Posts Tagged ‘Email’


How to Ensure that Email Doesn’t Suck the Life Out of Your Business

4-10 to many emails smallRemember when email was fun?  We used to delight in hearing those three little words, “You’ve got mail”.  But nowadays, email has become one of the biggest time sucks in business.

Unless you hone your habits, email (and texting, for that matter) can consume countless hours of your business day. Here are four habits that can help you retain control of your inbox and focus more time growing your business.

1. Follow the Touch Once Rule

This rule dates back to the olden days, when the U.S. Postal Service delivered mountains of envelopes every day. The key to efficiency was to open the envelope, look at the contents, and then immediately take action. The junk mail went into the recycling bin, while the important things either got passed on to someone else or, at the very least, into the to-do bin for immediate action.

Email is no different, except that you don’t have to deal with envelopes. If a message requires action, take that action right now, forward it to the proper person or put it on your electronic calendar or to-do list. Everything else goes into your email trash bin.

2. Make “Safe” Unsubscribe Your Best Friend

This recommendation comes with a warning: done incorrectly, you could actually become buried in spam, when it only came up to your knees before you started unsubscribing. Many spammers initially take a guess at your email address. Once your unsubscribe message confirms that address, they pass it along to other spammers.

Still, using the unsubscribe link in a message from a reputable business can substantially cut down the number of email messages that you receive every day. For the rest of them, just mark them as spam to get them out of your inbox and into the junk mail folder, where they belong.

3. Stay True to Your Own Schedule

As a small business owner, you have to tread a fine line between remaining committed to your daily schedule and being responsive to customer needs. But you’re not an emergency room doctor — even business crises can wait an hour or two before gaining your time and attention.

Some people absolutely want to know first thing in the morning if anything requires immediate attention. If your curiosity is so strong that it prevents you from meeting your obligations, you may need to take a look before you start your day. Most people become more efficient, however, when they hold off on the email until later in the day.

Regardless of when you take that first peek, further email activity should be scheduled into your day. Your planned activities are just as important (probably more so) than constantly checking the mail. Limit the number of times that you check email to avoid interrupting other scheduled work. And you probably should turn off the audio and visual email notifications to avoid temptation.

4. Recognize that Not Every Message Requires a Reply

Every conversation has to end at some point and you don’t always have to get the last word. Once the back-and-forth stops being productive, it has gone on too long. So, when customer messages tell you that the problem is solved — or just say “thank you,” maybe they’ll be even more appreciative if you do not respond.

There are civil ways to stop the madness. For example, if you need to keep someone informed, just tell them that your message is for information only and no response is necessary. And if you use an auto-responder that replies to all incoming email, make sure that it politely states that you will respond only when a response is required.

While good email habits are a must, do not waste time trying to achieve perfection (aka achieving “inbox zero”). Even with good email habits, you’ll probably never completely empty your inbox — the cyber world just doesn’t work that way. Your true goal should be to avoid losing important communications while gaining back valuable time. With any luck, your email recipients will follow your example until good email habits abound across the world.


Keeping Your Email Out of the Junk Folder

3-19 email to inbox smallA hot topic on the subject of email marketing is how to keep your company’s emails out of your prospect’s junk folder. It’s one of the most complicated parts of email marketing which cause a high rate of failure. Here are some steps to get your emails to where they should go: the inbox!

1. Send Emails in Batches

It may be easier to send an email to an entire list, but this is not an effective practice. Spam detectors are looking for companies using mass emails. Sending out smaller batches minimizes the risk of email providers (Google, MSN, and Yahoo!) getting spam complaints bundled together at one time. Batch the lists when sending more than 2,000 emails because this is the maximum that should be sent per hour. Many paid email marketing systems will do this automatically.

2. Clean and Update Email Lists

When email providers see a mailing list with a lot of bad accounts (i.e. ones that don’t exist, has been disabled or has a full inbox), they penalize the sender. This increases the likelihood that company emails will go into to the junk folder. Surprisingly, some estimate that US consumers change their email account every six months. This means a lot of updating, but it is a necessary practice to prevent from being labeled a spam provider.

