For many small businesses and entrepreneurs, email is at once a blessing and a curse. It’s a great way to communicate with clients and keep a record of conversations, but there are challenges. Traditional email clients — the program you would use to check email — installed on your computer and made checking email remotely a challenge. And for those that get more than 2 emails a day, how do you organize them all?
I’m going to share with you the system I’m using, how to set it up to check your business email, and how to keep it organized so that it not only helps your communication, but supports your business workflow as well.
Gmail for Business
I’ve been using Gmail as my email client since early 2013. Now, understand that “client” means that Gmail is the tool that I’m using to check and use my business email account. When I communicate with clients, it’s with an @thesocialmediahat.com email account, not a Gmail account. While you have to have a Gmail account to use Gmail, you don’t have to actually use it.
One of the immediate benefits of using Gmail versus, say, Windows Mail, is that your entire email system and storage is now cloud-based. That means you will be able to access your email from any device and access all of your email at that time. I use the Chrome desktop browser on my laptop, and use the Gmail app on my iPhone and iPad. On every device, I just log into Gmail and there are all of my messages, exactly the same as on every other device.
If you already have a Gmail account, skip ahead to the next section.
If you don’t yet have a Gmail account, you probably have a Google account, so make sure you’re logging into Google and go to https://mail.google.com to start your Gmail account.
Choose. Your. Username. Carefully.
You will never be able to chance your Gmail account username, so choose wisely. This will also become your username throughout Google, so be careful.
Once you have a Gmail account, it’s time to “add” your business email account.
How To Set Up Gmail
Fortunately, adding a business email account to your Gmail account takes just minutes. Before we begin, you will need to have the following information regarding your email account:
- Email Address
- Incoming Mail Server
- Outgoing Mail Server
- Any additional requirements (like a different Port number), specific to your mail provider
With that info in hand, proceed to add the account to your Gmail:
- Log into your Gmail account and click on the Settings icon.
- Click on Accounts and Import
- Go to the section labeled “Check mail from other accounts (using POP3):” and click on Add a POP3 mail account you own
- Enter your full email address and click on Continue. (You may add up to 5 POP accounts)
- Enter your full username and password.
- Check the Incoming Mail Server. Gmail will guess based on your email address, but that may not be correct. Most will use the default port of 110. Do not change this unless your mail provider has indicated something different.
- Leave a copy of retrieved message on the server. – leave this unchecked unless you know for sure you want to store email messages on your server. Be careful as this will result in mail accumulating on your server account, taking up precious hosting space. Though this may be a great technique to use if you need multiple people to check the same email account.
- Always use a secure connection (SSL) when retrieving mail. – leave this unchecked unless your mail provider has provided specific instructions. Typically this would include a different mail server and a different Port Address, so note them carefully.
- Label incoming messages: – If you want to route incoming messages or label them in some way to better differentiate messages coming in from multiple accounts, take advantage of this option.
- Archive incoming messages (Skip the Inbox) – leave this unchecked.
- Click on Add Account
If all the information has been added correctly, you will see a new window confirming that you have successfully added your account. And it’s time to go on to the next step, setting up Gmail so that you can send email as this new address. Click on Continue.
Enter your name as you want it to appear on your outgoing emails.
Treat As Alias?
If you want to send email as your POP3 email address and not your gmail account, you will need to DESELECT this option. You do NOT want Gmail to treat your POP3 email account (your business email address) as an alias.
Send mail through your SMTP server?
You can opt to use Gmail’s servers for outgoing messages, or set up your own outgoing SMTP server details. For most, I would recommend using Gmail’s servers. Not only are they easier, but it’s then far less likely that your email delivery could be impacted by a negative server reputation (no ISP is going too start blocking mail coming from Gmail’s servers). If perhaps you want to use encrypted outgoing mail, then you would certainly want to use your own SMTP settings here. Again, these are settings that your mail provider should give you, and include the SMTP server name, username, password and port information.
Click on Next Step.
Verify Your Email Address
This step will verify that you do in fact own this email address. It will send a test message that, if you’ve entered the correct username and password in the initial setup, will show up in your new Inbox. Click on Send Verification.
The email will include a link to click to verify ownership, or you can grab the verification code and paste it into the next window. Once you’ve verified your settings, you’ll be able to send mail as this account. (The fact that you received the message also confirms that it was, indeed, set up correctly.)
Make Your Business Address Default Within Gmail
Now we want to make sure that whenever you do send a message, it’s as your great new business email, and not that Gmail address you’re never going to use. So head back into Settings and click on Accounts and Imports again. In the Send Mail As section, you should see your new email account. To the right, click on Make Default.
