The purpose of this article is to explain the backstory behind InboxDone, a company that offers email assistants for busy entrepreneurs, how I came to launch this business with my co-founder Claire, and address whether you should consider delegating your email to an assistant.
This story actually begins a long time ago, back when I was running my first successful online business around the years 2003-2004. It was an agency that specialized in editing university papers, essay and thesis documents.
My business was simple in design. I built the website and did marketing to attract our customers and I had a small team of freelancers do the editing.
The only problem with the business was the feeling that I was trapped to my email inbox. I was handling all the customer service, making sure payments came through, assigning tasks to freelancers and carefully managing timeframes to ensure jobs were returned to clients on time.
My job was not hard, but it was relentless. I had to watch my email account 24/7, or at least as best I could given I did have to sleep at night!
I decided things had to change after attempting to have a holiday. I was visiting Sydney for a long-weekend visit (I lived in Brisbane, Australia at the time) but instead of enjoying myself I basically spent the entire time on a computer, replying to potential customers and managing projects to make sure we could meet deadlines.
After I got back from the Sydney trip I decided things had to change. I needed to break free from email.
The Stress Of Never Ending Email
One of the dangerous aspects of running your own business is the love/hate relationship you have with email.
Your inbox is a source of much joy. Potential customer emails appear, new deals, money flows in with payment notification emails – growth shows up in the inbox!
At the same time, email is a major stress point. Whether it’s worrying you are missing out on an opportunity or losing a customer because you are not seeing and replying to an email in time, dealing with the less-exciting aspects of business like software updates, record keeping, failed payment emails – all these things flow through your inbox as well.
Because of this joy/stress mix, you can’t help but feel the need to always check email, to respond to as much as you can, to keep on top of potential disasters and the worse thing of all — to avoid the feeling that emails are piling up and you don’t know what is in them.
Email doesn’t stop. That feeling of falling behind will continue day-in, day-out, unless you diligently attend to your email like it’s your crying baby.
This was my relationship with my inbox, until the day after my Sydney trip when it dawned on me that if I truly wanted to feel the freedom that led me to become an entrepreneur in the first place, I had to delegate my email to someone else.
How I Delegated My Email To An Assistant
At the time I made the choice to delegate my email to an assistant, it felt like something no one else was doing. Every entrepreneur I knew still handled their own inbox, it was normal, even if everyone had the same love/hate stressful relationship with it.
It was strange because outsourcing was well and truly becoming a normal thing to do online. I had outsourced the design of my website, the copywriting of my content — even the core service my business offered, editing, was outsourced to freelancers.
With no examples to follow, I decided to figure out how to hire and train an email assistant myself.
My process at the time was not complex. I thought about all my friends who I knew were responsible, intelligent and good communicators and who might want part time work handling my email. I narrowed it down to a small list of people and approached the person at the top of my list. She was about to give birth to her first child, so a work from home casual job was perfect for her.
We agreed to give it a test run after she had recovered from child birth. It was an experiment for both of us – for her, to see if she could learn to manage and reply to the emails my business received, and for me, to see if I could come to trust her to deal with something as important to my business as email.
I won’t go into the finer details of how I delegated my email to my friend because since then we’ve become a lot better at handling this process. We also produced a guide on how to hire, test and train a virtual assistant to handle your email, so if you want all the steps laid out, check it out.
The short story is things worked out fantastic. My friend became my email manager, and over the months ahead she learned how to deal with 99% of the situations that hit my inbox.
This left me free of the stress of needing to constantly monitor my email and free of the worry that I might miss something important because I didn’t reply in a timely manner. She kept my business running, processing jobs and coordinating projects with my freelance editing team, all via email.
Why I Was Afraid To Hire An Email Virtual Assistant
Thinking back over the years where I handled my email myself it is easy to understand why I took so long to hire an email virtual assistant. My reasons are the same reasons that people today — possibly you included — still choose to manage your own email.
- Trust: How can you trust someone to deal with your email, one of the most personal and important parts of your business and life.
- Inside Knowledge: How can you expect an email assistant to be able to deal with the questions and situations that arise in your inbox because they are not you, they don’t have the knowledge, skills and experience that you have.
