The trend of creating and adapting business tools to a more tech-savvy workforce is quite obvious when observing the current marketplace. Automating once tedious processes has entirely changed the way business is conducted today.
It is only a matter of time that advanced online platforms and mobile business tools will become the standard for the majority of companies operating worldwide. New processes will be shaped to adapt to faster turnaround on tasks that had normally required a considerable amount of time to complete. The bulk of time-heavy tasks an executive or business owner required assistance with previously involved answering calls from a landline, setting up appointments and jotting down messages. Paper trails and organizational processes were an entirely different beast to tackle in the office years ago.
Most of the previously time-consuming tasks have been automated today. Hiring a full-time assistant is no longer necessary in my opinion unless you have a storefront or a company where clients are expected to come into a physical location. The demand for paper copies no longer applies to new processes taking place online. Of course, there are exceptions where paper is required such as an official government document (e.g. filing an H1B visa for an overseas employee). However, it is quite rare in my experience that physical paper copies are required to conduct day-to-day business, and a majority of companies are recognizing that a physical location to operate is not as desirable as it may have been at one time. Taking away a physical location cuts down on both anticipated and unforeseen costs in many areas of business operations.
With that being said, is the whole CEO-Secretary or Boss-Assistant dynamic really necessary to operate your business today?
Business Administration 101
Cell phones replaced the need for businesses to have a dedicated landline. You can create a personalized number using Google Voice or use RingCentral that has call-routing capabilities for multiple employees/departments using a cloud-based phone system.
You do not need to hire someone to locate files for you if you have everything stored on DropBox or Google Drive. Uploading a document to HelloSign to send out for signature is a breeze for both the sender and the signee.
There is a calendar plug-in, Calendly, that allows you to select dates and times you are available for meetings throughout the year. You can send out an email that shares your personal calendar link which prompts the recipient to select one of the options you have provided for a call or meeting. Effective calendar management you can easily do yourself in minutes sans assistant.
Coordinating and setting times for meetings with your team or outside participants using Doodle polls takes away the need for a middleman (or woman) to set up and orchestrate. Invite participants to select one of the options you have provided in the poll and they will vote on which options work best with their schedule. Once everyone has selected their choice(s), you will receive an email notification with the most popular date and/or time that works for the majority of participants. There is an option to send out poll reminders via email to those classic corporate sloths who take their time to respond until the last second without worrying about coming across as being pushy.
Conference calls (audio or video) can take place and be recorded using platforms like Zoom. Zoom provides users with several options to attend: a direct link which you can send via calendar invite or directly in a text or chat, a toll-free call-in number, or a meeting code to enter on their app or website. After the conference call ends, it displays how much time was spent while the meeting was in session.
If you really want to tango, there are transcription services on Fiverr that you can send the recording to for less than the cost of hiring someone part-time to do this when they could be utilized elsewhere in the company. Combining Zoom and Fiverr eliminates the need to have someone record meeting minutes. There are professional services that focus directly on transcribing sensitive corporate material which you can find online, as well.
I cannot go into great detail about this service since it is still in beta, but there is a company working on automatically transcribing and organizing all items discussed during a conference call which it will then email out to participants afterward. This is a big deal and I will absolutely use this platform in the future.
The above platforms and apps are just a few examples of business tools available today that are incredibly simple, fast and effective to use.
Do you really need someone to book your flights and accommodations for you?
There is a great flight search tool called Google Airfare ITA Matrix. You can also Google “hotels in XYZ” and plug in the dates. Options pop up with pricing, you pick the one you like and book it. If that is too much for you to manage, there is always the popular travel booking site, Expedia. I cannot water it down any further for you. It would take more time to go back and forth with an assistant to book travel arrangements than if you book them yourself. Most sites allow you to enter your frequent flyer or hotel membership number upon checkout (which you should save to your auto-fill form for the future). Most airlines and hotels have their own personal app that helps their users book what they need seamlessly.
If you would like to build a professional travel itinerary, check out Travelfy. Travelfy works by uploading and forwarding your travel documents or by simply entering information directly into the platform online or on their mobile app. You can share this itinerary with multiple people by sending them an online link, PDF download, or through the mobile app itself.
There is a helpful expense gathering and reporting app called Expensify you can automatically upload all travel receipts to in less than 60 seconds. Screenshot or forward email receipt confirmations from your phone or take pictures of any physical receipts on your phone (you should get into the habit of doing this with all physical receipts). Upload them to Expensify, select what expense category they go into and submit. Your accountant can take it from there.
Once again, no assistant necessary.
Do not get me started on how easy it is to use Xero for A/R and A/P, online accounting and quarterly financial forecasting…
Business Email Organization and Maintenance
Do you want to know how the pros do it?
We do not create a bunch of folders and subfolders- we just archive everything.
