Anyone who is working for herself will tell you that email will quickly become a gigantic chore. But, if you look at it right, you’ll realize that it also offers a fantastic opportunity for growing your network. Every email is an interaction with a possible client, customer, subject, reader, friend, or business partner — a virtual handshake. There are tons of simple ways to optimize these everyday interactions to grow your network.
Optimize your signature. Your email signature is like a virtual business card. It’s a vital opportunity for you to put your website and other contact information, your logo or tagline, and other brand information in front of everyone you contact.
Consider what you want people to know about you and what actions you want them to take, and optimize your email signature to encourage that. You can even include images or html code into your signature, so that your brand’s logo and color scheme are part of every email.
Find your email contacts on your social networks. It is a nice sentiment to mention to a contact in an email that you follow his blog, but you can make a much stronger statement by commenting on an article on Twitter. Creating this additional connection is a great way to learn more about your contacts and to spark conversations that wouldn’t happen through email.
I highly recommend the Gmail add-on Rapportive, which allows you to see social networks and updates and follow users right from Gmail. You can make social network connections without disrupting your workflow, and it’s a perfect reminder to seek out your contacts beyond email.
Schedule your communications strategically. I don’t work before 8 a.m., when most people tend to read their emails*. Instead, I use Boomerang for Gmail to schedule emails, so that I can write them on my schedule and send them when the recipient is more likely to be looking at her inbox. Especially when contacting someone I don’t know yet, this timing can make a difference between starting a conversation and getting lost in the shuffle.
Boomerang also allows you to archive an email and schedule it to return to your inbox as unread at a later time, so you can clear your inbox without forgetting about non-urgent emails. If you don’t use Gmail, the website FollowUpThen offers a nice alternative to this service, allowing you to set up a reminder to follow up on an email at a particular time.
Respond in a timely manner. I notice this stark difference between West- and East-coasters: Someone from New York or D.C. will respond within the day of receiving my email to say “I got this, and I’ll check it out this week.” Someone from California will take days to respond, opening and reading the email at their leisure and replying when they feel like taking the time to craft an in-depth response.
I greatly prefer the East-coast method, and I’ve started to emulate that in my own correspondence (as you can imagine, I was typically somewhere in between the two before). Letting someone know that you’ve seen their email and that it’s on your to-do list will put them at ease and let them know that you respect their time. Offering a deadline is even better, because it holds you accountable, and it lets them know when it’s okay to follow up without being pushy.
Don’t send email you’ll regret. Even a timely response isn’t always best if it isn’t a quality response. If you tend to work yourself to sleep at night — or check your email after, say, a night at a comedy club — you may send emails that you wish you hadn’t. It may not be a sassy drunken note to your boss, but even an email that’s rife with typos and errors because your head wasn’t in the game can be a huge embarrassment.
If you use Gmail, consider activating Gmail goggles to prevent this scenario. The Gmail lab asks you to solve some simple math problems before you can send mail after a time that you set. If you don’t use Gmail, take precautions like shutting down your computer before you go out at night, so that you aren’t as tempted to get to work when you get home.
What additional steps do you take to fortify your connections with your email contacts?
*According to this infographic.
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Photo Credit: Aleš Čerin