Tips on How to Manage Incoming Email
Is email sucking away all of your time, and taking away from your blogging? Today’s topic comes from one of our readers.
Phil says, “I’ve been blogging a couple of years now and in the last 6 months have seen quite a bit of growth in traffic to my blog. This is great but I’m noticing with it is coming a significant rise in the incoming emails I get. I feel like I’m drowning in it and that it’s taking me away from my blogging.
“Do you have any systems or tools to help you manage incoming email?”
Email is a challenge for most of us – whether we’re bloggers or not. But for those of us who have blogs with growing traffic it can quickly get out of hand. Today, I’m going to share how I deal with email.
Listen to my thoughts in the player above or here on iTunes.
In Today’s Episode Tips, Tools and Techniques for Managing Incoming Email
- I use gmail for my email
- I use canned responses in gmail – there is a setting under the labs link – canned responses save you time when you are asked the same question over and over again
- Have a FAQ frequently asked question page – Anyone who sends an email has access to the link to the FAQ page – this answers many common questions
- Contact Form – Have a contact form, where people can contact you with a link to the FAQ page – ProBlogger uses Gravity Forms
- Have a dropdown menu that directs where or who the email should go to. On dPS we have a dropdown menu with 5 options that the user can select after filling out the other fields.
- Have folders in gmail setup for each incoming email area – use filtering
- You can also put the answer to the frequently asked question on your contact form
- Link to social sites on contact form – or even push readers to your facebook page – be clear and set expectations
- Have help to respond to email – hire someone to help – customer support – We use a paid tool called zendesk, which also has canned responses – ticketed system
- Use filters on gmail – I have hundreds of filters on gmail – bulk for emails on products sales – keep records to serve customers – quick gmail search of transactions to see if customer purchases a product or not – emails you want to keep, but don’t want to read
- Tell gmail to skip inbox and mark it as read and put it in the ebooks folder – very powerful
- Filter emails for reading later – receipts for monthly subscriptions – only want to read these at tax time
- Unroll.me scans inbox and shows you subscriptions – give you choice to unsubscribe in bulk – or continue to receive them – or roll them into a digest
- Boomerang Chrome extension – set emails to appear in your ebox later or in the morning so that they don’t get lost – you can tell it when to send your emails – I don’t want to send email at night – tell boomerang to send email in the morning
Further Resources on Tips, Tools and Techniques for Managing Incoming Email
- Tell me in 200 words or less your bravest story
- Canned responses in gmail
- ProBlogger FAQ page
- ProBlogger contact form page
- Gravity Forms
- dPS contact form with dropdown menu
- Boomerang for Gmail
I would love to hear what you use to manage your incoming emails. What are the tools and techniques you use? How many unread emails are in your inbox?
Is email sucking all your time and taking you away from your blogging and other important aspects of your life? Today, prompted by a reader question, I want to share some tools, techniques, and tips for handling the overwhelming amounts of email that you will start to get once your blog begins to grow.
My name is Darren Rowse and welcome to Episode 147 of the ProBlogger podcast. The topic I wanna tackle today comes from a question from Phil, one of our readers, who says, “I’ve been blogging for a couple of years now. In the last six months, I’ve seen quite a bit of growth in traffic on my blog. This is great but I’m noticing with it is coming a significant rise in the incoming emails I get. I feel like I’m drowning in it and it’s taking me away from my blogging. Do you have any systems or tools that help you manage your incoming email?”
Thanks for the question, Phil. Before I start, I want to just mention a little personal project that I’m working on at the moment that I’m looking for a little bit of help on. If you’ve got a couple of moments, you can really help me to shape this little project that’s coming up. I want to hear your brave story, I want to hear the bravest thing that you’ve ever done. If you head over to problogger.net/brave, there’s a little opportunity there for you to tell me in 200 words or less your bravest story. We’re collecting these stories for an upcoming podcast project that I’m hoping to get underway later this year.
The podcast has nothing to do with blogging whatsoever, the story doesn’t have to do with your online brave moments or anything to do with work at all. Your stories could be work related or they could be relationship related, they could be to do with your health, they could be to do with adventure. Fun, brave things that you’ve done. It’s totally up to you but I’d love to hear your bravest moment, the thing that you’ve done that took the most courage.