There are several studies you can locate online (two of which are from IBM and MIT) which claim that people save more time searching for a particular email using the search bar at the top rather than using email files/folders. I was not at all surprised by this information, but there are a lot of people who will be upset that what they thought was productive is actually a disadvantage to achieving successful routine email workflow.
The only folders I have are main ones for each of my client accounts. Every morning I put all unopened emails into their respective client account folder. When I am working on a particular account, I will then archive the email after I have read/replied/completed what was needed for that email.
Business Life Hack
What if someone has too much on their plate? How can they set reminders without wasting too much time with the setup?
I’ve got you covered!
There is an email plug-in called Boomerang. I love this tool so much! Boomerang allows you to send emails and set email reminders at a later date or time.
Let’s say I receive an email on a Tuesday that I will not be able to deal with until next Wednesday. I can forward the email to myself using Boomerang so that I receive it at the top of my inbox on that Wednesday next week.
You can set up a routine email to send out on a daily or weekly basis. A great example is automating a weekly email reminder for employees to send in their timesheets every Friday.
I also use Boomerang to send myself important notes via email of things that I need to do the next day or later in the week. No more additional apps or files to create to-do lists anymore. Complete tasks in real time that you can set yourself in seconds.
Some readers might wonder why I am not mentioning OneNote, Slack, Trello, JIRA or Basecamp since these platforms also help their users set up to-do reminders. I think they are fantastic for working with a team, but not necessary on an individual basis if you are using Boomerang. A large percentage of my time is spent with email so I do not want to go back and forth updating to-do lists for myself on other platforms. It actually begins to waste time instead of saving it. I am standing my ground on this stance.
Another helpful business tool to look into is Grammarly. It is free to use and it proofreads all material on your phone or computer- from emails to documents. It is always good to have another set of eyes to make sure the work you put out is polished and professional. This pair of eyes just happens to be cloud-based and performs in real time as opposed to sending it off for review and waiting for it to come back.
Business Snail Mail
You will discover most future business trends by following digital nomad groups online. Digital nomads are the experts when it comes to operating in the virtual realm and they understand how to cope with virtual pain points much faster than your average worker.
One tool they use is a virtual mailbox. Most companies that provide this service offer the following when you sign up for a virtual mailbox:
- A physical mailing address
- Scanning mail to email (only if you approve for your mail to be opened)
- Mail forwarding
- Physical storage (typically up to 60 days for packages)
You can find virtual mailbox services with a quick online search. Another option is to call up pretty much any co-working space in your area or an area you would like your business address to be located. Try not to let a coworking space talk to you into getting a workbar/floating desk membership or private office, but definitely look into their rates to use their conference rooms for the occasional face to face meeting with clients or your team. As someone who has managed three coworking spaces in the past, you will thank me later.
Business Voice Assist
There is a big push for cloud-based voice-activated virtual assistants that can do anything from general research to booking flights and travel accommodations to controlling smart home appliances; all you need to do is ask.
The more popular ones are:
Luckily, Google decided to not go with the common trend of using a female name so you do not have to feel like you are in some type of Sister Wives scenario while utilizing the above voice-activated assistants. Voice-activated assistants are so valuable when it comes to saving time that even J.P. Morgan Chase uses Alexa.
I have worked as an operations specialist and executive assistant for over a decade. There are still people who are unable to navigate the digital world as fast as someone like myself and I am fully aware of that. This problem can be lessened by taking each new virtual tool on one at a time until it becomes second nature.
Another common problem I have observed from clients firsthand is the “fear of the cloud” mentality that they still cling onto for some reason. If you are one of these cloud-fearing folk, I encourage you to overcome your fear by reading the following article from Forbes “Cloud Storage Is Much More Secure Than You Think.”
It is worth a few minutes of your time because it is great at breaking down this subject if you are still on the fence with cloud storage. It was originally a popular Quora question that was converted into an article. It covers data loss prevention, the level of security the cloud actually has, and safe file sharing.
Finally, if you would like to make the transition from physical to virtual, get into the habit of speaking about time in terms of time zones. It is easy to forget that others are virtual, as well, and they might be operating in another state or country. Experienced assistants already know this is important and most of the virtual assistant tools are programmed to adjust to different time zones automatically. I still strongly recommend that you make it a habit when discussing time with anyone who is not in your physical presence- 8:00 am PST is very different from 8:00 am EST. Rookie mistake.
I do believe if you take a day or two to teach yourself how to use some of these business tools to the point where you are comfortable, you will be doing yourself an enormous financial and time-saving service. Cloud-based tools and online apps make running your business without an assistant possible, but like everything else in the business world, it is ultimately up to you to make that happen.
I hope you find the tools in this article helpful. I will consider writing articles on Compliance, HR, Marketing and Payroll Service tools if enough people ask for it. In my spare time, I coach executives and their teams on how they can develop high-level skills in order to adapt to more effective operational systems within their company.
Thank you for reading… now get back to work!