The Way We Work
September 19, 2011 by Julia Camenisch

If you’re like many small business owners, Gmail is your email tool of choice. It’s cheap, easy and available everywhere. But do you know how to make the most of it? Here’s a collection of tips, tricks and tools to take your business Gmail account to the next level of efficiency.

Brand with Gmail

Your email address says a lot about you. Here’s how to protect your brand:

  • Choose a professional name. When setting up your Gmail business account, choose your address carefully. Select a name that reflects favorably on your business and doesn’t make you sound like an amateur. Example: startrekfan2215@gmail.com sounds like a personal address and can cause potential customers to question your reliability. A better address for a Star Trek memorabilia store might be startrekcollectibles@gmail.com.
  • Use your own domain. If you're got a website with its own domain, then you can setup Gmail to send and receive emails using addresses from that domain. If you don't have a business domain yet, you can buy one through Google for $10/year. One benefit of sending emails this way is that you're advertising your website with each outbound message. For more info on how to set this up, read "Using Your Domain Based Email with Gmail" from Emagine Web Marketing.

Search with Gmail

Needing to find a certain email ... sent four years ago? Never fear. Gmail has some great tools that will help you find what you need and find it fast.

  • Start labeling. Instead of folders, Google has opted to endow Gmail with labels. Labels are different from folders in that you can assign multiple labels to a conversation. Try doing that with a folder. Also, a labeled email can reside anywhere, including in Sent or Drafts.  When you consistently label messages with the appropriate tags, you'll consistently be able to sort through them quickly.
  • Employ operators. Sometimes when I'm searching for a particular email, my query brings up way too many messages, most of them irrelevant to my search. That's when it's time to switch to the advanced search options. By using search operators, you'll be able to hone in on the right message with just a few keystrokes. Here's the list of these nifty search operators. Use them well and use them often.

Organize with Gmail

While email has many advantages over snail mail, it has one disadvantage. It's delivered constantly. Without some help, you'll become afflicted with inbox overload, a dreaded time-sucking disease. Here's the prescription that will save your (email) life:

  • Click the stars. By clicking the little star icon next to a message, you're indicating that it is important and needs to be dealt with. Take that organization method up a notch by using "superstars" from Google Labs. The Superstars feature allows you to choose different icons for use next to your email messages. For organizational purposes, assign each icon a status meaning (i.e., purple question mark = "waiting for response" or red exclamation mark = "needs immediate attention"). This method will transform your inbox into a to-do list with just a few clicks of the mouse. For more on effectively using superstars, check out this "Gmail Stars" post from David Lano.
  • Train your inbox. Priority Inbox is the semi-automated way to organize. Google uses an algorithm based on various factors to determine whether or not an email is important to you. If you’re using Priority Inbox, you’ll then see your inbox broken up into several different panes. The top pane is set to be the important stuff. The second pane shows emails you've starred. The third is creatively titled, “Everything Else” and that's exactly what it contains.  You can help the process along by indicating (through a click on the “important” or “unimportant” buttons) whether or not a conversation truly is important to you. Gmail will learn from your actions and tag messages accordingly. Mashable has some good tips on better productivity using Priority Inbox.
  • Filter it. If you've implemented the labeling system mentioned above, you can then employ an even more powerful tool set to whip your inbox into shape. Combine Gmail filters with the Multiple Inbox feature to  automatically sort incoming emails, assign them the correct label and put them in a separate inbox. While I like the Priority Inbox, it’s just an algorithm. Using filters, labels and superstars is a bit more work, but much more useful (to me) in the long term. For a good example of filter utilization, read this article at Switched.com.

Now it's your turn. What do you think of Gmail as a small business communication tool? Share what you like (or what you don't like) about Gmail in the comments section below.


 

Julia Camenisch

Contributing Author

Julia Camenisch is a freelance technology and business journalist. She also works as an editor and copywriter for a wide range of clients, including national magazines, small businesses and nonprofit organizations. Julia brings to oDesk a passion for empowering small businesses through the innovative use of technology.