But, you're BUSY. We all are.I can't tell you how often a phrase similar to "I'm so busy" is given to me in business correspondence. I get it - I do! We are all busy. If you're drowning in email and struggling (and failing miserably) to get back to everyone in a timely manner, know that you're not alone... but also know that it's not an impossible task. You know that kick-ass friend of yours with a business you admire that always seems to get back to you in a reasonable timeframe, never lets an email reply slip, and just seems to be "on it"? They're not less busy than you are. They're just better organized.
It's about good business. It's about working smarter. It's also, most importantly, about respect.Your Kick-Ass Business Owner Friend knows a secret that really shouldn't be a secret, but lately seems to becoming one: first and last impressions are everything, and everyone wants to feel that their time is respected. I've noticed that there are widely varying ideas of what is considered "timely", and acceptable response times vary across different industries, but there are some truths I've found that apply to all:
- Almost everyone expects some sort of reply within 2-3 days.
- Many people hope for a reply within 24 hours.
- Some people get a little ornery (and by ornery, I mean reach out to you on all your other forms of contact) if they haven't heard back by the end of the business day.
- Established clients or associates working with you on a very near-term event or project often expect a reply within hours.
In a very scientific anecdotal study*, every normal person in the world expects to EVENTUALLY get a reply if they've made an effort to give you a focused, concise, relevant inquiry or reply to your request. Simply not responding to a valid email isn't a tactic for handling your workload.
*Source: Common Sense.Does all that shock you? Or does it seem right inline with your own expectations? Whether it feels right to you or not, it's important to realize that your response times - or lack thereof - are making an impact on how clients and potential collaborators perceive you and your business long before you officially start working with them. It was a lesson I learned pretty quickly when we first opened our doors at Social House; three lines of new-to-us business and a lack of hands to help made fielding inquiries a real challenge. It took us more than six months to get our process in place, but we did get it figured out, and now have a return time goal of 1-2 business days for initial inquiries. While we sometimes miss that mark, we've been able to get it mostly right with a very small (and, yes, busy) part-time team. We did this by: 1. Using email productivity apps 2. Establishing a prioritization process (I call it triage) 3. Adopting a zero inbox strategy 4. Implementing lead management software 5. Including email in our task management process Before we jump into that, though - a quick tip to help you if you're drowning in email: If an inquiry is something that's not for you, not in your line of work, too stressful, not something you have time for, etc. than say no. And do it quickly, instead of waffling and pondering and questioning your instincts. Wasting time on an inappropriate request just keeps you from responding to the worthy ones. It also delays the inquirer from finding the right person for their needs. In other words, and because I love a good tongue twister, not saying no helps no one. Canned responses (see below) help enormously with saying 'no' quickly and easily. Now that we've got those dead ends cleared out of your inbox, on to the real work!