Ohhhh small business organization. As much as I try, I have never been a master of it. As a kid cleaning my room consisted of making a pathway from the bed to the door, or, if I was feeling real giving shoving it all under the bed. If like me you weren't born with the color coding gene it's far to easy to let paperwork go un-filed and your inbox run amuck sorting everything into one massive "Business" folder. The day I realized my emails were all over the place and my current system was giving me anxiety at 9am, I had to pull my isn together. Thankfully my sister Sarah shared her tried and true technique (she's the organizer in the family who would consistently vacuum her bedroom carpet in a strategic pattern...her cleanliness was also a guise to catch her younger sister sneaking into her room in the middle of the day, attempting to catch tell-tell footprints on the freshly cleaned rug. Luckily I was on to her boobytrapping tricks and would grab the tiara I came in for and back out the bedroom, wiping away my tracks as I went. So she may have it together, but I am clearly sneakier. And will do anything for a rhinestone tiara.).
My shiny inbox is now divided into categories (Bride Correspondence, Bride Potentials, Client Potentials, and Completed Clients, along with Business receipts, Business Correspondence, etc.). Sub-labels are made under each folder listing the name and wedding dates of both inquiries and booked clients, and once a contract is received, a "Potential" is moved to "Correspondence". This is an easy way to at a glance view my booked vs. inquired dates and organize conversations. It's also incredibly conveinent being able to follow up with inquiries without things getting lost in the shuffle. (Gmail is so CRAZY sometimes I swear, it eats emails both new and archived). Searching for messages via gmail is just a disaster, maybe I am not sure what I'm doing, but I have found keeping them organized from the get-go makes things run much, much smoother. I also avoid checking my emails via my iPhone at all costs. Not only is it easy to get sucked into work mode during husband time and on beach days, but I also am convinced my iPhone is up to no good and my butt archives messages without me knowing it.
When clients are completed and all materials are mailed to them, they are moved to the 'Completed Clients' category where I print all correspondence and file along with their contract, wedding day timeline, and any receipts pertaining to their event. "Business Receipts" are printed from their folder and filed every so often, and initial inquiries (without booking) get deleted after about a month or two.
I make a point to answer emails first thing in the morning and try to not let it take ahold of my day. Sometimes my schedule won't allow for the immediate answering of emails (and I don't even TOUCH them on the weekends or after business hours), so I try to not beat myself up about it and follow-up the next business day. Speedy correspondence is exceptionally important (especially on the islands--I'm not on Hawai'i time here!) as well as setting expectations, so along with getting back to folks as promptly as I can I also list office hours in the footer of my messages.
I'd love to hear how YOU manage your inbox!