#4: Free Yourself From Email by Outsourcing Your Inbox with Claire Giovino
In this episode we talk to the founder of one company that helps business owners clone themselves by taking over their inbox and doing all their emails for them. You heard that right.
A growing company that helps you get out of the weeds and working ON your business and not IN your business. Really interesting episode!
In this episode
- How InboxDone came to be
- Catch 22, overcoming people’s resistance to your service
- 3 years, 3 stages of bootstrapped growth
- Getting meta, how Claire has cloned “herself” within her company
- Power tips to implement now to get your inbox done
- Tools and documenting your processes
- Who uses the service
Connect with Claire
Anthony: Hi, Claire, so it’s great to have you join me. Thank you for taking time today to chat with us.
Claire: Thank you for having me.
Anthony: So it’s great to like first meet you now. I’ve heard a little bit about you from our mutual friend Yarrow and what you’re doing with your new… with your company now InboxDone. And of course, with what we talked about here is ways that we’d like to try and clone ourselves whether it’s through software automation, through teams, outsourcing and systems and all of that good stuff. And I think what you’re doing is just really unique in solving a very interesting problem. I think a lot of people that I find fascinating, so I can’t wait to dive into this.
So thanks again for joining us and please tell people about who you are and what it is that you’re doing.
Claire: So we run a company called InboxDone where we take over, and manage, and reply, to the emails of variable busy people. And I’m sure you know this and the work that you do, the inbox is often the last thing that people tend to outsource. It’s kind of that thing that they hold on to, they might delegate, website development, all these other areas, specifically of online business, but feeling like they need to be the person in there answering those emails is often a really hard thing to let go of.
So we found this niche where there’s many virtual assistant agencies, but Yarrow and I wondered if we could really niche down and just become, fully focused on email, and so people come to us with the pain point of being completely overwhelmed by their inbox. But then kind of the more subtle pain point within there, is the hiring process. So we’re also finding people for them, finding a person, a clone for them, to represent them inside the inbox and we’re doing all that vetting and hiring and training for them, so that we can just match them with somebody.
Anthony: This is fascinating, you’re taking over people’s inboxes. This is thing that obviously most covered and personal to them. Which is, I think the last thing we all think of actually outsourcing, who can possibly reply on behalf of myself, but it sounds like you guys have systems all around that. So how did this even come about to being an actual company now? Helping others like how did it first get started? What was the initial seed?
Claire: So Yarrow, became my client about four years ago. And he had, he was way ahead of the game in many ways. He had always been outsourcing different parts of his business, but email was kind of still one of those things where he knew it could be even better, and so I came in and built these systems where we’re combining automation and taking that as far as we can, without losing the personal touch and because people love to interact with a human and know that it’s an actual human on the other end of their screen and not just a bug.
And so the combination of those things, we got it to the point where, he now just checks his inbox once a month. And I got to know his brains so well, that I could go in there and answer pretty much everything I’d say 95% of emails. And he would say, tell you as well, got to the point where, especially with sales emails and that relationship building, I got to a point where I could answer them even better than him. And I think a large part of that is because as an owner of a business, as I’m sure you know, there’s a lot of emotional ties to this business that you’ve built and created and so actually bringing a third party in who understands you and your business and what you offer, but being kind of this objective lens is can actually allow you to write emails even better than the owner themselves.
And so once he realized, what a big difference that made for him, we decided to test it out. And it’s kind of went into a beta phase and seeing if we could package up all of the systems that are created for him, and then if I could train people to do what I had done to. So we slowly branched out that way.
Anthony: Interesting, so you’re not really an agency, you’re more of like a productized service. Is that right? Is that how does this model works?
Claire: So, there’s proprietary systems and we we’ve created a proprietary hiring, and vetting, and training process to find just the best people to run these inboxes. But it’s definitely I like to think of it as like a matchmaking service. So I’m vetting the clients to see if they’re gonna be a good fit, ’cause there’s a lot of as I’m sure you could guess, psychology involved, letting go of your email, not everyone. Some people like the idea of it, but they’re not necessarily ready for it. And then also vetting the managers. And so then, using many different facets, industry background, and personality, and availability, and timezone, all these things. I’m matching managers to clients every day.
