Handling Client Email

Many aspiring virtual assistants come out of the corporate or private sector business world. Even though for years they have utilized the latest software programs, email, the Internet, and a number of other technologies, they often struggle with how to apply their skills and knowledge in the virtual world.

The most common questions I see are how to handle a client’s email, how to manage a client’s calendar and scheduling, and how to share files. Let me see if I can offer a few tools to help demystify your concerns. Today we’ll take a look at multiple ways to handle email.

One of the first things I do after bringing on a new retainer client is setup an email for me on their domain. My main reason for doing this is to keep my individual client work separate from my own business correspondence. I use Thunderbird as my email client, which like many other email clients allows me to set up multiple email accounts. With each account I can setup the appropriate folders, filters, identities, and signatures specific to that client.

For me, it provides an instant organization from the start. If for any reason the client is unable to provide an email address then I set up one for them on my domain and require them to use that address for all correspondence.

In the event the client and I ever part ways I can remove them from my email client but archive the associated directory on my computer for whatever length of predetermined retention time. I can delete it all together or I can zip it up and send it off to the client, which is rarely ever the case.

So that’s one side of the email coin. What if the client wants you to manage their inbox? There are a number of ways to do this:

  1. Webmail – Most web hosting companies offer web access to email. You can simply login as your client and manage their email directly on the server. Caution: If the client downloads their email and does not leave a copy on the server this won’t work.
  2. IMAP email – You can setup in your own email client an account for the email address using IMAP, which mirrors the email setup on the server. You can subscribe to the relevant folders for which you need access. Again, if the client downloads their email it won’t work.
  3. POP email – Probably the most widely used email setup is POP email. You would again set up the email account using your own email client and gain access to all email that remains on the server based on the criteria you setup on the account. Criteria such as whether a delivered email is immediately deleted from the server or if it remains on the server for a specified amount of time before being removed. With POP email the messages are automatically downloaded to your computer and removed from the server, unlike IMAP where it mirrors the server.
  4. Web based email – Using an email address through Google, Yahoo or other type of email service online keeps everything visible and manageable right from your Internet browser using your client’s login. Very much the same as webmail but you aren’t using the client’s domain email account. These services allow you to combine a number of accounts into one place for ease of managing.
  5. Exchange server – Using a server such as Microsoft Exchange server allows you to share email, calendars, and contacts for every account on the server. You set it up on your email client or you can use web access. Everything is stored and available on the server until deleted or archived locally on your own computer. On alternative to having an exchange server is using a Saas program such as Zimbra. Zimbra is a hosted service through a provider such as DataSync but is less expensive and much easier to setup. They manage the server side for you eliminating the technical aspects of knowing how to manage a server.

Whether you feel technically oriented or you are looking for a simple solution, there are many options for handling client email. Try out several methods to see which one feels right with your work flow.

7 Responses to Handling Client Email
  1. gen
    June 12, 2013 | 9:04 pm

    How does a client allow a VA to view /manage personal and busines email without them having access to primary acct? Forwarding? Thanks for the help

  2. Kelly Poelker
    July 3, 2013 | 10:44 am

    I’m not sure what you mean by primary account? Can you elaborate?

    If the client has actual email addresses on the server then you can access mail individually. On the other hand, if they have one main account and use a variety of email aliases tied to that account it’s pretty hard to separate them. The client would almost need to set up a rule upon receiving email to a particular address and have it forwarded to you.

  3. Prakash
    August 27, 2015 | 12:58 am

    Hi Kelly,

    I stumbled here while doing online research. We are developing a product that allows clients to outsource email with complete control. They will be able to give access to part of (or complete) inbox to a VA. Also they can gradually, start with shopping related emails, then calendar related, then business related and so on.

    This flattens the hump of insecurity experienced by client if either client or VA is new in outsourcing or to each other. What do you think of such product?

  4. Angela
    February 22, 2016 | 7:34 am

    You have been an absolute lifesaver with providing this information! I had never heard of Thunderbird and now use it successfully. Thank you so much.
    Also, I bought your book and love it. Thank you!

  5. Kelly Poelker
    March 21, 2016 | 10:51 am


    So glad you found us and that the book was helpful. What was the best part of the book for you?


  6. online virtual assistant
    February 9, 2018 | 4:12 am

    You can certainly see your enthusiasm within the article you write.

    The world hopes for even more passionate writers like you who are not afraid to say how they believe.
    All the time go after your heart.

  7. Brent Mitchell
    October 20, 2021 | 3:56 pm

    Great info, just need clarification on how to have your assistant respond. Do they say they are reaching out on my behalf?

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