Brenda Albano is the owner of WholeFamilyProducts.com, WholeFamilyProducts.asia and BeyondFertility.com. She started back in 1998, when Ecommerce was still in its infant stages. Brenda grew her businesses from the ground up while raising and homeschooling five children. Today, Whole Family Products and Beyond Fertility continue to thrive with help from a dedicated team in the Philippines.
Tell us about Whole Family Products and Beyond Fertility
- “Our business started with a mission to help others overcome infertility and secondary infertility.”
- Brenda’s website clearly states their mission: Better Health For Everyone. [Whole Family Products is] Your Trusted Source of Natural Supplements & Hormone Creams Online; in the US and Globally. Products for your Whole Family.
- Brenda’s sister, whom she describes as her “partner in crime,” started early menopause at age forty. Brenda herself struggled with miscarriages and experienced several between the births of her five living children. Her experiences led her to the “wonders of natural progesterone cream.” So she set out to “save the fertile and infertile world.”
- She describes herself as an entrepreneur with a passion in her heart to help people.
- The people that she helped with hormone imbalance and infertility suggested that she create her own products and start her own website. And that’s exactly what she did. Brenda started with her “fertility tracker,” then moved on to selling fertile balance progesterone cream, then moved on to include other all-natural bio-identical products in her inventory.
- Her business grew little by little into what it is today. They now offer over 100 quality products.
You started back in 1998; what was it like to grow your business alongside the internet?
- To paraphrase Brenda: If you were running a business at that time, you had to wear many hats. You had to read everything and learn everything from scratch. You had to go to the library and research topics, because as you grew your business, you essentially were creating the internet.
- Blogging and Yahoo groups were a big thing. Brenda had 1000 people in her Yahoo infertility support group. It was the beginning of online networking and marketing.
- She learned how to build websites, she learned how to blog…all of this while she was raising and homeschooling five children!
How did you balance growing a business on the internet while homeschooling five kids?
- Between her business and homeschool, Brenda created an environment where her kids learned a lot. As a result (they’re all grown now), one child became a programmer, one became a writer, two learned to love business management, and one became an entrepreneur.
- Brenda’s been ambitious and hard-working from a young age. She started working when she was 14 years old; she left school, fibbed about her age and got a job key-punching for a major insurance company. She’s been working with computers ever since.
What makes your business and products different from your competition?
- According to Brenda, their outstanding natural products and their heart-full customer service are what sets them apart from their competitors.
Do you have any business philosophies to share with your fellow entrepreneurs?
- Brenda shared two pieces of counsel that have guided her business ventures: “Always leave someone better than you find them,” and “To God’s glory, not mine.”
- Proverbs 16:8 – “Better a little gain with righteousness than much gain with injustice.”
- It’s important to give back. She recommends the book, “The Richest Man in Babylon.” It has great business principles and principles for a good life.
How would you advise or encourage fellow “mompreneurs?”
- “Just because you ‘can’ doesn’t mean you ‘should.’ And there are so many ‘can do’ women out there…’the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world’ and we need strong cradle rockers.”
- “The need is not the call.” Just because you may feel you need something in the moment doesn’t necessarily mean that’s the real call in your life.
- Don’t give into too many selfish ‘calls.’ Children are only young once. There’s only so much time to stop and show them that they’re the most important thing in the world.
Let’s talk about your team in the Philippines…
- About four years ago, Brenda had “burned the candle at both ends” and came down with ligament insufficiency and adrenal exhaustion. It was like chronic fatigue syndrome; she spent 18 months in bed. She ran her business through phone calls and with help from a few other people.
- She eventually had to put her business aside so she could heal. When she came back, she knew she had to do things differently.
- A friend told her about a hiring company (that she does not recommend–she was very unhappy with the results). Even though it wasn’t a good experience, it introduced her to outsourcing.
- Then she hired her first three VAs successfully with a second company (Jackie, Gigi and Hazel). They introduced her to OnlineJobs.ph and she says, “it exploded from there. I fell in love with it.”
