Kara McKeage is the CEO of Pepper’s Personal Assistants, a brand that serves busy executive households by outsourcing their errands, chores, and projects. As founder, she firmly believes that receiving support is not a luxury but a necessity for successful people. She is the Accelerator Communications Lead Board Member at Entrepreneur’s Organization and has volunteered her time at several non-profits over the years.
Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:
Kara McKeage explains Pepper’s Personal Assistants
How they provide great customer experiences
Building a specialized team to meet their client’s needs
How does Pepper’s Personal Assistants measure its success?
Communication tips for clients
Kara shares her thoughts about AI
Their onboarding process for clients and PAs
When is the right time to get a PA?
In this episode…
Balancing work and household responsibilities can be overwhelming for a busy executive. The constant juggling can leave professionals feeling drained and overworked. Hiring a household assistant can be a much-needed solution to the problem.
Kara McKeage believes that receiving support is not a luxury but a necessity for successful people. With the help of a household assistant, you can delegate some of the household tasks and responsibilities to them, leaving you with more time to focus on your work and personal life. However, it's essential to go through an agency that provides extensive training and ongoing support to their assistants to ensure they are properly equipped and reliable.
In this episode of The Customer Wins, Richard Walker sits down with Kara McKeage, CEO of Pepper’s Personal Assistants, to discuss running an agency to provide ongoing household management for busy professionals. Kara explains how Pepper’s Personal Assistants helps people, its business model, how she builds a team highly specialized to their client’s needs, and the communication tips they use for better service.
Resources mentioned in this episode:
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Welcome to The Customer Wins podcast where business leaders discuss their secrets and techniques for helping their customers succeed and in turn grow their business.
Richard Walker 0:16
Hi, I'm Rich Walker, the host of The Customer Wins where I talked to business leaders about how they help their customers win and how their focus on customer experience leads to growth. Some of our past guests have included Austin Netzley of 2X and Mark Firmin of eTreem. Today, I get to speak with Kara McKeage of Pepper's Personal Assistants, I can't wait to talk to our love personal assistants. Today's episode is brought to you by Quik! the leader in enterprise forms processing. When the last step to earning your clients business requires processing forms, don't ruin a good relationship with a bad experience. Instead, get Quik Forms to make processing forums a great experience and the easiest part of your transaction, visit quikforms.com to get started. So before I introduce today's guest, I have to give a really big thank you to Caity Cronkhite of Good Words, go check out her website at goodwords.com to learn how to make documentation an integral part of an excellent customer experience. All right on to my guest. My guest today is Kara McKeage, the visionary behind Pepper's Personal Assistants, which has transformed the way successful individuals manage their lives. As the founder of a premier sourcing and placement agency for highly vetted household assistance, Kara recognizes that support is not a luxury, but a necessity for successful people. Her mission extends beyond alleviating the mental load. It's about fostering an essential mindset shift. Initially establishing this venture in 2012 as a side hustle to balance income and family life while raising your own children. Kara's business has naturally flourished into a thriving team of 27 professionals. Kara Welcome to The Customer Wins.
Kara McKeage 1:59
Hi, Rich, thanks for having me really excited to chat with you.
Richard Walker 2:02
Well, now, like if you haven't heard this podcast before, like I said I talk with business leaders about what they're doing to help their customers win, how they build and deliver a great customer experience. And the challenge is to grow their own company. Kara, I want to understand your business a little better. How does your company help people.
Kara McKeage 2:19
So we give people back their time and most importantly, their headspace, running a household all of the things that go with it, most people don't enjoy. And so we find really great people to take care of those things, giving people back their time so that they can do the things that they enjoy. Whether it's building a business or self-care spending time with family, the stuff that is important to them.
Richard Walker 2:47
I heard something really great the other day. It said, having one kid is like having one kid having two kids is like having eight kids having three kids is like having 80,477 kids. So I can imagine the problem that you face raising your own kids and saying how do I do this? So did you hire your own personal assistant at that moment?
