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Episode #99 How To Build A High Performing Virtual Team with Abbey Ashley

Abbey Ashley is a passionate online educator, multi-7-figure business owner, and influencer in the work-from-home space. Starting as a virtual assistant, Abbey has built a 6-figure company where she teaches others how to start, grow and scale a virtual assistant business from scratch using her value first philosophy.

Abbey has a lot of experience hiring freelancers, and is bringing that experience to us this week. She’s talking to us about how she looks for new team members, and why she firmly believes in hiring for culture even over skill set. If you’ve ever considered hiring, whether that is a freelancer or a full time employee, you won’t want to miss this episode.


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Nicole Laino 

Hello, and welcome to the limitless entrepreneur podcast. I’m your host, Nicole Laino. And I’m here with a special guest. Today I’m here with Abbey Ashley. She is a passionate online educator, multiple seven figure, business owner and influencer in the work from home space. She owns a business called the Virtual savvy and Hello, savvy. She is an amazing wealth of information in the world of support, and how to build teams that work together in a virtual environment. So I’m really excited to have you here. Abby, welcome to the show.

Abbey Ashley 

Thank you, Nicole, I’m really excited to be here.

Nicole Laino 

And why don’t you tell everybody a little bit more about yourself your story or just introduce yourself to the audience and tell them what I missed in that very small little piece of your bio.

Abbey Ashley 

For sure. Well, thank you again, for having me. I’m Abbey Ashley. And I own a business called the Virtual savvy. That is my main business that I’ve been running since 2016. But I actually started maybe like many of you, I started out as a freelancer, a virtual assistant is where I kind of began this whole online world. And that’s where my eyes were opened to, oh, wow, there’s so much going on that I had no idea even existed. And I started off honestly just trying to make some money at home while I was a mom and pregnant with my second child on the way that business quickly grew, I actually ended up because I was pregnant. Knowing that I needed to hire subcontractors kind of went in with that hiring mentality of I’m going to build a team, because I don’t want to have to do it all. Full admittance, here, I am very easily bored. That’s probably my entrepreneur self, that just sees opportunity in every corner. And so I knew, hey, if I’m going to stick with this to the long run, I’m gonna need to hire a team. So I not only was able to replace my own income, but I was able to really provide jobs for other people, which is maintained a passion of mine. You know, since those beginning days of 2015 and 2016, I launched an online course to teach other people how to start their own virtual assistant businesses. And I had no idea that that hey, email list, very tiny email list, would you like a course like this would you know grow into a multiple seven figure business, we have 14 full time employees now, as well as contractors, which has enabled us to launch a second business called Hello savvy, which is going to be a freelancer marketplace to really learn how to hire contractors based off of mission and cultural fit. So I’m really excited about that new venture launching in September.

Nicole Laino 

That sounds amazing. I love I love the vision for that, that it’s like, let’s make this more personal. Let’s make this about culture and fit and not about, you know, 30 bucks, or, you know, the ways that we can we can sometimes look to find people and social media can be it’s nice that is this system is this marketplace going to be it’s transparent, like people are going there to buy something they’re going there to hire. It’s not like social media, where it feels almost icky when someone offers it, or there’s this weird dance that we can do between like, are you trying to sell me something?

Abbey Ashley 

Right, everyone?

Nicole Laino 

Yeah, no, I love that you that you you have the vision to bring something like that to life. So I you’re an innovator. And that’s what’s very exciting, because I think if there’s one of the things that I wanted to highlight when I was reading your bio, and I’m taking in a lot of things about you is that I love that you took a business like virtual assisting, and you made it you scale that to a seven figure business. There’s something about like scaling the unscalable, because I think a lot of people think that’s something that you can’t scale, like you’re going to be in this mode, you’re going to be in that job forever. If you choose it, then that’s where you will stay. Or I know people who have scaled sort of, but they’re still very much in the weeds. And that burns them out. And you end up not being in love with what you do any more. And, and it’s a really viable and an important piece of the team is the virtual assistant. So can you talk a little bit about I know you said that you were on maternity leave or you knew maternity leave was coming so you had a catalyst for like I’ve got to hire. But what’s the mindset that that you took up saying like I see how I could structure this where I can really be off for my maternity leave and then beyond that to say like I could really scale this to the level of like a seven figure business.