- Privacy And Security: Giving access to your email opens up all kinds of potentially risky situations, including client confidentiality, access to secure accounts like banks, Paypal and other software and services.
- Errors That Cost You Money: What if your assistant sends the wrong answer in an email causing you to lose a customer, or they miss an important email that could have lead to a big deal.
- Addiction: This one was hard to admit, but I was also addicted to my inbox. Seeing good emails gave me a high, seeing bad emails made me mad, and I was addicted to these daily jolts of brain chemical stimulating feelings.
Considering all these potential issues, it’s not surprising people don’t consider delegating their email.
Yet if you look at the potential upside of how much better things could be if you overcome these issues, it’s easy to justify putting in the work to go through the transition.
- What if your email assistant actually did a BETTER job than you? Given their only job is email, unlike you who are probably wearing many different hats in your business, they will become more experienced at dealing with messages and able to give more energy to it.
- Your insider knowledge can be documented and reproduced, and in fact it should be, so you don’t have to repeat yourself over and over again. If you’re like me, I put off building systems and documentation in my business, so the day my email assistant took over was also the day they began building systems to deal with all the processes that made my business work.
- You’re not as special as you think you are. This one may be hard to take, but your unique genius way of replying to emails is actually not that hard to replace and could even be improved upon by someone who is dedicated to the role.
- Customer service deserves a specialist. I simply didn’t have the time or focus to do a good job with customer service, for example, following up with prospects enough to turn them into customers. I was leaving money on the table. Hiring an email assistant could in fact make me more money.
- Breaking the addiction to email was a major step towards having a life again, both in terms of gaining time back and the mental relief of knowing that every email in my inbox was no longer my responsibility.
Of course I was still concerned about trust, privacy and potential mistakes, and I wondered if someone could represent my business as well as I could, but over time I came to realize that with the right person, these challenges are minimal and the upside potential was significant.
To put it simply, delegating my email to an assistant was the best decision I ever made for my business and for me personally.
Surely Other People Need Help With Email Too
Over the years that followed I sold my business and started a new one, and bought other websites creating a portfolio of online income streams.
During all this time, as long as I had the cash flow to justify it, I hired an email assistant to take over all my inboxes and deal with customer support issues. It wasn’t something I second-guessed ever again, delegating email and customer service was just part of growing a mature business.
At one point with my main business, I had three email assistants because I wanted to offer 24 hour email customer support. I had one assistant in Australia, and two in the United States. It was amazing how fast we could reply to emails that came in with this many people on my team.
This may sound like hyperbole, but when I first delegated my email to an assistant I felt like I had discovered the ultimate life hack. We all want more time and freedom, yet for most people email is the centre of work life and thus the greatest drain on our time.
Once email is no longer your responsibility, you’re free to focus on what matters most.
I started to wonder why more entrepreneurs and professionals didn’t have an email assistant, and of course, as an entrepreneur myself, I started to think about the potential of starting a business to offer email management services.
At the time I was too busy with my current projects to start a new company, but it was always in the back of my mind.
Fast forward to 2016 and I am living in Vancouver, attending a small dinner with other entrepreneurs. The lady on my right starts talking about how she wakes up and spends a couple of hours in her email inbox and does the same again at night after dinner when her kids are asleep.
I explain to her that I only process my email once a month and she gives me a look of shock. I go on to explain how I have assistants and her eyes just get wider and wider. Clearly I had struck a nerve.
After this experience I felt the strongest pull yet to start an email management company. The timing was better too, as I was ready to move on to a new project.
The Birth Of InboxDone: An Email Assistant Service For Busy Entrepreneurs
After the dinner in Vancouver I thought about how to start up an email management company.
I knew I needed to answer some important questions: Would people be willing to pay to hire a ready-to-go email assistant, and could I build a profitable company around this service?
I had in mind a quick method to test the idea. I needed two things –
- A customer (or two or three) to test the service with and see if they would pay for it
- An email manager I could partner with, who would deliver the service to these first customers
I didn’t have to look far for a partner. Claire, who had started working with me as one of my email assistants several years prior, was the perfect candidate. She was a great email assistant, had strong attention to detail and was motivated to always improve herself.
