Automating Your Business: Email

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It’s common knowledge that I’m passionate about doing more in less time. My mantra is, “If you have to do something more than once, it’s time to think about automating it.” Not everything can be automated, but so many things can be. And even if the entire process cannot be automated, often pieces of it can. If you’re anything like me, you know that every little bit of saved time adds up! Whether you want to accomplish more in your allotted work hours, or shorten your work time to spend more time with family, friends or on a more fulfilled life, automating some basic tasks can really help.

Today we’re talking email. There’s no getting around email in this day and age. And if you don’t manage and automate your email, it can quickly get out of control. Having a good email hosting provider will make sure that your emails remain safe and secure, ensuring a seamless blend of communications management for your business. Besides building a quality product, it’s my belief that the most important thing you can do is respond to your customers and colleagues in a reasonable amount of time. For me, that is 24 hours, though my personal goal is closer to 12 hours. Not only do I have personal email to filter through, but I help serve several different clients as the primary customer service point of contact. So it’s critical that I get through my email several times a day, and am able to process it quickly.

Here are some things I’ve done to help me do that.

GMAIL

Gmail (Google’s free email) is critical to my ability to process all of my email. Not only is it available online from anywhere, so I can check it even if I’m away from my desk. It has powerful filtering abilities that I can harness to check and sort multiple accounts, even non-gmail accounts.

First, Google lets me both read and respond from multiple email addresses from within one account. This allows me to set up each of my business-related email addresses in Gmail settings. You’ll need to have access to your accounts so Gmail can send you a verification code to prove you own those accounts. Once you do, all your email can be forwarded into one account. You can add up to 5 email accounts.

Secondly, Gmail allows me to filter every email that comes through. I have filters set up to sort my email into “labels” or folders so that I can work through like email in chunks. All email ad marketing that I have signed up for gets marked as read, and filed into an “ads” folder. Every time I sign up for a new email list, I take the time to filter those emails into that ad folder. This automatically keeps ads out of my inbox. For my customer service clients, I filter those emails into folders by client so I can focus on one client at a time. I even have set up some automatic responses for rare cases where I need to let someone know their email has been received, when I don’t need to send a personal response.

I’ve also installed a couple Gmail “Labs” or plugins that help me immensely. One is SEND AND ARCHIVE which lets me both send and archive a message with one click. When you are working through dozens of email in each sitting, those extra clicks add up! The other is UNDO SEND which gives me 10 seconds after clicking send to change my mind and fix an error. My most common mistake is forgetting to hit REPLY ALL, so I have a second chance to fix that.

CANNED RESPONSES

Canned responses harness the ability to automatically enter text that you have to repeat over and over. A long time ago, I would keep text files full of these type of responses I could copy and paste when I needed them. That only really works for longer chunks of text, though, as many things I could type quicker than I could pull up that document. Then I discovered GMail’s Canned Responses, a module that saves hidden drafts of blocks of text that you can add through a drop down menu in the email interface. This works great, but is a little more manual. You have select the response from the drop down menu.

Then I learned about text expansion tools. First, I tried Type It 4 Me, which allowed me to assign key stroke combinations to add any amount of text automatically into a document as I typed. It works perfectly for common responses, signatures, and even correcting your most common spelling mistakes! Then I discovered the mac daddy of canned response apps…. Text Expander. Text Expander takes canned responses to the next level by allowing the insertion of fill-in fields, date fields, clipboard field, etc. I can craft incredibly custom responses interspersed with standard text to create detailed replies. I even use this for adding html code to my blog. The possibilities are endless!

Canned Responses-Gmail

Text Expander

Type It 4 Me

Text Expansion for PC users (Lifehacker)


SCHEDULING EMAIL

There are two other tools I’d recommend for handling email more efficiently. Sanebox (for any mail client) and Boomerang (for Gmail) allow you to schedule or defer emails. The practical applications for this are mind blowing. For example, if you get an email that you cannot respond to now, you can mark it to show back up in your inbox in 3 days or a week. Perhaps you send an email and want to be sure that person gets back to you in a certain period of time. If they don’t, you can have that email pop back up so you can follow up with them. Perhaps you type up a response, but you don’t want the email to go out on a Friday night. You can schedule it for Monday morning. Sanebox and Boomerang allow you to decide when to deal with important emails. However, just because you can automate e-mails doesn’t mean you shouldn’t monitor them! Be sure to use services like a Free Mail Flow Monitor to know about any email problems before they do real damage to your business.

Sanebox

Boomerang

Don’t let your email control you! These tools can help YOU control your email. What if your email is already out of control? If you have hundreds of emails sitting in your inbox, you can either set aside a couple hours to just clear it out once and for all, and then implement some of these automation tools. Or, file it all away and start fresh. Just be sure you take the time each session to ensure your emails are filtering and your canned responses are set up so it doesn’t get out of control again!

Tomorrow I’ll be back to talk about more automation so be sure to check back!

Comments

  1. Hey there! I found you through the Elise Gets Crafty podcast. Love this series of posts; I’m learning so much. Thanks.

    Quick question: For those of us with a completely out of control inbox, and who don’t want to go through the process of clearing it out, do you recommend creating an “old email” label in Gmail and putting the whole mess into there? I sure would love a clean slate.

    Thanks again!

    • Thanks for the comment! I emailed you directly, but will probably turn my answer into a larger blog post soon in case anyone else has the same question.

  2. Hi! I found your website through the Elise Gets Crafty podcast….
    These tips are fabulous! I have shared them with my boss and team. Thank you so much for sharing and explaining so clearly.