Terri Lonier

Every week, when the Working Solo Minute zips across the Internet, it triggers a host of autoresponders from readers who are out of the office or unavailable. And every week I am amazed at what individuals put in their autoresponders to represent themselves to the world. So this week I address the good, the bad, and the ugly in autoresponders.

The Good
Autoresponders are powerful tools, and there are multiple uses for them. (For those in the dark, they are the automated messages you can set up to generate a response when someone sends an email to you. Their beauty -- and vulnerability -- is that you can set them up once and forget about them.) The two best uses of autoresponders that I've seen soloists employ center on increased productivity and presenting samples of your work.

As a timesaver, consider setting up a customizable autoresponder using the sig file feature in your email program. For example, do you find yourself answer a collection of similar questions about you and your business on a regular basis? If so, craft a response to each of them and save that text as a unique sig file. When the question comes in, select that sig file (which contains the entire text of the email message as well as your standard email signature sign-off) and quickly personalize it with the person's name or other minor details. Over the course of a week or month, this saves a stunning amount of time, since you aren't crafting the same email response over and over again. (And yes, I know it's technically not an autoresponder since you customize it, but it's so effective that I've included it here.)

Another valuable use for autoresponders is to set up a series of information samples about your product or service, such as a multi-part e-course. Individuals sign up once, then automatically receive an email from you on a schedule you create. It's a powerful way to offer information and showcase your expertise. Alternatively, you can set up an autoresponder to deliver a single product, like an ebook.

The Bad
Autoresponders that copy the entire email and send it back can be frustrating, because they often clog the original sender's inbox. Similarly, autoresponse emails that have a one-sentence text and a sig file that is 40 lines long are annoying. My third pet peeve is autoresponders that are hopelessly out of date -- for example, "I'm attending a conference and will be out of the office" with a conference date that is 90 days old.

The Ugly
This category is saved for the autoresponders I receive every week that cause me to say, "I can't believe they shared that in a professional email that's going out to the world." You know the ones I mean: How you're out of the office because you're at Aunt Elsie's funeral, or that you're taking the week off because you haven't had a vacation in "x" number of months. Or my favorite, that you're no longer working at this crappy company and here's the name of the jerk who is now answering all the emails you used to receive. (All true examples.) Do people think that such emails -- because they're automatically generated by a computer -- don't reflect on them? They do, after all, go out under the individual's name and email address.

Because they're so powerful, autoresponders deserve respect. They are stand-ins for you and your professional presentation to the world. Craft them with care and check up on them regularly.

-- Terri Lonier, Founder,
This article first appeared in the Working Solo newsletter:
Copyright 2010, author retains ownership. All Rights Reserved.

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