5 steps to outsource your inbox to a virtual assistant
Every year in December I reflect back on my year and then I break open a Google Doc and I start writing lists.
I write lists about what went well in my online business, what I enjoyed working on, and what was time/money well spent. I also write lists about what didn’t go well in my business, failures *ahem - lessons learned* , what I hated working on, what felt hard, what I avoided because I just didn’t want to do it, what tasks and work added to my stress levels most, and what was time/money that felt wasted.
(You can see my whole process here if you’re curious)
Wanna know the #1 cause of stress, anxiety, procrastination and sucking up valuable work time?
I hated my inbox and I mean hated it!
It’s a battle you can never win. I’m all about checking things off a to do list and the satisfaction of making that ‘tick!’ mark. (Legit, if I do a task that wasn’t on my to do list, I put it on my to do list just to check it off.)
But no, no, no. You never really get that satisfaction with an inbox because the emails just keep coming. Every hour of every day. It’s a task that’s never ever done.
And it’s time consuminggg!
My fiance would get home from work around 1or 2 (he’s a teacher) and would ask, “So how was your day? What did you get done?”
My response? “Spent forever in my inbox and dealing with a bunch of small problems and then finally got around to the work I actually needed to do, but I feel like I haven’t accomplished anything important!”
I would sit down at my desk to get to work, would spend hours in my inbox, dealing with questions and issues and inquiries and the 50th million person asking “Hey, I wrote this article and I think it’d be really valuable for your readers. Can you put a link to this article into your blog posts please?”
… As you can maybe tell, my inbox really got to me. 😂
So as I looked at my reflection list for the year, there was one thing that became very clear to me, the second I hired a virtual assistant, the inbox really HAD to go!
Granted, knowing it had to go didn’t stop the long list of reasons why that “wasn’t possible” running around in my head.
“But, questions that come into the inbox are all different and a VA won’t know the answers. How would they know how to deal with my clients? What if they respond to emails in a way I wouldn’t? I want my customers to feel valued, so they need to hear from me!”
Well friend, there’s good news.
All of those things are lies. Yep, straight up lies.
They can all be overcome. And I’m going to show you how today!
Here’s how to outsource your inbox to a virtual assistant
Step 1. Write rules
I was right, my VA would be clueless on how to deal with certain issues in the inbox if I didn’t train her on it. So my list of rules was a starting point in that training.
In order to write these rules, I actually had to look into my inbox to see what types of questions/issues were ending up in there and then also back at my sent emails to see what responses I had been sending.
Then I could write this list of rules. So, here are my rules.
(Yes, you may absolutely feel free to use them if they apply to your business! But of course, your business is different from mine, so be sure to take the same steps I did to create rules around anything else needed in your business.)
Inbox 0 daily (no unread emails) is the goal! If something takes a day or two to complete and therefore needs to be left as unread, that's okay. We should aim to deal with any email within a couple days and not let them sit for a week. If we're really struggling with whatever the issue is the email has in it and can't complete it in a couple days, send the person a response letting them know we've heard them and are working away at the problem and we'll get back to them as soon as we have a solution.
Check the auto-response that is sent to all incoming emails (settings > vacation settings) to see what the timeline looks like of response expectation. (That's just business days, no need to respond to emails on the weekends.)
Write your email signature like so:
'Your first name' from the PB team
Any students needing help, do your very best to figure out the answer for them, normally this means researching the solution on Teachable's support page or if that doesn't figure it out, contact Teachable support, explain the students issue and get them to give you next steps. If it will take a while to figure out the problem, respond to the persons email to let them know we saw it and are working on it and will be back to them as quickly as we can with a solution. Be sure to make every student feel LOVED, appreciated, and acknowledged. We owe students the most kind, quick and helpful responses possible. Even if students are unhappy, want a refund, or something else negative, still knock their socks off with wow-worthy, super kind customer service.
If an email relates to guests on the podcast, be sure to update the podcast guest tracker (link to Google Sheet). (Eg. a guest schedules an interview time, a guest submits photos, a guest requests questions before the interview, a guest signs the release form)
If a podcast guest requests questions before the interview we'll get an email with the subject line 'Form Submission - Podcast guest requesting questions in advance' and in the email it'll say the guests name. Set Paige a task in Asana reminding her to send the guest questions 3 business days before whenever the guests scheduled interview date is. (In the Asana task, be sure to put in what the guests email address is.)