Let’s get into today’s show where we’re going to talk about getting your email under control. This question from Phil is one that I want to approach today by telling you a little bit about what I do but I’m a little bit nervous in doing it because I know that this is an area that I constantly need to be working on. Email is not an area that I have a great track record with. I get thousands of emails every week. A lot of them are automated emails and many of you will be familiar with those, those sorts of emails that you get from social networks when someone follows you and all of those types of things. I’m going to tell you how I deal with those.
I also get a lot of emails from readers. One of the things that I’ve noticed since 2002 is that my incoming email has just exponentially grown almost every year on year on year to the point where literally thousands of emails come into my business every week. I want to share today how I deal with email and how my business deals with email. Most of what I want to share today is relevant for you if you are a solo entrepreneur, if you’re just a blogger working by yourself, but there are a few things that I also talk about when it comes to having a team as well.
I’m putting these into no logical order. There’s a number of them and I’m going to give you some techniques but also some tools as well.
The first thing I’ll say is that I use Gmail for most of my email. Most of what I’m going to share today does have some relevance with Gmail although some of the tools will work in other systems as well. One of the things that I do love and the first thing that I thought of when I was thinking of Phil’s question is that I have in Gmail, I use canned responses. Some of you will be familiar with canned response whether in Gmail or other systems, and other systems do have this.
One of the things I love about Gmail is that they have this little setting. If you go into the settings and then look for the Gmail Labs link, in that there are a number of features that people at Gmail or other people put together but they haven’t incorporated them into the main release of Gmail. One of the little lab feature that they have there is what they call Canned responses.
A canned response basically is going to save you time when you get asked the same question over and over again. Many of the emails that I get from readers on ProBlogger or Digital Photography School are similar to one another, I get a lot of common questions, frequently asked questions. I have put together a number of canned responses that I can reply to those common questions within a click or two.
To get into the canned responses setting, you go into your Gmail account and look for your settings. Look for labs and then enable canned responses. I’ll put a link in today’s show notes to how to set up your canned responses.
Let me give you a really quick example of how I use it. I get a lot of PR pitches, people sending me all kinds of things or wanting to send me things, wanting me to link to them. A lot of the PR pitches that I get are completely irrelevant. For example, I won’t tell you the exact product name or manufacturer, but in the mail two days ago I got some hair wax from a PR agency wanting me to write about it. For one, I do not have a fashion or beauty blog. They should’ve sent it to my wife but it was addressed to ProBlogger. Two, I don’t have hair. I get a lot of pitches like that and most of them do come in via email, most people don’t just send me hair wax in the mail.
One of the things I’ve done is I’ve created a canned response that I send to anyone who sends me an irrelevant PR pitch. It’s politely worded, as much as I would like to get a little bit angry with them and say hey, why don’t you look at my blog? I just have a polite declining of their approach. It’s really simple. Every time I get a PR pitch, I can just simply respond with a canned response for PR pitches.
Another common one that I get is a lot of guest post pitches. Whilst occasionally we do have a guest post on ProBlogger, we get hundreds of those sorts of requests every month. We probably publish one or two a week at the most. We have to reject a lot of people and that can take a lot of time to write an individual response to every person so we have a canned response. I’m able to select that. I then usually will tweak it a little bit, add the person’s name, personalize it a little bit if I’ve got some feedback for them and a reason why. The bulk of that email is a canned response.
We get a lot of SEO pitches, people wanting us to link to them. We get a whole heap of these common requests. The simplest way for us to do that is to simply select this canned response and hit reply. That saves me a lot of time, saves me having to write all of those answers one by one.
Another thing that you can do if you do get asked a lot of the same question is to have a page on your site for frequently asked questions. This is something I do have on ProBlogger and I just updated it today because it was getting a little bit dated when I went to have a look at it. There were a few things on it that weren’t really up to date. We link to this from our contact form so that anyone who wants to send us an email through the contact form on ProBlogger, there is a request that they check out our FAQ page. Not everyone looks at it but it has reduced the amount of emails that we get because we answer a lot of the common questions on that particular FAQ page.
If you go and have a look at my FAQ page, I’m just opening it now as I talk to you, you’ll see I’ve got different categories of questions. I’ve got some questions that I get about ProBlogger. One of the questions we get asked a lot is what blogging platform do you use? I’ve written a lot about WordPress and why we use WordPress. I simply have the question what blogging platform do you use and then I’ll link to some articles that I’ve written on that particular topic.
Another question, can you link to my blog? I get that question quite a bit. I’ve written this thing, could you link to it? I have my response to that. Could you take a look at my blog and review it? Or, do you do consulting? These types of questions I get asked a lot.
