Phone tag. You’re it.
Anyone who’s run a small business knows how it feels to play some modern version of phone tag. Maybe you have a thread of emails about a dozen long, each of them trying to get on the same page with your clients and customers. Or maybe you have three messages on your voicemail, each of them trying to figure out the best way to get in touch with you.
No matter what the problem, every small business owner needs scheduling assistance. And since 62% of small businesses don’t have any staff whatsoever, it’s not like you can turn to your Advanced Scheduling Strategy Team and have them take care of everything. Sometimes, you have to create the system yourself.
Fortunately, there are some easy ways you can get assistance.
Why You Need Scheduling Assistance in the First Place
If all goes according to plan, your company won’t be part of the 22.5% that fail in the first year. Your business will grow.
But with that growth come new demands on your time. Scheduling meetings, flights, transportation, phone calls, follow-up emails—it’s not hard to see how little opportunities for growth can get lost in the shuffle.
So why bother creating a schedule system in the first place? What’s in it for you besides a smoother daily life at the office? You’d be surprised.
- Less clutter. Imagine not playing “email tag” in your inbox. And an itchy inbox is a bad inbox if you want to get home and stop working. 82% of workers check email outside of their office hours. Be the 18%.
- More time to invest in high-ROI actions. For small businesses, emphasizing the activities that give you the highest returns is essential. This is especially true if you offer free phone consultations to prospective clients. Are you really going to fit those free phone calls into your daily life if you don’t get this scheduling thing handled?
- Look larger than you are. When a client or potential customer engages with your company, they should engage with your scheduling system. How this system works will indicate a lot about your size, competence, and professionalism.
But let’s say you’re already sold on the need to get a great scheduling system going. What next? Let’s break it down step-by-step so you can create a scheduling system that requires less time and creates better ROI.
Integrate All Calendars into One Place
Ever juggle multiple email accounts? It’s not fun. You forget that you’re logged into one, and have to log into the other. Or you might use one email to sign up for an account, only to use another email for another, and it makes logging in to other things much harder. It’s a big old mess.
The same logic applies to your calendars. If you use multiple calendars, your first step isn’t to add to your scheduling system. It’s to cut out the fat.
Just as you’d trim the fat before grilling a steak, you want to get rid of anything that’s not necessary to your scheduling system. At most, you should have two schedules: personal and work. But the fewer calendars you have, in general, the easier your life will be to manage. One calendar means one dashboard for your entire workflow, one place to set reminders, etc. The simpler it is, the more effective it will be.
That’s great and all. But what are the actionable steps that allow you to integrate your mangled scheduling system into one calendar?
- Outlook and Google Calendar. If you use both Outlook and Google Calendar, you might notice that you’ve had one extra calendar created for you by using Outlook. There are plenty of tools you can use to sync these up naturally. For example, if a client sends something to your Outlook and schedules a meeting, you can make sure it publishes directly to your Google Calendar and you don’t miss a beat.
- Zapier. If you do have to use two separate tools to make sure that your schedule is on point, Zapier is a great way to automate that task.
- SyncGene. Sync your contacts, calendars, and tasks together. This is great for people who use different devices, such as Android and iPhone, and need to keep everything centralized in spite of the physical clutter.
As a general rule of thumb? Use as few calendars as possible. Try not to create an interconnected web of syncing calendars if you can avoid it. But if you must, use syncing tools like those listed above to give yourself a single, manageable dashboard.
Use Tools to Let Customers Do the Work For You
Now that you have your calendar under control, you’re going to want to empower your customers to do a little bit of the work.
Yes—it sounds like a bad idea. No one wants to give their customers more “friction” than is necessary. But in many cases, these tools can be valuable for you and your customers.
For example, take Calendly. This is an application that lets you post your schedule for anyone who might need to book some of your time. You’re free to block out your own times, so you’re still in control. But then it’s up to your potential clients to book a call with you.
Calendly takes the guesswork out of scheduling. It shows clients when you’re available, and when you’re not. They’re not going to email you and ask for a time, and then wait for your response, then tell you when they’re available. They’ll simply check out your page, book a time, enter their information, and the meeting is set. That’s it.