Whenever you send an email, your business address is what will be used. If you have other accounts you occasionally want to email from, you still can. When starting a new message, your From field will be a drop down selector from which you can choose any other email you’ve configured.
You can also decide whether or not to always use your default email as the reply to address, or whether to use the address the email was sent to. In other words, if someone emails you at one of your other email accounts, do you want to reply and use that email address, or switch to your default? If you’re communicating using very different businesses and personas, I would recommend making sure that all email replies use the address they were sent to so you don’t confuse your contacts.
Don’t Forget Your Business Email Signature
Once you’ve added your account, it’s important to take the next step and get your signature set up. Make sure that every email you send out has your contact information included and looks professional.
To get to your signature settings, go back to Settings and scroll down. You’ll see a Signature field and can set a different signature for each email address you have set up. Gmail offers a nice set of formatting options, including the ability to insert an image. If you’re interested in setting up a rich email signature on both desktop and mobile, learn more here.
Organize Your Gmail for Business
Now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for. Getting your email under control.
First, you will need to think about how your business operates, how your communication with clients flows, and how a properly organized email system might support that. I will be sharing my own methodology with you, but you may need to adjust it to fit your own business and needs.
In Gmail, there are no “folders.” Instead, “labels” are used to categorize messages. You can have as many labels as you need, and you can nest labels within labels within labels. Labels can be edited to be nested within different labels, so you can “move” them around, along with any labels or emails within them. And individual emails can have multiple labels applied. Labels with nested labels can be collapsed so that you only see the top label.
This means that you can create whatever kind of labeling system makes sense for you and your business.
They key here though is to use and create a system. If all of your emails are piling up in your Inbox, that’s no system at all. That’s just chaos and disorder, and an invitation for important messages to get lost over time.
My own Gmail organization and labeling system is based on Clients and Status. I have a Clients label and within that are 4 labels: Active, Ongoing, On Hold and Resolved. Within those labels are labels for every existing client I have. (I also have an Assigned label, but that’s only for the few instances where my wife is creating custom graphics for a client, and I’m not doing anything else for them at that time.)
So, for example, my label structure might look like this:
– John Smith
– Susie Bee
– George Shaw
– On Hold
– Jason Smith
As I add new clients, I simply create a new label for them and nest that label within the most appropriate category – typically Active for new clients, since we’re likely working on something immediately.
Any time a client has new work that needs to be done, or perhaps a project that is completed, I simply edit their Label and nest it under a different category. If a client that I haven’t heard from in a while emails me, I know I can open the Resolved label, find that client, and refer back to all of their old email communications.
Generally, only my Active label is expanded — the other four categories are collapsed.
Outside of Clients, I also have labels for my business, The Social Media Hat, as well as labels for Personal, Prospects, Projects and an Archive. This allows me to create sub-labels at any time for anything I want. For instance, within The Social Media Hat is a Contributors label and that’s where all email communication from guest authors goes. Finally, I have an “Articles & Links” label where I can file interesting articles and newsletters that are emailed to me for later reference, and an “Articles to Post” label for articles that contributors have sent me and need to be published.
With this system in place, the only emails in my Inbox are ones that require some immediate action on my part. Typically I will respond to emails within 2 – 4 hours. I pride myself on being responsive to questions. And, once I’ve responded, if no further action is necessary, the email will be immediately filed away for later reference, if needed. But it’s out of my Inbox and therefore out of mind.
The remaining read messages therefore need some additional action on my part – usually something a client needs me to do or research, so these serve as reminders to me of things that need to be done. My goal is to keep my Inbox at 25 items or less.
Supporting the Sales Process with Gmail
I mentioned Prospects and Archive as two other labels. This is how my Gmail system fits into my Sales Process. When a new lead comes in, that message remains in my Inbox until I’ve responded to it and addressed whatever initial questions that lead had. And there are often several emails exchanged back and forth, as a new client gets to know me and we explore whether or not I can help them with their content marketing. Each time a new email from a prospect is received and responded to, I immediately “Move” it to the Prospects label.
Certainly there are times when I email a prospect and may not hear back from them for a while. By having those emails in the Prospects label, I can easily see when the lsat communication was and choose to send a follow-up message after a reasonable amount of time.
At that point, one of two things will happen. If a prospect decides that I’m the right guy to help them with their content marketing, we will come to an agreement and I will select all of the messages I’ve received from them, click on Move, and select New Label. I usually use that contact’s name as the Label (though you could use the business name), and I select which other label to create the label under (again, this is usually “Active”). Or, if weeks have passed with no response, I will assume the lead has gone cold and file the message(s) away within the Archive label. I generally do not want to be a nuisance to people, so if they don’t respond after the first or second follow-up, I’ll take that as a clear signal they’ve gone in a different direction. But note here that I did not delete their messages. Any of them. It’s certainly not uncommon for prospects to reach out to me months or even years later with renewed interest, and now I still have all of those old emails to refer back to.
