See It to Be It : Virtual Assistant (w/ Tonya Thomas)

Amy C. Waninger welcomes virtual executive assistant Tonya Thomas, the founder and CEO of Team Delegate, LLC, to the show this week. Having spent over 17 years in the virtual assistant space, her extensive knowledge and experience makes her a pioneer in the industry. Listen to learn about what inspired her to take the career path she did, the advantages to hiring a virtual assistant, and more.

You can connect with Tonya on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Check out the Team Delegate website.

Interested in supporting Living Corporate? Check out our Support page.

Check out Lead at Any Level.

TRANSCRIPT

Voice-over (00:00): Living Corporate is brought to you by the Liberated Love Notes podcast, part of the Living Corporate network. The Liberated Love Notes podcast, as a starting point, integrating self and community affirmations into your daily practices. The Liberated Love Notes podcasts center, the experience of black folks, existing in white systems and speaks to overcoming imposter syndrome, disrupting injected, and internalized forms of oppression. Embodying an abundance mindset and building a healthy racial identity. Check out Liberated Love Notes podcast, wherever you listen to podcasts hosted by Brittany Janay Harris.

(00:49): [musical interlude]

Amy C. Waninger (00:50): Hey everybody, This is See It To Be It. The Wednesday podcast from Living Corporate. Living Corporate is a digital media network that centers and amplifies black and brown people at work. My name is Amy C. Waninger and I’m the host of See It To Be It. When I was growing up in rural Southern Indiana, I didn’t know people who went to college or who worked in professional roles. I didn’t know what those jobs look like or how to break into them. Honestly, I didn’t even know they existed, but this show isn’t about me. It’s about my guests. Every week I bring you career stories from everyday role models in jobs, you may not know exist. More importantly, the folks I interview share their perspectives as black and brown professionals in jobs and environments, where they may be the only.

Amy (01:33): My guest today is Tonya Thomas. She has her own company called, Team Delegate. That is a virtual assistant company. So she helps other entrepreneurs grow their businesses by offloading tasks, administrative tasks, so they can focus on what they really want to do. But before we get to the interview, we’re going to tap in with Tristan for some career advice.

Tristan (02:00): What’s going on Living Corporate? It’s Tristan. And I want to thank you for tapping back in with me as I provide some tips and advice for professionals today. Let’s discuss the great resignation. The great resignation is coming according to Anthony Klotz an associate professor at Texas A and M University who studies the resignation of workers. He states, «when there are uncertainty, people tend to stay put. So there are pent-up resignations that didn’t happen over the past year. Honestly, he’s under something. The Wall Street Journal reports that U.S. workers are quitting their jobs more now, than at any time in the last 20 years. You may want to find yourself in that number of people resigning. And if you want a better opportunity, I totally think you should put, don’t go turning in that resignation letter just yet.

(02:48): Often, when I speak to people who want to leave their current job, they haven’t fully fleshed out the reason why. I asked my clients, are you running towards something or are you simply running from something? This question helps me understand two things. One, have you really taken the time and devoted some thought as to why you’re leaving. And two, do you have a plan on where you’re going before you resigned from a job?

(03:14): I think it’s important to dedicate a decent amount of time to fully understand the factors driving you away. Once you’re clear on those, I’m a proponent of communicating those issues and allowing your company time to respond to them. By understanding the issues thoroughly, you’ll be better prepared to know what you don’t want from the next company by communicating and allowing your company time to resolve the issues. There’s a chance that you may find that you don’t have to leave at all.

(03:40): Another critical piece to have in place is a plan on what you want to do next. You don’t want to just start throwing your resume out there and see what sticks. If you do that, you may just find yourself in a similar situation a couple of months down the road. Seek clarity on what the next step looks like for you. Align your experience on your resume with that new destination, and seek out assistance to get to that new position as quickly as possible.

