I’ll be up front. I don’t have a secret. I said “secret” because it’s a catch word. It’s a word that grabs peoples’ attention. Like children, we all want to be ‘in’ on whatever whispers are circulating in the cloakroom. (Do schools still have cloakrooms? I remember the cloakroom at my grade school – it was a place of secrets and whispers, full of energy; the comings and goings of the children crackled with life being lived without remorse – but I digress!). This post is about the ‘secret’ to writing business emails because the reality seems to be a secret in my world. A secret held close to the vest.
For instance, I receive hundreds of emails daily. Emails that pitch me to do something for someone. Emails that compliment me on my work. Yay! Emails that contain content I’ve apparently, at some time in my life…maybe when I was a baby because I surely don’t remember…having signed up for another newsletter. Emails abound in my seven email accounts. You may be thinking, “Get rid of all those email accounts, Yvonne.” How I wish I could! That is a story for another day. BTW, if YOU want to reach me, I am available to YOU because I enjoy conversing with REAL people so, I will share my email at the end of this post.
I’m writing about business emails today, specifically, the emails you send to clients, colleagues and prospects. I am not concerned with video or photography, although there are times when you will want to use them in these emails. I am only concerned with the words, what the words mean and the effect you may be having on the receiver of your email. Because, it’s often not the effect you meant to have. Oh yeah.
Here are my Top 5 Pet Peeves about Email and How to Fix Them:
- No salutation. When I receive an email that doesn’t at least say, “Hey Yvonne”… I know it’s either sent by a robot, or someone who is doing a blast to a whole bunch of people. Not seeing my name in the salutation sets the wrong impression. It tells me the sender does not value me or my time. It tells me the sender, who often writes, “I love your blog!” probably doesn’t even know what my blog is about.
When your email is for a specific person, and it should always be to a specific person…don’t write to ‘everybody’, use people’s names…it gives that person respect. Writing group emails may be necessary, at times, but there is generally someone in charge of that topic, and that is the person the email should be directed to. My contact information is on my blog. Anyone who hasn’t taken the time to find it, is not worth my time. I do not reply to emails that do not include a salutation. A correct salutation.
- Emails with no subject. A blank subject line indicates either the person writing the email was rushed, or she isn’t sure what to write and in that case, the phone is your best bet. Blank email lines might also indicate spam.
The biggest problem with a blank subject line, other than spam…is that as busy women, we each of us read subject lines quickly and determine quickly which emails need to be opened at that moment. Subject lines give us a sense of our day. No subject line, even from someone you email with every day, creates a bump in the smooth sailing of our day. “Now what?” we might say to ourselves… and move on, leaving that particular email for another time because that blank subject line is… a bit scary. Does the email contain a request we can’t fulfill? Is it about a subject we know will intrude on the day? Is it necessary to open at this moment?
- Long, rambling emails. Everyone in the entire world, yes, EVERYONE, hates long, rambling emails.
Emails are no place for brain dumps. Make your note succinct. Stay on point. Create a short bulleted list, if necessary. If the note begins to go on and on, stop writing! Delete the note, write a short, “Can we talk about <topic> today?” and send that. Make sure your subject line is about the topic. You may want to add why you need to talk about the topic but the ‘why’ cannot be more than one sentence, also. Understand that even when YOU feel you are not rambling, the receiver of your 500 word blog post email does feel you are rambling. Every word over 50 is wasting her time because 100 other emails are calling her, also.
- Emails about ongoing conversations, with no reference to said conversations. No, your receiver cannot read your mind. No your receiver should not have to figure out what the note is about, or have to spend even one second recalling previous conversations.
It doesn’t matter if the receiver of your email has been part of the ongoing conversation. In an email that is out of context, and that means the conversation was carried out previously, usually a day or two before the note you are sending now, you must preface your note with the topic and purpose. Do not ever assume the person receiving your note will know what you are talking about. She may remember, or her mind may be on something else entirely, and your note…about a conversation two days ago…will confuse her. She will likely write back a curt, “Can you explain what you’re talking about?” Or she will search her email for the reference, and you will have broken the flow of her day and… yes, you will be on her s#%t list. Just be clear, “This is in follow up to Tuesday’s conversation about <topic>.” How hard it that?
- Reply all notes that waste time. An email that includes a group, because it’s important to the group, can be sent once. Just once. After that, it should be addressed only to the relevant persons involved in the conversation. All others can be updated in conference calls or face to face meetings.Reply all emails get out of control quickly. The conversation that was relevant to all persons on the note, quickly becomes a conversation with just one or two. If it’s necessary to include a group in your note, here are the rules:
- Be selective. Who really needs to be on the list? If you are writing content that is necessary for all to see, but not necessary for all to comment on or respond to, say so. Tell the group why it’s a group note and offer to remove anyone who is not relevant.
- Keep the content to a manageable amount. Don’t write a novel. As in #3, be succinct and to the point. If you find yourself writing more than two short paragraphs, consider bringing the subject up in a meeting or on a conference call and ask others if it’s an email exchange or a conversation to be carried out in group, on the phone/in person.
- BONUS!!! Here’s a sixth pet peeve – emails that are too short, or too cute. It’s okay to send an email that says, “Got it!” Or, “Agreed.” If you’re merely replying to acknowledge the receipt of the note and agree with the content, that’s okay. If you’re being cute, (using emoticons… which can be okay, sometimes) if you’re trying to be succinct and leaning to the other side… not enough information…stop it! Emails that are so short they defy understanding, are wasting your time and mine.
“What?” is not a proper email… “I’m confused. Can you explain?” is better. “Good stuff!” when sending a link to an article, is not enough. “I read this and it made me realize we could use this tool in our marketing. What do you think?” is better.
Yes, you can send personal emails and break all these rules. I am not going to tell you how to write personal emails to family, friends and colleagues. I am only telling how to share content in a business setting, with business professionals. The secret to writing business emails is to be professional, be aware of the other person’s time, respect the other person’s time, and make sure your note is a welcomed communication by rereading it at least twice, before sending.
Want to comment? Do so below. Want to talk to ME? Use this advice and write to me:
yvonne (at) yvonnedivita (dot) com.