Abbey Ashley 

I mean, I’ll be completely honest, I don’t know if I completely had that vision in my beginning days. I you know, I am very much fun based person. Like I like to do things if it’s fun and if it’s light and if it’s easy. And so for me, I would start doing doing social media, or database management or blogging for somebody, and after a while when it didn’t become enjoyable. My strategic side of me said, okay, well, if I don’t enjoy this anymore, what if I don’t just scrap it and run away from it and try something new? Which admittedly, I’ve done in other areas of my life. What if I actually, you know, hired somebody and kept this thing going? And that’s kind of been my mentality since day one of when I kind of had that first light bulb moment, oh, I have a friend, actually from college. I mean, I wasn’t even fancy. It wasn’t like, let me go hire a subcontractor. I’m not sure if I even knew what that was. When I was in those beginning days, it was, well, I’m kind of bored of making these images. Now, I have a friend who I know did graphics in college, let me just call her up. She’s a mom, and see if she wants to create them, too. I mean, it really started much less fancy and official than it sounds on the outside, right. And so I think that, for me, a lot of it comes down to enjoyment. And that’s, that’s what I like, in general about the idea of delegation, that idea of building a team is, you know, I’m huge on becoming CEO, elevating yourself in your business, even if you’re a solopreneur, to the position of CEO, but the great thing is, is that your CEO doesn’t look like my CEO, and we see that from, you know, companies around the world, who have had great success, my CEO means that I’m doing the things that not only do I enjoy doing that I’m good at two, because I believe that if we’re doing the things that we’re good at, and we enjoy, that’s where we’re gonna find like our highest value in our business. And that’s where we’re going to make it light and easy and fun, right. And so, but that looks different to somebody else than it does to me, I love having a team of 14+ contractors. I have a great friend who has a multiple high six figure business with just one contractor, because she really likes the weeds and the nitty gritty, but she’s released some of the things she doesn’t like, and she makes great money. I mean, she has really high profit margins, right? And she loves that. And so I think that it’s not this one-size-fits all prescriptive model. When you look at your business, and you look 1, 2, 5, 10 years down the line? What do you want your time to be spent doing? You know, what would your swim lanes be? I use that term a lot. What would you really enjoy doing, and then work backwards to get to that point?

Nicole Laino 

Well, and I want to kind of back up here to just a point that you were making in there, which is that, or just I want to highlight the fact that you had the presence of mind, though, to say, I don’t want to do this anymore. But that doesn’t mean that I need to throw it all away that I need to because we’ve talked about this before the show started about how there is this feeling, particularly with entrepreneurs to just throw the baby out with the bathwater, okay, I no longer love this, I’ve got to break it all, I’ve got to tear it all down. And in fact, you see a lot of messaging around that where it’s like, here’s why I tore it all down. Here’s where I burned my seven figure business to the ground. First of all, that’s lies. Usually they didn’t do that. They just they they shifted and created a new offer. But it sounds really good in a headline. But it’s you didn’t do that you had the presence of mind to say like, Okay, I’m not enjoying this part. Is this something that needs to go completely? Or is this something that I can hold on to and that I can keep? And maybe it’s an investment in my business? How do you? Do you train people to do that? Now? Is that part of what your training virtual assistants to do in the virtual savvy? Can you speak a little bit about that process? And how you hand that presence of mind and that process down to others?

