The black hole in your business and how to close it
The black hole in your business and how to close it
Grab a glass of bubbly and let’s chat the sexiest topic in online business, the crème de la crème in communication, the exciting, can’t live without it topic of…
No? Not feelin’ the love?
You’re not alone. I remember when I just started my business and I would hope, PRAY for an email to come through. Someone SOMEWHERE must need my services. Hitting refresh again and again just to be sure it was still working. (Not the most effective way to spend your time as a new entrepreneur I might add, but we’ll save that for a different post!)
Only to find years later that my inbox could look like something out of a horror movie after a week of being away. It’s funny what happens when we get what we ask for, huh?
You see, many entrepreneurs have a love/hate relationship with email and for good reason. If you let it, answering email can be a giant time suck and one of the least productive things you do each day to move your business forward and actually start seeing the results you want.
BUT it can also be a way to connect with your community, generate new leads, nurture connections, communicate with your team, and ultimately boost sales in a big way.
So how do you balance those polar opposites? Here's how you can maintain a healthy relationship with email without letting it consume your very being. Let’s create more time for the things that are most important to you without sacrificing the big results that are possible in both life and business!
Find an email client you actually like using
I used to use the normal Mail app on my iMac before signing up for GSuite for my business (basically Gmail for businesses). And that was the day that everything changed… Kidding. Sort of. I love that I can access my email from anywhere with a simple login and that the user interface will always be the same. I love that I can create “canned responses” for emails that I send frequently to save me time. I love that it integrates so seamlessly with my calendar. It’s amazing what happens when you have an email client that you actually like. Maybe you’re more of an Outlook kinda gal. Or maybe Mac Mail works just fine for you (hey, I’m not here to judge!). But don’t settle with an app just because it came with your computer. Finding a program that fits you will save you time overall, freeing up space for connection, communication, and income generating activities in the long run.
Keep work and personal email separate
Which brings me to my next point. I always recommend keeping work and personal email separate. I find it’s easier to keep track of because I don’t have to sift through my J.Crew promos to find that one client email that needs a response. I also think it looks more professional to have an email that uses your website’s domain name (firstname.lastname@example.org) rather than you AIM screen name from back in the day. It’s easy enough to set up with most email clients and some help from the Google machine. And if the idea of having to check two separate email addresses is giving you hives right now, know that you can always have email forwarded from one address to another for the time being. However, this best-practice will ultimately help you to stay organized and manage your inbox more productively so that you can grow your business faster and with more ease.
One word. Folders.
I think of my inbox as the purgatory for emails. No email wants to be in the inbox. It means it’s sitting there...waiting. I use folders like it’s my job. (I guess it kinda is my job??) For me, that means creating folders and subfolders within Gmail. For example: Clients / Client Name or Newsletters / Newsletter Name or just a general Inquiries folder. So my process looks something like this: read > respond or delete > folder away emails that need saving. This process also makes it a lot easier to search and reference emails later on if I need to. I bet about half of you are reading this going, “but I already do that” and the other half have just had their mind blown because it takes you FOREVER to sift through and find that email you’re looking for. Because less time chasing things down in your inbox means more time to create the results you actually WANT in your business.
Batch email and put boundaries around how much time you spend
I’d be willing to bet most of you don’t even KNOW how much time you spend answering emails. For many, it’s a never-ending ping-pong throughout the day. And while some professions require that kind of urgent response rate, many of us aren’t saving lives with our emails. So rather than keeping your inbox open all day long, dedicate specific hours to reading and responding. Maybe it’s first thing in the morning and then again at the end of the day. Or maybe it’s a one-hour block mid-day. So instead of spending two hours throughout the day tackling emails (because let’s face it—switching gears from one task to another almost always takes more time), you can likely get it down to 45 minutes at the beginning of the day and 45 at the end. And hey, maybe use that extra half hour to finally finish reading Big Magic instead (one of my faves!). You’ll begin to notice how much time email is actually consuming in your day and you won’t feel as though you’re being pulled in a million different directions with each email that comes through. Thus making the time you actually spend IN your inbox more focused and productive.
Set clear expectations
If you’re panicking at the thought of not responding to email immediately it might be time to set some clear expectations with your clients and your inbox. Auto-responders can be a great way to do this. My friend, Camille Farey was nice enough to share her email autoresponder with us so you can get a better idea of how this could look in your own business:
Thanks for your email. This is an automatic reply to let you know that I've received your note and will be in touch soon.
If we're currently working on a project together, you can expect a reply within 24 hours. All other inquiries will be answered within 48 hours. As a friendly reminder, response times exclude evenings, weekends, and national holidays in the US.
I love it because it’s super professional and it tells you exactly when you can expect a response.
Likewise, my friend Sarah Magidoff at Canopy has this note in the footer of her email responses:
In effort to increase efficiency, I will be checking email twice daily. For time-sensitive matters, please reach me by phone or text.
BEAUTIFUL. She clearly states her boundaries and gives clients another option for contacting her in an “emergency.” I love that it really makes clients question if this is a time-sensitive matter before calling or texting.
Personally, I’ve always found that putting my office hours and an expected response time in my client contract is enough to put clients at ease and sets expectations for both sides. Remember, clients can’t respect your boundaries if they don’t know what they are!
Consider moving client or team communication to a different platform
If you’re feeling like your inbox is just too full and managing it seems impossible for you, take a closer look at the kinds of emails you’re actually sending and receiving. If client or team communication is the bulk of it, you may want to consider moving that to a different platform like Slack, Asana, Dubsado or Basecamp to keep all of that communication in one place. That way you can move forward on essential tasks and communicate quickly without the lag-time of email.
Let IT go. Let it gooooo...
Are there times when an email that isn’t urgent sits in my inbox longer than I’d like before receiving a response? Definitely. But I don’t think there’s an entrepreneur out there that will tell you that they got into business doing what they love so they could spend their days answering email. So don’t beat yourself up for emails awaiting a response—they’ll still be there tomorrow.
The bottom line:
Email can be a powerful tool for connecting, but it can also be extremely draining. Start noticing your relationship with email and applying a few of these techniques to keep your time in your inbox to a minimum and have more time for just about everything you’d rather be doing—planning that mastermind group, binging This is Us, hanging with your little ones, or getting outside for some sunshine.
Tell me in the comments below:
What is your favorite technique for keeping your time in your inbox to a minimum?
Photography by Jennifer Morgan Photography