I got on a call with Claire to ask if she would partner with me on a new business, and if she would act as the test email assistant for the first few clients.
Claire agreed, but we also made it clear that the intention was for her to only manage our first few clients and get paid for it as a freelancer so we could test our pricing model. If things worked out, we would build a team of email managers, who she would hire and train.
We had a significant advantage having worked together for years. Claire (and those who had worked on my email before her) had over time created and improved a system for handling email and running a digital customer service department.
The only question we needed to answer was could we roll out this same system to manage other people’s inboxes even if they worked in completely different industries?
To attract our first test clients, I made use of my email newsletter. I had been blogging and growing an email database for my online teaching business for years, so this was always the first place I turned to if I had a new offer to test.
I sent an email to my email list explaining that we were opening up a couple of spots for email management clients, and the same people who handled my inbox would work on theirs. Five people replied, three did discovery calls, and two became clients. Those two clients are still with us today, almost five years later as I write this.
Thus InboxDone was born! I registered the InboxDone.com domain name just prior to this test run. I have to say I was pretty happy to find this domain name, it explained exactly what we did, was short, simple and I was excited to share it with the world.
From Test Idea To Startup Business
Our first two clients provided exactly what we needed, a real world test to answer all the questions we had about the viability of our new business.
- Would our system for handling email work for other people? In this case for two clients in unrelated industries, mental health and politics.
- Could Claire, as our first inbox manager, take over multiple inboxes and was she happy with the pay rate she received for doing the work?
- Given what we charged our clients and what we paid Claire, was there enough left over in profit margin to build a business?
- How long would our clients stay with us, or more simply put, how much did they love the service?
- Could we overcome all the challenges around trust, privacy, security, confidentiality, insider knowledge, email addiction and ultimately do what we set out to do, break a person free from their inbox?
The short answer is YES.
There was a lot to learn of course, but as the months went by, our clients were happy and all our assumptions were turning out positive.
After four months of a test run, everything was working well enough that we decided to take things to the next level and properly launch InboxDone.
We rolled out our website, I promoted again to my newsletter and this time also to my social media channels. While I was doing this, Claire was hiring and training our first inbox manager, who would take on our next batch of clients.
This next phase was important, because we needed to test whether we could teach our system for delegating email to new people, and then assign them to new clients. We needed to build the first version of our process for hiring, testing, training and then onboarding what we eventually called a specialist ‘Inbox Manager’.
By the time our first year ended InboxDone had proven itself as a successful startup. We’d scaled to over $10,000 a month in revenue, our clients were happy and staying with us, and we’d proven that our process for training email assistant specialists and onboarding new clients no matter what industry they are in, worked.
The InboxDone Story Continues…
As I write this InboxDone has grown to the point where we now have a team of more than 20 people, and we can’t hire quickly enough keep up with demand.
Claire has built a comprehensive system for vetting, testing and training people to become inbox managers, including a course she produced that all new hires must go through before they are assigned a client.
I continue to manage marketing, including working with our in-house content writer to publish the InboxDone blog, which is full of comprehensive guides for managing email and case study reviews from our clients.
What’s impressed me the most over the years since we first started the company is the diversity of clients we have. Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised because everyone deals with email, yet when I consider this list…
- venture capitalists
- mental health expert
- restaurants owner
- lead generation agency
- concrete builder
- male pattern baldness expert
- property investors
- real estate agents
- paid advertising expert
- car retailer
- test preparation tutors
- academic at university
…and it goes on, I’m still surprised by all these unique industries.
We’ve helped these people break free from email and gain back time to focus on what matters most, whether that is their career, growing their business, writing a book, spending time with family, taking a holiday or focusing on their health.
It’s fun to look at this list and just as fun each time a new client signs up from an industry I had never considered before as a potential client.
As you can no doubt tell, I’m really enjoying running this company and I’m very excited about our future. I know so many people need our services, yet they don’t know we exist. It’s my job to bridge that gap.
I’ll speak to you soon.