Delegating work is one of the most efficient ways to save time and energy while ensuring the smooth operations of your business. Ethan Bull brings this workplace setup to the next level by maximizing the role of an executive assistant to get five extra hours per day. Sitting down with Penny Zenker, he elaborates on five performance multipliers that lead to a more convenient and rewarding 29-hour workday. Ethan explains how the help of an excellent executive assistant plays into this setup and talks about the major things to consider in hiring a reliable person to delegate your important tasks.
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Maximizing The Role Of An Executive Assistant With Ethan Bull
I’m always looking for ways to help you to work smarter. This isn’t the first time that we’ve looked at how you can outsource as a way to work smarter, but everyone that we talk to has a different nuance and is going to have something extra special to share with you. I’m super excited to have Ethan Bull with us because he is a career executive assistant and so is his wife. They’ve teamed together to create pro assist remote executive assistant service. They’ve been doing this since 2018.
They’ve got a couple of tips and tricks that they’re going to be able to share with us about how you can maximize the use of an executive assistant. They’ve written an interesting book and the title is the 29-Hour Work Day. It’s scary. I want to work less, not more. I hope that’s the effect of the work that I’m getting done and not the actual hours I’m working. Is that right, Ethan? Welcome to the show and you can tell us more about that.
Penny, thank you so much for having me. We wanted the title to make you stop in your tracks a little bit. The 29-Hour Work Day revolves around how high-level executives, entrepreneurs, and business owners can leverage the support of a great executive assistant. A lot of books out there are teaching people how to be great executive assistants, but we felt that there was a gap.
There weren’t as many out there geared towards people on how to make sure they’re either getting the most out of their executive assistant or if they’ve never partnered with one before, how to go about doing that. We have 5 performance multipliers in the book and that is where if you leverage those 5 performance multipliers, you are going to get 5 more hours in your day and thus the 29-hour work day. I’m happy to go through those.
We will go through those, but let’s understand a little bit about you and your background. Why build a business around being an executive assistant? Why was that important to you?
First of all, I never thought I was going to be a career executive assistant. I got out of college and got a job as a production assistant on a film set in New York City. I fell in love with the entertainment industry and the executive assistant position in entertainment is your first stepping stone into trying to rise up and go higher in the business.
After working a couple of years in those roles in the entertainment industry, I realized I had a creative itch. I wanted to be a writer and director, which I still do. We’ll see if that ever comes to fruition, but I ended up shifting my talents as an assistant over to the advertising industry. I could work as an assistant but yet chase dreams outside the office as I was living in New York City for several years.
In terms of the shifting from being an executive assistant to running our own business, way back in 2009, we started ProAssisting an assistant training program. Both my wife and I have been executive assistants to very high-net-worth individuals and demanding principles. We created a dense training program that someone coming out of college could watch online and as well as interact with us on our message boards and monthly calls, become an executive assistant in an industry they’re interested in, prove themselves, and get promoted from within. That was from 2009 to 2017.
You’re passionate about training those who are doing it and now you’re training people like myself or executives who are looking to make the most out of those resources, which is fantastic. A lot of people don’t make that step to get the executive assistant because they’re afraid they don’t know how to leverage them and they’re still in that control freak, “I got to do it all myself,” and it’s painful to let go but when you know the process and how to manage somebody effectively in that role, that can make all the difference, I’m sure.
In 2018, we pivoted ProAssisting to be a remote executive assistant service company. We saw a big gap between hiring a full-time assistant, which can be expensive for a solo entrepreneur and can be intimidating for someone who’s never used an assistant, and going out and hiring an employee is also intimidating.
Compare that to being a virtual assistant, where we felt that the virtual assistant space wasn’t commiserating with our experience or our compensation level. We focus ProAssiting in between those two where we provide remote executive assistance for $3,000 a month that can satisfy all the needs for full-service support for about 70% of our clients. You’re threading the needle and taking out some of the risks of hiring a full-time assistant.
Let’s get into those five performance multipliers because people are excited and interested in them since you dropped that in our lap. Let’s start with number one. What’s the most important performance multiplier?