Now, because you’re using Gmail for your business email, your sales process can be even further enhanced on LinkedIn and with Hootsuite.
LinkedIn & Gmail
Log into your LinkedIn profile and click on Settings. Next to your email address displayed, you will see a Change/Add link. This brings up a form where you can add more email addresses and adjust which one is your primary address. Make sure that you add your Gmail account (the actual Gmail address), as well as your business email address. Make your business email address your primary address if it isn’t already, and save.
By connecting your Gmail account, you will be allowing LinkedIn to “monitor” your email communications with other LinkedIn members and display that recent communication on their LinkedIn profiles.
So now, when you’re using LinkedIn to research your prospects and review your sales opportunities, LinkedIn will tell you exactly when you last emailed that contact:
And if you click to expand, you can see more of your recent emails, and when you originally connected with that person.
This can be extremely helpful in making sure that you’re keeping in touch with your most important prospects.
Another way to use this connection within LinkedIn is to actually go to Connections in the top menu and click on Keep In Touch. If you aren’t yet using this feature daily, start now. At the top will be interesting events like Birthdays or Job Anniversaries for your connections that you may want to acknowledge. Below that you’ll see a list of your connections with whom you have connected with recently, either on LinkedIn or via email. In fact, the more services you connect (Yahoo, Google Calendar, Contacts, etc.), the more LinkedIn can help you stay on top of your recent activity and not lose track of important touch points and relationships.
Hootsuite & Gmail
If you’re using Hootsuite for social media management, you should always be reviewing the latest apps that are being made available in the app directory. Not every app will be useful to you, but you may often be surprised to find one there that can really revolutionize your business workflow.
So the Gmail App for Hootsuite is one such example. With the Gmail app installed, you will be able to read and compose email directly from the Hootsuite dashboard. You can see a stream of messages from your Inbox or Sent, which means you can easily access recent messages, as well as grab content from one of your other streams and send that in an email.
If you’re regularly receiving emails with content to be sent to social networks, or if you’re using the Hootsuite Syndicator app to bring in feeds from great sources of content which you might want to share with specific prospects via email, this app may well be worth the $1.99/month spend.
Additional Gmail Options & Benefits for Business
Since switching to Gmail for my business, there are quite a few additional benefits and features I’ve found, and I want to highlight them for you so that if you’re still on the fence about switching, these may help persuade you.
First, Gmail is automatically integrated with every other Google product, including Google+. As you communicate with other people, and have an email from them open, in the upper right corner of the Gmail screen (on desktop) you’ll see their name and, if they’re on Google+, their profile image and a button to circle them. This makes it even easier to connect with the people you’re communicating with, particularly prospects.
Second, the spam filtering and tab feature of Gmail is fantastic for helping to keep your Inbox focused on those truly important emails. I’ve found the spam filter to be far more accurate than previous email clients that I’ve used, and I really like using the Social tab. I get emails for each mention I receive on Google+ for both sales and customer service purposes, but it’s very convenient to have those automatically filtered into a different box, along with other social notifications. Now, if you haven’t used Gmail before and aren’t sure what I’m referring to, Gmail added a series of tabs across the top of the mailbox starting with Primary, for your most important messages, and then adding tabs for social notifications, newsletters and promotional emails, and so on. I prefer to use only the Social tab and have the others turned off, but you should definitely experiment with them yourself and find a configuration that works best for you.
Third, import your contacts. Presumably you have been using a different client for email, and may have an extensive set of Contacts which would be convenient to have in your new Gmail account. You can import from Yahoo!, Hotmail, AOL, or other webmail or POP3 accounts. Head over to Settings and click on Accounts and Import, and click on Import mail and contacts.
Fourth, grab the mobile app! Whether you’re on Android or iOS, definitely download and sign into the mobile Gmail app. As son as you’ve logged in, you will have access to the same Inbox and labels as you do on desktop. If you’re using Tabs, like Social, those will be available in the left pull-out menu.
Now, technically, there’s an additional level of functionality for businesses called Google Apps. If you feel you and your business need more than what Gmail can provide, it might be worth taking a look.
If you have further questions about getting your Gmail set up and supporting your business, feel free to leave them below.
Have a tip or trick of your own for Gmail? Share it with the community! And don’t forget to subscribe to my newsletter to get articles like this delivered to your own email each week.
Lion Tamer image courtesy of Wikipedia.