Interview – Emma Mills
Interview with Emma Mills, the Founder of Mi-Pa. She’s a productivity expert and on her quest for world domination to release Entrepreneurs from the work they shouldn’t be doing. (She’s recently fallen for Tony Robins – Or is that Tony Robinson?)
Transcript (Click To Open)
Pieter: I’m here with Emma, a productivity expert and founder of Mi PA. For those of you who are watching the video rather than just listening on the podcast, you will see Ralph, the office dog, is also with us. Ralph probably wants more credit than just the office dog, doesn’t he?
Emma: Yes he does, yeah? Chief exec.
Pieter: As we are on the podcast, our aim is help people to build better businesses. I thought it’d be really good to get you on because that’s very much what you guys do and what you do at Mi PA. Why don’t you explain to people a bit better about what it is you do and how you can help them to build a better business?
Emma: Thanks, Pieter. I mean, initially how we help them is I think the first step is people understanding and realizing the value of their time. The typical let’s say smaller business entrepreneurial mindset is, “I will do it all myself.” I mean, I was there when I first started my business and I was a freelance PA. You end up wearing lots of different hats, so I think the first thing to understand is actually the value of your time and what becomes a task that you need to delegate and what becomes a task that you keep hold of. Really interesting the other day that apparently the average MD salary in the UK, £70,000, which is … What does that face mean?
Pieter: That’s a bit lower than I thought it would be.
Emma: Lower? Is it?
Pieter: Yeah. I suppose when … It’s because most people who run their own small businesses don’t describe themselves as MDs, and therefore, if I’m thinking of an MD, you immediately think corporate, working in the city, loads of cash.
Emma: Yeah. Whereas the majority of businesses in the UK are under the kind of 200,000 mark, aren’t they?
Emma: And obviously the £70,000 … When you break it down to an hourly rate, and if you’re wanting to achieve that salary, it’s £140 an hour.
Emma: Really interesting if you use that benchmark, what you should be doing. So obviously the tasks like diary management or expenses or admin or lots of things you can all of a sudden see that if you actually are equating your time to £140 an hour, lots of things you shouldn’t be doing. That’s where we first initially help our clients. It’s about them understanding … And it’s part, I suppose, of the entrepreneurial journey. You get to understand and appreciate the value of your own time. That’s part of it, and then in my businesses at Mi PA and MI-Call, ultimately, we take away and help you to delegate those tasks that are not a best use of your time. That are ultimately either stopping your business from growing, or stopping you from having the lifestyle freedom that you want. Because it’s either people get completely trodden down with working late just to keep plates spinning, and …
I mean, I found it personally as well. The biggest quantum leaps I’ve had in my business is when I’ve started to delegate. So for me, it’s either when I’ve brought on staff, or like in September 2015. That’s when I actually got rid of all client work, so I stopped delivering completely, and September 2015 to now is definitely like the biggest … Like it’s tangible to see the difference, in that I was able to run and grow my business, as opposed to doing actual technical, which is what I see most entrepreneurs and business owners end up doing.
Pieter: How did you make that leap? ‘Cause I think lots of people are really scared of … I mean, we all have … I think it’s Chris Ducker who calls it “superhero syndrome”, where it’s, “I can do everything.”
Pieter: And it’s not the case, but then it’s also, “Well, how do I trust someone else to do it?”
Emma: Definitely. I was having … [inaudible 00:03:45] the other day actually, really great quote when he said, “Rome wasn’t built in a day, and it wasn’t built by one person.” It was built by a team of people all who had their own expertise to do it. In terms of my journey with it, mine was like a hybrid of outsourcing to freelancers, sub-contractors, different parts of the business, whether it was book-keeping, chasing invoices, expenses, parts of admin for myself and employed staff. I think in terms of that superhero syndrome, where you think you are the only person that can do everything … The secret behind it all is a process. Most things are able to have a process, a clear brief behind them. As long as you have that … Most people … Where delegation goes wrong is they will offload something, and there’s a lot of like, crystal ball, like assuming you know. So if I ask for some research and somebody doesn’t present it the spreadsheet with the column headings that I was expecting, and images … Nine times out of 10, the brief isn’t clear, or the process behind it isn’t clear.