Abbey Ashley 

For sure. So yes, that’s a big part I think of when I see entrepreneurs that have been in the space, maybe the same time, same amount of time as me, and they looked at my business, and they’re like, oh, wow, how did you know how did this grow? And how am I the same and a lot of it, I truly believe is I look back at 2016, of when I launched an online course, and I’m still selling the exact same course. We’ve said for just sticking it in there stability, and I’m not an overnight success by any means. Like we grew Steady, steady, steady, steady, but always upward. And I think that a big part of that is just I’m not sure if you’ve read the book essentialism. But this idea of we can put our energy in 5, 10, 15 different places, or we can take that same amount of energy and focus it down to one or two things right. And so, yes, even the way that we teach. The way I teach your role as a CEO is man, can we get what you’re doing to be as focused as possible? When we’re talking to your offers? Can we get your offers to be as focused as possible to what type of social media what kind of, you know, outreach, you’re going to be doing. focused as possible. I, you know, back in 2016, when I launched a course, I was blogging and doing organic Pinterest, which, again, don’t take that as prescriptive because it does not work in the same way. It used to buy, you know, I, I just said, that’s what I’m gonna do. And I did that until it was processed, the very first person I hired was a Pinterest manager. So I kept blogging, but I’m like, Well, now I have more margin. Now that that is a process and handed off. So then I started a Facebook group. And that became my next way for organic leads that groups about I’ve been doing that group now since 2016, late 2016, early 2017. And we’re about to hit 100,000 members in the group, and we do barely any paid advertising or paid advertising budget is so small compared to other businesses, sometimes we just scrap it all together. Because we have such a great organic momentum. And I think that it’s really just about like, we’ve done something and just stuck it out for the long run. And that’s not to say, you know, there hasn’t been things that we’ve evaluated, we’ve said, Okay, this really isn’t working, let’s shut it down. Because we have done that as well. But I think there’s something to say about traction. And if you have traction, in a business, in a product in a social media outlet, whatever it is, and you’re bored, or you’re burnt out about it, you might be on the brink of something really amazing. You might be on the brink of okay, I know I’m burnt out, I know, I’m bored. But if this thing that I’m doing that does have traction, if I can put some systems into it, if I can systematize the process and hand it off to somebody who does have those passions? Who is excited about it? What if it could keep going, right? And it’s just that small mindset shift that I believe does cause you to get that momentum and that traction over time that can grow into something really big.

Nicole Laino 

So I love that. And you obviously have a very organized mind, because you are you know, you have the ability to focus on one thing at a time, which not everybody does. That growing and growing that traction in that one area. How would you work with somebody who has a lot of things happening right now? Many different places where their energy is going? They’re burnt out largely because of that, and because they’re in the weeds? So there’s that feeling of like, Who do I hire next? Where do I get it? Because it isn’t necessarily as neat and tidy as blogging Pinterest? Okay, I’m going to hand off the Pinterest part, I’ll keep the blogging part and then eventually maybe I’ll roll that off, and then we’ll roll into something else. Or even like your Facebook group, you know, you kind of rolled into these it sounds I’m sure it was less, less tidy than than it sounds. But how would you advise somebody who has a lot happening? And maybe it’s not as obvious to them what the first piece is to hand off?