3. Include a Clear Unsubscribe Link

Providing subscribers an opportunity to unsubscribe from a mailing list is not only a best practice, it is a legal requirement. Providing an unsubscribe link means that readers are less likely to jump straight to marking an email as spam. The top criteria for ending up in junk folders is number of spam complaints, so these must be avoided.

4. Become a Contact

Seize every opportunity to encourage those on an email list to add the company as a contact (sometimes called white listing) because those emails will always go to the inbox. Make sure the email comes from a real person not info@yourcompany.com. The best times to encourage this are in the email sign-up confirmation, on the confirmation page, and during customer service transactions. For example, write that “in order to ensure that you continue to receive quality information you requested from us, please add us to your contact list.”

5. Don’t Use Big Images

Sending an email with only images is a bad idea. Spam filters are on the hunt for image-based files because they often contain words that would normally get caught in the spam filters. Since they can’t read the words on an image, they play it safe and assume it’s spam. Make sure all emails contain real text for the filters to read, so they can know the email is safe and pass it on. Including small images an email marketing copy which can be seen on mobile devices is encouraged; it’s the image-only emails that are a problem.

6. Avoid Certain “Spam” Language

Spam reads like spam. Some of the most common words in junk folder emails are Viagra, free, drugs, porn, and guaranteed winner. Additionally, don’t use ALL CAPS, colored fonts, or multiple exclamation marks. Many email marketing solutions check the “spam score” of an email before it is sent.

7. Don’t Buy a List

Sending a promotional email to someone you’ve never had contact with before is illegal according to many digital laws, so buying an email marketing list is not suggested. Buying a list will also increase the chance that people will report the message as spam.

How has your company been successful getting to the inbox?


Mondays with Mike: 15 Email Mistakes To Eliminate

Man Writing an E-Mail on a LaptopGiven that many of us can conduct business without ever touching a piece of paper, email has become the single most important method of business communication.  Appointments, negotiations, confirmations, even billing can be handled via email, which means it’s more important than ever to ensure you’re communicating carefully and professionally.  Here are 15 mistakes you should never make in your business emails:

  1. Irrelevant (or missing) signature lines.  Your signature line should contain your contact information and nothing else.  That inspirational quote from your favorite author is just clutter in business communications.
  2. Cutesy emoticons.  Just don’t. 
  3. Using “Reply All” for every message.  Think about whether your reply really needs to go to everyone on the list.  Send information only to those recipients who really need it.
  4. Speling and gramer erors.  Nothing makes professional correspondence look sloppier than misspelled words and careless grammar errors.  If your email program doesn’t have spellcheck, take the time to copy and paste your messages into a word processing program to clean up any mistakes.  Put your best foot forward.
  5. Including long previous conversations.  Forwarding irrelevant portions of earlier conversations just means folks have to wade through more noise.  Strive to keep your emails clutter-free.
  6. Being too long-winded.  Email is supposed to make us more efficient.  Get to the point and wrap it up.  Don’t get bogged down in unnecessary information.
  7. Altering previous conversations.  Never, ever, ever should you edit earlier conversations to alter their meaning.  Not only is it completely unethical, but you’re likely to be called out for pulling an underhanded stunt.
  8.  Revealing you’ve been BCCed.  If you’re blind copied, it’s for a reason.  If you hit “Reply All,” you’re outing the sender of the original email.  Make sure you’re careful if there’s under-the-radar communication occurring.
  9. Irrelevant or vague subject lines.  If you’re sending an email, it’s because you have important information to share.  Using specific subject lines helps your colleagues wade through their inboxes and identify the emails which need their attention first.  A subject line like “Oh, by the way” is far less effective than “Change in meeting time.”  Be clear.
  10. Burying your point.  In the cases in which you do need to send a lengthy email, make sure your main point is covered early on.  You want to avoid the TL;DR effect – Too Long; Didn’t Read – by getting to the point right away.  Don’t make folks wade through a bunch of fluff to figure out what’s important.
  11. Babysitting your email.  It works just fine, even if you’re not watching it.  Email is supposed to enhance efficiency, but it doesn’t work that way if you’re interrupting your day every time you hear a “ding.”  Similarly, I see people pretending to be busy with their inboxes when they really could be doing something far more productive.  It’s a tool.  Use it at your convenience.
  12. Ignoring critical emails.  Don’t be a lousy correspondent.  So often we read an email and intend to come back to it later.  What ends up happening, though, is we forget, or when we do get back to it, we have to reread it to refresh our memories.  It’s far more efficient to handle important emails right away, or if you can’t, flag them so you don’t miss them when you’re reviewing your inbox.
  13. Replying too quickly.  We often get sucked into the trap of replying in a less than professional manner, simply because email is so quick.  Just because you’ve read a message doesn’t mean you have to answer it right that minute, though.  If you’re upset or confused, sometimes all you need is to take a little time and handle the email when you’re better equipped to do it calmly.
  14. Using a gushy closing.  These are business communications, and there’s really no place for flowery sign-offs.  Keep in mind that if your sig line has your name and contact information, you may not even need to sign off at all.
  15. Attaching enormous files.  Bear in mind that email has limits.  If you absolutely must send a large, critical file, compress or zip it so it doesn’t fill up the recipient’s inbox.

