Adding a Project Manager to Your Team with Nicole Jackson Miller
Tara Newman: Hey, everybody. I'm so excited to be here today with Nicole Jackson Miller, Nicole is a founding member of The BRAVE Society and she's also the CEO and owner of The Project Designer. She just off mic shared with me what she does in such a brilliant way and I want you to hear it from her without me butchering it. So, Nicole, I'm passing the mic to you proverbially, can you tell us what you do over the project designer?
Nicole Jackson Miller: Thank you, Tara, for having me. So at The Project Designer, we help service-based business owners with their people. We help them hire, manage and lead their teams. We have a huge focus on helping business owners do more of what they love doing and a lot of them that come to us, have gotten a lot of success with a particular craft and a particular way of doing business and sometimes end up losing themselves along the way. We help them get clear on what it is they really want to offer and how they want to show up in the world and then build a support system around that.
Tara Newman: The conversation that I actually want to have with you today, and I was sharing that when I met Nicole and I started having more conversations with her, she really helped me understand the project management skill set. If I would mention one insight that I have gained from Nicole that has really had a return on my business investment is how I look at project management within my business and the project management skills that my team needs to have.
I think this gets very overlooked both in brick and mortar types of businesses because everybody defaults either to assistance or individual level contributors. They don't really think about how the flow of work is happening and how you manage a project. I think in the online space we hear a lot about virtual assistants and obms and thanks to book tractions, we now hear a lot about integrators.
So I I want to ask you, Nicole, can you give us the bullet points on the differences between an assistant, an online business manager, a project manager, and an integrator, help us determine the differences between them all.
Nicole Jackson Miller: I will start by saying that there is no licensure for any of this and my definitions may vary from other people's. I'm going to talk about this in terms of what I know and what I use with my clients and you may also have heard of other things out there. A virtual assistant is traditionally somebody who is working in your business and is implementing, they are given a list of things to do and they take action on those things. An example of an assistant is for instance in an office set up, you have somebody who's answering the phones, somebody who's filing papers, and somebody who's greeting your customers when they walk in the door.
In the online space, perhaps you could have an assistant help you with social media posts. You could tell them, what goes on the graphics and you may have templates for them to copy on those graphics to boost them. It's very much the person who's managing the assistant, telling them what to do and them going and implementing that. Usually, for online business managers, there's an aspect of both management and implementation. Online business managers, who are also referred to as obms will come in and usually oversee the day to day operations of a business. They'll understand what processes you have in place, what are those repeatable things that happen every day for you to run your business and then they may be responsible for implementing some of those things. Generally, from my perspective, a manager is somebody who oversees, delegates and manages people to do the implementation. Even though online business managers have a manager in their title, they may also be responsible for some implementation as well.
For a project manager, you may have a project manager work on some business operations, but a lot of times they are coming in to help out with new projects or projects that have a start and an end date. They come in and understand what you want to accomplish, they put together a timeline for that and then manage the people to make sure that what's happening in the business is actually getting implemented. Traditionally, if you hire a project manager, they're not also implementing, they're overseeing people who are implementing.
An integrator, from my perspective, is somebody, and this was I guess originally developed by the gentleman who wrote Traction.
What is his name?
Tara Newman: Gino Wickman.
Nicole Jackson Miller: Yes, so in his book, the two roles that he describes are visionary and integrator. So a visionary is somebody who has all of these ideas and is brainstorming and has a creative function in the business, and typically this is the business owner. They then work with an integrator who's the person responsible for making sure that the right things get executed. From my perspective an integrator is somebody who is at a high level in the business and they're almost functioning as a chief operating officer or a director of operations and they have a team to do the implementation, they are not implementing. I think with a lot of these terms, there's been a lot of misunderstanding on what these things are and who needs these different roles and when. That's my perspective on what each of those roles does.
Tara Newman: All right. Well, you brought up an interesting point when you started this off and you said there's no licensure. Do you think there should be?
Nicole Jackson Miller: I don't think so. I usually prefer things to be less regulated, but I do think that there needs to be communication and managing people's expectations. I think the most important thing, titles aside is that you understand what it is you need and be able to communicate and that the person that you're communicating to, regardless of what their role is, understands what you need, communicates what they do, and you come to an agreement that they're able to help you with what you need. That is the most important thing, I don't necessarily believe that it should be regulated.
Tara Newman: I was just curious because you specified it, and I wanted clarification on the same.