Abbey Ashley 

Yeah, well, I’ll mention first, I am not naturally an organized or focused person. By No, I mean, if you saw I create outlets for myself. So for me, if you saw the amount of domain names that I have purchased, it would be embarrassing. I have the ideas I will on a road trip. If I’m stressed I one time we were driving back from Chicago because our flight got canceled. We decided to drive home instead it was this whole ordeal. And I’m sitting there and I’m all stressed. I said I’m going to create another business just on the drive home. And I did and I did nothing with it. I mean, trust me, it’s still there. It’s still there. But I will say I think a big part of it. My I’m a big fan of Clifton Strength Finders, my top two strengths are futuristic and strategy. And I think it’s just the strategic part of me is strong enough to say I know I know those ideas are exciting and maybe give yourself a small outlet for them. Have fun with them. Let yourself dream in in a small capacity in some of those ways. But the strategic part of me says grow the thing you have grow always like Greek grass is greener on the other side that is oh my goodness that is so hard for me. It’s like my natural mentality is the FOMO grass is greener What about the other thing but I have seen so much happen when I just tend to my own garden and I think that that it’s just something to be said about really really just digging into what you currently have. So if that’s the case and you’re feeling like maybe I already did the whole thing you know, I own like 15 plots of land right now because so many other people’s gardens so I’m a big fan of people hate this, but I even hate it admittedly, doing a time study for yourself. I it’s something that I try to do annually. It keeps me accountable. I hate it. But I do it because it’s always so telling. I’m like, Oh, I don’t like this. I don’t like this. I don’t like this. And then after I do it, I say, that was good. That was really good. And so the book clockwork by Mike McCalla wit says, to do a time study in a way, that’s trash transfer trim. And I really like that methodology where it’s like, Okay, now that I’ve tracked everything that we’re doing, and you can do this, even without a time study, I’ve done that before where we’ve just listed, what are all the things we’re doing right now? You know, like, what’s all the activities that are happening? What’s all the programs? What’s all the social outlets? What all the those little tasks? What are the weeds? Right? List them all out? Okay? Is there anything that we’re doing that we really don’t need to do anymore? Right? It’s just, you know, for a while, we were putting our podcast videos on YouTube, and it was like just three or four extra steps. But we realized, at least for us on our channel, it wasn’t getting as much momentum, it was kind of a different audience that we were speaking to. And so we said, what if we just don’t do it anymore? And that question can be so freeing. I think sometimes we feel like we’re trapped in our own prisons that we created. And it’s like, you actually do have the key, right? Like, you actually can get out and you have an option. And so I think trashing things. Again, the whole idea of trimming is, hey, I have this 90 minute meeting, could it be a 60 minute meeting that I do every week, so trimming things down. And then transfer is the last one. And I think it’s important to remember that transfer can be to an individual, it can also sometimes be to a tool, I mean, if you’re manually doing contracts, and manually sending this and that switch into a tool, like dubsado, or HoneyBook, or whatever it may be, could be a way to at least transfer some of the time consuming tasks by paying for some software that could do that for you. So it’s not always transferred to a person, although I am a big fan of that as well, which is why we’re building our platform. But just kind of getting into that mentality. And I think that can be accomplished really well through a time study.

Nicole Laino 

Yeah, and that’s the time study is basically looking at, it’s like a task audit, right? Where you’re writing down, I know, it’s painful. And I suggest my people do it all the time not to do it all the time. But I do suggest it pretty regularly because people rarely actually do it. And it’s basically for like a period of seven to 10 days or something one to two weeks, you’re writing down literally everything you do. I’m driving the kids to school from this time to this time, I am doing this, I’m doing that. And then you’re figuring out, do I really need to do this personally? Is this something that really needs to take this long? What’s legacy? What is, you know, what are legacy things that are just kind of like, I’m just doing them? Because I’ve always done them? That’s not necessarily the reason that you should keep doing them. So just to clarify that if anybody was wondering what the time study was, that’s kind of what that looks like. And then you you audit that and decide where those belong. And that’s the it’s trashed, trim, or transfer. Yeah. So just wanted to clear to clear that up, in case anybody was wondering what that what the time study was. Because it’s a very valuable exercise. It’s not fun, I’m not gonna lie, it is not a fun task to like, Okay, let me write that down. But it is telling, very telling, I want to shift gears just a little bit. Because you are an expert in hiring, you are an expert. And we’ve talked about how you scaled your business, from the CEO standpoint of how you view it, and how you decide to hire but I want to talk a little bit about who you decide to hire. Because I think that that’s a very difficult thing for people. I hear it a lot where it’s like I’ve tried to hire and it didn’t go well. You’re obviously very good at this. So can you tell us what, what you hire for? So you mentioned that you hired somebody for Pinterest. But it wasn’t necessarily somebody who was a Pinterest expert at that. Or maybe it maybe wasn’t the Pinterest thing, but you hired somebody in the beginning where it was like, Oh, I know this person. Can you talk about like, how do you make the decisions to do that? And how do you make that decision successful for both of you? Well,

