Last Thursday my cable company, providers of my landline, cable, and internet, “planned” an outage that left me without internet until 3PM. Fortunately, most of my clients are very understanding and had no problem handling the work I should have been doing in my absence.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. Why didn’t I just go to a coffee shop or something and use their internet? Well, two reasons: I live in a rural area, so it’s quite a drive; and I had to wait here for the cable tech to come out because even though this was a “planned” outage, the cable company couldn’t decide if my problem was due to the outage or something more.
But my main point here is this: this was just one day. I live in Florida, and during hurricane season, it’s pretty much guaranteed that at some point, a storm will come through and leave me with no power for about a week – at least. And this is area-wide, sometimes even state-wide, so I can’t just run to a coffee shop.
And this is why I wanted to share a few tips for keeping things running smoothly when your VA needs a sick day, has no internet, or otherwise is unavailable unexpectedly. These might seem obvious, but many times, we don’t think about them until we need them, and by then it’s too late.
These tips can also be useful if YOU are unexpectedly unreachable. They’ll allow your VA to make some executive decisions about what to do in your absence without worrying about doing the wrong thing – and keep you from panicking because you’re unavailable.
Stock up on evergreen content
Many people utilize their VA to create and post blog content, social media, newsletter and sales email content. If you’re one of them, it’s a good idea to stock up on some evergreen content that can be slapped up any time with no changes.
Think of things like:
- Blog posts: posts that describe a service/product that is always available and brings attention to it; posts that explain why someone who is purchasing one product/service should also buy another; posts that offer helpful tips and advice on using specific services/products
- Social media: graphics that point followers toward your newsletter signup or a free consultation offer; graphics that ask questions; graphics that highlight a customer/client testimonial about your services/products
- Newsletters: A highlight reel of top performing products or blog posts; a short interview with one or two staff members with some insight into their work or home life; a brief behind-the-scenes peek into the creation of a product or service offering
- Sales emails: A template created that allows you to simply swap out certain details, such as names, dates, or specific product/service offerings. While you don’t necessarily want to use a template all the time (this can feel stale and a little too “cold” salesy), in a pinch like this, it can save you time and keep your sales process going.
Automate what you can
You probably already automate social media by having your VA schedule it through Hootsuite, Buffer or one of the other options available. You might even schedule your blog posts in advance.
You can do the same with newsletters with most providers. You can create your newsletter and schedule it to send when you want.
Some email providers also allow you to schedule the sending of an email or offer extensions that allow this (Streak! For Gmail is one such extension). This allows you to prep an email when it’s convenient for you (even if that’s the middle of the night) but send it when it’s more appropriate or more likely to be looked at.
You can investigate other ways of automating things, too. You might find a program that lets you automate text reminders to clients of their appointments with you. You can use systems like Calendly to schedule appointments so that they integrate with your calendar and don’t require the human touch at all unless there’s a problem (such as needing to reschedule).
By automating what you can, there’s less that needs to be done when your VA isn’t there. When social media and other things that need to be done that day are pre-scheduled, you can relax knowing that they’ll still be taken care of.
Be informed on where and how everything works
One of my biggest suggestions to business owners is to outsource what they hate doing. And while I still stand behind that, I want to add a caveat to that: you can’t just drop it in your VA’s lap and never think about it again. I know you want to, but it’s a bad idea.
Many times when I start working with a client, I start seeing ways to improve efficiency, simplify processes, and organize things more easily. When I do, I make suggestions: switch from this program to that one; use these labels instead of these. Sometimes a client is perfectly content with what they have, and that’s fine. Other times, they agree and tell me to go ahead and make the change.
But I always insist that my clients know what I’m using, why I’m using it, and how I’m using it. You might not ever want to do social media or sales emails again – but knowing how to use the programs we’re using for those things will make life so much easier on you if you must do them at some point. It also makes it easier if you need to switch to a new VA and need to train her to use it.
When you’re already stressed and going into panic mode because your VA just texted you and said she won’t be in today, you don’t want to try to learn how to use a new system or process. Under that kind of pressure, you’re going to make mistakes and miss things that are right in front of your face. Take the time to go through a quick tutorial or ask your VA to show you how to use it on a regular day. Or ask your VA to write up an SOP on how to use it with screenshots, then read through that. The point is to just have, at a minimum, a rough idea of how to use it. It doesn’t have to be perfect; just enough to help you get through without feeling a full-blown panic attack coming on.
Bonus tip: Give lots of lead time
This tip isn’t necessarily helpful for those unexpected days off, but they work well for planned vacations and days off. Think ahead to promotions, holidays, launches and other things that you do throughout the year. Provide your VA with lots of lead time to prep blog posts, newsletter content, and social media graphics for those things.
In general, the more lead time you can provide, the more likely it is that your VA will be able to deliver what you need on time, even if she has to be out. Communication is vital in this regard. Making sure you give ample notice while also being clear about your deadline will allow your VA to determine where on her list of priorities things need to be placed.
Ask to be kept informed of things like vacation and out of office days as well. While most VAs are independent contractors and therefore can work whatever hours they choose, many of us choose to have set office hours. Personally, when I know that I will not be working on a day that I typically have office hours, I try to let all my clients know ahead of time – whether that’s just a day or two, or a couple of months. This helps cut down on miscommunication and missed deadlines.
A little planning ahead, even though it might create a little more work for your VA initially, will help keep things running smoothly in the long run when she’s not there.
What other tips would you offer to ensure that a business can continue to run smoothly even when the VA is unexpectedly out?