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My top tips for managing your Inbox

Hi and welcome to my new blog.  This month I’m focusing on emails and specifically how to manage email and your inbox.  Do you have a method for managing your emails or are they overflowing, disorganised and stressing you out?  Are you able to respond quickly and easily to emails or do you feel overwhelmed and emails frequently slip through the net and un-actioned?

What happens if we don’t organise our inbox?

So what happens if you don’t respond to an email from a client?  If you don’t respond quickly, you can guarantee your customer will contact one of your competitors and will quite simply take their business elsewhere.  You haven’t just lost one customer you’ve also damaged your reputation. 

If you share access to an inbox it’s even more imperative that you have a system in place for dealing with emails.  You need to know who has dealt with what and what needs responding too otherwise you will be either duplicating work or losing customers hand over fist!

A structured inbox

Having a structure or plan of how you deal with your emails allows you to simply spend less time in your inbox and more time on activities that will earn you money, grow your business or allow you to simply spend less time working. 

Merlin Mann (a productivity expert) in 2007 devised “Inbox Zero”, a method for organising our inboxes and increasing productivity.  The link to the talk is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z9UjeTMb3Yk .  This method focuses on categorising and responding your emails as follows:

  1. Delete: delete all unnecessary emails that you don’t need to respond to;
  2. Delegate: if your email requires input from someone else before you can respond, delegate immediately.  Don’t sit on it, action it immediately so that it can be worked on and responded to ASAP;
  3. Respond: if you have everything you need to respond to an email.  Do it immediately! Try and touch your email once i.e. you read it, you respond.  You don’t save it for later, you just deal with it and file/delete it;
  4. Defer: this is for emails where that aren’t urgent or require immediate processing.  Defer them for later but decide when you will deal with it and be strict (so it doesn’t get forgotten) and/or set a reminder; and
  5. Do: anything that you can do to clear the email quickly (in around 20 minutes) you should just do and clear off your “to do” list.

This system might not work for you but it’s advisable to have a structure in place to process your emails so that you can spend less time managing your inbox and more time doing what you do best!

My top tips for email organisation

With all the above in mind, I have created a few tips to help you manage your emails/inbox:

  1. Set boundaries
  2. Touch an email only once
  3. Create a structure: organise and categorise
  4. Use templates
  5. Unsubscribe – reduce the amount of emails that you receive each day

Set Boundaries and Time Limits

Instead of constantly checking your emails, getting distracted by incoming email notifications and responding haphazardly, set times where you will check your emails and deal with them.  Try check and respond to emails just 3 times a day for around 20-30 minutes only: once in the morning; once at lunchtime and once before you finish in the afternoon (or whatever schedule works for you).

It can be very easy to get distracted by incoming emails so turn off those notifications and give your whole attention to the task you are undertaking. 

This will help you work proactively and intentionally, giving each task your undivided attention but not letting your emails run your day.

Touch your Email Once

Where at all possible, touch your email once.   By that I mean if you have everything you need in order to respond – do it immediately, don’t put it off – JFDI, “Just F**king Do It” (apologies for the potty mouth but what are you waiting for?).

Organise or Categorise your Emails

If you don’t want to use Merlin’s Inbox Zero method, devise your own method which works for you but do it and stick to it so that if you were hit by a bus it would be immediately obvious to anyone what you had and hadn’t dealt with.  Have as many categories as you want/need but be strict and process your emails according to your rules.

I speed read emails and categorise them according to my system. I then apply my filter and work through the emails responding accordingly.

Templates

Do you have to send the same response regularly – why not create a template?  Instead of typing out the same response time and time again, why not create email templates which you can use and plug in the necessary information.

Or you could create a structure or ideal timeline as to how your sales process will go and how you will respond.  For example:  Your (potential) customer will contact you, you will respond with an email about their query (email template x), you will respond to their request (email template y) and follow up after the sale/task (email z).  This cuts down the time it takes to deal with customer queries but also creates a standard for customer service for your company. Win: Win

Unsubscribe

A useful method for cutting down the time you spend dealing with emails is to reduce the amount of emails received.

Have you signed up to a newsletter or mailing list?  Do you actually READ the emails received or do they just sit in your inbox?  If you have received two emails from the same sender and not opened them, chances are you aren’t going to open them at all.  If so, unsubscribe and reduce the volume of emails received.

Conclusion

Merlin was more of a bin it and move on kind of man, whereas I like to read and file all my emails so I have the information at my fingertips.  For example: I have many folders structuring my inbox and once I have dealt with an email, I file it accordingly.  

If you are finding that you are spending too much time in your inbox, you have 1,000,000 emails in but can’t find the one you need, why not get the help of a virtual assistant?  Getting help with your inbox is one of the toughest things to delegate as you might have personal emails mixed in with business but if you’re really struggling with your inbox you have two options: you can either filter personal emails to a personal account or just let you’re your VA deal with the emails warts and all. 