When a principal or client partners with an assistant after that period of building trust and likability, there is an instance of being a business partner. In terms of being able to ask your assistant, “What do you think about this marketing campaign? What did you think about that candidate that I interviewed compared to the other two?” Instances like that where it doesn’t fall under any one specific silo, but looking at your assistant as a great sounding board.
I’m going to challenge you a little bit there. I didn’t say this would be an easy interview. Being a sounding board is great if they have the expertise in that area, but sometimes executive assistants do not necessarily know the marketplace. How do you manage that in the context of there are certain things that they might be able to say, “I like it,” but they might not know the industry or might not have the skills that go with business building?
I did preface that with some time in terms of getting to know you, your business, the industry as a whole, as a top-level executive assistant, building that trust level, and the principal knowing where the assistant’s taste lies. I’m not saying that that’s something all the time that an executive would ask their assistant, but when you’re working so close and in partnership with an assistant as a principal, I would want to know if an interview candidate was rude to my assistant.
The other thing is that there are a lot of instances out there where there are scheduling conflicts and travel conflicts and maybe your assistant has outside-the-box ideas. You have trust in them to then say to the assistant, “Do you have any ideas that I’m overlooking?” If you’re someone who’s straight, it’s my way or the highway, “I want you to do it exactly to a T,” you may be missing out on some of the benefits that your assistant brings.When your business suffers too many internal conflicts, reach out to your executive assistant. They may have outside-the-box ideas to solve them. Click To Tweet
I love that clarification. Thank you for that. The reason I wanted to challenge you on that is that people reading might misunderstand. Sometimes people have a tendency to feel like one solution fits all and is going to do everything. A long time ago, I used to be an application developer and I worked on this one platform that people misused because they thought, “This is great. I’m going to use this platform for everything,” but it wasn’t suited for everything. It had certain applications that fit that platform and other ones that were better off on other platforms.
I want to make sure that people who are reading this understand that you want to leverage the creativity, knowledge, and ideas of an assistant that doesn’t have knowledge in all areas. We want to be careful and we don’t have expectations that they’re something or someone that they’re not. Thank you so much. Number one is creating that partnership and having that trust. What’s number two?
It’s project management. When I say project management, I’m not saying like Six Sigma and taking something from the idea stage through manufacturing. I’m talking more along the lines of project managing a board dinner, retreat, multicity trip with multiple people, sales show, conference, community event, or anything where it benefits you, the principal or the client to have one person, usually, it’s your assistant to be that that single point of contact and being able to say to everyone you’re working with on that specific project, “Listen, Julie has got it.”
“Go to them. Don’t come to me.”
That takes a lot off your plate.
For an executive or anybody who’s working with an executive assistant to have that pressure off you and know that someone is going to take care of that project and not have to worry about all the details is huge. I’m assuming that one of the things that you teach people in your program is how to manage such projects and take care of all those details. Is that correct?
We partner with high-level executive assistants who’ve been doing the job for a long time. We used to teach that.
That’s what I was trying to connect. I thought you were still doing some teaching. You don’t do the teaching anymore.
We may in the future. In terms of the book, it’s telling a principal, client, or CEO that if you can get to that trust level, you’re going to be able to hand off this project to someone else and you’re not going to be calling someone else in a different department in your company. That’s how it is.
Are you teaching them things like setting some milestones like typical higher-level principal or working with their project manager to set a clear objective and how do you get the most out of managing a project? Is that in the book as well?
Do you mean for the client or principal or the person using the assistants?
The person using the assistant.
Yes. It’s higher level than that in terms of wanting the reader or the person who’s thinking about partnering with an assistant or already is partnering with an assistant to have an open mind and open up and say, “There are many ways to skin a cat when you’re talking about project management and you’re hoping to lean into the skills of the assistant that you have,” but it’s more about having the level of trust and partnership.
There’s a theme going through these, which is about trust. I’m noticing the theme. How about number three?
Number three is the chief of staff. In the traditional sense of the word is someone potentially most likely with an MBA who sits on all the senior leadership meetings and knows the 6, 12, and 18-month guide posts for the goals of the company and holds the C-Suite accountable, that’s not what I’m talking about from the executive assistant perspective.
