As frequent readers of this column know, I am not the biggest fan of email.
Each day, I find myself answering at least 30 to 40 emails on matters related to my law practice, the books I've written, upcoming speaking engagements and messages from old college friends who are preparing to attend our 45-year reunion this year, to say nothing of (ahem) this column.
Last year, I made a resolution to only check emails twice a day — once in the late morning and again in the late afternoon. During those times, I do nothing but answer emails. I try not to respond to emails between my two timeslots. And any email that comes in after working hours doesn't get a response until the following morning. (If you think that's crazy, last year, the French government passed a law that prohibits employers from terminating employees for not responding to work-related emails after office hours (see http://money.cnn.com/2017/01/02/technology/france-office-email-workers-law/index.html).
In between these time slots, I only respond to emails in emergency situations: when I'm in the middle of doing a rush deal for a law client, a reporter is on deadline and needs to interview me in the next 10 minutes or a meeting planner needs to book a keynote speaker fast and has sent identical messages to 10 of my competitors. For a more detailed description of how I do this, see my YouTube video "Time Management for Business People With No Time to Manage Their Time" (www.youtube.com/watch?v=1SloL-Zi5ys).
Lately I've been trying another tactic to keep my email traffic under control, at least as much as I can. Since I often having trouble managing it with dedicated time slots alone, I'm going to charge my law clients for reading and responding to certain emails.
Yes, that's right.
Since it takes me at least six minutes (one-tenth of an hour) to read and respond to most emails, I am billing my law clients one-tenth of my hourly rate for each email exchange on their particular matter. When I send a retainer agreement out to new clients, I now include a statement that says: "A minimum charge of $X (one-tenth of an hour) will be applied for each email or IM text response relating to your matter." It's written in boldface type so the clients can't claim they never saw it.
Similarly, when I send out my monthly invoice to clients, the last line item reads, "email exchanges w/ client during month — $XXX (13 email exchanges at $Y each)."
Needless to say, some of my law clients aren't too happy about this. They seem to have the idea that anything happening on the internet is free of charge, even if their email is a request for legal advice that runs 10 or more paragraphs. But they are paying the fee, however reluctantly, and I am finally being compensated fairly for an activity that takes a good chunk out of every workday.
Even better, I am receiving fewer emails each day. More often, my clients call me with their thorny, complex legal questions, which is what I prefer them to do. They get a better quality answer that way, and I'm not committing something to writing that could get posted all over the internet. ("Hey, everybody. See what Cliff Ennico thought of this!")
Now, of course there are some rules about when I do and do not charge for email responses. Here are some I've come up with:
—I only charge my law clients. I never charge editors, meeting planners, speaker bureaus, journalists, friends, relatives or any readers of this column who want to ask a question (although, with my long-winded old college chums, it's tempting).
—I only charge law clients who are paying me by the hour. If I am charging a flat fee for a particular matter, the fee includes email responses up to a certain point (usually one to two hours' worth).
—I only charge for substantive email responses. Confirming a lunch date by email or merely forwarding a message to a client without comment will not be charged.
—I make sure (by keeping timesheets) that I am not charging more than 24 hours a day for email responses.
This approach to emails is a work in progress, and it may go the way of last year's New Year's resolutions.
But so far it seems to be working — I haven't lost any clients because of it — and it may work for your service-oriented business as well. Give it some thought.
And if it works really well, I will consider applying the same approach to my telephone calls, daily trips to the UPS store and household chores (although sending my spouse that monthly invoice might be a bit tricky).
Cliff Ennico ([email protected]) is a syndicated columnist, author and former host of the PBS television series "Money Hunt." This column is no substitute for legal, tax or financial advice, which can be furnished only by a qualified professional licensed in your state. To find out more about Cliff Ennico and other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit our Web page at www.creators.com.