That’s one of the things we strive to do now when a client works with us as well, and wants to delegate tasks down, we in fact actually have a team member dedicated to it now. Somebody who is ultimately writing processes for our clients and for ourselves, ’cause that’s the biggest thing. Entrepreneurs try and offload things without clear goalposts, without a clear brief.
Pieter: Yeah. But I think I always try … And I don’t mean this in a horrible way at all, but I always try and look at it … Well, I have a four- and a six-year-old daughter. Now if I were trying to get them to do something, how would I have to describe for them to do it? And it has to be very detailed step-by-step. There’s no way I can just say to them, “Well, go and do this.” There are very few things at this point that I can say to them, “Go and do this.” Even to the point of … You say, “Go and tidy your room.” Doesn’t work. If you go and stand next to them and say, “Pick that up. Put that in the bin. Put that in the wash,” it all gets done.
Pieter: And it is … If you write the processes from a perspective of getting a six-year-old to do it, then you’ll probably get quite far, because we do … We hold so much in our heads as business owners, and then when we delegate, we think, “Well, didn’t you know that? Surely you can think like I do?”
Emma: Oh, my God, that is it. That is the problem most business owners … They want to have a team around them that are like them. Obviously that has its own downsides in itself, but, they have this automatic thing. “Well, why can’t you get it just like I do?” But your business wouldn’t function if you had a group of people round you like yourself who were all just kind of doing it in their way. The process is the key to everything.
Pieter: I think my business would be quite violent if it was a group … If I was surrounded by more versions of myself. I’m not sure it would work very well.
But I think most business owners are like that. It’s when you realize, well, actually what you need is not more of yourselves. You need people to either just take things off your desk … And then, surprise, surprise, you find people who can actually do it better than you, and you can get on with doing the stuff that you are uniquely equipped or qualified to do.
Emma: No, absolutely. So that’s the biggest process, because most of our client avatar is in the very beginning, they will have been used to doing everything themselves, and as their business grows, that’s what we’re there for. To help them through it. So ultimately, they understand they [inaudible 00:07:23] their time, and then when they do delegate tasks we are there to be able to suggest and help: “That isn’t a good use of your time; we can help with that.” With the PA support and with the call answering as well, you know … Like business owners still answering calls, getting distracted. It is bonkers, but I suppose most business owners go through that progression of not realizing the importance and getting there eventually. So we help them to get their time back, ultimately, so they can do with it what they want, as well.
Pieter: Yeah, ’cause I think just to be clear, it’s not that you’re suggesting these things don’t need to be done. In all businesses, there are things that have to be done, but it doesn’t mean the business owner or the key members of staff need to be doing them.
Emma: No, absolutely. If you want … The thing that’s one of the biggest pain points for a business owner … Most will have gone through it that you come to this point where it’s just so hard, because there are so many plates you were spinning, and it doesn’t have to be like that. The other thing that I go through with clients … There are so many ways to delegate things now, so not just to our type of service. There are other types of services in Asia, where they’re very good at doing very formulaic things. With our service it’s more about engagement and customer service levels. So there are lots of various ways to delegate as well.
Pieter: And it’s strange that we do it as business owners. So for instance, we’re having work done on the house at the moment, which is why I’m sat at the playroom with a skeleton and a toy kitchen in the background. We’ve had a new heating system installed. Now, because of what I used to do, I’ve got quite a good grasp of plumbing and heating and electrics and everything, but at no point did I think, “You know what, I’m going to watch a few videos on YouTube, and I’m going to replace the heating in my house,” because I understand that that is not a good use of my time. As business owners, we do that all the time. You don’t spend time servicing your own car. There’s so many things we are happy to delegate, and that’s in everyday life, but for some reason, when it gets to our business, we think, “No, I need to do everything. I couldn’t possibly get someone else to do it.”
Emma: And it’s so easy now. Personally, as well. Obviously you know that we’ve had [Infusionsoft 00:09:46] for a long time, and not, I would say, made the best use of it.
Emma: The form that I wanted creating internally used Upwork as a platform. Quick, brief description of what I needed. It was done literally 48 hours, with like a $40 fee. That kind of thing is amazing. Is it a good use of my time to understand the whole web form thing [inaudible 00:10:08]? No, probably not. For a one-off task, so much easier just to pay somebody $40.
