Consider this: when you email a business contact, client, or colleague, you are essentially presenting yourself and your business in the form of text. You might think that in the era of instant communication, 140-character limits, and TLAs (three-letter acronyms) your email style doesn't matter very much, but ask anyone who's ever hit the accidental Reply All or found they misspelled a contact's name only after hitting Send, and you might get a different answer.
To be clear, we're not talking about email marketing here; that's a whole different tool. Same goes for social media, where even the rules for image specs can get pretty site specific.
This is about the everyday written back and forth you have with professional contacts of all kinds – clients or potential clients, networking contacts, organizations. From the old-school memo, to the quick one-word “yes” that gets a project started, a lot can happen in email. Here are some tips for improving your email communication and polishing your professional first impression.
Always, always look over your email before you send it. Look it over as carefully as if it were being carved in marble. You do not want your recipient to suspect you actually don't know the difference between their, they're and there, or how to capitalize and punctuate sentences. Or that you're just too lazy to notice detai9ls. (See what I did there?) Read over what you have written, out loud if possible, and make sure you have presented yourself as you would like to be perceived.
2. Strike an appropriate tone
The tone of your email depends a lot on context. Have you ever met the recipient in person? Is this a “cold call” or a welcome referral? Each situation may be slightly different, but it's generally safer to err on the side of respect, using a person's full name and a professional tone, especially for a first contact. As collaborations unfold, your relationship - and your tone - will naturally shift toward the more informal. But don't assume it's okay to start with Yo, dude as an opening line, and remember there's no sarcasm font in email, so if you're not sure how you sound, save it for a face-to-face meeting.
3. Cut to the chase
Start off by being as clear as you can in your subject line. Reference the specific project or person who has referred you, or your area of shared interest. Think of search words this person might someday use to retrieve your email.
Remember that professional doesn't have to mean lots of big words. Keep your ideas crisp and your sentences clear. If there's an easier way to say something, choose it. If you're not sure, look it up. Get a copy of The Elements of Style by Strunk & White, and follow their advice, especially the command to “omit needless words.”
4. Don't waste time ... or bandwidth
Save custom graphics and other bells and whistles for your newsletters, website and Facebook page. Imagine the person you are contacting is waiting for a helicopter on a mountaintop with 10% left on his smartphone. A quick update on a project comes through even on a poorly-connected device in a remote location, but waiting for your rainbow logo to load makes it unwelcome.
Also, don't attach too much "stuff" to your emails. A simple document is no big deal, but if you have a lot of bandwidth-hogging photos to deliver, consider using a file-sharing service like Dropbox to stash all of your big files, and invite others to take a look when they are ready (and on WiFi).
5. Sign off accordingly
It's always a good idea to sign off with your contact information, especially if you have a website where people can learn more. But you don't need to list every handle on every platform. Stick with the basics, and by all means do not include any graphics, logos, cat memes or favorite quotes.
Approach your business email with deliberate attention to detail, and present your clearest and best language. You may find communicating more clearly helps boost your overall confidence. At the very least, you won't be judged by the content of your typos.
And, if you need royalty-free images for your email marketing campaigns, be sure to sign up for a 7-day Free Trial of a Bigstock subscription. You'll be able to download up to 5 images a day, for 7 days, for free. Have fun!