Underneath that, I’ve also got some other questions about my life. Where do you live? How long have you been blogging? How did you start? What did you do before you started blogging? All of these questions, I answer that. Try and add humor to it a little bit. As I’m looking at my FAQ page right now, I could probably update it a little bit further by personalizing it, perhaps even putting a video onto it. Simply by having the answers to those most frequently asked questions, I know I’m cutting down the amount of emails that I get. The key is to link to that FAQ page. Probably the best place to do that is from the place where people will contact you from, your contact page, if you do have one.
Speaking of contact pages, I want to talk a little bit about our contact page as well. We use a WordPress plugin to run our contact form. It’s a plugin called Gravity Forms. It’s a very powerful plugin that does a number of things, one of those things is running your contact page. You can also use it to take guest post submissions and create content from it for your users, there’s a whole heap of things that you can use Gravity Forms for. We really just scrape the surface of what it is useful for.
One of the things I love about Gravity Forms is that it allows you in your contact form to have a little drop down menu. I’ll link to the contact form that we have over at Digital Photography School, my main blog, and you’ll see that we have a number of different fields there, the person put in their name, their email address, what their email is about. Then, we ask them to select their subject. You’ve probably seen this in many contact forms before.
We have five different options people can select. One is I have a question about a product. If they select that and then they send us an email, that email then is sent to our customer support team. Number two is I have a bug or problem to report. That is always sent to our tech support person, the person who operates our WordPress, installation, does our design and our service. Number three, there’s an option there I’d like to advertise on Digital Photography School. That goes to our partnership team, the person who sells advertising on our site. Number four, I’d like to write for Digital Photography School, these are people who want to submit guest posts and who want to become a writer and that goes to our editor. The last option is something else and that’s a bit of a miscellaneous and again it goes to our customer support and then they send it off to the relevant person in my team.
Obviously, I have a team. I want to get the right email to the right person, I don’t want to be receiving all of those emails and then introducing people to the right person. I just want these emails to get sent straight to the right person. You might not have a team yet but this type of system is good because it enables you as your team grows and as you do bring on people to be able to send these emails really quickly out to the right person. You could also use this to get emails into the right folder in your Gmail, you could have a folder setup for each of these areas. For editorial requests, advertising requests, technical bugs, customer service. That will enable you to organize the incoming emails that you have there.
I’ll tell you a little bit more about how to do that. I use filtering within Gmail and that would enable you to do that as well. By triaging the types of requests that you get and sending them to the right places, that can cut down some work as well.
The other thing that I have on my contact form in addition to the link to the FAQ page is if there’s a question that you get more than any other, you could actually put the answer to the frequently asked question right there on your contact form as well. On the ProBlogger contact form, right there on the contact form I do say if you would like me to look at your blog and give you a review, I’m sorry I don’t offer this service anymore. That’s the most frequently asked question that I get. Whilst I’d love to do that for all my readers, I get so many of those requests every week that it would become a full time job just to look at people’s blogs and give them free advice. I wouldn’t write any new content.
If you do have a question that’s asked all the time, you might even want to consider putting the answer to that frequently asked question on your contact form as well.
Another thing that you can do on your contact forms that might help is if you have a place that you’d rather people ask you questions on social media for example, you could be pointing them to those places as well. On my contact forms, I also list where our Twitter account is, I also list where my Facebook page is, I also link to my Instagram page. All of these other places that I’m hanging out and say to the people where you are, where they might be able to contact you in a better way. You could even eliminate email all together and push everyone to your Facebook page and say send me a direct message there if you’d prefer to do that.
Really make it clear to people on your contact form where they can contact you, set some expectations about when you’ll get back to people or if you’ll get back to people. I know some people in their contact forms say something like I get so many emails I can’t respond to everyone and sort of set that expectation that they don’t reply to everyone. If you do reply to everyone, maybe consider putting a time frame on there as well. Getting those expectations right could be useful in that sort of circumstance.
Another thing that has helped me a lot, and I’ve already sort of touched on this, is that I have help to respond to the emails. This is something that only really happened in the last four or five years for me, up until the first eight or nine years of my blogging I was handling all my incoming email. It was a real challenge.