In the auto-response, it mentions that 'Emailing to say hi? Sharing thoughts on a blog? Want to pick Paige's brain? Have a Squarespace question? Something else? We're so grateful you took the time to write us, though at the moment the team's focus is on giving our best possible service to our dear clients and students. Rest assured that we've read your email though we're afraid as a teeny tiny team, we're unable to respond to every message.' Anything that falls under that category, don't feel like you need to respond, just mark it as read. If however they ask a question and we have a blog post answering it, send them a link to the blog post(s).
All emails that are related to making money or spending money need to be labeled with 'Income & Expenses' in case we get audited and need a paper trail.
If you don't know the response to an email, send a voice note over FB Messenger with a quick, short & sweet explanation of the question. I'll respond with an answer via a voice note or message via FB messenger, and then please send the answer by email to whoever the person is
Any email that does not have 'Hi Paige' or 'Hi Team Paige' and seems generic like it's being sent to a bunch of people by being copied & pasted doesn't need a response. Mark it as read and ignore it.
Any 'can I write on your blog' or 'can I guest post' emails should be a 'thank you, but we're not accepting guest posts at this time.'
Anyone asking if we can put a link to something into a blog post can be marked as read and ignored.
Any emails asking for advice or 'picking my brain' should be a 'sorry no,' if there's a blog post that answers their question however, please do link them to it.
Any appointment reminders can be ignored - as Acuity automatically adds the event to my calendar and Asana. If an event is cancelled however, it doesn't automatically get cancelled in my Asana, so please let me know so I can delete the Asana task.
Any emails inviting me to guest post, be on a podcast interview, or collaborate of some sort - judge how legit it is and then, assuming it's from a legit business/person, send me a voice note with the details and I'll let you know wether or not to accept it.
Anyone asking if I can do any Squarespace work, it's a no. Forward them to one of our preferred designers. (See tutorial, refer to designer friends)
Email notifications of comments on the blog can be marked as read, BUT if the comment is spam, from a robot or rude/mean/negative, go into Squarespace and delete & report spam on the comment.
Feel free to create more canned responses if it makes your life easier!
Feel free to set up any filters to make your life easier too!
If someone contacts us to let us know of an error or typo on the site/blog, thank them very much and head into Squarespace to fix it!
If someone sends a rude/mean email, delete it and don't tell me about it, they’re the biggest vibe-killer. Also, if the person is subscribed to the email list, delete them from it in ConvertKit.
If someone sends some sort of super sweet or really kind email, label it as 'kind words,' thank them kindly and tell them how much we appreciate them writing us and let them know you'll pass the email along so Paige can see it too.
Anything that falls outside these guidelines, use your best judgement - I trust you, if you're still unsure about what to do, let me know and I'll see what the best thing to do is
Step 2. Create tutorials & canned responses
You’ll notice in a few of the rules I mention a tutorial or canned response.
I also looked back in my inbox and noted down the similar emails I was always sending. I then created a canned response in Gmail for them.
Step 3. Write a brand voice guideline doc
If you’re worried that your VA’s email responses will sound odd or different from how your brand communicates, then write brand voice guidelines. In Ashlyn’s Copywriting for Creatives course we basically did this, so I used what I wrote there about how I speak, the words and phrases I use and the general vibe of my voice. (That’s an affiliate link btw!)
Step 4. Have potential virtual assistants write answers to real emails when hiring
If you haven’t hired your VA yet, that’s actually good news.
When I’m hiring someone who will be in the inbox, I give potential candidates real emails (with any personal details removed) and have them write a response to the email.
It became so so so so so clear to me the second I read the potential VA’s responses which I’d actually feel okay with going out under my brand name.
Most VA candidates moved mountains to figure out a response to the question or issue and just genuinely responded in a super kind manner. One VA candidate basically told the “student” who was emailing to figure out the issue themself. 😂 Not ideal as it’s the VA’s job, not the students, to solve problems.
Step 5. Give access to any programs & softwares needed
For us, a lot of the emails we’re getting back to are related to students in my courses. And if a student is having an issue paying or needing to change their card, or they can’t find something in one of the courses, my VA gets the email and she needs to be able to solve the problem.
(If she gets the email, but I actually need to solve the problem I’m not really getting out of my inbox, she’s not freeing up my time and our response and solving problem time will just be slower as the information goes from one person to the other and back again.)
So what I’m basically saying is you need to think through all the potential issues and questions that come into your inbox, and determine which softwares and programs your VA will need access to in order to fix those problems.
We use 1Password so I can share logins to our different programs with whichever member of the team needs it.
So be sure to sign up to some sort of password keeping software and then create your VA an account with it so they can easily login to any programs needed and actually take inbox-related problems off your plate.
Bonus Step 6: Celebrate your new freedom, and then after you’re done celebrating your liberation from your inbox, go spend that time on something that actually moves the needle in your business.