Email as a communication tool is taken for granted and even abused on a regular basis. I’m certainly guilty of this! However, using this tool carelessly not only leads to missed business opportunities, but can also undermine existing relationships with clients, partners, supervisors, etc.
Dan Scalco has put down a simple yet fundamental list of seven email etiquette strategies that continually need to be remembered and implemented whether you’re a freelancer, small business owner or any other professional. Practice them in every single email that you send so that eventually they become a habit.
1. Determine whether the recipient even likes email.
I’m a huge fan of email and so are many other people. But there are also quite a few out there who want to hear the voice or even see the face of the person that they are communicating with. So if it’s a telephone call or a video chat on Skype that they prefer, you might not even have any use for email.
The safest bet, then, is to directly ask them what communication method they want to use—and do this right at the beginning of the relationship or partnership. It reflects well on you when you take their preferences into consideration.
2. Communicate in a timely manner.
This is a crucial email etiquette strategy yet probably the most disregarded one. Not responding within a reasonable amount of time (usually 24 hours) is a huge red flag that screams unprofessionalism and disrespect. Especially if, for example, someone is waiting for your update on the progress of an urgent project.
This doesn’t mean that you should always be online, and no reasonable person expects this of you. Just don’t forget that if you’ll be unavailable for a while—such as when you’re on vacation—set up a polite autoresponder that lets the other person know how long you’ll be away for.
3. Make it short and stick to the point.
With all the spam, subscriptions and other emails that inboxes are bombarded with on a daily basis, it’s easy to archive or ignore any message that’s longer than a few paragraphs. The last thing people want to see is an essay when they open up that unread email.
Become known for sending succinct emails and you’ll find that you get a higher—and quicker—response rate. Do the opposite and it might reach a point where your emails get binned without even being opened.
4. Be polite, friendly and human.
Whether you’re sending a one-liner or a marketing email, keep your tone upbeat and personable. This is not to say that you should adopt a texting style with slang and nonsensical abbreviations, but don’t go the other extreme to sound like a robot!
And remember to start the email with a greeting and close with something like “Thanks,” “Best regards” or “Sincerely” (depending on who you’re addressing). This might seem like a given, but there are far too many people out there who launch into the message without even a simple hello, and end off just as abruptly.
5. Keep it clear and simple.
Scalco says, “Any email you send should be kept as visually uncluttered as possible. It should also provide clear-cut information and highlight any actions that need to be taken.” Unfortunately, there are those who think that emails should read like a short story. To avoid that:
- Write a subject line that’s as accurate as possible.
- Use the “To” and “CC” fields correctly so that people know who the main recipient is.
- Use formatting such as bullet lists and bold/italic to make the text easier to read and to identify the most important points.
- Let the recipient know exactly what is required of them (ask them a direct question, give them clear instructions, etc.).
6. Establish and maintain trust.
Confidential information is in dangerous territory when it’s conveyed through online communication tools. Sometimes this can’t be helped, though, so make sure that you have a person’s explicit permission before sharing their messages, personal details, files, business info and so forth.
In general, make sure that you know what an individual’s or company’s policy is before disclosing their info to third parties. For this same reason, be very wary of using the “CC” and “BCC” fields too freely.
7. Double-check before hitting “Send.”
No matter how much of a hurry you’re in, you can avoid embarrassment and save yourself a great deal of trouble just by having one last quick look at an email before you send it. This helps you to catch basic things such spelling mistakes, as well as major mishaps like addressing the wrong person!
This is why I like using Gmail, which allows you to undo the sending of an email for up to 30 seconds after you’ve sent it. It also reminds you if you’ve mentioned an attachment in the email but forgot to attach something.
Have any email etiquette tips been left out? Let me know in the comments.