The one thing that I can guarantee is that once you start working with a VA to help clear your inbox and deal with your emails you will have more time to spend on other activities.  Your inbox will be checked at regular intervals, set responses will be sent and your email will be categorised and filed (using a system that works for you) so that you can hit the ground running when you open your inbox allowing you to deal with your emails quickly and efficiently.

If you’d like to find put more about my email management service or have any queries please email me at gemma@bournesvirtual.co.uk.

I look forward to catching you up next month.

Gemma

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Our three top tips to help you spend less time in the office

First of all, Happy New Year!  I hope this year brings you peace, success and happiness.

The start of a new year is a great time to make some resolutions to take stock, evaluate how things are going and make some changes.  Most people’s resolutions tend to focus on losing weight, exercising more and saving money/spending money etc, but do you do the same with your business?  Do you spend time over the Christmas break (or at any time of the year) to evaluate what worked and what didn’t and make changes?

I’m no expert in conducting formal business reviews, but if you want to spend less time in the office, working evenings and weekends doing business admin and more time with your family or working on your business and growing it, I can help.   Here are my 3 top tips for reviewing your admin processes to help you spend less time doing admin and ultimately make your business more streamlined and more profitable.

1. Review your processes from start to finish

Look at the processes in your business.  Map out what happens when your customer first makes contact, what is your reaction to that contact and the process from start to finish.  What would an ideal transaction look like?

What is your ideal response to every eventuality?  For example, if something should go wrong.  What is your complaints procedure? 

Create a company handbook with templates, so that for every event you have a policy/procedure and template to work from and give your customer everything they need and help them with their next steps (even if it doesn’t involve you). 

For example: if you provide residential building surveys.  Do you have a list of recommended solicitors, estate agents, moving companies, builders, decorators etc?  You can gain cross referrals whilst providing your client with everything they will need to move house and beyond.

Make your process as simple and as easy as possible for you and your client.

2. Outsource areas which aren’t your expertise

Do you spend hours two-finger typing, working on spreadsheets or creating email campaigns?  Are you an expert in these areas? If you aren’t, chances are you are spending a lot more time doing a task which it would take an expert a quarter of the time to complete.  Business owners have to wear many hats but there comes a time when we as business owners need to realise that our time costs money.  Time is finite, utilise it wisely.

If you have an hourly rate, look at how long it takes you to complete a task and compare it to the cost for getting a task completed by an expert.  What could you do in that time? Could you be out getting attracting more customers instead?  If you do something like social media or Facebook ads yourself – do you know how successful your efforts are?   Chances are your efforts wont be as successful as an expert in this area.

Letting go can be difficult but chances are once you do, you will wonder why you didn’t do it earlier.

3. Automate repetitive tasks

Automation means using technology to operate or control a process without human intervention or input from an operator. For example, Calendly is free appointment scheduling software which allows you to make appointments and add them to your diary without human interaction. 

There is so much automation technology such as chat bots, Zapier, IFTTT etc out there just identify your repetitive task and no doubt there’s automation software out there to help you!

Conclusion

As business owners we need to ensure that we are continually reviewing processes to ensure that we are spending our time and energy wisely.

If you would like to find out how a Virtual Assistant can help you streamline your business and processes or have any queries please get in contact today.

I look forward to catching up with you next month.

Best wishes

Gemma

XxX

Dictation and Transcription Explained

What is dictation and transcription

Dictation is defined as “the action of dictating words to be typed up, written down or recorded”.  Historically, a professional such as a doctor or lawyer would dictate correspondence or reports to their secretary in their office and their secretary would record this in “short-hand” (an abbreviated symbolic writing system) which would allow them to type what was said on their typewriter/PC.

Transcription on the other hand is a “written record”.  This is less of a formal written document rather than a written record of what happened, not just what was said but all noises including background noises. 

There are two types of transcription: strict verbatim and intelligent verbatim:

Strict Verbatim: includes all utterances (such as coughs, laughter), fillers, repeated words, non-standard language (such as ain’t) and background noises.  This written record should be a true reflection of the recording. 

Intelligent Verbatim: this is just a record of what was said but excludes repeated words, fillers (such as “you know”) and background noises.

You might use strict verbatim if you were analysing a focus group, an interview or coaching session if for example you were interested in how things were said not just what was said.  However intelligent verbatim might be used to record board minutes or a podcast when you are more interested in what was said.

How is it done?

As technology has developed, how dictation and transcription is recorded has changed.  Whilst minute taking is still a valuable skill to have there is no need for a PA to be present when dictating as things have gone digital. 

Whilst big companies may use specialist dictation equipment, no special equipment is required to record your sound files.  In fact, most phones have apps that can record sound files.  iPhones have the “Voice Memos” app and there are many voice recorders apps for Android phones in the Google Play Store.  There are even Olympus Dictation even do their own app which is compatible with their transcription hardware.

