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March 4, 2002
Making The Most Of E-mail For Your Home Business
By Tad Hulse

E-mail, just like the regular post, can be easily overlooked and under-utilized when engulfed in the everyday dealings of running a home-based business. Even though it takes time to sort through your electronic mailbox, if you don't on a daily basis, things can stack up faster than the postman saying, "special delivery." E-mail may not be as extravagant as the beloved World Wide Web, but unbeknownst to most, it does have the potential to enhance your business significantly. Most would admit, information and knowledge is the primary key to current and future success in anything sought after. Understanding the usage of your e-mail is no exception to the rule.

Today, the Internet enables access to insurmountable websites for gathering information; much like what you're doing at this very moment. Although effective, it can be a rather time consuming process. Most likely the folders in your mailbox have become crammed with copies of different types of email messages you've sent, requested, received or signed-up for in days, perhaps even weeks gone by, in the hope having time to read them later. Its a common practice that all of us Internet-users have done at one time or another. To conserve hard drive space, reduce clutter and confusion, you've probably saved a few copies of past messages as well. Or maybe you've saved a lot in the past but have later been tempted to delete them. A question you must ask yourself before going on a deleting-spree that one Sunday afternoon is, "Am I overlooking any forgotten bullion in my e-mail folders?" Well, are you?

Your old e-mail messages can contain more value than you have ever imagined. It is in these situations that e-mail can truly shine. One of its greatest strengths comes from the plethora of information gathered, forgotten and saved over time. These electronic folders don't disappear unless directly deleted. As you sort through archived messages, there should be certain questions to probe at the same time. For example, are there questions that prospects have often asked about your products or services? Remember that for every prospect who takes the time to e-mail you a question, there likely have been several more with similar questions who haven't. In order to conserve time for yourself and your customers, its a wise idea to compile answers to these common questions into a FAQ sheet and either post it on your website or use it as a responding e-mail. At the very least, you could reuse your replies to previous questions to answer future ones, instead of writing them out each time.

The more questions or concerns you have left unanswered or unattended, the more problems you stand to endure later on from a prospect's final purchasing decision. Your e-mail files and folders possibly hold valuable suggestions for ways to better address certain issues, but you'll never know without spending time going through them before deleting. Past e-mail correspondence with prospects and customers can reveal additional related challenges, problems and goals of those in your target market. Hidden within might lie the burning matches for additional products and services that could appeal to them. Organizing your e-mail can sometimes be just as important as organizing your daily business transactions, in the event of securing future sales, customers and good word-of-mouth.

Also, must you not forget about those e-mails that any home-based business owner is happy to receive - those customers who rave about your product or service. Never take these words for granted, always realize that when someone takes the time to write a few appreciative thoughts, you or your business has in one way or another affected their life in a good way. If you haven't already, no matter how long ago it is they wrote to you, drop them a line saying thanks for their kind words and ask them for permission to quote their testimonials on your website or in a future marketing promotion. More times than not, they'll say yes almost immediately.

A regularly overlooked fact, unbeknownst to most, is that your website can look rather different from one computer system to another. Sometimes visitors may send you an e-mail letting you know of particular problems they've encountered on your site, which quite possibly, you may be completely unaware of. Such feedback can be vital. Many of these e-mails you've let sit reveal ways to can improve online sales efficiency.

Before you set out to delete all those old messages that have been archived in your mailbox, it can be well worth the time it takes to sort through them, seeing how you could apply some of the suggestions I've brought forth. You may uncover heaps of overlooked business-bullion or perhaps just a few nuggets of wisdom you might've previously forgot about, either or, its still there for the taking. Efficient use of your e-mail is imperative and can allow you to maximize your most valuable asset: your time.

Tad Hulse is an American freelance writer who has covered topics from small business ventures to world travel. Currently he is based in Oslo, the capital of Norway. Email: hulsetad@yahoo.com.

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