(04:06): Now, I do need to make one disclaimer, if you are experiencing discrimination or harassment at work, that’s a completely different set of circumstances than what I’m mentioning here. If you feel you have to resign for your safety, absolutely do what you have to do.

(04:21): This tip was brought to you by Tristan of Layfield Resume Consulting. Check us out on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook at Layfield Resume. Or connect with me, Tristan Layfield on LinkedIn.

Voice-over (04:35): Living Corporate is brought to you by the Leadership Range, a podcast within the Living Corporate network. Hosted by globally certified and Fortune 500 executive coach, and leadership development expert, Neil Edwards. The Leadership Range is focused on having real, raw, soulful, and accountable conversations about inclusive leadership, allyship, professional development. Every week is a new episode with new learning and new actions to take on, to grow inclusively. Make sure you check out the Leadership Range everywhere you listen to podcasts.

Amy (05:08): Welcome back to See It To Be It. My guest today is Tonya Thomas. Tonya is the founder of Team Delegate, a provider of elite virtual executive assistant support to seasoned executives turned small business owners. Team Delegate’s highly trained executive VAs provide comprehensive administrative support that helps time-starved CEOs double their productivity, so they can triple their earnings. If you are a small business owner, I am sure that got your attention. Tonya, welcome to the show.

Tonya Thomas (05:40): Thank you. Thanks for having me.

Amy (05:42): I am so excited to talk to you. So Tonya and I met in a program through WeBank, which is like the Women’s Chamber of Commerce. And she told me what she did. I said, oh my gosh, I have to have you on my show because there are so many people who need you, number one. But number two, I want to learn more about the service that you provide. So let’s start with, can you just tell me a little bit about your career path and what led you to start this business?

Tonya (06:09): Sure. Actually I have a degree in biology and wanted to be a physical therapist. So that’s totally way off from that. But when I was in my junior year in college, I met my husband and I wanted to get married. And so, his job was requiring him at the time to move every year and a half. He worked for a construction company. So I finished up my degree. I’m thinking I have so many biology courses, I’ll get my degree in biology and maybe I can go to physical therapy school at another time, but of course that never happened. And we moved. And when we would move, we traveled to these little bitty towns and I didn’t have anything to do. So I began to work for temp agencies when we would go to the towns. And I even began to work for the same company that he worked for.

(07:02): Because it was, if you can’t beat them, join them. So in administrative roles then, and I just didn’t really like it because it’s okay, I have this degree and I’m doing these clerical jobs. But little did I know what God’s plan was for me down the road. I see that now that I look back. And so, somewhere along the way though, I began to have an entrepreneurial spirit and I wanted to have a temp agency. Since I had been working for them I thought that idea was cool, but of course that would have required me to not be with my husband whenever he traveled for work. And I didn’t want to do that. So I tabled that idea. And when I had my first son, I happened to be home on maternity leave, and I came across this training program to be a virtual assistant. And I thought this is great. I can now have my own business. It could be virtual. So when we moved, it would move with me. And even though I didn’t like it before, it fits my background because I have all this administrative experience. So I took the training course, started the business and that was back in 2001. And I’ve been doing it ever since then.

Amy (08:22): That is incredible. Twenty years running a VA business. I won’t say as a VA because I know once, once you start hiring people, you’re not a VA anymore. You’re CEO, you’re running a business now. How large is your company?

Tonya (08:38): I’d scaled to team delegate a couple of years ago. So we have probably a team now of about maybe 15, something like that.

Amy (08:48): Wow. That’s fantastic. And so who are your target clients? Is it super small businesses, solo preneurs, or is it what I call small to mid-sized companies,? The bigger shops.

Tonya (09:02): Typically our clients are solo entrepreneurs, but I would say any where. Companies between two to 10 people in them.

Amy (09:13): Now, I find it curious that you didn’t like the clerical work, but you liked the VA work. What do you see as the difference between the two? Is it the owning your own schedule?

