That red blob perpetually affixed to the Gmail app’s icon, with the white numbers superimposed on it ever-multiplying, can mean different things to different people. To the suburban, stay-at-home mom, it is nothing noteworthy, just another quirk of the modern world. To the caffeine-dependent undergrad, it is a cause for annoyance, a persistent reminder of all the useless newsletters they’re too lazy to unsubscribe from. To the workaholic businessperson, it represents opportunity, be that the opportunity to explore novel commercial prospects or the opportunity to drudge through the same old auto-generated emails for the rest of the day.
Compared to any other field of human endeavour, email plays perhaps the greatest role in business. 90% of all contemporary companies rely on email as their chief method of communication, with virtually all formal business correspondence nowadays written, sent, and read through that same service. It is therefore no surprise that many disgruntled executives are, according to a 2013 study by McKinsey and Co., “online junkies” who spend 38% of their time on email and voicemail. That percentage may very well have grown to 80 or 90% as the “New Normal” economy has established itself over the past two years.
However important communication might be to the operations of a business, it is still just one cog among many, many other cogs in the machine, and should thus not be the sole focus. If you’re spending more of your time on emailing clients and associates back-and-forth than you are on actually fulfilling your responsibilities to them, then there’s a serious problem with how you’re running things. Whether you’re already at that point or just anxious that you’re on the way there, it’s probably best to consider calling upon the services of a virtual assistant for your emailing needs.
There are three things you need to take into account when weighing up the necessity of a virtual assistant in this case: current workload, personal capacity, and privacy. We’ve already discussed the first earlier above, but it bears repeating to avoid any regrets down the line. When you say that half your time is spent talking rather than doing, it doesn’t really say anything about how many people you’re talking to or how important your correspondence with them is. Maybe that half-day you’re stressing about is spent on emailing the same five people over and over again, either because you find quick composition difficult or the discussions just happen to be overly drawn out. In any case, be it a you problem or a they problem, you should size things up first to see if timely changes can be made without resorting to hiring from without. Whether this involves cutting your losses with certain people or improving your workflow is up to you.
This leads us to our second point: personal capacity. If you think that you can handle this particular aspect of business, then good on you. But again, you should appraise your own abilities and limits carefully before committing yourself to a course of action. We’ve all had those nights when we’ve grossly underestimated the size and scope of a project, only to have our hubris be punished with sleeplessness and headache. And we’ve all said the same thing after such struggles: “Never again.” Then less than a week later, we’re back slouched over our desks cramming a paper well into the midnight. Unhealthy, yes, but the consequences of overdue homework in college are far, far less severe than are those of burning yourself out in business. Remember, you’re not Superman; you can get sick, fatigued, and depressed from work just like the rest of us.
Assuming that you are inundated with emails and unable to sufficiently deal with all of them, there’s still the question of if you’re actually comfortable with having another person reading your business correspondence. The foremost worry, of course, is that sensitive particulars might end up in the wrong hands. However, this is only a big risk if you take in independent or freelance, and thus unaccountable, virtual assistants under your wing. With legitimate companies like us here at OkayRelax, virtual assistants are bound to respect the privacy of their clients under threat of legal repercussions. Nevertheless, there might still be some sense of discomfort involved in having a completely separate individual speak on your behalf. But think of it like this: taking the drudgery out of emailing by leaving the repetitive bits to your virtual assistant not only allows you time to work on and grow your business, but also allows you to focus on those emails that are genuinely important and of higher priority.
Entrusting your Gmail to your virtual assistant
When it comes to what service you’ll actually be using for emailing, there’s really no contesting Gmail. It’s probably what you’re already using anyway. And if by some miracle you’ve never ever sent an email in your life, or are returning from a protracted stretch of email abstinence, there’s also no reason to go with anything but Gmail. For one, it won’t bring you any complications with regard to compatibility with other emails or anything of the sort, as almost everybody uses it—1.5 billion people monthly, in fact. Secondly, it’s plainly far easier to give your virtual assistant access to your account from Gmail than anywhere else. Hereunder are the few steps you need to follow to start delegating your emailing to your virtual assistant:
- Go to Settings > Accounts
- Keep scrolling until reaching “Grant access to your account”
- Click on “Add another account”
- Enter in your assistant’s email account, then click “Next Step”
- Click on “Send email to grant access”
- Have your virtual assistant accept the email invitation sent to them.
Now comes the exciting part: briefing your virtual assistant about what it is exactly that you want them to do for you. If you simply want your inbox cleared and for that unrelenting red blob to disappear for good, then you can:
- instruct them to unsubscribe your account from redundant or spammy newsletters and the like (mind you, this would require that they be signed into your account itself);
- provide them pre-written messages or templates for them to reply to generic enquiries with, with the caveat that noteworthy emails be left to your discretion;
- have them clear out unimportant messages or outright spam that managed to get through the system; and so on and so forth.
If you’re dealing with a nasty case of inefficient customer service, then you’ll be best off making a separate email account for that, something along the lines of [email protected]. You can also create multiple accounts for specific fields like admin and sales if need be. In the event that you’re met with an incessant bombardment of emails from your customers, then you can go the extra mile and have many virtual assistants in different time zones to keep up with the stream of correspondence. And even if you’re not constantly under siege by such emails, it may also be in your interest to answer questions and concerns from your clients swiftly and appropriately. A good impression goes a long way towards setting your business up for success.
Staying in the loop is still important even in a hands-off situation. You can keep yourself apprised of your business’ communications in many ways. The most practical choice would just be to have your virtual assistant BCC you, but this potentially exposes you to the same problem you intended to rectify, that is to say, being flooded with unneeded emails. To mitigate this, you may ask your virtual assistant to BCC only the most vital and urgent emails to you. What counts as “vital” or “urgent” is on you. Another way to keep in touch would be to simply have your virtual assistant draft replies and then send those to you for review, revision, and ultimately, sending. This brings with it more work for you, of course, but it’s great if you really want to be 100% sure that you or your business aren’t being misrepresented in any way whatsoever.
Delegating your correspondence to an assistant doesn’t automatically solve all your anxieties and struggles surrounding emails. There are still some steps you can take outside of that to relieve your stress and focus on your other work obligations. These include:
- turning off your Gmail notifications—it’s email, not iMessage;
- starting to actually use those functions you’ve long ignored, like the search bar, which lets you get to specific emails quickly without having to scroll lengthily through your inbox;
- keeping your correspondence concise—there’s no need to be long-winded and verbose;
- having your virtual assistant learn from your writing style, mannerisms, and tone in past correspondence; and many more.
Although at first getting a virtual assistant for your emails might seem daunting and uncomfortable, trust us when we say that not only will you get used to it quicker than you expect, but that it’ll give you an unprecedented amount of free time to work on your business and yourself at once.