- Now she has 11 full-time OFS (Online Filipino Specialists). There are a few others she works with that do contract work as well.
What do your 11 Full-time Online Filipino Specialists do?
- Jackie (Brenda calls her the ‘queen’) does all of the SEO. She’s a mother of 4. And they have a wonderful time together as business associates and friends.
- Then there’s Gigi who works as Brenda’s VA. She calls him her “superman” because he can get anything done. She also refers to him as a “son from another mother.” He oversees everything, helps her vet new hires etc…
- Hazel specializes in social marketing
- Jen specializes in product label design
- Jessa works as Brenda’s personal assistant
- Johnna specializes in inventory
- Kim is helping to open Brenda’s retail store in Cebu
- Rose and Ty work in various capacities and Sheralyn just started…
Brenda’s favorite thing about managing OFS…
- Give your VA opportunities to grow in what they love to do. It’s human nature to blossom when we’re doing things we enjoy and Brenda’s found a way to incorporate that principle into her business and work culture.
- As Brenda trains and gets to know her VAs, she loves “spotting” what they really want to do (in contrast to what they were hired to do). If they show promise, she encourages them to grow in those new areas and she finds ways to implement their new skills.
- For example, Hazel started out at Whole Family Products doing SEO and blogging. But her passion is design. So Brenda paid for Hazel to take the time to learn design basics. Now Hazel is also teaching herself how to do video and infographics. She’s contributing in new ways to the business and she’s so happy to be doing what she loves.
- Gigi started out as a very talented quality assurance VA, but he loves design as well. So he’s been teaching himself how to build websites for Brenda. Both Gigi and the business are benefitting from his new skills.
- Brenda wants her VAs to leave better than they came – so she encourages them to find their passions and grow them.
How, specifically, do you encourage your employees to grow?
- She asks her VAs directly, “Is there anything you love to do that isn’t part of your current job? Or “What are the jobs you like to do that aren’t part of what you were hired to do?”
- If they show interest in a skill that’s different from what she hired them for, she encourages them to pursue that skill. If they show promise or talent, then she offers to pay a certain amount of hours for them to study and develop that skill.
- When Brenda took Hazel off of SEO work and let her start designing, she thanked Brenda “up and down.” Even though she was good at SEO and that skill helped provide for Hazel’s family, she didn’t enjoy doing it. Brenda found someone else to do SEO and Hazel contributes to the business greatly with her design skills.
- As Brenda teaches her OFSs how to do more and encourages them to learn more, she pays them more.
How do you recruit Filipino VAs from OnlineJobs.ph?
- It’s worth $69 to have a month to hire a good person. It’s nice that you can unsubscribe at any time.
- She posts a job for a very general skill, but then adds a very specific skill-set to the job description, ie: someone who does video editing (general) and specializes in aftereffect (specific).
- She looks for people who write about themselves. She likes to see that ‘they’ve really learned a lot doing this,’ or ‘they started doing this, and now they’re doing that’…she looks for candidates who tell/explain their stories.
- She also looks for positivity in their writing. Even if it’s a small detail like “I like dogs;” it shows their humanness and personality.
- She loves the DISC assessment. It ensures that they’ll have a good working relationship and be compatible personally and professionally.
- She looks for personality and countenance in their pictures.
- In an interview, Brenda typically asks her candidates more about their personal lives than she asks about their skills. She asks them about their talents, their hobbies, their likes and dislikes, their family situation…that way, she really gets to know their personalities and whether they’ll be a good fit. It also gives her a really good idea of how well they communicate, which is a huge part of the work relationship. (Brenda uses “Skype for everything.”)
- She loves when people take the IQ test on OnlineJobs.ph. She doesn’t necessarily care about the score. She sees it more as an indicator that they’re ambitious and willing to go the extra mile. If you’re taking an IQ in your second language, it shows that you’re willing to try. It’s a great marker of initiative, which is very important to Brenda.
