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Setting Up Gmail: Your Secret Weapon To Email Mastery

Is managing email an overwhelming task that leaves you tired and frustrated? They just never seem to stop! As photographer you likely have to balance multiple email accounts—both business and personal—and trying to keep track of everything can really slow you down. Or cause something to slip through the cracks. Yikes!

Setting up an organized, easy-to-use e-mail system will improve your efficiency every single day. And, more importantly, it will improve communication between you and your clients. Priceless.

Luckily there’s a totally free, and totally powerful email system that can boost your efficiency, and streamline your email workflow. It’s called Gmail. 

Why Should You Get Organized With Gmail?

Lets take a look at a few of the awesome benefits Gmail provides:

Master Control

With Gmail you can control multiple e-mail accounts from one master inbox. Photographers often have multiple e-mail accounts that they’re managing. With Gmail you can forward multiple accounts to one master inbox so you only ever have to check one. What’s extra awesome is that you can respond to e-mails from the master account and set Gmail to automatically send the reply from the e-mail address that received the original message. This makes it super easy to tackle e-mails from multiple e-mail accounts effortlessly.

Online

Check your email from your phone, iPad, or multiple computers without worrying about syncing. There’s also no setup needed when you get a new computer or reformat. You just head to gmail.com and you’re in business! It’s also super easy for multiple people to monitor and work through an inbox at the same time. Monday morning after a weekend of receiving e-mails is a great time to team up and tackle the inbox together.

Free

Even though we’ve all come to expect free e-mail, Gmail is more fully featured than any other mail platform we’ve tried. Free + powerful and efficient = awesome.

Conversation Threading

Email and replies essentially show up as a chat which makes it super easy to figure out where you are in the conversation. No more sifting through dozens of emails to figure out what was said previously. For communication with clients this is essential.

Labels

Labels give you the ability to easily separate your mail into meaningful categories. For instance, you might have a label titled “Receipts” that you apply to incoming receipts. Then, come tax time, you just browse that label and you can instantly see all your receipts. Isn’t organization fun??

Filters

This is a super cool feature that will help you automate your inbox. For example, say you subscribe to your favourite website’s newsletter. You like receiving the newsletter, but you don’t like how multiple newsletters can crowd your inbox and distract you from the messages that actually need to be replied to. Don’t worry. Gmail to the rescue!

What you can do is create a filter that looks for incoming mail from certain e-mail addressees (like the ones sending the newsletters). Gmail can have those e-mails automatically skip the inbox (be archived) and have the label “Newsletters” applied. So when you have a spare second and you’d like to view your newsletters, they’re all in one place and they’re not clogging up your inbox trying to get your attention.

This seems pretty innocent enough, but a big part of being productive with emails is focusing. If you are in the middle of responding, and then get distracted by a newsletter and spend an hour reading it, and checking out all the links, you’ve suddenly lost your email flow. Filters are going to seriously make you an email master.

Spam Destruction

Google’s spam filter is surprisingly effective. We get hundreds of spam messages a week and usually only 1 or 2 show up in the inbox. You can easily mark them as Spam, and they instantly disappear, so no worries.

The most important part about Spam filters isn’t how they deal with actual Spam, but with real messages. Gmail has very very very few false positives, which are legit emails that are marked as Spam. This is crucial. You don’t want a message offering you your dream gig winding up in your Spam box, and you never see it. Bad.

The Big Idea

So, Gmail clearly has a lot of really nifty features to make you an email master. But what’s the big idea here?

Time. It’s all about time.

You are crazy busy with a million other things, but email doesn’t go away. You need to tackle it every day to stay on top of it. So, when you have a regular task like that, the more you can do to save time, the better.

Your time is better spent proactively. Creating new work, improving your marketing efforts, researching potential opportunities. Giving up hours of your day to email is reactive, and often doesn’t do much to move your business forward.

Gmail makes the repetitive task of emailing as efficient as possible so you can spend more time doing stuff that is going to make your business awesome. It’s going to take some time to set up, but that time will be repaid over and over again in the long run.

And we’re going to help you set it up, step-by-step, so that you will be ready to become an email ninja. Let’s do it.

How To Set Up Your Master Gmail Account

1. If you don’t already have an account with Gmail then you can sign up for a free account here. This e-mail address will be for your master account, so it will likely be with you for quite some time! Try to make it professional but personal since it will be your default account. Ours is basically our personal account that we forward other accounts into so it acts like a master account.

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2. The next thing that you’ll need to do is setup a Google Apps mail account for your custom domain. This is how you can still use Gmail even if you have an e-mail address that looks like example@example.com, you just need to set it up through Google Apps. Head here to set up an Apps account. Google Apps is also free (though you can upgrade to a premium account if you need more than 10 accounts, multiple custom domains, or additional storage space up to 25GB).