When we say chief of staff, we mean that single point of contact or that conduit between the principal and everyone else in their life, both business, personal, and community to filter through to make sure that prioritization is happening, people are getting replied to, people who want to talk to your boss but don’t necessarily need to talk to your boss are let known in a gentle and professional manner that, “I need you to speak to Joe over here first before you talk to my boss.”
Let them be the gate gatekeeper. The filter that sits between.
That person that all those people can go to and ask questions about the status of projects or what’s happening with this, that, or the other thing, and keeping those questions off of your principal’s plate even before they get it.
That’s one of the key things. When you get a great assistant, it never even crosses your desk because once it does, it puts up those antennas, and then even if you want to let somebody do it, sometimes it’s still taking up energy and bouncing around in there. It’s better that it doesn’t even get to you. That it’s handled before it gets to you. I love that. The next, number four?
Number four is assistant/scheduler. That’s more the nuts and bolts of calendar management, gatekeeping, and handling all of that back and forth, whether it’s phone calls or emails about finding times to meet with so many people or setting the calendar for the year, making sure that your board meetings are getting scheduled before the first of the year, so you’re first in line with everybody and getting those on the calendar first. Any major trade shows throughout the year, planning that stuff, the general nuts and bolts, straight assistant work.
How about the last one, number five?
The last one may be a little controversial, but personal. There are a lot of companies out there or organizations that either doesn’t allow their assistant support staff to do any personal work or look down on it. There are some hurdles to whether they are clients of ProAssisting or they’re someone who hires an assistant and they put those hurdles on themselves to say, “I don’t want my assistant to do personal work.”
Whereas a great top-level executive assistant looks at it as, “I’m saving my principal time. If they need me to reschedule their eye appointment, I’m here to do that. If they need me to make sure that the grass is cut before the party on Saturday and talk to the gardener, I know who to go to with that. They need me to talk to their partner and make sure that the kid’s soccer schedule gets on my calendar. I know they can do that.”
It’s at a high level and after a number of years, it wasn’t easy for me to get used to that at the beginning of my career many years ago, but you start to look at it holistically and say, “I’m doing these high-level things over here, but I also have to do these meaningful smaller things over here, “and it’s all part of the same picture.
That’s a great principle to have somebody that can do all of those things. They’re helping to make your life easier and that’s what they’re there for in this bucket. That makes a lot of sense. I’m interested in your perspective on all the years that you’ve been supporting different principles, what’s your definition of productivity and why?
It’s changed after we’ve gone through COVID and it’s changed for me specifically, but I’ve also seen it change for some of my clients.
Tell me what it was before and tell me what it is now.
Before there was a huge talk about work-life balance and yet trying to wring as much out of work as possible and go, go, go if you can work the 80-hour weeks, you should still work the 80-hour weeks. After COVID, I’ve seen a shift in people who are successful and running their own companies, business, and book of business. They’re trying to find more balance in terms of, when you say productivity, I would say, “I want to feel like I’m being productive in the home with my co-founder, wife, partner, and our kids. I also want to feel like I’m being productive in our business.”
Frankly, both Stephanie and I still do work with a couple of clients that we have been with for a long time now and I want to be productive there. It’s about balancing all of that and it’s trying to find that optimization in terms of being able to let your head hit the pillow and feel like you’ve done a great day and also, being able to enjoy weekends and some of the time outside of the profession/career/office.
It’s interesting when you said it used to be go, go, go, and work as many hours as you possibly can. I’ve never had anybody in all the years that I’ve been doing it admit that’s what they thought productivity meant to them. You see that firsthand because you work with those people all the time. Most people talk about it as finding that balance, as being able to do more or achieve more in less time.
It doesn’t mean more time, but we are such a time-conscious society. Many people believe that time is money and that you’ve got to do the time in order to get the results and all of that thing. It is a shifting paradigm that people have to shift away from time and towards what adds more value to their life and meaning. Sometimes that’s money, family, or health.
When you talk about time, if you’re a paralegal or an attorney at a huge law firm, you’re going to have to put in the time to read a bunch of stuff. There’s no getting around that, but what’s interesting and one of the differences between ProAssisting and being a remote executive assistant company versus a virtual assistant company, which there are many, is that we don’t charge by the hour. We charge a flat retainer rate because we feel that the value of an assistant transcends the amount of time that they put into your account or business.