Tonya (09:22): Exactly Amy, that was it. I really wanted that freedom and flexibility, especially as I was starting my family, but I just always wanted to be able to have control of my own time. And that’s really what it was.

Amy (09:40): So for those who aren’t familiar with VAs, probably most people know what that is, but can you explain what does a virtual assistant do?

Tonya (09:49): A virtual assistant is an administrative or executive assistant who provides administrative services remotely. So anything that an executive assistant or administrative assistant would do in office, can be done remotely now. Of course, with the use of all the technology that we have. So we do things a lot of our big core support services that a lot of our clients have in common is managing their calendars, their email. It used to be travel, but that’s probably slowly going to begin to come back. But those were the big core three, but we also provide support around presentations, helping with their PowerPoints, helping them get proposals out, invoicing, just a variety of things that clients need from an administrative standpoint. That’s important for their businesses, but they don’t necessarily want to focus their time on.

Amy (10:50): And there’s a lot of stuff in business that you think is not going to take that much time. And then, all of a sudden, you find out that’s your life now. And the thing that you got into business to do, you’re not doing anymore. What does the process look like for people who want to delegate, but maybe they haven’t documented all their processes because they’re just doing the work. And it’s hard to do the work, and document the work, and train on the work. And then delegate the work, and let go and trust that you’ve done it right. So what does that process look like for you and your clients?

Tonya (11:23): That’s a big one because a lot of people they exactly the way you described that they know that they need help, but they really don’t know where to start. And so, what we typically do is talk with them and have a session around what are you, what’ does a day look like for you? That’s usually pretty helpful to help people get an idea of some of the things that they can let go of. And then, sometimes, having them for about a week, write that down, be cognizant of what they’re doing in the time that they’re spending and tracking that for about a week. And that’s usually helpful for them to be able to decide what it is that they need support with. And then, the other thing about that from a trust level is, then deciding where they want to start. What will they be the most comfortable letting someone do?

Amy (12:20): And I would imagine that it takes a little while to build that trust. Even once they’ve decided, yes, this is a pain. Yes it’s taking up too much of my time. Yes somebody else could do it. So how do you work with folks to help them be comfortable with that part of the process? It’s like you put your kid on a bike and they take off, and then you’re like, oh my gosh, I’m not holding on anymore. What’s going on? How do you help them do that part? Because I would imagine there’s almost a psychological component to this that you have to work them through.

Tonya (12:51): It is. And so, usually, when they let go of that small thing that, it’s not client facing, so they know what’s behind the scenes that they can get help with. Once they let go of that, and they see how well that’s working and the time that it’s giving them, then they’re usually, oh wow this is fantastic. Here let’s do this. And so, then they’ll move on to the next thing. But that’s usually the biggest barrier for a lot of people, but that’s how we like to work with them to be able to get started.

Amy (13:26): I think that’s fantastic. So now one of the things that I like to talk to people about is community. You started your business so that you could be remote, work on your own, work with people, but you work at home. How do you find community in a space that is a hundred percent virtual? You’re not embedded in a company, your folks aren’t embedded in your company that you manage. How do you not get lonely?

Tonya (13:54): To me, I’ve always personally, been an introverted person. So working on my own, this never bothered me, but I do even within my company though, I know everybody’s not like that. So we do get together at least once a week, everybody comes together. We try to make it fun. It’s a meeting, but we do in the beginning have like a little ice breaker that everybody gets an opportunity to participate in. That’s helpful for the team members. And also, for myself, I guess too, talking to other business owners. I’ve always been a part of maybe a mastermind or always in some sort of group like that. And that’s helpful for me too, to be able to communicate with other business owners and not really feel like I’m alone in my business, because nobody else in my family is an entrepreneur. So, I can’t talk to them much about it because that’s not their area. That’s not their thing. But yes, those are the ways that I try to find that community for myself.

