the time when I went into that space, which was right around 2013 – 2014, there were a lot of unanswered questions. And, when you’re doing it by yourself, it’s so much simpler. But when you have a team, it becomes less simple. Now you must not only worry about cybersecurity, but what other people are doing. And if it’s not a company-provided computer, then you’re also having to worry about what they’re doing on their own personal computer, which could impact your work. So, there’s a lot of things, you know, there has to be a trust factor built up, there has that cybersecurity is taken into account. And then systems, what systems will you use? In an office setting, those things seem to come more naturally, even though they’re not much different remotely. [3:58]
Nancy Calabrese: I think my biggest fear was loss of control. Like I couldn’t visually see my people working. And so, let’s pivot to, like what kinds of accountability methods do you recommend if you’re going to go remote or doing remote work?
Denise Cagan: So, there are a couple of different things you could do. First, in the world of Executive Assistant, KPIs are a little bit hard to come up with. You know, you have time, you have money, and they don’t deal with the money piece of it. So, then you have accuracy, okay? And they do so many different tasks that it’s almost impossible to measure accuracy. How do you measure the hundreds of tasks they do? And then the one or two that they might goof on? Okay? [4:52]
Nancy Calabrese: Right.
Denise Cagan: So, there is that. So, part of what we do, and I’m not saying to ditch the KPIs because if you’re creative enough, depending upon what you do, and for businesses like sales, if you’re running a sales center, or if you have a graphic design where there are specific deliverables, that is much easier to measure. Okay?
Nancy Calabrese: Okay.
Denise Cagan: So, when it’s a known subset of output that’s very consistent and doesn’t change definitely go with the KPIs. But beyond that, constant contact with the client. How are we doing? What can we do better? What did we do that you didn’t like so much? What did we do that we should never stop doing? [5:31]
Nancy Calabrese: Huh. But you know, what could some of the pitfalls be with remote work?
Denise Cagan: We have had to guide team members on how to maximize their time. We have a very flexible schedule first off, okay, so, and we use a system for them to clock their time, so we know their time down to the second. So, one of the things is that they sometimes feel like they need to be on all the time. We explain to them, no, that’s the purpose of having a flexible schedule. We don’t expect you to respond in three minutes to an email because part of the prep we do is explaining to people what the response time would be. So, prepping them, and that seems like such a small thing, but that really, really goes to how they just manage their day. And if they’re starting to feel burnt out because they feel like they’re having to be on for all day, they’re only paid for the hours they work, that’s, you’re going to have a lot of turnovers. [6:42]
Nancy Calabrese: Huh. What system do you use to clock the time?
Denise Cagan: So, we are currently using Clockify which we have used Toggle in the past.
Nancy Calabrese: Okay. And what is it called again? Clockify?
Denise Cagan: Clockify. Mm-hmm.
Nancy Calabrese: Oh, I never heard of that. Okay.
Denise Cagan: Yes, Clockify offers a free version. So, we switched there to save a couple hundred dollars a month. That was a no-brainer.
Nancy Calabrese: And, and, you know, let’s again, turn it around. What are the rewards of having a remote staff?
Denise Cagan: They can take their kids to the park in the afternoon if they’re caring for an elder, which we have some people who have both newborns and elders that they’re caring for. They have the time to take them to their doctor’s appointments, fix meals for them, and do the things that they need to do. So, there’s a lot of rewards to it. We have a very almost family-like community here. We care about our people and so. We do a couple of different things like we have mental health benefits because without that, I’m sure you know that if people aren’t doing well outside of work, they’re going to carry that into work. [7:55]
Nancy Calabrese: Right.
Denise Cagan: It’s only on rare occasions that somebody doesn’t carry that into work. And vice versa, if they’re not doing well here, they’re going to carry it home. So, we know it goes both ways. So, we do some of that as well. We have weekly. weekly, monthly, and regular touch points for various different things that we do. As a matter of fact, we had an all-team meeting today. Just, and we try very, very hard to be transparent. You know, one of the things we rolled out today as a matter of fact, was what we call a critical skills matrix. And we’re, you know, we talked to the team and told them, you know, we’ve been working on this for months. It seems like it’s taken us forever, but the purpose is to align us with our clients more closely based on what they’re asking us and what they’re expecting us to do, and then to make sure that we’re also hiring for this. So, they ask, well, what if we don’t have those skills? Well, that’s what we’re going to do gap analysis and figure out what we need to do to get you up there. [8:51]
Nancy Calabrese: What about the rewards to the business owner of having a remote staff?
Denise Cagan: So, you know, there’s some obvious like you don’t have to pay for an office space.
Nancy Calabrese: Right. True.
Denise Cagan: Okay, that’s probably the biggest, biggest one. But the same flexibilities that I told you about where if you have to care for an elder or if you have to care for a newborn, those exist for the business owner too. I take off a little bit earlier every Friday to go pick up my granddaughter from daycare. [9:25]
Nancy Calabrese: Okay. And so how do you best manage an outsourced team? What’s your advice?