There’s an efficiency that happens there and a legacy knowledge of the business of you personally that allows them to be quicker, spend less time on that specific stuff, and open up more opportunities for different kinds of work down the line. Time is an interesting thing. Also, there has been a huge rise in SaaS businesses, internet businesses, and solo entrepreneurs leveraging the internet and setting up funnels and marketing funnels to run their businesses. They’re making more money and having more free time. As something gets growing, you may have experienced that yourself, and we’re starting to experience that with ProAssisting as well.
I love the fact that you took a traditional time-money exchange business and shifted people’s thought processes away from exchanging time for money and saying, “We’re going to exchange value for money.” From what I understood, you work with more experienced people so those people can add more value. Therefore, that allows the executives or whoever is hiring to be focused on the value delivered.
I saw that basis when I was working in the IT business. I used to do projects and all of it was on a time and materials type of basis. This is how many hours and does a consulting type thing. We moved to fixed-price contracts and also to developing products that we sold around the country for that reason. It enabled us to scale and focus on efficiencies, and also take people away from that mindset that this person is worth x an hour, whereas what this result is worth to you. It’s a different mindset in the business.
We don’t lock any of our clients into long-term agreements, so the onus is on us to provide value.
“We deliver the value.”
The other thing that allows us to do, given that we’re career executive assistants and part of the community, we are huge advocates for the role is that it allows our partner executive assistants to know how much money they’re going to have at the end of the month. It allows us to limit the number of clients they have to three. We work off of a 3 to 1 executive-to-assistant ratio which allows them to provide full-service support and that feeling of full-service support for $36,000 a year.
They know what they’re making. Most of our clients don’t even care what the time is. It does fluctuate month to month. We track it behind the scenes, but it’s not something that is set in stone. We know where those resources are and that’s what I’m constantly talking to our assistants about on a month-in and month-out basis.
Thank you for being here. I’m sure there are some other great nuggets in the book. Is there something that I didn’t ask you that you feel is important for people who are looking to hire an executive assistant or looking to do some delegation? Is there one last tip that you can leave people with?
There are a ton of options. I want to highlight career executive assistants where you can go and hire, find, and have one sitting outside of your office all the way down to hiring someone overseas for $5 an hour to go through your CRM list on a daily basis. The internet has democratized that support and offered that distribution channel where you can strip down geographical boundaries and get the exact right support that you need.
I’m most happy when I get off of a prospect call and they turn around, sign the agreement, and start working with us. I’m next most happy when I have a prospect call and we both decide that we’re not the right fit, but I have such an overview knowledge of the support space that I say, “You need to look right here because this is what you need. You do need to find a full-time assistant because what you’re talking about is running your whole business and you need that right hand.”
We are not a hard sales shop. We’re very boutique. It’s all about consultative selling and making sure that if a prospect comes to us and they’re not the right fit, us being able to say, “We’re not the right fit, but here’s where to go,” and then they go there and it works. If they come across someone else whom they think we may be the right fit for, they’ll send them our way.
What’s the website that they can go to if they want to meet with you?
Thank you for being here, Ethan.
I appreciate it. Thank you so much.
Thank you all for reading. If you want to get the value of 29 hours of work without working 29 hours, that’s what Ethan’s talking about. It’s about how to find the right people to support you, to know how to get the most out of them, and one of those things that we heard the through line is to trust and let them do the job.
Go ahead and explore. Make a list of all the things that you could delegate to someone else. What could free up your time? On the right-hand side, what are those things that you must do and it must be done by you? On the left-hand side, write down all the other things that potentially could take off your plate so you could free yourself up to do more meaningful, more valuable work, or even have some free time and spend it studying something that’s important to you, being with your family, or working on your health. Go ahead and make those lists and then see what you could do with them to find some type of executive assistant or external support that can make your life a little easier. That’s what working smarter is all about. Thank you all for reading.
About Ethan Bull
Ethan Bull is a co-founder of ProAssisting, a next-generation remote executive assistance firm for business owners and C-suite executives. With a background in hospitality and an expert in the EA space, Ethan has held a variety of senior positions, including Director of Administrative Services and senior EA to the president and CEO at Rochester Regional Health.
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