How I Email: Ryan Robinson, Content Marketing Consultant

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.

Ryan Robinson once created a side business that, he says, generated $160,000+ in one year. He took the lessons from that and his previous ventures to help businesses grow through content. He documents his insights on his blog and also hosts a podcast about growing a profitable side hustle. In the interview, this self-proclaimed Inbox Zero fanatic provided plenty of useful tips for taming an inbox. He also shared the strategic way he uses his blog to cold email potential clients.

Interview by Jaclyn Schiff. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What’s your approach to email?

I’m a huge Inbox Zero fanatic. I have to reach it every day just to remain sane. I don’t necessarily reply [to emails] instantly, but I’m always filtering everything as it comes in throughout my day, dropping things into folders, and snoozing them to be dealt with later. For things like subscriber emails, I usually try and do it on weekends.

I try to be very systematic about what I do with my email and when I do it. So I schedule two one-hour blocks of time each day that I give myself permission to get into my inbox. Obviously, I go in phases where sometimes that’s not realistic. But when I’m in the zone, I spend from 11:00 a.m. to noon and from 4:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. dealing with email.

But how many days per week are 100% ideal? If I’m honest, probably none! I have a few days per month that I 100% stick to what my goal is. But I think it’s more about having the goal.

What about tools and approaches? What helps you keep your inbox in order?

I use one Chrome extension for Gmail that’s called, “Inbox When Ready for Gmail,” and that is my savior tool. It will just completely hide your inbox so you’ll no longer see any messages but you still have your search bar. So if you need to deal with individual e-mails or you have to compose a message and send it out, you can still do that without seeing the “100 Unread.” It’s kind of like a mental hack — out of sight, out of mind.

I also like Inbox by Gmail. I only use it on my phone, actually. I use it for snoozing emails or dropping them into different folders. I’m pretty maniacal about my folders, so I’ll have a folder for freelancing-related questions from subscribers, folders for content marketing leads … stuff like that.

What or who has been your biggest influence when it comes to your email habit?

Chris Dritsas. He has a tool called, MailOverload. He reached out to me a while ago and did a guest post on my blog about how to stop procrastinating — part of that was proper e-mail management. He just had a lot of really interesting ways to think about what email actually is, and that kind of helped me to get to a point where I can realize most email isn’t really that important.

In previous jobs, before I was working for myself full-time, I spent what felt like my entire day working out of my inbox, which is psycho! There’s no creative work when you do that, you know?

What insight has your work as content marketing consultant given you about cold pitching through email?

I use content to actually fuel my cold e-mailing for prospects. I detail this in like a 10,000-word post.

My classic approach that has worked best for me over time is to basically use my blog as kind of a living portfolio. I’m going to publish exactly what I think potential clients would pay me to do for them and I’m going to publish it on my blog. Once I have that post ready on my blog, I go through my target list of companies that I really want to work with and look for topic alignment. For example, if I’m doing something on productivity, I’ll try and weave in a mention of something on the Trello blog because they’re a productivity tool.

I’ll do that with 5 to 10 potential clients that I could see myself doing some content work for. From there, I’ll identify someone on their marketing team if I don’t already know someone. I’ll shoot them a cold email that kind of follows one of the scripts. I have a bunch of copy and paste scripts in that post [mentioned previously], but the gist of it is essentially to reach out and provide value first. So, “Hey, I just want to give you a heads up. I featured you in this post. Would you mind checking it out and making sure I got the mention or the link right?” The goal is basically just to get this potential decision-maker – at a company I could work – with to at least come over and check out the post. That’s all I really want out of it.

Some of them don’t turn into deals ever. Some of them turn into friendships and some of them turn into clients. It’s kind of a numbers game. But with some of them, they’ll instantly reply and be like, “Whoa, that’s awesome. Thanks,” and then we’ll start the conversation right there.

What is your dream email feature?

My dream feature is related to my email pet peeve. I strongly dislike long cold emails. So if I’m getting an email from someone for the first time or from someone I don’t know — even if it’s a referral from someone I do know — I just have such a hard time reading something that goes longer than the view of my browser, right?

So if an e-mail is more than three, four, five lines, I likely won’t read it at the time and I’ll flag it to review later. A dream feature would be some sort of one-sentence summary tool – created by machine learning or something.