Anthony: Okay, so this is something that you’re doing with Yarrow, or you’re the main founder and Yarrow is someone that remains behind the scenes like?
Claire: We’re Co-founders. So he’s become the chief evangelist, he spreads the word, which is wonderful. And then I’m more in the trenches on the daily basis running out.
Anthony: And this is more of a bootstrap style that something that you’ve, you had not had any funding for this?
Claire: We’ve had zero funding, which is something not opposed to it, but very proud of we were profitable in 30 days, and I’m really into, Lean in startups, and I’m not taking on any debt. And so that was really, really important to me.
Anthony: So that’s fascinating, so I think one of the things I’d love to get in to the process and how you guys sort of bring people on and what that initial call looks like, ’cause initially, I think of the resistance that comes up with the inbox, and getting over that hurdle that this is even an idea.
So what do you finding out when people originally coming to you, or the day find out, hey, I can’t believe I can actually outsource my email. It’s gotta be a huge pain point, right? Like, we’re all buried in emails these days. And from there, how are you able to sort of overcome that initial resistance? I mean, and what other resistance is that you have to overcome to get people to buy in? It’s a really unique and personal.
Claire: Transparency and expectation management right up front. Most people come to us initially exactly, because of what you said, they’re just intrigued. And they don’t necessarily believe that it’s possible. So they just want more of the ‘what is this gonna look like?’ And so we’re very upfront with them, it is a bit of a catch 22, because our clients are such busy people. And so for the first 30 days, we do need a little bit more of their time, to train us because although we bring in amazing people who are gonna draw out all of the information that lives in their head by asking really good questions, we still need them to be somewhat available for training.
And so after the first 30 days, though, that can really wind down to the point where we have the foundation that we need, and then maybe we do a weekly call or a monthly call after that, but it’s a lot of, asking, about how much time are you spending in the inbox now, and that ranges anywhere from three hours a day to 12 hours a day. Like you said, it’s this… We started by treating email, like snail mail in a way and then because of technology, just the volume and the speed, it’s gotten out of control. And a lot of people treat their inboxes like to do lists. And then what that means is anyone in the world can email you at any time and add on to your to do list. And so it’s this crazy expectation of, always being expected to respond to this influx of emails.
So it’s a lot of just figuring out where they’re at right now, and what that looks like on a daily basis. And then where would they like to be. And a lot of people, their goals are so small to start, which is understandable. They’re like, well, maybe if I could knock out one or two hours a day, that would be great. When it’s totally possible, if once the trust has been established, and they’re willing to work with us, to never have to log into your inbox again, if you wanna get to that point.
Anthony: Wow! So I guess initially, if someone was to think okay, this sounds like a great idea, I can’t believe someone can take over my actual inbox, but like but what would you sort of say to those people, they go yeah, I know if I don’t feel comfortable with someone being in my inbox. What is what you would start to say to them to help them start to come around to the idea this is possible? Because on the other side, they’re saving two or three hours a day. As you just describing and then I guess it’s a matter of going, so what else can you do with that those hours you’re saving every day? Where else can you put them, ’cause that is a huge value prop.
Claire: That’s exactly it, there’s a lot there because we can promise and we do give you back several hours in your day. But then filling that void is a whole not like next step of leveling up, because a lot of people think that all they want is free time. Just like a lot of people think that they are just working to have financial freedom. But once you have that financial freedom and have that time freedom, what are you gonna spend your time on? What are you gonna spend your money on? So yeah, that’s a great point.
Some people will just never feel comfortable with it. And that’s totally fine. It’s a really unique thing to bring someone into your inbox. But that’s, again, where you’re helping people visualize what could be, and as you know, creating any system starts with more upfront work in the beginning to create a system that will serve you for the rest of your life. And you’re training someone, we’re helping you train someone to make all of these micro decisions for you on a daily basis, so that you are no longer having to be the one to make those micro decisions every single day, which is sucks so much energy and takes your brain space away from the more important work that you could be doing. And so, one of the things that we do right away is help people discern the difference between important and urgent emails.
