When you’re running your own gig, email is a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, it’s rapidly becoming the next voicemail — nobody wants to look at it, it’s clumsy to use, and for God’s sake, why don’t you just text? And in light of the 205 billion+ emails sent every day, it makes sense that Inbox Zero is a thing (that deserves caps).
But on the other hand, you need to be in contact with your clients, prospects, contractors, and anyone else who helps keep your business world spinning.
What most small business owners don’t realize is that you have so much more control over the amount of email you get than you think. In fact, if you’re getting overrun with emails, chances are it’s mostly your own fault.
So how can you get people to email you less, while still being able to keep up with everything you need to keep up with? It’s all about boundaries + clarity.
If you don’t want people to email you, don’t set up situations where they feel invited to do so.
For instance, if you’re routinely asking for responses in the emails you send out, you’re going to get emails back. If you’re really open and casual on your social channels, people are going to feel more comfortable getting in touch out of the blue. If you’re sharing vulnerable stuff in your blog posts, chances are you’re going to get people with that same flavor of vulnerability emailing you and sharing their experiences.
And that can all be good, as long as it’s in line with your branding and your business goals.
But to keep it from becoming overwhelming, you need to have some solid boundaries in place, and you need to give people a way to connect with you without getting all up in your inbox.
The first thing to do is to implicitly and explicitly state your boundaries. Take a look at the way you’re connecting with people. Are you being a little too open? Do you need to dial it back a little bit, become a little less accessible?
Think about ways that you can (nicely) discourage people from sending you emails. For instance, putting something as simple as “We love design. We hate long emails. Keep it short and sweet and we’ll love you, too!” can make a world of difference.
Finally, think ahead about how people are going to want to connect with you, and give them an outlet to do so that doesn’t involve email. This means making sure your social media pages are up and active, your blog’s comments section is working, etc., and directing them to those places with a pre-written email. (More on that in a sec.)
When it comes to clients…
Clients who get email-clingy typically do so because you haven’t shown them that they can trust you to lead this process. The way to avoid this is to set expectations up front, to watch your language, and to make yourself explicitly clear in every single email. (Sensing a theme here?)
When people first start working with you, make it clear what your hours are and your policies for responding to emails. It doesn’t have to come across as rude or standoff-ish — you can easily keep this in line with your branding. For instance, in my client onboarding guide, I have a section about email that says:
“We don’t spend all day watching the inbox because quite frankly, we’ve got better things to do. (Like writing your copy.) So don’t freak out if we don’t get back to you in seconds — you’ll always get a reply within 24 hours on weekdays.”
When you do have email correspondence with clients, keep up that leadership tone by avoiding hesitance, jargon, and uncertainty. Watch out for phrases like “I just…”, “Sorry to bother you…”, or “I think I might…” -- all of which imply that you’re uncertain, which makes them feel like they have to lead. If you really struggle with this, here’s a great free app to help you out.
Finally, use the last sentence of your email to explicitly state what you’re going to do, what’s going to happen next, or what you want them to do. This way there’s a clear structure, you can easily refer back to it if they still manage to get confused, and they’re not left wondering whether they need to check in with you.
When it comes to contractors + coworkers…
The same thing applies in terms of setting expectations and watching your language, but the issue of clarity becomes even more important. Nobody wants to get caught up in a long email chain, so clarify your expectations up front — everything from expected response times to CC etiquette to what to do in an emergency — and then stick with it.
When you do sit down to write an email, pause for just a second before you start typing and make sure you’re clear on why you’re actually sending the email. Do you need information, and if so, what specifically? Are you looking for a decision, and if so, does the person on the other end have all the info they need to give it to you? Does this actually need a response at all? You’d be surprised at how many emails you can adequately respond to with a simple “Got it — thanks! EOM” in the subject line.
Finally, you can avoid loads of back and forth with some simple, pre-written emails.
To avoid getting sucked into endless email chains, have a think about the types of questions prospects, clients, and contractors tend to email you about repeatedly. Then, pre-write emails in response to them, leaving blanks for the name and the specifics, and save them in drafts or load them into a tool like Gmail’s Canned Responses.
This includes things like answers to common questions about what you do, “I’ll get back to you with a quote in 24 hours” emails, emails with your scheduling link, emails encouraging people to share on your social media or comments sections instead of via email, and responses both accepting and declining guest posting/product reviews/speaking opportunities. Then, when you do get inquiries, just mad-lib your way through your templates and you’re good to go.
Remember: boundaries + clarity = happier clients + contractors + way fewer emails for you. (And that means way more time to actually run your business.) Win, win, and win.
Streamline more. Stress less.
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