How I Email: Careful Cents’ Carrie Smith Nicholson

Email is a non-negotiable part of everyday life. For some, it’s an unruly time suck, but enlightened email users have systems to ensure they’re not a slave to the inbox. We’re asking smart thinkers to give us a peek inside their inboxes, share tips, ideas, gripes, and everything in between.

Carrie Smith Nicholson, girl boss behind the popular Careful Cents blog, recently wrote about reaching Inbox Zero. We asked her more about what that took, an event she had described as a “straight up miracle.” Carrie, a productivity and business blogger, shared email pitch best practices and told us why certain kinds of email signatures drive her nuts. 

You recently hit a big personal goal – reaching Inbox Zero on your Gmail account. First, why are you personally in favor of the Inbox Zero approach?

I really love the Inbox Zero method for several reasons. The main reason being that my productivity thrives when I have a clear desk, clear mind, and a clear inbox. I’m also a person who gets the most done when I have a list of to-dos and the Inbox Zero method turns emails into tasks on a quick list. In other words, both of these strategies are a good fit for my business personality — understanding your highest level of productivity is an important part of being a super successful business owner.

Combined, these strategies definitely boost my productivity and help me get more done throughout the day. Now that I’ve gotten into a regular routine of implementing Inbox Zero I can automate a lot of my responses and streamline my tasks. It’s amazing how much time I save now!

What are the systems you’ve put in place to achieve Inbox Zero? 

I’m a big fan of using tools and apps to automate manual business or personal tasks as much as possible. Some of the systems I currently have in place for my email inbox include using a CRM and a task management system that both integrate with Gmail. I can easily forward emails and turn them into tasks without ever leaving my inbox. I can also manage client and project information using my CRM, so everything I need is all in one place.

Another system I’ve implemented (and am currently obsessed with!) is using a service like Boomerang for Gmail. It allows me to respond to email messages at any time of the day or night, because I can schedule them to send during business hours. When using Boomerang in conjunction with Canned Responses I can easily reply to emails and schedule them to send the next day (or next week!). This gives me the freedom to reply to emails on the road, in the front of the TV, or even in the middle of the night. It’s so freeing!!

You’ve successfully used email to cold pitch new clients for your business. What is a key element of a good email cold pitch? 

I think the most overlooked strategy of a cold pitch is following up within 1-2 weeks. Most freelancers (myself included) are pretty good at sending cold pitches and reaching out to potential clients regularly. But how many of us have a follow-up process to check-in and remind the prospect that we’re serious about working together?

Aside from creating a follow-up strategy with cold pitches, another strategy that’s often overlooked is the importance of knowing the client’s business. I like to subscribe to a prospect’s newsletter or Facebook group in order to get a feel for their marketing, content, and voice. Often times, clients will show preference to freelancers who are part of their community before opening up jobs to the public. So this extra step could give you one foot in the door to being hired!

What’s your email pet peeve?

One of my email pet peeves is when individuals or companies have large email signatures with graphics or images. This can really slow down inboxes and make the format look wonky on mobile. It’s also very distracting. I know that email signatures are important, but I prefer to keep things simple and clean with just a bit of text. I think most mobile users (and who isn’t these days?) would prefer a cleaner email signature code of conduct!