The other thing, I see certification courses popping up all over the place to certify people as VA's or obms and things like that. It seems to go beyond training to a point that now they're certified.
Nicole Jackson Miller: Yes, it's interesting because I actually have a project management training course. It is not a certification. I think depending on how the certification is run, it's important for people to be able to learn the skill set, implement it with a client and be able to have a mentor to support them in doing that. If that's what the certification is then that's great. One of the reasons why I haven't done a certification for project managers is because my focus right now isn't on mentoring and setting all of that up for students to be on client projects and then be mentoring them. I think that there's a lot that goes into it and an effective certification does that.
Tara Newman: It's interesting because sometimes someone will say to me, "You know, I want to start a business but I don't really know what to do, so I googled it and it says that I should be a VA".
Nicole Jackson Miller: Well I think there's so much marketing out there that says "you could make a gazillion dollars, leave your job" and I think that that could be totally true but there are also so many different ways to get there. I've had a few friends reach out to me saying, "Do you think I should be a project manager?" The first thing that I'll ask is, what actually lights you up? What do you like doing? What are your strengths out of everything that you've done, even if it hasn't been in whatever space you're trying to get into? What are the similarities? And then build something around that and not necessarily like what everyone else is saying that you should be doing.
Tara Newman: The other thing that I hear from the online space is that virtual help has become too costly at this point. What are your thoughts on that? Let's chat.
Nicole Jackson Miller: Yes, I don't think that that's true necessarily. I think it's just who you're working with and it has to work for you. Also, there is a need to have conversations around that. I think having virtual support, opens us out to a lot of other options that aren't necessarily available to us if we were to look for a real person. So I think there are a lot of different options when it comes to, where somebody is living and what people want to be made inside of their business and what's important to them and what their situation is. I'd be interested in diving more into that, but I don't necessarily agree. I don't think that that's true.
Tara Newman: I think they are talking about how some of the virtual support want maybe like an upwards of $40 or $50 an hour, and then people automatically calculate that by 2080 and they're like, this position isn't worth $100,000, and my thought always is but you're not paying them $100,000 because they're not working 2080 hours a year in your business which would be a full-time employment.
Nicole Jackson Miller: Got It. I see what you're saying.
Tara Newman: I used to do compensation, which is a hat that I used to wear in corporate and I was responsible for compensation, actual paying of employees, tracking their value, what they're worth in regards to the ranges, the job descriptions and benchmarking. It's very statistical in corporate and I would always draw the line at regression analysis. I would be like, if we have to get into regression analysis, I think we've taken this too far. The companies would start looking at regression analysis and so I think they're equating $50 an hour to a full-time work week, But the benefit of a virtual help is that you don't have to hire them full time, you are sharing their shared services between you and other businesses.
Nicole Jackson Miller: Yes, absolutely. I don't think it's necessarily a fair comparison to compare somebody who's employed on an hourly rate to a contractors hourly rate. When I look at bringing in support in my business, what I'm looking at is, what is this person working on? What is the investment in this? What is the return that I'm expecting and when am I expecting it? Do I believe that this person can get me to this and also do I believe that I'm available to be able to? It's usually a joint effort to get to a goal that I hire out. This is interesting because, with project management, we would charge anywhere from,$2,000 to $3,900 a month on projects depending on their capacity but also there's a lot of business owners that we worked with that if they had three projects going on, that wasn't going to be doable for them but we also weren't employees. I had plenty of conversations with my clients where I told them that they needed somebody full time and that that would be a better investment for them based on their revenue and the projects they had at hand. I don't necessarily think that it's a fair comparison.
Tara Newman: I think so too, Incorporate compensation, it always came down to what the business could afford. The benchmarks could say one thing, the survey data could say another thing and then you actually have the actual data of the people's resumes that you were getting through the door and then it came down to, what can we afford? As an organization, we had to make a choice whether or not we could afford a certain percentile of this range and we knew we weren't going to pay the most competitive for this job. What we would do is we would prioritize the jobs that were our bread and butter because if we didn't have those jobs we didn't have a business.
Nicole Jackson Miller: Yes, It's prioritizing the hires.
Tara Newman: They would be paid at a different percentile in administrative functions where there were a gazillion executive assistance supply and demand versus a very rare, engineer with a specialty that we needed to make our product. We had to look at it that way and at any point, it's the choice of a business owner to decide what they can afford and you can always find the support that might be less money, maybe they might not have as many years of experience but you know you're making that trade-off.
