In an interview a couple of years back, Steven Aldrich, then senior Vice President of Business Applications at GoDaddy, pointed out that only 20% of small businesses used professional @companyname.com email addresses. The rest continued to use free email apps like Gmail for their business communication.
Having your own professional email address lends a certain credibility to your business operations. But not all small businesses have the resources or the inclination to manage a website and an associated email address. Such businesses focus on platforms like Yelp and Angie’s List for customers and use their Gmail or Outlook email addresses to communicate with their customers.
Among the free email tools, Gmail is particularly popular among small businesses. For one, the Google ecosystem goes far beyond email and includes tools to organize chats (Google Talk), video conferencing (Google Hangouts), file management (Google Drive) and appointment scheduling (Google Calendar). These are tools that are critical to business operations.
But the Google tools listed above are simply a small part of business productivity. The popularity of Gmail has spawned a host of third party tools that help small-business owners up their productivity and increase business. For small business owners, here are a few productivity areas you must consider investing in.
Gmail is the default customer support inbox for many businesses. But using an email application for support can quickly get overwhelming. This is because such queries can relate to several different departments with varying levels of priority. Using one inbox to sort and attend to all these requests could cause a lot of clutter and confusion. There are however a bunch of in-built tools that can make customer support a breeze, such as:
- Labels. Gmail labels let you tag each email according to its department and/or priority.
- Star. Your support executive could star messages that need higher priority and visibility
- Filters. You could filter each incoming message based on keywords or the subject and automatically redirect the message to the right person in your organization.
- Canned responses. Google has a bunch of useful features on their Gmail Labs section that are useful for customer support management. The ‘Canned Responses’ feature lets you choose from dozens of template messages when responding to commonly asked support requests. You may also automate this with the help of filters.
- Sales acceleration. Cold email outreach is an integral component of doing business today. Identifying targeted prospects and reaching out to them can be resource-intensive in the absence of sales acceleration tools.
One of the popular tools here is Streak, a CRM built on the Gmail platform. The tool helps businesses send personalized emails to hundreds of customers with just one click. In addition to this, users can also automate their email delivery and follow ups, set up email tracking and monitor open/click rates to make your sales process easier.
Email Analytics is another popular Gmail tool that automatically tracks essential metrics for sales teams and customer support teams, such as average time to reply, number of sent and received emails over time, average time until first response, and much more. According to one of their recent studies, Wednesdays and Thursdays are the busiest periods in terms of opened emails. The tool enables executives to visualize the productivity of their employees over email, billing itself as “Google Analytics for Gmail.”
If your business also handles a lot of cold calls, then add-ons for tools like RingCentral make it simple to make calls from right within your Gmail inbox.
Gmail features like filters and canned response make it possible for small businesses to implement a basic version of marketing automation. A simple filter can take care of adding a recipient to a marketing list (using the ‘Category’ feature) or sharing free downloadables in exchange for providing their email address.
In addition to this, tools like Yesware and Quickmail make it easy for a business to handle marketing mailers through Gmail. If you are not in a mood to spend money on such tools, you could also look at a free Google Sheets extensions to execute these functions.
Sending and receiving invoices, following up with vendors and handling contracts are all resource-intensive tasks for a small business. A number of third party tools have Gmail add-ons that simplify these processes. For instance, the HelloSign add-on lets Gmail users electronically sign any PDF attachment in their inbox. Tools like Quickbooks, Zoho and Xero all have apps that can integrate with your Gmail inbox to manage invoices.
In addition to what has been listed above, there are add-ons and extensions that help businesses in specific industries improve productivity. For instance, extensions like Hippo help users in the healthcare industry send HIPAA-compliant emails over Gmail. There are also tools like Apogee and Calamari that help Human Resource professionals handle their business better over Google.
Getting a professional email address is quite inexpensive and every business should get one. However, it is also worth pointing out that the productivity features available on a free email provider like Gmail are quite extensive and do more than make up for potential deficiencies.