I’ve been operating as a Virtual Assistant since 2008, and know only too well how busy it can be when working to meet the expectations and deadlines that come with the demands of multiple clients. Sometimes I really do feel like I’m a circus performer juggling many different balls all at once, and it can be hard to stay on top of it all… and, of course, when you are engaged in a small home-based or online business, the buck definitely stops with you, so the pressure is always on!
When I work with new and start-up VAs, I often get asked “how do you do manage multiple clients effectively”, and I have to say in all honesty that it’s a skill that does not come naturally to most of us.
Whilst there are no hard and fast rules on this topic, what I have observed is that successful business operators and VAs have learned how to develop and implement systems and processes which help them better manage their workloads and meet their clients’ many and diverse expectations.
Sometimes, it’s a matter of trial and error before you finally hit upon a strategy that works – and remember, we all work differently in our businesses, so you need to find solutions that ‘fit’ with you and your work style... it's not a one-size-fits-all by any means.
To help get you thinking about strategies in this area, here are 7 tips that I have implemented very successfully in my business, all of which have helped me achieve a balance when working with many clients and multiple projects:
TIP #1 - Set Clear Boundaries with your Clients:
When you bring a client onboard, it’s vital that you ensure your clients know how you work. This includes communicating information to them such as:
When you are available to do their work (barring emergencies of course!)
Letting your clients know the best way to communicate with you in relation to normal workflow requests
Likewise, letting your clients know the best way to communicate with you in cases of emergencies/urgent requests (for example, my clients generally email tasks through, but if there’s something urgent they will always text or phone)
TIP #2 - Use a To-Do List:
Call me old-fashioned, but I love, love, love my to-do list. It’s certainly taken a bit of experimenting, ranging from online/electronic to-do lists to the handwritten variety, and without doubt my most successful to-do lists are my written ones. Being the stationery queen that I am, I have invested in the pre-printed to-do lists (because they’re neat and ready to use, complete with check boxes to tick) which can be purchased at various stationery outlets.
How it works is, at the end of each day, I take time to review where I’m at, and re-write a new to-do list in preparation for the next work day. I use the to-do list for high priority, short term tasks, and take great pleasure in crossing them off.
TIP #3 - Consider using Project Management Software:
There are so many fabulous project management solutions out there in Cloud land – many are free! My personal favourite is Asana, but I do have clients who prefer Trello or Basecamp. Of course there are countless other options out there, but the bottom line is that as long as it works for the people it needs to work for (you and your clients), then it’s worth using and it’s something that I do recommend because it allows you to document progress against long term or repetitive tasks, and means don’t have to rely on your memory (which can sometimes fail you when you’re under pressure).
In the greater scheme of things, using project management software can save you heaps of time and angst. If you choose to include your client so they can access the project management software, it has the added benefit of allowing your client to ‘see’ what you’re doing in relation to his or her project.
TIP #4 - Batch up your Work:
When working with multiple clients, or across multiple projects, I find I achieve far more if I batch up work for each client/project. By this I mean, I plan to focus on one client for a period of time (either daily, weekly or whatever). So, for example, with one client I have a weekly task that involves reconciling expenses. I do this generally in one hit on a Friday. This means that I can plan my week knowing that I will be doing this task religiously every Friday. It also ultimately saves time when you work continuously on one project / task because you’re not having to refresh / remind yourself where you were up to as is the case when you are only half doing something and coming back to it later.
TIP #5 - Utilise the Functionality of Calendars and Reminders:
Sometimes when I have a lot on my plate, and I know I’ve got a time sensitive task to do, I will log tasks into my calendar and set reminders to email me or pop up on my desktop as a reminder. The good thing about this is that you can log these reminders days, weeks, months or even years in advance. Again, it gives my ageing ‘grey matter’ a break, and relieves me of the stress associated with potentially forgetting something important.
TIP #6 - Limit Distractions such Facebook and Instant Messaging programs:
It’s a reality that we are plugged into the world in a highly accessible way, and this means that there is a risk that we can become easily distracted – and I’m no saint, let me tell you! I am guilty of going in ‘just to check’ something in Facebook, and getting caught up for much longer than I had intended.
If you can, avoid having Facebook open on your desktop while you’re working. This will also remove the threat of Facebook Messenger popping up to distract you.
In relation to Skype and other instant messaging programs, use them caution. Yes, they can be great tools for staying in touch when you work virtually, but like anything, they are prone to create a distraction if not used effectively.
TIP #7 - Schedule in ‘Me’ time:
Giving yourself time out is not a luxury… it’s a necessity! Allow yourself time to get away from your business. If necessary, turn off your phone so you really can switch off. You will not only refresh yourself, but your business will benefit as well!
Overall, be prepared to experiment with what works best for you. It’s definitely not a one-size-fits-all formula, and you obviously need to take into account different working styles, and different client needs.
I’d love to hear if you have any other tips that help you effectively manage multiple clients!