Emma: Done. And that kind of thing, once you get your head around it, it’s so beautiful. Just like, “All right, I can get rid of that; he can do that,” and you just get people doing stuff for you.
Pieter: Yeah, and you can still choose to do the bits in your business that you enjoy doing.
Emma: Well, yeah.
Pieter: You don’t all of a sudden have to give up on all of it, because we all enjoy aspects of our business, but it’s realizing that even if you would like it to be, it can’t be just you, and it can’t be up to you. Otherwise, you’ve just got a job, and you work for a maniac. Or at least I do. You work for Ralph, and he seems really calm and well-behaved, so …
Emma: He has his moments.
Pieter: So no.
How do you make sure your own business with your own team … And I’ve known you a while now. The team has grown quite a lot. How do you make sure that your business is always getting better? Because with a lot of the work that we do for clients, I find a lot of the time people expect things to be finished, in the sense that they want to tick it off the box. “Well, I’ve done this.” Whereas when you’re growing a business, and when you’re running a business, it’s never finished. The business is never finished.
Emma: Oh yeah.
Pieter: What are you doing? How do you make sure that things are always getting better?
Emma: I think for me, there’s two main areas. One, is obviously our business provides B to B. We have customers who have various different services from us. I think one of the main ways, for us, is making sure that our customers can easily feed back, and that we have internal processes that the feedback is actioned on, is monitored. ‘Cause that is one of the biggest places, obviously, that a business can improve and grow. Because of the nature of what we do, as well, because it is so process-driven, and we help customers in lots of different ways, it is a great way for us to innovate and grow as well. Ultimately we’re always dealing with new pieces of software that our clients use. I think that customer feedback is a massive place for us as a business to continue to grow and keep striving.
Then the second part is obviously my own team. As you said, it’s grown considerably, and I have very much taken my own advice. I am taking myself out of it as much as I can daily to focus on being a key person of influence, the expert, the brand. With that I have, let’s say my management team underneath me, and with them, we almost have a cycle of … We’ll meet on a Monday, and in that we will discuss anything that’s … Things that have cropped up that are unexpected, but ultimately, that Monday meeting is about getting the list of things that need to be done, that need to be actioned, driven forwards in the business, and then we’ll have a catch-up on a Friday with a view to the stuff gets done, so, obviously everything that’s accountable gets done if we have specific deadlines. So Monday is about the meeting to understand what needs to be achieved in the business; new processes, things that have been flagged up that need improving. By Friday, “Okay, have they been done? If not, why have they not been done, and where are we up to with that?”
So much so like it’s … When I met you first a couple of years ago, remember in our [Mastermind 00:13:17] and you mentioned SweetProcess to me. I got it, and we used it a tiny bit, and a tiny bit. Now Amber, who’s in what I would call my management team, half of her role now is ultimately creating the processes, improving the processes, amending them, so she’s totally managing SweetProcess for all of us and for our customers. All of our customers’ processes are in there as well. So that role has grown in itself, but all of this comes from communication with my own team, basically.
So in terms of improving the business, again, one of the most important things is that we decide as a team what we’re going to do, and make sure that there is accountability around it so that it gets done.
It’s kind of like every week just ticking off the little things, bit by bit by bit, and all of a sudden … If I think of at Christmastime, when we had our planning meeting, where we are now in April … I can see that all of those little things, bit by bit, they start to form into something. All the marginal gains.
Pieter: Yeah, ’cause I think people, a lot of the time, get overwhelmed, and think, “Well, I’ve got all … All this needs sorting out.” Whereas actually, yes, perhaps all of that needs sorting out, but you have to start somewhere, and if you just start little bit by little bit, then things go on from there.
Emma: Definitely. I picked up on that from when I came to one of your workshops, where David was, and he was talking through all of the manual processes that the Scottish Shutter Company have now. It did stick out with me that day, when he said, “Please remember, we had nothing at one point, and started with one process, and now it’s growing into a whole bank.” That’s very much what is happening to us [inaudible 00:14:56] that as long as we keep going week by week, and agree what we all get done, and it does get done. We’re assuming [inaudible 00:15:02] and benefits internally.
