"Finally a way to follow-up, without me."
“My goal is no longer to get more done, but rather to have less to do.”
― Francine Jay, Miss Minimalist: Inspiration to Downsize, Declutter, and Simplify
“How in the world am I going to get my first 2,000 subscribers?” I pondered as the clock leaped from one to two AM.
Email after email, LinkedIn request after Tweet, I focused on human interaction with other individuals online. Paid search was not part of the plan this early on.
PolitePersistence just came off of a failed crowdfunding campaign and I knew we needed to switch gears and focus on beta users rather than backers.
I was on autopilot. Whenever I met someone in person or found an interesting blogger online I would attempt to connect over email, social media, etc. I would also add this person to my follow up spreadsheet, set a follow up reminder and then wait to be alerted to follow up.
I couldn’t be more ingrained in the system and was spending a TON of time following up.
Days would pass and, given my full time obligations, I was only able to follow up with handfuls of people on a daily basis. As time went on, my patchwork system of follow up reminders and spreadsheets became tangled and harder to understand than trying to decipher heiroglyphics.
I needed to remove myself from this follow up process but how? PolitePersistence wasn’t built yet and then it hit me.
In my previous professional life I’ve always been able to build systems to accelerate goal attainment. Why couldn’t I do that for my personal and professional follow up?
Thus, The PolitePersistence System was born. We’ll come back to this...
The Problem with Networking
There are tremendous books written about personal networking. A few of my favorites are:
Never Eat Alone - Keith Ferrazzi
The Virtual Handshake - David Teten
How to Win Friends & Influence People - Dale Carnegie
As of January 2014, there were about 12,284 books for ‘Business Networking’ on Amazon and about 1,271 book for ‘Business Follow Up’.
Reading a book about ‘business networking’ will cover many topics including following up, however, this topic will rarely make up more than 5% of the material covered.
So what’s the point? More emphasis needs to be placed on the follow up system you use. The art and science of following up is elusive to many people.
You can’t network and grow a business without a structured follow up system. Period.
This post isn’t about the nuances of what to say in follow up emails. You can read about that in a post written by my friend John Corcoran here.
Rather this post is about building a scalable, repeatable and realistic approach to accelerating your human interaction.
Without a follow up automation plan in place, ‘networking’ is just talking to people aimlessly.
How do you automate your follow up? Use a virtual assistant (VA).
The PolitePersistence System
I have been using The PolitePersistence System to accelerate my human interaction and grow our PolitePersistence subscriber base. Although, there is much more detail that goes into The PolitePersistence System than just using a VA, the remaining post will cover finding and utilizing a VA for your personal follow up system.
Obviously, you can use your VA to follow up for any reason but the important point to remember no one should ever hire a VA without a clear goal in mind.
For our example in this post, my goal was to build relationships with individuals who want to be part of our software beta.
I’m going to cover the following below:
- How to Find a Highly Qualified VA
- How to Put Your VA in the Driver Seat of Your Follow Up System
- How to be Chauffeured to Contacts that Want to Connect with You
How to Find a Highly Qualified VA
There are tons of services at your disposal when searching for a qualified VA.
I break these services down into two buckets: (1) VA Matchmakers (2) Online Staffing Portals
I personally prefer Online Staffing Portals but here are some points about VA Matchmakers.
These are companies that specialize in matching you with a VA that meets your needs. Some examples include:
Your Man In India
Personally, I’ve found that for my follow up needs these services were not priced favorably. If you don’t have time to take more control over your VA search then you might consider using one of the above services.
VA Matchmaker Pro: you pay one price but have access to multiple VA’s in case one can’t handle your request or leaves the company.
VA Matchmaker Con: it’s difficult to build a personal relationship with a VA as they may switch out with other VA’s who are managing your account.
I wanted to take more control over my VA search and not outsource finding my outsourcers. This brings me to the second bucket, Online Staffing Portals.
Online Staffing Portals
Online Staffing Portals allow you to post a project and accept a proposal directly from an virtual assistant who feels qualified to accomplish your project. You must vet these VA’s on your own. Some examples of these platforms include:
In each one of these situations you post a project, vet the applicants and hire a VA.
I have had success with Online Staffing Portals and this is how I found my current VA for PolitePersistence.
