Ah email. The bane [and necessity] of our work existence.
Yes, it is incredible that you can send messages to people halfway around the world nearly instantly and get real, productive work done. However, it’s not so great when real, productive email gets lost in a sea of “Richard confirmed your invite” or “Save 80% in Hosting Costs by Switching to Us” type emails.
Chances are that if you rely on email for managing your business, 90% of the email you get is noise. To deal, you either have to be ridiculously organized and have filters for everything or choose another channel for those tasks that are super important – one where your daily Pinterest notifications will never be sent to.
If you’re a growing creative business and still rely on email, there will come a time where this once beautiful thing begins to limit your ability to grow and scale. That’s when you need to try something other than email.
It may sound blasphemous to suggest that you move away from email, but hear us out…moving away from email can help you to manage your business more like a business and less like a daily list of to-dos based on whatever is in your inbox at the moment.
Let’s cover five symptoms your email inbox is not doing its intended job and ways you can tackle the root of the problem.
Your inbox unread count is three or more digits
Still, have a large number count sitting next to your mail icon? Is it a number you push out of your mind and just tell yourself that one day you’ll get around to going through everything?
Tell us the truth. How big is it? How long has it been this way?
Pushing 5 digits? Yikes!
It feels like the larger this number is, the more space it takes up in your mind – space that should be used for thinking about harder problems – not how do I get Twitter to stop sending me so many flipping emails.
Now I don’t know about you, but when I see my email badge count going up, I get a little anxious. Sure, that’s a pretty first world thing to get anxious about, but still – that doesn’t make the fear and procrastination that it causes any less miserable.
So if your inbox unread count invokes a feeling of dread when you get to the office, then there are a couple of things you can do to get to inbox zero – or at least under inbox 100:
- Take a day (or multiple days depending on the severity of the crime) and go through your inbox – set up filters, folders, delete old messages, empty spam, etc.
- Have zero inboxes. Do not check your email. It is a radically simple concept – though admittedly impossible for most business owners.
A third option (whoops, did we say there were two solutions), is to take the load off of your email inbox. Find a system where only important stuff can even make it through the door. A place where your networking newsletters and cold emailers asking if you need SEO services cannot find you. A place where only your team and clients know where you are. A place like Jar.
Your clients expect more synchronous and instantaneous communication
In an instant gratification craving, slack dominating, notification filled world, there is an almost impossible-to-meet expectation that all messages will be responded to with haste. But when there are also 20 other clients, employees, and freelancers vying for your attention, each reply takes a significant amount of mental switching.
Tell us if this scenario sounds familiar…
You open up and read an email message, check the previous threads for context, open up a window to reply, find any files or links you need to send them, open up your browser, make sure they work, and then somewhere in the middle click on the wrong tab and go down a rabbit hole with another task. Poof! There are 15 minutes gone right there. You’re able to pull yourself out, but then take a couple of minutes to get back into the email mindset, type up your reply, and hit send.
But wait, we’re not done yet! Next, you move on to the next email in your queue. But there’s already a reply back from your last email! All of a sudden, your inbox is right back where it was twenty minutes ago. It never ends. Then noon rolls around and you still haven’t left your inbox. There go those great aspirations for the day.
Not only does this need for instantaneous updates suck for you because you’re not able to get to the deep work that really needs to be done, but it also sucks for your clients, because their expectations of instant communication aren’t being met. That means that your clients become disenchanted with the service you’re providing – and that service you’re providing is the thing that puts food on your table.
So when the clients who pay your bills are dissatisfied because you don’t get back to them right away, that’s a very bad thing.
If you can’t respond to emails within the time clients expect a response, then it may be time to:
- Create a team inbox and delegate your email tasks out
- Hire an executive assistant
- Start collecting canned responses and use those whenever possible
- Implement a prioritization system to handle the most critical emails the fastest
- Collect new work requests in a separate system that can then be delegated out to your team
- Set up an autoresponder letting them know you’ll get to it…..eventually
This brings us to our next symptom that your email inbox is overworked and you need something better.
Clients and contractors are surprised when they actually hear back from you in a reasonable timeframe
Ensuring communication is clear and timely is a vital part of running a business with clients. If you fail to reply in a timely manner, you’ll be ranked right up there with the cable installation guy or your health insurance billing department as one of the more difficult companies to communicate with. While that may seem to work with a business of their scale, it won’t work for yours.
Clients waiting for you to respond….
Instead of having clients having to email you for status updates, implement a client portal where they can go to check on the status of their request. Boom. That’s probably a small handful of emails saved every single day.
Your average email has 4 or more threads on it
How many email threads like this one do you currently have in your inbox?
Email 1: Hey – I have a question – here’s a super detailed and complicated expectation of the problem I’m facing
Email 2 (response): OK. I need some more clarification about this one part that you mentioned. Is this what you mean?
Email 3: Yeah, it’s kinda of like that, but there’s also this one little thing that may affect it. Thoughts??
Email 4 (response): I’m not sure. Have you tried reaching out to so and so about the so and so, I know she’s really good with this kind of stuff.
Email 5: Thanks! I’ll reach out to her.
Around email 2, the message exchangers should have picked up the phone and turned this (probably multi-day and multi-hour) email chain into a short conversation.
If you’re going to communicate with threads, at least make it so that the threads and messages are visually separate from one another so you don’t have to read the same thing twice or check time stamps to make sure you’re reading things in the right order.
Requests get lost in emails and require a follow-up email from clients asking where it went
A client emails you asking about the status of a new work request they sent in a couple of weeks ago.
Internally, you’re already going “shooooooooottttttt”. Why? Because you saw it, mentally processed it, but got distracted and never actually assigned it out to a team member. So it’s just been been sitting in your inbox for the last couple of weeks with nothing being done on it, and now the client is asking where it is. You feel like you’re in trouble. And if this is a common occurrence with this client, you probably already are.
It’s here! No Wait! It’s there!
So what do you do? Rush it and hand in crappy work? Lie and say it’s still being worked on and hand it off with an ASAP deadline? Tell the truth and admit your failure? It’s a tough call.
One thing you could do would be to prevent this from ever happening in the first place. How? Making sure that your clients know they have a place where they can submit requests to you and they know it got to you. You know you got it, and if you haven’t yet assigned someone to work on it, it will let you know.
In today’s world where email rules, failing to organize and manage your inbox can mean lost, mismanaged, ignored, or forgotten emails that could have earned your business real $$$. If your inbox shows any of these symptoms, be sure to check out Jar to free yourself from working out of your inbox. And subscribe to our newsletter below!