You’re right. That overwhelm. My Mi TV last week was about … Overwhelm is one of the biggest paralyzers for people, because it can feel so much like, “What on earth is priority? What do I get done first?” Just the baby steps of action, and it starts to solve itself.
Pieter: Yeah. I mean, if I look at my kids again… Amélie’s now six years old. She can read; she can write; she’s pretty good at maths. She likes playing chess. Things like that. When she was three months old, we weren’t too concerned about her chess abilities. At that point, just having a meal was a result. Then you get … Then it’s walking, like, “Fine, great, just take two steps, fall on your face. Just take three steps.” But we soon forget that that’s the way things get done.
Pieter: It’s amazing how we forget that … For Mi PA, what are you focused on at the moment? What’s your big goals? What’s the big thing you’re working on?
Emma: I’ve been on the Dent course, the KPI course, and one of the outputs from that, again, obviously, being accountable for it, is the book. I’m trying to talk about it as much as possible publicly, so that accountability keeps driving me through it. I keep talking about having the book ready by the end of summer, which is my plan. So the book’s a big thing. I really want –
Pieter: Okay, end of summer is a bit too vague for me. Can you give me and all the listeners a date?
Emma: Yeah, I was using the end of August.
Pieter: End of August, okay.
Emma: I was using that as my deadline to get the draft done and ready to go to print.
Pieter: Okay, so that’s the 31st of August. Book will go to print. You heard it here.
Emma: Yeah, so the book’s a big thing. I just want to get it done.
For Mi PA … You’ve seen us grow over the past couple of years. There are 10 of us now. I feel like we’re getting to a really good place in terms of our foundations. One of the things I’m really focusing our attentions on internally is having a structure in place ready to scale, so to do some serious scale, ultimately. But they’re a team of 12, it was … We have a great client base, but ready to really scale the business with our different streams of services. So the PA support, the call answering, the social …
Pieter: Anyone who’s following you will be aware of your slight addiction to Amazon. One-click orders. I’m as guilty as you are of it. You buy books. The problem with social media and everything is I see you buy a book, and then I buy it. Then I get a new book, and you buy it, and we end up with more books than we can read.
Pieter: But over your journey in growing the business and what you’re trying to achieve at the moment, three books that you would recommend to any business owner?
Emma: My top three books are … And it did take me a while to get these refined. “The E Myth”, and I’m not just saying this, “The E Myth” is definitely the first book that I ever opened when it came to running a business, and when I was freelance on my own. It’s the first thing that did start to trigger in my mind … ‘Cause don’t forget, I was a freelance PA for four years, working from home, getting clients, trading time for money, doing everything. “The E Myth” was the first thing that triggered in my mind that I was the technician, and –
Pieter: Just out of interest, how long between reading it, thinking that, and actually doing something about it?
Emma: Quite a long time. I took on my first member of staff at the end … Summer 2011. I started my business 2008, so I read the book around 2009, so I took on my first member of staff in 2011. Even then, when I took them on, I was still doing … So actually, as I mentioned before, September 2015 is when I stopped doing client work and removed myself from being a technician of any description, so it was a good seven years in progress.
Pieter: Good for you. Make the change.
Emma: Yeah. I knew that I had to do it, and the seven years was about change, as well, and building the team around me, ’cause by the time 2015 came around it was six of us, so yeah. Then it was time to … I knew I had the capacity to go and run the business. So “E Myth” was a massive … That book has been with me the whole way through my entrepreneurial journey so far.
The other book that’s had a massive … Just ’cause I think it covers so much, and has a real direct effect on what we do, is “Oversubscribed”, by Daniel Priestley.
Emma: I just think the whole concept … People can spend so much time trying to become marketing experts, and lead generation, and trying to do everything themselves like that, when actually, the concepts Daniel has in that book of getting people queuing up to do business with you, are amazing, and I think should be taken on by most business owners.
Pieter: Yeah. I really enjoy … He’s much more of a strategic thinker. The advice he gives and everything … He doesn’t tell you how to go and do it, as in, “Buy this piece of software. Click here. Click there,” because I think he very much believes, “Well it doesn’t really matter. I don’t care what software you use. Just go and do this stuff and get it done.” I think that’s very powerful, because people do get so fixated on, “Well, do I use this bit of software, or that bit of software?”