Online Staffing Portal Pro: you build a relationship with an individual and not a company.
Online Staffing Portal Con: the time commitment is greater due to required manual vetting of VAs.
Here is how I found our awesome VA for PolitePersistence:
Make it Hard For a VA to Apply
If you have ever posted a project on an Online Staffing Portal site then you know how important it is to weed out the unqualified applicants before they even apply.
This is 80/20 at its finest. Twenty percent of the applicants will possess 80% of the talent and skill necessary for your project. This is probably closer to 95/5.
Remember, you are looking for reasons to disqualify a VA since you will receive tons of unqualified proposals. You NEED to find someone who follows directions.
Here is the Request for Proposal (RFP) I posted on an Online Staffing Portal:
“Hello - I am seeking a virtual assistant to assist with my online follow up communication.
Follow up communication will encompass using both email and social media channels.
Outreach includes anywhere from 10-100 messages a week. This is an initial vetting project with a two week duration. You are bidding on your hourly rate.
If requirements are met successfully then there will be opportunity for an extended engagement doing similar tasks.
Please address the following by including the original question in your response:
1) What experience do you have with online communication follow up? Please describe a similar project you’ve worked on for a client where you had to follow up. What follow up steps did you take? What communication channels did you use?
2) How would you rate your english speaking ability? This position requires us to communicate telephonically or over Skype/Google Hangout. If your native language is not English but you have had English training please include this.
Your professionalism is highly valued and to ensure we are hiring someone with experience please include the following in your bid:
Please develop a spreadsheet template that can be used for managing, contacting and following up with bloggers. The communication channels in this example will be: email, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook. There is no ‘right answer’ - rather I want to see how you organize your data and approach. I am primarily looking for how you label column titles and how you organize the columns as they relate to a linear follow up process. Feel free to be creative.
Lastly, since we will receive many template based proposals for this position please include the following as the first line of your bid, “I Am Real”.
I look forward to reviewing your bid.”
Weed out applicants by including these tricks in your RFP:
Include specific questions that the VA has to answer but more importantly include this line: address the following by including the original question in your response. If the VA does not include the question before providing the answer scrap them.
Have them perform some simple task. I asked applicants to put labels in columns in a spreadsheet and organize the columns based on a structured follow up approach so I could see their thought process. In the past I’ve also asked VA’s to research three to five bloggers in one RFP and in another RFP asked VA’s to design logo ideas (using their watermarks) to gauge level of ability.
Finally, I always include the ask: please include the following as the first line of your bid, “I Am Real”. This is the easiest disqualifier to use. As you begin reviewing bids if you don’t see “I Am Real” as the first line then instantly delete the bid without a second thought.
How to Put Your VA in the Driver Seat of Your Follow Up System
Hire Multiple VAs and Choose the Best
If you are fortunate to find multiple VA’s that meet your above criteria then hire them all if you can. A strong, competent and valuable VA is hard to come by.
I’ve personally hired up to three VA’s for the same project. I make it very clear that I am vetting the VA in my RFP by stating: this is an initial vetting project with a two week duration.
I obviously want this VA long term but I’m making it clear that the vetting stage is only two weeks long.
When accepting proposals from VAs be sure to provide them similar tasks so you can compare apples to apples.
Before even thinking of hiring a VA you will have put together your follow up approach so you can hand it over to your VA.
Your follow up approach is outlined in detail within The PolitePersistence System ebook but for our purpose it contains things like:
Communication channels you will use for following up with individuals in order (ex: first email, then LinkedIn, etc.)
The duration between each communication channel (Ex: email first then three days later send a LinkedIn message, etc.)
The templates you will use for all communication channels
Your follow up approach is reflected in your personal PolitePersistence System follow up spreadsheet.
Here is an example of the spreadsheet structure I’ve used. It’s always being tweaked and updated.
Keep in mind the following:
Each tab contains the communication templates I will use for that niche or goal.
For personal contacts I’ve met in person I’ll include columns that contain template variables that I’ll complete before having my VA initiate our follow up process.