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3. Once you’ve finished signing up for Google Apps you’ll need to go through the setup wizard confirming you have control of your domain name. The recommended method is to upload an HTML file to your server, but I find the alternate method of copying in a metatag to be easier. Pick whichever method is easiest for you. You can also link to your Google Analytics account for the domain (which would also confirm you have control.)

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4. The next thing that you’ll need to do is activate email for your Google Apps account. Under the “Dashboard” tab under the “Service Settings” section you’ll see a link that says “Activate email” . Do it! Follow the instructions to make the neccssary changes with your domain name provider so that they know you’re using Google Apps.

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You’ll notice a drop down list of instructions for various domain name and hosting providers. If your domain name provider isn’t listed just do a Google search for your provider and Google apps (e.g. GoDaddy Google Apps). Note: It can take up to 24 hours for the changes you’ll make at this step to take effect, though it’s usually much faster around an hour. If you have difficulty with this step (i.e. you make the changes to your domain name provider but email still isn’t active on your Google Apps account then under “Dashboard” select “Email” and at the bottom “Uninstall“. After you uninstall you should have the option to add Gmail back, or you can head to “Dashboard” and beside Service settings click “Add more services” and add email back there.

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5. If you have multiple email addresses (example@differentdomain.com instead of example@example.com) that you would like to setup then you have a couple options. You could upgrade your free Google Apps account so you can add multiple domains to the account. Or you could go through the process of creating a seperate Google Apps account, repeating steps 2. through 4. for each domain you’d like to manage under the master account. If the different domains you’re adding are different businesses then setting up individual Google Apps accounts is probably the way to go. If you have a business that requires many domains, like you’re a multnational corporation with many subsidiaries each requiring their own domain name, then keeping everything under one Google Apps account is likely your best option.

6. If you’d just like to add another address under the same domain (e.g. awesomephotographer@example.com) then you’ll need to create a new user under your Google Apps account for the new email address. Login to your Google Apps account, then click on the “Organization and users” tab and click “Create New User“. Enter in the new email (e.g. awesomephotographer@example.com) and create a password for the account. You can login to that account the same way you login to all your Google apps account (http://www.google.com/a)

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7. You now need to forward all your Google Apps email accounts to your master Gmail account. Once you’ve signed into your Google Apps email account click on “Settings” in the top right hand corner and then click on the “Forwarding and POP/IMAP” tab. Select “Forward a copy of incoming mail to” and enter the e-mail address of your master account. You’ll probably also want to select “keep ______ Mail’s copy in the Inbox” (it’s nice to have a backup, and also to keep the original version of all e-mails separate). Repeat this step for all the different Google Apps e-mail addresses that you want to forward to your master account. You should now be forwarding all your mail to your master account!

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8. Just about done! You’re now going to set up your master Gmail account so that it can send email from the email addresses in your Google Apps account. Once you’ve logged into your master Gmail account click on “Settings” in the top right hand corner and then click on the “Accounts and Import” tab. Under the “Send mail as” section click on the “Send mail from another address” button. A window will pop up asking you for your name and the e-mail address that you want to send mail from as well as the e-mail address you would like return mail sent to. Unless you want people e-mailing you back at a different address use the same address for both fields. This is where you enter the email address you setup in Google Apps (you’ll need to repeat this step for all the emails you’ve forwarded to your master account). Gmail will send a verification e-mail to that address to make sure you actually control it so you’ll have to go back to http://www.google.com/a and sign back into that address. Under the “Send mail as” section under the heading “When replying to a message make sure you also select the option “Reply from the same address the message was sent to“. This is one of the main benefits of setting up the master account!

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9. Congrats! You’re now a certified Gmail ninja! Your master account is all set up to send and receive mail from all your other accounts. This is going to save you a ton of time! Make sure you test all of your e-mail accounts out (both sending and receiving). It should be pretty easy to diagnose any problems just by working through the instructions one more time.

Tips

Use Labels To organize your mail

You’ll find Labels under Settings. Everyone will use labels a little bit differently but they’re super easy to setup and experiment with.

When we first got started with a master Gmail account we created labels for all our different e-mail accounts and then used a filter to have those labels applied to email from their respective accounts. It was handy at first but the more comfortable we became with the master inbox the less we needed to see what was going on with all our mailboxes individually.

We’ve slowly started creating more relevant tags like “Receipts” “Newsletters” “Important Notices” “Travel Related” “Memories”.

Use Filters To Automate

Filters (also under Settings) allow you to filter incoming email based on the senders email address, recipients email address, subject line, or keywords and then have gmail automatically forward it, apply a label, mark it as read, star it, or respond to it with a canned response.

