Google has been working hard to make itself attractive to business users. For small businesses, using the tools provided by Google can be a very viable alternative to using traditional business software. Here are 50 ways your business can get the most out of Gmail.
1. Choose the look you like. It may seem obvious, but the Google settings tab is the place to start to customize your Inbox just how you like it. Gmail users have a high degree of control over the way their mail appears, if they bother to use it.
2. Mix it up with chat. Live chat boxes have become increasingly common on websites in recent years, because they provide a more immediate form of communication than e-mail without the costs of the telephone (or the inconvenience of trying to hold a telephone conversation in a noisy environment or a crowded place). Google’s mail settings allow you to see chat notifications as well as new e-mails.
3. Switch on the keyboard shortcuts (and learn how to use them). Two-fingered typists, who like to use the mouse, may not get much use out of this tip, but fast typists can speed along even more quickly by making use of keyboard shortcuts – provided that they are actually turned on.
4. Put up a decent picture. It’s always nice to put a face to a name and even in small companies, people don’t always know each other, particularly if a company has new staff, temps or contractors. External parties (e.g. customers) will also see your picture, it’s fine if it’s basic, but make sure it looks decent.
5. Make the most of the signature function. Gmail will handle a text-based signature quite happily, but if you want to append something more elaborate to your messages, you can do so by creating an image file and uploading it as your signature.
6. Get personal with indicators. Google can add indicators showing when a mail has been sent to you personally (as opposed to a mailing list) and when it has been sent only to you. This can be a helpful hint as to the level of priority.
7. Use the out of office wisely. Google has an out-of-office function, which is also useful for letting people know when you’re in lengthy meetings. If you want to be more discrete about who knows your whereabouts, you can choose to have the responses sent only to your contacts.
8. Ever-increasing circles. Circles are possibly one of the most useful and under-used functions in Google. They let you organize your communication by people and their groups rather than just by subject. If you regularly deal with different groups of people (your team, your company as a whole, suppliers, customers), this can be a much more effective way of working.
9. Centralize your accounts. Many companies of all size operate a combination of group mailboxes and personal e-mail addresses. Gmail allows users to link up to 5 other accounts and view them from their Gmail address. They accounts don’t even have to be Gmail accounts, although they do have to have POP3 enabled, which Gmail does. People responsible for checking more than one Inbox can therefore do so conveniently from one central point.
10. Share access appropriately. Gmail allows users to grant access to other parties, to read and send mail on their behalf. This can be extremely useful for people who work with assistants or who need to stand in for colleagues when they are absent.
11. Filter out the irrelevant. Filters are another powerful tool in the Gmail user’s arsenal. Basically you can use Google to automate the treatment of e-mails according to certain criteria. There is a whole range of options for this, including the ability to assign different colours to different message types (e.g. from different senders, or according to subject or a keyword), which can be a very effective way of picking out the wheat from the chaff in your Inbox.
12. Call from your e-mail. In addition to being able to place calls to your Google contacts (for free), you can also call landlines and mobiles at very reasonable rates.
13. Set up Gmail offline. Although still in Beta, Gmail offline is a handy tool, which does what it says on the can. It allows users to read, reply to, search and archive mail offline. When they next go online, the Gmail offline will synchronize with its online counterpart. At the moment, it’s only available for Chrome.
14. Bookmark the emails that matter. The paperless office may be some way off, but there is still some irony in printing off e-mails. With Gmail, each e-mail has its own URL, so you can bookmark them instead.
15. Get the most out of Google Calendar. Although Google Calendar is available to everyone, there are some neat tricks which are only available to Gmail users. For instance, Gmail users can add events from their Gmail conversations directly into their Google calendar.
16. Group your contacts effectively. One of the fundamental differences between Google and other e-mail systems is that Google is built from the ground up on the premise that relationships between people are the key part of any network. Make the most of this by creating circles and groups to suit your requirements.
17. Keep your profiles complete. One of Google’s major selling points is its ability to move seamlessly between platforms. An example of this is the fact that contact information from a Google user’s Gmail account will be shown in the Google+ profile of the user’s contacts. This eliminates the need to switch between the two systems to find relevant details. Another example is the ability to call people on their real-world phones (landline and mobile) from inside Google. This again depends on having their numbers stored in Google.
18. Control your contacts list. Google tries to be helpful and will automatically add e-mail addresses to Google contacts any time you send a mail to them. This is a Marmite feature in that people who only send a limited number of e-mails to new contacts tend to love it, whereas people who regularly send occasional e-mails to people they’re quite happy to forget tend to find their contact list getting very bloated very quickly. This feature can be turned on and off from Google settings.
19. Merge and destroy. One Gmail feature that heavy e-mail users will soon learn to love is “Find and Merge Duplicates”. It’s another feature which does exactly what it says on the can and will help to eliminate the spawning and multiplying contacts, which can clutter up other address books.
20. Undo the damage. Gmail has the option to restore the contacts list to any way it was within the previous 30 days.
21. Star the mails that matter. Pin a Google star to important mails so you can find them quickly.
22. Work with labels instead of folders. Gmail doesn’t really do folders, but it does do labels instead and the great thing about labels is that you can attach more than one to each e-mail. This actually makes them a far more efficient way of working than folders, once you get used to them.
23. Learn to love Move To. When you click on an e-mail in your Inbox, you will see various icons, one of which looks like a folder. Click on this and the top heading is “Move to” followed by various options. This works very similarly to traditional folders and you can use it to create new labels as well.