You can also use automated phone apps to handle potential client calls for you while you’re away. One such tool is Grasshopper, which lets you keep your business phone number and your personal phone number separate. This means that you can give out your number and have someone reach your personal cell phone—yet from the outside world, it’s like they called your business.
These two tools alone will help you take back more control. They’re especially valuable if you already tend to get a lot of phone calls or email signups on your website. But rather than handling each client call on an ad hoc basis, you’ll have a system in place that makes you look professional, simplifies your scheduling, and skips to the next step.
Want more? Another simple way you can integrate better scheduling into your system is to use Boomerang for Gmail, which lets you track email threads that are getting out of control.
Hiring an Assistant to Help With Scheduling
As great as it can be to automate as much of your scheduling as possible, there’s a good problem that emerges as your business grows: it’s harder to manage that growth. Why is this a good problem? It means that you’ll have more resources to handle your scheduling. The trick is getting started in the first place.
We recommend hiring a virtual assistant to help with scheduling. If you’ve taken the steps above already, you’ll have a streamlined system for managing new appointments. But what about scheduling transportation for a business trip? What about scheduling follow-ups? What about following up with people you met in person? What about having a live voice respond to client calls so they don’t leave frustrated voicemails?
This is where you’ll need some help. But you don’t have to hire a full-time on-site assistant right away, either. It’s possible to dip your toes in the water with a virtual assistant. A virtual assistant won’t work full-time, but they can serve as an expert. They can handle phone calls, make travel arrangements, and log into your schedule to help keep it visually pleasing and well-organized.
Hiring an assistant can be a little bit intimidating the first time, so approach it with simple steps:
- Seek out an assistant with scheduling experience. It might seem intuitive, but many people gloss over this step and it ends up creating a negative experience when the assistant has to learn these apps and strategies on the job.
- Create an onboarding document. How do you already schedule your life? Put this together in an onboarding document so your assistant can easily fit into what you already do and take it from there.
- Ask for feedback. Experience is critical because you can then ask your assistant if they know of ways you can improve your scheduling system.
Save Time on Scheduling with “Little” Strategies
If you’ve done the above, then you’ll have everything you need to manage your small business without feeling overwhelmed by your schedule. But there are a few more little tweaks you can incorporate to make things run even more smoothly:
- Always update your calendar immediately. This is a great rule of thumb and once you adopt it, you’ll rarely run into deadline issues: once you schedule a new meeting or a new project, put it in your calendar immediately. We know—it’s tempting to think “I’ll get to it later.” But even if you have a genuine desire to follow up, it’s possible that it will slip your mind. Preclude that possibility by putting it on the calendar right away. Download any appropriate software or applications that make it as easy as possible to do so. Zapier is especially useful for implementing this automatically.
- Implement reminders and alerts. If you get into the habit of glossing over your calendar for the day, you might miss an item or two. In this case, it’s better to set a reminder that gives you a phone alert or emails you. Don’t keep this as a default setting. Instead, use it for the most important things—paying bills on time, critical client meetings, and follow-ups that have to get done.
- Schedule free and creative time. Ever notice that if you don’t put something in the schedule, it has a tendency not to get done? That’s not a coincidence. It’s something we all experience. If you fail to put together a business budget, it can be difficult to manage your cash flow. It’s the same with your time. Budget your time. That means scheduling free and creative time, even if you feel that you need to “let inspiration strike.” Inspiration may still strike. But if you have scheduled free and creative time, you’ll help make sure it does.
- Schedule in blocks. When you use a tool like Calendly, you’ll be able to publish the times you’re available. This is a great situation for an entrepreneur, because it means that you can schedule all of your client calls in single-segment blocks. You can have one call right after the other, assuming there’s enough demand on your schedule. This way, you’ll get into a regular routine that makes your lead generation inevitable rather than haphazard.
Once you get these tips working for you and have an assistant handle much of your schedule, you’ll have a new problem: how to fill all of this new time you have. At least it’s a high-quality problem.