Kara McKeage 3:06
No, it took me a little while before I could afford my own assistant. But I do have my own assistant now. And it's a lifesaver for sure. It's so nice coming home and all the things are done. And I can focus on my boys and the business. So definitely practice what I preach.
Richard Walker 3:28
Oh, man, that sounds like a dream. I can't tell you how many times my wife and I vacuum the floors every day, like three or four or five, six times just depends. Because I have a two-year-old, a five-year-old, and an eight-year-old. So we're in the midst of it right. And my wife's launched a new business. I have a new product coming out. We're super, super busy. What is it you think most people are contacting you for? I mean, I can relate from the kids standpoint, but what are the types of services people are really engaging you for?
Kara McKeage 3:55
Yeah, usually people that contact us they're overwhelmed, right? They feel like their to do list is never-ending, like never get caught up. I would say task-wise, the most popular is probably laundry, especially if you have three children, I would imagine you have quite a bit of that. So it's just nice to come home. It's been done. It's put away it's folded hanging up, from start to finish. And then vendor management is very popular. Again, if you need the gutters cleaned, or the windows washed, somebody else's taking on doing the research and getting the three bids and telling you which one they think is best. And you just say yes, go schedule it. We're there on site and to help with that and just kind of taking that mental load off of people is the big picture goal.
Richard Walker 4:53
Do you also get into cooking?
Kara McKeage 4:55
Yeah, that's definitely a popular one. Whether it's just kind of doing a little bit of meal prep, or doing the grocery shopping all the way to doing the meal planning and cooking it so that it's ready to go, depending on what people's needs are.
Richard Walker 5:12
I already know I need you. I mean, the whole vendor management thing. Following up on warranty claims, I moved into a new house few years ago, that was a whole lot of work, and getting things done. Yeah, that's a ton of effort that goes into it. And it's just, you work all day, you don't really want to spend your time on that. And you have to do it in the middle of the day. Right? Yeah. So I'm curious, do people hire these assistants to come in for an hour a day, eight hours a day? How do you kind of structure it?
Kara McKeage 5:40
Yeah, I think it depends on the person's needs, but anywhere from like, 15 to 25 hours, as is the range. You can get somebody to come in for five hours a week and feel the impact for sure. But when you get more into the 15, 20 hour, it's more, the person's managing everything, and it's off your plate, you're not directing them, they've gotten to know you, they know when the filters need to be changed, and the dog needs to go to the bed and all of those kinds of things.
Richard Walker 6:17
Yeah, so the way I'm going to relate to this is we just enrolled our two-year-old into daycare in today's first day. So suddenly, there's like four hours during the day that my wife can now go to her medical clinic and do things that she's doing to launch her business. And there's this time freedom that you're getting. So I think it's really clear that how you're helping your customers win has given them their time back. Yeah. And that challenge of just trying to keep up with it. All? Right. So let's switch this over to customer experience then, having somebody enter your house is challenging, right? So how do you ensure it's a great experience for your customers?
Kara McKeage 6:53
Yeah, that definitely is the hardest part, it's very vulnerable for people to invite somebody they don't know into their home. So that's an important part, you know, of what we do, doing the background check. And we do typically like three interviews, lots of different eyes on it to get different perspectives, and really starts in the very beginning of talking to the client. And we have very specific questions that we asked to make sure we get the right fit and understand their needs. And then the getting started, once the person is hired, and they're in the home, we have a whole process to make sure that it's easy to get started, and the communication and all of those things. So a lot of support there in the very beginning, the first 90 days are super important. With feedback and communication, make sure everybody is on track for a long-term relationship.
Richard Walker 8:01
Okay, so do some of these assistance then manage multiple households on a weekly basis? They're going back and forth.
