Using E-mail as a Business Tool
Member To Member
Volume CI, No. 4April, 2001
E-mail has become one of the most revolutionary forms of communication since the invention of the telephone and the fax machine. It has a wide range of advantages, beginning with time management – always a problem for busy people. E-mail can free you from the time restraints the telephone imposes. Business hours are usually nine to five, five days a week. Until e-mail, you had to make your calls within that time frame if you wanted to contact your clients. Not any more. E-mails can be read and responded to at any time of day and night, any day of the week, allowing you to control and customize your time management better. Except for cell phones, people are hard to reach after business hours and on weekends. As you should, most e-mailers I know check their mail at least twice a day – but e-mailing has a seductive quality to it, and many people become addicted and check their mail constantly.
Other advantages of e-mail are:
- E-mail is extremely inexpensive. Since there are no long-distance charges, e-mailing can cut your long distance bills by 30 to 50 percent. Free e-mail services, such as juno.com, are available – but if you’re already on the web most Internet Service Providers (ISPs) include e-mail capability in their monthly fee.
- You can prioritize your e-mail responses into those that need to be answered ASAP and others that, for one reason or another, can wait a while.
- E-mails save time by enabling you to communicate to clients non-crucial information that doesn’t require contact by phone.
- The constraints that time zones impose on national and international communications are also eliminated. Try calling from the East Coast during Japan’s business hours and you’ll see what I mean.
- You can keep accurate records of your communications by saving your e-mails.
- You can attach documents to e-mails – as word processor documents, HTML web pages, graphics and pictures. Documents can be converted to Adobe Acrobat PDF files, which lowers their memory content so they can be transmitted faster. And work is now being done to develop encrypted electronic signatures that can be sent by attaching them to e-mails, for legally binding documents such as contracts.
SOME RECOMMENDATIONS FOR SOFTWARE & HARDWARE
E-mail software programs and devices are available in all sizes and price ranges. The most commonly used email software programs – Qualcom’s Eudora (qualcom.com) and Microsoft’s Outlook Express (microsoft.com) – are free, easy to use, and have enough functions to satisfy the most ardent e-mailer. Your internet browser may have an e-mail function, but browser versions are never as robust as Eudora and Outlook Express.
Although this article’s focus is your home computer, consider buying a hand-held PDA (personal digital assistant) if you don’t have a laptop and need to access your e-mail while traveling. Although not as fast as your desktop computer, these devices are small and lightweight, costing anywhere from under $200 to $700, and may include monthly wireless service fees of anywhere from $10 to $60 a month or more. Limitations of space preclude me from listing all the different models available but the most common hand-helds are the Palm Pilot Vx ($399 @ palm.com), Visor ($150 to $500 @ handspring.com), Motorola Talkabout T900 ($179.99 @ motorola.com) and the Nokia 9210 Communicator ($700 @ nokia.com). Most models come with expansion slots for add-ons such as modems and memory cards, and some can be converted into cell phones as well. Be aware, though, that these add-ons can be almost as expensive as the PDA itself.
Cell phones can have e-mail capability as well but they are slow, their screens are small, and you can’t retrieve attachments. AT&T, Nextel, Sprint PCS and Verizon offer wireless access to web-enabled phones. However, you’ll have to pay monthly service charges that vary according to how many features you want to use.
MANAGING YOUR MAILING LISTS
E-mailing, used judiciously, can be an effective promotional tool. Building your own fan mail list has become almost a prerequisite in the music business. Until e-mail, promotional mailing lists were costly and time consuming to maintain. Postage, printing, envelopes, printers and paper, address labels and copying all add to the overhead of doing business. They’re also labor intensive. Compiling press kits or newsletters, collating, stuffing envelopes, addressing labels, adding postage and mailing them take time away from more important tasks.
As with any mailing list, you’ll have to manage your e-mail list and keep it up to date. But that’s pretty easy, since messages sent to dead e-mail addresses are automatically returned to you and you can easily delete them from your list.
Some ISPs may limit the number of e-mails you can send at one time to avoid net congestion on their servers. AT&T limits you to 100 emails at a time – but you can easily work around that limitation by creating separate folders of 99 addresses each, sending a folder at a time.
Most e-mail programs have a function called BCC or Blind Carbon Copy. BCC allows you to send your e-mails to large numbers of recipients without all your addresses showing up in the e-mail window, giving the impression that the e-mail was sent to one recipient alone. Surprisingly, many e-mailers don’t know how to use BCC and you have to wade through their recipient list before you get to the message itself. This adds extra downloading and reading time to each email.
Using BCC is easy. I use Outlook Express for my mailing list. Here’s the way it works. I have my e-mails in individually named folders, as in Folder A, B, C, etc. Create an e-mail to yourself. Enter your newsletter title into the subject field. Then drag Folder A into BCC. It will say Folder A in the BCC field but the list of addresses will not show up in the individual e-mails. Click on “send.” Repeat the process for each folder.