Here is a template that you can use when providing your VAs their initial tasks for vetting purposes:
“First do the following:
Confirm that you can login to your newly created email account [LOGIN AND PASSWORD PROVIDED]
Confirm that you can access our shared Hootsuite account for following up with contacts over social media [LOGIN AND PASSWORD PROVIDED]
You will then use the attached spreadsheet [LINK TO GOOGLE DRIVE SPREADSHEET] to do the following:
You will research bloggers in the email marketing niche and add them to this spreadsheet using the appropriate tab and completing the required information.
Once you have found 25 bloggers email me and inform me that the task is complete. I will review your list and make any necessary adjustments.
Once the list is confirmed you will initiate communicating and following up with these contacts.
Let me know what questions you have before you begin. Thanks.”
Here are a couple of points to remember about this initial vetting task:
I understand that some people have a tough time handing over account credentials to a VA who they don’t know. This is why I recommend creating the VA their own separate email account like VAFirstName@YourDomain.com even creating them a Gmail account like VAFirstName.CompanyName@gmail.com.
As for social media, you can put an additional layer between your actual account credentials and your VA by using Hootsuite. Once the vetting process is through and you fully trust a VA, then you may want to consider providing them direct access to your social media accounts for further flexibility and efficiency.
As you can see in the spreadsheet example above, I am using Google Drive Spreadsheet. Do yourself a favor and don’t manage this process with Excel. You want something collaborative that you can both edit real time. Create a Google Drive account if you don’t already have one.
If you are asking your multiple VAs to do the same task and find individuals in the same niche there may be overlap in contacts uncovered. For instance, you don’t want three VAs finding and following up with John Smith Blogger. This is why you first need to have them confirm their list with you before initiating communication. Do a quick eyeball review or use a function like this to delete duplicates:
1.) Select the cell where you would like the de-duplicated info to begin
2.) Enter the function =UNIQUE(
3.) Select the cells you would like to pull data from
4.) Close the parentheses. Your function should look something like this: =UNIQUE(B:B)
How to be Chauffeured to Contacts that Want to Connect with You
“Network with those who want to network with you.”
This was told to me by one of the golfers I caddied for back in early high school. It’s a quote that pervades The PolitePersistence System.
Just because you received 20 business cards or found 100 bloggers doesn’t mean they all want to connect with you. This wading through contacts takes time but it is also the essence of the word “Hustle”.
Allow your VA to do the hustle for you… did anyone else just hear the disco tune in their head?
Give the following rules and parameters to your VA to help him or her drive contacts that WANT to network with you:
Let your VA know that aside from his or her research and adding contacts to the spreadsheet, you will add contacts to your spreadsheet in two ways: (1) you will forward him or her contacts that you want added to your spreadsheet. Maybe these are people you meet in person or bloggers you find online. (2) You might add contacts directly to the spreadsheet by completing the Contact Information and Template Variable sections.
Depending on your preference, have your VA do one of the following as it relates to contacts that respond negatively (i.e. say they are not interested, etc.): (1) Have your VA NOT tell you when someone responds negatively and ONLY update the spreadsheet or (2) Have your VA inform you of these individuals. I sometimes may ask to be informed of those who respond as ‘Not interested’ so I can politely ask “Why?” - finding out why someone is not interested in what you have to say is excellent market research for your product or service.
When someone responds favorably (i.e. they are interested in what you have to say) have your VA do one of the following: (1) Have your VA forward you the positive reply so you can personally follow up with this interested contact or (2) Depending on the possible responses from your contacts, devise templates that your VA can use to respond back to your contact.
Once these parameters and rules have been set it’s a matter of rinse and repeat. Your PolitePersistence System will be a science project of constant tweaking and experimentation.
It will be both a learning experience for both you and your VA. But rest assured - the upfront planning and strategy you put into finding and working with your VA will pay you significant professional dividends in the future.
I hope that this post provided you insight into how I’ve worked with a VA to grow PolitePersistence as well as how I have developed a scalable follow up system that can be replicated across niches.
Couple of things you should do now:
1) Join our select Google+ community of followers of The PolitePersistence System. This is a community to share and learn everything there is about following up, across all communication channels and across all stages of a business lifecycle from startup to scale. Professionals only - No solicitation.
2) If you like what you read above and want to stay up to date on the most relevant follow up techniques, systems and communication life hacks then subscribe to our newsletter below.
3) Tell us what you think? How can you see yourself using The PolitePersistence System to accelerate your communication in business?