We’ve all done it – watched the e-mails roll in, realized that there just is not enough time in the day, and let those e-mails sit for 3, 4, 5+ days before you get to responding to them.
You may have heard of something called “Inbox Zero” – the phenomenon when you open your inbox and there is nothing in there. Raise your hand if yours looks more like Inbox Ninety Two..
..You open your inbox and you’ve got pages of e-mails. Maybe some of them you’ve already responded to (you go Glen Coco), but others you haven’t, and oh shoot there’s that e-mail from the industry friend that you are TOTALLY going to get back to this week.
So how do we fix this? Your clients and your colleagues deserve better. As business owners, we never want to give the impression to our clients that we are too busy for them, when they’ve put trust in us. The number one complaint I hear from couples about vendors in the wedding industry is “he/she was so responsive when we booked with them, and then they fell off the face of the earth”. YIKES. That can kill a business fast.
So how do we make sure our clients never say that about us? Here are my top 5 tips for conquering your inbox and achieving “Inbox Zero”.
Filing / Categories
This is the most important one of all, so I’m putting it first. I use this religiously in both of my careers, and it is one of the only reasons that I’m able to stay on top of things! When an e-mail comes in your inbox, it should only stay there as long as you need to deal with it – typically that is a response, but it could serve as a reminder too. Once it no longer needs your attention, it needs to be GONE and out of your inbox. You don’t want to delete important e-mails (especially from clients) as you may need to go back and reference them later on. Enter- filing!
Once I’ve dealt with an e-mail, it gets filed immediately – before I go on to do another task, or reply to another e-mail. Your categories might look different depending on what organization system works best for you, but here is a snippet of how mine are organized!
Education – To Read holds all of those e-mails that you want to come back to (when you have time) that include juicy tidbits or lessons to learn. If I have 5 minutes while waiting for an appointment, I’ll open this and read through as I have time. Once I’ve read them, they go in “Education” so I can go back to them if I want, but they aren’t getting mixed in with what I haven’t read yet. Having these in their own folder frees up clutter in your inbox, so that you can clearly see what e-mails need your attention.
LPS Potential Clients holds correspondence for all potential clients before they’ve booked, and once they’ve booked with me – any e-mails are moved into LPS Clients. I’ve seen some colleagues organize their client e-mail folder by years (2019 Weddings, 2020 Weddings, 2021 Weddings) and others break it down further into folders specifically for clients (Emilie & Matt 10/26/19, Katie & Chris 03/21/20, etc.) One of the biggest issues I see is business owners using their inbox to keep track of inquiries (and follow up if they haven’t heard back. This is a quick way to drive yourself crazy and miss e-mails. I use a client management software called Dubsado to keep track of all my inquiries, and what stage they’re in, so I can see at a glance who I need to follow up with. You can read more about Dubsado here.
Purchases 2018 & 2019 hold receipts from any business-related purchases I’ve made throughout the year. These should be going into your accounting system, but savings these helps you in case you are ever audited.
You’ve probably heard people say, if you write an e-mail more than twice, it needs to be a canned e-mail. I’ll be the first to say I did not drink that kool-aid the first several times I heard about it. I am very averse to having my correspondence with clients sound robotic or impersonal. But as soon as I tested it out, I realized how helpful canned e-mails could be for me. You can use the canned e-mail to give all the nitty gritty information – for me that’s explaining that I need 20% extra envelopes, asking for calligraphy style selections, ink color choices, sending them my address list, etc! These are the things that I say so often that it is second nature to me, but is critical to convey to my clients since they aren’t calligraphers! Having that information already written out, allows me to free up brain space remembering to include that information and saves me time typing it out. With that extra time and brain space, I can speak to my client individually offering suggestions for addressing etiquette for their grandfather who is a retired Colonel, or their best friend who is a Dr. but her husband is not. I’m able to quickly give my clients the information they need, and spend time instead serving them with a personal, thoughtful response.
I swear I used to spend more time deleting promotional/spam e-mails than I did responding to real ones. This can be solved by being intentional about e-mail lists you’re joining, but what about the ones you’re already on? You can go through and “unsubscribe” to each one but who really has time for that? And there always seem to be a new set that you forgot about the next day. Unroll.me is a free service (up to a certain number of unsubscribes) that looks at your e-mail address and populates a list of all e-mail lists you are subscribed to. Then you can quickly go down the list to decide who you want to hear from, and who you don’t. The less e-mails in your inbox, the less time you spend in your inbox, and the more time you have to devote to the e-mails that really matter.
I use G-Suite for my e-mails, which gives you the option to “star” e-mails. I use this sparingly, because it can be easy to “star” all of your e-mails. If you’ve done all of the earlier steps, all of the e-mails in your inbox should be important ones worthy of being “starred”. I use the star system to mark any top-priority e-mails. If I know I will have a limited time to respond to e-mails that day, I want to make sure I’m devoting it to the ones that most need responses. That might be an e-mail from a current client who has one more question before we send her invitations to print, or an e-mail from my website host that says my hosting plan is renewing and I know I need to change to a different plan. An e-mail that I might NOT star would be one with a free image download, or coordinating with a friend for our meetup next month. That’s not to say these e-mails aren’t important, it just means that if I answer them tomorrow instead of today, no one’s pants will be on fire.
Set Times Per Day
Especially when you are busy, it can be easy to ignore your e-mails to complete client work. The issue with that is the next day, not only will the e-mails from the previous day be there waiting for you, there will be new ones from today too. If you devote a set block of time each day, or a few times per day to e-mail, you’ll stay on top it all. If that time of day falls outside of your typical posted office hours, you can download a plugin for G-Suite called “Boomerang“. After you type out a response to an e-mail, you can click “Boomerang” instead of “Send” and pick when you want that e-mail to send. I use this a lot so that my clients don’t know that I’m responding to their e-mail at 2AM when I woke up and had a great idea that couldn’t wait! I know some business owners set specific days a week where they respond to e-mails (Tuesday/Thursdays, etc.) but I personally don’t do that as I’d hate to have someone e-mail me on a Thursday and not hear back until the next Tuesday. In my personal opinion that just sets you up for a bad client experience. Instead, consider splitting up that block of time. Instead of one hour every Tuesday and Thursday, maybe it’s ten – fifteen minutes first thing in the morning, and at the end of every work day.
Bonus: Wait To Open
I’ve heard several people suggest not opening the e-mail until you’re prepared to respond to it. I personally don’t do this, mainly because some of them I need to think about my response for a bit before I reply. And frankly, I just don’t have that kind of personal restraint haha! But, everyone is different – so I’m including that as an option for you to test out!
I hope that these e-mail tips for conquering your inbox have given you the confidence to take back control of your e-mails, and provide your clients with an even better experience with you!