Abbey Ashley 

and don’t get me wrong, I’ve made plenty of wrong hires in my day to and I chalk each one up to a learning experience. All right, here’s what we’ll do differently next time, you know, what I’ve come to learn over time, is that having a set of company core values and hiring off of those core values has been the most beneficial thing that we’ve done. It’s one of those other like, okay, he’s wanting me to do more things that aren’t working in my business, but working on my business, yes. But, you know, we, in every single one of our employees gets a little like plaque that has all of our core values on them. And we’ve noticed over time, the ones that really are kind of the key differentiator For us, it’s we value action over perfection. We’re a very fast paced company, we make quick decisions, we have a four day work week, and this is, you know, largely for employees that I’m talking about right now. But in general, you know, we’re just a very fast paced company. And we believe, you know, it’s that value first mentality, we serve first as another one of our values. And so we’re really big on listening to our audience taking the extra time to serve them irrationally, to, you know, if somebody’s sick in the hospital, that we find out one of our students, like, let’s, hey, is there a way that we can like send them flowers, you know, we encourage and, and have built it into like our metrics, where we literally like, measure how many times we do that, because it’s just, it’s a part of who we are. And I think the more that you can define your company core values, which are going to come out of you as the CEO, right, like the values that you hold dear, and how you treat your clients, or customers, whatever you call them, and how you want to treat employees, and then if you can replicate those things. Now, that doesn’t mean every personality is going to be the same. But it’s like that core set of beliefs that I feel like you can say, okay, together, we’re a company that believes this and that action over perfection one for us, we have found is that one of the key differentiators that if somebody comes in, and they want to, like, really like, we, I say, we don’t hire craftsmen in the way that like, I appreciate craftsman, I am, oh, my goodness, I can I can like, you know, we have like a local place that does woodworking and I can like watch these people do like some amazing, but we don’t hire people that will take five days on the graphic, we hire somebody that can, you know, pump out 20 graphics in an hour. Like it’s just, and that’s what works for our culture, which is going to be different for everybody else. So I think that really defining your company culture and deciding this is, these are the values that we want to hire for. And then beginning to look for individuals who have that same culture, we always say that we hire for culture, even over skill. Now again, that doesn’t mean that we don’t hire skilled people. However, if I’m looking, we’ve hired a, it was a tech contractor once. So we had two that we were lined up next to each other. Okay, which one do we choose? Which one do we choose? And there was one that was actually way more skilled, I mean, degrees upon degrees and experience upon experience. And then one that when we talked to him, it was just like, you get it. Like, he grew up with all women. And he was like, I just really, I just love what your company does, the mission behind it, and this. And we could just feel that excitement and it’s like, you know, we’re gonna be able to, I just believe that you’re going to be passionate enough about the mission that if there’s things that you don’t know, that you’re going to be excited to learn them and I will hire for culture over skill any day. So that’s, that’s it’s a shift for sure. But it’s one that has really, really helped us I believe in that hiring process.

