This post covers all my favorite themes: working with a virtual assistant (VA), online tools and boosting your business. I know, I’m shaking things up around here, but these three areas collide perfectly into this topic. Maybe you’ll discover some new ways to communicate with your VA or your other business contacts, or maybe you’ll discover some new tools to use to plan your to-dos or your projects. Whatever the result, I’m happy you’re here reading! On to the post…
Slowly step away from your inbox
In our digital world, and especially for those who work on the web, there are many ways to communicate with other people. But, a lot of us are still clinging to our email inboxes and maybe spending too much time managing our emails than making progress on our work. Does this sound familiar?
Email is the most popular way to communicate these days, but it’s not the only way.
First, let’s talk about the good old-fashioned method of communicating: talking!
Working from home, I sometimes forget to speak. I do so much typing, writing, editing or planning on my computer that I don’t even need to open my mouth and say words. Does this happen to you? I do have occasional client phone calls and I try to connect with peers on Skype, but for the most part my days are words-free.
So, what methods do we have to communicate with each other using speech?
- Skype: my favorite online tool perhaps of all time. It’s free to call from Skype to Skype, with the possibility to use video and to share screens. Skype has been around for a while so most people have it and use it, and that makes me happy!
- Mobile phone or landline: I have both, but only because our internet/TV package came with a landline, so I decided to turn that into my (home) office phone. I do most of my client calling on my landline (if they prefer that to Skype) but some clients have my mobile number, and they are my special clients. 🙂
- Meeting in person: I know this doesn’t apply to many of you who work on the web, but if you do have clients that live nearby, it’s a nice change of pace to meet in person. And you can usually use the lunch bill for a business tax expense.
With “chatting” I’m not referring to small talk or another name for talking, but for typing into a real-time chat box with someone else. This can be much faster than email, and you can refer back to the chat if needed.
While this method does require your attention, you don’t need to be chatting all day. You could be available on one of the chat channels below at certain times, or send an email to see if someone is available to chat (I know, that pesky email again!) The benefit is that you can ask and answer questions quickly and then move on to your task.
Here are some easy chatting methods that are probably already available to you without you even knowing it:
- Skype chat: You don’t always have to have a call when using Skype, you can also chat. When you open a contact box, it appears first as the chat box. There you can type in your messages, use great emoticons 🙂 🙁 :X B), and connect in the background while you’re doing something else.
- Facebook Messenger: Messenger is the chat function right within Facebook. It might be docked on the right hand of your screen (and the boxes pop up at the bottom) or maybe you use it while on your mobile phone. Either way, being able to connect with someone right there could eliminate lots of (public) messages back and forth in Facebook, and therefore save you a lot of time.
- Gchat: This is the chatting function within Gmail. I’m a big fan of Gmail and have been using it for years, and while I don’t use Gchat as much as I’d like, it’s really useful for connecting with others while you’re signed into your email. So, next time you’d like to send an email, check to see if the person is in Gchat and send them a message instead. The boxes appear in the bottom right hand corner of your inbox.
- WhatsApp or other smartphone chatting app: I use Whatsapp to communicate with my family and friends, and occasionally a client or two. It’s a lot easier to send a quick Whatsapp message then talk on the phone, and it’s certainly faster and easier than sending an email. It’s not right for every client-VA relationship, so decide if that’s something you want to try.
This is a bit of a wild card in this set, but I’ve been using it recently with a few clients and I find it to be so useful when communicating on a project with lots of moving pieces. With commenting what I’m referring to exactly is commenting on Google Drive documents. That is having shared documents within Google Drive, like a Google Sheet or Doc, and then adding a comment to a cell or word. If you add their email (+firstname.lastname@example.org [my Gmail address] for example) in the comment as well it will send that person an email notification.
While I know that this is using email, most people still use email as their main method of communicating, and that’s OK! But what’s good about this is that you get notified, but instead of sending an email back, you go to that document and just reply to the comment. The other person gets notified, and the comments stay all in one place. And once that issue or task has been completed or the question has been answered, you can click “Resolve” and the comment goes away.
This may take some getting used to and you definitely need to be working within Google Drive to make this all happen, but as you’ll see below, there are project management apps that include this type of commenting as well that try to replace the need for email.
For many of us small businesses, we don’t have the possibility to use high functioning (i.e. expensive) software that manages our whole operations. That means we’re using a combination of email, Skype, some type of shared folder system and maybe a notebook with a to-do list to get it done. And while this is OK, there are more options out there for being able to manage multiple projects, content, and to-dos, while collaborating with virtual assistants or colleagues.
Within these programs you can create projects, tasks and to-dos. You can add people to work with you on them, you can assign tasks and you can comment directly on the work within that program. You can set deadlines, you can attach files, and in some you can even ask for votes or opinions.
Why I add these programs to this list is because you can remove the email step and communicate directly within the program. You can always add notifications to be sent to your email, you don’t need to add more work and move back and forth between your inbox and your task list.
Some of these programs are paid, but many others have a robust free version and the option to upgrade. If your business or projects have lots of moving parts and involve another person or two, definitely check out some of these options.
- Wunderlist: The to-do list app that I use to manage all of my tasks. While I don’t collaborate with any of my clients, I have the possibility to do so. I can set deadlines and reminders, and I can see the to-dos that are due today. And I can start a “conversation” when I comment on any to-do, therefore keeping any back-and-forth about a task right within Wunderlist.
- Asana: A full project management app that allows you to create, manage, collaborate on, track and plan lots of projects. The free version of Asana has a lot of features and I know many people who use this and are very happy with it. I haven’t used it myself, but would definitely consider it for future projects.
- Trello: This project management tool is a bit different than standard apps in that it is based on the Kanban method of visualizing a workflow. It’s comprised of boards, lists and cards, and you can move the cards to different boards as they move in your project. The example they start with is “To do”, “Doing”, and then “Done”. If you’re a visual person or have complicated workflows for your processes you may want to check out Trello. (I have used this, enjoyed it, but it wasn’t for me and I needed something simpler, so I switched to Wunderlist.)
- Basecamp: A robust, paid project management program that has a great reputation for being intuitive and easy to use. Similar to Asana, you create projects and add pieces to it, set deadlines, assign tasks, and communicate right within the program. The basic price for Basecamp is $20/month, and that’s 10 active projects and unlimited users. But you do get 2 months free to try it.
While I may not have detailed the communication features for these project management apps, the point is that they are trying to replace the email step when working together. You sign in, manage and plan, and communicate with your team members right within the program. Keep it all in one place and nothing gets lost.
How will you communicate today?
Communicating in today’s world is complicated. If you’re on the go, email on your smartphone may be your only option. And if you’re busy, giving a few minutes to “live” chat with a colleague or your VA might break your concentration. And you may have contacts who only use email or Facebook messenger or handwritten letters, so how do you keep track of it all?
By finding the system and method of communicating that works for you and the people who are involved in your business. While that’s not the easy answer, it is the right now.Don't let your inbox slow you down. There are better ways to communicate. Click To Tweet
Which is your preferred method of communicating for your business?
Let me know in the comments below (another form of communication). I recently signed up for Disqus (pronounced “discuss”) because I was getting a lot of spam comments that Akismet was helping me block, but I wanted to try something new. Disqus is great because I can track conversations I’ve had in the comments on other blog posts and keep the engagement going!