In short: be concise, be professional, and be clear. 


Mondays with Mike: 7 Ways To Banish Spam

12-8 spam smallI used to hear people complaining about telemarketers who always seemed to call at dinnertime.  Fortunately, we don’t get as many phone calls from people trying to sell us something, but those calls have been replaced by a plague of junk email – spam.  It clutters up our inboxes and can prevent us from seeing all of the important email that needs our attention.  Worse yet, some spam contains viruses that can infect our computers. 

Never fear, though.  These 7 steps will help you eliminate spam permanently!

  1. Use Gmail.  It’s simple.  Gmail is the best email service in terms of automatically blocking spam.  It sorts known spam producing addresses into your spam folder without your having to lift a finger, and it also lets you identify senders you want sent to that folder in the future.  Gmail also sorts promotional emails – ones with offers you may actually want to see – into a Promotions folder, keeping your inbox reserved for more important emails.
  2. Unsubscribe.  It may take you a few minutes and you may have to go through a couple of steps, but reputable companies will respect your unsubscribe request.  Just make sure you unsubscribe from all of the emails each sender generates.  Some companies make it a little tricky to completely unsubscribe, so take your time and make sure you do it right. 
  3. Blacklist spammers.  Blacklists permanently block emails from particular domains, servers, and senders, and if you use a blacklist, you’ll never hear from the senders on your list again.
  4. Use a spam filter.  You’d be surprised how many people complain about junk mail and don’t bother to use a filter.  Mailwasher Pro and SPAMfighter Pro are both great products that give you flexible and comprehensive protection
  5. Report spam.  If you take just a few seconds to mark unwanted messages for Gmail, your email service will work behind the scenes to make everyone’s email experience more efficient and pleasant.  Think of it as one way to make the world a better place.
  6. Use your own filters.  This step is more involved and requires a little more work, but it’s very effective if you’re really plagued by persistent spam.  You list addresses from which you no longer want to see mail, and those messages get shifted to your spam file.  When you’re using custom filters, it’s a good idea to scan your spam file periodically, just in case messages you do want to see end up there by mistake.
  7.  Change your email address.  This step is a pain, but it’s the last resort for folks whose emails have been hacked or otherwise compromised and who simply can’t eradicate all of their spam.  You have to notify all the people you correspond with, and you’re likely to end up missing some messages from lazy folks who don’t change your address in their contacts, but you will be able to start fresh without any spam, at least when you first open the account.  Practicing good email hygiene can help you protect the new account from the spam buildup you had in your old account.

Don’t let a cluttered inbox frustrate you for a minute longer.  A few simple steps can clear out the clutter and make your email far more efficient and secure.