Online video conferencing can also be used to record sound files for example, Zoom video conferencing has an option (even on the free version) to record the sound file.

There are even apps/software and websites that utilise voice recognition software to convert sound files to text.  Whilst voice recognition software works and accuracy levels are increasing as the technology develops it can’t always cope with accents or poor sound files.  It also doesn’t format text into a document so it may not be suitable for every type of transcription/dictation.

So why dictate?

Quite simply dictating should save you massive amounts of time (if you do it properly).  One source puts it as 7 times as fast as typing yourself. Dictating should allow you to concentrate on the content which you are writing about rather than the act of typing.  You should also spend less time formatting as your dictation will be formatted as per your instructions as it is typed.

What can I dictate or get transcribed?

Quite simply you can dictate or transcribe any sound file you want written down or read.  Below are a few examples of what dictation and transcription can be used for:

  • letters, emails, newsletters or any type of correspondence;
  • documents, reports, presentations, power point slides etc;
  • site notes/inventories: instead of trying to decipher your handwritten notes, dictate on the go;
  • instructions: dictation isn’t just for typing.  You can also use it to give instructions too.  Imagine driving from one meeting to the other and being able to record your instructions for follow up whilst you are travelling.  How much time would that save?
  • market research/research: recording focus groups or interviews for analysis;
  • counselling and coaching sessions can be recorded or analysed at a later date and passed onto the coachee after the session;
  • recording business or employment meetings;
  • if you use videos/podcasts for your social media or online courses/training.  You can add subtitles (and tags) to videos or provide a written transcript of the video/podcast to ensure that it is accessible to everyone. 
  • Similarly you can use repurpose your content.  You can change a podcast into a newsletter or blog.

Conclusion

Quite frankly there are loads of ways to use dictation or transcription to help you save time (and effort) for your business. 

I am an experienced and accurate typist who can turn complete dictations and transcriptions quickly and easily with competitive rates.  Don’t just take my word for it check out my testimonials.

If you would like to know more or have files for dictation or transcription please get in contact today.

I look forward to catching you up next month.

Gemma

XxX

What is Virtual Assistant?

So what is a virtual assistant?

Whenever I go networking or people ask me what do, I tell them that I’m a virtual assistant (or a “VA”).  Nine out of ten times I get a blank look.  No-one knows.  So what exactly is a virtual assistant?

Whilst I use the title virtual assistant, it’s more of a way or working rather than a job title. Virtual assistants are self-employed people who assist businesses from a remote location i.e. not in the office/in person (although some do offer In House support). 

So what do they actually do?  Well, virtual assistants can help with a variety of tasks from specialist tech tasks such as building websites and SEO, to appointment scheduling and email management to running personal errands!  There are many types of virtual assistants:

  1. Tech VA’s who might specialise in building websites, SEO, branding etc;
  2. Social media managers who help businesses with their social media, creating advertising campaigns and email marketing;
  3. Accounts VA’s who specialist in providing bookkeeping/accounts administration support; and
  4. PA/EA types who specialise in providing PA support such as email/diary management, minute taking, document production, organising travel and are general admin ninjas;

This list isn’t conclusive but merely shows that some virtual assistants are experts in particular fields whereas others are general admin ninja’s.  The skillset varies massively and no virtual assistants are the same.  I attend a local networking meeting for virtual assistants and there isn’t a lot of cross-over or overlap with skills. 

So virtual assistants are all singing, all dancing saviours of the day, but how do you know whether the virtual assistant you want to use is any good?  There isn’t any regulation at this time, but there are a few things quality virtual assistants (whatever their specialism) will have in common.

  • They are insured.  They have appropriate professional indemnity/public liability in place.
  • Registered with ICO – you can request a copy of their certificate.
  • They follow GDPR good practice.
  • They use contracts/terms of business and have appropriate policies in place.
  • If they work with accounts administration they are registered with HMRC for AML supervision.
  • Should they ever get hit by a bus, you should be able to know exactly where they left off and have full access to all the systems they help you with.

VIP VA are setting standards for virtual assistants and I am proud to be an accredited member.  This means that I adhere to the highest of standards and gives my clients peace of mind that they are in safe hand and I’m a professional.

If you are looking for a Virtual Assistant to support you, make sure you look out for the accredited VA badge from VIPVA on your VA’s website, or alternatively, ask for proof that they have the above systems/registrations etc in place to ensure you and your clients are looked after properly and professionally.

I specialise in traditional VA/PA support which means that I can help with document production,  email/diary management, raising invoices, accounts administration etc.  If I’m ever asked to undertake work that doesn’t fit within my specialism my accreditation with VIP VA means that I have access to experts in every field and I can help you source the right individual for you and your business.

If you’d like to find put more about virtual assistants or have any queries please email me at gemma@bournesvirtual.co.uk.

I look forward to catching you up next month.

Gemma

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