As a virtual PA I am often asked for some tips and tricks on how busy business owners can improve their productivity and cut down on the time that they need to spend on admin (which let’s face it few of us like). Here are some of my suggestions:
There are a lot of different ideas about how best to manage your emails. If you have business support (whether employee or outsourced), you can set up delegated authorities and a separate mailbox so that they can access and manage your emails.
The 1 touch rule works for many people – so read an email, action it, delete or delegate it. Personally I love multiple sub folders (for example, for each client, supplier, system, work approaches, admin,) and file as I go. It makes retrieval so much easier!
You can also apply the 2 minute rule to (individual) emails – if you can do something in 2 minutes or less, just do it.
Another suggestion is to batch your emails (or indeed any other routine tasks) so you have say 2-3 set times a day to review and respond to them and otherwise leave them to one side (turning off notifications really helps with this). Set up a read later or archive file to which you send, for example, newsletters that you want to read at a later date. Set aside time each week to then review this folder.
Some tips here are:
- use your diary/calendar fully. Attach Agendas/ Briefing Notes/ documents to be discussed/website links to the invite.
- Schedule all deadlines and reminders 3/7/14/28 days before, depending upon how much work might be needed (for example, for an insurance renewal deadline I schedule a 14 day reminder, for annual accounts a 28 day reminder).
- I also use the email option in outlook so I am also emailed the deadline reminder.
- In outlook you can also use Notes for your To Do lists and do set aside time to review and update these regularly.
Bookkeeping and invoicing
Most of my clients use xero but the tips below should work for most accountancy software packages.
- Ask at an early stage if you need to be set up on your client’s system as a supplier and ensure that that is done as quickly as possible
- Use the Repeating function for monthly/quarterly regular purchases (e.g. Canva, internet, Adobe Acrobat etc).
- Use the Copy To function for invoices that you send more than once. This copies over all the details from the last invoice automatically adding the next invoice number and today’s date. You just then check and update the other sections.
- Turn on automated reminders for invoices so xero chase unpaid invoices for you.
- Link expenses to a client if they are chargeable, so that they are automatically picked up on the next invoice
- Use Dext, which is software that automates your bookkeeping process. You forward photos of receipts or emails with invoices attached to Dext, which then uploads and “reads” the receipt/invoice for you to check and in turn send on to your accountancy software.
- Make sure that your invoices
a) are addressed to the right company/business entity,
b) quote a reference or PO if one is needed and
c) are sent to the right email address (which is usually not your client contact but a generic accounts@ address and
- if your client sends you information about how to invoice them read it and follow their system.
If you find yourself typing the same information even if just a few lines, create a template document and have that open in the background. As well as speeding up the process, you will send the correct information in a standardised form each and every time. Obviously, you can top and tail each communication to make it more personal.
Once you have a good template such as your standard client contract, you can then delegate preparing the next one to someone else for you to then review, which will save you time. I had one client who ran a trades business who had 29 standard templates for quotes. He would list which ones to use to create the quote to send to the client.
Whilst I still look a physical to do list, having an electronic version(s) that you can share with people makes sense. Using a simple excel spreadsheet with Action and Done categories and columns for individual people to complete is a great way to track progress. Think about using colour coding to prioritise tasks (for example, red, amber and green) and review at least weekly.
One of the best ways to free up your own time and, as importantly; headspace, is to delegate. This goes against the grain for the majority of SMEs. However, no-one is brilliant at everything and if you spend say 5-10 hours a week on basic admin that someone else can do for you, that’s 5-10 hours more revenue you can generate.
There are some tasks that you won’t like doing (such as negotiating fees or credit control). Sometimes it is easier to ask someone else to do that and creates a distance that can be helpful. Having even a part time PA can also give the perception of you being a more established or larger business than you are.
A good assistant will also bring their own ideas and business experience to the table, reduce stress and help you grow your business. I am a generalist virtual PA/EA and if you would like to discuss how I might be able to help you please do get in touch! I offer a free 1 hour consultation.