24. Archive – for those who can’t bear to throw anything away. Hitting the dustbin to delete sends e-mails into digital history, but if you’re not quite sure enough to be that drastic, archive moves them out of your Inbox and into a giant digital storeroom, which has so much space that it may never need to be cleared out. A smart trick is to label before archiving so that if you do feel the need to find an e-mail or just want to have a clear out, it’s easy to identify key e-mails.
25. Always attach attachments. This is one business users will love. Gmail actively scans for phrases suggesting that the outgoing mail should have an attachment and if there isn’t one, it checks with the sender if there should be. (Bonus tip, if you make a point of attaching files before you type the e-mail, Gmail will upload it while you’re typing).
26. Undo send. With many other internet e-mail programs once it’s gone, it’s gone and there’s nothing you can do to change that. Over in the Labs tab, there’s the option to enable an “undo send” function. Basically this means that whenever you hit the send button, Gmail will wait a few seconds before actually doing the necessary, in case you change your mind.
27. Use your calendar to manage your e-mail. Need to remember to e-mail someone on a particular day? Set a reminder in your Google calendar. It will then e-mail you to make sure you remember.
28. Control your e-mail chains. As well as getting to grips with reply v reply all, put a stop to messy e-mail chains by highlighting the part of the text that actually matters and then hit reply. Gmail will only include that part of the original message in the response.
29. Decide whether or not to have a conversation. The ability to group e-mails according to a conversation is another feature Gmail users either love or hate. Fortunately the haters can turn off the feature under the General tab.
30. Decide between important and priority. Important mails you label yourself, but Google’s Priority Inbox feature (from the Inbox tab), means that Gmail will actively look out for mails which are potentially important and bring them to the top.
31. Enjoy a Snooze. A common scenario is when you know you need to deal with e-mail soon, maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon. Marking an e-mail as unread or similar isn’t necessarily a lot of help for busy people who get a lot of e-mail. Snooze is a wonderful free add on for Chrome users, which will boost a message back up to the top of a person’s Inbox at a given time. There is an alternative called Boomerang for users of other browsers, but it is chargeable.
32. Take Gmail to task. Underneath the Inbox there is contacts and then there is tasks. Basically this provides Gmail users with an electronic to do list. It’s a handy little feature and can be made even more so with the Remind Me add on for Chrome users.
33. Banish Attachments from your Inbox. Large attachments are both a fact of modern life and a huge drain on processing resources. Chrome and Firefox users can sign up to Attachments.me (for free) and move e-mail attachments directly to Google Docs (or another of the Cloud services).
34. Keep attachments out of your hard drive. One of the reason small businesses are growing to love Cloud-based computing is the fact that their data is often massively more important than the computers on which it is stored and Cloud-based storage avoids the risk of it being destroyed with hard-drives or needing an internal IT department to support server infrastructure and a back-up system. Gmail gives users the option to import files directly from Google Docs.
35. Use templates to save typing. Under the labs tab in settings, there’s an option to enable canned responses. In other words, if you keep being asked the same questions time after time, use this feature to save your fingers.
36. Synch your mail with your mobile or tablet. Admittedly this is far from unique to Gmail, but the ubiquity of Android phones and the fact that the Operating System is ultimately controlled by Google, does increase the attractiveness of having a Gmail account and if you’re going to have one, you might as well use it.
37. Become a gadget freak. From the labs tab enable Calendar Gadget and Google Docs gadget to be able to see both from inside Gmail.
38. Use two-step authentication. Basically this means that every time you access your Gmail, you’ll have a PIN sent to your phone. This can be an attractive security feature for small businesses.
39. Use remote logout. At the bottom right of your Inbox, you’ll see your last activity on the account. Click on details and if you’re accidentally still logged in from another computer, you can log out.
40. Chat discretely. Generally speaking chat conversations are recorded in the Chat history. If you’d prefer to avoid this, click on the actions button at the top of the chat window and click “Go off the record”. Please note this only applies at your side. The other party will have to do the same for it to be completely confidential.
41. Save your favorite searches. Make your favorite search and then bookmark the resulting page.
42. Control your subscriptions. Many people sign up to professional newsletters and do get value from them, but they’re rarely priority reading. Gmail’s excellent search function means you can set up (and bookmark) a search on the word “unsubscribe”, which will catch most of them and have them diverted where you want them to go until you’re ready to read (or delete) them.
43. Translate your content. Even Gmail can’t turn some jargon into plain English but it can do a fairly good job of translating basic e-mails from your Inbox.
44. Mute Conversations. If constant pleading does not succeed in getting you removed from an e-mail thread, select a conversation and choose Mute from the more actions menu. You’ll still receive the messages but they’ll be moved into archive bypassing your Inbox. You’ll only get the messages into your Inbox if you’re sent a message directly or if you’re included in the to or cc lines of a new message. Messages can be unmuted if you change your mind.
45. Use snippets for quick e-mail scans. Snippets are the e-mail equivalent of the short descriptions you see in Google web searches. They’re bit more than the subject line and a bit less than in a preview pane. They’re a really handy way of organizing e-mail quickly.
46. Preview your messages. If snippets isn’t enough, under Labs you can turn on a preview pane, to see a bit more of your messages.
47. Choose how much control to give your filters. Under Inbox, you can choose to have Gmail override any filters you set if it thinks a message is important.
48. Control your chat. Gmail allows you to decide whether your online status can be seen by everyone or just a select few people. Users can switch between either depending on their needs at the time.
49. Search Everything. Under Labs, turn on Apps Search and Google will search your docs and sites for a particular term along with your e-mail and display the results below the e-mail results.
50. Find where you need to go. Under Labs, turn on Google Maps previews in mail and Gmail will show you the location of any addresses mentioned in the mail.
The tools are there to help you remain organized and help you better manage your day, so go ahead and use them!