Nicole Jackson Miller: Absolutely, and I like the point about trade-offs because sometimes we would be talking with clients and they would want to do five projects at one time but when we had conversations about strategy and what the return was on each project, they would usually say "I don't know if we can afford you to manage all five project" or "well you actually shouldn't be doing all five projects, you should probably be doing one". So I think that there's a tradeoff there. Also, of course, there are always other people that are available because one person may not be a great fit financially. There are plenty of other people that could be. Then again, that's also a benefit of hiring virtually, you have even more options.
Tara Newman: I think that when people come into making these decisions, they don't come into making these decisions from a place of possibility either. It's very important to ask yourself, What's possible for you if you do hire the person who has more experience and they are more money? What more could you get off your desk or what more could you offload? and really compare their prices to what your hours are worth.
Nicole Jackson Miller: With my clients, because I help a lot with hiring and hiring strategy, we take a look at this but also put a timeline to it. It's like let's bring on this person and decide on how long we would give this opportunity to this person to at least experience a result that will make you know that the investment is worth it. We will take a look at it like Is that three months? Are that six months? What does that look like financially? This gives people a nice check to be able to review, reflect and think about it critically like okay, now that I've done this for three months and I can actually see that this is what's off my lap, this is what I'm able to focus on and whether I'm glad or not, then you can make another choice. I think sometimes when people are hiring, they think, "I'm going to bring on this role and it's a forever thing" and then they get freaked out.
Tara Newman: Yes.
Nicole Jackson Miller: It doesn't have to be that way.
Tara Newman: Yes, start small.
Nicole Jackson Miller: Yes, start Small,
Tara Newman: Put a container on it.
Nicole Jackson Miller: Experiment with it, see how it goes, what are your results? What are your goals? Put it on a piece of paper and see if in three months you're there.
Tara Newman: Also, I think a lot of people don't understand how you will get a return on your investment when you invest in a team. That was something that took a little bit even for me to figure out in my own business through trial and error, and I wasn't going to figure it out by taking no action. You have to get clear on what makes you money and how that relates to making money. I think also when I give advice, I always say don't pass the trash. If this is a task that doesn't add value, don't give it to somebody, don't pay someone to not add value. Don't do the task, delete before you delegate.
Nicole Jackson Miller: Yes, I mean, absolutely. And, you know that's the first step that I take with clients when we put together a hiring strategy, I ask so what are you doing? What are you offering? Who is your ideal client? What is it that you could do? What is it that's actually within your zone of genius? What is not? I really take a look at those things because a team is not going to fix a broken business and It's definitely not going to fix something that's already not working. It's the same thing with the tasks that you just described. I think that's where the expectations are out of work a little bit, which is why I like for people to write down what it is that they need support with. I think that writing this out, can go into a job post, and I also think that first, it's up to the business owner or whoever the hiring manager is to know exactly what they need and why it's important and what it is contributing to? This isn't for small businesses, but big businesses too. I worked in a larger company and there was a ton of stuff that we were doing that was completely inefficient.
Tara Newman: We are more in bigger companies because you have more room to hide it.
Nicole Jackson Miller: Yes! Oh my God, yes! Because there's just so many people and you get stuck in your way of doing things, which is always going to be that way and that's just how it's done which becomes harder to make a change for some companies. Really be thoughtful when you're bringing someone else in and be clear on what it is that you want to do and why because that's where you'll start to get a little bit more clear on the return. I think for some hires it's a lot easier to identify the return for example when you hire someone to come in and manage your marketing, it means we are bringing new people in and eventually there will be additional business or a better business or whatever. Then there are other roles where they might not be as clear as far as having maybe a personal assistant or an admin assistant or somebody helping with operations that's not necessarily immediately contributing to revenue. So when you're able to get on what you want to delegate out in and the reason behind it and what it will allow you and your company to do, it becomes a little bit clearer to see.