One of the things I realized particularly after we started selling ebooks over on Digital Photography School is that that really ramped things up when it came to incoming emails. People would email every time we did a launch of a new ebook, we would get questions from people who didn’t know what an ebook was or didn’t know whether an ebook was a physical thing or a virtual thing or how to download it or how to open it. People were asking for refunds, people were asking questions about whether the product was right for them, people were struggling to get their payment through with Paypal or with their credit card. I could quite easily have spent my whole day just responding to requests. For a long time, I did. I did it all myself for a long time. It really took my focus away from the marketing of the products and the development of more products as well.
One of the best things that I ever did was to hire someone to help me, particular on Digital Photography School, to manage customer support. As I mentioned before using the dropdown menu, we have emails going to a variety of different people in my team that’s relevant to them. The bulk of the emails that we get coming in go to my brother in law Simon who I hired. Simon’s part time, he’s not a full time employee. We gradually increased his hours over the years. Simply by sending all of those types of questions around products particularly and some of those common questions that people have, sending them all to him. He is incredibly efficient at responding to those.
We use a tool called ZenDesk which is a paid service that we have. It’s not that expensive, I think it’s $5, $10 a month for one person to be able to access it. It also has canned responses, I think originally Simon was using Gmail to manage it all. But as the volume of incoming emails increased, we wanted to move to ZenDesk because it’s a ticketed system. Anyone who emails us gets a ticket. Simon’s able to look at their full history of emails that we’ve had with that particular person to really be able to track the issue that the person has and to see whether it’s resolved or not. He also can use a ZenDesk app on his iPhone or iPad while he’s traveling and out and about as well to be able to respond to people.
Again, they have canned responses so all the common questions that he gets asked he can respond to in a click which saves a lot of time as well. You can pay more to have multiple users using ZenDesk but I think we’re set out with just one or two users. It’s a fairly affordable option for us.
A couple more tips, techniques and tools that I use within Gmail. The first one, I’ve already touched on, it is filters. The reason I originally switched to Gmail in 2008 was this idea of filters. At that time, I remember really clearly being inundated with social media messages, some of which you couldn’t even turn off at that time. When you set up your Twitter account, you get the chance these days to filter how many emails you get from Twitter when someone direct messages you or when someone follows you.
Back then, there were very limited amounts of filtering that you could do. You either got all the messages or you got none of them. Most of us left those messages on because we wanted to get notified when we got a direct message so we got a lot of emails from Twitter, Facebook, from all the different social networks in addition to all of the other emails that I was getting. The ability within Gmail to be able to filter messages to different folders, to label different messages and hide them and to skip the inbox, is a very powerful thing.
I just looked this afternoon at my Gmail account at the filters that I have set up. I have hundreds of filters set up that I’ve set up since 2008. The bulk of the filters that I’ve got set up is emails that I get around product sales. I really like to keep a record of every email that I get when I sell an ebook, and that’s partly to be able to serve my customers. I love it when I get an email or a message on Twitter from someone saying, “Hey, I bought this ebook way back when. I’ve lost it, can I get it again?” I want to be able to really quickly check whether that person has paid for that product so I can send it to them again.
The quickest way for me to check whether they bought it or not is to do a quick search in my Gmail account because I have a record of every single transaction that we’ve had, tens of thousands of ebooks that we’ve sold over the years. I don’t want all of those emails landing in my inbox. I want to keep them but I don’t want to read them. There are many emails that you probably get everyday that you want to keep but you don’t want to read. The quickest and the best way that you can do that is to set up a filter within Gmail.
All of these emails that I get, I get two emails for every ebook sold. I get an email from Paypal and I get an email from our shopping cart system. I don’t want to see them so I tell Gmail with a filter to skip my inbox so it doesn’t go into my inbox. I want it to be marked as read and then put into a folder called Ebook Sales within Gmail. This all happens automatically. If I actually go into Gmail and hit the all mail tab, I will see most of my emails skipping my inbox because there are emails that I want to keep but I don’t want to read. This is really very powerful to do and Gmail is doing a lot of the work for me there. It’s really gold.
The other thing that I love about this and filters is that there’s emails that I get regularly that I do want to read but I don’t want to read them until later. One example of this is that I get a lot of receipts from services that I subscribe to. I pay for SumoMe, Lead Pages, some of these services that as bloggers we pay a monthly fee for. I don’t need to read all of those receipts as they come in. But at tax time, I want to be able to find those receipts very quickly. I’ve setup a filter so that every time I get a receipt from Lead Pages or from SumoMe or from any of the other services that I use, they skip my inbox and they are put into a folder called receipts. At the end of every quarter when I do my tax, I can find all of my receipts in the one folder but I didn’t have to put them there myself.
