The other night I was at a small networking dinner event in Vancouver.
As we were doing round the table problem solving, one of the other entrepreneurs commented about how much time she spends every evening keeping up with her email.
I turned to her and said…
I haven’t handled my own email in twelve years.
Needless to say, the look I received was one of shock, mixed with a little bit of excitement and a good dose of puzzlement.
I got the feeling that even the concept of ‘not handling’ your email was foreign, something that had never been contemplated as a possibility before.
I haven’t been in charge of my own inbox for so long now that I forgot how much of a time-suck it can be, especially for new solo entrepreneurs.
Most people I speak to coordinate many of their work tasks via email, whether that is communicating with clients and contractors, reacting to notifications from online services you subscribe to, and keeping track of sales and invoices.
Even with fantastic communication tools like Slack and project management tools like Asana, email is still a big part of everyday work.
Maybe email is not the center of your workflow, but I bet it still feels like a perpetually growing pile that you can never quite keep up with.
I’ve had a look inside the inbox of some of my friends and been shocked to see that they operate with several hundred to even several THOUSAND emails sitting in their inbox, and that’s just ‘normal’ for them. Even just thinking about that makes me feel stressed.
Twelve years ago I found myself in a situation I had worked towards for years.
I was talking to my university friend Angela, explaining what she would have to do when she took over the email inbox of my editing company.
We had agreed to a test run. I’d pay her $15 an hour to look after my business email account, which she could do from home. This was important to her because she was just about to give birth to her first child, so she wanted a flexible job.
From my point of view, this was the final step in fully automating my business. I didn’t actually see it as a way to get away from doing emails, we just happened to use email for all the day-to-day operations of my business.
After a few weeks of training passed, Angela was confident enough to handle 99% of the emails that came through.
I remember waking up one day shortly after this, turning on my computer, and out of habit loading up the email inbox.
It was empty.
For a moment I was worried that something was wrong, but then I realized, Angela had processed all the emails already before I had woken up.
I felt a little lost. It was like I had just fired myself from my day job and I didn’t know what to do with my time.
It’s interesting to think back on this moment because if it wasn’t for creating so much time freedom, thanks in large part to hiring Angela to handle my email, I wouldn’t have had the time to devote to blogging.
From the first day Angela took over my email, right up to today as I write this, I have had a person or a team of people handle my emails.
Whether it was my editing business all those years ago or my current blogging business, I’ve had other people working towards inbox zero for me every day.
Over the years how we handle the inbox has evolved. For all my companies, we’ve always used email as the core customer support and sales tool. Many times we have trialled switching over to support desk software, but each time we returned back to a simple shared email account because it just works best for us.
To be clear, I haven’t completely stopped using email. There are still messages that I personally attend to, and I like to stay updated with my industry by reading over the various newsletters I subscribe to from other online marketers. I also maintain a personal email for non-business matters and friends and family.
What I currently do is batch process my messages. I sit down once every week, sometimes every two weeks, and reply to the messages that need my personal attention, and scan over newsletters and notifications — the messages that do not need a reply.
However, because I have my client care team handle the bulk of incoming email, including the most urgent messages from potential or current customers, I have a relaxed relationship with email. There is no urgency to get in there every day because I know my team are there as the first line of defence.
I suspect you are feeling excited about the possibility of handing over your email inbox to someone else to look after for you.
I believe the first person you should hire to help you when you start a new online business is a tech person. The second person, in my opinion, is someone to handle your email.
(I’ve just given you two of the best productivity tips you will ever hear, so take heed!)
Next, I’d like to help you make the transition. Here’s my advice on how to bring on board someone else to handle your email…
Let me start with the obvious — you need to hire someone competent to take over your email.
When I hired Angela I knew she was smart, a good communicator, able to learn new skills quickly, and could work independently without supervision. In more recent years, when we hire new client care members, we carefully assess communication skills through a testing process designed to weed out people who don’t have the right abilities and awareness for the job.
I have a guide on how we hire people in my company that comes with membership into my Laptop Lifestyle Academy. If hiring is your weak point, join us and download the guide.
You’re handing over the keys to your car when you give someone your email inbox, so you want to make sure they know how to drive, can figure out how to use all the functions quickly, and don’t need to be constantly watched to make sure they don’t take a wrong turn.
A virtual assistant could make a good email manager, but you have to make sure their communication – especially written communication – is up to par. Yes, you can save money hiring someone overseas who only charges $5 USD an hour, but if English is their second language, there’s a good chance they’re not going to have the communication ability to really do the job well.
You need someone who can learn about your business, your products, your processes and your brand, and then synthesise that information when communicating with your audience. If your business is like mine, email is one of the key contact points for potential sales. Who you hire to handle email will directly impact how much revenue your business brings in.
When Google first released Gmail, we were quick to adopt it in my business.
Gmail is great because of the powerful spam filter, but what made a big difference all those years ago were folders (or labels as Google calls them), which we still rely on today. Gmail being on the cloud also helps, because anyone on my team can log into the same account from anywhere in the world, with everything updated in real time.
