Owning a small business gets a little crazy, pulling you a million different directions all the time. However, if you asked me what the hardest part was, I’d say managing your email is at the top of the list.
Recently, one of our amazing Resource Library members asked if email newsletters are dead because of her own difficulties with managing her email inbox. The short answer is no, of course not! But the better answer is to deep dive into how to make managing your email easy and stress-free.
Over the years of owning Modern Soapmaking, I’ve had my email management ups and downs. At some points, my email inbox was filled to the brim with thousands of unanswered emails. Let’s be honest: I struggled. Sometimes, it created such a huge amount of anxiety. I wanted to be able to answer them all, but I physically couldn’t.
It took a lot of trial and error, but I feel like I finally have a good rhythm going for managing my email inbox!
My Top Five Favorite Tips for Managing Your Email
Productivity gurus offer a billion tips for handling your email inbox as a business owner, but many tips didn’t work for me. I realized that I was probably not alone in that! It’s high time I share my favorite ways for managing your email as a business owner.
Make email a regular habit, not a constant looming cloud
I used to let my email inbox control my time by always being in my face. I’d get push notifications on my phone and on my desktop. Plus, I’d have the Chrome tab open with my inbox at all times. This allowed email to be a constant distraction that was always snagging my focus.
This year, I turned off push notifications on my phone and laptop. Now, I don’t get alerted every time I get an email. And I make it a point to close out my inbox when I’m not actively checking it. This prevents email from popping up in my face and pulling me away from whatever I’m currently working on.
Instead of letting my email inbox control my time, it now has it’s own place on my schedule. I time block fifteen minutes to email management at least once a day (usually, twice a day). Despite what most productivity gurus say, my best time for managing email is at the start of my work day. I find that it helps me get in the zone of “let’s get stuff done!” If I get in a second block of email time, it’s at the end of my day. Outside of those periods, email is off-limits. (If social media is a problem for you, the same rules apply!)
Takeaway: Set up a scheduled time or routine for handling email, then stick to it. Don’t let email interrupt your workflow or pull your focus away. Turn off push notifications, and close out your inbox.
You might say, “What about important emails, Kenna? You’ll miss them!” Honestly, no email is so important that it needs to be in my face about it’s arrival. If there is an emergency, someone will call me! Email is not a form of priority communication, even if we might treat it that way sometimes. Friends and family know that if they need to reach me fast, they have to pick up the phone.
Create a system for managing your email
At the beginning of the day, I stick to a hard and fast rule of working email for fifteen minutes. I start by scanning my inbox. Each email is considered on a two minute rule:
- If I can read it, respond, or take action on it in under two minutes, it gets taken care of right away.
- However, when it’ll take more than two minutes and requires my personal touch, it is marked unread and saved for the second block of time.
- When it doesn’t require my personal touch or I can delegate it to a member of our amazing team, then it gets passed off.
- If it doesn’t fit in any of those categories, it gets deleted.
That’s it: do it now, do it later, delegate, delete. At the end of fifteen minutes, time is up and I move on – even if my inbox isn’t empty. Scanning through my email and sorting them before taking action catches important emails 99% of the time. When it doesn’t, no beating myself up.
A note on delegating: I didn’t always have someone I could delegate to. Before we added employees, I had a virtual assistant (VA) that I could delegate things to. (I highly recommend getting a virtual assistant if you are needing help, but can’t hire an employee quite yet!) If you don’t have a VA either, you’ll have to do shorten your options to do it now, do it later, or delete.
Takeaway: Create a system for managing your email so you can process it faster. Besides, having a set policy for managing your email will prevent wasted time waffling about what to do with each one. Minutes saved become hours saved eventually!
I used to try to address every email out of the hundreds that came through my inbox every week. I’ve come to realize that’s just not physically possible. Especially if my peeps want new articles, resources, or classes! That’s the trade-off. (I do read every single email, but responding isn’t always a possibility or necessary.)
On my second email pass at the end of the day, my goal is to wipe out those “do it later” emails by responding or taking the necessary action to wrap them up. Just like the first time block for managing email, I spend fifteen minutes on it and then move on. Sometimes, emails sit as “do it later” for a few days, but that’s okay since I’ll get to them eventually. Some days are worse for wear on the inbox, after all!
Use software, tools, and apps that save you time
I’m all about using software and apps that help me automate and save time. When Stephanie joined the team, she came to realize how much I really do this, saying it has been an “education to copilot” behind the scenes.
When it comes to email management, I have a hit list of favorite tools that are gamechangers. Without them, I know I wouldn’t be able to manage anywhere near as well as I do. They save me hours of time when it comes to managing email and also save my sanity by making email management easier.
Using an app or tool doesn’t mean taking out your personal touch! An app should automate things the way you would do them anyway. I’m totally not on-board with apps that pretend they’re human in communication. I think it’s important to keep business personable as often as possible. (For instance, I don’t use an autoresponder unless I’m going to be unavailable for at least a week.)
Takeaway: Don’t be afraid to take advantage of tools and software to make your life easier. We have our favorites, but there are a ton of them out there.
First things first, we use Google’s Gsuite for our email, document sharing, and calendar. I love that it’s all in one place! Plus, I get the benefits of having Gmail for our domain (ie., our emails are email@example.com).
Using Gsuite allows us to use our first must-have app called Streak. Streak merges customer relationship management and email right in your inbox, plus it has a lot of extras like snippets, reminders, and tasks.
Snippets are little templates you can create for your email. Instead of typing the same answer over and over, you just pop in a snippet and away you go. For instance, I have snippets for common questions we get and consulting session emails (reminders, session info, follow-up). I even have a snippet of a nice response for hatemail, so I don’t have to compose myself and try to be polite when I’m seething. Snippets are called in email messages by simply typing the shortcut keyword that you have set-up preceded by a pound sign/hashtag (i.e. #hatemail).
