Before we dive in let me give you one guiding rule to follow - automate your processes, not your relationships with your customers.
Some of these things are going to take time to set up properly (and one requires you to put aside time in the long term) but I think you will be surprised about how much time it will save you in the end.
Have (editable) email templates
When it comes down to it - you probably are going to get the same 10-15 inquiries over and over again. Allow me to let you in on a dirty little secret - you don’t have to write a new email every time. Instead, you can create ‘editable’ templates that you can copy and paste into your inbox.
The benefit of this is twofold - you save yourself time on handling emails, and you can create emails that are consistent with your branding.
Now, these don’t need to be strict scripts (and in fact, they definitely shouldn’t be), the point is to create templates that you can adjust as needed depending on who you are speaking to. That ensures that the responses stay personal
Need some help creating some email templates? I’ve gathered together a bunch of different templates from a variety of sources:
Create an FAQ or resources page
While you’re creating your email templates make a note of any questions that crop up over and over again. This will help you with my next suggestion - setting up an FAQ page.
It might seem like an FAQ page will feel like you’re palming a customer off but people really do like to help themselves. They don’t like to bother the business owner if they can avoid it.
Here are a few examples of helpful FAQ pages:
Set up an auto-responder
This is so quick to do but can really help to set expectations of when customers can expect to hear from you. This gives you space to not feel like you have to respond to emails the instant they hit your inbox. The most important thing is to make sure when you set expectations that you can actually meet them. Don’t say you will respond in 24 hours if you know that’s impossible.
If you have a business where a legitimate emergency might occur you can always add something down the bottom of your auto-responder explaining what to do if there is something that needs attending to immediately.
The one thing I encourage is to specify what constitutes an emergency because people can have very different ideas about what an emergency is. I've shared an example that you can use below:
Thanks for taking the time to email me/us. I/We will respond to your inquiry in the next 2 business days.
In the meantime, you can check my FAQ page to see if it can help you find your answer.
If this is an emergency regarding <<INSERT SCENARIO WHERE IT WOULD BE AN EMERGENCY>> and you need a response from me immediately please call me on XX.
<<INSERT EMAIL SIGNATURE HERE>>
Set up rules to sort your emails
Not all emails are created equal. Some are ones that need to be dealt with immediately, others are ones that can be handled whenever you have time spare. There are two different ways you can sort emails:
Set up rules in your email system so that any emails from a certain email address (say your bookkeeper) go to a certain file. You can also add each new client or customer’s email that comes in so they all get filed together.
Spend a few minutes in the morning sorting your emails. I have four folders - End of Day, End of Week, End of Month and End of Quarter. This ensures I’m not handling (or trying to handle) emails that aren’t urgent at the same time as (or instead of) legitimately urgent emails. I've included processes below for how to get this set up in Outlook and Gmail:
Review review review
One thing that I cannot stress enough is the importance of continuous improvement. If the same question gets asked at the same point in a purchase maybe you should just include the answer up front. Putting aside time to work on your business and not just in your business will help you to find new ways to automate processes, or give additional helpful information.
Have a process for any meetings or calls
I think we’ve established that I love a good process because it is the easiest way to save you time (because you aren't working out what you need to do next). Plus, as I mentioned above when I talked about editable email templates; it allows you to be more consistent.
So if you have regular meetings or client calls you need to organise take some time to map out each step in that process. From there you can work out the best way to complete each of the tasks. This will save you time but also avoid awkward emails from clients asking why they haven’t received an invite to your meeting yet.