Kara McKeage 8:08
Yeah, typically, most of the people that are in this role are looking for part-time, a lot of times, they're moms, and so they're looking kind of for the mom hours between nine and two, so it works out well for them just to have one client while they're balancing their family life and everything too. So it's, it's one of those win-win-wins. But I always look for in life, where everybody's happy and getting their needs met.
Richard Walker 8:08
Okay, so I'm curious, do you have a specific process in which your assistants go through to conform to a certain type of outcome or experience? Because I can imagine a different households manage things differently? I'm, like, my family's allergic to milk don't have any milk products. So can't cook with any milk products, that kind of stuff? How do you build that with this team that's highly specialized to their client?
Kara McKeage 9:03
Yeah. So we have something we call the peppers way. 11 years in business, we've learned a lot. And so there's certain things that are going to be the same for every client, communication being one of the biggest. So we do a lot of training on communication to make sure that it's clear, concise, our clients are busy, it's like, let's get to the point. The other thing we've created as a household guide, so things like a milk allergy that would be in there highlighted, there's milk allergy in the home. Everybody knows it and you don't have to repeat it is kind of the point of the household guide. We add things in there as we go along. Whether it's how somebody likes their shirts folded or their favorite brand of coffee, or all of those things, just to really get it in there with vendors and stuff we track, who the vet is, I don't have all the contact info in there. And it just makes it super easy in that onboarding process to get to know the client and make their life easier, so they're not having to repeat things.
Richard Walker 10:18
Yeah. So smoothing out that process is a big part of what makes you unique and special in your value proposition. So if somebody comes to you, they're no, they're gonna get a high-quality experience. How do you measure success? Is it the long-term relationship? Is it repeat business? How do you guys look at it internally?
Kara McKeage 10:35
Yeah, I mean, I think it's feedback from the client is really our most important we love, just this morning, I saw in Slack, one of our clients was just like gushing about, you know, thanking their PA for helping them get ready for a dinner party last night, and what a huge success that was. So when we see those things were like, we know we're providing value, and that just feels really great for everybody, but definitely long-term successes is good too, we want that always helps. And just having one personal assistant, obviously, there's a lot of value in that if you're not having to train somebody else, so that we really focus on retaining the PA is I'm making sure that we're putting everybody in a place where they want to stay and are happy. And an employee fight.
Richard Walker 11:42
So I know that you're based in Seattle, but you can place people nationwide, how do you ensure that success was somebody who's remote from you, you don't get to interact with them personally up front and go to their clients household? How do you manage those types of skills?
Kara McKeage 11:57
Yeah, so, the beginning part is really when the success happens. So we help with that getting started and the training of the PA, like I said, the communication really is the most important value. So we have a lot of communication of like, this is how you send a message with bullet points with action items, that sort of thing, and then training the client that, feedback is a gift, if you want to get to that place in 90 days, where you really have the freedom to do the things you want to do. You have to give feedback, right? You have to have check-ins with your PA, weekly just to make sure they don't have any questions and they're not blocked on anything, a 15-minute meeting can make a huge difference in the long-term relationship we found. So, we highly encourage that. So yeah, I think we give like all the tools at the beginning to help people be successful. And then, obviously, we're available if they run into a problem and need to kind of chat through something or need some advice on how to handle any roadblocks along the way.
Richard Walker 13:16
Kara, communication is one of my favorite topics. Because I feel as humans, we're always learning how to communicate better, at least we have that opportunity throughout my entire life. And I heard you say something that you teach them how to write bullet points and how to structure their communication.
Kara McKeage 13:31
Yeah, yeah, it's important because, if somebody is in your home for five to eight hours and a day, you probably have a lot of updates, right to tell them, here's what I got done. Here's some vendors that I met with, if I need you to reply so that I can get back to them before we lose, you know, this bid or you know, things like that. So it can be quite a lengthy message. And so using bullet points, you know, saying at the top, here's the action items of what I need from you, and then the rest is just kind of FYI. Right? So it's been very effective training the PA has to do that. Otherwise, it's just kind of this big long blurb where the person is overwhelmed, looking at it. So like, why do you need?