Pieter: Especially now with the software where it’s a service model. You’re generally … You’re not tied in for more than 30 days. If you want the right thing, change. Go and get something else. Gone are the days of buying software for thousands of pounds, and then if it doesn’t quite do what … You’re stuck with it. I really like that, where it’s, “Just go and do stuff.”
Emma: Yeah. I love that, too. As I’ve started to be applying these things in my business directly, and with the Mi-TV and with spending a lot of time on my credibility and expertise … Yeah, it’s really starting to change the business, so I think that’s a great book.
So yeah, “E Myth”, “Oversubscribed”, and the other one I want to recommend … Actually there’s just like a few chapters which are so poignant for me, but Perry Marshall’s “80/20 Sales and Marketing”. Have you read that, Pieter?
Pieter: I have, indeed.
Emma: I think it’s a phenomenal book. It lends itself to the whole 80/20 Peter Drucker book the whole way through, and that’s an excellent book in itself. Perry really nails … In the middle section of it, he really nails the importance of outsourcing and delegating to earn the income that you really deserve and that you want to achieve. He really nails it, but very simply.
Pieter: Yeah. Yeah, yeah. That was on another episode. Stuart Carter, who is known as “the 80/20 guy”. He recommended that book as well, and we were talking about it.
Emma: Oh, really?
Pieter: What I really liked about it is … I’ve read “The 80/20 Principle” by Richard Koch a few years before this came out, and really liked the idea. Like you do with so many books, love the idea and then do nothing with it, because the next shiny object comes past.
Pieter: But what I liked about Perry’s book is that he very much showed you how you can actually do something with it. It was almost as if he took the principle, niched it, and said, “Well, this is … Yes, there’s this overlying principle, but this is how it works here,” and you can actually do something with it. One of my favorite lines in the book is where it says, “If you’re going to choose your market, you need to look for a bleeding neck.”
Pieter: Question, “Well, does the marketplace have a bleeding neck?” If they don’t, don’t serve it, because treatment is not optional when you have a bleeding neck. Now, there’s context around it, and everything, but it’s one of the phrases that’s just stuck with me about bleeding neck.
Emma: It is a fabulous book. That middle third, that starts to … It actually gets the reader to look, and examine what they’re doing with their time. We had client recently who signed up with us after he read the book. I created the productivity pad as well, which promotes [inaudible 00:23:08] and I created that off the back of it. One of my clients signed up because he … Oh yeah, that’s the exact part, yeah. He’d monitored his time from eight until six, when he left. One, he realized all the interruptions he had, but two, once he’d actually applied the hourly rates for stuff he was doing, he realized that most of his day equated to like a £100 day. There were lots of £10 tasks he was doing. Just after lunch, he’d spent half an hour crafting a sales letter, doing like a £1000 task. So that it was actually like only half an hour of his day that was the real, meaty, something that’s going grow his business, get him new customers.
It was after him doing this exercise … That’s when he rang me. We had loads of conversations, like, “No, I get it now. I’ve just spent the whole day doing rubbish.” Just keeping busy because it feels good. Not actually spending another half an hour on another sales letter, and following up leads. So it really just frames very well how most people sit at their desk and react to stuff that’s going on.
Pieter: Yeah. I know we’re primarily talking about business, and how all these things apply to business, but we all run our businesses because of the knock-on effect it had on the rest of our lives. Things like that, it’s … A lot of the time that I gain by not doing the stuff I don’t need to do … Not all of it goes back into the business. A bit like reinvesting profit. I don’t put all of it back into the business. Some of it goes to family time, or time for me on my own, where I can just go for a walk. For me, one of the main things is I’d like to go for a walk every day, ’cause I work from home. It’s quite nice around here. Lots of bridle paths and everything, so I can just go for an hour walk every day. Now, I don’t make any money in that hour. I don’t serve any customers in that hour, but I tend, more often than not, to do my best thinking in that hour, and get ideas in that hour. Therefore, actually, the knock-on benefit back to the business is enormous, from me actually leaving my desk and saying, “Well, for the next hour, I’m just going to go for a walk in a field.”
Emma: Right. Definitely. I think everybody forgets time is the most valuable thing that we have. Being able to make the decision about how you’re spending it … It’s so important in itself.