Tara Newman: Yes, I think that people with just a personal assistant or a VA or whatever you want to call them, aren't looking at it through the right lens. The way I look at it, and I just wanted to share it with everybody. I believe that one thing that will break a business is poor customer experience. So I think one of the reasons and we can curse Amazon for being a big behemoth all we want for putting main street mom and pop businesses out of business, however, one thing that they do really well, which is what's attracting so many people is their customer experience. You know, their customer service and so when I have somebody working in my business, it is all about how they are helping provide specific and unique customer experience and client experience in my business. When I know that I provide a world-class experience in my business for my customers and my clients, they come back, they buy again, they refer and if they leave for whatever reason, they may not be gone for long and they'll want to work with us again. It's all about how we have a value at the bold leadership revolution that people are important. My team's first and foremost job is to make sure that every person we come in contact with feels important and that's how we get an ROI. So the person could be scheduling my calendar or in my inbox, but it's how they're responding to the customer. It's how they're scheduling clients on my calendar that makes such a huge difference in people feeling like they're important
Nicole Jackson Miller: Yes. And sometimes, I think that that's often overlooked and I even know from my buying experience being a customer, it's sometimes like the smallest things that make a world difference, things like scheduling, a response, you know, hey, how are you doing? Sometimes it's the smallest thing and so when you can identify and get really clear on that and be able to then communicate to your team, you're such a good leader Tara.
Tara Newman: Imagine that.
Nicole Jackson Miller: But then the team's clear, and they know what their priority is which then helps with hiring and everything else. Oh, I love that.
Tara Newman: That's in my mind though it took me a while to get there in my own business because it's sometimes easier to see that in somebody else's business.
For me though, I had to really get clear because it's very easy to feel like there's no ROI. "Oh, they're answering emails and email is such a waste of time, it's such a nonvalue-added task".
Nicole Jackson Miller: Or anyone could do that. who does that?
Tara Newman: Right, which is untrue actually. It's untrue for me, that's my belief. I wanted to talk a little bit because depending on the size business you are, you might not have room for all the positions that we initially spoke about, like the VA versus the OBM versus a project manager, an integrator. What I think though like what I said in the beginning what I took away from you is really understanding that anyone who has project management skills is a really valuable asset in your business.
Nicole Jackson Miller: Yes.
Tara Newman: Can we talk about, what in your mind is the project manager skill set, so that people can identify some of these skills and maybe the people they already have, or maybe they're going to be hiring?
Nicole Jackson Miller: Yes. So for project management skills, I'll name a few of them. If you want to do anything in your business, something like a new project, your job as the leader is to be clear on what that is and if you're not clear, it's fine to brainstorm with your team but ultimately you are the deciding factor on what happens and what is implemented and executed inside of your business. So a project manager or anyone who has project management skills can see where it is that you want to go and work with you to put together a project plan which is basically what has to get done, what the time frame is and who is needed to do it. I will say that it's easier to see the big picture when you have a little bit of space. Sometimes when people have virtual assistants, especially if they're overloaded, they may not be great project partners and I think that that's actually the word that's really important, it's the partnership because no matter what the role is in the business, you want somebody who's able to sit at the table with you, understand what it is that you're trying to accomplish, have a voice and be able to brainstorm with you and then help you execute it. I think that that's a really important piece if you want to have people that are on your team that have project management skills, that's one of those things, to make sure that they have the ability to partner with.
The second piece is being able to get it done and this can be made possible through communication with you and understanding what your needs are. I like when people say no to me more than when they say yes. I don't want somebody to just say yes to me. I love hearing that No because it makes me want to know why and I get surprised because you've really thought about it. So generally somebody who has the ability to say no or bring up new ideas and then be able to get it done depending on what role this is on your team, and maybe doing a little bit of implementing and also be able to see the end talk and get it done. I think that that's a huge skill set for a project manager which is communication. Being able to understand who my other partners are on the project, what they are doing and how we can work together in order to get it done and it requires communication.
Tara Newman: All right. So I just jotted down some competencies that I heard you saying that I'm going to repeat back and you tell me if I heard this correct. They need to have some planning skills, the ability to plan, they need relational skills and the ability to have or be in a partnership with somebody, they need to follow through communication skills and I will add that this is like written, oral and communication skills in general. I heard critical thinking, I also heard the confidence in there as well and I know this for sure because I have had my experience with working with people who have shaky confidence and that's always been an issue for me. I'm going to add one that you didn't exactly say but I will mention, an ambiguity which is the ability to be resourceful and be able to take action even though you don't have all the answers.
Nicole Jackson Miller: Yes and I will say that part of that is the person and part of that is the leader giving their team permission to do their work and to make decisions. I have seen a lot of people on teams who are scared to do anything because they're constantly being questioned or being micromanaged and so I think part of it is something that's environmental then absolutely, they need to be able to come to the table and say listen, I have considered these five things and this is how we need to move forward.