Richard Walker 14:25
I really hope that everybody watching or listening is taking notes on this because I get emails from people. And it's this long thing, and I don't want to read it. I just don't, it's too much. And so I tend to write emails with short, little snippets, lots of whitespace bold headings, and action items in the first part of the email. So if I want them to schedule a meeting, I might say yes, we can do that. Please schedule a meeting and then I'll write more information, further description or details, and then I'll write out more below it because I really think about communications in our form. So you're teaching them how to do this, you're helping them improve their lives beyond their work with you, which is incredible.
Kara McKeage 14:25
Yeah, yeah, it makes a huge difference.
Richard Walker 14:28
So let's switch gears a little bit, then one of my favorite topics is AI. So are you using AI in this process in any way I read to help communicate?
Kara McKeage 15:19
Yeah, um, I have used AI, like, in messages just to kind of check, like, put something and then, like, help me improve this kind of thing. But it's funny, because I, I'm a tech person I love new apps and all the new things, I'm always checking those out. And so when chatGPT came out, I think around December, but it was like one of those where I heard about it. And then the next day, I heard about it again, and again, and again. And so I went and checked it out and tried to get my team on board. And they were just kind of rolling their eyes like Kara, oh, again, another new thing for us to learn. And so it's kind of an internal joke with the management team. They're like, anytime I bring up chat, GPT, but there's some great ways that Pepper's uses that to for clients, like doing meal plans, or we had a client who had a lot of food allergies, and a certain kind of diet, and it's like, you can just plug in, like, give me some recipes for these parameters, and then give me a shopping list. And it seems like a ton of time, which is always great, too. So there's a lot of, I'm always kind of paying attention to like, ooh, what else can we do with this?
Richard Walker 16:45
I love that attitude, I love that you're looking at it from that perspective, because I would wonder if you save your personal assistant time in a household, if they could save an hour, does that save the client an hour of not paying? Are you losing money in a way?
Kara McKeage 17:00
No, because I think there's always plenty to do, right. So I don't think it's gonna, it's just we're allowed to provide more value to the client, right, we can add on more tasks to do for them. I love saving time, we also have like, a vendor list we've been building for 11 years. And that saves a ton of time, because that's where our PAs go first to that list to find like a dry cleaner all the different things that we've already vetted them. And we've had great experiences. And so they're not doing an hour of research, they're doing 10 minutes of looking at our vendor guide and calling those three people. So we're all about like, efficiency and saving time so that we can provide more like right way to do it.
Richard Walker 17:54
No, again, I love that mindset, because it's not a scarcity mentality. I think a lot of people have AI in their crosshairs is this going to create scarcity for them, like they'll have less work I can do for my clients, less billable work, or I can sell less product. I mean, think about my business and forms. If AI can help people fill out forms, they still need me. If they don't ever have to fill out a form, they still need me. I'm all about it. If you can eliminate forms and your business do it, congratulations, like do it. But I also know the truth. The truth is that it's really easy to create a form and somebody is going to create another form for another reason, because it's the way you start. And it's a graduation process. And now AI is at the top of that food chain and not everybody's getting to that top. Or they can't they just can't. Yeah. So I think it's really admirable that you're looking at that. Do you find that your clients have any kind of expectation of you using certain tools?
Kara McKeage 18:48
no, it's interesting, because we started using Slack back in, I think, 2017 or 18. And nobody had heard of it. And that was a super hard transition for both employees and clients where they're just so resistant to it. And it's fun now, and 2023 people are like, oh, yeah, I use Slack at work, totally fine. But it's such a great tool. I think, yeah, there's not a whole lot of tools, like some people use Trello or ClickUp, or I forget the name of the other one that's similar to that. And so we try to get them to use our tools because that's what our PAs are trained on. Occasionally, we get somebody who's like, No, I don't want to change. This is what I use every day. And we're like, okay, we're gonna need your help to train the VA. So, it's a much better experience if they're using our tools, but work that way.
