We discuss Gmail quite a lot here at WebWorkerDaily, especially when there’s a new feature to play with from Gmail Labs. Canned Responses certainly isn’t a new feature, but it’s high time we looked at how it can be beneficial to the web worker.
The truth is that I wasn’t an early adopter of this feature. I always thought, “My contacts will think I’m too lazy or self-absorbed to write them a real email.” But after enabling Canned Responses for a few weeks and finding productive ways to use it, I wish I had been using this feature from the start! Here are three ways to use Canned Responses that will benefit both the sender and the receiver:
Send out smart autoresponders. What I love about Gmail’s canned responses is that unlike most autoresponder features from other free webmail providers, you don’t have to send the same automated email to everyone who sends you anything. By using canned responses hand-in-hand with Gmail’s filters, you can trigger Gmail to send out a specific response based on an incoming email’s keywords, who the the sender is, and other criteria.
This feature comes in handy for me because I provide free advice via email for one of my nonprofit blogs. Since it’s a low priority project, it often takes me a few days before I can give a sensible response to the readers who want to consult with me.
The online form that readers use to contact me sends me an email with the subject “Contact Form Results FP”. Here’s how I was able to create a filtered autoresponder (feel free to adapt the instructions based on your needs):
1) I wrote an email in Draft mode and saved it as a Canned Response.
2) Then, I created a filter for the subject “Contact Form Results FP”. I checked the option for “Send Canned Response”, and chose the appropriate template (see below).
Now, everyone who sends me an email via the contact form will know that while I will definitely reply to their message, I can only do so during the following weekend.
This helps me by preventing my inbox from filling up with “Did you get my email?”-type messages (which happened regularly before setting up this Canned Response). It helps my readers by telling them that yes, I do care about them and I will reply to their questions, just not right now. They’re not left frustrated and wondering when they can expect my reply, since my autoresponder gives them a timeframe.
Sending contracts and other paperwork. Online freelancers regularly send out contracts and other documents to their clients. Emails that have these documents as attachments often include at least a basic description of each attached file. You can use Canned Responses to handle this repetitive task for you so you don’t want to type these instructions over and over again, or even copy and paste it from a text file.
Here’s a concrete example: Jonathan Bailey of Plagiarism Today has written a tutorial about how he uses Gmail’s Canned Responses to send DMCA notices. You can apply the same idea when you’re sending independent contractor agreements, non-disclosure agreements or client questionnaires.
Using multiple signatures. Right now, Gmail doesn’t allow multiple signatures. One workaround is to use the canned response feature to apply a specific signature to each message. Why is this useful for web workers? Well, odds are you have a vast network of contacts across several industries. Your services might mean different things to each of those contacts.
If you’re mostly helping out a specific client with their social media needs, then you can sign off the email as a “Social Media Consultant,” including a relevant link to a resource you’ve created on the subject. But if you’re providing design work for another client, then you can have a different signature tailored for that task, too.
Canned Responses may seem like a very basic tool on the surface, but if you use it well, you’re likely to lessen the amount of time you spend going over your email. Just make sure that it’s a good thing not just for you, but for your recipient as well.
Have you enabled Gmail’s canned response feature? How do you use it to increase email efficiency?