Then, there will be a variety of other types of emails that you might want to do the same types of things with. If you’re a batch processor, if you like to do all of the same tasks in a row, you could even do this on a daily basis. For example if you set up using Gravity Forms, if you don’t have a team to handle all of the different types of emails but you want to process those emails in batches, you could actually set up five folders in your Gmail. One for customer service, one for tech bugs, one for advertising requests, one for guest posts, and then you could tackle each of those categories of questions that you get at a certain time each day or once a week. You can use filters to really manage those incoming emails in different ways as well.
Another tool that I use is Unroll Me. It scans your inbox for you, you have to give it permission to look at your Gmail. You may not want to do that if you have concerns around privacy but I’m pretty much happy for them to scan my inbox. It shows you the emails that you are subscribed to.
One of the challenges when you’re in the space that we’re in is that we end up subscribing to a whole lot of news letters. Sometimes, we get subscribed to them without our permission as well. Unroll Me will come back to you once it scans your inbox and show you all of the subscriptions that you have and then give you a choice as to whether you want to unsubscribe from them and it will enable you to unsubscribe in bulk to a lot of emails that you are getting that you do not want to continue to get. Or, it gives you the option to continue to receive them, or for it to roll them up into a digest everyday.
This is what I love about on Unroll Me is that every morning at 7:00AM, I get an email. It’s from Unroll Me, and it digests all of the emails that I do want to continue to get but I don’t want to interrupt me throughout the day. Before I was using Unroll Me, the emails would just come in and hit my inbox as they came in. I might get 20 or 30 emails during the day, emails that I do want to get. They might be newsletters from other bloggers, they might be alerts that I get from news alerts, or if I’m looking at real estate I get alerts from a real estate site that I’m following. I don’t want those emails to interrupt me everyday but I do want to see them everyday and Unroll Me puts them all into one single email so that I can very quickly scan those things when I get to my email first thing in the morning.
You can set it up so that it sends them to you in the afternoon or in the evening. Just by having them all hit at once really saves me a lot of time. Every morning when I get that email, it usually has 20 or 30 emails and it’s digested for me. I can very quickly within a minute or two get all of the information that I need from those emails. Or, I can identify one of those emails that I really want to dig into further and then I can do that.
The other tool that I use within Gmail is Boomerang. I know many of you use Boomerang already, it’s a Chrome extension that does a number of things. I use two of its features quite a bit. The first feature that I love is that if I get an email from someone and it might be at 9:00 at night. I just checked it and I’ve seen it and I’m not on my computer right now, I want to respond to this tomorrow morning but I’m not going to be online again until then. I want to mark this as done and I want it to appear back in my inbox tomorrow morning at 9:00AM so it’s at the top of my inbox.
One of the challenges that I have getting so many emails is that emails do get lost, particularly at the end of the day. If I see an email come in at 9:00PM at night, by the next morning there’s another 50 emails on top of it. I’m able to say to Boomerang send this email back to me in four hours or send this email back to me tomorrow morning at 9:00AM and it will do that for me. The next morning when I get up, there it is sitting on top of the stack.
The other thing I like about Boomerang is that you can tell Boomerang when to send your emails. Again, I might be working at 9:00 at night on my computer and I might want to send an email to Lanney who manages ProBlogger but I don’t want her to get that email at 9:00 at night, it’s going to interrupt her night or it’s going to make me look like I’m working too late and I don’t want her to see that I’m working that late. I can actually say to Boomerang hey, send this email to Lanney tomorrow morning at 8:55AM so it’s on top of her email stack the next morning.
Boomerang, those are the two main features I use of it. It does have a number of other features as well. Check that out.
There are the main techniques I use within Gmail to manage my incoming email. I’m very aware as I’ve gone through that that I’m sure there are plenty of other great tools that you use, I’ve tested some of them myself. The system I’ve just described to you works for me. I love to hear what you use. Leave us a comment, tell us the tools that you’ve tried that work well for you, tell us the techniques that you use, tell us how you minimize the incoming emails that do come in to you, how you respond to them as efficiently as you can, or tell us whether you are a complete failure at Gmail as well and maybe you want to tell us how many unread emails you have in your inbox, that could be fun too.
Thanks for listening today and I’ll chat with you in a couple of days time in Episode 148.
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