That’s where that compulsive checking the inbox comes from, thinking you might miss something urgent and actually very few things are truly urgent. But enough of them come up, that’s what keeps people checking constantly.
Anthony: Right but I guess there’s probably other things around that to like people feel feeling guilty, now they have to overcome this. There’s mixed feelings going through this transition, they’re feeling guilty that they’re no longer answering their emails, or they feel guilty if someone else actually does their emails, and that is not always them all the time. And that would be interesting, I can imagine emotion have to overcome as well.
Is there like a certain mindset people need to sort of be, before they become receptive to having someone come into their sort of inboxes or a sort of type of person that is really a good fit, who are the sort of people that you find really gravitating towards this?
Claire: People who probably have outsourced something else, some other areas so they know that it is possible, and it is just that openness there’s no long term contracts, it’s just a month to month service. So we just asked for, just give it a try for two months, and you can get so much done in two months. And so it’s an openness, and the possibility of letting go, you don’t have to let go of everything right up, out of the gate that’s a lot to ask.
Anthony: Is that what it is?
Claire: Exactly. And, so we can call it their pace, whatever that pace might be. It’s amazing the difference some clients. One client came to us and he said, “I know guys wouldn’t be in business, “if you didn’t know what you were doing. “So just do whatever you want, let me know.” Completely gave us the reins and so we made this incredible progress very quickly. But again, as I’m sure you know, there’s also a difference between delegating and decision making. And so if we’re only delegating, if you the client, you’re only delegating to your inbox manager, they’re gonna come back to you with questions, which then puts the ball back into your court. And so really from the start, we’re prepping people that we’re learning to think like them, and learning how to make those executive decisions down the road.
And to your prior point, some people love to be able to say I answer every email, that’s really important to me, and that’s your priority, you should do that. And if you feel like that’s where your best serving your people is through email, that’s great. A lot of coaches and counselors specifically have found that when we do all of their email on that back and forth, of scheduling or FAQs, it allows them to show up better, once they get to their one on one calls or their coaching calls or whatever it is because they haven’t done all the minutiae of emailing.
Anthony: Got it, so when people come to you, I imagine you’ve seen a lot of different states on inboxes, from those that are really clean to and organized and doesn’t need their help, to those that are just chaos. Where would someone start, in order to start sort of getting their inbox back to being in much better shape, like what is like one of those two, one, two top tips that you can provide to tell people, that where they can start now merely start seeing a difference? I mean, it’s not necessarily gonna be a substitute for what all the value guys are providing. But to give them an idea on the difference between what they’re currently doing to, what they could be doing, and the benefits that could come from even just a couple of tweaks.
Claire: So I’ll give you a story that answers your question. So one client knew that, they didn’t want a long term inbox manager, they just wanted to get to a clean slate, and get build those initial systems that organize them and then that they could run going forward. And so we helped him first minimize what is coming in and so unroll.me is a great service for that it’s free. It’s an extension that you can connect and it helps you in one swoop just to go through and unsubscribe from everything that you’ve ever subscribed to. So right away, you’re minimizing some of what’s coming in. You also wanna start looking for patterns in your emails. Usually people have a backlog which is normal. Often because we’re reading emails and not necessarily taking action on them, we’re just logging and reading and then leaving them there, and that’s how those backlogs build. So you can start to create some a few rules for your emails just to build that clarity.
There’s only so many things you can do with an email. So whether that’s archive, respond, file, add to calendar, or delete, just creating those rules in your heads and then creating filters to automate as many of those rules as you can. So maybe this is an email, these types of emails, I actually only need to review once a week or once a month, let’s have them skip your inbox completely, and just go into a monthly folder, or like people get Cc kind of stuff, everyone hates Cc’s, you can create a filter specifically for Cc’s and have them routed right into a folder that you then check in weekly or monthly.