Richard Walker 19:55
So I don't know if I'll give you an idea because maybe your personal assistants already do this, but one my favorite uses of chatGPT is to write children's stories with my kids names that are on adventures that they would love and be entertained by.
Kara McKeage 20:08
That's amazing. I love that.
Richard Walker 20:11
Maybe your PAs can take the kids in their household and say, hey, I loved your story to read for them for bedtime.
Kara McKeage 20:17
I'm going to tell them about that. I will post that idea in Slack for sure. The one thing that I love, too, about our PAs is they become a part of the family, and so like, there was one time it was the, I think she was around six years old, it was her birthday, and the PA set up like a tea party with all her animals in her room when she came home from school. And so it was just really fun. Like the client was thrilled with that kind of stuff. So that's a great idea. Definitely.
Richard Walker 20:48
Oh, that's awesome. Do you do anything special to onboard a client? Do you treat them special in some way? I don't know, gift basket or just anything? Or is it just everybody's treated the same throughout the process? Just curious.
Kara McKeage 21:01
Yeah, we don't do anything like that, we send a handwritten thank you letter, it's kind of our special thing, most of our clients are high net worth, and they don't really want, it's hard to find something that they need or would enjoy that they wouldn't get themselves. So in the past, we've done some things, but occasionally we'll send flowers or something, if we know, they like flowers to celebrate something or.
Richard Walker 21:33
I mean, I like the idea of gifts, but I find the same thing you have like, it doesn't always work. When people send me stuff, it's very nice that they thought of me, but I didn't need formal popcorn. It's like, it's nice, but I didn't need it. And so I also think that the service you're providing is the gift, right? If they get value out of your service, that is what they care about. So the focus is on how fast can I get you the value of what we actually provide? How long does it take to get a personal assistant onboarded into a client's household to actually perform work that provides value?
Kara McKeage 22:08
Yeah, it depends obviously, on location and hours, and all of that. But I think typically, it takes anywhere from three to six weeks of us recruiting and all of that, and then about a week of training time and getting them in the home. And first 30 days are always a little, it's like you feel relief, but you're still putting in quite a bit of time and energy. So I like to remind people, it's an investment the more you put in, in the beginning, the quicker you're gonna get that. I like the 20/80 rule, right, like in the beginning, you're putting in 80% of your time to get 20% back then that flips, usually around the 90 day mark, when everybody's kind of integrative and really is understanding the household and the needs and preferences.
Richard Walker 23:07
Yeah, Kara, I want to asked you kind of a maybe a challenging question. And I don't want you to say anything that you're uncomfortable saying per se. But one of the things that I think about with personal assistant services, when do I make enough money to be able to afford that? And how do I budget for such a thing? And what does that mean to me tax-wise? So what is the stage at which somebody says, I can afford this? I'm ready to do this, I want to add this person into my life.
Kara McKeage 23:32
Yeah, I think it's a different answer for different people, it's kind of what you value. Some people are really great at outsourcing and seeing the value of like, if I can pay somebody $50 an hour and I'm making 100 like, it's worth it. Some people may not, may have that kind of scarcity of like, ooh, and it depends on where you are in your life and investments and all of that kind of stuff. But I think figuring out what you can afford depends on where you live, but it can be quite affordable to hire a household assistant, 20 to $30 an hour in some locations, up to probably 65 or so for somebody that's more of like a household manager in a bigger city. And if you're just doing like 10, 15, 20 hours a week, it definitely, when you think about the time you're buying back and the things that you're able to do because somebody else is doing all the little things that you're either not good at or don't want to be spending your time doing it can be a really huge value.