Amy (15:05): What did your family say when you said I’m going to start my own business, and it’s going to be a virtual assistant business? And I’m going to run it out of my house and be home. Did they think you were crazy?

Tonya (15:15): Yes. And at first, my husband was on board with it. He thought, this is great, but then six months in, he didn’t think that anymore. And that became challenging because you really need that support from your spouse and your family to be able to keep going. Because as you know, starting and running a business is not easy. And so, they definitely did think that I was off my rocker stool a little bit, but my husband had to eat his words later on. And as we had our boys and then my youngest had a lot of allergies and I was able to be flexible to take him to his doctor’s appointments and stuff like that. So my husband later on, I told somebody that he was, I didn’t really think that much about it in the beginning, but now, it’s been really great for our family. Because the flexibility and the income and those types of things. But yes, at first it was challenging.

Amy (16:25): So you said at first, he was on board and then he wasn’t. If I can ask, what do you think changed between the beginning and the not being so happy about it in the first place? Was it oh, this is taking more time than we thought, or it was too slow to take off? Because there’re all kinds of things in the first few months of a business that you sit there and go, yes, I have no idea what the hell I’m doing.

Tonya (16:49): Yes. That was it. Exactly Amy. When I started it, we had just moved to a new city. And I thought, hey, I’m going to network and start this business. You’re excited about it, and you’re thinking it’s going to just take off. And so, I’m walking around the networking events and people are, what is that? Back, 20 years ago, not many people,[inaudible 00:17:18] knew what a virtual assistant was. And so six months in, I had gotten some projects and some business, but it wasn’t to the level of where I would have wanted it to be. And I guess he saw that too, and that’s what caused him to lose faith in it. But of course, fortunately I never did, or I wouldn’t be sitting here having this conversation with you today. But yes, that’s what made the difference.

Amy (17:48): So, I realized 20 years ago in business terms and technology terms, that’s ages ago. I think about pre-COVID as ages ago. It wasn’t that long ago really in calendar time. But I have to imagine that the last couple of years with people getting on Zoom. With there being more virtual ,people are more comfortable now with virtual meetings than they were five years ago. They’re more comfortable with cloud computing where you can have your emails and your documents and all your tracking tools, and everything is on some server, somewhere in the ether and people can access it. Hopefully just the people that you give access to can access that kind of stuff. So recently it’s been a bigger thing, but I have to think in the last couple of years you were just sitting there going, man, how smart am I, to have started this business?

Tonya (18:45): Exactly. Because everybody else is scrambling trying to figure out how to work virtually, how to work remotely and it’s I’ve been doing this for 20 years. With Zoom, I’ve been using that for quite some time. And I know that was brand new for a lot of people. So it didn’t impact us in that manner because we were already remote. It did get the business for everybody else, because some of our clients were speakers and stuff like that. So it impacted their businesses. And of course, unfortunately they weren’t able to continue. But after that, that little maybe two or three months low, then it expanded. It was a lot of people on board that weren’t before. Because before that, I would still run into people that would say, I would need somebody on the side. I don’t see how that could work. But that changed a lot of people’s tune now that they can see that it could be successful. You could be successful working with somebody in a remote capacity.

Amy (19:54): Yeah, absolutely. And so many people, especially when they’re just starting their businesses, we need fractional help. We need a couple of hours here and there just to keep our sanity. It’s hard to find reliable, help for a couple hours a week or a couple hours a day, or I need this task done. That can be so difficult. And you don’t want to bring on employees too soon because you know that you can’t support that. Or you can pay them, but you can’t pay yourself, which is a whole different problem. And so, I just, I love that there are companies like yours that just say, Hey, we’re going to handle this for you. And we’ll scale up as you need ,and we’ll scale back as you need. And so I am curious though, do you have like an entry point or a minimum that you require for your clients? Or how do you manage and negotiate those kinds of terms?