So little things like that, but starting by reducing what’s coming in as much as possible. And then also that expectation management of starting to, expect people if they’re used to hearing from you within a couple hours, how about try 24 hours and kind of take that pressure off yourself to respond immediately.
Anthony: Right, okay, so at this point, like how you guys currently growing this at this point? ‘Cause you’re not taking any funding at the moment. So, how you sort of like getting the word out? What is your average day look like? So, now you’re managing other people’s inboxes, like, what sort of systems are you doing and using to actually pull yourself away from the day to day?
‘Cause that’s only where a lot of us get pulled into this day to day and we’re not able to grow and spend time on the business ’cause we’re too busy working in, the business inboxes corporate for that, and that we’re wanting to spend that time. And that’s a big thing where we all get hung up like it comes with systems and SAP, we hear how important these things are about delegating but a lot of people just can’t get over the necessary step of having to train and put those things in place. And even that feels like a job. Before you actually start even getting implemented and benefiting from that. And that’s a huge hurdle. And it’s definitely a mindset shift to have to make that time.
So I would be curious to hear like, how have you found that experience actually building this company, and how is your day been affected?
Claire: It’s a great question. So we’re coming up on year three now of the company, year one was exactly what you said, I was so in it on a daily basis, and I was the one actually in all of our clients’ inboxes. And then year two is figuring out if I could, widely scale to the point where I was training people to do what I had been doing, and then train other people to train those people. So I was creating those tears.
Anthony: You had to do it all yourself first.
Anthony: But then as you’re going, you’re spending more time in the business. But you were actually, once you’d finish with the initial client work, you’ll then taking time to write the systems and the processes based on what you’re doing. So you could take next step into year two, where you’d start bringing people along to replace yourself basically, clone yourself right, to replace you.
Anthony: Was that intentionally? Or was that something you just found it at the path, that you just found yourself going on and made it up as you went along basically? Or did you know right from the beginning of year one, this is how to get along year one, year two, year three?
Claire: That’s a good question, it was both end where freedom has always been my goal similar to Yarrow. So first, it was just geographical freedom. I wanted to be able to work from anywhere and so that’s where remote work is so wonderful, but then it became like, okay, what if I just didn’t feel like working today? Would my business still be able to run itself? And to see if I could get to that point became, my motivator and my goal and so you’re so right about it just being a shift in your mindset, it just has to become the norm that you track everything and it is annoying in the beginning. But every new rule that you create, every tiny system that you create immediately either I’m tracking it down and creating a mini SOP, or I’m asking someone else to go do that. We have for InboxDones, inbox a whole rules–
Anthony: Embedded down
Claire: Yeah, a whole rules document and so whenever there’s a new rule that comes up in how to manage the inbox, I just asked my inbox manager add to rules. And now he knows immediately: ‘Okay, this is new information, it goes right in there’. And so there’s no what I try to avoid is looking back over the day and saying, okay, what new thing did I create? How have the systems evolved here, instead catching it right in the moment? That’s been really helpful. So now year three, always trying to clone myself more, and remove myself more, I’m looking for where am I still the bottleneck, where do things need to, still are being run by me, where are people not able to move forward until they hear from me, which is what I don’t want. So it’s like that, fine tuning the foundation of the system now to connect all those dots to where I’m fully out.
Anthony: So are you in people’s inboxes?
Claire: No, not anymore. So I do, I still do a bit of quality control, but I’ve trained someone else to almost completely take over the quality control. So she’s managing now all the other inbox managers through recaps, and consultations weekly to see how everything’s going. So I’m getting down more to monthly calls, which is wonderful. And that’s been my goal is to have a calendar based system, where I’m never logging into the inbox anymore. I’m just showing up in my calendar when it tells me to.
Anthony: Very good, it’s awesome. You come along when like just three years, It’s people that are working, they’ve been in business three times that that long and they don’t even have their systems and they’re still in the weeds. So that’s great, as soon as you give something to think about, and I think it’s all doable remotely like everything you’ve taught you and your entire team is remote, right?
