This article is a reprint of Wise Bread’s contribution to OPEN Forum from American Express — where small business owners can get advice from experts and share tips with each other.
Be honest. Are you ruled by your email inbox?
How many minutes to you spend a day checking your email, sorting your inbox, and deleting spam? How many times during the day do you simply think (and possibly worry and fret) about your email? How often do you drop what you ’re doing to respond to that email that just arrived?
The digital age is awesome, don ’t get me wrong. But, when allowed to run rampant without any direction, little email dictators start cropping up all over the cyber-universe. It ’s time to squash them.
1. Unsubscribe is a beautiful word!
Your favorite stores likely offered you discounts or coupons if you signed up for their newsletter. And so you did. You had opened yourself up to a barrage of emails that you ’ve probably never even read. All the websites, stores, or blogs you ’ve ever signed up with and agreed to receive emails from are cluttering up your precious inbox space.
It ’s time to unsubscribe from everything you don ’t read. While it may take some effort to actually unsubscribe from everything, you ’ll have less clutter in your inbox in the long run – and more time on your hands for other things.
2. Filters are your friends.
Perhaps you can ’t quite bring yourself to unsubscribe from all your favorite blogs and websites. No problem; simply add email filters to sort emails for you.
Google mail (Gmail), for example, allows you to set filters that will sort emails into specific folders. You simply set up the folders in your Gmail account and specify which emails go into each folder. When the email arrives, Gmail marks it as read and plunks it into the correct folder. This way, you can read pre-sorted emails when it ’s convenient for you and your inbox stays happier!
3. Set up a FAQ page.
Do you frequently receive emails from clients or customers who ask the same questions over and over again? You can stop feeling like a broken record and cut down on daily emails by setting up a FAQ page on your website or blog.
It ’s easy. Follow a question and answer format to answer the most common questions your clients and customers ask. This can be anything from pricing, to hours of availability to shipping and returns. Don ’t have room for an FAQ page? You can add common information to your contact page or even an email auto-responder if that suits you better.
4. Adopt a short and simple policy.
Businesses seem to have a policy for everything, right? No matter what size business you are, it might not be a bad idea to have your own little email policy.
Consider adopting a “self” policy like the one suggested at five.sentenc.es, in which you limit yourself to only writing emails that are five sentences or shorter in length. No more writing epic replies and encouraging epic responses. Keep your email replies short, to the point and polite. Not only does this free up the amount of time you spend writing emails, but it may also encourage others to write shorter emails, too.
5. It ’s OK to leave people out.
When you add other people to an email by CC, you ’re essentially opening the door to receiving replies from them, as well. Unless you really want or need to hear from those people, leave them off the CC. Hitting the “reply all” button isn ’t any better. Reserve using these handy, but-alternately-annoying, email tools only when truly necessary.
6. EOM NNTR.
Not sure what those letters stand for?
EOM stands for “End of Message”. If you can reply to an email in just a few words, simply add your reply in the subject line and place EOM at the end. Your recipient will know that there is nothing more to read in that email.
NNTR is “No Need to Respond”. When you type an email that really doesn ’t need a reply, simply add NNTR to the end of your message. This tells the recipient that she doesn ’t have to reply, and hopefully, helps keep your inbox a little less hectic.
7. Make your Email work harder!
You already know that adding the web address for your business at the end of your emails is a good idea. What if you could automatically do more to market yourself? Well, you can, by using Wisestamp.
Wisestamp allows you to add customized business information, along with social networking links for your Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn profiles, and even dynamic links to your latest blog posts or eBay store. No more typing this info at the end of each email, or fretting that your current email signature looks cheap. Wisestamp is fully customizable so you can match it to your business branding. Simple!
8. There ’s an app for that.
Sometimes, simply making a pact with ourselves to cut down on email time is the first step towards handling the chaos. Checking email only twice a day is a good start. Consider checking emails in the morning and then later in the day at a time that best fits into your schedule. This way you ’re not chained to your inbox, and you allow yourself time for other creative or business pursuits during the day.
Like all good intentions, however, actually keeping the pact is an entirely different thing (New Year ’s resolutions, anyone?).
Chrometa is a cool little app that helps keep you honest about the amount of time you spend on your email each day. After download, Chrometa logs all of your online time and breaks it down to show you exactly how and where you spent your online day. It ’s a pretty handy way to see exactly how many times you checked your email. And how many times to checked your Facebook status.
9. A ’la Twitter!
Twitter, in case you live under a rock, is a social networking site that can save you some email madness.
You can connect with others similar to the way you do on Facebook; however, Twitter forces brevity. You ’re only allowed to communicate in 140 characters or less in each post. You can direct clients and customers to connect with you via Twitter instead of email. This way, communications are quick and fast and don ’t clog up your inbox.
10. Get a Super Nanny for your inbox.
If, despite your best efforts to tame your mad inbox, email is still a large chunk of your day, consider getting help. Hiring a virtual assistant to manage your inbox can save your sanity and your business.
A virtual assistant can check your email, answer them, and follow up on sent emails waiting for replies.
Worried about someone else digging through your mail? No worries. Be sure to have a business email account set up to reduce the mixture of business and personal emails. Or, have personal emails filtered to a designated folder as discussed in step #2. Be upfront with your VA about how to respond to emails and what to leave for you to handle yourself. A VA can do as much or as little as you like with your email – the end goal is to make your life easier!