Rather than sending your newsletter as plain text, many e-mail programs have an HTML function that allows you to use colored fonts of different sizes and styles and page background colors to create very attractive newsletters. Some people send attached HTML web pages as newsletters. However, if your newsletter has a lot of graphics and pictures its higher memory content can try the patience of your recipients, when they have to wait for the thing to download. After experimenting with these different formats, I found that uploading my newsletter to my web site (you should have it on your site, in any case) as a web page with a URL link to it in the e-mail is very efficient. If you use this option, be sure to add http://www to the beginning of your URL link. Most e-mail programs will then automatically convert it to an underlined URL link, highlighting the address in another color than your text. The recipient clicks on the link and is taken directly to the newsletter.
E-MAIL COURTESY AND ETHICS
There are a few e-mail conventions that you should observe:
- Never print in all capitals. It’s called “shouting” and is considered extremely rude. Most “shouting” is used to denote anger. If you use it, use it sparingly.
- Use a spell-checker program. Because most e-mailers are “hunt & peck” typists and tend to write fast, you’ll see some of the worst spellings in e-mails. I recommend “SpellCatcher” by Casady & Green (casady.com). It’s interactive, catches a misspelled word and opens a window with a list of all the possible words you may have meant to spell. Usually one of the first two choices is the correct one and a keystroke automatically selects and corrects the word’s spelling.
- Don’t steal other people’s e-mail lists. You can get a lot of addresses from senders who don’t know how to use BCC. Most of them probably won’t even know you. A good list is what they call a “hot” list, of addresses of people who are interested in hearing from you. It’s okay to borrow an address from someone else’s list, if the recipient is a person you know but whose address you haven’t been able to track down. Or you can expand your own personal list by saving the addresses of people who e-mail you directly. It is polite, however, to ask their permission to include their address in your list as part of your reply.
- Be mindful of the length of your newsletters, and don’t send them too often. Some people will automatically delete your newsletter without reading it if it looks like it’s going to take a long time to read. Inundating your recipients with weekly updates of gigs you’ve got coming up creates an impression of hysteria, is annoying, and will turn your fans off. Depending on how much you work, try to collect your gig itinerary for an upcoming month and only send it out once a month, or less. If a gig hasn’t been confirmed yet, add a TBC (to be confirmed) notation to it. You should have your gig itinerary on your web site, in any case. You can then refer your recipients to that URL for any updates or cancellations.
- Sending individual press releases is okay, for times when you’ve got a new CD or book out – but, again, be mindful of frequency. E-mail press release services offer very inexpensive mass press release emailings to potential new fans, industry media contacts and record companies. One of the best, based in Poland, is the Jazz World Database (jazzsociety.com). Their fees are very reasonable and their lists are international and can be customized to your needs.
- It’s common courtesy to always offer your recipients the option of having their name removed from your mailing list at their request.
- Respond to incoming e-mails in a timely fashion. E-mailing is fast. That is its most predominant feature and why so many people use it.
CONTACTING POTENTIAL CLIENTS
One of the most difficult aspects of getting gigs is making that first contact with a new client. It’s called “cold-calling.” Your first contact with a new client is the most important one. It sets the tone for possible future communications. Clients can tell a lot about you from how you handle yourself on that call. Your tone of voice, giving an impression that you take care of business and respect yourself and your client are important signals you need to project. You also need to be able to read the same from your client.
E-mails tend to be cold and impersonal. Never use e-mail as a substitute for a “cold” first call, especially in the U.S. If you’re working on the international scene, an introductory e-mail might be acceptable since foreign clients understand the difficulty of communicating over international time zones and the expense of long distance charges. The intent of this kind of e-mail should only be to find out if they would be interested in talking with you on the telephone at a time that would be convenient for them.
DOWNSIDES TO E-MAIL
Junk mail: Most internet providers make an effort to screen out junk mail and some e-mail software programs offer additional screening functions. However, try as you may, a lot of it still creeps through. There’s a federal law that requires mass e-mailers to allow you to request to be removed from their lists, but many of their “reply” addresses are either bogus or too time-consuming to deal with. You may request to be removed from a list but these lists are being repeatedly resold, and once you’re on them it’s impossible to have your address removed from all of them.
Security: Anybody’s e-mails can be accessed by hackers. Even though your communications may be private to you and your recipients, they are all archived somewhere and are actually public in the sense that an industrious hacker can access them. Of course, most e-mail communications don’t contain information that is proprietary. If they are proprietary, you can use an encryption program to ensure privacy. The only problem with that is that your recipients have to have the same encryption program to decode your e-mail. Encryption is used mostly by financial and government institutions, and should not be a concern to those who have nothing to hide.
E-mailing is not a complex process and most programs have a short learning curve. In this day and age, you can’t do business without it.
802 member Hal Galper is a pianist and the author of “The Touring Musician,” a valuable “how to” book reviewed in last September’s Allegro. His article, “How to Set Up Your Own Web Site,” appeared in last November’s Music Support Supplement. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and his web site is http://www.halgalper.com.