Data Entry: A Guide for Automating Your Least-Favorite Repetitive Tasks

Whether we’re uploading data into excel or tabulating expenses on the company credit card, data entry requires focus, concentration—and sometimes inordinate amounts of time. And when we’re in charge of a business, there’s no doubt it feels like a waste of time.

There’s no getting around it: data entry is tough work.

Whether we’re uploading data into excel or tabulating expenses on the company credit card, data entry requires focus, concentration—and sometimes inordinate amounts of time. And when we’re in charge of a business, there’s no doubt it feels like a waste of time.

Is there a better way? The simplest answer is yes: hire data entry away. But no one wants to pay more for data entry hours than they have to.

If we’re going to optimize this process, we need data entry to have the three following characteristics:

  • Automatic. There’s no point in entering specific data in individual cells in Microsoft Excel if the program can do 99% of the work for you. We need to find opportunities for automation that drastically reduce the time and energy spend on data entry.
  • Synergistic. Data entry shouldn’t be a bottleneck in any organization. If we can identify the top tools to connect disparate applications, we can reduce the workload of data entry, sometimes even populating one area of data with the information from another program.
  • Delegation-compatible. If you can’t delegate the data entry, then the two points above will help. But you can’t separate yourself from the process until there’s someone else with data entry skills to take over.

Sounds easy, right? The problem is that many businesses have no idea where to start. They feel stuck. Without any strategy for making data entry easier for their business, it becomes more appealing to simply hire an expensive data entry expert or consulting firm to take over. 

And when you consider that even low-skilled data entry jobs can cost thousands of dollars per month in salary—and potentially more in benefits—one thing is clear. We need a better way to make data entry easier for every company. 

Here’s how to do it.

Data Entry: The Strategic Approach That Saves You Time and Money

If you’re never been good with computers—or software programs like Excel or Netsuite—then it’s no wonder that the idea of data entry sounds too complicated to tackle yourself. But let’s correct one basic mistake many companies make:

  • Don’t: Hire an expensive data entry consultant or full-time employee simply because you have some data entry work to do. This can lead to wasted time for the data entry professionals—and too much money spent on your end.
  • Do: Evaluate your current data entry needs, look for ways to optimize this data entry, and invest in the simplest solutions before hiring outside work.

We’ll have more instructions for doing exactly that later in this article. But if you can take away any one thing from the message so far, it’s this: you don’t have to hire a full-time data entry assistant to make things work for you.

Common Mistakes in Business Approaches to Data Entry

You’ll also save time and money if you avoid making a few key mistakes:

  • Mistake #1: Assuming a low hourly rate means savings. Maybe you’ll look at GlassDoor and notice that some data entry jobs—especially those that don’t require technical skills—have a low hourly rate. Sounds like good news, right? 
  • Mistake #2: Trying to save too much money at once. Saving money is a good thing. But when you try to save money by hiring someone who’s not familiar with your specific kind of data entry, it can result in a lot of investment on your end that isn’t going towards good data entry. Don’t be fooled by a low hourly rate. The right approach is best.
  • Mistake #3: Not investing in supporting tools. If a tool can save you hours and hours in handling your data entry, that tool instantly pays for itself. If you don’t invest in supporting tools to help people handle your data, then you’re asking for longer hours—and a bigger investment in the long-term.

Tools for Automating Data Entry With Minimal Work

These days, there’s a tool or an app for just about anything. Data entry is no different. Your first step should be to invest in tools that reduce the labor you need. That way, if you do have to hire someone to handle your data entry, you can hire them on a shorter-term basis.

A good rule of thumb? If you can outsource it to a tool, do that. It will save you more money. Here are some useful tools that businesses use for gathering, organizing, and moving data:

  • Kintone. Kintone is an online database platform that looks to simplify the process of managing spreadsheets, calling them “so last century.” With Kintone, you can use specific data to trigger specific workflows, which is great for integrating applications and automating the data entry process for as little labor as is required.
  • Expensify. One of the most common sources of data entry frustration for business owners is the management of expenses. It requires a lot of work—tracking, approval, editing, tax reporting. If you want a workflow that automatically moves your expenses into a quick report, Expensify is a great system for minimizing the number of hours you have to hire towards data entry.
  • AutoEntry. Invoices, receipts, expenses, statements—it’s a lot of work to handle, especially if you need someone to physically sit down with paperwork and manually enter the data for an accountant. AutoEntry’s goal is to automate that process through data extraction. 

