Emails are ubiquitous. Approximately 183 billion emails are sent every day, which translates into two million every second. For those keeping track at home, that’s officially a boat load of emails. Or, dare I say, a cruise-ship load?
Not surprisingly, a large percentage of these emails are business-related. Solicitations, time confirmations, follow-ups, thank yous, adulterous propositions (often followed by sexual harassment legal notices), the list goes on ad infinitum. However, years of experience as an entrepreneur and discerning email sender/receiver have shown that the majority of emails, even those that are business-related, are not –- I repeat, not –- effectively written.
The pitfalls vary, but the consequences are always the same: a poorly written email leaves an equally poor impression. And, as a freelancer, when your source of income is entirely dependent upon your relationships with clients, often grounded in your email correspondences, you absolutely cannot afford to be less than stellar.
Granted, many people couldn’t identify strong email writing if hit them over the head with a Mac truck, a bulldozer, and Queen Latifah attached. (Dang, that would hurt.) But even if these people can’t identify it, strong email writing will inevitably make a positive impression over time and produce meaningful results for your business.
The art of email writing is rarely discussed, but if you master it, you’re golden. Below are a bunch of tips that will lead to your 40-karat goldenness, broken down into three categories: content, style, and form/technicals.
Make your purpose clear. The purpose of your email must be easily identifiable. Nobody wants to scour through a labyrinth of sentences that are indirectly related and/or do not contribute to a specific function. Save your “insightful” introductions, backgrounds, and compliments for your mother, or if your mother is busy, perhaps your goldfish or parakeet. Ambiguity, like a hairy American man who wears a speedo at the beach, must be shot dead immediately.
Brand with a meaningful subject line. People decide whether to open, forward, file, or delete an email based upon the subject line. Don’t waste the reader’s time: your subject line should succinctly describe the email’s content. Additionally, if you attempt any gimmicks or unnecessary cleverness in the subject line, your email could strike the reader as spam and wind up in the trash, alongside those free iPod offers, juicer giveaways, and subscriptions to “Amphibian Lover” magazine.
Front-load the nuts and bolts. Don’t assume your reader possesses the time or desire to read the entirety of your email. (Sorry to break the bad news. You’re still a wonderful human being, OK?) The most effective emails place priority information towards the beginning, ideally in the first paragraph. A quick introduction should lead directly into everything the reader needs to know. Time is money. And people like saving money.
Pay attention to tone. In establishing relationships with individuals via email, it’s important to communicate with a compatible tone. Some people insist on no-frills formality. Others prefer an off-the-cuff casualness. Either way, if you don’t strike a resonant writing tone with the other person, your relationship might feel uncomfortable, which translates to shaky ground for business partnerships.
Engage people with your sentences. Don't write sentences that are indirect and obtuse. Place strong nouns and verbs towards the front that lead to a clearly defined point. Instead of “it has been decided…,” consider, for example, “our company decided…” The epitome of lackluster writing is the passive tense. Make your sentences pop. And here’s another nugget of wisdom: don’t end sentences with prepositions! Instead of “I want someone to eat enchiladas with,” consider, for example, “I want someone to eat enchiladas with me.”
Vary sentence length. Keep your reader engaged with a variety of sentence length. Short sentences are better than long ones. Nothing will confuse and irritate a reader more than a “run-on” that needs to be re-read multiple times in order to decipher it.
Don’t be a pompous jerk. If you think you can impress a reader with an erudite vocabulary, guess again. (See? You weren’t impressed by the word “erudite,” now, were you?) An extensive vocabulary is certainly an asset, but it can’t compensate for direct, quality content. If you need to grab the dictionary to verify the meaning of a word, there’s a strong chance that, even if you use the word correctly, it could sound unnatural.
Brevity Is key. Nobody likes long emails. If you overwhelm your reader with an email of biblical proportions, they’re guaranteed to delete it without even reading the first sentence. (OK, maybe that’s exaggerating. But people have short attention spans, and you’re kicking your own ass by not catering to them.) Try to fit your text onto one screen that won’t require scrolling. After all, there’s a good reason web advertisements located “above the fold” cost a lot more than the ones buried down at the bottom: the top half of the screen carries a much greater chance of being viewed.
CC with moderation. Only carbon copy (cc) those parties that are directly involved with the content of the email. CC orgies not only lead to traffic jams in other people’s in-boxes, but create a sense of impersonality between yourself and the principle email recipient. When in doubt, utilize the magic of the blind carbon (bcc) to conceal the addresses of subsidiary recipients.
Throw on your John Hancock. A signature at the end of your email, containing your contact and other relevant information, provides a great touch of professionalism. You might be freelancing out of your parents’ basement, but an informative signature with a catchy logo can help readers rank you in the big leagues. It’s also a terrific way to place the spotlight on products and services you offer.
I know I’ve thrown a lot of information your way, but trust me: it’s all essential for mastering the art of email-writing. If you want a leg-up on the rest of your freelancing competition, take these elements to heart and start implementing them immediately.
I can’t tell you how many times -- including everyone from freelancers to Venture Capitalists -- the quality of email correspondences has influenced the quality of relationships. For all up-and-coming freelancers, or anyone aspiring to any breed of success in this electronically-driven world, email writing must receive the utmost attention.
If you have any questions you would like personally answered, please feel free to shoot me an email. But be careful: I’ll be judging you.