When I started YellowWood Group more than 11 years ago, communicating with customers, employees and vendors was easy. I simply picked up the phone. Once email became the new standard for communication, life got a little more complicated.
Today, there are a plethora of electronic communication tools and it seems everyone wants to communicate their way and on their time. The rise of the always-on, always-connected, always-available lifestyle has created tension around the expectations of being able to reach each other.
Emily Parks, owner of Organize for Success, a Raleigh-based productivity and office organization firm, offers these tips on how small-business owners can manage their workloads while handling constant communication.
Process your email: Parks says a lot of time is wasted in the simple task of checking email, which typically includes scanning and scrolling through messages that have already been read.
“If you get an email and the action required will take less than five minutes, then do it immediately and delete it from your inbox,” Parks said. “Don’t be afraid to use the delete key. Touch it once and be done.”
Use smart software: Automate wherever appropriate, especially when it relates to customers and vendors. Parks says software that allows for integration of communication channels is worth considering. Services such as UserVoice, which combines customer and vendor feedback, help desk functionality and knowledge-based search capabilities into a single platform are ideal for small-business owners.
Manage relationships: Sticky notes are great, but they won’t help you manage key relationships. Parks is frequently asked about her top picks for customer relationship management software. Infusionsoft, Insightly and Nimble typically make her hot list, she said.
“While Outlook might be a good start for small businesses, true CRM tools offer so much more functionality in managing clients, team members, partners and other key relationships,” she said. “Pricing is competitive for CRM, ranging from free to fee.”
Use canned responses: If you frequently receive the same types of requests that require similar responses, Parks suggests typing or recording those responses in advance. Owners can use them as a way to save valuable time and give the appearance of responsiveness.
Set accessibility boundaries: Parks says owners must set limits on their availability to customers, vendors and employees.
“There’s no right or wrong answer about how accessible you should be, so set guidelines based on what works best for you and the needs of your business,” Parks said.
Tools and software should mesh with the way you need to communicate day to day, but it’s also smart to step away.
“It’s important to incorporate downtime into your routine and to disengage from electronic communications by building some much-needed quiet into your day,” Parks said.
Olalah Njenga is the CEO of YellowWood Group, a Raleigh-based marketing strategy company.