Tonya (20:45): We do. We have a minimum of 32 hours a month for clients to work with us, because after a certain point, you need to be able to really see the value. And at least, having the hour and a half a day or eight hours a week closer, the closer you can get to 10 hours a week for you to really be able to see the difference in having support. So a lot of our clients and that’s helpful for them,. Usually what happens is too, once they come in at that level and then they get used to working with someone and seeing the other areas where they can get support, it usually scales up a little bit from there too.

Amy (21:32): And once they see how much time they can save, and then they can put their efforts into more profitable ventures for them, then they need a little bit more support. And so, I think it’s a brilliant business model. I know a couple of people who have businesses similar, and it’s just so smart because, if people can bring you in, when they’re growing and you can grow with them, everybody wins. And in what’s increasingly a gig economy, for a lot of people, it just cuts down on some of that transactional friction. Because you’ve got your processes and you know your people, and you have all this. And you can just sort of plug people in. And it’s like the conveyor belts of the airport. The people movers.

(22:17): It’s like, I’ve got this people mover here and we can just move you along really quickly. You can walk, but we can get you there just a little bit faster. And then, oh, here’s another one. And here’s another one. And then, pretty soon, they’ve made it across O’Hare and they’re not even tired. I think it’s fabulous. So, since you’ve been in business for 20 years, what advice do you have to people who are just starting out? Or who are had maybe hit that point where they’re starting to lose faith or their family around them is starting to lose faith?

Tonya (22:48): Definitely not to give up because I’m a poster child. I’m still sitting here for that. So definitely not giving up. And I think focusing on milestones, creating milestones for yourself where you want to get to because that’s going to keep you going. And then once you reach that milestone set another one, and you’re just slowly plugging along and growing. But that’s what I would say, because it is difficult too, if you have family members that aren’t on board. And if that’s the case too, then I would say, find other people. If you can find another Facebook group or some type of group on LinkedIn or wherever, there are other entrepreneurs that may be at the same level as you are in your business to connect with them. And so you have someone to be able to talk to, and encourage you.

Amy (23:49): Yes. I think one of the tragedies of being in business for ourselves is that we start comparing our insides. We can see all the ugly in our business. We can see all of the false starts, and all of the mess and all of the 10,000 emails unread, and all this stuff. And then we see somebody else kicking ass and we’re going why am I not like them? But they’re looking at their business going well, I see 40,000 unread emails and I haven’t slept in two weeks, and this, and this, and this. And they’re looking at somebody who’s a few steps ahead going, why can’t I just be like this person who seems to be really running it? And so, I do think it’s so important to be with people that, you know, will say, yes, I didn’t get to any of my emails this week. Yes, I forgot to shower on Tuesday. That’s just how it is this week. Right?

Tonya (24:35): Right.

Amy (24:37): Yes. Are there communities that you belong to that you feel like have been helpful? Open to the public communities or associations that you feel have been helpful for your growth.

Tonya (24:48): Yes. I have been a part of NAWBO (National Association of Women Business Owners). And then my business is also, well, of course certified, so the WBE has been helpful as well. And so I’m glad. I didn’t discover that until later, but that’s also been very helpful with the programming, and that stuff that they have for women business owners. And I’m trying to think of anything else that I’ve been a part of. That’s been pretty helpful for me, but I would say just finding, like I mentioned earlier. Those are a couple of programs that I think you can enter into those without being at any particular level of business. So those would be good for anybody no matter what level of business you’re currently at.

Amy (25:46): Absolutely. And so, the WBE certification for those who don’t know. It’s called Women’s Business Enterprise, there’s also a Woman-Owned Small Business (WOSB) certification. WBEs and WOSBs go through a pretty rigorous documentation and application process. Tonya’s nodding. She’s been through it. Where we have to, basically, open our finances and provide a million kinds of documentation to say that we are who we say we are, we are actually running our businesses. We’re not the front person for somebody else. We have to show, demonstrate really in-depth intricate knowledge of the business itself, and go through an interview process and all that. But those certifications then do a couple of things. Number one, they help you connect with other people who’ve gone through the certification process. But then two, they help you connect with people who are specifically looking to elevate diverse suppliers.

