Over the years I’ve been able to watch my business and businesses of my clients grow leaps and bounds. And I’ve learned a thing or two about automating your business and finding ways to save time and save money.
As a small business owner it’s so easy to get caught up in the mentality that you have to wear every hat in your business in order to save money. In the beginning, that may be so. But as you begin to grow you’ll find that you end up making less money by trying to do it all on your own.
If you find that you have clients or customers that aren’t being attended to by the end of the day (and we’re talking real world 9-5 time here freelancers. Staying up to midnight at the cost of quality time with your family can’t possibly be the vision you set for your life when you decided to work for yourself!) If you do find that you end up leaving many things undone by the end of the day and don’t look forward to the morning… guess what? It’s time to hire help!
Consider [slider title="getting yourself a virtual assistant"]If you’re interested in finding a VA, I’m happy to give you some references personally. Or consider posting over on the FreelanceMom Forums. Another fantastic option is to post projects on elance. Elance is a place where business owners post projects and freelance professionals bid on the work. I’ve used elance from both ends – buyer and provider, and haven’t found a service that I like more than what they provide there. By the way, the freelancers who will bid on your work have portfolios for you to view as well as feedback from previous projects they have done. And it’s free for you to use – the freelancers pay a subscription to bid there, but buyers do not.[/slider] to begin with. What do you do on a daily basis that doesn’t require your most valuable skills and that someone else can handle for you? I’ll give you some examples that might really get you excited to take this step!
1. Imagine if you had a trustworthy personal assistant that you could direct your email to. We are all guilty of spending way too much time sorting through email. And you and I both know how many diversions await us in the midst of all the spam!
Instead, you either set up your email via the web, or have your assistant install Eudora on their computer to only handle your email. They go through your email as it comes in a few times a day and they forward to you what requires your attention.
During the first few weeks of this you’ll find that a lot of what comes in is really not something that necessarily requires your attention. So you email your assistant back with a ‘template’ reply. She sets up a template in Eudora that she can use to reply to any future request like this in the future.
The template alone saves you time. Even if you don’t hire an assistant – consider automating some of your replies in this way yourself. It’s so much easier than continually typing in the same answer all the time.
Having someone else go through your spam is going to be liberating. Set yourself up an email account that you won’t advertise on the web, so all the spam bots won’t easily find it. The mail that comes into this account from your assistant and from colleages and customers/clients that you give it out to will all be relevant emails that you must address.
How much would a service like this be worth to you? If you’re capable of making $50-$100 an hour in your business – then wouldn’t it be well worth it to pay a VA $10-$25 to handle your spam? If an hourly rate makes you uncomfortable talk with your assistant about a retainer. Lay out the services that you require and the amount you can comfortably afford and work with them to come up with a fair agreement. Make sure all expectations are clear and make sure they are following through on their end. Eventually you’ll find the exact right fit for you and having a VA will inspire you to take your business to much hire levels than you thought you’d ever have time for!
2. Does your business require a large amount of customer support? Especially if you are selling ebooks or any technical service like a sitebuilder to your customers then I bet you have had those phone calls with a single customer for a half hour. How much money did you lose? In the end what is that customer paying you? $25/month for your service? The support was necessary – but in the end the sale is a wash.
Imagine not taking those calls? A VA can handle your support for you. And skilled VA’s can help you to set up your business in such a way that you can eliminate much of the phone time necessary to handle customer support.
As your assistant becomes familiar with your business they can begin taking customer questions and compling them into an FAQ. On your support page it will be the first thing you offer to a customer. If they can do a quick search on their question and get a clear answer most of them would rather do that then pick up the telephone. In addition to the FAQ, you can set up a help desk system and a live chat. There are many open source solutions for this that are free – and other great solutions that don’t cost much money at all to get up and running. Now those cumbersome phone calls can be handled by a VA through the help desk efficiently with template replies set up to the majority of questions that would come through. A support request that used to take 30 minutes can suddenly take less than 5.
And remember – a VA doesn’t bill you like a secretary in a brick and mortar business would. They bill you for the time that they work. Not for the time they sit at their desk. The exception to this is Live Chat. You’ll want them to have the chat open but most of the time noboby will be requesting a chat. So this is a fuzzy area. The solution is to offer them a flat rate to handle the chat each week – together you’ll find a fair rate based on the amount of traffic your website gets.
3. Bookkeeping. VA’s often have a great deal of experience with it. You can get a Quick Books online account that they can use so that you can both access the data – or if you require a shopping cart then go with 1shoppingcart.com and a desktop version of Quickbooks that you can download your data into. No idea why you can’t do that with QuickBooks online — maybe it’s changed, but o my knowledge you can’t. If you want to use QuickBooks on your desktop – set up an account with GotoMyPC.com and give your VA access. At times you agree to they can access the computer and enter all the receipts, refunds, invoices etc. A huge time saver for you… you now have all that free time to dream up new products, make proposals, attend speaking engagements or any number of bigger picture items for your business.
You’ll be amazed at what can be taken off your plate. You can focus your energy on your mission statement again and take your business to higher, more efficient levels… and still have a personal life! This is called working smarter, not harder. Let me know how it goes!