There’s also a Send Later option in Streak that makes it so you can answer email whenever you can squeeze it in. Using the feature ensures that your recipient doesn’t get the impression that your business operates 24/7. Schedule an email to send whenever you like! This is a super helpful feature for night owls and parents of small children who don’t get a moment of solace to work their email until the middle of the night. (Can you tell that’s me?!)
The customer relationship management (CRM) features come in as pipelines. You can use a pipeline to track contacts, leads, and clients, what stage they are in your process, and view all of your contact with them in one place. For me, I regularly use the pipeline feature when it comes to crowdfunding or consulting/contract manufacturing clients. For soapmakers we’ve recommended Streak to, it is typically used for media pitches or wholesale stockists. You can then use the Streak reminders to remind yourself to follow-up or check-in with someone.
Next, I use Sanebox ($24/year for the lowest level plan) to helps prioritize my email by filtering, sorting, and eliminating unnecessary email. It comes with a few default folders (SaneLater, SaneArchive, and SaneNoReplies). If you upgrade, you can unlock additional folders with a higher tier plan. Here’s a breakdown of what those folders are:
- Inbox – emails that are important and high priority
- SaneLater – emails that are not a priority and can wait for later
- SaneArchive – old emails that you might need to refer back to in the future
- SaneNoReplies – emails you’ve sent that haven’t been replied to yet
- SaneNotSpam – emails that landed in spam that may not be
- SaneNews – emails that contain newsletters or mailing lists
- SaneBulk – emails that contain receipts or account/password info
- SaneBlackhole – emails that are automatically deleted (my favorite!)
Sanebox learns from my actions. If I move an email from one folder to another, it learns from it like a good little robot and adjusts its filtering. Sanebox fits in perfectly with my system of managing email. It’s a bonus that it saves me hours of my time every week!
When I first installed Sanebox, I had 15,000+ emails in my inbox as a whole (dead serious). After it finished automatically sorting my email on the first pass, I was left with just over 100 emails to contend with. Yes, I said automatically – no work on your part!
You could definitely get a Sanebox-like email inbox without the app, but it would take a long time to set up all those filters and you’d have to constantly add new ones. Like I’m apt to say, time is money, and Sanebox’s low monthly fee is well worth it.
Last, but certainly not least, if you have a hard time forcing yourself to actually deal with your email, turn it into a game. The Email Game makes email as fun as you could make it, by serving up individual emails and giving you points for handling each one. I like to see if I can beat a previous score each time I use it. If you need a little motivation or enjoy gaming, it might be just up your alley.
Make managing your email easy by getting less of it
The first line of defense against a crazy inbox is making sure you aren’t inviting unnecessary emails. A robust frequently asked questions page on your website will help deter as many emails from being sent through your contact form.
Here on Modern Soapmaking, our FAQs cover questions about our products, services, user accounts, and recipes/tutorials as well as general inquiries about soapmaking, starting a business, and me (the founder). You could cover common questions about your products, your business, your values, and your policies. In our guide to shipping handmade soap and cosmetics, I cover a lot of the common areas your policies should cover.
Use a separate email account to sign up for services or purchase products that you don’t want excessive updates for. Despite the fact that CAN-SPAM regulations require email marketers to only email you if you expressly ask for it, many companies will automatically add you to their mailing list on purchase. (Here on Modern Soapmaking, we provide a simple checkbox during registration and checkout to make it easy.)
When you do sign up for a mailing list or newsletter intentionally, go ahead and use your regular email address. However, be diligent about keeping your inbox clutter free. Regularly go through your newsletter emails and unsubscribe from the ones you aren’t reading or opening (even Modern Soapmaking ones, if that’s the case!).
Takeaway: Try to prevent unnecessary email by providing thorough information on your website. Regularly clean out your subscriptions so that unread newsletters don’t clutter up your inbox.
I’ve actually encountered some soapmakers who feel bad about unsubscribing from email newsletters. As someone who sends newsletters regularly, I have to say don’t! Most companies pay for their email marketing tools by the number of subscribers they have. I’m sure they would be happy to not pay to send you emails if you aren’t reading them!
I like to audit my email inbox once a quarter and spend a few minutes unsubscribing from emails I’m not regularly engaging with. I might love a newsletter from someone, but I’m not going to let it clutter up in my inbox if I’m not reading it. If I miss their emails, I can always go back and re-subscribe!
Move regular communication out of email
The big mistake a lot of business owners make is using email as their only form of communication, me included. One of the main ways I cleaned up my email inbox was by moving communication outside of email as needed.
For instance, team communications here at Modern Soapmaking happen via Slack. Slack is a robust messaging service, where we can communicate in real time, share files and images, and integrate with other services, like Todoist. We rarely email internally because we know how important it is to keep a clean inbox.
In other cases, it may be as simple as picking up the phone or moving to a conference call. When it comes to our clients, we keep email to the bare minimum (prep information is emailed beforehand) and focus on discussing things during a call. For a lot of the services and products we use, it’s the same way. I’ll call support or setup a conference call to talk over information rather than emailing back and forth.
Takeaway: When it comes to any kind of regular contact or communication, try to take it outside of email whenever possible.
I used to hate phone calls (and I still kind of do, if I’m being honest), but it’s worth saving my inbox from clutter.
When it’s all said and done, these five things are essential to my email management practices, but I’m not going to promise they’ll work for everyone. We each are unique in what will or won’t work for us! If you are having a hard time with managing your email, give them a shot and let us know how it goes!
Does one of these tips sound like an answer straight from the email gods? Are you planning to update your email routine? Let us know in the comments below!