Automation has saved my life. As a mother to 4 children and a virtual assistant (aka entrepreneur running an online business), I have had moments of utter insanity trying to run my business and raise my children.
Running a virtual assistant business on my own means that I'm the CEO, CFO, CAO, VP of marketing, VP of sales, project manager, and customer service rep rolled into one.
Talk about overwhelm.
Thankfully, over the course of the last few years I've been learning a lot more about how to automate my business so that I can start freeing up my time for the things that matter the most (Sound familiar? VAs use this line all the time in sales pitches!).
Before you automate your business you have to have the right tech foundations in place. After all, you can automate your business if you don't have the foundation set.
Here are some of the tools you'll need to help you run a successful virtual assistant business and the ways to automate your use of them.
Project Management Tool
VAs need to be organized and keep clients' work separate and easily accessible. It should be accessible to you and the client. If you have a team supporting you than everyone should be using the same project management tool. I use Asana, but there are plenty of other options out there.
Once you have your project management system in place there are amazing ways to automate certain processes by using one or more of their amazing integration tools.
Online Scheduler Software
I can't live without this. You need to be in control of your time and set clear boundaries on when they're available for calls and when they're not. Gone are the days of emailing back and forth to find a suitable time for a meeting or conference call.
With an online scheduler, you just send a link and the other party chooses a time and date that works for them based on your availability. The software syncs up with your Google calendar.
Not only does using an online scheduler make you more efficient it also makes your business look professional and up-to-date with technology. I use youcanbook.me but I've heard amazing things about ScheduleOnce and Calendly.
This may seem silly to add, but so many VAs don't have a business email address. Stop using email@example.com. Get yourself a professional email for your business. Even if it's a Gmail account, separate it from your personal life.
Once you have your business email set up create a few canned (pre-written) email messages. One for when a prospect first reaches out, another could be a follow-up email after you have an initial conference call and finally you could create a canned message for when a client agrees to work together and you need to email him/her a contract and other pertinent details they need to know. Canned emails are amazing for when you're saying the same things over and over.
Email Marketing Software
Not everyone needs this right away, but I encourage you to register for a free MailChimp account so you get familiar with email marketing. Email marketing is still the king when it comes to marketing your business.
One way to use an email marketing service right now is to send emails to your clients letting them know about changes in your business or upcoming holidays that you're taking time off for.
If you have more than 1 client, why would you want to send multiple emails that say the same thing? Just plug in your content into one email, add a merge tag to customize the name of the recipient and hit send.
Don't have any clients? Use MailChimp to send emails to prospects to touch base with them from time to time. Often times a prospect isn't ready to work together because of a timing issue. By staying in touch and top of mind, your chances are higher of landing them as a client.
Website Back-Up Software
Websites are getting hacked left, right, and center. Make sure your site is secure and set up weekly and monthly back-ups. There are a few plugins that you can install if you have a WordPress site.
I use BackWPup and it's been great. The backups go straight to my DropBox account and the backups run on a weekly and monthly schedule so I don't even need to think about it. There are alternatives to BackWPup, like Back Up Buddy. Check out all the alternatives to see what works best for you.
This should be one of the first things you get in order. You must make sure you have an easy and reliable way for clients to pay you. I use PayPal and I have it linked up to my Freshbooks account. When I send an invoice to a client all they have to do is click on the pay now button in the invoice and they are sent to PayPal. Easy.
That said, I know that people are looking for alternatives to PayPal. I wrote a blog post about PayPal alternatives for virtual assistants which goes into detail about each option. If you have a business account you can set up automatic payments to occur each month if you're charging a set amount.
Invoicing and Accounting
You'll be sending out invoices every month and you'll need to keep track of things in an easy to manage system so come tax season you're ready to go with all the necessary paperwork.
I've been using Freshbooks since 2008 and I love it. It's an invoicing, accounting and timesheet software all in one easy-to-use software. Freshbooks allow you to automate your invoicing by sending repeat invoices. Paired with their auto-payment feature you can set it and forget it. Their customer service is par none, too.
Social Media Management Tools
Social media is an excellent way to connect on a personal level with your prospects and clients but it can be a huge time suck if you don't have a social media management tool set up to help you stay connected.
You'll want to automate *some* of your social media marketing. I say "some" because social media is not for promoting your business 24/7. It's for building relationships and having conversations with real people.
That said, you should be posting your blogs both old and new. You should post some motivation quotes (if you're into that type of thing) or random things and random times and for those things I use a few tools, HootSuite, Buffer, and IFTTT.com. Both HootSuite and Buffer have Google Chrome plugins that allow you to schedule posts right from your internet browser when you find great content. For HootSuite, the plugin is called Hootlet and for Buffer the plugin is called Chrome browser extension.
IFTTT.com is my favorite tool mainly because I'm a total tech geek and I love the possibilities with this software. With IFTTT.com I can set up a recipe that will automatically welcome new members to my private Facebook group once they are approved. Or, I can set up a recipe to automatically thank new followers on my Twitter account. The possibilities are endless and so much fun.
Go ahead and browse through the recipes and see which one you like.
RUNNING YOUR OWN BUSINESS IS INCREDIBLY REWARDING BUT MAKE SURE YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TECH AND SYSTEMS IN PLACE SO YOU DON'T BURNOUT.
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Let me know what automation tools you're using and can't live without? See you in the comments!