If you choose the right tool these days, much of the work of data entry will be done for you. Projects that might have seemed like a nightmare—such as scanning documents and extracting data from them—can become downright automatic. 

Tips for Improving Your Data Entry Systems

Chances are, if you’re reading this, you may not have a data entry “system” at all. A good first step is to update your system so that when you do outsource some of your data entry, it’s ready for someone to take over. Here are some ways you can make that process easier on them:

  • Work in popular tools, and make sure that you use them consistently. The worst nightmare of a skilled data entry professional? Data that is housed in obscure software that’s not compatible with more mainstream options. And if your data is all over the map—some of it on paper, some of it in obscure software—it’s going to take a while to sort. If you haven’t already, now’s the time to update your data entry systems and ensure that you make life easier on anyone you hire--like a virtual assistant--to step in and take over.
  • Track your data entry hours. If you must perform data entry—and hopefully this post means you won’t have to do much more of it—then make sure to track how much you can accomplish on a per-hour basis. This will give you a good working knowledge of how much more efficient it is to hire someone out. If they can handle thrice the data in the same amount of time, you’ll have more confidence in your investment.
  • Hire a virtual assistant before the full-time employee. Although a full-time data management employee can be tremendously valuable, it doesn’t hurt to know if you can pay for far less for similar results in your company. When you’re ready, hire a virtual assistant experienced in data entry to tackle the work that’s ahead of your business. 
  • Hook the tools together. When one tool extracts data and the other uploads it to the cloud, having them work together can save more than time—it can save headaches. As you shop around for the tools most appropriate for your business, make sure you always check their compatibility information before you choose the next tool. You don’t want to get too far one down road before finding out that you’ve chosen the wrong one.
  • Manage time properly. Even if you outsource your data entry to a virtual assistant, it’s important to make sure that the time you’re paying for is managed properly. Don’t set a VA on your least-important data first. Organize your “must-finish” tasks from top to bottom and make sure that priorities go to where the data is needed most.

How to Hire the Right Virtual Assistant for Your Data Entry

What’s next? How do you tell one virtual assistant from another? How can you be sure that you’re hiring the right virtual assistant in the first place?

The first step is to look at their specific skills. You should, at this point, have a clear idea of where your data is. Is it trapped in Excel spreadsheets and needs uploading to popular cloud accounting platforms? If so, that will give you an idea of which virtual assistant might be most appropriate for the work you have on your plate. 

You should also have a look at their personal experience. Are they trying data entry for the first time, or is this a space they’re familiar with? It’s true that many data entry tasks require minimal experience. But if you can hire a virtual assistant who can assist with streamlining your process, they’ll make it possible for you to invest less in data entry as time goes on.

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Onboarding a Data Entry Virtual Assistant

If you’ve done an effective job hiring the virtual assistant for your specific task, you shouldn’t have much trouble giving them the data and having them get to work. But there may be some other parts of the onboarding process that you haven’t considered. It’s worth preparing them in advance.

  • Appropriate log-ins for your existing tools. Do you already use a service like Expensify, but you have some old expenses that need logging? You’ll want to make sure that you can give your virtual assistant the appropriate access well in advance of the hire.
  • Appropriate user permissions for certain types of software. Let’s say you don’t want a virtual assistant to have access to one part of your accounting software. Consider creating a unique user with different permissions within that software before you onboard them fully. This is especially important if you’re not using a trusted virtual assistant firm that fully vets its VAs.
  • Clear instructions. Sound obvious? You’d be surprised at how this can be the downfall of data entry projects. Create a clear set of instructions for the goals you need to be accomplished, even if you don’t tell them the methods. You may want to let them defer to their experience. And make sure that you schedule your projects in smaller milestones so you can periodically check on their progress. You don’t want to end up paying for 10 hours of data entry when you could have found out they were doing the wrong data by hour 1. 

Bottom line? There’s no getting around it: data entry is tough work. But with the tools to take the sting out of it and an experienced VA in your corner, you’d be surprised at what you can accomplish without lifting a finger.

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