With my editing business, Angela and I set up a folder system to track the progress of jobs. New editing projects come in via email, which were assigned to one of our contract editors (each editor had a folder), then returned to clients when complete. We used folders in Gmail to track this process, so we always knew what state a job was in, and had a record of all communication related to that project stored in the one email thread.
We also set up a folder for me. Angela placed messages that I needed to reply to, or at least see, in my folder. This was great because I could ignore all other emails.
Today I still have a ‘Yaro’ folder (label), but we also added a second folder for me called ‘No Reply’. The ‘No Reply’ folder is for all the newsletters and notifications that I scan through, but do not require a reply. They are to review and delete only, and I know that I can do this anytime, there is no urgency.
The ‘Yaro’ folder contains messages that my team place there that I need to personally reply to. This is the folder I batch process responses once every week or two.
My team also maintain other folders, one for each person so they can keep track of the threads they are working on, folders for urgent customer queries, supporting Laptop Lifestyle Academy members and managing the recruitment process when we hire new team members.
We also have filters setup to make sure important emails always go straight to the inbox and are not sent to the spam folder by mistake, and to push newsletters and notifications straight into the ‘No Reply’ folder so my team don’t have to waste time manually filtering those.
As I write this, we have four team members work in the same Gmail inbox every day. They are located around the world so we can offer speedy replies across the full 24-hour window, which is important given I have customers from all around the world.
One of the things I love about handing over email to other people is it forces you to create systems.
When you first hire an email manager I suggest you give them this task –
A) Tell them to log into your inbox every day and read over how you reply to emails
This initial training experience lets them see live examples of what you receive in your inbox and learn how you reply to these messages. This gives them a taste of what they have to deal with every day, what is the correct response and your communication style.
After a few days doing this, once you both feel comfortable, you can move on to the next step…
B) Instruct your new email manager to start replying to emails they feel confident enough to reply to
Your email manager should be able to quickly take over replying to basic emails, common questions and filtering messages to folders, like a ‘No Reply’ folder for system notifications and newsletters.
This is a great opportunity to create new folders as you realize a need for them. Make sure you tell your email manager to come up with their own ideas for new folders — they should feel empowered to better organize your inbox without you telling them to. Just don’t go too crazy with folder creation, I find fewer heavily used folders is better than lots of folders you rarely use.
At this point, you should monitor how your new email manager replies to make sure they are not making errors and you like their style. Ideally, they won’t screw up replying to basic emails, but if they do, it’s better that it happens early on before they move on to mission critical emails like customer sales and support.
You will find out quickly if you have hired the wrong person for the job. If they struggle to reply to basic messages and/or their written communication is not up to standard, it will be obvious from just reading over their first few replies. If that happens, tell them the trial training period is over, they are not the right person for this job and then go back to searching for the right person.
C) Create template email replies and training videos
Assuming the basic emails are handled well, you can begin handing over responsibility for all email replies/filtering to your new email manager.
At this point, it will quickly become apparent that there are certain procedures you have in place that you do automatically in response to emails, that need to be documented so your new email manager can replicate the process.
For example, you might have an onboarding process for new customers triggered when a new sale email comes in. Or you might have a process for handling an invoice from a contractor or working with a certain software tool.
It will be easy to spot these situations because your email manager will ask you — “How do I handle this email?”.
When that happens you have an opportunity to do one or both of the following…
These templates and training resources will come in very handy in the future as your team grows. These are your first ‘systems’, processes that anyone can replicate that govern how your business operates.
If you’ve ever wondered how to create a business that runs without you, and a business you can one day sell, these sorts of systems are a big part of meeting these goals.
Coming from experience, I know what you’re probably thinking right now…
You’re going to sigh, and say to yourself that you’re busy enough just running your business, let alone adding more work just to document all the work that you do!
I felt the same, but I have to tell you, I found the feeling of having to teach people the same thing over and over again more annoying! If I create a training video, I can show it to each new recruit we hire so the training process becomes more autonomous.
One thing to also remember, you can teach your email manager how to do something, then you can ask them to create a training video or article to document how to do what they just learned how to do. That way you’re new email manager is not only handling email, they are creating systems in your business that you will be able to refer to for years to come as you hire new people.
I hope this brief overview of how I have spent the past twelve years free of email pressure has inspired you to take the leap and hire an email manager.
It’s very easy to test this idea. Email, while certainly an important part of an online business, is not crazy-complex. I know you can find someone and begin a trial run within a week.
You might be surprised how simple this transition is to make and laugh at yourself for waiting so long to do it. You will also be surprised by how much of a difference it can make to your day-to-day life. This could lead to a big breakthrough, freeing you up to focus on rapid business growth.
At the very least, hiring an email manager will give you a taste of freedom. You will see how bringing on board someone else — even just for an hour or two per day — can drastically reduce your stress and unlock some much needed time.
Talk to you soon,