How to Get Your Business Email Delivered

Stocksy_txpf1294e40taA000_Small_354765Spam has been a problem since 1865. When a group of British politicians received unsolicited telegrams promoting a local dentistry shop, they were angry. One of the recipients wrote a letter to the editor of The Times asking “by what right do they disturb me by a telegram which is evidently simply the medium of advertisement?” He proceeded to request a stop to this “intolerable nuisance”.

Flash forward over 100 years to 1978. Gary Thuerk, a marketing manager at Digital Equipment Corp., sends a message promoting a new computer model to 393 users on ARPANET (the precursor to the internet) and becomes the “father of spam”. The reaction was almost completely hostile and Thuerk was harshly reprimanded.

So after so much backlash, why does the sending of spam messages continue? Because this marketing technique works. Thuerk’s company sold more than 20 computer systems for more than a million dollars apiece from this type of message.

In the years since, spam has continued to be sent and continued to be fought by email gatekeeping filters. Some estimate that 90% of all email sent is actually spam.

So how do you get a company’s email through all that spam filters?

  1. Use double opt in when possible. A subscriber fills out a form and then confirms that subscription again via email. While this two-step process is a bit cumbersome and will result in a reduction of the list, it is the best way to preserve a reputation and therefore the deliverability with the email provider.
  2. Keep complaints low. When someone does complain, remove them from the list immediately. It is surprising how these people do not remove themselves when they make the complaint.
  3. Use a reputable email marketing provider. Most professional services like Infusionsoft, and Constant Contact have strict standards of mailing. Every email address on a subscriber list must be verified by the sender or the receiver to keep deliverability high.
  4. Do not use Yahoo, Gmail or AOL domain names. Since these types of accounts represent the domains where most spam is sent from, they have a higher likelihood to be filter out as spam.
  5. Stop using trigger words. This increase the chances of the email being labeled as spam. For instance, do not use the words “free”, “you have been selected”, “24 hours”, “test”, “hello”, “help”, “percent off” or “reminder”.
  6. If images are used, include more text. Images alone have a greater chance of going into the spam bucket. Use plenty of text along with those images to improve deliverability.
  7. Always spell check the email. A lot of spam is from non English speakers who have a tendency to misspell words. Always spell check the entire email to get past this filter.
  8. Use 25 character subject line. Keep the subject line short. Not only does this help to get past the spam filters, it increase readability on mobile devices.
  9. Watch the “From” field. Always use a real person’s name and not Sales@Mystore.com. These have a greater probability to get caught in the filters since they are viewed as less authentic.
  10. Encourage recipients to add the domain to their address book or white label list. This will ensure that the emails always land in the inbox.

What is the deliverability of your email like?


How to Develop an Email Lead Nurturing Program

??????????????????????????????????????One of the biggest obstacles I’ve seen for small business owners is closing the sale. Now, I understand that we’re not all born salespeople, but even if you despise sales, you can’t get away from them if you run your own business. It’s just a matter of sorting through the leads you take in and nurturing them until they’re ready to buy. Email is a wonderful tool to help you do just that.

First, What Does Your Email Marketing Strategy Look Like?

If your answer to this question is “it’s nonexistent,” go back to square one and get started. You’d be amazed how quickly you can grow your email contact list simply by offering something of value, like a free report, whitepaper, or discount in exchange for web visitors’ email addresses.

But if you do have a way for people to join your list, what do you do with them once they’re there? Do you regularly send out email newsletters or promotions? If not, that’s where we’ll start.

Next, Segment Your Contacts

Understand that not everyone that signs up for your email list is in the same place in the buying cycle. Some people may simply be doing research to see what options are out there to solve their problems. Others may be specifically seeing what your brand offers and considering it against the competition. Still others may be ready to pull the trigger.

The more you can divide your email list into a few categories, the better you can target the content you deliver each group. And people who receive targeted content rather than across-the-board generic drivel are more likely to buy from you!

Once you’ve created a few “buckets” to separate your subscribers, write out a description of each person. It might look like this:

Problem Pete is looking for a solution to his problem: he needs a way to organize his photos online. He’s signed up for our free “10 Ways to Use Your Images Online” whitepaper, and now he’s more educated on the online photo storage space. Our emails to Pete need to address the benefits of using our service over the competition, as well as deliver additional educational content.