(26:43): So there’s not just women business enterprise. There’s the Minority Business Enterprise (MBE). And there all kinds of different ones for veterans and for LGBTQ folks and so on. But those can be so valuable, because basically you go in, and you’re sitting at the table with a group of people and you don’t know if they’re struggling business owners, if they’re established business owners, if they’re buyers, or corporate. If they’ve got a huge paycheck in their pocket. That they can just write you a check and hire you on the spot. And it really levels the playing field for small businesses in that way. The same way the golf course, did for white dudes 20 years ago or 40 years ago. Now, I guess I should say, we get our seat at the table too.

(27:28): So I do think those programs are valuable. And then, like I was saying earlier, we met at a WeBank event. It was a five-week training program. Where they taught us how to build a scalable, repeatable operation for our business. And so, there are lots of opportunities like that. So I’m so glad, Tonya, that I met you. I knew instantly. I was, oh, I need to talk to you a bunch, because what you do is so valuable for so many people. If somebody is listening to this and they’re saying, my gosh, I would really like to get rid of 10 hours of my work a week, and get back to the things that matter. Like the networking and the actually serving clients instead of answering emails from people who may or may not want to hire me. How can they get in touch with you?

Tonya (28:18): Sure that I can be reached. Our website is teamdelegate.com. And there is a form on there to complete, to set up and schedule a time to talk with us.

Amy (28:31): Fantastic. Well, we’ll make sure that that makes it into the show notes. Tonya, thank you so much for your time today. Thanks for telling us about your business, and about your journey in your career, and as a business owner. I really appreciate it.

Tonya (28:42): You’re welcome. Thank you for having me. This has been so much fun.

Voice-over (28:49): Living Corporate is brought to you by The Break Room. Have you ever felt burnt out, depressed, or otherwise exhausted by being one of the onlys at work? You know what I’m talking about. Hosted by black psychologist, psychiatrist and PhDs The Break Room is a live, weekly, web show in the Living Corporate network that discusses mental health, wellness, and healing for black folks at work. Name another weekly show explicitly focused on mental health, wellness and healing for black folks at work? I’ll wait. This is why you’ve got to check out The Break Room. Airing every Thursday at 7:00 p.m. Central Standard Time on livingcorporate.tv.

Amy (30:45): Okay. Did you love Tonya’s story? as much as I did? I love the fact that she just decided she was just going to start this business so she could work from home. And now, 20 years later, she’s still running it. It’s grown huge. VA business with 15 employees is a pretty good size VA business. And I like that she talks about the struggle that she had early on. And that she kept the faith, when the people around her were starting to question her a little bit. But she just kept going. And she was really passionate in looking forward and seeing that this is the way of the future. This is how people are going to work. And all of that came to fruition in the last few years.

(31:25): If you enjoyed this episode, if you enjoyed hearing from Tonya, don’t forget to subscribe to Living Corporate. And share us with your friends and colleagues. And hey, you can really help us out by leaving us a six star review, wherever you get your podcasts. You’re maybe thinking Amy, there are only five stars, and you’re right. Give us all those stars, but then go the next step. Give us the extra star by leaving a couple of sentences in your own words, telling us what you liked about the show.

(31:54): Don’t forget to visit living-corporate.com to learn more about our other podcasts, videos, web shows, and more. See It To Be It is brought to you in part by Lead At Any Level, a certified woman, and LGBTQ owned business dedicated to helping organizations turn their reclusive nerds into inclusive leaders. Lead At Any Level. Leaders can be anywhere and should be everywhere. Learn more at leadatanylevel.com.

(32:23): That’s it for this episode of See It To Be It. This is Amy C. Waninger, and I’ll see you next week.

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