Nicole Laino 

Well, I what I like about that is it kind of forces the CEO to say what are my values. And that goes into so for everybody listening to the show, who is, if you’re a regular listener, we talk a lot about being overdoing. We talk a lot about you know, your state of mind and your beliefs like that’s what this show is largely built on. And this approach forces the CEO to sit down and say, what are our company values? What is the way of being that we want to uphold here? What are the things that what are those core ways of being that shape us as people and shape us as a company? And what what way of being we want with our customers or clients? What way of being do we want with our coworkers? What way of being do we want on our social media? That’s just a great exercise for people to go through, probably regularly to revisit them and come back and say, Are we upholding these? And do these all feel as true and aligned as they did when we made them? Yeah. Yeah, it’s it’s such a powerful way to come to come at it, because you can teach anybody who’s qualified, you can teach them anything. When I used to manage all the assistants at my corporate job in the division that I was in, and I was in, I called me along with my manager, we did all the hiring for every assistant who got hired in our division. So I think there were like 200, or something of them when when we were when we were working there, that we did all the hiring for all of those jobs. So if somebody left we hired a new one or we replaced people move them around. And I always hired for like, one of the things I was always looking for when I was interviewing people was resourcefulness and the culture of the group that we were putting them in and really figuring out like, will they fit in? Will they be happy here? And do they have the ability to learn as they go. Because growth is so important in any team aspect. You have to be able to grow with where the team is going, you have to be able to adapt. And you can’t need your, at least in my world, I was like, I can’t have people who need their handheld the whole way. I need you to be a self starter. And a self starter to me is somebody who can who says like, Okay, give me whatever information I have. If I have a question, I’m going to come up with the answer, I think what is right, and present that to you, and ask you if I should move forward with that. Or if you have another way to look at it. Like really own your position is really what I’m looking for people to do.

Abbey Ashley 

100% I, we call it figure it out in this it’s a word. And I will say to if you are still trying to figure out what is that for me, right? Like what I’m not actually sure what my company’s what those hinging values are. There’s a book called hiring for attitude by Mark Murphy, that is so good. I recommended that to people and they said, Abby, this has changed the way that I hired. So I highly recommend that book as well.

Nicole Laino 

I love that, we will definitely I will be getting that book. Because that’s just, we should all be becoming experts in how we hire the right people. Because that’s where true freedom lies is being able to hand off with confidence. The things that you don’t want to do, or the things that you’re not good at to people who are capable, and who fit with your company culture and the way that you run things that you feel safe. And you want to do business with day in and day out. You want to work with them, that has to be there. For sure. Well, I love this conversation I love I love everything about about what you do the perspective that you have just kind of your energy about about the whole thing, I really appreciate that I appreciate the way that you approach things, you have a very, very positive sort of aura about you. So this has been really fun for me. And I’m excited to see what you do with it’s Hello, savvy is the marketplace. Right? That’s where you’re going? Yeah, that’s the new thing that’s coming. And then the virtual savvy is your current your current business, which is where you train, where where you’re training virtual assistants to scale their businesses to scale basically an agency, correct? Correct? Yes. Yeah. And I, I love that because we are moving to I do feel like there was a sense of like, we have to do it all ourselves. And people are really seeing the value of going to one person and saying I want you to do all of the hiring. Were you to help me with filling out all of these positions? There’s that agency approach is definitely we’re seeing an uplevel of that for sure. For sure. So where can people stay in touch with you? Where can they get more information about your offers about what you do? And and and to stay in touch to hear about when Hello, savvy goes live?

Abbey Ashley 

For sure. Yes, so we launched the last week of September for our Hello savvy. So that will be live at Hello savvy.com. If you go before that date, it’s a waitlist, but it’ll turn into our main page there. And you can check out what we’re up to with this new hiring platform. And then if anybody is maybe a current virtual assistant, or maybe you’re listening and you stumbled upon this, and you haven’t started a business yet, I do think that starting with services is one of the fastest ways to make money online. So you can check out the virtual savvy, we’ve got tons of resources, blog posts, YouTube videos, all of the things that were there.

Nicole Laino 

Beautiful. Thank you so much for being here. This was such a pleasure and thank you listener who made it all the way to the end of this episode with us. We appreciate you being part of this conversation. Now remember, you are only limited by the limitations that you accept. And when you stop accepting those limitations. That is when you become limitless. So go out there and be limitless everybody. We will see you on the next episode.

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