Having a buyer persona like this can help you build a strategy in the kinds of emails you send each segment. Knowing that Problem Pete is probably at the beginning of his solution-seeking journey means you can ply him with informative content that will not only educate him on your industry but also nudge him toward choosing your services.

Then, Build Out Your Content Strategy

Using the info you learned in building the buyer personas, you’ll now want to create an email marketing strategy for each segment and then build a content calendar around that strategy. Here’s an example:

  • Initial signup: automatically send the free report
  • Follow-up a week later: send our Top 10 blog post
  • Three days later: offer 20% off
  • If contact doesn’t use that offer, one week later, send personalized note from CEO

Each email, as you can see, delivers a different value, and there are enough of them coming at a steady cadence that your new subscribers can’t help but remember who your brand is.

You can schedule each of these as an autoresponder to automatically go out on the schedule you determine. Most email marketing software programs will do this for you (though if you use a free plan, you may have to upgrade).

Pay Attention to Results

Once you’ve got these autoresponders set up, don’t forget about them. Check in to measure your clickthrough rate (that’s what percent of your subscribers clicked links in the email to get to your site), your bounce rate (how many email addresses were incorrect or otherwise failed to get your emails), and your conversion rate (how many subscribers actually bought from you as a result of each email). Make changes as necessary to ensure your email lead efforts are fruitful.


Are You Getting Everything You Should Be Out of Google Apps?

If you’re like many small businesses, you might be using Gmail for your company email addresses. Or maybe you rely on Google Calendar to alert you about meetings and events from any mobile device. But those are just the tip of the iceberg for Google Apps. There are tons more features that help you collaborate with your team, work away from your desktop, and hold more productive meetings, both in person and virtual.

Build a Smarter Team

The great thing about Google products is they work so well together, as well as individually, especially for teams. While I’ve written about the best apps small business owners need to thrive, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Google Drive. When you’re collaborating on documents, sharing them in the cloud makes it easy for multiple people to access the documents and make their changes, without all that crossover of emails with different versions of that doc.You can create word processing documents, spreadsheets, forms, and presentations, and share them with anyone you want to have access to them.

And if your team isn’t in the office with you, Google Hangouts makes meetings easier. Up to 15 people can be on a call, and there are apps for mobile devices, so you’re not tethered to your desktop.

Google Calendar, too, is ideal when trying to schedule meetings for your team. You can share access of your calendar or see availability on others’ calendars, then send invites to your team. You can even include a video call in the invite (on Hangouts, of course!).

Taking it on the Go

There are compelling reasons for Google lovers to choose Android phones over Apple. They’re much more intuitive when it comes to using Google Apps, and many (like the Samsung S5) come standard with all of the apps built in. Sign in once and get access to your Hangouts, email, Drive, and calendar.

It’s the Little Things

Beyond these tools, there are plenty more. Like Google Vault, which helps you archive email and chats, making audits and legal research easy. Or Google Sites, a free tool with simple website templates. Groups let you channel your conversations into one place online, and Translate helps you understand foreign text.

Integrate What You’re Already Using

A little-known feature of Google Apps is its Marketplace (I myself didn’t even know about it until I did some digging). The apps here are from software and programs you’re likely already using, like CRM, workflow, and email marketing. Enabling your accounts to work within Google Apps streamlines the activity between the two.

For example, the Nimble app in the Marketplace gives Nimble users more functionality. It allows you to import contacts from your social stream with one click; link emails, tweets, tasks, and events to a profile; and allow your team to log into Nimble using their Google account.

You might even discover new tools, like the HelloFax app, which lets you fax documents from your Drive. Or QuoteRoller, which helps you build out quotes and proposals.

All This…at What Cost?

If you signed up for Google in 2012 or earlier, you’ve been grandfathered in to free services. But at only $50 a year (or $120 with unlimited storage and Vault), it remains an affordable option for any small business looking for easy productivity tools.

