Correspondence: How to Safeguard Your Valuable Time

Stuck in Time

How many times have I sat down to reply to a client’s or a future client’s email and ended up spending an hour carefully crafting a response, off the clock? Lots of times. So many times. Somehow, because of my own indiscretion, I’ve just spent a boatload of unbillable time giving my talent for free. There are strategies to safeguard that time though. Here are a few I’ve come to put into action.

The BIG GOAL: reduce the amount of “touches” (times you have to email someone) and the length of those compositions while increasing the amount of satisfaction or support your customer needs/wants.

Set autoresponders on your business email account, even when you’re not on vacation.

An automated response that clearly defines when someone should hear back from you and what you hope to see when you come back to your inbox is sometimes a breath of relief for your client. It also sets boundaries for your working relationship with them. Win win. Something like this:

“Hi there, thanks so much for reaching out. I get a lot of correspondence and always try to promptly answer emails within 24 hours. Please be sure to let me know what you need and how I can help.” Something like that. Maybe giving a couple of suggestions of how they can solve their own problems would be good, especially if you tend to get similar requests sometimes. (Canceled appointments, I can’t find this or that resource on your website, how can I pay you, that kind of thing.)

This is a fantastic option for people whose jobs aren’t to sit in front of a computer. If you’re an instructor, trainer, sea captain, landscaper, restauranteur… this will work wonders for you.

Want me to help you write and brand one? Email me.

Always relay terms of turnaround time first when responding to a request.

Perfect to avoid, “How’s it going?” type emails that can crowd your inbox in between committing to some work and the time when you’re going to finish a deliverable. Give yourself plenty of time. This is that grand old “under promise, over deliver” paradigm I really like to employ. Give yourself some time to get things done and explicitly relay what you plan to deliver and when you plan to deliver it.

Use gmail? Have “canned responses” ready for frequently asked questions.

Canned Responses is found under "Labs" in "Settings" on gmail.

Canned Responses is found under “Labs” in “Settings” on gmail.

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Enable “Canned Responses” in “Labs.”

What are your rates? What is your philosophy of teaching? What services do you offer? I need to cancel our appointment, how do I reschedule? If you find you’re writing the same thing over and over again, or want a template for something (student evaluation, rate quote, thank you note), create a canned response for it.

You can always drop the canned response in, add their name and an opening sentence that sounds more personal, but there’s no need for you to be lovingly composing your shop’s hours or your billing policies over and over again.

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Now when you compose an email, “Canned Responses” is an option in the menu on the lower right corner.

In gmail, go to “Settings” and click on “Labs.” Enable Canned Responses and be sure to click “Save Changes” up above the list of Labs. Now when you go to compose an email, click the down arrow menu button next to the delete button in the compose screen, and you’ve got the ability to set new Canned Responses.

There are lots of other great tools in the labs too. Check them out.

 

 

Use filters or segregate emails into different email accounts for work and pleasure. 

You know the scenario: you’re out for cocktails, waiting for a bus, or making some dinner and casually look at your phone, finding a work email that takes your attention from what you’re doing. That’s your time! Thus opens a slow leak of unbilled time accumulating in a few minutes here and a few minutes there. I know it feels like you’re being helpful and productive, especially when you’re first starting out as a business, but this has far-reaching, negative ripples. Normally, whatever you were doing doesn’t get done and the email you write is hurried. Then, there you are emailing during your vacation, your evening, or your fun times and the expectation of your clients and customers is going to shift to a dark place where you appear to be available any old time. See two suggestions down. We deal with this.

Set a 200 word limit on responses.

Brevity is the soul of wit, and it’s also the savior of time and sanity. You can say pretty much everything you need to say with fewer words. Give it a try. Compose your responses in a word processing program away from the browser that counts words for you.

Set an amount of time each day for dealing with correspondence.

One hour, two hours- some reasonably-set amount of time at whichever time of day is convenient for writing back to people via all your channels (email, facebook, etc). Resolve to check your email during that time and then maybe one other time later in the day to be sure everything is buttoned. Also, outside of that time, close your email when you’re not using it, especially if you’re job isn’t primarily to correspond with people.

 

Have some tips and tools you’ve tried that I don’t mention here? I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

Search Up #vatip for Some Good Suggestions

A few tweets from the end of February, examples of #vatip posts.

A few tweets from the end of February, examples of #vatip posts.

Whether you’re swamped with your work and could use some administrative help or if you’ve ever just wondered what in the heck virtual administrative assistants even DO, Twitter has some answers for you.

Search for the hashtag #vatip, and virtual assistants all over the place are sharing what their skills are, what they’re doing for their current clients, ideas that have popped up while working on various projects, or things they wish they were doing more of.

When looking for a VA, you might want to consider a few important things.

Not all VAs are equal.

Sometimes the work that needs doing is something that also requires a bit of savvy or previous experience, something that needs some decision-making or creative problem solving. Maybe it’s a regular task you’d like streamlined while it’s done, and at the end you’d like a document that outlines a new standard operating procedure that any person could pick up and use to duplicate the process. Other tasks involve handling sensitive information, like company passwords, email addresses, or customer information. For these, of course you can get references and have your VA sign a non-disclosure agreement- but you should work with someone you really enjoy working with. Someone you can trust. I don’t totally want to dis cheap international VA firms, but having one person on some of these tasks is best for all those reasons you can imagine.

If you’re one of these people, you probably need a VA.

Creatives, sole proprietors, non-computer savvy people who work with their hands, artists… I’ve worked for all these sorts of people. In every case, they were amazing at what they were doing, but really needed someone to nail down systems or to help with their growth.

For example: an artist is great at painting. Then there are all these paintings. Assembling a statement with examples of recent works and sending that document along with a well-made press packet to a wishlist of galleries in other cities, thus landing new gallery shows and beefing up their resume, would be a great thing. The artist continues to paint, the VA takes on that press packet task. No struggling to find the time or to learn how to make a pretty press packet. Come up with a budget, hire a VA with previous experience who understands a bit about how galleries work. Done.

Know what you want, but be ready for advice, too.

Most times I’m working WITH rather than FOR my clients. As a person augmenting your passionate pursuits, virtual assistants have a unique perspective. I often have ideas for ways to expand, things to cut, and ways to streamline. I’ll have edits I want to make to documents or websites or I have things I think they don’t need to spend energy on anymore. I often find myself gently offering advice to my clients that saves them time, money, and hassle. In fact, beyond the tasks themselves, I see this as my chief mission as a consultant. I’m not here to be obedient. I’m here to make a positive impact.

Hiring a coach? Maybe you need a virtual admin.

This one is pretty self-explanatory, considering that last paragraph. If you’re feeling chaotic or like you’re running in circles, maybe you just need someone to take a look at HOW you’re working and actually do some of the legwork to make it better. Having a coach tell you what you maybe might need to do is all well and good. If you’re in the weeds or trying to get bigger, you need more hands. More brains would be awesome too, right?

How about you?

I have more thoughts about how admins could help you. Costs nothing to chat with me and discuss some ideas. An email back and forth with me could change how you think about your work and about the value another brain, another set of eyes, and another attitude along with you in your endeavors.