Today’s post is from Rachel Severns, an alum of 30 Days or Less to Virtual Assistant Success.
Rachel stops by the blog to share an experience doing virtual assistant email management for a client. No biggie, right? But what if I told you that client had over 20k emails that needed to be sorted/filed/processed?
The type-A in me just can’t believe it! 😉
But Rachel wasn’t scurred. Take it away Rachel and tell us how you managed that enormous feat!
When I learned of a potential client who was looking for a virtual assistant to clean up their inbox and manage their email I thought, “Oh goodie, just the service I’ve been wanting to break into!”
But when I was hired and given credentials to said email account I paled at the 20,000 +/- emails that needed “cleaned up” and thought, “Oh no, what do I do now?!”
One month, 20 hours and 20,000 emails later we achieved inbox zero and have maintained it ever since!
Want to know how I did it? Awesome, take a walk with me and let me show you just how I achieved inbox zero for my client.
The First Steps
First and foremost, begin by setting appropriate expectations for your client and yourself.
This will be a fluid process in the short term, so pace yourself. It’s important to get to know each other, your client’s business and what will work for both of you long-term.
Once you get your client’s login credentials, login to see what kind of situation you are dealing with. My client uses Gmail (which is pretty common), so giving me access to her account was simple. Look around and get familiar with what, where and how much work you have to deal with.
Check out their inbox, labels (or folders) and sub labels. Note specific problem areas or things you know you can improve upon. For example, my client had dozens of labels and sub labels – no wonder she couldn’t find anything! I could see right away that we needed to consolidate.
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The next thing you should do is to conduct a Skype call. On the call you will be able to set a few things in motion.
First, I suggest using Trello to have a place you can keep track of questions or concerns that come up and documenting SOPs. This allows you and your client to batch task as well. Set it up ahead of time and invite your client to the board in the beginning of your call.
Next, organization rule #1 is eliminate! Right off the bat I decided to get a list of what could go. This will look different for each client – maybe they want to keep everything from a certain date forward or maybe they prefer to eliminate by category.
For my client it was all consumer emails, newsletters, monthly airline frequent flyer statements, bank statements, Groupon, OpenTable, etc.
Remember, since each of these types of emails come from an account your client has set up with that specific company, they can reference those accounts rather than keeping emails. Get permission first, but I highly recommend unsubscribing from these sorts of email to cut down on junk email later.
In my client’s case, I quickly realized we would need a separate archive place. The inbox was full and there were dozens of labels and sub labels.
Each had lots (as in thousands) of emails they wanted to keep. Since my client uses Google Suite they chose to create an archive@(company name) email account within Google Suite.
In the archive place of choice, I set up labels for the categories they wanted to save:
Decide how far back your client wants to keep emails in archive. Is it one year? Three years? Five? In each label I created sub labels for each year. So all Receipts from 2016 went into the sub label for that year under the Receipts label. Make sense?
- –>Receipts 2017
- –>Receipts 2016
- –>Receipts 2015
Are you still with me? This is fun, right?!
Moving Emails to Their New Home
Now it’s time for the big move!
After deleting emails, whittling down labels and organizing a little, move all emails from labels into your archive place. If the labels list is extensive and you aren’t able to do it all at once, you may want to keep track of the move on a spreadsheet.
At this point, all that’s left are the emails in the inbox itself. Hopefully, your situation leaves you with less than a couple thousand emails! Ask your client if they would like to schedule another Skype call to file the emails sitting in the inbox. This is a great idea as you will be able to get to know more about their business, their colleague’s names and how they want emails filed.
Take notes in Trello! You think you will remember that they always want emails from Sally So-and-so in the To-Do label rather than FYI, but you may not. This is a good time to remember that this project is a work in progress. My client and I had a 2.5 hour Skype call the day we did this step alone. Yours may prefer to do it in pieces.
An awesome tool that you can certainly use in Gmail and other email providers is the filter system. If your client consistently gets newsletters or emails from Sally So-and-so and they always want them in the same spot, give yourself a hand and create a filter!
The Working Inbox
My client and I chose to create a working label system for the inbox first and then get on Skype to sort through the inbox emails.
Here is the list of labels that we decided to start with to organize the inbox:
- FYI No Reply Needed
- Travel (upcoming)
- Rachel To-Do
Feel free to add any other labels specific to your client’s needs, like maybe a label for their largest client, their vendor or family members – you get the idea.
We’re almost there, let’s pick up the pace!
Moving Forward to Maintain Inbox Zero
Now that you have a clean slate to work with, make some decisions with your client about when and how often you will be checking and sorting their email. My client is super laid back and we didn’t actually have this conversation. So I made my own schedule – yay!
(Note from Gina: I’ve always set it up to check client’s emails in the AM and PM – we’re all in different time zones, so there’s not a specific time, but I generally do it first thing (between 7-9am) and last thing (between 4-6pm) each business day.)
Each morning, first thing, I log in and sort the emails that have come in overnight. Then, late in the afternoon I repeat the process. I suggest batch tasking so you don’t get mentally frazzled. Only log into their email twice per day, M-F. In the long run this will save you time (and $)!
If replying to emails for your client or simply sending canned responses to certain emails, there are two things you need to find out straightaway:
- Will you be replying as your client or for your client?
- Will you be using their email address or will they hook you up with an email of your own?
Either way is fine, but I find in communicating for someone else that it’s very important to know exactly how they want you to do so.
Point of Arrival
Well, here we are at our destination. What did you think of our journey? Like many paths we take in life, it feels daunting at the onset, but taking the first step is the hardest.
I find, using good tools to communicate and setting realistic expectations is key. Otherwise you’re really just deleting, archiving, sorting and filing emails – no big deal, right?!
Now that you have stretched your legs with me, it’s time to find a client who desperately needs your skills (there are tons of them!). You can do it, I know you can!
Having trouble keeping up with your own inbox?
You probably need a kickass VA to help you get organized, achieve and then maintain inbox zero.
Here’s the thing, I happen to know A LOT of highly qualified VAs that would love the opportunity to meet and work with you. Click here when you’re ready to extend your hand and be introduced. ?
Rachel is a Virtual Assistant who runs her business from home in rural Alaska. She’s a master organizer and is always ready to help fellow entrepreneurs & freelancers. Rachel’s husband is in the military and they have 3 active elementary age kids. She loves traveling, being outside and cooking.