We’ve come to rely heavily on Google, and for good reason: the brand keeps providing useful tools that help us do more with our businesses.

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How to Prevent Hacking of Your Email

??????????????????????????Security is one of the biggest issues facing small businesses. With BYOD policies (Bring Your Own Device), many small businesses make easy targets for hacks that can literally cause havoc in their company. This is the result of having less sophisticated security that larger companies employ to protect themselves.

Many security breaches occur through email since they are a lot like postcards that travel over the internet. They are addressed to a person, but anyone can turn them over and read them. This is a major problem since emails often contain customer sensitive information.

When small businesses share information with their clients via email, they are liable for protecting that data. If a client sends their credit card information and someone intercepts that email, it can be used fraudulently. Not only does it reflect very poorly on the business, they may be liable

Here are a few steps small business owners should take to protect their email communication:

  1. Do not share passwords or accounts.  A lot of small businesses have a general account for communicating with customers that several people have access to. The problem is that every person can now access every message. Action to take: Increase the security of email communications by using person-specific accounts and not sharing passwords. Remember, a general account can automatically forward email to many person specific accounts if information always needs to be shared.
  2. Prevent physical access.. Leaving a computer open and unattended makes it incredibly easy for someone to walk up and read emails. Action to take: Make sure that all devices lock after not being used for 15 seconds and require a password to logon.
  3. Encrypt emails. Email encryption services, such as Enlocked, give an easy way to secure messages, allowing them to be sent safely over standard email. The service works right within an email environment. Action to take. Draft an email and address it to a user just like normal except next to the send standard button is a “send secure” button. The recipient receives the message normally, but must authenticate themselves before viewing.
  4. Use different channels. A common method for sending sensitive information, such as usernames and passwords, is send them in separate emails. Action to take: Use two separate channels; send the username via email and the password via text message. Another popular method of protection is sending password protected files. It works as a great first step, but the sender still runs into the problem of safely communicating password information.

If protecting email communications is not seen as problem in your company, you haven’t had the problem. Take the necessary steps to protect sensitive information and evaluate what works best for your small business.


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: How to Get Control of Your Email

Is your email out of control? Are you constantly checking it on three different devices and feel like you never get out from under the avalanche? If your emails seem to be multiplying like rabbits, don’t despair—there are ways to get a grip and get back control of your life. Not all of the following tactics will work for everyone—but some should work for you.

  • Avoid checking email first thing in the morning. If you find that email sucks up your time and keeps you from accomplishing big projects, try designating the first hour of your day as email-free. Just be sure you use that time to work on key tasks that are crucial to your business—not busywork or checking Facebook. By dedicating a solid hour a day to focused effort, you’ll be amazed how much more you get done. (Disclosure: I offer this advice because so many time management people put it on their lists of must-do’s. Personally, I always check email first thing in the morning. To do otherwise seems counter-productive to me.)
  • Turn off email notifications. If your computer or smartphone dings every time you get a new email, no wonder you’re going nuts. Turn off notifications so you can focus instead of being interrupted every two seconds.
  • Set times for checking email. It’s human nature to seek out the new and exciting. When we’re bored or stressed, it’s natural to check our email to see if anything more interesting has come along. You’ll get more done if you set a few specific times of day for checking email—for example, one hour into your day, right before lunch, early afternoon and near the end of the day. If you let your team know about your email habits, they won’t panic when you don’t respond immediately.
  • Use filters, folders, rules and other tools. Whether you use Gmail, Outlook, Apple Mail or other program, investigate the tools available on your email program to help manage email. Spending a few hours now learning how to automatically sort emails into folders, set rules for what to do with emails and using filters to ensure you don’t miss important emails (and don’t waste time on pointless ones) will save you hours each day in the end.
  • Automate and delegate. If you frequently answer the same types of emails, such as a certain kind of customer inquiry, creating templates with stock language you can edit quickly will save you time. Or delegate these standard replies to an assistant (real or virtual).
  • Pick up the phone. Sometimes we spend hours going back and forth on email when a simple phone call would solve the issue in a flash. Never minimize the value of in-person communication.

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