Anthony: Remote entirely. What are you using the document a lot of your recipes at the moment?
Claire: Just again, because I love Lean Systems. And I think you bring in too many software options, or too many platforms, it can easily get… Unnecessarily complicated and so we use a combination of Knowledgebase Plugin in WordPress that acts as like a Help Center for our whole company, along with just some Google documents, Google Sheets, the combination of those two has been all that we’ve needed.
Claire: And of course, then every managers creating the same thing for each of their clients too. So it every manager has their own rule sheet for how to run their inbox. So someone else could step in at any time and run their inbox to.
Anthony: That’s cool on all these rules and processes, are you developing your own IP to for him done, right?
Anthony: Which is great, which is awesome. And that’s part of what adds value to your company. If you were to even look at, consider selling it later down the track, right? And that’s something that we’re really big onto and try and encourage our customers wherever they can to think about systems and processes and just shaving like just a couple hours a day, even just from automations, or your VA time, it’s just, it’s invaluable. It’s made a huge impact for me and my business, Where you are now at this point? So it started out with just you and your one. And now how many inbox managers do you have at the moment and where do you sort of see yourself in the next 12, 18 months?
Claire: We right now have 10 inbox managers. They’re primarily based, we’ve a couple European time zones. A couple Australian time zones, but mainly North American, and Canadian, US based. And then I don’t like to overload any manager, dilute their focus, I’d rather them go really deep, but just a couple clients. So each manager has between two or three clients. And that allows them to really dive into that working relationship, because we’ve had clients who’ve have been with us from the start now. And so, building that long term, again, to your point building, you invest so much in cloning yourself. The goal is, of course, that long term relationship.
So, over the next 12, 18 months, just building awareness, the, now that the systems are running themselves and the business is running itself. Doing interviews, like conversations like these, and just letting people know that is possible, and I really believe in the core message of you remove the non-essential things, have someone else do those, so that you can do what only you can do best.
Anthony: Absolutely you are great, I love it. And so who would be those ideal people that would benefit by reaching out to you today?
Claire: We have a lot of online business owners. So if it’s a digital service, or a digital product, that’s a very easy inbox to manage. We do have some brick and mortar businesses. Lots of coaches. Essentially, if you’re an expert, you want to get even better like you said of running working on the business instead of in the business, and you’re just realizing what a time suck email can be. Yeah,
Claire: The inner fire.
Anthony: I had one question that came to mind with the inbox is there a level that you don’t do say for example, you’re like a full support center. Like call center type of thing that looks after all the inboxes, it’s more of a one on one or on behalf of a small company, type of… Like you have boundary there as far as what you’re doing, don’t do?
Claire: It’s a great question. There’s no boundary, we just always start with, we like to walk before we run. So start with one inbox, and one person, and then from there spread out. So we started working with one executive in Australia. And he liked it, he was testing us out, essentially, and he said, “If this goes well, I’ll bring it to my team.” And so now we’ve spread out to his entire team.
So there’s no limit, we leave it, we can do calls we like to say if it’s attached to the inbox, we can handle it. So anything that you could possibly think payments, project management, team communication, scheduling, anything that comes back to the inbox ’cause the inbox is so often the hub. We can run it and then it’s we leave it more up to the inbox managers, they’re comfortable taking on calls, many of them are but leave the call, the customer service representatives have many teams too.
So start small and then once trust is built that we can grow.
Anthony: I love that like helping people systems and free up your time they’re doing that yourself within your own company. I think it’s an amazing solution that you’re offering a lot of people these days are struggling, like they’re busy and they’re not staying up on their business and in the weeds in their business. I think it’s fantastic, and I really hope a lot more people come and check you out.
So where might they find you online, where’s the best place for them to connect and chat with you more about their own personal?
Claire: inboxdone.com. And then for the free call inboxdone/discovery. That really becomes just a Q&A again, because people just wanna hear what it looks like and how it works, so that’s always free and that’s the best way to learn more.
Anthony: Claire thank you so much for your time.
Claire: Thank you, Anthony.
Anthony: Been pleasure, bye.