Top Five Tips to More Effective Email
By Heshy Friedman
Make your emails work better and smarter
As we discussed in our previous blog, there are many ways to sabotage your business emails.
Now for the good news: here are the best ways to show your competence, success, and trustworthiness in your emails, and get responses and action from your correspondents.
Tip #1: “Less Is More.”
That famous slogan of the Bauhaus School of Architecture is good advice for your email, too. It’s important to have a polished and professional look that’s clean and unfussy.
From the address you use to the signature line, everything has to be clutter-free and “all business.“
1. Get a real business address.
Gmail is free and easy to use. Hotmail and AOL have been around since the dawn of the Internet. But that service provider name on the end of your email address shouts that this is a personal account.
Your business correspondence needs to look professional. Emails that come from email@example.com say to the recipient, “I’m established. This is not a hobby, it’s my profession.”
- Best bet: acquire a domain name (web address), even if you don’t feel that you need a website.This will also prompt you to think about your online identity, ready to be brought to life when you decide you require a website. (Hint: Contact us then!)
Even the least expensive hosting plans come with basic email service, which can be used with MS Office and its Outlook email client, or Google’s Workspace. For more professional-grade IMAP email which syncs your email to a server, hire an “IT guy” for a solution with Office365 or G-Suite.)
- Alternatively, you can use a number of free and nearly-free options, as suggested in this article. While not the ideal choice, it’s better than looking like a refugee from the AOL/MySpace era to clients who will want to perceive value when they write your checks.
- One big exception: you should have a backup business-oriented Gmail address for emergencies. Set up an email address in the format firstname.lastname@example.org, and keep it ready for emergencies. (Bonus: Google sees all, knows all! Having your company name active in their own ecosystem will help you with search engine rankings using tools like Google My Business and Google Analytics.)
2. Clean, crisp, and elegant.
It’s hard to resist going into your email program and playing with all the options. Colored backgrounds, clip art, and patterns are all there to tempt you.
Resist the urge to get creative! If you send an email with a pretty blue background, the recipient’s reply will also have background. That will distract and annoy them when they start typing.
- Keep it simple, plain, paper-white, and professional.
3. Promote your business identity.
- If you have a logo, consider adding it to your email signature. Keep it small and tasteful—understated elegance is what you’re going for.
- A professional headshot is also a great choice for personalizing your message. It’s psychology: Just as a smiley face on a restaurant bill increases tips, your smiling face on your emails will create more positive interactions and increase response rates.
Tip #2: Engagement!
Make sure your recipients know what to do with your email. Include the “action items,” as the business jargon calls them, right in your subject line.
- Go beyond “Re:” and “Fwd:” to let your audience know how much attention to give your message.
“FYI” is great in messages are just “for the record,” and this lets your busy boss or coworker know that it’s not an urgent matter.
But when it is, let them know!
- Put “Action required/requested” or “Please respond by (date or time)” in your subject line.
Branching off from a long chain of emails? Help the reader know to pay attention.
- If the subject matter has changed, change the subject line to match.
Tip #3: Email Body
This is where you get the response you need, or lose your audience. There’s an art to writing an email that gets acted upon quickly.
- When there are multiple recipients in a single email, put all their names in the introductory sentence, to get their attention. Then as you compose your email, separate them into the “response requested” and “FYI” groups, and address them in order.
- Put your questions and whom they are directed to in bold, e.g., “Bob, I need a confirmation from you.”
- Need a response that’s time-sensitive? When I am under deadline, wherever possible I put a default action that I will take—and when I will take it—in case I don’t receive a response within my required timeframe.
- If the email is long and complex, use the highlight function to color-code your recipients.
- If responding to a complex email addressed to multiple people, either snip away irrelevant content before replying, or reply inline in the body of the original email, using a contrasting color.
Tip #4: Watch your tone!
This one is tricky. How many of you have received what you thought was an angry email, only to find out the sender thought it was neutral or friendly? Everything sounds a little harsher in an email.
But there are some easy tricks to fix this.
- Take your time. It’s tempting to dash off a reply, but it will sound curt and dismissive. You know—you’ve gotten them. Save that short, sharp response as a draft email until you can focus, then follow the suggestions below:
- Smile while writing! Sounds like a joke, but it’s not. A smile on your face—even one you put there on purpose—affects your whole body, including your mind. It will help remind you to write in a softer, more gracious, and neutral tone.
Serious subject matter, and not sure if you should send it? That’s a great sign: you’re learning!
- Check in with a friend or spouse. Let a disinterested party, reading it for the first time, help you perceive how you sound.
- Let it simmer. Look at it again at end of day, or in the morning, and decide whether it should stay a draft, or get revised, or go out as written. You’ll be surprised at how many hasty emails you’ll be happy you didn’t send.
Tip #5: “I wish I could take that back!”
Here’s the secret:you can.
- In the Outlook desktop app, you can (I always have this active, and it’s a lifesaver for those “one more thing” or “oops!” moments.)
- In the Outlook web app, it takes a little more forethought, but it’s still possible.
- In web mail services, there is often an “Undo Send” option that is active for a short while. Here’s the key to up to 30 seconds of “undo send” in Gmail.
Congratulations! Now you’re an email power user!
We have lots more ways to help you with all kinds of communications. Contact us to learn more.