Tara Newman: All right. So the last question for you before we wrap up and maybe it's the second to last. So if someone was looking to hire, let's just say they're looking to hire someone with project management skills, what would be the one question you would ask to know if they had some of these competencies? What's your favorite question to ask in an interview?
Nicole Jackson Miller: My favorite question to ask, and this could either be in an interview or an application is, describe a situation that has come up in the past where you felt like project management had failed or that something was not done correctly or wouldn't it have been great to have a project manager on the team when we did this? I want them to actually describe the situation and ask them how they would handle that situation. This is because I think there's usually a lot of questions when you're going into hiring for instance questions like I don't know if this one can handle this, can they handle that? I like to give somebody an example of a project and it's really helpful if there were some problems that happened with the project that made it complicated and ask that person how they would have handled that and in what order so that I can actually see whether they talk about planning, people skills, communication and whether they have critical thinking because you're really there with them as they're thinking through it.
Tara Newman: I love those and I just want to say what you did so everybody who's listening to the podcast understands. Describe a situation, give me examples of open-ended questions that you can ask somebody because when you are interviewing, it is your job to listen more than you're talking. One of the big mistakes that I used to see specifically when I was doing this incorporate was that the manager would show up and they would go on and on and on about the position and what they're looking for and what the skills are and then they would be like "now tell us about you" and they would just get parroted back everything they just said. So, of course, they have the perfect candidate in front of them and they want to do some listening. You want to ask some open-ended questions. You want to get a really good feel for the person and not just their knowledge, but like damn their energy and beliefs and things like that. Of course, it's important for them to know more about your company and you and those things but I would let them talk first. That's fine.
Nicole Jackson Miller: Yes absolutely and when they describe back to you, I always like to listen for how they think through it themselves and then what conversations they have with people and I also like to know how they communicate back to the business owner or back to their manager depending on the business that you're in and the team structure.
If I'm hiring someone into my business, I want to know if there is a problem, how they're going to handle it with my team and I also want to know how they're going to talk to me about it. Like, when are you going to reach out? So when you're interviewing, I think it's helpful to get really clear on how you want to be managed and how you want to be communicated to and I think, when you bring on a new hire, explaining that to them is part of it so that you set them up for success. I also think that there are responses from the open-ended questions during the interview that can make you realize that this person would be great for me because they said this and that and I actually love it and also this person might not be because they said that they would ask me a gazillion questions before they would take any action.
Tara Newman: All right, last question for you.
Nicole Jackson Miller: Okay.
Tara Newman: I always like people to walk away with an action step that they can take. So what, in terms of having a team or hiring is your one action step that people could go right now and implement to help them take one step closer to where they want to be?
Nicole Jackson Miller: When it comes to team and hiring, what I would love for people to do is I want you to take out a piece of paper and write down right now all of the things that you are responsible for Inside of your business or if you work inside of the business, what you're currently responsible for and then I want you to rate them in three areas. One, your experience and your skillset on a scale of one to three with three being the best. So if you are currently loading emails into an email marketing system and you mess it up every time, that would be a one for your skill level. The second piece is on effective which is your preferences. Do you like it? Is it something that lights you up? Does it bring you joy? Do you value it? And then the third is measured against how you naturally take action. We didn't talk about Colby today, but this is based on if you have taken your Colby, you'll know that there are certain ways that you instinctively take action and how does this measure up against that? If you have not taken your Colby, just take that off the table and just do the first two.
Nicole Jackson Miller: Measure all of these things between one and three and figure out what are the things that you aren't really skilled at, what you don't really like and if you've taken your Colby, what doesn't naturally match your punitive part of the mind, which is the way you instinctively take action which I would highly recommend that that be the next thing that you delegate out, either to your current team if you have one or to somebody that you can bring on your team.
Tara Newman: Awesome! Thanks so much for coming by Nicole.
Nicole Jackson Miller: Thank you so much for having me, this was a blast.
Tara Newman: Now, if this conversation was interesting to you and felt unique and a little different, I want you to do me a favor. I want you to take me up on my invitation to join The BRAVE Society. If you are a female, small business owner, this is likely your community. If you are resonating with this podcast and the things we are talking about over here because they are very much the essence of how we talk about things in The BRAVE Society.
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