What are your favorite ways to connect with and communicate with your OFS team?
- A $5 gift in the US is comparable to a $25 gift in the Philippines. It’s a chance for them to go out to lunch with a friend. It’s a chance to show them that you care about them on Saturdays and Sundays, not just during the workweek.
- She gives them their birthdays off with pay and pays a week bonus for Christmas.
- Brenda’s advice: treat your OFS team to surprises or lunch meet-ups. She likes to hire around the Cebu area because that’s where the bulk of her “original” VAs are. She likes for them to be able to get together and form meaningful camaraderie. And she likes to treat them to team lunches. She’s currently working to develop a group in Manilla and Davao as well.
- Brenda loves to send her OFS team members gifts – products that they might need (this is a good reminder that the Philippines is considered a third-world country). She also enjoys treating them to her natural health products.
- Her favorite way to connect with her team was to visit them! She flew to the Philippines and took her team on a snorkeling expedition to swim with sardines. They all stayed together in a simple resort for a long weekend and had a wonderful time.
What hasn’t worked?
- Brenda has a hard time saying goodbye to someone who isn’t working out (read: letting them go). She has to be careful to not get a “savior complex.” She knows the situation there and how important it is to keep a job, so it makes it difficult to let people go.
Advice for new outsourcing business owners:
- The first time you hire someone, buffer your wallet and recognize that it takes a lot of work (at first) to keep your first VA busy.
- You’re already exhausted by the time you’ve decided to outsource. Your already need so much at that point and then it takes a lot of extra thought to figure out what you need to delegate and how to do it.
- In the beginning stages of training, you might only get 20 hours of productivity out of your OFS. But be willing to pay them for forty hours because you’re paying for your own learning curve (as well as theirs).
- When you’re used to doing everything yourself, it takes time to come up with things to delegate. But it pays off – when you put a lot of work into training your first VA it trickles down to the next one. Then your initial VA can help train and acclimate your next hire…and so on.
- Gigi was her first VA and she had to spend a lot of time with him, but now “he does everything” for her and he can help train the VAs that come after him. He also helps with the hiring and vetting and “letting go.”
What should those first tasks be?
- The first task Brenda gave Gigi was to catalog everything in her websites. It was kind of busy work, but it was useful. It was also a great way to familiarize him with the business and its content. She also had him clean up spreadsheets.
- She continually asked him to give her ideas – what have you done for other bosses? What have you seen VAs do for other businesses that you think would add value to our business?
- You don’t just want them to follow step by step instructions, you want them to take initiative. Look for ways to encourage them to do so.
Is there anything else you want to share?
- Filipino culture is so polite and we are so direct in industrialized countries. It took a lot of mental energy for Brenda to chat more and reassure more, but that was time well-spent. Take time to reassure and give positive feedback to your OFS team. It builds trust and relationships and it’s worth the effort.
- She throws in a lot of “I love yous” to make sure her team knows she cares. “They are my heart. They really are”
- No matter how kind or generous you are with them, they’re always so grateful. They don’t take anything for granted. It’s worth it to show that kindness and give a little more time because they’re worth it as people and as workers.
What’s the best way to connect with you and your services?
“I continually asked [my VA], ‘give me some ideas; what kinds of things have you done for other people?’ I think that’s the key. ‘What have you seen other [VAs] do for other people that you think you could bring to my business? Please help me.’ And letting them know that you’re not just looking for them to just follow you step by step, but you’re looking for initiative.”
And if you want to see more videos, check out our YouTube channel or our Facebook page for more outsourcing tips. You can also check out how to get started on hiring Rockstar Virtual Assistants.
About Shelane Tuttle
Shelane Tuttle has worked in content development with John Jonas and the OnlineJobs.ph team since 2010. She’s a mother of four, book devourer, beach bum, wannabe music and art connoisseur and she thrives on learning/teaching others about new things, like outsourcing.
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