If you’re a business owner, you probably delegate some of your tasks out to an assistant or a contractor. Website building, marketing and recurring tasks are some of the activities that you might feel comfortable handing over to others. However, would you ever consider handing over your daily email management? Yaro Starak certainly thinks you should.
Yaro is the co-founder of InboxDone.com, an email management company with a team of 40+ serving clients including restaurant owners, venture capitalists, accountants, doctors, lawyers, real estate agents, car retailers, online coaches and more.
In this episode of “In Systems We Trust”, Yaro shares what inspired him to start InboxDone and how to successfully hand over your email management to achieve freedom.
InboxDone founding story.
Just like many entrepreneurs, Yaro chose the path of entrepreneurship to find freedom. To him, freedom meant building a business that provided a full-time income, enabled him to travel the world and gave him the time and space to pursue other passions.
“I didn't want to work 12-hour days like I saw a lot of entrepreneurs doing.”
Among the many constraints Yaro was experiencing in his journey, was email management. While he was comfortable delegating many of his tasks to freelancers and contractors, email proved to be challenging. Not only was the task time-sensitive most of the time, but it was also mentally taxing and time-consuming. He recalls a time when he flew to Australia for a conference and was overwhelmed by the number of emails he had to read and respond to. This was not the freedom Yaro was actively seeking.
“I can never really travel and have the freedom I want unless I hand over email to someone else. But back then it wasn't really something people even considered doing. So I kind of didn't know how to solve the problem other than just ask some friends and maybe they could take over this task and see if it works.”
It was an outlandish idea and risk, but one that Yaro was willing to make the leap and try. He hired one of his friends from college to take over his inbox, and he has never looked back since. It started with small tasks such as clearing spam and responding to quick inquiries until his assistant was able to respond on his behalf without feedback or approval. At the present moment, Yaro says he only checks his email once a month.
“I'd always had in the back of my mind that the experience I went through with handing over email was incredible. Every company I ran from that period forward, always had a person doing email, doing customer support, it was the second most important thing for me to outsource after technical issues like building a website.”
And just like that, InboxDone was born.
How to outsource email management successfully.
Yaro and his team at InboxDone have been optimizing inboxes for industry leaders since 2017. Over the years, they’ve acquired a wealth of knowledge and expertise in effective email organization and handover. The systems they’ve put in place allow them to take over up to 90% of their client’s email management, giving them time back up to three hours a day.
“What do you do with that extra hour a day? Maybe write a book or launch a new product. Some people just want to spend more time with the family, maybe they want to travel, exercise at the gym, whatever their goals are. Imagine the potential productivity you get from gaining an hour or two back. It can be a massive change in your life.”
Reflecting on his experience, Yaro shares some valuable insights and practices to successfully hand over your email management.
Manage your expectation.
First and foremost, you need to accept and be comfortable with the thought of letting go of any control over your email. You’re not only giving someone the authority to organize your inbox; you’re actually allowing them to receive and respond to work emails on your behalf. Not many people are comfortable with that thought. Yaro had seen clients pull out halfway through the handover stage because of the fear of something might go wrong or miss out on an opportunity. Some people simply miss the rush of receiving a new message from a potential sale or client.
Another thing to keep in mind is that mistakes will happen. Human error is inevitable and there’s a learning curve to achieving the level of confidence and trust between you and whomever you choose to take over your inbox. Constant communication in the first couple of weeks is key to ensuring an effective and complete handover.
Bring in the right person.
It might sound like a no-brainer, but bringing in someone trustworthy and who has the right written communication skills is essential in the handover process. At InboxDone, inbox managers are carefully picked and trained to ensure a high quality of service for their clients. They even go the extra mile to assign two assistants per client in case of unavailability or turnover.
“Our hiring process is very careful about that. We bring in the right people for this role with attention to detail, English as a first language, emotional empathy and accountability, and willingness to grow and stay with the clients they have.”
Remember, you are going to be investing a lot of time training your assistant to learn about your business, your tone of voice and work relationships. Therefore, hiring someone with the right skills and professionalism from the get-go will prove fruitful and cost-effective in the long run.
Take your time.
Giving your assistant a crash course on how to prioritize and respond to emails a day or two before you leave for a conference or a vacation is a recipe for disaster. Even if you’re the most organized person with intricate systems in place, the reality is your assistant probably will not feel confident enough to reply to your emails, without going through a rigorous handover process, monitored by you.
Start with the easiest email, the ones that are not urgent or highly sensitive or don't require your expertise. Have them draft responses and give them feedback before they send them out. Once you’re both comfortable, move on to trickier emails. You can start with a few templates. From there you can start to build a system to answer emails from clients or issue refunds or even make financial decisions that are not costly. At InboxDone, inbox managers spend two weeks learning about the client's business and work culture before they start drafting responses on their behalf.
“The handover process is the biggest exercise in trust, and assistants need to gain confidence in understanding you, your email, and your company to write your email. It takes time to build this confidence, and you as a client need to also build trust in them.”
Deep dive into your sent folder.
The first couple of weeks of the handover process should be solely dedicated to learning your email behaviour and building the right system for it. Part of that time should be spent on your Sent folder, studying how you reply, and your communication style. You don’t expect your assistant to become you, but to at least apply a similar cultural tone and processes in their management of your inbox.
Also during this early phase, you might want to look at the processes you have in place. For instance, what’s it like onboarding a new client? How many emails are sent and much time is spent on this task? If an email comes in for a new client signed up, a welcome email needs to be triggered. Some team members might need to be notified or cc’d in the email or it could be as simple as notifying an accountant or bookkeeper to issue an invoice. If you already have a work management tool or a CRM set up, you might want to include these integrate these tools into your processes.Building a system of clear processes becomes then a guiding manual for your assistant to take on the responsibilities tied to your inbox without having to refer back to you.
Build a knowledge base.
Building a knowledge base is a necessary and often very simple part of the handover phase. It’s where you’ll be storing all your templates and processes for your assistant to refer to from time to time. InboxDone uses Google Docs to enter its standard operating procedures (SOPs), but you can also use your Sharepoint or work management tool to build your knowledge base.
As time goes on, your knowledge base will grow to address every situation that might arise. Make a habit of documenting every process, template or task related to your email management. Think of every situation and piece of email you get. How do you want to manage your newsletter subscription? How to intercept and handle spam mail? What to do if your inbox is full? All these questions and their answers are a good starting point to building your knowledge base.
“We don’t just build a knowledge base and stop. It's a living and breathing document that grows the longer you work with us and the more situations we deal with.”
Always provide feedback.
Finally, make sure to give feedback as much as possible. Once your assistant is comfortable sending out responses, ask them to send you a draft before every email is sent. Even after you reach a point where you’re entirely comfortable with your setup, make it a habit to check your responses to monitor your assistant’s performance.
It’s also important to keep an open line of communication at all times. Allow your assistant to be comfortable asking for your input or guidance. The goal is not to give up responsibility but to reduce the number of hours you spend on your email, and this comes with time. Eventually, you will find your assistant doing a better job at writing your emails for you, with so much clarity and detail because they have the time to focus on crafting the perfect response for each email you receive.
At the end of the day, the goal is to free up your time to work on the tasks that you really want to work on. We leave you with Yaro’s personal definition of freedom, and don’t forget to listen to the entire episode on the “In Systems We Trust” podcast everywhere you get your podcast.
“It’s the simple idea of waking up in the morning and choosing how you spend your day. This to me is the definition of freedom.”