By Kimberly Gerber

Small business owners don’t punch a time clock; and if they did, few would ever have the opportunity to punch out. A frantic 24/7 work schedule frequently makes them slaves to email and mobile phones, whether or not they have a solid grasp on how best to manage virtual communications. These tips can help even the most harried business owner rethink how they approach email, phone calls and texting and replace bad habits with smart strategies.

1.     Time Is of the Essence: Struggling to keep their head above water in a flood of correspondence where each message feels urgent, many small business owners are notorious for failing to respond to requests within an appropriate timeframe—neglectful behavior that can spell lost business. A rule of thumb is to reply to email and voicemails within 24 hours, no matter what. If there’s no answer to share, call or text anyway—even if it’s just to say, “I got your voicemail and will get you a solid answer as soon as I can.” The attention goes a long way toward demonstrating to people that you value them.

2.     The Midnight Oil: Working into the wee hours says a lot about your work ethic, yet publicizing it can send the wrong message. Refrain from sending email at 2 a.m.; it gives a bad impression. Follow up with vendors and prospective clients during business hours. If you must compose the message over the weekend, then save it as a draft and send it no earlier than 7 a.m. on Monday morning. That goes double for messages to employees. Late-night requests from a boss can be perceived as an expectation that they should be working 24/7 too.

3.     Clear the Way to Productivity: Cluttering a message with too many topics is inefficient. Message recipients will inevitably miss an important detail, leading to wasted time and unmet expectations. Instead of one all-encompassing voicemail or email message, send several shorter, more succinct and actionable messages that leave no doubt about your intention.

4.     Face the Facts: Some entrepreneurs have a tendency to send an email when they should really pick up the phone, or heaven forbid, have a face-to-face meeting. Personal matters deserve a personal touch. If you’re disappointed in an employee, frustrated with a vendor or have bad news for a client, an email message is much more likely to backfire than it is to solve the problem. Give delicate matters your personal attention, whether you’re negotiating better terms or delivering a performance critique. (Compliments are welcome in any medium, so feel free to text and email all the praise you want.)

5.     Late to the Collaboration Party: Some small business owners are so immersed in day-to-day operations that they fail to keep up with new tools that can make life easier for them and their staff. Collaboration software is a prime example. If you don’t have time to check on the latest developments, assign an employee to update you quarterly on what they discover about helpful new tools and technology like Dropbox, Google Docs, Pinterest, Zoho and other platforms that can streamline communication and collaboration for your entire business. The small investment of time in research can pay off in huge dividends of time when you speed up your team’s ability to share the up-to-the-minute contracts and documents that keep the business moving.

You’ve worked hard to build a successful business. Make sure you know how virtual communication habits can hold you back or propel you forward. Who knows, you may just become successful enough to punch out for a nice vacation.

Kimberly Gerber is the founder and CEO of Excelerate, a communication training and coaching firm that offers interactive workshops, executive coaching, group coaching, mediation, conflict resolution and laser coaching to focus on specific issues. For more than two decades, Excelerate has made an extraordinary difference for organizations of all sizes, giving CEOs, executives, entrepreneurs, high-potential employees and Millennials the power tools to become effective communicators through interactive workshops, executive coaching, group coaching, mediation and laser coaching to focus on specific issues. For more information, visit