When we started the company, there were three of us. The other two guys did the bulk of the design/development and I did some development, but mostly I ran the business. I spoke with all prospects, I managed all projects, dealt with accounting… all of it. Then earlier this year, one of those guys left to pursue other interests. Once he left, I took on the bulk of the design work on top of what was already on my plate. This was not a smart move.
For a couple months we rolled forward without making any significant changes to the way things were. We were working crazy hours to deal with everything on our plates and there was never a time when I felt like things were under control. I had lists of every shape and size. Notes on this project and that. But, there wasn’t anything that resembled a method to my madness. It was just… madness. Finally, when my stress level was reaching epic proportions, I made the decision. We need a project manager and we need one now!
As I started putting together the job description for this new position, I quickly realized that it wasn’t just a project manager I was looking for. I needed an assistant with project management skills. I interviewed half a dozen people for the position, but none felt perfect. As I was taking a couple of days to ponder my options, the exact person I had in mind for the position asked if the position was still available. Without a second thought, the position was hers. Welcome, Sarah.
Getting up to speed
Now that we had our person, the real fun begins. We set up an initial meeting to do a bit of a brain dump. I spoke for nearly 2 hours straight while she took notes. A lot of them. When the meeting ended and I saw the amount of information that had been floating around in my head, I was amazed. I knew I had been trying to manage a lot of information about a lot of projects, but seeing it all on paper was a real eye opener.
Over the next few weeks we worked together to find the processes that worked best for us. There is no such thing as a perfect solution when it comes to project management. We tried a few options and settled in on what felt comfortable. We’ve tweaked it over time and what we have now seems to be doing the trick. But, we’re still tweaking as we go.
Once we had the basic framework for project management in place, we started looking at all the areas of the business where she could take tasks off my plate. It should be no surprise that email was one of the first things that came up. On any given day I receive a handful emails from people looking for our services. I started by CC’ing Sarah on all client emails. Within a week she had taken over the ‘first line of defense’ answering the emails that have fairly standard responses. Over the next couple weeks she had taken over the bulk of all new prospect emails. If she did nothing else, she’d be worth her weight in gold! Lucky for me, this was only the beginning.
During those first couple weeks, Sarah turned my ramblings from that first meeting (along with all the emails and new prospects that had shown up since) in to an organized spreadsheet. We had tabs for existing projects, pipeline prospects and deals that we failed to capture. We’d meet a couple times a week to discuss each list. It's amazing how a 10 minute meeting looking over a list can be so much more productive than 2 hours of pouring through your inbox trying to find all the details…
These are only a few of the things she’s taken off my desk so far. As we continue to refine our processes, I know there will be more.
As I said before, I had a lot of information floating around in my head. Since I was always so busy with everything that was on my plate at the moment, it was virtually impossible to step back and look ahead or behind. I was just rushing from project to project putting out whichever was the biggest fire.
About 4 weeks in to having Sarah on board I had that ‘A HA!’ moment that let me know I had made the right choice. I received an email from a prospect who I had talked to a couple months before. We had exchanged a few emails about a project, but it didn’t go anywhere and he ended up falling through the cracks. Sarah saw his name on that original list of prospects, reached out to him with a simple email asking if he was still in need of our services, and the next day he emails us asking for a contract and invoice so we could start his project. Without Sarah sending that email, it's unlikely we would have landed that client.
While that is the most obvious example of the benefits of having an assistant, there are plenty of more subtle benefits as well. My time at my desk has been significantly more focused and productive now that I have less to manage on my own.
If I could give you just one piece of advice, stop trying to do it all yourself. Hire an assistant and in no time you’ll be wondering how you managed without them for so long.