Filters are seriously powerful. Refer to the example I used at the top of this post about using filters to sort all incoming newsletters into a label that automatically skips the inbox. Magic!

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Add Your Contacts

If you have contacts from another mail system that you would like to import you can do so by clicking “Contacts” on the left hand side (just above the compose button) and then clicking the “More actions” drop down and selecting “Import”.

Check Out Google Labs

Google labs (under Settings) is a cool feature of Gmail that lets you turn on a bunch free Gmail features. Here are a few really cool ones that you’ll find useful:

  • Canned Responses – Tired of writing the same email over and over? Write one canned response, save it and you’re done! Also useful for creating a simple signatures that you can optionally apply at the end of emails.
  • Nested Labels – Helps organize your labels
  • Send & Archive – Have one button do two things at once. Cruise through your inbox!
  • Undo Send – Will let you undo sent mail 10 seconds after you send it! This has come in handy a few times! You’ll see the option to undo next to the “message sent” notice at the top of the page after you send an email.

Pick a Secure Password

Make sure that you pick a secure password for your master account and that you change it on a regular basis. If you need help picking a secure password you can head to Random.org. It’s also a good idea to pick secure passwords for your Google Apps accounts and their respective emails. Since you won’t be accessing your Google Apps emails very often (everything is forwarded to the master account) you may want to write down your login info and keep in in a safe place.

Take some time over the next few days to setup your master email inbox. It’s a small time investment that pays back over and over again!

Rob Lim

Hi there, I’m Rob! I’m a photographer and head ninja here at Photography Concentrate. I love all things photography: shooting, teaching and always learning more! If I’m not reading up on the latest photography news, or studying a technique, I’m probably reading a book or planning our next adventure!

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Discussion

17 Comments // Leave a comment

  1. Wow, you guys are awesome! VERY helpful tutorial:)

  2. OMG! Been trying to fix this thing for about six weeks since signing up for Google Apps! My photog email now forwards to my master Gmail address! Bless you!!!!

  3. @ Tina – Thanks for the kind words!

    @ Kat – Awesome to hear you were able to finish setting your email up :)

  4. Good stuff guys! I use Gmail for my domain but I really appreciate the Google Lab finds!

  5. I've got a master Gmail account set up too, which is AWESOME. :)

    Since you guys have iPhones, I'm wondering if you know of an app that lets you select which account to send from without having to add that email through the settings on the phone? I have no problem when it comes to replying to emails but when I write a new one, I can't change the From email unless I've added the address directly to my phone. (Which then creates a mailbox and defeats the whole point of having a master email. Unless there's a way to add the address without a mailbox?)

    PS: Sorry this was so longwinded! :)

  6. I already had my custom Apps email forwarded to my main gmail account, but worried about showing a different one in reply. So thanks for the tips about adding the reply address!! I feel so much better now. :)

  7. @ Julie – Being able to automatically reply from the right address is awesome! I used to always forget!

    @ Erin – Just noticed your comment on our other "Gmail post":http://www.photographyconcentrate.com/2011/may/20/conquering-email-mountain/ Unfortunately we haven't found a way around this problem yet (beyond setting up individual account in the mail app). We'll keep on the look out for a solution!

  8. i went through these steps and set up my master account which i love! now i'm encountering a few problems. with this set up it won't let me create a profile. because i had a previous gmail account, my google reader was set up with that account and now people are finding me and adding me through google+ with the old account. it seems i'm constantly signing in and out of that account and my new account in order to access these other areas. i wish there was a way to fully merge the old account with the new account so i would be done with the old one.

  9. I LOVE the canned responses. Now, if only Gmail would colour code or alphabetize them so all my “portrait” responses were one colour, all of my “wedding” related responses were another, etc.

  10. Does using google to handle all your emails still work the same now that google apps is paid only? Do you guys still use it or have you found a better solution?

    Thanks

  11. Hi guys!
    I have the same question as Ari Dofman.
    Thanks
    Vanessa

    • Hey Vanessa and Ari!

      We’re still continuing to use Google Apps through the setup we’ve shown above. Our account was grandfathered in so we haven’t had to pay for it.

      You can still use gmail as your master email address, but if you’re looking for a free service for your different business email addresses then you might need to look elsewhere. Often hosting or domain name companies will offer free (or super cheap) email hosting.

  12. You guys have some pretty useful & great tutorials! <3

  13. Hi, just FYI. I think the Google App for business is no longer free. It shows to be $5 a month. I was hoping to utilize this for my business. Any other tips? Thanks.

  14. I like your ideas and I have take advantage and secure about my gmail.

    Thanks…………….

  15. HI! Could you update this tuto including updated screenshots? Best :)

  16. Thank you!!

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