“Thanks for your email. I’m looping in my assistant, Dillon, so he can schedule our call.”
As a virtual assistant, I read these words many times in a day. A big part of any VA’s job is likely to be managing a client’s schedule. But when working for a busy and/or high-profile client, schedule management can be quite a tall order. How does one begin to approach this sometimes daunting task?
Say you’re taking on a new client. They likely already have a calendar system set up, so that’s a first step! Whether it’s Google Calendar, Outlook, iCal, or another service, it is a platform you will need access to. Take the time to walk through the calendar with your client and make sure you fully understand the steps you need to take in order to put a new item on their calendar successfully. Once you’ve got the basics down, you’re ready to go! Here are just a few more tips to help you seamlessly and efficiently manage a client’s schedule:
Know Your Client’s Preferences
If you’ll be handling your client’s scheduling, one of your first priorities should be learning their preferences. How long do they anticipate most calls taking? Do they prefer more time for their own clients, and less time for other appointments? Do they like to knock out all their calls in the morning and have the afternoon free to focus on projects, or do they prefer having calls spread throughout the day? How much time do they need between calls? Do they like to be the one to dial out, or do they prefer to be called directly? Do they take calls on their mobile? Land line? Skype? Conference service? What’s the nearest coffee shop in case an appointment needs to happen in-person?
While some of these questions might seem ultra-specific for a new client relationship, the sooner you know the answers to them, the sooner you can begin knocking out scheduling items without the need to ask questions at every turn.
Block Off All Possible Conflicts
Talk with your client about their day-to-day routines, and make sure their calendar always reflects everything that could affect the flow of their day. Do they spend time commuting to appointments? Ask them how long it takes to travel to their regular spots, and then make a habit of blocking off appropriate travel time around any out-of-office appointment. If they have a routine personal appointment Fridays at 3:00 p.m., can they take calls at 2:30 p.m.? Probably not, so block off the half-hour prior so you don’t schedule something that will interfere with their travel or prep. Perhaps you could even make a daily calendar item indicating their lunch hour so you know not to schedule appointments during that time.
And get creative with calendar colors! Perhaps appointments are blue, while commute times are gray, etc. It’s all about clarity—for you, and for them!
Integrate Seamlessly With Your Smartphone
No-brainer? Sure, but the sooner you integrate your client platforms into your smartphone, the better off you’ll be. As a VA, you are likely working on a part-time schedule amidst a flurry of other obligations, and the ability to access and use your client accounts on your phone gives you the freedom to go about your day without being tied to your computer. It might be as simple as adding an email account in your settings. Maybe you’ll want to add a calendar app or widget that syncs with your client’s calendar and remains separate from your personal calendar. Make things as quick and easy as possible—you’ll thank yourself later when you’re on the run!
Strive for Time Zone Clarity
In my early days as a VA, I had to learn about time zone clarity the hard way. The virtual workspace is unique for many reasons, but one of the most outstanding is the fact that you could very well be working for someone in a completely different part of the world than you. (At one time I was working for clients in the Midwest, on the East Coast, and in Europe — all at once!) And on top of your own time zone difference, you must also keep track of time differences between your client and those with whom they correspond.
Even if time zone clarity and conversion come easily to you, it is important to keep in mind that not everyone will specifically note time zone differences. I think it is a best practice to include the time zone in any scheduling correspondence. This is especially true if you, your client, and the person with whom your client is meeting are all in different time zones. Over-communicating about time zones will just make everything easier!
Offer Options (But Not Too Many)
Some VAs might prefer to always leave scheduling options open-ended: “Our schedule is free on Thursday morning. What time works for you?” However, if you handle a high volume of appointments, keeping track of multiple open-ended offerings can quickly become a nightmare! What if two people just happen to ask for the same exact time slot on Thursday morning? That creates more emails that could have been avoided.
Instead, I suggest always offering someone two scheduling options at first: “How about either next Thursday at 10:00 a.m. ET, or Friday at 1:30 p.m. ET?” That way, they know what works for you, and you can place holds on your calendar for these two specific times, rather than holding a whole morning. And by offering two different days of the week, as well as both a morning and an afternoon option, you are offering more flexibility and increasing your chances of securing the appointment quickly.
Let Your Inbox Do the Work
No matter which email platform you use, there are ways to configure your inbox that will allow more visibility for pending items. Scheduling for a client can often mean waiting quite a while for someone to get back to you to confirm an appointment.
Rather than allowing pending emails to become lost in the jumble, try setting up your inbox in a way that calls attention to threads that haven’t been resolved yet. There are many ways to accomplish this, such as marking an email “unread” until you have all the information necessary to address it. You can make use of folders and labels, or if you use Gmail, you can even use a “lab” in your inbox which allows you to choose where certain threads appear. The “Multiple Inboxes” lab, for instance, allows you to create multiple areas in your inbox: one for “pending” items, one for “completed” items, etc. You can customize!
Include an Email Confirmation
One thing I’m always sure to do when setting up appointments for clients is to include a confirmation in my final email indicating the details of the appointment. Of course all the requisite details are included in the calendar invite I send, but if the receiver’s calendar is not set up to accept invitations from my platform (Outlook vs. Google Calendar, for example), I want to make sure they still have all the information they need for the appointment.
It can be as simple as saying, “Great! I’ve just sent a calendar invite for tomorrow’s call at 2:00 p.m. ET. The invite includes a number (555-867-5309) so you may reach out directly.” That way, if your invite doesn’t make it onto their calendar, they can still quickly reference the details in the email.
Of course there are plenty of ways to stay on top of scheduling, and as a VA, you probably have your own routine in place. But if you haven’t already, give these seven hacks a try. They sure have made my life easier!