Business Smarts: Unveiling the Untapped Potential of Hiring an Executive Assistant - The Edge from the National Association of Landscape Professionals

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Business Smarts: Unveiling the Untapped Potential of Hiring an Executive Assistant

As a lawn care or landscape company owner, you wear many hats, especially starting out, but as you grow, hiring an executive assistant can open up your schedule to focus on the bigger picture.

Reasons to Hire an Assistant

Taylor Milliken, owner and president of Milosi, based in Hendersonville, Tennessee, found himself in this position where he was in five different seats on his org chart.

“I knew that I couldn’t continue to run my everyday tasks while serving in such a capacity in the company,” Milliken says. “I knew that I needed help to be the best leader, mentor, and co-worker that I could be. At the end of each day, I was worn out by all the things that I hadn’t got to that day, and I didn’t have a complete snapshot of what the next day looked like either.”

He says he felt torn between so many things and knew he needed help with his scheduling, email management and busy family life.

Justin White, owner of K&D Landscaping, Inc., based in Watsonville, California, says he was on the fence about adding an executive assistant (EA) for about two years before he was pressured into it by some other owners in his peer group.

“I wanted to be a better CEO, and be more present for my employees, instead of being buried in emails and communication and administrative work,” White says. “The other thing is, as I ascended to the true role of CEO, I realized all of my direct reports were high-level leaders, so I really had no one to delegate day-to-day small tasks to because they were focused on running the business.”

Benefits of Having an Assistant

White says once he got his EA, he realized the value of the position and how his assistant allowed him to be a much better CEO.

Milliken says the main benefits of hiring an assistant have been being more organized and having someone to bounce ideas off of. He says his assistant has also been able to help him make some of these ideas a reality.

“One new thing that she put in my calendar is for me to take my three kids to school every Monday starting this month,” Milliken says. “I mentioned that in a conversation, and she said, ‘I know that is important to you and let’s make that happen.’ Even though I came up with the idea and loved the idea, it probably would have never made it to my calendar on a recurring basis. I said the idea, and BOOM, there it’s making dreams come alive. That simple.”

White says his assistant also serves as a sounding board for his ideas before he brings them to the whole team.

Assistants are also effective in aiding communication facilitation, scheduling meetings, planning travel, and coordinating all types of events. White says his response time on getting back to people is far better now. He adds his assistant helps him prioritize his day and week. She brings to his attention the bigger goals he set at the beginning of the quarter or the beginning of the year and keeps him on track.

White says since hiring his assistant, he’s started thinking more about how he spends his time. With his newfound time, White has been able to start meeting with his team on more strategic topics. He’s also been spending more time checking in on their high-level clients, thanking them and seeing how they can do better.

“I’ve become a much more proactive leader with my executive assistant, and it means I’m spending time in areas that I’m proactively focusing on rather than just spending time on areas that I’ve been reacting to where I needed, and that’s been a big change,” White says.

Misconceptions and Drawbacks of Assistants

Originally, White believed he did not need an assistant as he viewed it as an added cost to the company.  

“I felt like maybe I didn’t deserve an executive assistant because I already was paid very well,” White says.

White says that it is a difficult position to assign a salary to. He suggests a similar amount to what your best account manager makes, but you also need to be ready to pay for experience.

“If it’s your first executive assistant, the recommendation is to hire someone who has experience being an executive assistant so you don’t have to train them,” White says. “They actually can train you. So you really get what you pay for when it comes to EAs.”

White says there can also be the concern of privacy and giving someone access to your email. He says you can decide how much you want your assistant to interact with your emails. They have a hybrid system where his assistant doesn’t send or respond to emails without checking with White first.

“We’ll have a daily check in and she’ll use the flag feature or the star feature in email to bring awareness to those emails that are a little more urgent than others,” White says. “So, if I’m in a hurry, I can pull my email and quickly sort it by the most urgent ones; I can either respond or call her and tell her what to respond.”

Milliken says that being Type A made it hard for him to hand off tasks, but the reward is so much better. White agrees that it was harder than he thought to let go of certain things.

“You feel a little guilty sometimes,” White says. “You find yourself instead of sitting there doing emails and admin work, you find yourself with a lot more free time. You realize how important it is to be a true CEO and not to be just the CEO who’s constantly responding to emails.”

White says having an assistant can cause you to lose some of your day-to-day interactions with other people as they are scheduling meetings for you or following up.

“Sometimes it can feel as if you’re not as connected to your company because you’re not in the day-to-day as much because this executive assistant has helped elevate you,” White says.

Milliken says the only possible drawback of an assistant is becoming so reliant on them that you can’t function on your own.

“They are going to need off for personal time, so make sure you are building parameters so that you aren’t crippled when they are on vacation, etc.,” Milliken says.

Jill Odom

Jill Odom is the senior content manager for NALP.