Denise Cagan: Well, the thing is that you have to be a good communicator and a good listener, okay? It goes with anything. You have to find out, you have to be willing to have even the tough conversations, the ones that are not easy, okay? Because sometimes you need to dig in and find out what… what they’re not telling you. I know you can relate to that. An example, for instance, we recently had one of our team members who told us that they wanted to train as a junior designer. And so, then we brought out the job description like, this is what this person does. Where are you on the spectrum with this? And then they suddenly realized that wasn’t what they wanted. And so, we’re working with the person, and my gut feeling is that They want some challenge, but they also want higher pay is my gut feeling. And so, getting them to open up about what it is they’re really trying to accomplish is part of the process. And I know that because you do Conversational Selling this is, it’s the Who, What, Why, digging in and finding out the pain points. It’s the same thing for your team members. [10:51]
Nancy Calabrese: Absolutely, and you know it’s so funny you bring that up because we talk constantly about the pain that we’re often given isn’t the real pain. The way to uncover the real pain is to ask good questions listen and let them talk about it. Very interesting. You know my people love stories, Denise. Share a story that you think the audience might find interesting.
Denise Cagan: Ah, you caught me off guard on this one. Okay, I got it. So, I do. So, I have a long-term employee who’s been with me for quite some time. And when she came aboard, okay, first, she is a person who does not like to change. It’s like, I like it this way, and I like it this way, and I still like it this way, and I don’t want it to change, even if you give me 10,000 reasons. So, she’s been with me since 2014. So, she came on and she came on very part-time, wouldn’t leave her other job because she didn’t feel comfortable, didn’t feel like she’d get enough hours. I asked her several times, and I created a position for her that was unique, and she decided, you know, she was just very hem hot along the way. And I was like, okay, this doesn’t sound like it’s the right thing for you, the right time. Let’s just, you know, take that off the table. But she continued working here. There was no animosity or anything. It just… I recognize when, even if it’s an opportunity for a team member, if they’re not fit for it, I have that conversation with them, you know? [12:27]
Nancy Calabrese: Right.
Denise Cagan: And the times when I’ve done it, they’ve opened up and go, you know, you’re absolutely right. I don’t like this or that or whatever. So fast forwarding that just a little bit, she has now become my operations manager. She has gone through so many iterations here, you know, moving up the chain and suddenly, her eyes opening and going, wow, this is what this is. And, you know, just it’s so cool to watch her when the light bulbs come on and she realizes what that previous layer was about and what it was teaching her to do on this next piece of the journey. So, it’s been fantastic. And she’s told me recently that she is enjoying this change. I thought I was going to fall on the floor. [13:22]
Nancy Calabrese: Well, listen, a big bravo to you. It’s your coaching that kept encouraging her, I guess keeps encouraging her. Great job.
Denise Cagan: Thank you.
Nancy Calabrese: Tell me something true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Denise Cagan: I wouldn’t say that nobody agrees with me on this, but I have had to draw a hard line in the sand because some people don’t agree with me on this. When people come to us for services, when they try to negotiate less than our six-month minimum, they’re not a fit, and I try to very politely tell them that they’re not. And the reason why is that they’re not actually committed. If I know I’m giggling because I know you know this, but I had to have this conversation recently with somebody I’ve known for two decades.
Nancy Calabrese: Wow.
Denise Cagan: You know, and it was really hard because they kept trying to renegotiate the terms. And while I do have some flexibility to do some things, everything that they were giving me was a signal that they were not going to be a good fit. [14:37]
Nancy Calabrese: Now, this person, they were a client of yours for decades, or they wanted to?
Denise Cagan: No, I’ve just, well, they were a client of mine in a prior business, yes.
Nancy Calabrese: Oh, OK. Yeah. You know, I can, I’m giggling. I get that question all the time. And we’re sticklers for six months minimum terms. Otherwise, to me, you’re wasting your money. You’re not going to see the results.
Denise Cagan: Exactly. You won’t see the ROI. You’re already telling me you’re you would just want to kick the tires a little bit. You’re not committed to a partnership to make this work. [15:14]
Nancy Calabrese: Yep, definitely. And so how can my audience reach you?
Denise Cagan: They can visit my website. It’s DCAvirtual.com. Really straightforward. There’s a contact form on there. Also on the contact page, you can schedule a direct call with me if you just want to chat with me. That works too.
Nancy Calabrese: Cool. And are you industry agnostic?
Denise Cagan: Correct, we are.
Nancy Calabrese: Okay. And, you know, I know that when I introduced everyone to you, it sounds like you work primarily with women entrepreneurs. Do you work with male entrepreneurs?
Denise Cagan: We do, we do work with everyone. We have engineering firms, we have some executive coaches, both male and female. Yeah, we do. It’s just that my podcast actually focuses specifically on female entrepreneurs. [16:12]
Nancy Calabrese: Got it, got it. And then last question, what is one takeaway you wanna leave the audience with?
Denise Cagan: Keep asking questions. Sometimes what people tell you is not, like I mentioned before, keep asking those questions and they can be very simple questions. My team and I just read the book, “Who?” And the questions are literally the who, what, when, where, how, tell me more.
Nancy Calabrese: Yep, yeah. Great insight. And for everyone out there, if you’re thinking of remote and you have some concerns about it, pick up the phone. Give Denise a call. She’s the expert to go to. So, thank you so much for spending time with me and the audience today, Denise. And for everyone out there, make it an awesome sales day.
Denise Cagan: Thank you, Nancy. [17:04]