Richard Walker 24:59
Yeah, that's a really, really important point because it is about what you value. My father-in-law makes a lot of money can afford to fly first class anytime he wants but will not. He doesn't value it. But he'll go spend $10,000 at the roulette wheel. Like, he makes up for that. Right? Yeah. I can relate. Yeah, no, that's fascinating. And I think it's helpful for our audience to kind of think about that is like, where do you value your time, etc. So, one other question I have about this, and we'll kind of wrap up here is that, do business owners get to run this through their business and write it off? Or is it always like, some other expense?
Kara McKeage 25:41
Yeah, I would say talk to your CPA about that. I do personally, hopefully, IRS, say, because it is for me, like it helps me grow and build my business. But I don't want to get bad.
Richard Walker 26:01
Look, I mean, we work from home these days, right? And I need to spend more time in my business. So can I only hire somebody who does business stuff? I don't know what that is, buy me supplies go to my ups drop off? Or can I have them do household things that alleviate stress for me? I have a motorhome and had to follow up on service for it. So I mean, that's half an hour of phone calls in a week to get that done. That's a half hour I lost. Right? I would prefer to write it off. So if you have customers doing that, I mean, that's a good enough answer. If customers can do that, and if it's the right fit for them, and they have approval with their advisors, obviously.
Kara McKeage 26:38
Yeah, I'm like, if you have a CPA, ask them.
Richard Walker 26:42
For sure. Like, this is awesome. As we wrap this up, I have another question for you. But before I go there, what's the best way for people to find you and connect with you?
Kara McKeage 26:53
Yeah, so our website is paseattle.com. And all of our links are on there to connect with us. And then on LinkedIn, it's a great place to connect. I really love connecting with people on there and cheering them on. And I've tried to provide value things for people to enjoy on my page as well. So and it's just under my name Kara McKeage.
Richard Walker 27:21
Cool. So that's PA as in personal assistant, so paseattle. But if you type in Pepper's Personal Assistant, you come up very, very fast. Yeah. Awesome. Okay. So here's my last question, who has had the biggest impact on your leadership style, or how you approach your role?
Kara McKeage 27:40
Yeah, so about five years into business, I realized I need to, like make this a real business, not just a side hustle. And so I joined like a mastermind coaching group. It was through business checks. And so Shelly Warren was one of the coaches, and she just was really great at teaching me to be direct with people, I always had that kind of wanting to be nice syndrome. And so she was really great at kind of showing like, its kind to be direct to people and to give them that feedback. And I think that not only helped me as a leader, but it's helped me coach our clients that we need that feedback, even the little things, you know, people want to do a good job, and they want to support their clients. And so they want to know what's going to make their life better. And so I think it's just had a ripple effect through my employees and my clients, which has been really great.
Richard Walker 28:51
I love that. I'm so glad I asked this question, because you're also talking about a communication skill, the ability to be direct. One of the things I like to tell people is, it's very, very hard to offend me. Assume you're trying to offend me, even if you say something that comes out that way. And if you are offending me, we have a different problem, right? You don't like me, you're trying to hurt me or something. So therefore, I can take the feedback, give me the direct feedback, let's have a real conversation about what needs to be improved. I imagine a lot of the clients we serve are of that mindset as well. They got successful by being direct and getting things done, and that's what they want from you. Yeah, definitely. Wow, well, this has been a fun conversation. I want to say a big thank you to Kara McKeage, founder and CEO of Pepper's Personal Assistants for being on this episode of The Customer Wins. Go check out Kara's website at paseattle.com. And don't forget to check out Quik! at quikforms.com where we make processing forms easy. I hope you've enjoyed this discussion, will click the like button, share this with someone and maybe even subscribe to our channels for future episodes of The Customer Wins. Thank you for joining me today Kara.
Kara McKeage 30:01
Thanks for having me Rich, Was a lot of fun.
Thanks for listening to The Customer Wins podcast. We'll see you again next time and be sure to click subscribe to get future episodes.