I’m just having a quick look, because Daniel Priestley had an Instagram post the other day … He ran a poll on Twitter, and it was, “Would you rather a business geared towards either lifestyle and freedom, or performance and valuation?” It was two thirds biased towards lifestyle and freedom. More and more, now, business owners are wanting their business to be able to deliver that too. Not necessarily, “Earning more, earning more,” but having the choice, the freedom of where I spend my time.
Pieter: Yeah. Then some of the crazy folk still elect to wake up at five in the morning.
Emma: First time in a long time I woke up at five this morning, only because Ralph woke me up. I’ve been a bit dubious of the whole 5:00 a.m. wake-up, ’cause I think some people are taking it to the extreme now. It’s like you see on Instagram, the 4:00 a.m. hustle club and the 3:00 a.m. hustle club.
Pieter: Yeah, but that’s because they haven’t come home from the bar from last night yet. It doesn’t mean they’ve only just got up and they’re being productive.
Emma: Implying they’re going to bed soon.
But it was actually pretty [inaudible 00:26:40]. I went into the office really early. Got loads of stuff done. That quiet time is really very nice.
Pieter: Yeah. It’s partly because I work from home I like to be at my desk at five. Then I stop at seven, because then I get to have breakfast with the kids.
Emma: Oh, nice.
Pieter: Get Sophie a cup of coffee, or whatever, and just … Then not really have to worry. It’s not like, “Oh, I need to get back to my desk,” or anything. See them off to school and take them to school a couple of days a week, or whatever, so it’s –
Emma: I suppose that’s the lifestyle freedom.
Pieter: Yeah, because for me there’s great value in being able to take my kids to school a couple of times a week, and I’m sure … On the one hand, I sit in the car, and I think the hour there … It takes me, generally, an hour there and back. I sit in the car seeing all the other people doing the school run, and just think, this must be the most unproductive hour in the country.
Pieter: If you think the GDP that’s lost that hour … But then I get to listen to music with the kids and talk to them, and so does everyone else, so there’s the upside for that.
Cool. Anything else you want to add before we go?
Emma: Only if anybody does want a productivity pad …
Pieter: Oh, yes.
Emma: They are super useful. I can post them out free, or there’s a download I can email over as well. I couldn’t keep printing it out. So if you want to pop my …
Pieter: I’ll put all your contact details and a link to that in the show notes.
Pieter: But in case anyone doesn’t get there, what’s the best way to get hold of you?
Emma: The best way is … I’ve actually, at the end of this week will have my own website live.
Emma: Great place to put queries through, which is emma-mills.co.uk. Then aside from that, Facebook is a great place to get hold of me.
Pieter: And Ralph.
Emma: Yes, and Ralph.
Pieter: I’ll put links to all of that, and I can attest the value of your productivity planner. It’s quite interesting; it’s worked two ways for me. On the one hand, it shows me the time that I need to get off my desk. The bits and pieces. On the other hand, it also means that my day is planned in advance. Since I’ve started using it, it’s such a simple thing. I just get so much more done, because I can actually see, “Well, now I need to do this. Now I need to do this.” I think, can’t remember whose law it is … It’s someone’s law, but it’s the same with a gas. A gas will always expand to fill the space available, and it’s the same with a task and time. If you allow two hours, it will take two hours.
Emma: Yeah, most definitely.
Pieter: And just plan –
Emma: I’ve been massively listening to Jim Rohn recently. One of his key lessons is you always start the day the night before. Plan it out. I do think that pad is really good for that.
Pieter: Yeah. I really like it, and I think everyone should have it.
Pieter: Cool. All right, well, thank you very much.
Emma: No, thanks for having me on, Pieter.
Pieter: No worries. We shall do it again in a while.
Emma: Cool. Look forward to it.
Pieter: See you there.
Emma: See you later.
Author: Pieter K de Villiers
Pieter K de Villiers is slightly obsessed with systems. The systems and process automation he builds for small businesses are transformative, to say the least. Pieter is a Co-Founder of Barefoot Digital and the Amazon best-selling author of “Barefoot Business: 3 key systems to attract more leads, win more sales and delight more customers without your business killing you”.